Van Buren County is a 1090 square mile county, nestled between several of Michigan’s most well-birded counties including Berrien to the Southwest, Allegan to the North and Kalamazoo to the East. Although Van Buren County only has a small amount of state-managed game area, it is dotted with 10 publicly accessible preserves (with several more to come),1 beautiful State Park along the coast and 1 publicly-accessible State managed Fish Hatchery. At least 35 of Van Buren’s 133 inland lakes have public access. 27 miles of the Kal-Haven Trail cuts across the entire county’s northern edge, linking Kalamazoo to South Haven. The 14 Mile Van Buren Trail travelling north/south links Harford to South Haven. These trails offer a unique bird-by-bike opportunity and showcase some of the natural beauty Van Buren has to offer.
Van Buren County features a wide variety of habitat, including nearly 13 miles of sandy beaches and dunes. Critical back-dune and rare coastal marshes offer habitat for many species of birds and a critical safe-haven for traveling migrants in spring and fall. The Paw Paw River and Black River both meander through the county. The Black River feeds into Lake Michigan in South Haven and this area attracts many species of gulls, shorebirds and waterfowl. Small bridges spanning the Paw Paw River dot the roads rural Van Buren County. Many of these bridges have pull-offs and are worth taking a stop to check for birds. Inland preserves offer opportunities to seek out grassland, woodland and wetland birds in all seasons. Even agricultural areas and farmland can turn up great birds like Brewer’s Blackbird in summer and Northern Shrikes in winter. Wolf Lake State Fish Hatchery is accessible year-round and boasts the best birding in the county for every season.
Round out a day a birding with a fine dining experience/shopping in Mattawan, Paw Paw, Lawton or South Haven. Maybe cool off with an afternoon beverage at one of Van Buren’s local breweries or wineries found in Paw Paw, Bangor, Decatur, Gobles, Lawton, South Haven and Hartford. Perhaps start your day off right with a hearty breakfast at one of Van Buren’s many breakfast diners that can be found along M40, M43 and Red Arrow Highway.
The spots listed in the interactive map offer safe places to bird alone or in a group setting and allow for a full experience of the natural diversity the county has to offer in both flora and fauna. Clicking the icon for each location will bring up a brief description about each location, what birds you might expect to see and when it is best to visit for birding. Check back often as new locations may be periodically added.
The Van Buren Birding Trail is only just getting started. It is our dream to work with donors, conservation agencies, the Michigan Department of Resources, local governments and more to create a signage, literature and free public events showcasing the wonderful birding opportunities and natural beauty of Van Buren County. Check back often to see how we are progressing!