Here is a listing of some of our favorite birding spots in Southwestern Michigan. This information was compiled by Kip Miller of Love Creek County Parks to aid teams participating in the annual SOUTHWESTERN MICHIGAN BIRDATHON.
PAW PAW RIVER SITES
SARETT NATURE CENTER. Of course our favorite birding location is right here at home. Our location on the Paw Paw River floodplain provides extensive marshes, wet forests and even a fen. We have a variety of other habitats including old field and upland forest areas. We are currently in the process of restoring a prairie area. Our trail system leads through all of these habitats, making this an excellent location to search for birds. Prothonotary Warblers are regular most years along the Paw Paw River at the end of the River Trail. Before dawn, Virginia and Sora Rails may be heard in the wetlands and American Woodcock display in the old field areas. Obviously, a variety of other wetland and upland species may be found by thoroughly exploring our trails. Stop in at the nature center building to watch the birds at our feeders and get information on current bird sightings from the naturalists. There is no charge to visit Sarett. Restrooms are available in the nature center building. To reach Sarett take I-196 north of I-94 to Exit 1 (Red Arrow Highway). After exiting turn left (west) and continue about 1/2 mile to Benton Center Road. Turn right here and continue north approximately 1/2 mile to the entrance on the left. You can call Saett at (269)927-4832 for information on recent sightings.
BROWN SANCTUARY. This valuable wetland along the Paw Paw River is now owned by Sarett. To reach the Brown Sanctuary from Sarett return to Red Arrow Highway and turn right. Almost immediately turn right again on Euclid Avenue. Follow Euclid for about 1 mile to Wood Street. Turn right on Wood Street. Where Wood Street makes a turn to the left you will see a gate. Park in front of the gate and proceed on foot. (This area was used as a local dump. The gate is to keep garbage out. Birders are welcome.) To reach the marsh area, walk along the two-track road that heads off to the west. You will first walk through and old field area and then down a wooded ridge to the river. You will soon reach an area where you can view an extensive marsh area adjacent to the river. Depending on the season and water level the marsh may be host to a variety of ducks and shorebirds other wetland species. Woodland migrants should be present along the wooded ridge and in the floodplain forest.
OTHER INLAND SITES
PAW PAW LAKES. These two inland lakes are located just north of Watervliet and Coloma in northern Berrien County. PAW PAW LAKE is the largest inland body of water in the county. It is a great place to look for loons, grebes, diving and dabbling ducks, gulls and Bald Eagles. Winter months offer the best viewing opportunities here because in the summer recreational watercraft make the lake less than appealing to waterfowl. Most of the area around the lake is privately owned and developed so the best way to search for birds is to drive the roads around the lake and watch for suitable openings. Several such openings can be found on the northwest side of the lake along Paw Paw Lake Road west of Johnson Road. LITTLE PAW PAW LAKE is another good place to find migrating waterfowl. The only drawback is that duck hunting is allowed here. It can be checked form the north end of Interlochen Road (which connects with Paw Paw Lake Road to the south) and from a small park at the west end of Lake Street (which connects with Johnson Road to the east).
RIVERVIEW CITY PARK. This St. Joseph City Park is located on the St. Joseph River, south of the city limits. To reach it, follow M-63 (formerly US-33) south out of St. Joseph and continue approximately 1/2 mile south of Lincoln Avenue. Watch on the left for the Riverview Cemetery and the park entrance adjacent to its southern edge. (If coming from the south, follow M-63 north of I-94 approximately 1/2 mile.) The wooded area along the bluff that you descend when entering the park is well known as an excellent area to see a variety of woodland species in migration. Park as soon as convenient after descending the hill and walk along the trails (old roads) that lead into the woods to the south (on your right as you drive in). The dead trees in this area are good for Red-headed Woodpeckers, and the puddles are often host to Solitary or Spotted Sandpipers. The trees along the river and in the picnic areas can be good for spring migrants. This area once charged a minimal entrance fee, but in recent years no fee has been charged. Restrooms are open during the summer. Picnic facilities are available. Gas stations near the park entrance also provide restroom facilities.
