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Friday, April 18, 2014
 

Kankakee Fish and Wildlife Area Birding Guide

 

 
Location

Northwest Indiana

LaPorte and Starke Counties, Indiana

DeLorme Page 19, Grid H-12

GPS: 41º 19' 1.03" N
86º 44' 43.5" W

Directions

From the North: Take US 421, US 35, SR 39, or SR 49 south to SR 8. All four of these intersections are relatively close to Kankakee FWA. The intersection of SR 39 and SR 8 sits 0.5 miles east of the North Entrance--the reference point to which later directions will be given. LaCrosse, the nearest town, sits at the junction of US 421 and SR 8, some 19 miles south of the Indiana Toll Road and 25 miles south of Michigan City. See additional instructions below.

From the East: Take US 30 west to SR 39 (the Shamrock Sod Farm intersection), then go south for 6.2 miles to SR 8. Alternatively, take US 6 or SR 14 west to SR 39, then proceed (south or north, respectively) to SR 8. The intersection of SR 39 and SR 8 sits 0.5 miles east of the North Entrance--the reference point to which later directions will be given.

From the South: Take US 35 or US 421 north to SR 8. Lafayette is about 65 miles south of LaCrosse on US 421. Go east from the corner of US 421 and SR 8, or west from the corner of US 35 and SR 8, to the intersection of SR 8 and SR 39. This intersection sits 0.5 miles east of the North Entrance--the reference point to which later directions will be given.

From the West: Take US 30, SR 10, or SR 14 east to SR 39 and then proceed to SR 8. The intersection of SR 39 and SR 8 sits 0.5 miles east of the North Entrance--the reference point to which later directions will be given. If coming from the west on SR 8, LaCrosse is 7.75 miles west of the North Entrance.

Directions to Areas of Interest from the North Entrance: The North Entrance , which refers specifically to the north end of Ten Mile Road, is located on SR 8, some 0.5 miles west of the intersection of SR 8 and SR 39. It lies at the southeast corner of the bridge where SR 8 crosses the Kankakee River. Ten Mile Road (a.k.a. River Road) is a ten mile one-way auto loop that runs between the North Entrance on SR 8 and the more southern exit on SR 39, which is 0.75 miles south of the intersection of SR 8 and SR 39.

The Picnic / Parking Area is located near the North Entrance at the northwest corner of the SR 8 bridge. The three-mile Non-vehicle Path begins on the east side of the Picnic / Parking Area and follows a trapezoidal course through the area. See the site description below for more details on this footpath.

The new Northwest Wetland can be reached by traveling west from the North Entrance on SR 8 for about 3 miles to CR 500 W, then turning left (south) to CR 2100 S. CR 500 W will dead end at this intersection, and a Kankakee Fish & Wildlife Area sign is posted. The "Northwest Wetland" refers to the whole area to the southeast of this intersection, which is now officially owned by the Indiana DNR. To continue to the nearby Northwest Prairie Area , turn left (east) at this intersection onto a gravel road and continue as it turns southward for about a mile through the prairie habitat. There is a small DNR parking area that accommodates 4-6 cars at the end of the gravel road. While this is not a tremendously noteworthy birding area, it may be useful in accessing additional flooded areas that lie to the east and south along the western bank of the Kankakee River. These areas can be reached by walking along levees that run eastward or southward toward the river. The parking area itself is at the southwest corner of a small 100-200 acre wetland.

Additionally, a productive One Lane Road starts at the southwest corner of the SR 8 bridge. There is room to park one or two cars at an angle on the south side of the road, but it is much easier to park in the Picnic / Parking Area just on the other side of SR 8 and walk across the road. Although driving is permissible on this road, it is narrow with limited passing space and almost no areas to turn around.

Site Description

The Kankakee Fish & Wildlife Area (FWA) is a riparian habitat along about six miles of rechanneled Kankakee River in northwest Indiana. This area occupies what was once the Grand Kankakee Marsh, one of the largest inland freshwater marshes in modern North America. Although decimated by drainage in the late 19th and early 20th Centuries, most of the rechanneling occurred well over 90 years ago when the area was first being converted to agriculture. Today the habitat has recovered substantially and suffers from human interference only during spring flood control efforts.

