Besides its obvious appeal as a location for migrant waterfowl, Brookville Lake and the surrounding area attracts birds, and birders, throughout the year. The lake itself occupies 5,200 acres at its summer pool level, and the State of Indiana owns or manages another 12,000 acres surrounding the lake. The surrounding area, which is still largely agricultural, also provides birding opportunities.
From Cincinnati, take I-74 west to the Brookville exit at mile 169, and then follow U.S. 52 west into Brookville. Along the way, depending on the time of day, the time of year, and the time you have allotted to birding, you may want to make a stop just past the town of Cedar Grove, turn left (south) onto Indiana 1. At the intersection of River Road, 0.5 miles, turn left and follow the road along the river. The grove of trees around the mobile homes has been the site of a mixed Turkey and Black Vulture roost. Or, turn right onto River Road for another 0.5 miles to the intersection with Gobles Creek Road. This is a good place to listen for Whip-poor-will.
U.S. 52 follows the Whitewater River all the way to Brookville. The steep hillsides create good soaring conditions for raptors, including Black Vultures, all along this stretch. Northern Parulas are attracted to the sycamores which are found along the river. After passing through Brookville, bear right onto Indiana 1, and right again onto Indiana 101 to begin the tour of Brookville Lake. Indiana 101 runs north along the east side of the lake. A series of access roads lead west (left) from 101 to or across the lake.
At 1.2 miles from the start of 101, a small road leads up onto the dam. This spot is usually not very productive, but it’s a very short drive, so you might as well look. A Harlequin Duck was seen here once, and will probably be seen again the day you decide to skip this stop. If the gate is closed, as it is on seemingly random occasions, another 0.6 miles brings you to the Bonwell Hill area. An overlook gives you a more distant view of the dam area, and a boat ramp gives you a look at a small inlet. Another 0.4 miles past Bonwell Hill is the start of the Scenic Drive, which gives you occasional distant views of the lower portion of the lake as it passes through mostly second growth woods. The Scenic Drive ends at the Garr Hill boat ramp. If you chose to skip the Scenic Drive, a road leads directly to the ramp, beginning at 1.7 miles past the start of the Drive.
Returning to 101, the entrance to Mounds Recreation Area is at 2.2 miles. You can pick up a good map of the entire lake at the office here. There is a $5.00 fee to enter this area (past the office), but the booth may not be staffed during some of the better waterfowl times. The same fee will allow entrance to the other fee areas around the lake, except for Whitewater State Park. If you do go in, the road leads past a shallow arm of the lake which can attract shorebirds as well as waterfowl. It ends at the beach, which sometimes attracts many gulls, and which is a very good spot to look for loons.
Back on 101, another 0.5 miles brings you to Fairfield Causeway Road. Prairie Warblers can be found between Cemetery Road (0.9 miles) and the bridge over the lake (another 0.7 miles). Cliff Swallows nest under the bridge. From a parking area just past the bridge, you can see a considerable distance in both directions, down the lake past the Mounds beach, and up the lake past the Sagamore Resort.
Head back toward 101, but turn left at Cemetery. The fields at the top of the hill sometimes produce Grasshopper Sparrow, and the fields behind Sims-Brief Cemetery (0.3 miles) should be checked for Henslow’s Sparrow. Turn right at the next, unmarked, intersection, left at 0.5 miles at Powell, and continue 1.2 miles to Old 101. (What was Powell Road has now become Bath Springs Road. Don’t let this confuse you when you come back this way later.)
Turn left onto Old 101. If you skipped the Fairfield Causeway stop, Old 101 is 2.0 miles past Causeway Road. At 1.9 miles, where the road bends to the right, you can (carefully) continue straight onto an abandoned road which leads down to the lake. This may give you a closer look at some of the dots on the lake which you saw from Fairfield Causeway. The official road continues on to its end at Sagamore Resort and the Fairfield boat ramp, which provide looks at different parts of the lake.
Return to Bath Springs Road (not Powell – you’re not confused, are you?) and turn left. Turn left again at Curry Road at 0.7 miles (0.3 miles along Indiana 101, past Old 101, if you skipped this stop). After passing through some fields which are worth checking, the road ends at Hanna Creek Sailboat Marina. This is a fee area, but if you didn’t pay at Mounds, you can park in the lot to your left for free.
Go back to 101, turn left, and left again at Dunlapsville Road. (3.2 miles; the sign for a right turn at this intersection reads Retherford Road. Now are you confused?) Turn right at 1.7 miles onto Old Dunlapsville Road, which ends at a boat ramp. From here you can look north into the “upper end” of Brookville Lake, which is often the most productive part of the lake. The bridge over the lake, just past Old Dunlapsville Road, is another good spot for nesting Cliff Swallows. After crossing the lake, Quakerstown Recreation Area (fee) is on the left. You can find gulls resting on the small beach, and sometimes a few ducks in the marina area. Continuing past the recreation area, Mt. Pleasant Road is on the right, at 1.2 miles. This road passes through grassy fields, which hold Savannah Sparrow and Bobolink, and after changing its name to Turkey Creek Road, ends up at Indiana 44.
Turn right onto 44. At the bottom of the hill (0.9 miles) turn right onto Treaty Line Road. This road passes through brush-lined fields which are good for sparrows, including White-crowned, American Tree and Fox. It ends just past the very shallow upper end of Brookville Lake. Besides waterfowl, this spot can be very good for shorebirds if the water level is right. Turkey and Black Vultures often roost in the trees beyond the lake, and can be seen before the sun warms them in the morning.
Returning to 44, turn right for 0.4 miles, and then turn left onto Brownsville Road. Just after crossing a creek, you will see the Cincinnati area’s first and only Osprey nest, on a platform which has been erected on a power pole. Return to Route 44 and turn left. After 3.7 miles you will intersect Route 101, where you can turn right and start back toward Cincinnati.
At 1.8 miles you will reach the entrance to Whitewater State Park, on the right. The other areas around Brookville are managed by the Indiana Department of Natural Resources. The State Park is a separate entity, so it charges a separate $5.00 entrance fee. As at the other areas, the entrance station isn’t staffed during time when few visitors are expected. The road through the park ends up not far north of the Dunlapsville Ramp. From here, you will see the same water that you saw from Dunlapsville Ramp and the end of Treaty Line Road. It probably isn’t worth $5.00 if you’re only looking for waterfowl. On the other hand, you could spend a whole day birding in the park if you’re looking for passerines.
Just past the entrance to Whitewater State Park on Route 101 is Fosdick Road, on the left. This road leads to a wooded valley, which holds breeding Louisiana Waterthrush and other passerines. Continuing south on 101, you will reach Dunlapsville Road at 1.7 miles. From here, you can head back to Cincinnati, re-checking some of the spots you hit on the way. Or, you can continue on to Richmond Airport or Hueston Woods.