Boot Lake Nature Preserve is located in Elkhart County within the northern-most latitudes of Indiana, just south of the state's border with Michigan. This Important Bird Area, which has already accrued a bird list of approximately 180 species since the property's dedication in 1995, protects an interesting mix of habitat types within the mostly developed landscape of north-central Indiana.
Once used as a dumping ground by the City of Elkhart's Wastewater Treatment Plant, Boot Lake has been transformed through recent years from an environmental liability to an ecological and ornithological asset, and the magnitude of this change has been impressive. After the removal of more than 70,000 pounds of trash in the mid-1990s, this IBA now fosters a native tallgrass prairie, an upland deciduous forest, and an emergent herbaceous wetland (i.e., Boot Lake and Buttonbush Lake, which constitute approximately 80 acres of the property).
Despite the relatively small amount of acreage within this property when compared to other Indiana Important Bird Areas, Book Lake Nature Preserve supports a diversity of nesting wetland and grassland species that typically are only paralleled at larger landscapes. This, combined with the paucity of similar habitat within north-central Indiana, makes Boot Lake a significant refuge for many bird species that are declining throughout the state.
Boot Lake is one of the most important sites in Indiana for nesting Sandhill Cranes, which are listed on the state's registry of birds of special concern and were once considered extirpated as a breeding species in Indiana. No fewer than 2-3 pairs likely nest here. Other rare wetland birds which likely breed at Boot Lake in given years are American Woodcock and Virginia Rail; these are species listed on Audubon's WatchList and Indiana's endangered species list, respectively.
With the on-going restoration of a significant amount of tallgrass prairie habitat, an interesting mosaic of breeding grassland birds is also emerging at the Boot Lake IBA. Grasshopper Sparrow, Henslow's Sparrow, and Dickcissel can all be found here during the summer months; the latter two species are included on Audubon's WatchList, and Grasshopper Sparrow is considered to be one of the fastest declining species of any landbird in the continent. Although the Boot Lake population of each of these species probably only number around 5 breeding pairs, the occurrence of these birds in such a largely fragmented landscape is significant. Additionally, Sedge Wrens can typically be found during the breeding season at this locale. In fact, Boot Lake's peak count during July 2004 for this species, listed in Indiana as that of special concern, is 12 adults, representing one of the highest known single-day counts for this bird in the state.
As is the case with many municipal parks, the primary threats to the habitats and avian communities of the Book Lake Nature Preserve are due to the property's relative isolation from a larger and more natural landscape. Commercial developments in the surrounding locales is a particular concern; such urbanization and sprawl can lead to increased water, air, and noise pollution which would place the representative biomes at Boot Lake at risk. A small population of feral cats, another consequence of the increased urbanization of the area, exists at the nature preserve and the surrounding environs and place increased pressure on the overall breeding productivity of the birds, especially the ground-nesting obligate grassland birds like Henslow's Sparrow and Dickcissel. Urban and commercial developments can also help introduce exotic vegetation to natural environments. Plants such as garlic mustard, bush honeysuckle, narrow-leaved cattail, and purple loosestrife will likely become a greater management concern as the vegetative community becomes more established within this relatively new natural area.