The maple, hickory, walnut, swamp oak, red oak, elm, cottonwood and sycamore trees have become quite large in areas protected from annual flood waters. Yet at the same time, the heavier soil of the area supports flora normally found in the more southern regions of Indiana, thus allowing northerners to observe an environs of the much farther south. This unique integration of regional plant communities partially explains how the Kankakee River basin supports such a diverse mixture of both "typically northern" and "typically southern" bird species. In the late spring and early summer, the yellow-green duckweed covered waters serve as a backdrop for the sounds of Yellow-billed Cuckoos, Eastern-wood Pewees, Acadian and Great Crested Flycatchers, Warbling Vireos, Northern Parulas, and Prothonotary, Yellow and Yellow-throated Warblers. Yet in the same floodplain birds of the north are found, including oodles of Rose-breasted Grosbeaks and American Redstarts, sprinkled with occasional Least Flycatchers and Chestnut-sided Warblers. Additionally, the wet woodlands of Kankakee represent one of the last suitable habitats for Wood Thrushes in the immediate region, as well as roughly approximating the southern breeding boundary of the Veery.

In early spring, the fields adjacent to the narrowly separated Kankakee and Yellow Rivers invariably flood despite the many levees, creating ideal wetlands for ducks, migrant geese, and shorebirds. Much to birders' delights, a gravel road passes through this annually flooded area and forms a loop (or actually more of a hairpin turn) between the two rivers just upstream from where they merge. Ten Mile Road (a.k.a River Road) is a one-way gravel road that starts on SR 8 (the North Entrance ) and courses in a southwest direction along the Kankakee River, forming a hairpin turn before heading back in a northeast direction along the Yellow River to exit onto SR 39. Several short crossover roads link the two legs of the loop, occurring approximately at 1 mile, 2 miles and 3.5 miles from the North Entrance. These allow additional wetlands access and create shorter driving circuits when time is a consideration. The first crossover road offers particularly good access to wetland bird habitat; its northern end reveals plenty of open water attractive to ducks and tree swallows, while its southern end exposes marshy areas reliable for Marsh Wrens and the occasional Black-billed Cuckoo. Additionally, there is a nice parking area and vantagepoint for observing wetlands on the west side of SR 39 between the exit of the Ten Mile Road and SR 8.

The Northwest Wetland , a relatively new marshy area created for waterfowl, has produced several notable records in recent years, including Wilson's Phalarope. See the "Directions" section above for details on accessing this wetland from the Ten Mile Road area. Additional flooded areas can be found near the Northwest Wetland in the Northwest Prairie Area. While the prairie habitat itself has yet to produce many birds, a small DNR parking lot located there is useful for accessing additional flooded areas that lie to the east and south along the western bank of the Kankakee River. These areas can be reached by walking along levees that run eastward or southward toward the river. The DNR parking lot itself sits at the southwest corner of a small 100-200 acre wetland that tends to retain water long into the late spring and summer. This wetland should be approached quietly since ducks and other waterbirds seem to be fairly easily flushed at this location. Bobolinks, Sedge Wrens, and Cattle Egrets have been recorded in the spring at this small wetland and at the south end of the gravel road.

For the adventuresome, a more challenging tour of the area is available on the Non-vehicle Path, which begins on the east side of the Picnic / Parking Area and follows a three mile trapezoidal course through several different birding habitats. Two railroad tie posts mark the start of the path which courses NNE along a levee for about 1.0 mile. Although the path continues on, signs will indicate the end of the FWA property, at which time one can either turn back to the Picnic / Parking Area or continue left (west) through a low wet wooded area along the north side of the FWA property. This westbound segment of the trapezoidal path is about 0.25 miles long and is often impassible in the wet seasons without tall boots. The weedy and "stinging nettle infested" path then turns SSW along the east side of a drainage ditch (and the west side of the FWA property) for about 1.5 miles until it intersects with SR 8, some 0.25 miles west of the Picnic / Parking Area. One must then walk along the side of the highway to return to the Picnic / Parking Area. Please beware of fast moving cars! The full three mile Non-vehicle Path can take 2-4 hours to fully cover during migration. The shorter segment--down the NNE levee for 1.0 mile and then back to Picnic / Parking Area--can take 1-2 hours if the birding is good.

The narrow One Lane Road , which is rarely traveled by cars, begins at the southwest corner of the SR 8 bridge and continues for about 3.5 miles along the west side of the Kankakee. Unfortunately, the road essentially dead-ends, making it necessary to retrace one's entire route. Its full length can take up to 2.5 hours to bird during migration, in addition to an estimated 45-minute non-birding return. Although there is room to park one or two cars at an angle on the south side of SR 8 where it meets the One Lane Road, it is much easier to park in the Picnic / Parking Area just on the other side of SR 8 and walk across the road. While cars can be driven on the One Lane Road, it is quite narrow with limited passing space and almost no opportunities to turn around.

