Miller Beach is a wide uninterrupted expanse of sandy beach that sits exactly at the southern tip of Lake Michigan in Gary. Because of its unique location on the lake, it serves as a phenomenal point of convergence for species that follow the eastern and western edges of the lake south during fall migration.
There are two key birding areas at Miller Beach. The Marquette Park Boat Launch , with its large paved beachfront parking lot, lies at the northern end of Lake Street. This parking lot offers a good view of the lake, thus allowing birders to scan the lakefront from inside their cars–a luxury appreciated on blustery fall days. Another good location to scan the lake is at the concession stand some 0.5 miles to the east of the boat launch on Oak Ave. This small concrete block structure sits slightly higher than the adjacent beachfront and provides shelter from the blowing winds that usually accompany the good birds at Miller Beach.
In the summer months, the beach at the boat launch becomes a haven for jet-skiers and sunbathers. For this reason, it is recommended either to arrive early in the morning, or to check the beaches immediately east and west of this popular bathing area. Access to the east can be achieved by driving to the concession stand, whereas access to the west requires walking down the beach from the boat launch.
Typical Time to Bird Site: 15-60 minutes, although half-day or all-day vigils are often held when conditions are right.
Loons and diving ducks are observed in good numbers during migration, at times producing large offshore rafts composed of thousands of birds. Shorebirds, too, are found in good numbers at Miller Beach, particularly during the fall flight.
Although great birds show up at Miller Beach with surprising regularly, the jaeger is by far its claim to fame. Since early this century birders have realized that Parasitic , Pomarine , and Long-tailed Jaegers are funneled down the shores of Lake Michigan to its southernmost tip, making Miller Beach one of the very best locations for jaegers in the Midwest. Records indicate that three-quarters of jaeger sightings on the Indiana lakefront are logged as “unidentified jaeger”; yet of identifiable birds, 75% are Parasitic, 17% are Pomarine, and 8% are Long-tailed. The primary flight of jaegers occurs mid-September through mid-November, with October being traditional “jaeger month” on the lakefront.
Like the jaegers, most of the other Miller Beach specialties occur in the fall as well. These birds and their peak occurrences are as follows:
Red-throated Loon – late October through late November
Harlequin Duck -November through March
Reptors-S. and SW of beach early August-September
American Avocet – mid-July through mid-September
Piping Plover – (spring) mid-April to mid-June, (fall) mid-July through mid-September
Willet – late June through August
Whimbrel – July through September
Dunlin – (October & November)
Red Knot – late August through September
Black & Common Terns-largest numbers late August-early September
Franklin’s Gulls-October -November
Black-legged Kittiwake – all of November
Sabine’s Gull – late September through mid-November
Little Blue Heron
Reddish Egret -(18 Sept-2006)
Northern Gannet – (05-Nov-1993)
Swainson’s Hawk (7 Aug-2007)
Mississippi Kite (20 Aug-2009)
Black-tailed Gull – (06-Aug-2003)
Gyrfalcon – (16-Sep-1986)
Snowy Plover – (19-May-1980); (15-Sep-1990)
Ancient Murrelet- (11/1976 & 10/2001)
Hudsonian Godwit – (26-Aug-2003) – single flock of 26 birds
Arctic Tern (11-13 Aug-2005)
Gull-billed Tern – (31-Aug-1995)
Roseate Tern – (14-Aug-1916)
Black Skimmer – (23-Aug-1913); (29-Sep-2004)
General site information
Ownership: City of Gary, Indiana; Gary Parks Department: 219-886-7099
Fees: A $5.00 parking fee is assessed at the Marquette Park Boat Launch between Memorial Day and Labor Day. There is no parking fee at the concession stand.
Restrooms: Portable restrooms are located near the concession stand from spring through early autumn.
Lodging: Camping facilities are available at the Indiana Dunes State Park, some 11 miles to the east on US 12. Hotel/motel accommodations are available in Gary and other lakefront cities.
Parking: Ample parking is available at the Marquette Park Boat Launch. There is limited parking available at the concession stand (2-4 spaces), although this is rarely a problem.
The extraordinary birds found at Miller Beach are largely due to “the funnel effect” of southward bound migrants; thus fall migration (July through November) is by far the best time to bird the area. Local birders know that the best odds of finding jaegers and other good birds comes immediately after the passage of a cold front, particularly one with strong winds from the north. Hence, when a front moves through, a throng of birders often can be found huddled against the concession stand, keeping vigil on the lakefront despite bitter northerly winds.
Brock, Kenneth J. Birds of the Indiana Dunes. Revised Edition. The Shirley Heinze Environmental Fund, 1997.
Brock, Kenneth J. “An Impressive Peregrine Flight at Miller Beach.” Indiana Audubon Quarterly 62.1 (1984): 20-2.
Keller, Charles E., Shirley A. Keller, and Timothy C. Keller. Indiana Birds and Their Haunts: A Checklist and Finding Guide. Second Edition. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1986.
Stoddard, Herbert L. “The Roseate Tern (Sterna dougalli) on Lake Michigan.” The Auk 34 (1917): 86.
White, Mel. National Geographic Guide to Birdwatching Sites – Eastern U.S. Washington, D.C.: The National Geographic Society, 1999
Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore MapMap of the western end of the National Lakeshore, showing the Marquette Park Boat Launch
Author: Ken Brock
Editor: Darel Heitkamp
Lake County, Indiana
DeLorme Page 18, Grid C-6, C-7 [Just north of “Miller”]
GPS: 41º 37′ 11.04″ N
87º 16′ 11.88″ W
From the South: Take I-65 north to US 20/US 12 east. Going east on US 20/US 12, follow US 12 when it branches from US 20. The Lake Street intersection appears soon after branching onto US 12. Turn left (north) onto Lake Street and follow it until it dead ends into the paved parking lot at the Marquette Park Boat Launch. This lot, which charges a parking fee between Memorial Day and Labor Day, closely approximates the southernmost tip of Lake Michigan. To reach the Miller Beach concession stand, again turn left (north) onto Lake Street from US 12, but this time turn right (east) onto Hemlock Ave. before crossing the lagoon and heading for the beach. Take Hemlock Ave. east to N. Grand Blvd. Turn left (north) on N. Grand Blvd., proceed through one intersection, and you will be forced to enter the (largely) one-way counter-clockwise loop around Marquette Park. You will veer to the right onto Locust Ave (one-way) and proceed eastward to East Montgomery Ave. Turn left (north) on E. Montgomery Ave. (which is the only 2-way portion of the loop) and proceed to Oak Ave. Turning left onto Oak Ave. again puts you one-way and takes you westward along the lakefront. The concession stand is the small concrete block structure on the right. Following Oak Ave past the concession stand brings you back to where N. Grand Blvd. enters the Marquette Park loop.
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