Wabash Aerial Surveys

Winter 2012

Indiana’s birding community is taking note of the increased numbers of waterfowl and shorebirds that use southwestern Indiana during the winter months. This phenomenal increase is due to the wetland restorations in Patoka Wildlife Refuge, Goose Pond Fish and Wildlife Area and the floodplains of the lower Wabash that have matured over the last few years.

This evidence of Indiana’s renewed natural resources is awe inspiring -- yet little noticed outside of our state.

It appears that a historical migration route that once followed the Wabash Valley is readily re-establishing itself in response to the increase in wetland habitat. From the ground, the numbers of birds over the last several years seemed impressive, but The Nature Conservancy and our partners wondered how significant they really were.

Getting an accurate count

To figure this out, the Conservancy funded a winter long aerial survey along the lower Wabash and adjacent wetlands to substantiate earlier observations of increased waterfowl use. Our impressions were correct, according to survey results:

  • Hundreds of thousands of waterfowl settled on our wetlands, lakes and oxbows over the winter, particularly Gibson Lake.
  • Researchers were able to observe waterfowl behavior. The birds typically take two flights from stopover sites each day. Once around 6:00am when they fly to adjacent field to feed. Around 11:00 to noon, the birds start streaming back in to rest until the late afternoon when they leave again to feed.
The potential: Making a premiere waterfowl stopover site

As the importance of our wetlands becomes better known outside the state of Indiana, we hope that waterfowl conservation funding resources will be made more readily available to continue to create even more wetlands and attract additional flocks of waterfowl.

With increased funding, the success the Conservancy and its partners are experiencing along the Wabash could become a repeating cycle around the state. Southwestern Indiana has the potential to be one of the premier waterfowl stopover sites in North America to lead the way for other restoration projects.

Together, we can continue to restore and preserve precious natural resources. We hope this information will excite wildlife managers outside Indiana as much as it does us.