Devoted bird-watchers listen to bird songs on an early-morning outing.

Archived Story

Southwest Michigan is for the birds

Published 12:34pm Friday, April 9, 2010

Off the Water

“The beauty of Berrien County is that we get a mixture,” said Pat Underwood, an avid bird watcher and a naturalist at Love Creek Nature Center in Berrien Center.  “We’re on a migration route, so we get migratory birds, and we’re in the northern range of a few birds, and in the southern range of other birds, so it’s kind of a mingling.  There’s a lot of good habitat – wood habitat, field habitat, the dunes, the water. You have it all, so that adds to the variety of birds you can find here.”

Spring is one of the best times of year for bird watching as local birds return to nest and birds that nest farther north pass through. Since it is also mating season, the birds are on their best behavior. Their colors are bright and they are actively singing in hopes of attracting a mate.

“Spring migration may be the best time of year,” said Kip Miller, director of Love Creek and president of the Berrien Birding Club, “but actually it’s an activity you can enjoy all year round. Birds migrate through here in the spring, and again in the fall. There are birds that nest here that you can watch, and there are birds that are here only in the winter, so every time of year, there’s something to look for.

“The real attraction for bird watchers this time of year is a group of birds called the wood warblers,” Miller explained. “There are probably 30 or so species that come through here. They’re sometimes referred to as the ‘jewels of the bird world.’ They’re very colorful – very, very beautiful.”

Unfortunately, wood warblers can be tricky to spot. They are small and can get lost among the leaves.  Experienced birders often rely on their songs to locate them. But beginners shouldn’t get discouraged.  Joining birding expeditions helps train the ear and eye, or there are other birds more easily found.

“Ducks are good,” said Underwood, “because they’re larger and they’re on the (open) water.” They also tend to feed throughout the day, and are available when other birds may be resting.

Birding is a simple activity. All it takes is a good eye and a bit of patience. A bird book and binoculars are helpful.

“It’s a neat way to be outside,” said Underwood, “and you have it no matter where you are.” It can be addicting though, and most birders keep what they call a “life list.”  Underwood uses computer software to keep track of what he’s seen, and where he’s seen it.

“It’s like collecting,” Miller said. “You look for something you haven’t seen before. It also provides an excuse to travel. You go to new exciting places, and you see new wonderful birds, too. A lot of people are very serious. They not only travel all over the state, they take trips across the country, and even all over the world, to see birds.”

Contrary to popular belief, one needn’t get up at the crack of dawn to see birds – but it can help to get an early start, especially when nights are chilly.

“They’ve been sleeping it out and burning energy trying to keep warm,” Underwood explained, “so when sunrise comes, they are ready to eat.”

Berrien County’s many parks and beaches are good spots for bird watching. Some favorite areas include North Lake at Grand Mere, the wastewater ponds in Three Oaks, Warren Woods and Warren Dunes State Park. Local nature centers, such as Fernwood, Love Creek and Sarett, are not only good places to look for birds, but are good sources of information about birds and bird watching. Each nature center sponsors several birding excursions throughout the year.

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