This prime birding spot on Lake Michigan, including Tiscornia Beach Park, is a great place to see Peregrine Falcon, jaegers, shorebirds, migrating songbirds, and rarities.
By Walter Booth | Published: 12/26/2008
One of my favorite birding locations for many years has been the Lake Michigan waterfront at the mouth of the St. Joseph River in southwestern Michigan. It’s located about 40 miles from South Bend, Indiana, and about 80 miles from the Chicago Skyway. The area is one of the top birding spots in the Wolverine State.
I have enjoyed birding here because of the large number of rarities that have been recorded, including Western Grebe, American White Pelican, and Long-tailed Jaeger, and because of the impressive daytime migrations of loons, ducks, gulls, terns, and swallows along the shore.
On the north side of the river, Tiscornia Beach Park and the adjacent jetty known as North Pier are particularly productive spots. Merlin and Peregrine Falcon migrate along the beach in fall. From North Pier, you can search for jaegers among the gulls on South Pier. And you can see shorebirds and migrant passerines, often in flight off the end of or directly above North Pier, as well as phalaropes swimming in the river. — Walter Booth
Walter Booth is a freelance writer who has been birding for more than 55 years. He lives in Berrien Springs, about 15 miles from St. Joseph.
At a Glance
Click on the coordinates below to view location:
Lake, river, beach, low grass-covered dune.
Masonry jetties that can be slippery during high winds or waves. Sandy beach.
Spring: Common Loon, grebes, Red-breasted Merganser, Double-crested Cormorant, American Coot, plovers, sandpipers, gulls, and terns. Summer: American Avocet, Willet, Marbled Godwit, Baird’s Sandpiper, Red Knot, Sanderling, chances for Laughing, Franklin’s, and Little Gulls. Fall: Common Loon, ducks, gulls, Common Tern. Rare in fall: Purple Sandpiper, Red Phalarope, Black-legged Kittiwake. Winter: Ducks, Bufflehead, Common Goldeneye, gulls, Snowy Owl. Rarities: Northern Gannet, Brown Pelican, Gyrfalcon, Lesser Black-backed, California, Glaucous-winged, Heermann’s, Black-headed, and Sabine’s Gulls, and Sandwich Tern. Year-round: Mallard and Herring and Ring-billed Gulls.
When to go
March through May and July through December. Best time of day to visit is early morning, especially in summer.
Bathhouse, including restrooms, cut into the backside of the low dune along the beach. Dining and lodging available in St. Joseph.
Public beach and park. Summer parking fee $3 or season pass $20. Free for pedestrians. Open during the day, year-round.
Bring a spotting scope.
For more info
Jean Klock Park
About one mile north-northeast of North Pier. In spring, passerines often visible from parking lot.
Grand Mere State Park
Located just west of I-94 at the Stevensville exit. Lakes, forested dunes, and deciduous scrub. Songbirds spring through fall, migrating Turkey Vultures, hawks, eagles, and falcons, mostly in April, September, and late October.