Photos of Sora, Smiths Longspur, Sedge Wrens, and Dickcissels taken by Shari McCollough, Crawfordsville, Indiana
The Burn is an 88-acre wetland in north central Montgomery County that is a part of the larger Lye Creek Prairie. I first discovered this site in April 2001 as I was on my way to check some corn fields I had marked for Smith’s Longspurs. I had only been down this particular road once before, and at that time it was under a heavy blanket of snow. I remember thinking that the road looked as if it were created on a dike. On this day, however, my attention was soon diverted by a flock of about 200 American Golden-Plovers that circled in the air. I saw where they landed and pulled off the road. As I looked through my binoculars, I was astounded at what I saw: there were shorebirds out there! In addition to the plovers, there were over 200 Pectoral Sandpipers. I can’t describe the excitement I felt, but I knew immediately that this was a place to watch.
The natural history of this site is perhaps best told by citing A. A. Lindsey et al.’s 1969 publication, Natural Areas in Indiana and Their Preservation:
“About 4 mi. SE of Linden, this tract lies in a shallow post-glacial lake basin, shown as ‘Lye Creek Swamp’ in the 1875 geological map. Following the recession of the Early Wisconsin glacier, a shallow deposit of peat formed in the depression. Plant succession brought about a wet prairie, which A. R. Bechtel1 visited in 1920, writing that it ‘…had been pastured but never been touched by farm machinery. The grass was very thick on the ground. As we walked over it we frequently came to grassy ponds of water which were over shoe top and sometimes knee deep on us. Several flocks of wild ducks flew up ahead of us. I have heard sportsmen relate about the great hauls of wild ducks which were made decades ago from the Lye Creek and Potato Creek Prairies in the northeast part of Montgomery County.’
“In the spring of 1928 the black earth had been plowed and planted in corn, after deepening of the drainage ditch. Bechtel wrote, ‘However, the cultivation of much of this prairie has not proved profitable. Heavy rains always turn it into lakes of water.’
“In April 1936 (the second of two very dry ‘Dust Bowl’ years) a farmer raked the cornstalks into windrows and set fire to them; the soil caught fire and burned on 60 acres throughout the thickness of the peat: ‘…for several weeks at the rate that a cigar burns. Before a rain came the fire had consumed the soil on half of the 60 acres to the depth of three feet. Neighboring farm land was saved by digging a trench 3 feet deep around the burning land.’
“The plant succession, recounted by Bechtel, finally resulted in the present stand of tall cottonwoods (which first grew at a phenomenal rate) and willows, both being wind-disseminated species. The trees are now failing to reproduce because the rank herbaceous growth shades out their intolerant seedlings. Bechtel predicted that the present forest, if let alone, would return to an open prairie.
“The area is of minimal economic value at present,” wrote Lindsey, “and preservation would reveal further interesting ecological changes as well as permitting the soil to be restored.”
1Bechtel, A. R. 1947. A ten-year-old forest in Lye Creek Prairie, Montgomery County. Proc. Indiana Academy of Science. 56:80-83.
The trees which Professor Lindsey spoke of are no longer there. They were cut down and buried in a trench that was dug across the center of the field (no more fires here). This depression holds a lot of water and forms the major area of mud flats that is attractive to shorebirds and ducks. It is truly an incongruous sight to see diving ducks in a farm field, but there are indeed fish in the connecting drainage ditch. In three years’ time 23 species of shorebirds have been recorded at the site. In addition to the shorebirds, I learned from the locals that the area is also a stopping point in the spring for thousands of Sandhill Cranes.
The nature of the field changed, however, in 2003. Only half the field was planted, and the low ground was left to grow up in grasses and forbs. The water was not pumped out after planting and so rainfall made it much wetter than in previous years. This attracted a few shorebirds, but not enough to make it worth a visit. It should prove a good site for sparrows in the fall, however. For the first time LeConte’s (6) and Nelson’s Sharp-tailed Sparrows (2) were found here. As for now there are no plans to plant any of the field in 2004.
Typical Time to Bird Site: 30-60 minutes.
GENERAL SITE INFORMATION
Author: Clint Murray
Editor: Darel Heitkamp
Photo: Shari Schultz McCollough
West Central Indiana
Montgomery County, Indiana
DeLorme Page 37, Grid C-11
GPS: 40º 08′ 6.08″ N
86º 51′ 42.15″ W
From the North: take US 231 south to CR 700 N. Travel east on CR 700 N to CR 150 E, then south to CR 650 N. Go east on CR 650 N for 1 mile to the windmill. The field will be on the south side of road.
From the East: From Thorntown take SR 47 south to CR 500 N in Darlington. Turn right (west) on CR 500 N to the first stop sign, which is CR 700 E (road marker is missing). Turn right (north) on CR 700 E and continue to CR 650 N. Turn left (west) on CR 650 N and continue west for 1 mile past CR 350 E to the windmill. The field will be on the south side of road.
From the South: take US 231 north to CR 550 N (Cherry Grove elevator). Go east on CR 550 N to CR 150 E, then north to CR 650 N. Go east on CR 650 N for 1 mile to the windmill. The field will be on the south side of road.