Bird watchers and amateur naturalists alike in northern Indiana, as well as Chicago and its suburbs, will want to circle December 31 on their calendars — and not just because it’s New Year’s Eve.
December 31 is also the day Indiana Dunes National Park will “facilitate” an important conservation effort known as the “Audubon Christmas Bird Count.” Data compiled during the wildlife census is used by Audubon and other organizations to “assess the health of bird populations and to guide conservation actions,” according to the National Park Service.
Indiana Dunes National Park will facilitate the bird count on Saturday, December 31, in what’s known as the “INDW birding circle,” located in the northeast section of Lake County, Indiana, and the northwest parts of Porter County, Indiana.
On that day, volunteer birders will be assigned a location within the circle to count all the birds they see and note their species. However, they may also conduct bird counts at their home bird feeders.
Why Indiana Dunes Is Unique
There are 15 miles of sandy beach as well as 50 miles of trails through wetlands, prairies, rivers, and forests for visitors to explore at Indiana Dunes. The park, located in the southwest corner of Lake Michigan in northeast Indiana, is just 50 miles from Chicago, so you can even see Chicago’s skyline on a clear day across the lake.
Now, about those sand dunes. Here’s how they were formed: When a glacier receded from the area approximately 10,000 years ago, it left Lake Michigan, along with the beaches and sand dunes, behind. The wind and waves from Lake Michigan continue to deposit sand on the shore.
Interestingly, Mount Baldy, the park’s landmark, sits at 126 feet above the water level of Lake Michigan and moves inland several feet per year. Part of that movement occurs because beach sand on the dune moves inland when the prevailing northwest wind exceeds 7 mph.
Know Before You Go Birding
“Birders and nature enthusiasts take part in this tradition, many rising before dawn to participate in the longest running wildlife census on the planet,” according to the Indiana Audubon Society.
What makes the Audubon Christmas Bird Count important is that it uses “the power of volunteers to track the health of bird populations at a scale that professional scientists could never accomplish alone,” the society continues.
“Data compiled in Indiana will record every individual bird and bird species seen in a specified area, contributing to a vast citizen science network that continues a tradition stretching back more than 100 years,” according to the Indiana Audubon Society.
If you’d like to help with the Audubon Christmas Bird Count at Indiana Dunes, you’ll need to register with park ranger Christine Gerlach before Monday, December 26. You can register by email or by phone. The phone number is (219) 395-1885.
Importantly, you can also help with the 2022 Christmas Bird Counts in Indiana on other dates and at other locations as well. Bird counts will also be held from December 14 to January 4 at Big Oaks National Wildlife Refuge, Mary Gray Bird Sanctuary, Muscatatuck National Wildlife Refuge, and numerous counties throughout Indiana.
You can use the National Audubon Society’s interactive map of 2022 Christmas Bird Counts to find those locations as well as contact information so you can register to help.
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