This city park is the site of a Great Blue Heron rookery, and it's where to find ducks, owls, shorebirds, and songbirds.
By Nancy Coltun Webster | Published: 6/28/2016
As part of the Chicago metro area, northwestern Indiana is heavily developed, but a few natural, bird-friendly places still dot the landscape. Along the course of the Little Calumet River, for example, you’ll find not only Carlson Oxbow Nature Park, in Hammond, and Grant St. Marsh, in Gary, but also one of my favorites — the Highland Rookery.
The site is named for its Great Blue Heron rookery. The big blue and gray birds have been breeding here for years. This past spring, more than 25 pairs nested high in the dead trees south of the river. When I walk the short trail encircling the wetlands, I never tire of seeing young herons perched on their nests, testing their wings. Herons build nests in the crooks of tall leafless trees that poke skyward out of a swamp. The view is eerie and magical. If you don’t have a spotting scope, fixed scopes installed along the trail can help you catch a glimpse.
About 120 other species have been tallied. Black-crowned Night-Heron also nests, as does Great Horned Owl. Northern Shoveler and Blue- and Green-winged Teal pass through in spring and fall. Wood Duck is present most of the year; in September 2015, no fewer than 58 were spotted in one day. — Nancy Coltun Webster
Nancy Coltun Webster is a freelance writer, editor, and graphic designer. She often writes for the Post-Tribune of Northwest Indiana.
At a Glance
Click on the coordinates below to view location:
Wetlands and river.
Mostly flat. A paved trail winds around west and south edges of rookery. Bikes allowed. An unpaved incline from parking area leads to trail.
Wood Duck, Northern Shoveler, Northern Pintail, Blue- and Green-winged Teal, Bufflehead, Common and Hooded Mergansers, Pied-billed Grebe, Great Blue and Green Herons, Black-crowned Night-Heron, Great Egret, Sandhill Crane, Killdeer, Spotted Sandpiper, Caspian Tern, Red-tailed Hawk, Great Horned Owl, Red-bellied and Red-headed Woodpeckers, Great Crested Flycatcher, Tree, Barn, and Northern Rough-winged Swallows, Marsh Wren, Eastern Bluebird, Gray Catbird, Common Yellowthroat, Palm, Yellow, and Yellow-rumped Warblers, American Tree, Song, Swamp, Field, and Savannah Sparrows, Dark-eyed Junco, Northern Cardinal, Rusty Blackbird. Uncommon: Virginia Rail, Wilson’s Snipe, Bonaparte’s Gull, Peregrine Falcon, Louisiana Waterthrush, Lincoln’s Sparrow.
When to go
Year-round. Great Blue Herons begin nesting in March, remain through fall.
Paved walking/biking trail, benches, two fixed scopes. Restaurants nearby in downtown Highland.
City park. No fees. Also accessible on foot or by bike on Little Calumet River Levee Trail and Erie Lakawanna Trail.
Bring a camera, water. Wear sunscreen and a hat. Good place to bird with children.
For more info
Lakefront Park and Sanctuary
On Lake Michigan, at 977 Casino Center Dr. A wooded lakefront site called the “Migrant Trap” for its great birding in spring and fall.
Gibson Woods Nature Preserve
Five miles north of rookery at 6201 Parrish Ave., in Hammond. About 130 acres of remnant dune and swale landforms; 160 bird species.