Northwest Indiana Birding Opportunities - Willow Slough Fish & Wildlife Area
Willow Slough began with the purchase of 7,800 acres of land in 1949.
Land acquisition continued to bring the total size to 9,956 acres. J.C. Murphey Lake was completed in 1951. Today, despite the history of heavy agriculture and drainage in this area of the state, Willow Slough holds one of the highest diversity of birds compared with other state fish and wildlife properties, with over 250 species seen.
Willow Slough’s mosaic of habitats makes the property a year-round birding destination. But, like other fish and wildlife areas, park amenities are light, so those looking for lodging, food, or gas should prepare beforehand before entering the property. An outer loop of county roads cross through many of the park’s habitat, allowing for short walks to access much of the great birds to be seen.
The centerpiece, J.C. Murphey Lake, is an oasis within the region, often attracting thousands of migrating waterfowl, especially scaup and grebes. It remains the regional hotspot to see migrating American White Pelicans, and other larger birds with a water affinity can also be seen, including Bald Eagles, Osprey, and Sandhill Cranes. Visitors will want to stop near the park office to scan the lake. By mid-spring a large Purple Martin colony has returned, and they are easily observed here.
The northern areas of the lake support high quality wetlands, with breeding evidence for Common Gallinule, Virginia Rail, Least Bittern, and Marsh Wren. Farther north along the county roads, open grassland and oak savanna mosaics allow for Blue Grosbeaks, Bell’s Vireos, and Lark Sparrows. The southern loop road hosts other more traditionally southern nesting birds among the oak forests, including Summer Tanager and Kentucky Warbler. Here and elsewhere in the park is a local stronghold for whip-poor-wills as well; a rarity anywhere else in this region of the state.
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1803 S 700 W
Morocco, IN 47963
Most visitor access the property by driving from the east via State Road 114 through the small town of Enos, or farther south along 400 S. The park falls along the Illinois border and some birders may visit from the adjoining Iroquois State Wildlife Area.
Hours: Willow Slough is accessible 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
Ownership: Indiana Department of Natural Resources, Division of Fish and Wildlife
Admission: Admission and parking are free.
Restrictions: Fishing and hunting are permitted on the property; during hunting seasons, birders should take care to avoid units where hunters may be present. Some roads on the east end of the property are gated seasonally, but parking lots allow for foot traffic.
Parking: Parking can be found throughout the park in various lots.
Accessibility: Parking areas and Visitor Center are handicap-accessible; trails are not.
Phone Number: (219) 285-2704
Written by: Brad Bumgardner
Photo by: Libby Keyes