Indiana’s diverse habitats are home to over 400 documented bird species, making it the perfect place for a birding adventure. The birding experiences won’t disappoint, from the one-of-a-kind migration of Sandhill Cranes to Bald Eagles perched atop tree-tops. Luckily, the Indiana Audubon Society recently created the Indiana Birding Trail, featuring 64 great bird watching locations. The trail guide covers everything you need to know on each area, including eco-regions, climate influences, bird species, and more. Below, we have outlined every site in NORTHWEST INDIANA on the Indiana Birding Trail.
- Indiana Dunes National Park (Porter Indiana)
Indiana’s first national park is also arguably its best birding destination. Over 350 bird species have been spotted in the greater Indiana Dunes area, with most of them detected at Indiana Dunes National Park. The top birding locations at the park include Beverly Shores, Heron Rookery, Cowles Bog, and West Beach. The swamp habitat of Cowles Bog produces a large number of migrant birds in both the spring and fall.
2 Indiana Dunes State Park (Porter Indiana)
Indiana Dunes State Park occupies 2,182 acres in Northwest Indiana. It was established in 1925, as Indiana’s 5th state park. The rare collection of habitats and associated plants and animals has long been recognized as one of the most biologically rich areas in the country.
Within the boundaries of Indiana Dunes State Park one can find lake, beach, foredunes, dune forests, dune swamps, prairie, and savanna habitat. This mixture helps support a vast variety of bird species, and supports many migrating birds as they funnel along the lakeshore during migration.
Along the lakeshore, the bird observation area (old green tower) located on a dune west of the West Beach Parking Lot offers birders a good vantage point for migrating waterfowl, passerines, and hawks. The former tower has been replaced with an accessible birding platform now. Both Dunes area and state record high counts for individual birds have been recorded from the old green tower.
Some species counts include: Eastern Kingbird (418; state record), Cliff Swallow (120; Dunes area record), Cape May Warbler (21; Dunes area record), and Scarlet Tanager (61; state record). Record counts have also been tallied for Northern Flicker (600; state record) and counts around 100 have been made of Baltimore Oriole.
3 Hammond Lakefront Park and Bird Sanctuary
This 600-meter wooded strip of lakefront on Lake Michigan is a virtual oasis of vegetation among a vast urban landscape. Once well-known simply as “The Migrant Trap,” it serves as a valuable migrant stopover site which concentrates great numbers of migrant passerines in spring and fall. As a lakefront site, flanked to the east by the Hammond Marina, this site is also great for migrating and overwintering waterfowl.
Typically, it is best to start birding at this site by checking the ornamental pines on the east side of the sanctuary, then scanning the marina and Lake Michigan for waterfowl. Enter the sanctuary from the east edge and walk the interior trail in a westward direction until you reach the area where the bike trail intersects the trail. Return eastward along the bike trail just outside of the sanctuary. At the west end, it can be productive to walk a short distance west along the bike trail, especially near the train tracks where the grasses provide cover for sparrows and other skulking species.
4 Grant Street Marsh (Gary, Indiana)
The marsh is very easy and convenient to bird, with 7,000 feet of levee bordering the south and east sides that has a wide, level, firmly packed fine gravel path on top. This allows unobstructed observation from any point on the path, while standing 8-10 feet above the surface of the water (there are very few trees inside the levee). A spotting scope is recommended to cover the entire area.
Over 200 species have been recorded at the marsh. The list includes Eurasian Wigeon, Eared Grebe, Black-billed Cuckoo, King Rail, American Avocet, Whimbrel, Hudsonian Godwit, White-rumped Sandpiper, Wilson’s Phalarope, American Bittern, Least Bittern, Cattle Egret, Glossy Ibis, White-faced Ibis, Western Kingbird, and Yellow-headed Blackbird (which has nested in several seasons). Nesting Bald Eagles have been present in recent years.
Grant Street marsh is centrally located among the prime birding areas in the NW corner of the state. It is approximately 20 minutes from Miller Beach as well as the Indiana Dunes State and National Parks, 30 minutes from the Hammond Lakefront Park and Marina, and 35 minutes from Michigan City Harbor.
5 Miller Beach
Lake Street Beach is most commonly birded July through August as birders scan the beach and water for migrating shorebirds, gulls, and terns. This site typically requires sedentary birding on the beach just north of the parking lot. Birders often bring chairs to sit on as they wait for migrating birds to fly by and often land on the beach. Another way to bird the site is to walk the beach 1 mile west to the USX Steel breakwall searching for shorebirds on the beach. You can often find birds resting on the breakwall; although is does require climbing onto the large concrete slabs. Primitive and sandy trails due exist to the south of the beach and can be productive for migrating passerines during spring and fall migrations.
