For more information on bird watching in the area, contact the Douglas Center at 219-769-3820, part of the National Parks Service, or Gibson Woods at 219-844-3188.
Hammond Lakefront Park and Bird Sanctuary
Known locally as the "Migrant Trap", this small patch of woods wedged between the Hammond Marina and the Commonwealth Edison Power Plant attracts an amazing number and variety of birds during migration. Sitting on the lakeshore, surrounded by heavy industry, marinas, railroads and gambling boats, the Hammond Bird Sanctuary is the only green patch for several kilometers in every direction. That combined with the funnel effect of Lake Michigan makes the Sanctuary a prime place to bird watch. Everything from Le Conte's sparrows to Connecticut warblers to northern goshawks have been sighted here. Mid-August through October is ideal for viewing some of these rare and unusual birds.
Gibson Woods Nature Preserve
Tucked onto the northern edge of Hammond, wedged between Gary and East Chicago lies a small jewel, Gibson Woods Nature Preserve. Owned and operated by Lake County Parks and Recreation Department, this state-dedicated nature preserve represents the largest undisturbed dune and swale topography still in existence. From the low, wet swales to the high, sandy dunes, Gibson Woods hosts a large variety of plants and birds. In the spring, check the bushes and deadfalls in the swales for black-throated, blue, Prothonotary and magnolia warblers. Connecticut, Nashville, and black-throated green warblers can be seen along the drier areas.
Whihala Beach and County Park
This Park lies on the other side of the Hammond Marina from the Hammond Bird Sanctuary. Though it doesn't boast quite the variety and the huge number of rarities as the Hammond Bird Sanctuary, its sidewalks and mowed grass make it much easier to get around in. Look in the grassy scrub at the beach's edge for migrating songbirds; scope the harbor between the park and Inland Steel for ducks. The park breakwater often hosts snowy owls in December and January.
The Miller area is the eastern edge of Gary. The beach parking lot at the end of Lake Street marks the southernmost edge of Lake Michigan. It makes a great place to watch for migrating birds, especially on days when the wind is coming from the north. Many bird watchers prefer to go on around to the Marquette Park concession stand where they have an elevated and sheltered view of the lake. Bird watching is best here in the fall. More jaegers have been sighted from Miller Beach than any other place in Indiana.
Grand Kankakee Marsh County Park
Spring and summer are the best times to bird watch in this 1,900 acre park. (Insect repellent is strongly recommended in the summer.) The park's trails wind through several different habitats. Look for warblers and other sun-loving birds in the willow and cottonwood. Peer into the ponds to look for Canada geese, ducks and shorebirds. Be sure to listen for wood thrush and veery. Look to the sky for red-tail hawks and turkey vultures. Osprey and bald eagles are occasional visitors during migration.
Oak Ridge Prairie County Park
Oak Ridge Prairie is a notable restoration success story. Henslow's sparrow and sedge wrens nest in the prairies on either side of the road. Check out the wildlife ponds to see what ducks and shore birds might be visiting. Kingbirds and towhees are fond of the savanna area; grasshopper sparrows have nested in back of the sled hill.