Potato Creek State Park became a reality on June 6,1977 when the six-square-mile area was formally dedicated. The park’s 327-acre Worster Lake is named in honor of Darcy Worster, an early park supporter. When it first opened, much of the land at Potato Creek was recovering farmland; the vast overgrown fields attracted Bobolinks as well as Grasshopper, Henslow’s, and Vesper Sparrows. As succession progressed, however, these birds gradually disappeared. Now, through an aggressive plan to re-establish the land to the pre-settlement days of the early 1800’s, prairies, savannas, and wetlands can be seen again at Potato Creek. Some new wetland areas are located near the Visitor Center, while savanna areas, planted with prairie grasses and forbs, and additional wetlands are located along the main road going west and around to the north side of the lake. As you drive around the lake, look for hawks, Turkey Vultures, Eastern Bluebirds, Eastern Meadowlarks, sparrows, Willow Flycatchers, Yellow Warblers and swallows during the warmer seasons. Waterfowl and wading birds may also be visible. A walk down Pear Road, in the northwest section of the park, will take you to more prairie and wetland restorations. See the park naturalist for details.
There are two productive areas at Potato Creek to view waterfowl, wading birds, and shorebirds–particularly during migration. The first site is the West Boat Launch and fishing pier located next to the Whispering Winds Picnic Area. Located on the south side of the lake, this site is easy to access by car and allows a quick scan of the water–a luxury during the colder months. The second area is comprised of the entire eastern tip of the lake, which must be accessed on foot. To reach this area, park at the Porter Rea Cemetery parking lot, walk north toward the lake, and then follow trail 4 eastward along the lake’s southern edge. It’s been found that birding the lake from its southern shore often keeps the sun at your back. In all, thirty-one species of waterfowl have been seen on Worster Lake.
The best trails to see warblers and other migrating passerines include the Bicycle Trail and Hiking Trails 1, 2, 3, and 4. These trails access most of the habitat types found at the park, including mature woodlands, early successional areas, wooded streams, ponds, grasslands, and the lake. Thirty-two species of warblers have been sighted in the park–most observed from these trails. Hawks, owls, woodpeckers, flycatchers, vireos, and warblers represent some of the nesting bird families found here. The Horseman’s Campground area contains successional fields, three good-sized mature wooded areas, a few ponds, and a section of Potato Creek. This variety of habitat attracts many species of birds including Wild Turkey. Horsemen have the right of way on the horse trails, so try to stand off them and remain quiet as they pass. Horse traffic can be quite heavy anytime from late spring through fall.
The Swamp Rose Nature Preserve is located in the northeast corner of the park near Trail 2. Although this area has no foot trails through it, good birds can be found in the general area around the preserve. Just to the east of Swamp Rose–outside of the park on Oak Road–Virginia Rails have been seen and heard during spring migration. Additionally, Red-shouldered Hawks have nested in this area, and beavers have been seen here and along Trail 4 closer to the lake.
The Bicycle Trail is asphalt and is easily accessible to the wheelchair handicapped and walking disabled. Be aware, however, of a fairly steep slope near the north end of that trail. There are handicapped accessible picnic facilities in the Orchard Shore Picnic Area as well as accessible restrooms in most areas of the park. The swimming area, fishing piers and boat ramps are also handicapped accessible. Part of the north side of the lake may be birded by car during the colder months. Early morning is the best time to bird Potato Creek because there’s generally less traffic. Obtain a bird checklist at the Visitor Center, gatehouse, or Nature Center as you enter the park. As a reminder, please use your car flashers and STAY on the road when driving in the park.
Potato Creek State Park was designated as an Important Bird Area by the National Audubon Society and BirdLife International in 2006 due to the important habitat it provides to a variety of birds.
Typical Time to Bird Site: 2-8 Hours
Nesting bird families include herons, hawks (4 species), owls, flycatchers (7 species), woodpeckers (6 species), thrushes (4 species), vireos (4 species), and warblers. Potato Creek is a great northern Indiana location for migrating waterfowl and passerines in the spring and fall.
Red-shouldered Hawks nest in the northeastern section of the park from the Trail 3 area to the Swamp Rose Nature Preserve. March through June is typically the best time to find these birds.
Ospreys can be observed diving into the waters of Worster Lake from March through September. There are two nesting platforms that have been successfully used. One is at the west end of the lake, easily seen from the park road and one at the eastern end of the lake just off of Trail 4.
Common Loons are typically found in the deeper parts of the lake from March through April and again from October through November.
Pileated Woodpeckers are permanent residents that nest in the Horseman’s Campground area and along Trails 1 and 3. Additionally, they are often seen along the Bicycle Trail and Trail 2. These birds tend to be easier to find March through November.
Yellow-throated Warblers have nested sporadically in a grove of Sycamores along Potato Creek near the service area. Late April through June is the most reliable time to encounter this species.
Northern Shrikes often winter along the main park road just east and west of the entrance road. When present, they usually can be seen perched in isolated trees from late December through February.Noteworthy Records:
American Bittern – found in the restored wetlands at the west end of the park in the spring of 1997 and 1998.
Sandhill Crane – have nested in the park since 2001. They are very secretive and difficult to find.
Little Blue Heron – sighted during the 2nd week of May in both 1995 and 1999.
American White Pelican
Brown Creeper – nested along Trail 3 near Potato Creek in 1988.
Goll, John. Indiana State Parks. Saginaw: Glovebox Guidebooks of America, 1995.
Gorney, Don.”Brown Creeper in Indiana.”Indiana Audubon Quarterly 78.1 (2000): 3-15.
Seng, Phil T., and David J. Case.Indiana Wildlife Viewing Guide.Helena, MT: Falcon Press, 1992.
Authors: Tom Stankus and Tim Cordell
Editor: Darel Heitkamp and Dick Patterson
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Indiana Audubon Society's mission is to stimulate interest in birds and their protection; to serve the needs of youth, civic, church, schools and other groups by providing information concerning birds; and to educate the public concerning the necessity for conserving and preserving Indiana's natural heritage, its unique flora and fauna.