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Birding Escapes: Sarett Nature Center, Benton Harbor, Michigan

by Bobby Harrison
Birding Escapes: Sarett Nature Center, Benton Harbor, Michigan

Straddling the Paw-Paw River in Berrien County, Michigan, Sarett Nature Center is well known among local naturalists as a birding hotspot. Sarett’s 800 acres of river habitat are bordered with cattail marshes, deciduous forest, and upland meadows, providing habitat for more than 300 species of resident and migrant birds as well as bobcats, mink, and whitetail deer.

The harsh Michigan winter brings Pine Grosbeaks, White-winged Crossbills, and Common Redpolls to the sanctuary. But as winter wanes and spring reaches the sanctuary, a plethora of migrants sweeps northward, returning color and life to the budding forest canopy. Spring migrants include dozens of species of waterfowl, warblers, thrushes, and other songbirds.

More than five miles of trails wind through the sanctuary’s lowlands and uplands. Marsh trails are elevated just inches above water level, giving the observer an intimate view of secretive rails, bitterns, and other wading birds. Upland trails rise through forest and meadows—the habitat of Pileated Woodpeckers, Rose-breasted Grosbeaks, and Ring-necked Pheasants.

One of the unique features of Sarett is a manmade, treetop trail that traverses the forest canopy for 300 feet. Elevated 65 feet above the ground, the canopy boardwalk takes the adventurous naturalist off an upland ridge into the heights of the forest, providing an eye-to-eye view of life in the treetops.

Photographic opportunities include not only many species of birds and other animals but also an abundance of plants: ferns, white trilliums, marsh marigolds, and cardinal flowers, which carpet the damp sanctuary floor.

Located less than a three-hour drive from Chicago, Detroit, and Indianapolis, Sarett Nature Center is a scenic haven, providing a great escape for outdoor enthusiasts.


From the intersection of I-94 and I-196 in Benton Harbor, Michigan, travel north on I-196 for 1.4 miles to Exit 1. From Exit 1, turn left on Red- Arrow Highway and drive .7 miles to Benton Center Road. Turn right on Benton Center Road and drive .7 miles, and then turn left into the Sarett Nature Center parking lot.


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