Indiana Dunes a top Midwest birding spot

By Ken Kosky

Sandhill cranes are one of the area's claims to fame.
Sandhill cranes are one of the area’s claims to fame.

The Indiana Dunes region is one of the best spots in the Midwest for birdwatching, and spring is the time of year when birders are rewarded with the biggest variety and quantity of birds.

To kick off the peak spring birding season, Indiana Dunes Tourism has launched a special birding webpage which features a list of birding hotspots, a bird tracker and a downloadable birding guide. The webpage also features information about the new Backpacks for Birders  program, which allows birders to stop by five great birding spots and use – free of charge – a backpack containing binoculars and guides.

The perfect site

Just like in real estate, good birding is all about location, location and location.

The Indiana Dunes’ location at the southern tip of Lake Michigan creates a “funnel effect,” funneling birds along the shoreline as they migrate.

Birdwatching is big throughout the Indiana Dunes and in the nature sites south of the dunes.
Birdwatching is big throughout the Indiana Dunes and in the nature sites south of the dunes.

For an avid birder like Brad Bumgardner, the best thing about working at Indiana Dunes State Park is that his binoculars never have to collect dust — even if it’s not the busy spring and fall bird migration times.

“There’s something going on every month. Any time of year, you can see something,” said Bumgardner, an interpretive naturalist for Indiana Dunes State Park.

“The Indiana Dunes, for birdwatching, is the top spot in Indiana. We’re one of the best spots on Lake Michigan and one of the top three sites in the Midwest or Great Lakes for birding.”

369 and counting

 

A view from Jasper-Pulaski Fish and Wildlife Area
A view from Jasper-Pulaski Fish and Wildlife Area

Bumgardner said there are at least 369 species of birds identified in the dunes area. Not only does the dunes area boast a variety of birds, but it also shows higher numbers of them than in other Midwest locations.

“People come from several states to bird the dunes,” Bumgardner said.

“We have gotten folks from all over the world.”

Indiana Dunes State Park is a popular stop for birders because it has so many habitats, so it attracts many species. He said the opening of the bird observation platform on the west side of the park is just one more way to enhance the birdwatching experience.

The park offers regularly scheduled hikes that are good for birdwatching, bird-related events and a field trip to see the tens of thousands of sandhill cranes that come to Jasper-Pulaski Fish and Wildlife Area.

“Sandhill cranes are Indiana’s claim to fame, or one of them,” Bumgardner said.

There is also plenty for birders to see at the nearby Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore sites as well, Bumgardner said.

National Lakeshore Supervisory Park Ranger Bruce Rowe said the Great Marsh Trail is a great trail for waterfowl, and Portage Lakefront and Riverwalk has become a popular spot when birds are migrating. The Heron Rookery is another great birding spot, he said.

To enhance the birding experience, Bumgardner recommends people pick up a birding field guide and Kenneth J. Brock’s book Birds of the Indiana Dunes.

 



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