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Steve Sass

Steve Sass, director and field trip leader for the South Bend/Elkhart Audubon Society, stops to take a picture of a bird in Hamilton County.

Maids, maids, maids, put on your tea, kettle, kettle, kettle.

This isn’t a nursery rhyme — it’s a bird song mnemonic for a song sparrow.

Mnemonics help bird watchers identify birds through their songs.

“Bird watching and identifying is a lot of listening but it depends on the time of year and habitat. In Cowles Bog there are parts where it’s dense in vegetation so you’re not afforded to look at things. But if you’re standing on Miller Beach at 6 in the morning, they are doing their birding by watch, which is called lake watch,” said Steve Sass, director and field trip leader for the South Bend/Elkhart Audubon Society.

Northern Indiana is the best spot in all of the state for bird watching, Sass said.

“We live in the premiere area because of Lake Michigan — it creates a funnel effect where birds are migrating,” Sass said.

Migrating birds are following the Michigan and Wisconsin shoreline.

“The shoreline is guiding them south and where they run out of shore line is at Miller Beach. Often times they stop and rest. The shorebirds are migrating along there so they can feed along the way,” Sass said.

“Miller is sort of that last stop before heading inland. It becomes more difficult for them because food becomes scarce; once you go south of Lake Michigan migration hot spots are water treatment ponds, because they get a little bit of shoreline and insects there.”

Birds migrate not because it’s too cold but because of the food supply.

“Carnivorous birds rely on insects to survive. If they don’t migrate they would starve to death rather than freeze to death,” Sass said.

Fall migration began in July. There is approximately a two-week window between the end of spring migration and the beginning of fall migration.

Carol Harsh, owner of Wild Birds Unlimited in Schererville, said looking for birds is something she grew up doing.

“You don’t have to be a full-blown bird nerd to enjoy bird watching. My brother got me started when I was young, and it stuck with me my whole life,” Harsh said. “I go to Dunes Coffee Creek shed with my dogs, four miles of granite trails. I love the outdoors — camping, hiking, canoeing — so if you’re going to go on a hike with me you better plan on stopping to look at birds.”

Nathanael Pilla, project coordinator for Save the Dunes, said Cowles Bog Trail is a great place to bird watch.

“On the south trail you see all kinds of amazing birds. Cowles Bog is a prairie that was restored. You can see sandhill cranes going up on the berm and going over. You will see all kinds of birds: hawks, marsh wrens, sparrows and kingfishers that dive into water to catch fish,” Pilla said. “There are usually a ton of woodcocks, too.”

For more information on bird watching locations, visit, on Facebook there are local groups such as Potawatomi Audubon, IN Nature and Birding in Indiana.


Features Editor