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Birding Berrien County: Hotspots near Berrien Springs & Benton Harbor

 

(A) New Buffalo Harbor and Beach ★★

New Buffalo Harbor is a small body of water sheltered by two jetties. In the fall, loons, ducks, grebes, terns, and gulls stop at the harbor while resting from migration. The rocky jetties are a good place to look for Purple Sandpipers, which are difficult to find in Michigan. Uncommon species of ducks and avocets can sometimes be spotted migrating past. In the winter, Snow Buntings, Lapland Longspurs, and Snowy Owls can sometimes be seen near the lakeshore.

New Buffalo beach is one of the best spots on Lake Michigan for gull watching. During the cold months, many species can be spotted, including Lesser Black-backed and Thayer's Gulls.

Website: goo.gl/eSmOiv | Map: Click here
Fees: There is free parking down by the beach during the off-season from Labor Day to Memorial Day. During the summertime, a $10 fee is assessed every time you enter the park
Directions: Click here

Flock of gulls on Buffalo Beach | Andrew TheusFlock of gulls on Buffalo Beach | Andrew Theus

 

(B) New Buffalo Marsh ★

New Buffalo Marsh is a large wetland on the south side of the Galien River. Because there are no parking areas for the marsh, birders will have to leave their cars on the side of Preserve Way. The wetlands provide a home for many species of birds, including Northern Yellowthroats, Indigo Buntings, Sora, and Wood Ducks.

Directions: Click here

 

(C) Galien River County Park ★★

Located between New Buffalo and Union Pier, the highlight of Galien River County Park is a 300-foot long walkway leading through the tree canopy to a 60-foot high observation tower. Another useful structure is a raised marsh boardwalk, which provides birders with easy access to the wetlands.

The recently founded park is an excellent place for birders to search for migrants. Many species of warblers, sparrows, and blackbirds have been seen in the 84-acre park. Rusty Blackbirds, Golden-crowned Kinglets, and Fox Sparrows are annual visitors.

Hours: The park is open from sunset to sunrise
Fees: No entrance fee required
Directions: Click here

 

(D) Kesling Preserve ★★

Positioned on the banks of Galien River’s south branch, Kesling Nature Preserve harbors a diverse plant and wildlife population. One of the preserve's highlights is a unique ravine about 40 feet deep. At the base of the canyon, a small tributary flows through a canopy of oaks, maples, beeches, and other trees.

A popular stop for birders during the springtime, it sometimes seems like warblers are everywhere in the trees of Kesling Preserve. The park is notable for being one of the few places in Michigan where the Yellow-throated Warbler nests. Look for the warblers in the large Sycamore Trees interspersed throughout the preserve.

Other species of birds which nest locally include Cerulean Warblers, Louisiana Waterthrushes, and Red-shouldered Hawks. Another reason to visit is the wildflowers which carpet the forest in May. Wood Anemone, White Trillium, Spring Beauty, and Hepatica are a few examples.

Website: goo.gl/SD48Ht
Directions: Click here

Kesling Nature Preserve | Southwest Michigan Land ConservancyKesling Nature Preserve | Southwest Michigan Land Conservancy

 

(E) Forest Lawn Landfill (Rest. Access) ★

Forest Lawn Landfill is an excellent spot to look for gulls. A few years back, birders spotted California Gulls at the landfill. Visiting birders will have to request permission from the landfill staff before exploring the area. If no staff are present, please use the adjacent road to search for gulls.

Directions: Click here

 

(F) Three Oaks Sewage Ponds ★

Surrounded by a chain-link fence, Three Oaks Sewage Ponds consists of three large ponds. Many kinds of ducks, gulls, and terns can be seen at the ponds during the springtime.

Directions: Click here

 

(G) Warren Woods State Park ★★

Covering over 300 acres of land, Warren Woods State Park protects a mature beech-maple forest. Birders will enjoy hiking through the quiet woods to a rustic bridge overlooking the Galien River. Unmarked trails are characteristic of the wild ruggedness of this pristine forest. Visitors should pay close attention to their maps to keep from getting lost.

