Tag Archives: Indiana

First Day Hiking in Indiana

The start of a “First Day Hike” at Spring Mill State Park.

Mitchell, IN–While late night revelers from New Year’s celebrations were sleeping in, many early risers headed to Indiana State Parks on January 1, 2017 to participate in an annual “First Day Hike.” Across the state, parks welcomed visitors to a guided hike, led by a park naturalist. At Spring Mill State Park, wildlife naturalist Wyatt Williams led a group of adults, children, and one small leashed dog on a challenging 2.5-mile hike through the park’s major highlights.

Evidence of a beaver gnawing on a tree

The hike began at 10 a.m. with an easy trek along Spring Mill Lake, created by the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) in the 1930s. Williams stopped to point out evidence of beavers, which had gnawed a sizable portion of a big tree, and lopped off many smaller saplings. Williams said there were also a noticeable number of river otters in the park, a result of a reintroduction program begun in 1995 after the otters were wiped out by 1942.

First we stopped at a worn monument to Alexander Wilson. Wilson, called “Father of American Ornithology” by George Ord, preceded John Audubon in cataloging American birds. The monument was carved 150 years ago by George Donaldson, who owned the property of Spring Mill State Park, and unfortuantely very little remains of the likeness carved in the stone. A short walk past the monument, Williams stood in a small area of the creek marked by small stone rectangles.

Remains of Carl Eigenmann’s fish ponds

These were fish ponds created by Carl Eigenmann, an Indiana University ichthyologist from the late 1800s and early 1900s who explored Donaldson Cave and studied the blind fish there.

As a karst landscape, the park features caves and eroded limestone topography. Our trek led us right to one of the more well-known features, Donaldson Cave. It was too wet and we did not have time to explore the interior, but it is open to visitors at various times in the year. Instead, we headed up a cough-inducing set of stairs towards Hamer Cemetery. The trail followed a ridge that led to former quick lime kilns and an overlook of the 1800s Pioneer Village, before heading down past the village and up another hill to complete the loop to the Nature Center. The last owner of the village–Jonathan Turley–acquired it in the late 1880s from the Hamers. On our hike, we were stopped by a couple who wanted to know what our group was. They were relatives of the Turleys, on an annual genealogy hike.

Past the village, Williams pointed out black walnut, persimmon, and sycamore trees along the route, which could be identified by their distinctive bark (for example, the persimmon bark is very “pebble-y” and seeds were scattered around it.)

Hot chocolate and coffee supplied by the Spring Mill Inn greeted the returning hikers. Even better than the champaign toast for a happy, healthy new year.

View of a ridge at Spring Mill State Park.

 

 

Eagle Watching at Lake Monroe

Boat ramp at Allens Creek, Lake Monroe

Bloomington, IN–The ice over Lake Monroe at Allens Creek shimmered in the late afternoon sun. A female belted kingfisher chirped nearby, clearly annoyed at the visitors to her fishing spot. Soon, she ignored them and returned to diving in a small break in the ice, seeking dinner.

Spotting a belted kingfisher at Allens Creek, Lake Monroe

Most visitors to the 10,750-acre Lake Monroe usually come in summer for boating or relaxing on the beaches. The lake is actually a reservoir, created by the Army Corps of Engineers in 1965 for flood control and is now a water and recreation source for the city of Bloomington, Indiana.

In winter, though, the lake’s few visitors find peace, calm, and sometimes bald eagles and golden eagles. A “Citizen Scientist” program sponsored by the Indiana Department of Natural Resources recruits local volunteers to look for eagles along the lake and record activities. In the first 20 days of official spotting in 2016, volunteers recorded 62 sightings.

While Paynetown SRA off SR 446 is the biggest summer recreation spot on Lake Monroe, it is not the spot with the highest eagle sightings. Aptly named Eagle Pointe on the lake’s south end near The Fourwinds Inn yielded the most spottings—9 eagles—in December. Two volunteers reported on December 9: “Two adults in nest. One, presumably the female, arranging large sticks. At one point both birds gave us the direct eagle eye visible through the spotting scope! One adult flew to our side of the bay and perched in tree about 200 yards away.”

While four sightings of eagles had also been made at the Allens Creek boat ramp early in December, the clear day later in the month yielded just the kingfisher and a heron wading at a far edge. After an hour in the warm setting sun, we loaded up our car and started to head out when a big bird flew low over the water, seeking prey. It looked a lot like an eagle, but was more likely an osprey, and positive identification wasn’t possible at such a quick glance.

Birders can spy eagles on the lake at any time, but the easiest winter sightings have been February through March. Binoculars or a spotting scope are necessary for getting a good look.

Interested in help finding eagles at Lake Monroe? January 27-29, 2017 is the 17th annual Eagles Over Monroe weekend at The Fairwinds Inn. For just $10, you can take eagle hikes, hear from raptor experts—and for an additional fee—have lunch with eagles, which is sponsored by the resort and the Indiana Department of Natural Resources. Beginning birders and families are welcome to the weekend event, and experts will be posted with spotting scopes along trails to help identify birds.

Frozen marsh at Saltwater Creek observation area, Lake Monroe