Southwest Indiana Birding Opportunities - Lake Monroe
Nestled in the rolling hills of south-central Indiana, Monroe Lake and its State Recreation Areas (SRAs) encompass 23,925 acres of diverse habitat, including the 10,750 acre lake Monroe Lake’s SRAs provide the best birding and access to the over 250 species of birds that have been recorded according to eBird.
Fairfax SRA (251 species) and Paynetown SRA (216 species) offer the best birding access opportunities in the area year-round. Stillwater Marsh (245 species), Friendship Road (202 species), Cutright SRA (196 species) and the Northfork Waterfowl Resting Area (WRA) (200 species) south of Stillwater Marsh are great locations as well.
Spring and fall are the best times for birding Monroe Lake for both migrants and resident species. When the water levels are low, Fairfax Beach and Northfork offer the best opportunities for shorebirds. Stillwater Marsh, Friendship Road and Cutright are all good locations for warblers, thrushes, vireos and other passerines.
During winter, Stillwater Marsh is great for waterfowl from the overlook. Additionally, Fairfax SRA’s Marina and Paynetown SRA’s Marina host waterfowl, loons, geese and are the best locations for winter gulling. During summer months, Northfork WRA and Stillwater Marsh are good spots to find post breeding egrets and herons. Monroe Lake holds importance as the site of Indiana’s Bald Eagle re-introduction in 1985 and continues to be an excellent site to see eagles in all seasons, but particularly in the winter months
eBird Hotspot Link:
Fairfax SRA: ebird.org/hotspot/L315008
Stillwater Marsh: ebird.org/hotspot/L210916
Paynetown SRA: ebird.org/hotspot/L294929
Cutright SRA: ebird.org/hotspot/L294931
Total Birding Time:
Best Times to Bird:
Monroe Lake Property Office
4850 S. SR 446
Bloomington, IN 47401
Monroe Lake is easily accessed from state roads leading out of Bloomington or State Road 46 from Nashville. Additional addresses exist for Fairfax SRA (8955-9013 S Fairfax Rd, Bloomington) , Stillwater Marsh (8475-8631 E Kent Rd, Bloomington), and Paynetown SRA (4850 S. SR 446 Bloomington).
Hours: Many sites are accessible 24 hours a day with 7am-11pm hours in State Recreation Areas during the recreation season.
Ownership: Owned by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers; leased and operated by the Indiana Department of Natural Resources, Division of State Parks (except for the immediate vicinity around the dam and the tailwaters.)
Admission: Fairfax SRA and Paynetown SRA charge gate fees generally from April-November. Stillwater Marsh, Friendship Rd., Cutright SRA and Northfork WRA are all free of charge.
Restrictions: Stillwater Marsh and Northfork WRA are waterfowl resting areas and are closed to access between October 1 and April 15 each year. However, the observation deck at Stillwater has year round access. Please obey all rules and regulations. A summary of property rules can be found at stateparks.IN.gov/6468.htm.
Parking: Varies by site, but in general ample parking is available in lots.
Nearby Amenities: Modern restrooms are available at Fairfax and Paynetown SRAs during peak recreation season. Vault toilets are found at all locations except for Northfork. Paynetown SRA hosts an activity center with a full-time interpretive naturalist. Hours vary by season. Camping is available at Paynetown SRA and Fairfax SRA has the Fairfax Inn and Marina. Bloomington and Nashville are 5 miles and 10 miles away respectively for food and lodging.
Accessibility: Fairfax SRA has a paved path to the peninsula, however most sites have limited ADA accessibility.
Phone Number: (812) 837-9546
Written by Scott Evans
Photo by Jeff Timmons