Acadian Flycatchers and Hooded Warblers nest in the upland forest north of the river. Other species regularly spotted at Warren Woods State Park include Louisiana Waterthrushes and Cerulean Warblers. Birders who linger into the evening hours may be fortunate enough to hear the call of a Barred Owl echoing through the forest.

Website: michigan.gov/warrenwoods | Map: Click here
Phone: (269) 426-4013
Fees: Recreation Passport required ($11 resident, $31.10 non-resident)
Directions: Click here

Warren Woods State ParkWarren Woods State Park

 

(H) Chikaming Township Park ★★

Chikaming Township Park & Preserve is a 263-acre nature sanctuary that offers many unique natural features, including a tallgrass prairie and the Galien River floodplain. There are 4 trails available for birders to explore, leading visitors across a dam and to a lake. During the springtime, the park is a good place to look for sparrows, warblers, and other songbirds.

Map: Click here
Directions: Click here

 

(I) Cherry Beach ★

Featuring a handicap accessible observation platform, Cherry Beach is a good place for birders to stop and scan Lake Michigan for ducks, terns, and gulls. Parking next to the 253-ft long beach is restricted during weekends from Memorial Day to Labor Day.

Directions: Click here

 

(J) Warren Dunes State Park ★★★

Warren Dunes State Park is one of the best places in Michigan to find rare birds. In the past, sightings of Swallow-tailed Kites, Golden Eagles, and Swainson’s Hawks have taken place. Birders have also reported seeing several kinds of rare warblers.

The best birding at Warren Dunes State Park starts on the north side of the park from a small parking lot located near Floral Lane. This spot usually has less human activity than other areas do. Visitors should take the time to walk the Yellow Birch Trail while searching for warblers in the shrubbery. Energetic and adventurous birders may want to hike the Blue Jay Trail, which leads visitors on a strenuous tour over the hills, where Prairie Warblers can sometimes be found. The songbirds nests in dune blowouts, which is an open, destabilized sand dune.

Website: michigan.gov/warrendunes | Map: Click here
Phone: (269) 426-4013
Fees: Recreation Passport required ($11 resident, $31.10 non-resident)
Directions: Click here

Warren Dunes State Park | Southwest Michigan Land ConservancyWarren Dunes State Park | Southwest Michigan Land Conservancy

 

(K) Bridgman Sewage Ponds ★

Located next to I-94, the Bridgman Sewage Ponds often host large numbers of migrating waterfowl during March and April. Be sure to request permission before birding the area.

Directions: Click here

 

(L) Weko Beach Park & Campground ★★

Located next to Lake Michigan, Weko Beach Park is a short distance north of Warren Dunes State Park. The landscape behind Weko Beach Park is heavily forested, creating a good place for sighting songbirds during the spring migration. Many kinds of diving ducks can be seen offshore in March.

Map: Click here
Directions: Click here

 

(M) Grand Mere State Park ★★

Featuring three sparkling blue lakes, Grand Mere State Park’s combination of Lake Michigan and inland waterways create a veritable birding mecca. Every spring, thousands of warblers migrate up the coastline of Lake Michigan. Many of the songbirds stop for a rest at Grand Mere State Park. There is a paved nature trail leading through the forest where different species of warblers may be seen.

Songbirds that have recently nested at Grand Mere State Park include Black-throated Green Warblers, Canada Warblers, and Black-and-white Warblers. In addition to the forest, there are three large lakes for birders to check. Common Loons, Horned Grebes, and all three species of scoters are regular visitors to the park in April.

Website: michigan.gov/grandmere | Map: Click here
Phone: (269) 426-4013
Fees: Recreation Passport required ($11 resident, $31.10 non-resident)
Directions: Click here

Grand Mere State Park BeachGrand Mere State Park Beach

(N) Silver Beach County Park ★

Silver Beach County Park is a good place to look for diving ducks and wading birds. During migration, many kinds of sandpipers can be seen on the park’s beach, a short distance away from Lake Michigan and the St. Joseph River. Unfortunately, the park can become quite crowded during the summer, forcing birds (and birders!) to visit adjacent Lions Beach instead.

