Indiana bird watching: 5 places to check out this summer – IndyStar

Bird-watching soared as a serene activity during the pandemic. Hoosiers who were hunkered down for several months were soon learning about the volume and variety of wild birds that visited their backyards or local parks. 
But now, with the Indiana Department of Natural Resources urging everyone to hide their bird feeders while officials try to figure out what mysterious illness is harming songbirds, beginners may consider taking their newfound hobby into the natural world.
Lucky for them: Birding, or the act of viewing or photographing birds in the wild, can be enjoyed year-round in Indiana.
Summer, particularly, is a great season for newcomers because many birds are not migrating right now, said Brad Bumgardner, executive director of the Indiana Audubon Society, a conservation group. 
“Birds, in general, are still singing and establishing territories and nesting,” Bumgardner said, “which makes them very visible to us. Plus summer brings warmer weather.” 
For those looking for an easy entrance into birding this summer, IndyStar offers five recommendations from Hoosier birding experts for trips across the state, including one in our city’s own backyard, as well as some tips for beginners.
Birders need only two supplies: a good pair of binoculars and a field guide.
The binoculars should be 7x35s or 8x40s. With those, you will be able to spot the various features of a bird, which birders refer to as field marks. Examples of common field marks include the shape of a beak or the colors of its feathers on different parts of its body. 
Ginger Murphy, a longtime birder who works as the deputy director for stewardship for Indiana State Parks, references a Blue Jay as a good example for new birders. 
The Blue Jay is easy to identify, in part, because of three can’t-miss field marks: the crest on its head is notable, its bill is fairly large and the blue color is definitely visible. 
If birders take the same approach to other birds, they will soon start to pick up on noteworthy field marks that will help identify the birds in the wild. 
“You may only get to see a bird for a few seconds or a minute. You can’t catch everything, so what are the few things you need to look for?” Murphy said. “It’s practice, more than anything.”
Once a few field marks are spotted, they can then be compared to what is detailed in a field guide.
Field guides will include helpful descriptions and illustrations of birds, which will empower observers to definitively identify birds spotted in the wilderness. “The Sibley Guide to Birds” is commonly used, but there are several others that work, too.
Some people prefer apps on their phones. The Cornell Lab of Ornithology released a free app, called Merlin, that not only provides a guide but also enables users to submit recorded audio to pinpoint the source of a song or a call. 
The Indiana Dunes, both the state and national parks, is considered one of the state’s best year-round destinations for birders. 
Lake Michigan creates a funnel effect, so migrating birds end up hugging the shoreline and stop at the bottom of the funnel, said Bumgardner, of the Audubon Society. Or in the spring, when they are migrating north, birds see the shore and decide to stop to refuel.
“You’ll probably see more species of birds than anywhere else in the state,” Bumgardner said.
In July and August, birders can begin simply by visiting the beaches, where they may find Willets and Whimbrels — two larger shorebirds — and even Piping Plovers, smaller birds that are threatened.
Visitors should check out the birding tower at the state park, or walk along the parks’ hiking trails. 
The Goose Pond Fish and Wildlife Area, which is in Greene County just southwest of Bloomington, provides habitat to several types of birds. The property was once a farm field but has been restored to prairie and wetlands, and also contains second-growth trees among the woodlands.
“Goose Pond has become an increasingly wonderful place to see water fowl and other birds, including shorebirds,” Murphy said. “There’s been a tremendous amount of work done to create the spaces with water for those birds.”
The area is not as developed as a typical state park. Visitors often start by slowly cruising the county roads until they see or hear birds. 
There aren’t many trails, so Bumgardner recommends parking in a lot and walking around the property. A map is available on the Indiana DNR website, or can be picked up at the visitor center.
Birders can look out for the Least Tern, which is a smaller water bird, or the Northern Bobwhite, which is a type of quail. 
Most Central Indiana residents are familiar with Eagle Creek Park, known for being one of the largest municipal parks in the country. But did you know it’s also a sought-after destination for birders?
Murphy describes it this way: Anyone who has flown into Indianapolis has most likely seen two giant patches of green through the window of an airplane. One is Fort Harrison State Park (another great spot for birding); the other is Eagle Creek.
Birds, too, see those swaths of green when they are migrating toward and through Indiana. 
Summer months bring birds from places as far away as Argentina or Costa Rica. Indiana newcomers to birding can walk the wooded trails to search for neotropical migrants, such as Red-eyed Vireos, Wood Thrushes and vibrant Scarlet Tanagers
Eagle Creek Park, stretching more than 5,000 acres, also contains a variety of habitat, which is crucial to drawing a range of birds. The 1,400 acres of water, for example, can be home to pelicans, ducks and other water birds. 
A trip to Eagle Creek can begin with a visit to the park’s Ornithology Center, where other birders will often share updates on what has been spotted in the last couple of days. 
Monroe Lake, which is just southeast of Bloomington, provides birders with wetland areas to explore that are great for migrating birds.
Sometimes visitors might even see a rare species. Just a few years ago, a Roseate Spoonbill made its way to the state park for about a week or two. 
It is unusual for the spoonbill to visit the area, but a storm likely sent the bird here temporarily. 
“That’s when you get the rare birds coming in,” Murphy said. “They get blown in off their path.”
For those interested in similar sights, Murphy recommends watching for rare bird alerts online or joining a group on Facebook, such as Birding in Indiana
Visitors to the state park may also see Bald Eagles, once an endangered species that has since gone through a restoration program at the park. 
Mark your calendars for Saturday, July 31. That’s when the Indiana Audubon Society will host its Hummingbird Migration Celebration at a property it owns and operates a little more than an hour east of Indianapolis, near Connersville. 
The organization is conducting a long-term study on hummingbirds. July is a time when the birds start coming out of their nests, Bumgardner said. 
At the festival, held at the Mary Gray Bird Sanctuary, kids will be able to help release the hummingbirds into the wild. 
Every hour, the event also will provide a new presentation or guided hike of some sort. Several other types of wild birds will be viewable on the hikes. 
Tickets are available online for $12 ahead of time.
A bird’s song or call can be really helpful for identification.
It will take a little research and practice, but birders quickly learn the patterns of birds they are hearing. Murphy said many birders use mnemonics to remember a particular sound. 
“You learn to put some words to it to match the pattern,” Murphy said. “For example, with the Yellow Warbler, it’s, ‘Sweet sweet sweeter than sweet.’”
Birders should also follow some basic rules. The American Birding Association lists the etiquette that birders should know, but the basic and most easy-to-remember rule is this: Observe from a distance, and don’t disturb the birds.
Newbies to the hobby, for example, will sometimes hear a bird’s call and then start to play the sounds loudly on their phones while trying to identify the bird. But those sounds can disturb the birds, particularly during mating season. It’s best to pack some headphones, Murphy said, or just wait to play the sounds after moving back inside a car. 
Murphy has some final advice for new birders: Be willing to stop and stay still for a few minutes. It helps look for movement at a distance, or hear the sounds of a nearby bird.
“The reality of being outdoors and taking a deep breath and enjoying the colors and the behavior of birds, it’s fascinating,” Murphy said. “And it changes your perspective on nature when you do that. And there’s an opportunity to be surprised.”
Contact IndyStar investigative reporter Ryan Martin at or by phone, Signal or WhatsApp at 317-500-4897. Follow him on Facebook or Twitter: @ryanmartin.