A marsh full of people and plenty of wildlife
By Annis Pratt
I have always loved marshes and try to get as far into them as I can. I am also a bird-watcher, and for years I drove down M-22, just past the village of Arcadia, to get a look from the road into Arcadia Lake on one side and a marshy lagoon on the other. It was frustrating not to be able to see more of what was going on in one of the few remaining Great Lakes Coastal Marshes that teems with birds and wildlife.
In 2019, when the Grand Traverse Regional Land Conservancy opened the Arcadia Marsh’s marvelous new boardwalk, all that changed, however.
Now, anyone can stroll from one end of the marsh to the other, and it is completely accessible to wheelchairs, as well. There are viewing platforms and fishing decks with comfortable benches all along its three-quarter-mile length.
During summertime, grandfathers quietly fish with grandchildren, teenagers and adults cast into the waters, walkers marvel at the view, and lots of children run along the boardwalk. The children, though, seem less interested in the expansive marsh vista than in smaller things close at hand: a toddler crouches over a puddle, fascinated by a green frog; a boy whose father is casting wide into the marsh is more interested in the bubbles along his fish line, which he has plunged straight down; a mother and two small daughters are leaning over the rail, entranced by the gorgeous whorls of swamp milkweed (Asclepias incarnata) growing there; a grandmother tries to shoo a little girl away from a pile of scat that she crouches over. (The scat looks like fox to me, though it could be from a raccoon—I have a wonderful children’s guide to Tracks, Scats, and Signs that I wish I could show her.)
Further along, I enjoy watching two young men struggling to net their catch, which turns out to be a thrashing Bowfin/Dogfish (Amia calva) in its spawning colors.
I wear my binoculars and often chat with other enthusiasts who are looking out for some of the 250 species of birds that flourish in the protection of the nature preserve.
There is a small lagoon on the north side of the boardwalk, where I spot a pair of Pied-billed Grebes (Podilymbus podiceps), small duck-like waterbirds that spend more time underwater than on the surface. With a bob of their heads, they throw their tails in the air as they take little leaping dives for fish, amphibians, and water insects.
In a bushy area next to the boardwalk, a female Red-winged Blackbird (Agelaius phoeniceus) flutters about in pursuit of a fledgling. Both are sparrow-colored, markedly different from the black male with his scarlet and gold epaulette.
On the shore of the lagoon, there is a Belted Kingfisher (Megaceryle alcyon) perched on a dead tree; he tilts his head before a dramatic dive and splash, returning to whack a fish against the branch.
On the far shore, a Great Blue Heron (Ardea herodias) stands motionless, one eye tilted to the water.
On the other side of the boardwalk, there are two groups of swans up: one with orange beaks and the other with black—Mute Swans (Cygnus olor) and Trumpeters (Cygnus buccinator), respectively. The latter were almost wiped out a couple of years ago* but have been reintroduced in the Midwest and are flourishing here now as an emblem of how Mother Nature benefits us when we do our duty rightly to her, just as, in her turn, she has rewarded the establishment of the Arcadia Marsh Nature Preserve with all of this bounty and beauty.
Annis Pratt has a cottage on the Betsie River. She has been a bird watcher since 1947 and finds the banks of the Betsie an absolute bird paradise. She is author of The Infinite Games Series of adventure novels about a marshland folk who are threatened by the draining of their homeland and of three non-fiction books about the way that myths are used in literature. She is a nature writer, a columnist for the international e-magazine Impakter.com, and was an early contributor to The Betsie Current, back in the 2005-06 days. Visit AnnisPratt.com to learn more or look for her books on Amazon.
*Pratt published an article on the fate of Trumpeter Swans during our 2020 season; see it in our online archives.
Featured Photo Caption: The Arcadia Marsh is a hub of activity, including for bird-watchers. Photo by Annis Pratt.