Red winged blackbird



 Winter Raptors
Snowy Owl

This winter is turning into an invasion year for snowy owls, with numerous sightings in the area. Thanks to a high lemming population in the Arctic resulting in a successful breeding season, young snowies, their white plumage speckled with dark brown or black, are moving south for the winter in high numbers. They are typically found in areas with wide open spaces, so watch for them along the lakeshore (New Buffalo and Tiscornia Beaches are great places to look) sitting in the dune grasses or on the jetties. The open fields around Three Oaks and Galien can be productive, and birds have been reported from around the intersection of Linco and Scottdale Roads in the north part of the county. In these habitats, look for them perched on telephone poles, barn roofs, or in sparse trees.  To learn more about this year's invasion, visit

While you are searching the open fields, keep your eyes open for rough-legged hawks, another visitor from the Arctic. In flight, they hold their wings in a slight raised V, similar to a soaring turkey vulture. Rough-leggeds come in a light phase, appearing somewhat light from below with dark patches at their wrists and a dark belly, and a dark-phase, strongly patterned below with a dark body and leading edge of the wings framed by a light trailing edge of the wings and a light tail.  

Both raptors are beautiful, so bundle up and head out to search for some winter visitors!

2017 Christmas Bird Count
Weather-wise, Saturday, December 16, the day of the 2017 Niles Area Christmas Bird Count, was a treat: clear blue skies with temperatures in the upper 30s and low 40s. But that doesn’t always make for the best birding, as when it is milder the birds sometimes aren’t as active, finding food with ease in the wild and not visiting feeders as heavily as when it is cold and snowy. Nevertheless, the final tally of submitted data came out with strong numbers. 61 full species were identified that day, one more than the Count average of 60, with barred owl found during the Count Week period. 10,009 full species individuals were counted, a whopping 3235 more than the Count average and 2820 more than the 2016 total. Including the partial species recorded, the total number of birds found was 10,576 individuals. 

Three species set new high count totals: cackling goose at 22 (a split from Canada goose in 2004, this is only the third sighting on the Niles Count); herring gull at 2264 (the gulls congregate at the Southeast Berrien County Landfill); and state-threatened red-shouldered hawk at 7 (two more than the previous high counts set in 2004 and 2011). 

It is always exciting to find species that aren’t regulars on the Niles CBC. This year that distinction included the first snow goose in eight years and only the 9th sighting in Count history. Also exciting were the first red-headed woodpeckers in 11 years; with their sighting and a few yellow-bellied sapsuckers, all seven possible woodpecker species were recorded – that doesn’t happen too often! 

Missed for the second year in a row was bufflehead, a striking duck that is typically present along the St. Joseph River. As expected with the mild weather, feeder birds were a bit slow and generally down in numbers. I am always grateful for the feeder counters, for they inevitably find birds that are not encountered in the field. This year they turned up the Count Week barred owl, fox sparrow, common grackle, purple finch, and pine siskin.     

The complete results of the Niles Count are available here and the results of all Christmas Bird Counts held in 2017/2018 are available at The 2018 Niles Count will be held on Saturday 15 December; please contact naturalist Wendy Jones if you would like to participate. 

Berrien County Birdathon

2017 Berrien County Birdathon Report

May 13th found Fernwood's Berrien County Birdathon team on the tower at the Galien River County Park before dawn, listening to the lively chorus of birds waking up for the day. 14 hours later, 113 different species had been identified and close to $1800 raised to support our Environmental Studies Programs for area schools - last year we taught nature and science lessons to almost 4000 students! Highlights from the day included a bathing scarlet tanager in a sunny puddle on the trail at Warren Dunes State Park; semipalmated plovers at the Three Oaks Sewage Ponds; handsome white-throated sparrows at nearly every wooded stop; and 20 species of colorful warblers. This annual fundraiser is vital as a fundraiser for Fernwood - thank you to all who donated!

Click here to donate to the Birdathon.

Fernwood's Bluebird Trail

2017 Fernwood Bluebird Trail Report
Winding through the Arboretum and prairie, ten nest boxes along Fernwood's bluebird trail fledged 47 chicks last summer, down a bit from 2016 but matching a pattern of a slower year following a good year. With a lack of natural nesting cavities and competition from starlings and English sparrows for those holes, providing a nest box can be very helpful to your neighborhood bluebirds. Many thanks to our 12 dedicated volunteers who helped maintain and monitor our boxes. 

Berrien County Birding

Berrien County's diverse habitats offer up excellent birding, with 353 different species having been recorded in the County. Fernwood is pleased to have partnered with other local organizations on the Berrien County Birding Destinations map. The map is available at Fernwood, all three Berrien County Parks, Sarett, Warren Dunes State Park, the Harbor County Chamber of Commerce, the I-94 Pure Michigan Visitor Center in New Buffalo, and in Benton Harbor at the MSU Extension office, the Southwestern Michigan Tourist Council, and the Southwest Michigan Planning Commission office. To receive a copy in the mail free of charge, send a note with your mailing address to
Love Creek Nature Center. So go explore and good luck birding in Berrien County! 

Our friends at the Southwest Michigan Planning Commission have created an Interactive Berrien Birding Destinations Map based on the information in the Berrien County Birding Destinations Map.

You can view this interactive map on the Berrien Birding Club webpage or on the Southwest Michigan Planning Commission site. Click Here to read a post on birding in Southwest Michigan by Joanne Davidhizar of Michigan State University Extension.

For more information on birding in Berrien County, please visit Berrien County Parks
 and click on the ‘birding’ link.

Give the Gift of Birds and Help Support Fernwood!

Know someone who enjoys birds at their backyard feeders? Or perhaps someone who is a serious birder, hitting local hotspots every weekend? Give them the gift of birds all year long and support Fernwood at the same time. 

When you place a new one-year subscription to Bird Watcher's Digest magazine or their other publications, Fernwood receives 50% of the subscription price. Mention Fernwood when placing an order at 800.879.2473 or subscribe at This great publication covers bird identification, feeding, behavior, gardening, and much more. It makes a great gift for the bird-lover on your list!