Typical Time to Bird Site: Ten Mile Road: 1-3 hours; Non-vehicle Path: 1-4 hours; One Lane Road: (Full length) 2.5 hours (plus 45-minute return)

Birds

Overview:
In early spring when the fields start to flood, dabbling and diving ducks, geese, and shorebirds are regular along Ten Mile Road and in the Northwest Wetland area. From early May through the first week of June, migrant passerines are abundant along the Kankakee River, including thrushes, wood warblers (29 species 10-May-1996 on Non-vehicle Path), vireos, flycatchers, sparrows, and swallows. Breeding species, including thrushes, warblers, flycatchers, vireos, orioles, gnatcatchers, Great Blue Herons, Yellow-billed Cuckoos, owls, and woodpeckers are best found May through June along the Kankakee River.
Specialty Species:
Sora - Ten Mile Road, 1st crossover, May through June
Yellow-billed Cuckoo - Throughout the area, June through July
Great-crested Flycatcher - Throughout the area, May through July
Least Flycatcher - Migrating birds are widespread during May; summering birds can be seen in June along the river on Ten Mile Road between the 1st & 2nd crossovers, especially just south of the 1st crossover east side
Marsh Wren - 1st crossover, south side, mid-June through July
Veery - North part of Non-vehicle Path, May through July
Barred Owls - Widespread in the area from April through September; best heard at dawn
Rusty Blackbird - Ten Mile Road just south of SR 8, throughout March
Yellow-throated Warbler - All along the Kankakee and Yellow Rivers, including Ten Mile Road, from last week of April through July
Prothonotary Warbler - All along the Kankakee River but more numerous in the southern stretches and along the hairpin turn of Ten Mile Road, especially in drier years; best found May through July
Northern Parula - Along SR 8 by the Kankakee River bridge, also just west of the bridge; May through June
Noteworthy Records:
Tundra Swan - (Winter 1990) - flooded fields
Ross's Goose - (Spring 1990) - Marsh at SR 8 and SR 39
Ruddy Shelduck - (Spring 1995) - Ten Mile Road, 1st crossover - Probable escape
Wilson's Phalarope - (23-Apr-1997) - Northwest Wetland, two birds
Cattle Egret - (08-May-1999) - Northwest Wetland, fourteen birds
Lesser Golden Plover - (27-Apr-1997) - Northwest Wetland, 400 birds
Common Moorhen - (31-Jul-1995) - Ten Mile Road, 1st crossover, six juvenile birds
Pied-billed Grebe - (31-Jul-1995) - Ten Mile Road, 1st crossover, eight juvenile birds
Gyrfalcon - (22-25-Mar-2003) - This gray morph bird found by Brenden Grube represents the first verified record in Indiana.
Bald Eagle - (02-Jun-1995) - Ten Mile Road
Brown Creeper - (June 1985); (June 1986); (June 1990); (June 1992) - Kankakee side of Ten Mile Road between 1st and 2nd crossovers; all found in 1st week of June; nest found in 1990
Golden-winged Warbler - (10-May-1996) - eight birds
Connecticut Warbler - (03-Jun-1997) - six birds

General Site Information

Ownership:
State of Indiana / Indiana Department of Natural Resources
Site Phone Number: 219-896-3522
Hours:
None.
Fees:
None.
Access Restrictions:
Ten Mile Road may be closed if spring flooding is severe enough to make it impassible.
Restrooms:
None.
Lodging:
None nearby.
Special Considerations:
Hunting: The hunting seasons make Kankakee a dangerous place to go birding in the fall. Visiting between January and July is recommended.
Terrain: Waterproof boots are necessary for spring and summer low spots.
Insects: Mosquito repellant is a must during spring and summer.
Temporal Considerations:
Although spring migration may be the best time to visit Kankakee for waterfowl, shorebirds, and passerines, any visit between January and July can be productive depending on the birds of interest. Fall and early winter are equally as productive for birds, but the busy hunting seasons occur at this time. Birding is discouraged during the hunting seasons.

References

Gorney, Don.
"Brown Creeper in Indiana."
Indiana Audubon Quarterly 78.1 (2000): 3-15.
Seng, Phil T., and David J. Case.
Indiana Wildlife Viewing Guide.
Helena, MT: Falcon Press, 1992.

Links

Indiana Department of Natural Resources - Kankakee Fish & Wildlife Area
General information, history, and resources pertaining to Kankakee FWA.
Kankakee FWA Map in PDF Format or Online Viewable Format
These are excellent maps from the Indiana DNR website.

Credits

Author: Dick Plank
Editor: Darel Heitkamp

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Important Bird Area

This site has been named an Important Bird Area by the National Audubon Society. See their

site description