Indian Creek Wildlife Area

It is almost unbelievable that this fantastic spot is so little known. Most of the birders I talk to have never even heard of this place. This is certainly one of my favorite places and I don’t even get there near enough. This seldom birded spot is situated pretty conveniently to area birders, particularly those who live on the east side of town. Located in northern Brown County Ohio, just a couple of miles southeast of Fayettville, Indian Creek SWA is easily accessed from either US 68 on its west border or US 50 from the north. Located about twenty-four miles east of the I-275, US 50 exit, this hidden gem is actually closer to birders who live in Milford or Anderson Township for instance, than either Miami Whitewater or the Oxbow would be. I always stop, both on my way to and from my Rocky Fork Lake visits, as it is literally right on the way. But it deserves better than that, as one could easily spend most of a day, if not all day in this picturesque spot. To reach this spot take US 50 east and go 3/4 of a mile past Fayettville and turn right onto Snowhill Rd. Follow Snowhill Rd for about a mile and turn right onto Campbell Rd.

This area is owned by the state of Ohio and managed by ODNR as a fish and wildlife area. It is moderately hunted for upland game and waterfowl in the fall and early winter, but the rest of the year is seldom visited except for a few fishermen. Its wildlife area status means there are only primitive restrooms available and no picnic tables, bike hike trails, campgrounds, playgrounds and other amenities available to the visitor, which all lends to keeping visitation down and peace, quiet and tranquility up. It is open to wildlife observation year round, and while many birders avoid hunting areas during those seasons there are no restrictions on birding the area at that time.

The property consists of 1,799 acres of mostly flat terrain except where it is traversed by beautiful Indian Creek which flows west to east through the entire property and eventually into the East Fork of the Little Miami. The surrounding countryside is mostly extensive rural farmland. The area is easily accessed by well graded gravel roads and ample parking areas. There are no designated trails but you are permitted to walk and go anywhere in the area you like, although birding along the quiet roadsides allows for easy walking For such a moderately sized area, there is quite a bit of habitat diversity. Partly wooded and partly open country, there are about 50 ponds totaling 65 acres of water, many ringed in cattails with emergent vegetation, scattered throughout the area. In addition there is a 56 acre wetland managed primarily as a Green Tree Reservoir. Most of the west side is open pond with shallow mudflats most of the year and an earthen dike makes for easy access and viewing. The water levels in this wetland are kept low from spring though early fall to allow emergent vegetation and Pin Oak, Silver Maple and Black Willows to thrive and then flooded in late fall and winter. The timing of this plan is good for shorebirds and long-legged waders, and later, good for waterfowl. The swamp-like wooded portion of this wetland is on the east side of the impoundment and many dead trees are also present, making this an excellent place for Red-headed Woodpeckers, Prothonotary Warblers and Tree Swallows.

The area also has many acres of grassy, weedy and brushy fields in varying degrees of succession, 150 of these acres are managed as native prairie and planted with Big Bluestem and Indian Grass. Hedgerows and shrubby edges border the fields and woodlots. The management intends to eventually restore all the open areas in native plants. While there is no extensive mature forest here, there are sizable woodland areas with mature trees and closed canopies. There are two distinct woodlands, one composed of Beech/Maple and the other Oak/Hickory. The riparian corridor of Indian Creek is also wooded and lined with Sycamores and Cottonwoods. There are even some small areas of White and Red Pine plantings. ODNR plants some of the refuge in crops to attract wildlife and there is adjacent extensive cropland, pastures and woodlots on private farmland. All of this makes for an abundant and diverse avian population.

At times extensive mudflats become exposed, which attract a variety of shorebirds and waders. sometimes in excellent numbers. On 10/08/96 my son Jack, who had just turned 9, and I were birding the pond when he said to me,” Dad I think I have a dark ibis here”, which after close inspection proved to be a Glossy Ibis. Many ducks commonly visit this and other area ponds. Joe Bens and I once saw 6 Surf Scoters here on 10/20/93. Many of the small marshy ponds found scattered throughout the area can be attractive to marsh birds and dabbling ducks especially in migration, although Blue-winged Teal have summered. This area may also have a bit of a migrant trap effect for songbirds as much of the surrounding areas are pretty open. The few times I have been here in April, May, September and October, I have always found lots of songbird activity. I once saw a large flock of Purple Finches here in April ’90 that I estimated at over 200 birds. On 9/24/89 Ned Keller and I found a Golden-winged Warbler and a quietly perched Sharp-shinned Hawk watching us and the warbler.

During migration expect decent numbers of ducks and modest numbers of shorebirds and when water levels are right excellent numbers. The same goes for long-legged waders except for Green Heron which probably breeds and Great Blue Heron which is always present. Waterbirds that prefer deep water such as loons and gulls are generally absent although grebes and cormorants are regular and an occasional tern may show up. American Woodcocks display commonly in spring and nest and Northern Bobwhite and Wild Turkey are common year round. This is Red-tailed Hawk, American Kestrel, Eastern Screech and Great Horned Owl country and Red-shouldered Hawks and Barred Owls are also resident.. Accipiters are present in migration and Cooper’s Hawk is year round. Northern Harrier is a winter resident as are Tree, White-throated, White-crowned, Swamp and Fox Sparrows, juncos, Yellow-rumped Warbler and Golden-crowned Kinglet. Song and Field Sparrows, Eastern Towhees, Eastern Bluebirds, Eastern Meadowlarks and Horned Larks are permanent residents. All of our woodpeckers are resident including Pileated. During spring and fall migration, expect any migrant songbird that occurs regularly in Ohio. This is an excellent migrant warbler spot. Summer residents include Yellow-billed Cuckoo, Ruby-throated Hummingbird, Eastern Pee-wee and Phoebe, Eastern Kingbird, Great-crested, Willow and Acadian Flycatchers, all of our swallows, Wood Thrush, Brown Thrasher, Gray Catbird, Warbling ,White-eyed, and Red-eyed Vireos, Yellow, Yellow-throated, Blue-winged, Prothonotary and Kentucky Warblers, Common Yellowthroat, Yellow-breasted Chat, Louisiana Waterthrush, .Baltimore and Orchard Orioles, Scarlet and Summer Tanagers, Indigo Buntings and Grasshopper Sparrows. I once had a Henslow’s Sparrow here and suspect they are still present.

The point is this wonderful location has been overlooked and underbirded and it’s birding potential has been untapped. There are sure to be surprises here for anyone that decides to extensively bird this area. This area is good spring, summer, fall and winter. You won’t regret it if you decide to visit.