Hours: The park is open from 5am to sunset
Fees: Berrien County residents have to pay $6, while non-residents are charged $8
Directions: Click here

 

(O) Tiscornia Beach Park ★★

Famous for the avian rarities which visit annually, past sightings at Tiscornia Beach Park include Ancient Murrelet, Long-tailed Jaeger, American White Pelican, and Western Grebe. Positioned on the north side of the St. Joseph River, the best place to search the park for birds from a long jetty, where many kinds of gulls and shorebirds can be seen. Merlins and Peregrine Falcons are two other migrants that that occasionally visit the beach. There are restrooms available.

Since most of the rarities seen at Tiscornia Beach are flybys, some birders may not see anything other than gulls and terns when visiting.

The St. Joseph river channel drains water from a mostly rural farming area into the Lake Michigan watershed. Long ago, the river was important to Native Americans because it served as a canoe route between the Mississippi River watershed and Lake Michigan.

Hours: Open from 6am to 10pm
Fees: A daily parking permit costs $5
Directions: Click here

 

(P) Brown Sanctuary ★★

Positioned next to a swampy floodplain of the Paw Paw River, Brown Sanctuary is an excellent birding hotspot featuring diverse habitat. The species visitors will see depends on how high the water level is. The park’s highlight is a trail that takes visitors across a large field to a marsh overlook platform, where birders can look for Prothonotary Warblers and other warblers that nest in the area. The staff of Sarett Nature Center manages Brown Sanctuary.

Directions: Click here

Indigo BuntingIndigo Bunting

 

(Q) Sarett Nature Center ★★

Sarett Nature Center is a quiet preserve in the southwestern corner of Berrien County. It has over 8 miles of trails, leading visitors through 1,000 acres of woods and wetlands. A walk alongside the the Paw Paw River bluffs provides birders with a scenic view of the river valley and a chance to see raptors soaring overhead. There are several observation platforms and boardwalks available. Walk on the Treetop Tower Trail to experience amazing eye-level views of warblers and other migrating songbirds.

When spring arrives, check the Paw Paw River for Prothonotary Warblers. Long-eared Owls and Northern Saw-whet Owls can be heard calling from the pine plantation opposite of the park entrance, as well as from the cedar trees which provide shade along the trails below the nature center. Search for Orchard Orioles, Dickcissels, Bobolinks, Henslow’s Sparrows, and Grasshopper Sparrows in the prairies next to Benton Center Road, south of the Nature Center.

Website: sarett.com | Map: Click here
Phone: (269) 927-4832
Hours: The trails are open from dawn to dusk. The nature center building is open Tuesday to Friday from 9am to 5pm, on Saturday from 10am to 5pm, and on Sunday from 1pm to 5pm.
Directions: Click here

Prothonotary WarblerProthonotary Warbler

 

(R) Eau Claire Sewage (Restricted Access) ★

Enclosed by a fence, the three lagoons of Eau Claire Sewage Ponds often host large numbers of migrating ducks and sandpipers. Please request permission before searching the ponds for sandpipers and waterfowl.

Directions: Click here

 

(S) Love Creek Nature Center & Park ★★

Located amidst rolling, forested hills, Love Creek Nature Center & County Park features over 6 miles of trails and provides birders with access to a large beech-maple forest. Louisiana Waterthrushes and Acadian Flycatchers can commonly be heard calling through the trees in the springtime. Birders will enjoy watching bird activity at the feeders through the windows of the nature center.

Besides birding, there are many other activities for visitors to enjoy. Mountain biking and hiking are popular activities at Love Creek Nature Center. Visitors should bring a bike to get additional exercise while keeping their eyes open for Pileated Woodpeckers and Swainson’s thrushes.

Website: goo.gl/JADrdF
Hours: The park trails are open from dawn to dusk. The Nature Center is open on Tuesday to Sunday from 10am to 5pm. It is closed Mondays.
Fees: $3 for Berrien County residents, and $5 for non-residents
Directions: Click here

 

(T) Berrien Springs Fish Ladder ★

The Berrien Springs Fish Ladder enables salmon to travel upstream to the Buchanan Dam. While most nature lovers visit in hopes of spotting big fish, few realize that the area is an excellent birding hotspot. Bald Eagles and Osprey can regularly be seen flying overhead in search of a tasty meal. Above the dam, a large pond lies where Common Loons can sometimes be seen. Other species of birds that can be found near the fish ladder include cormorants, grebes, and ducks.

