Apr. 2—Teresa Rody, interpretive manager at the DNR's Upper Wabash Interpretive Services, has always known that Mississinewa Lake is a bird watchers paradise.
The area boasts one of the largest American bald eagle roosts in the Midwest. The lake is a popular stopover site for pelicans, gulls and several species of waterfowl. The forests surrounding the reservoir provide shelter for warblers, thrushes and orioles.
Rody said local birders have known for years about the huge diversity of species that frequent the lake. But now, bird lovers all over the state know that as well.
That's because Mississinewa Lake was included as a site on the state's first ever birding trail that highlights the best spots in Indiana to catch glimpses of unique and rare avian species.
The trail includes 66 locations ranging from the shores of Lake Michigan to the banks of the Ohio River, and everything in between, that take viewers to diverse habitats that support over 400 bird species.
The Indiana Audubon Society and the Indiana Department of Natural Resources partnered to create the Indiana Birding Trail in 2019. However, COVID-19 halted any promotion of the project — until now.
Samantha Ward, outreach and education specialist for Indiana Audubon, said they're now making a full-on push to get the word out about the trail.
"We wanted to let people know what's around them, and highlight the best the state has to offer for outdoor spaces and birding in general," she said.
And when it comes to Mississinewa Lake, there's plenty to offer.
Rody said the reservoir is the perfect landing spot for migratory birds to take a break on their flights across North America. Pair that with the nearby Mississinewa River, and there are all kinds of birds populating the area during different parts of the year.
"Our reservoirs are a really good location to include, because they're kind of an island among the farm fields," she said. "It's an island that kind of strings different habitats on private land along side the Mississinewa River, and that makes it a good place for birds that are migrating."
Rody said it's also the ideal spot for people new to bird watching, since bald eagles and pelicans populate the area. They're big, beautiful, easy to spot and are a great way to get people interested in birding, she said.
"Once people get hooked on a big bird like that, they start thinking about what other kind of neat birds might be coming through the area," Rody said.
Those other birds sometimes include loons, cinnamon-teal waterfowl, golden eagles and even the rare snowy owl that usually can only be found in the arctic tundra.
Ward said the Indiana Birding Trail had been in the works for years before it came out in 2019. A committee originally chose 60 locations based on the variety of birds and habitat there, as well as their accessibility to the public.
Last year, they added six more locations after taking suggestions from the residents about their favorite birding spots.
Now, all those spots have been compiled at www.indianabirdingtrail.com, where people can explore them in detail. Each location includes where the best places are — and the best times — to find certain kinds of birds, how to get there and any entrance fees for parks.
A brochure with all the information on the website can also be downloaded and printed.
Ward, who moved to Indiana last year, said the trail has been a great resource for her to find all the hidden outdoor gems around the state.
"The booklet was kind of like my bible during COVID just to check out outdoor spaces, because I didn't know what was around," she said.
Now, it's sure to do the same for every Hoosier looking to explore their state, Rody said.
"I love what a useful tool it is for bird watchers, especially new bird watchers who aren't as versed about the different places you can go," she said.
A great way to get started is joining a new campaign called #21in21. People can download a gamecard and keep track of visits to 21 Indiana Birding Trail sites to be entered to win prizes at the end of the year. That includes visiting the same site 21 times.
Ward said they also plan to add two new locations to the trail every year based on public input to keep the trail fresh and residents engaged.
"That way Hoosiers can tell us where their favorite birding locations are, and learn about places that we might not be aware of," she said.
In the end, Ward said, the real goal of the state's first birding trail is to get people outdoors to see all the scenery and beauty Indiana has to offer, and then be inspired to protect those areas that so many birds call home.
"Indiana is extremely diverse when it comes to natural landscapes," she said. "We really want people to go out and have that emotional connection to nature, and then continue conserving it."
Carson Gerber can be reached at 765-854-6739, firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @carsongerber1.