The Elkhart River Important Bird Area, located just south of the city of Goshen in Elkhart County, comprises some of the last remaining floodplain and riparian habitats in the north-central region of the state.
This IBA begins just south of the Goshen Dam and encompasses about 10 miles of the Elkhart River as it meanders in a southeastern direction. Nearly four miles south of the dam, the Turkey Creek tributary separates itself from the Elkhart River and flows more directly south; the IBA includes about 4 miles of riparian habitat from this system, too.
The Elkhart River corridor contains a great diversity of palustrine and open water habitats, including emergent marsh, shrub swamp, second growth floodplain forest, a small reservoir, and an open river with sandbars and mudflats. Some upland habitats are also part of this IBA, mostly within properties near anthropogenic structures to prevent flooding. Small patches of grassland, successional old fields, and some mesic woods are found in such areas.
Approximately one-quarter of the Elkhart River IBA is protected via public or not-for-profit ownership, the largest parcel being the 1000-acre River Preserve County Park, which is maintained by Elkhart County Parks. Two natural areas, Witmer Preserve and Parson?s Swamp Woods, and several parks owned by the city of Goshen are also included in the area.
The Elkhart River corridor is one of the few remaining tracts of floodplain forest and palustrine wetlands in north-central Indiana. These uncommon habitats, combined with the relative length of the corridor, ensure that this Important Bird Area supports some of the most critical populations of threatened birds within this region of the state.
A great diversity of neotropical songbirds use the Elkhart River as stop-over habitat and a migratory corridor during their northbound and southbound flights. WatchList species regularly sighted include Blue-winged Warbler, Bay-breasted Warbler, Canada Warbler, and Rusty Blackbird.
Given the paucity of larger wooded tracts in the region, the Elkhart River IBA also provides critical nesting habitat for many species of forest dependent birds. Wood Thrush, Cerulean Warbler, and Prothonotary Warbler, all three of which can be found on the WatchList, breed in the area.
Besides the more abundant sections of bottomland and floodplain forests, the Elkhart River corridor comprises other important palustrine habitats, including emergent marsh and shrub swamp. Such areas are critical locales for declining obligate wetland birds, including American Bitterns and Great Egrets, both of which are listed on Indiana?s endangered/special concern lists, and have been found within the IBA during migration. At least two WatchList birds are found in these habitats, too - Solitary Sandpipers and American Woodcock are considered migrant and nesting species, respectively.
The principal threat for this IBA is the development of land adjacent to and upstream of the Elkhart River corridor. Sediment deposition in the river, polluted run-off from pesticides and fertilizers, removal of forest and other natural habitats are all concerns associated with agricultural and urban developments.
Additionally, invasion of exotic vegetative species, such as garlic mustard and bush honeysuckle, are threats to the integrity of the exisiting habitat along the Elkhart River. Cowbird parasitism and nest depradation are likely high for many species of birds, too, considering the width of the natural corridor, which typically measures betwen 0.25 to 0.75 miles across. This amount of edge, especially when surrounded by such development pressures already listed, relative to the acreage of internal habitats would proliferate cowbird hosting and egg or nestling destruction by mammalian predators.