Website: berrienspringsfishladder.com
Directions: Click here

 

(U) Boyle Lake Wildlife Area ★★

Boyle Lake Wildlife Area is a 188-acre preserve located a short distance east of Boyle Lake. The preserve features a variety of habitats for birders to explore, including a stream, large meadow, and a forest. Occasionally, fortunate birders will find a Yellow-breasted Chat near Boyle Lake. More common residents include Great Blue Herons, American Woodcocks, and Mallards.

Map: Click here
Directions: Click here

 

(V) Mud Lake Bog Preserve ★★

Seldom visited, Mud Lake Bog Preserve provides limited amenities. Fortunately, the vibrant chorus of welcoming birdsong makes up for the apparent lack of hospitality. Henslow’s Sparrows live in the fields, and the sound of Sandhill Cranes can often be heard calling in the swamp. There is a boardwalk for birders to walk along, which leads to a bog and an observation tower. There are also picnic tables and shelters available in case a rainstorm suddenly strikes.

Birds seen at Mud Lake Bog include are Yellow-breasted Chats, Sandhill Cranes, Barred Owls, Eastern Screech-owls, Red-shouldered Hawks, White-eyed Vireos, Least Bitterns, and Virginia Rails.

Directions: Click here

Eastern Screech OwlEastern Screech Owl

 

(W) Fernwood Botanical Gardens ★★

Located on the east side of the St. Joseph River, Fernwood Botanical Gardens has a variety of habitats for birders to examine, including a 5-acre tallgrass prairie and over 140 kinds of trees. Fernwood offers educational programs about the environment all year around, making it a great place to visit for those who want to complement birding with another activity. Another of Fernwood’s highlights is a greenhouse with over 100 different kinds of tropical ferns.

Birders will be happy to know that the park’s botanical variety results in increased avian diversity. Warblers, flycatchers, and other birds can frequently be seen near the river. Orchard Orioles and Scarlet Tanagers can be heard calling from the arboretum. One southern specialty that sometimes makes an appearance at Fernwood is the Yellow-throated Warbler. The park is also a good place to look for Ruby-throated Hummingbirds.

Website: fernwoodbotanical.org | Map: Click here
Phone: (269) 695-6491
Hours: From November through April, Fernwood is open Tuesday through Saturday from 10am to 5pm and Sunday from 12pm to 5pm. From May through October, Fernwood is open Tuesday through Saturday from 10am to 6pm and Sunday from 12pm to 6pm.
Fees: Adults are $8, seniors are $6, youth ages 13 to 18 are $4, children ages 6 to 12 are $3, and kids under the age of 5 are free.
Directions: Click here

Yellow-throated WarblerYellow-throated Warbler

 

(X) Topinabee Lake Preserve ★

Topinabee Lake Preserve encloses a 71-acre lake with waters shallow enough to accommodate hundreds of wading birds. While the preserve does not often host rare birds, the wetlands still create an excellent spot to see sandpipers, herons, and egrets during migration. Snowy Egrets, Common Gallinule, and American Bitterns have been sighted before.

Over 20 species of ducks visit Topinabee Lake every year. On the north side of the lake, an observation deck gives birders an excellent vantage point for scoping out the lake.

Website: goo.gl/HVBtVq
Directions: Click here

Lake Topinabee | Southwest Michigan Lake PreserveLake Topinabee | Southwest Michigan Lake Preserve

 

(Y) Madeline Bertrand County Park ★★

Located next to the St. Joseph River, the terrain of Madeline Bertrand County Park features dense pine and oak forests. There are a number of hiking trails for birders to explore. Because of the riparian habitat, a wide variety of birds can be found at Madeline Bertrand County Park, including Rough-winged Swallows, Eastern Wood-Pewees, and Gray Catbirds.

Website: goo.gl/OflfTG
Hours: From April to October, the park is open from 10am to sunset. From November to March, the park is open Wednesday to Sunday from 10am to 5pm, and is closed Monday & Tuesday.
Fees: $3 vehicle fee for Berrien County residents, $5 fee for non-residents
Directions: Click here