During late summer and through fall, birders typically head east to Marquette Park to scan for migrating waterfowl, gulls, and other specialty species including jaegers. For jaegers, the concession stand at Marquette Park is the go-to spot in Indiana.
6 Kankakee Fish and Wildlife are (Pictured) (North Judson, Indiana)
The area is heavily hunted during the appropriate season, but fortunately, most of the best viewing is from one of the numerous roads.
The main birding areas are areas L-3 and L-4 in LaPorte Co. off CR W2100 S. and in Kiwani Marsh (parking lot on north side of Toto Rd. just west of the Headquarters in area S-4) and adjacent fields on the south (Starke Co.) side of Toto Rd. The area also has less common, but not infrequent sightings of raptors and a few songbirds utilizing the river as a pathway and stopover.
If one has more time for exploration, 10-mile Road is a long, gravel road loop that lines each of the two rivers and loops well west of the FWA if one has time. Bald Eagles, and typical eastern forest nesters are found along the river. In addition, the river floodplain forest is an important stopover area for species such as Rusty and Brewer’s Blackbirds (also nest nearby) and holds good numbers of Prothonotary and a few Yellow-throated Warblers. Keep an eye out for raptors. Golden Eagle is rare but annual in the area in early spring.
The habitat ranges from seasonally impounded and flooded agricultural fields and basins to river floodplain forest. Along both sides of the rivers in centrally located and flooded fields, one can find impressive numbers of most species of duck, swan, geese, and shorebirds, particularly found in late winter and spring migration.
Waterfowl tend to begin showing up at Kiwani Marsh as soon (or sooner for swans) as a hole forms in the ice, including any thawing flooded fields along Toto Rd. on the south side of the river near the headquarters. Duck rarities have included both Cinnamon Teal and Eurasian Wigeon.
Other rarities have included Swainson’s Hawk, Gyrfalcon, Prairie Falcon. Marsh birds, including Rails, Marsh Wrens and snipe can be found in the areas on the north side of 2100 S. between LaPorte CR’s 500 and 600 W across from shorebird scrapes. A scope is often useful when birding this site.
7 Kankakee Sands (Morocco Indiana):
The 7,000+ acres are home to an amazing array of birds, wildflowers, plants, and animals that fills the prairie with song and sights to behold. The restored grasslands, wet prairies, and wetlands have proven a hotspot for both migrating and breeding prairie species that are generally hard to find throughout the state. This includes Bell’s Vireo, Blue Grosbeak, Western Meadowlark, Bobolink, Lark Sparrow, and state endangered Henslow’s Sparrow.
Early morning visitors can hear Northern Bobwhite throughout the property from the many roadsides, and various parking lots allow for ventures into the prairies to explore. Areas to the east of US 41 harbor the most Grasshopper and Henslow’s Sparrows, and areas with recent burns are the best to search for Lark Sparrow. Early morning visits near any wetland or wet ditch can often harbor American Bittern in the appropriate season. Recent restoration work in Unit J is providing excellent waterfowl habitat, and flooded field on County Road 225 N usually harbors migrating shorebirds.
Visits from fall through spring are also notable as a healthy wintering population of Short-eared Owls hunt the property at dusk. Driving the various roads will often encounter multiple birds throughout the prairie. Visitors should be careful not to block local vehicular traffic, however.
An added spring bonus has been the reliable Smith’s Longspurs that migrate through this part of the state each April. Check eBird sightings for updates and specific locations.
Best Times to Bird: Winter can be excellent for wintering owls and Rough-legged Hawks. March through June is when Kankakee Sands is at its best with migrating and breeding prairie birds.
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You can read more about these following Subjects Below:
• Birding Articles
• Nature Articles
• Indiana Dunes Articles
• Parks and Recreation Articles
• Recreation Articles
• Gardening and Landscaping Articles
• Lake Michigan Articles
OTHER RECREATION STORIES:
Outdoor Activities in Nwi
Bowling – Valparaiso
Forest park Golf and Creekside Golf – Valpo
Maintenance Tips for Your RV
Biking – NWIndiana
Baseball – Gary
Hiking in Northwest Indiana
Hike the Moraine Nature Preserve – Valpo
Hiking At Sunset Hill County Park – Valpo
Wolf Lake Pavilion – Hammond
Hidden Lake Park – Merrillville
Portage Lakefront Riverwalk Park
Lansing Country Club – Golf
Hammond Bird Sanctuary – Hammond
Gabis Arboretum – Valparaiso
Mount Baldy – Indiana Dunes
Edge Adventure Park (Zip Lines) Hobart
Whoa Zone Water Park – Whiting
Northwest Indiana Fall Colors – LaPorte
Ice Fishing – NWIndiana
Sledding – NWIdiana
Ice Skating – NWIndiana