LINCO AND ROCKYWEED ROADS. These two "east-west" roads in west-central Berrien County are often good roads to search for species that prefer open field habitats, and if recent rains have left puddles in fields, shorebirds can also be found. Usually the best areas to search on these roads are found between Cleveland Road on the west and Scottdale Road on the east. (It is difficult to predict exactly which areas will be best from year to year, so plan to stop and check for birds at appropriate looking locations.) A small population of Western Meadowlarks is sometimes present in the western part of this area. (They have been harder to find in recent years.) Savannah Sparrows, Horned Larks, Eastern Meadowlarks and other grassland species may also be present here. Back to the east, if the conditions have been right (wet), the field at the northeast corner of the intersection of Linco and Scottdale Roads may still be flooded and good for shorebirds and dabbling ducks. Another potentially good spot is on Rocky Weed Road, just to the east of Scottdale Road. During the winter months drive all the roads in this area to search for Snowy Owls, Rough-legged Hawks, Lapland Longspurs and Snow Buntings.
LOVE CREEK COUNTY PARK & NATURE CENTER. This park can be reached by following Old US-31 south through Berrien Springs. After crossing the St. Joseph River watch for the sign for Dean's Hill Road and Love Creek. You can follow the directional signs from here another 3 miles to the park, located on Huckleberry Road. (Directional signs are also located along M-140 in the small town of Berrien Center.)
A variety of habitats, including areas of mature forest can be found here. Acadian Flycatchers and Louisiana Waterthrushes are regular in the forested areas along the creek and Pileated Woodpeckers are being seen with increasing frequency. Blue-winged Warblers and a variety of other species can also be found in the park's old field areas. A trail map is available outside of the nature center door. Call Love Creek at (269)471-2617 for information on the latest sightings in the park. Fee area. Restrooms are available during business hours.
FERNWOOD BOTANICAL GARDENS AND NATURE CENTER. Fernwood is located on Rangeline Road in Niles Township in the east bank of the St. Joseph River. There are directional signs for Fernwood located at Exit 7 on the US-31 bypass south of Berrien Springs.
Fernwood features a variety of good birding habitats. The open arboretum and prairie areas are excellent locations for Eastern Bluebirds and other open area species. It is also a fairly reliable location for at least one pair of Orchard Orioles. The gardens ad woodland edges near the visitor center are excellent areas to search for Ruby-throated Hummingbirds, Baltimore and Orchard Orioles, Scarlet Tanagers and woodland migrants. Many woodland species can also be found by exploring the trails that head west to the river and north to the preserve area. Ruffed Grouse and Caroling Wren are sometimes found along the Wilderness Trail and a variety of feeder species can be seen from the nature center windows. To obtain information on recent sightings and trail recommendations, call (269)695-6491 and ask to speak with a naturalist. Restrooms and trail maps are available at the visitor center. Fee area.
MUD LAKE BOG NATURE PRESERVE. Mud Lake Bog is located in Buchanan Township in southern Berrien County of Elm Valley Road. The entrance is approximately 1 1/2 miles east of Boyle Lake Road or 1/2 mile west of West Clear Lake Road. (There are signs for the preserve on Elm Valley Road.) While this area was preserved mainly because of its unique plant community, it also offers excellent birding opportunities. Bluebirds, warblers and vireos may be found in the trees and shrubs around the parking lot. A variety of woodpeckers and flycatchers may be found on or near the dead trees still standing in the bog's swamp forest areas. Red-shouldered Hawks should be watched for overhead and a variety of wetland species can often be seen from the observation tower and boardwalk trails. If you arrive before dawn, be sure to listen for American Bitterns, rails and Barred and Eastern Screech Owls. Also note that Sandhill Cranes have recently started nesting here! No restrooms are available here, but there is a picnic shelter. This area was previously used as a county dump. A locked gate prevents more dumping. Birders and botanists are welcome to park in front of the gate and walk in. There is no fee charged to use this area.
JASPER DAIRY ROAD PUBLIC ACCESS SITE. This new area provides an access for boaters to the St. Joseph River north of Berrien Springs. The floodplain forest north of the ramp is sometimes host to Prothonotary Warblers. Several swallow species and Spotted and Solitary Sandpipers are often seen from the river's edge. Great Horned Owls are abundant along the St. Joe. A variety of migrants are potentially possible in the fields and trees along the entry road. Jasper Dairy Road is 1/2 mile north of Rocky Weed Road on US 31. To reach the river, take the left fork at the east end of the pavement. No fee to bird here. Outhouse available.
"WHIP-POOR-WILL" CITY. In the spring and summer a good area to listen for Whip-poor-wills before dawn is located in Berrien Township. Listen in the area bordered by (1) True Road on the north, (2) Jones Road on the west, and (3) Steinbauer Road on the south. (All of these roads are located just to the southwest of the intersection of M-140 and Pokagon Road.) American Woodcock display before dawn along the middle section of True Road. Barred Owls may be heard anywhere in this general area.
