The Indiana Dunes hugs 15 miles of the southern shore of Lake Michigan and is one of the most diverse biomes in the United States and indeed in this part of the world. It consists of 11 types of ecosystems (from wetland to oak savanna to prairie) and has a very very interesting history. Back in the late 1800s, early 1900s, Many of Chicago’s industrialists didn’t want to have the ugliness of industrial landscape in the city, so they built their money making industries (steel and shipping especially) on the shores of Lake Michigan in Northern Indiana.
This stretch of Lake Michigan used to be so polluted that some parts were deemed biologically dead BUT eventually, with community, industry, government and other stakeholders working together, parts of the lakeshore have been restored to their full glory. The restoration is still on going and the success of this movement has served as a model for many other conservation efforts around the world. There is a great documentary called Shifting Sands that chronicles the conservation and sustainability of this region.
Thousands of sandhill cranes (Greater Sandhill Cranes) can be seen at the Jasper-Pulaski Wildlife Area in Medaryville, IN, while on their way to their winter homes in Southern Georgia and Florida during the fall migration. They breed in Michigan, Wisconsin, Minnesota and parts of Canada and stop in northern Indiana. They are usually seen in the area marshes from mid-October through mid-December, peaking in mid-November. I visited the day after Thanksgiving when the numbers just peaked from a high of 15,000 three days before.
According to the Indiana DNR website, between 12,000 – 16,000 cranes visit the area marshes during the migratory period with the highest number of 30,000 plus cranes recorded in 1991. The number is not as huge as the gathering in the Nebraska Platte River where 500,000 birds congregate, but still, it is one of the most spectacular wildlife events you will ever see in Indiana. You can see the birds foraging in harvested farm fields during the day. At sunrise and at sunset, they gather, dance, and socialize in the Goose Pasture best seen in the viewing platform. They are a very noisy bunch.
It is really worth a trip – it’s only about two hours away from Chicago!
More information about the Jasper-Pulaski Wildlife Area and the Sandhill Crane migration can be found at Indiana’s DNR website.