Michigan Audubon expands Bernard W. Baker Sanctuary to protect 978 total acres of bird habitat.

Isham_Shagbark forest, towering oaks and hickories

Mabelle Isham Shagbark Trails features 11 acres of towering oaks and shagbark hickories. Photo credit Rachelle Roake

Michigan Audubon’s Bernard W. Baker Sanctuary in Calhoun County, Michigan recently received an additional 80 acres of protected lands thanks to collaboration with The Conservation Fund and Ducks Unlimited. The property contains the final unprotected piece of the 700-acre Big Marsh Lake wetland complex that attracts thousands of migrating Sandhill Cranes each fall. Bernard W. Baker Sanctuary is recognized by the National Audubon Society as a state Important Bird Area for migrating Sandhill Cranes, but the property also contains an active Bald Eagle nest as well as a breeding pair of Trumpeter Swans, both are species of concern in Michigan.

The newly purchased parcel will be named the Mabelle Isham Shagbark Trails in memory of Mabelle Isham, the property’s former owner. A true naturalist at heart, Mabelle was a past board member for Michigan Audubon and a licensed bird bander and wildlife rehabilitator who nursed numerous sandhill cranes, wood ducks and other wildlife back to health on the property. Mabelle’s daughter, Marilyn Isham Robinson of Saline, Michigan, inherited the property but knew her mother would’ve wanted it permanently protected for the birds as part of Bernard W. Baker Sanctuary.

Mabelle Isham Shagbark Trails protects 10 acres of mature oak hickory forest and 70 acres of tamarack swamp and emergent marsh – each habitat is filled with unique birds, wildlife, and flora. Breeding bird surveys in 2015 suggest 43 species including Baltimore Oriole, Bald Eagle, Sandhill Crane, Sedge Wren, Willow Flycatcher, and Wood Thrush breed on or near the property. Several of these birds are sensitive to human disturbance and require large areas of contiguous habitat to breed, so protecting the property was crucial to preserving the unique avian community. In the interest of protecting sensitive birds, wildlife, and flora found on the property, the Mabelle Isham Shagbark Trails will be closed to the public except for special events and volunteer opportunities.


Mabelle Isham Shagbark Trails contains an active bald eagle nest that successfully fledged two chicks in 2015. Photo credit Rachelle Roake.

Mabelle Isham Shagbark Trails contains an active bald eagle nest that successfully fledged the two chicks seen here in 2015. Photo credit Rachelle Roake.

Michigan Audubon would like to thank the Robinson family, partners and donors who came together to make this conservation effort possible. The property was purchased through partnerships with The Conservation Fund and Ducks Unlimited, and with grant funds from the North American Wetlands Conservation Act, as well as a donation from American 1 Credit Union in Jackson, Michigan. These lands are being conserved, in part, by funding and technical assistance made available as mitigation for habitat loss or forest fragmentation caused by the construction and maintenance of the Enbridge Pipelines, LLC, 6B Pipeline. The Conservation Fund and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service have partnered to manage these voluntary mitigation funds and provide grants to implement local conservation measures in Indiana and Michigan to protect and restore critical habitat for migratory birds under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act.