LAKE MICHIGAN COLLEGE. The main entrance to LMC is located on Napier Avenue east of Exit 30 on I-94. The main teaching facility is surrounded by a man-made lake. Open water is available throughout the winter due to a fountain in the lake. Waterfowl are concentrated in this area, and may linger well into the spring. There is also a nature trail located just to the north of the northwest corner of the main pond area. This trail leads through several habitats and can be good for a variety of migrant species in the spring.
SITES ALONG LAKE MICHIGAN
Berrien County's Lake Michigan shoreline and the wooded dunes adjacent to it offer exciting birding opportunities throughout the year. A variety of gulls, terns, waterfowl and shorebird species can often be observed resting on the beaches or migrating offshore. The wooded dunes offer excellent opportunities to search for virtually all of the migrant songbirds that move through our area and at times they occur here in spectacular concentrations. The taller dunes and the open areas at the base of the dunes can provide excellent vantage points to observe concentrations of migration hawks on days with southeast winds.
NEW BUFFALO HARBOR & BEACH. The New Buffalo public beach and harbor area can be reached by following US-12 west into New Buffalo and then turning right at the stoplight onto Whittaker Street. After turning onto Whittaker proceed straight ahead towards the lake. After crossing the bridge over the Galien River you will see the beach parking lot ahead on your left. This is an excellent area to watch offshore for migrating waterfowl and shorebirds. The beach area north of the harbor and the sandy areas on both sides of the inner harbor should be checked for resting shorebirds, gulls and terns. Be sure to scan the rock jetties carefully as Spotted Sandpipers, Ruddy Turnstones and other species often rest or feed here. Purple Sandpipers are sometimes found here in the late fall and early winter. In the summer this area is best birded early in the morning, before beach goers arrive. Fee (about $5.00/vehicle) charged during the summer. Restrooms and concession stand open in the summer.
WARREN DUNES STATE PARK. The main entrance to this park is located on Red Arrow Highway, approximately 10 miles north of New Buffalo, or 2 miles south of the I-94 Bridgman Exit (Exit 16). Warren Dunes offers excellent birding opportunities and features many acres of wooded and open dunes and extensive beachfront along Lake Michigan. Waterfowl, gulls, terns and shorebirds can often be viewed from the beach area pavilions, which can be reached by following the main park road west to the lakefront parking areas. Restrooms are available spring, summer and fall at the main picnic area, the beach areas and in the campgrounds.
FLORAL LANE. This road provides access to the undeveloped north end of Warren Dunes State Park. It is an excellent area to search for woodland migrants. To reach this area, continue north on Red Arrow Highway about 1.5 miles from the main park entrance to Floral Lane. (On most county maps this is shown as Hildebrandt Road or the west end of Snow Road.) Turn West onto Floral Lane. The parking lot is immediately to the right. The Goldenrod and Yellow Birch Trails are excellent birding trails. Following the Goldenrod Trail north will lead you to the Yellow Birch Trail, which then loops around a wetland and swamp area at the base of the dunes and ends up back at the west end of Floral Lane. The diversity of habitats along the trail usually results in an excellent variety of sightings. Pileated Woodpecker and Hooded Warbler are two of the many woodland species that nest here. Early morning warblers can be spectacular. An impressive variety of migrants and numerous rare species have been recorded here. Woodcock perform their courtship flights in the open field area on the north side of the road near Red Arrow Highway. This area is also an excellent area to search for migrant sparrows including Lincoln's. Fee area.
WEKO BEACH. This is an easily accessible beach area that provides a good location to scan Lake Michigan for waterfowl, gulls and shorebirds. The deck that surrounds the beach house provides an excellent vantage point for scanning the lake. To reach the beach area, turn west off Red Arrow Highway at the stoplight in Bridgman (Lake Street) and follow the road to the park entrance and parking area. Fee charged during the warmer months. Restrooms and concessions are available during these months.
GRAND MERE STATE PARK. This undeveloped state park area features over 1200 acres of woodlands, dunes, Lake Michigan beaches and three inland lakes. It has long been considered one of Berrien County's finest birding areas. To reach Grand Mere travel north from Weko Beach on Red Arrow Highway. Turn west off of Red Arrow Highway at the stoplight at John Beers Road near Stevensville. Follow the road down the ridge and then over I-94 (Exit 22 if you are traveling on I-94).
