Photography by Teresa McGill

The sun slowly emerges through the mist rising off the water. The haunting call of a loon pierces the fog, giving a mystical feel to a fall morning at Seney National Wildlife Refuge. The refuge was established in 1935 as a wetland management area for the protection and production of migratory birds and other wildlife in the central Upper Peninsula. Covering almost 96,000 acres of marshes, swamps, bogs, forest and grasslands, the refuge is a sanctuary not only for the wildlife, but for the soul. Here you can drive, hike or bike in peaceful serenity, with only nature surrounding you. There is truly nothing more fulfilling than being in the presence of the natural world as it awakens to greet a new day.

Fall is a time of change. Wildlife has worked diligently all summer to help their young survive the perils of nature. For those that will move on to their wintering grounds, autumn is the time to finish their training to prepare for the long flight south.

It’s also a time for migrators from the north to take a respite from their arduous journey southward. Great egrets, Wilson snipes, yellowlegs, sandhill cranes and wood ducks in their fall breeding plumage, as well as raptors like the broad-winged hawk, will stop at Seney.

The cacophony of cackling sandhill cranes is music to one’s ears as it fills the air. The sights, the sounds, the smells; every day can be so different here, with atmospheric changes affecting the wildlife and the landscape. But isn’t that the joy of it— never knowing just what you may find around the next corner?

The local wildlife is ready for the cooler, quieter time at the refuge. Bald eagles, river otters, gray wolves and even the trumpeter swans remain at Seney, to face the perils as the northern winter settles in. But here on the refuge, this can be a healing time. Trails are groomed to allow cross-country skiing and snowshoeing. Seney, managed by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, is truly your refuge, so get out and enjoy it, in any season.


Through my photography, I love to share my passion for Michigan’s wildlife, helping others to understand and appreciate the importance of guarding our natural resources. I try to blend into the environment and quietly observe my subjects—being as unobtrusive as I can—resulting in some rare and special moments captured.

Seney, with minimal traffic and no floatation devices allowed on its pools or marshes, is a haven for birds and other wildlife. Here are some tips if you are interested in photographing them:

  • Ethically photographing wildlife is of the utmost importance. You are in their home, so respect their space. Especially during breeding and nesting season, they must not be disturbed. Disruption can cause your subject to abandon its nest, which would be tragic.
  • Never intentionally flush out your avian subjects to get a flight shot. They are trying to survive, and causing them to expend their energy in unnecessary flight could be a death sentence.
  • Shoot with natural light; flashes temporarily blind birds, and a predator could attack.
  • Respect the environment and leave nothing but footprints.
  • Dressing in camouflage or shades of khaki and army green helps you to blend into the surroundings. Wear long trousers and boots—you never know what you may be walking into.
  • Stay as low to the ground and the subject as possible. Wildlife can feel intimidated by the stature of what it perceives as an attacker. Limit eye contact; if your subject doesn’t think you are watching, it won’t feel as stressed.
  • It’s important to be quiet. No quick movements or erratic behavior. You will be amazed at what will come to you if you sit quietly and patiently wait.

The key ingredients to success are patience, timing and luck. Nature is ever-changing, fluid and always in motion. Relax, sit back and enjoy the moment. Getting the perfect shot is icing on the cake; being out with nature, observing the behavior of wildlife, is the true gift.

For more information about Seney National Wildlife Refuge:

This article originally appeared in the 2018 fall/winter issue of Experience Michigan magazine. The contents of this article were checked for accuracy when it was published; however, it’s possible some of the information has changed. We recommend you call first if you have specific questions for the destinations, attractions or restaurants mentioned in this article.

No portion of this article or magazine may be reproduced without prior written permission by the publisher.


Teresa McGill lives in the northwest Lower Peninsula with her husband, Michael, who shares her passion for wildlife through his videography. They spend as much time as possible at Seney, observing and photographing wildlife. See their work at

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