Lots to do for literal love birds

Published 10:46 am Thursday, February 6, 2014

Visitors to Love Creek Center and Sarett Nature Center can view wild birds at their feeders year-round. (Leader photo/JILL McCAUGHAN)

Visitors to Love Creek Center and Sarett Nature Center can view wild birds at their feeders year-round. (Leader photo/JILL McCAUGHAN)

BERRIEN CENTER—Why do we celebrate love and romance on Feb. 14, Valentine’s Day?

For the medieval poet, Geoffrey Chaucer, and later for William Shakespeare as well, Valentine’s Day was special because they believed it was the day that the world’s birds would flock together, each one in search of its one, true mate. For this reason, even today, pairs of love birds often adorn Valentine’s cards.

Of course, there are competing stories, such as that of St. Valentine, a priest executed in 3rd Century Rome as punishment for performing marriages that had been forbidden.

But, for those who love nature and who also bemoan the commercialization of holidays in general, Chaucer’s version of Valentine’s Day might be the more palatable choice.

For those nature lovers, a birding trip to Love Creek County Park or another of Berrien County’s bird-watching destinations is a unique yet fitting way to celebrate the season.

“Berrien County is actually a really popular birding county,” said Kip Miller, a naturalist who has been with Love Creek for 30 years. “A lot of people come from out-of-county and even out-of state to watch birds in Berrien County.”

Love Creek offers two indoor bird-viewing areas, both with large windows and seating that allow visitors to relax indoors as they watch a variety of native birds come to the feeders.

More birding opportunities are available through Love Creek during the fall and the spring. In addition, Berrien County Parks organizes field trips to other birding locations around the county.

“Love Creek, as a part of Berrien County Parks, is a sponsor of the Berrien Birding Club. We have a lot of fieldtrips to a lot of the places on the map,” Miller said. “People can find out about those fieldtrips from our website or by contacting us.”

That map, “Berrien County Birding Destinations,” is a 2013 publication that resulted from a collaboration with a number of different agencies and groups. It can be obtained at Love Creek, which is located at 9292 Huckleberry Rd., and at several other locations, including www.berriencounty.org/parks. Love Creek can also be reached at (269) 471-2617.

Two of those collaborators, Sarett Nature Center and Fernwood Botanical Garden, have birding opportunities scheduled in the near future.

Sarett will be hosting a birding fieldtrip on Feb. 9. They will be travelling to either Allegan State Game Area or to Muskegon. Then, on the evening of Feb. 22, they will be hosting an “Owl Prowl” at their nature center.

For those who would like to draw more birds to their own backyards, Sarett will offer a birdhouse building project. More information about all of those events is available by calling (269) 927-4832 or visiting www.sarett.com.

Fernwood Botanical Garden will host the Great Backyard Bird Count from 1 to 4 p.m. on Feb. 15. The event, organized by the National Audubon Society and the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, is designed to teach people about feeding and identifying common winter birds. More information on that event can be obtained by calling (269) 695-6491 or by visiting www.fernwoodbotanical.org.

At Love Creek, outdoor activities are devoted mainly to cross-country skiing in the winter. Nature enthusiasts can enjoy 5 miles of groomed, cross-country ski trails when they visit that park. They offer ski rentals for those visitors who do not own equipment, and while they do not offer lessons, Miller said that the sport is fairly easy to learn.

“We get some requests for lessons, but it’s not that hard to figure out,” Miller said. “It’s a great way to get out and enjoy winter. It’s a lot of fun, and it’s good fitness.”

While birds and other animals may be seen while visitors ski, Miller said most of the wildlife tends to stay out of sight.

“What you can see are the signs of animals. There are a lot of tracks out there. A lot of the deer and foxes are starting to use the ski trails because the snow on the trails is packed,” Miller said. “They’re using the ski trails as a kind of animal highway right now.”

Love Creek hasn’t enjoyed such good skiing conditions in a long time.

“This has been one of the best winters,” Miller said. “Tourists do come here for the skiing and for the birds, and it’s a good thing for the locals, too,” Miller said.

So, whether it’s for birding, skiing, or a variety of other outdoor activities, Michiana residents have a year-round, natural treasure in Love Creek County Park.

And, if you’re looking for an alternative way to celebrate the Valentine’s Day season, you might consider getting outdoors to see whether Chaucer and Shakespeare were on to something. You might just decide that Valentine’s Day really is for the birds.