To explore North Lake and Middle Lake continue straight ahead on Grand Mere Road. After crossing the channel between the two lakes you will see North Lake Park on your right. Turn right into the parking area. From the playground you can scan the lake for waterfowl, grebes and swallows. The dead trees around the channel are often host to a nesting pair or two or Red-headed Woodpeckers or an alert Belted Kingfisher. The trees around the parking lot and edges of the woods nearby are often good for a variety of woodland birds in migration. To scan Middle Lake return to Grand Mere Road and continue west a short distance to a small boat launch area on the left. This is also a good area for waterfowl and migrants. Walking the road between North Lake Park and the boat launch can turn up a variety of warblers and thrushes. This is a no fee area. Restrooms and picnic facilities are available at North Lake Park during the warmer months.
To access the wooded and dune areas of Grand Mere turn south onto Thorton Drive just west of I-94 (left turn if coming from Stevensville, right if coming from North Lake Park). Continue south for about 1/2 mile and watch for the State Park Entrance on the right side of the road. Turn here and continue down the gravel road to the main parking area. A variety of woodland species can often be found along the entry road and the edges of the parking area. To explore more of the area follow the paved trail at the west end of the parking lot. You will soon come to a short paved trail of the left that leads to an opening where you can scan part of South Lake for wetland species. To make a loop in search of woodland species and migrants return to the main trail, turn left and continue until you find an unpaved trail on the right that leads up a hill. Follow this north to a large open area. To return to the parking area make another right turn and follow the trail back to the east along the edge of Middle Lake. There are many good birding trails in this park but they are poorly marked and it is easy to become lost. If you are not familiar with this area it is advisable to stick to the main trail. As is the case with Warren Dunes an impressive array of woodland species and migrants can be found here. Hawk flights can be spectacular from the open dunes on days with southeast winds. Fee area. Outhouses available. Please note, hunting is allowed in parts of Grand Mere State Park and on North Lake. Take this into consideration when planning your trip.
LINCOLN TOWNSHIP BEACH. Just north of Grand Mere State Park is the Lincoln Township Beach. Although it is a relatively small park site, it is often host to an excellent variety of migrants in spring and fall. To reach the park entrance return north on Thorton Drive (from the State Park entrance of Grand Mere) to the intersection with Grand Mere Road. Continue north through the intersection, but note that the road is now called Notre Dame Road. (If coming from the North Lake Park area turn left onto Notre Dame just before reaching the I-94 exit ramps. If coming from Stevensville, turn right onto Notre Dame immediately after crossing the bridge over I-94 and passing the exit ramps.) The park entrance is on the left about 3/4 mile north of Grand Mere Road. You can park in the small parking area just inside the entrance or at the beach parking area at the west end of the road. From the beach parking area you can scan Lake Michigan and explore for migrants in the surrounding trees. The rest of the park can be explored by walking a trail that begins just across the entry road from the first parking area. This trail heads west through a wet woodland area and eventually connects to a boardwalk trail that allows access to an interdunal wetland area. The wooded parts of the trail can be excellent for a variety of woodland migrants. The wetland area is sometimes host to Virginia and Sora Rails, Marsh and Sedge Wrens and a variety of other wetland species. It can also be a good area to view migrating hawks. PLEASE NOTE: Due to vandalism this park was closed much of last year. Hopefully it will re-open soon. No fee, outhouses available at the beach parking area.
ST. JOSEPH & BENTON HARBOR BEACH AREAS. The beaches and breakwaters (known locally as piers) in the vicinity of the St. Joseph River mouth are some of the finest places in the state to watch for flying and resting loons, waterfowl, gulls, terns and shorebirds. These areas are usually best in the early morning before the crowds chase the birds away, but even in the afternoon there is usually something to see. There are restrooms at some of these locations, as well as at several locations in St. Joseph. Specific sites are listed below.
SILVER BEACH COUNTY PARK. Silver Beach is the beach area adjacent to South Pier on the south side of the river mouth. It can be reached by following the directional signs on Main Street (M-63) in St. Joseph. From the parking areas you can scan the lake and nearby shoreline for birds. To reach the south pier, simply walk north along the beach or to the north end of the parking lot. This is an excellent location in the early morning, but on warm, sunny days the afternoon beach crowds usually force the birds to move to other less heavily used beach areas. Fee area, restrooms available in the summer.
LIONS PARK BEACH. Lions Park Beach is the public beach directly south of Silver Beach. It can be reached by turning south off of Park Street onto Lions Park Road. Because it is less popular than Silver Beach as a swimming beach it is often a good area to check in the afternoon for resting gulls, terns and shorebirds.
TISCORNIA BEACH PARK. Tiscornia Beach is the beach directly adjacent to North Pier on the north side of the river mouth. To reach Tiscornia Beach from the south, follow Main Street (M-63) north across the bridge over the St. Joseph River. Turn right IMMEDIATELY after crossing the bridge onto the "exit ramp" to Upton Drive and follow the signs to Tiscornia Park. Drive down the ramp, cross a railroad track, pass the Whirlpool building then make a hard left onto Prospect Street. This leads to the entrance (right turn) of Tiscornia Beach. This is another excellent area for scanning the lake and it is very easy to walk out onto the north pier from here. Be sure to scan the beach to the north for resting gulls, terns and shorebirds. Fee area and restrooms available --sometimes! I haven't yet figured out the system of when they charge and when they don't, but it's minimal ($3.00/vehicle last year).
JEAN KLOCK PARK. Jean Klock Park is located about 1 mile north of Tiscornia Beach. From Tiscornia Park return to Upton Drive. Turn left on Upton and head north. Continue past the water plant and turn left onto Jean Drive. You will soon see the park entrance on the left. Although many improvements were recently made to the park the main entry gate is often closed. When open this in another excellent location to scan the lake, and because the park currently receives less use than the other beaches it is often the best place to find flocks of gulls and terns resting in the afternoon. Directly across from the entrance to Jean Klock Park you will find a wetland area and pond that can be host to a variety of wetland species.
GALIEN RIVER SITES
The riparian forests along the Galien River in southwestern Berrien County are host to a variety of southern breeding species including Yellow-throated, Hooded and Cerulean Warblers, Louisiana Waterthrush and Acadian Flycatcher. In addition these forest corridors are excellent locations to search for a variety of other woodland species and spring migrants. Two of the best areas to explore along the Galien are at Warren Woods State Park and in the vicinity of Forest Lawn and Lakeside Roads.
WARREN WOODS STATE PARK. Warren Woods is located in Chikaming Township on Warren Woods Road 1/2 mile west of Three Oaks Road. The north section of the park can be entered by parking along Warren Woods Road and hiking south along the trail that starts just west of the bridge over the Galien River. The "official" park entrance is one mile to the south on Elm Valley Road -- please note that the walking bridge over the Galien River was destroyed by a falling tree a few years ago -- As a result it is not possible to reach the north section (and the best birding area) from the Elm Valley Road parking lot.
Warren Woods includes areas of mature floodplain forest along the Galien River, as well as an impressive stand of old growth beech-sugar maple forest. It is an excellent location to search for woodpeckers, thrushes and warblers. It is probably the best location in Berrien County to see a Pileated Woodpecker, but even here they can be elusive. Hooded Warblers and Acadian Flycatchers are usually easy to find in the upland forest north of the river. Carolina Wren, Cerulean Warbler, Louisiana Waterthrush and many other species are often present near or along the river. Before dawn this is a good location to listen for Barred Owls -- sometimes they can be seen during the daylight hours. Fee to park in the parking lot at the south end of the park, outhouses available here. No fee to park along the road and walk in to the north section.
FOREST LAWN AND LAKESIDE ROADS. The floodplain forests near the intersection of these two roads are excellent areas to see a variety of nesting woodland species and spring migrants. The most productive areas are usually in the vicinity of the bridges over the Galien River. The bridge on Lakeside Road is north of Forest Lawn Road. The bridge on Forest Lawn Road is east of Lakeside Road.
KESLING PRESERVE. A 52 acre preserve encompassing the north side of the bridge on Forest Lawn Road opened in the spring of 2005. The Southwest Michigan Land Conservancy was instrumental in the aquisition of this property. Now we are able to walk on a trail along the Galien River in search of birds. The large Sycamores in this area are the best places in Berrien County (and all of Michigan) to see Yellow-throated Warblers. Other species to expect here include Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, Acadian Flycatcher, Cerulean Warbler, Louisiana Waterthrush and Red-shouldered Hawk. An excellent variety of other woodland and riparian species may be found here as well. (Yellow-throated Warblers are also found at the bridge crossing on Witt Road, south of Forest Lawn Road.)
SARETT HOURS: Nature Center Building
Our trails are open dawn to dusk every day.
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