Hillenbrand Fish and Wildlife Area was purchased by the state in 1995. With 3,400 acres of mostly reclaimed surface mine land in Greene County. Hillenbrand is 60 percent grasslands, 4% wetlands and 36% mixed forest and shrublands. The avian highlight of the property is a sizeable population of breeding of the Global Priority Species, Henslow's Sparrows and Northern Bobwhite. A rapid assessment of breeding grassland birds at Hillenbrand tallied 60 Henslow's Sparrows concentrated in three areas on the western portion of the property (see site map).
Other priority grassland birds found at Hillenbrand include 41 Dickcissels, a continental priority by Partners in Flight. Eastern Meadowlark is also a common breeder (25 individuals), which is noteworthy since this species is considered a conservation and stewardship priority for the encompassing Central Hardwoods Bird Conservation Region (BCR).
The woody growth at Hillenbrand also provides prime breeding habitats for several high-priority shrubland species. Willow Flycatcher and Prairie Warbler, both included on Audubon?s WatchList, are nesters. And two species designated as a regional conservation concern by Partners in Flight ? Yellow-billed Cuckoo and Yellow-breasted Chat ? are especially prolific in the successional and brushland ecotones.
In 2010, Henslow's Sparrow numbers were down considerably, but the principle Henslow's Sparrow fields at Hillenbrand had been burned earlier this spring, so the lack of grassland birds was expected. Of more concern is the recent expansion of Sericea lespedeza into the grasslands.
The most impressive and paramount feature of Hillenbrand?s avifaunal community is the abundance of nesting Henslow?s Sparrows. Considering its steep population decline over the last few decades, this grassland specialist is regarded as a high-priority WatchList species by Audubon and of continental conservation concern by Partners in Flight.
In June 2008 volunteers from Sassafras Audubon Society conducted a rapid assessment of Hillenbrand?s grassland bird communities and found a large contingent of breeding Henslow?s Sparrows. In all, an extraordinary 60 singing males were counted. This represents the third highest breeding concentration of this species within any of Indiana?s state-owned lands, a number only surpassed by the population of Henslow?s Sparrows encountered at Chinook FWA and Goose Pond FWA, which are also IBAs. However, in 2010 only a couple of Henslow's Sparrows were reported at Hillenbrand FWA during the summer breeding season. Prescribed fire had been implemented in the primary Henslow's Sparrow fields during the spring of 2010, thus the lack of sparrows this year was not unexpected based on the typical response of this species to fire.
Other priority grassland birds can be found at Hillenbrand. Northern Bobwhite, another WatchList species, is one of the most abundant birds found in the early successional areas, as is Dickcissel, a bird listed as continental priority by Partners in Flight. Eastern Meadowlark is a common breeder, too, which is noteworthy since this species is considered a conservation and stewardship priority for the encompassing Central Hardwoods Bird Conservation Region (BCR).
The nascent woody growth Hillenbrand also provides prime breeding habitats for several high-priority shrubland species. Willow Flycatcher and Prairie Warbler, both included on Audubon?s WatchList, are nesters. And two species designated as a regional conservation concern by Partners in Flight ? Yellow-billed Cuckoo and Yellow-breasted Chat ? are especially prolific in the successional and brushland ecotones.
However, the importance of Hillenbrand FWA for grassland birds, and Henslow's Sparrows specifically, is growing due to recent changes in nearby grassland habitats. The reclaimed strip mine grasslands of southern Indiana are changing dramatically, such that leases at Minnehaha FWA and Chinook FWA are running out and the land is being reverted to private property. This reversion to private property combined with the expansion of surface mining activity at Hawthorne Mine (now Bear Run Mine, soon to be the largest open pit mine east of the Mississippi River), has meant the loss of more than 10,000 acres of grassland habitat in the area. The fact that Hillenbrand is owned completely by the state provides a greater level of protection for this grassland habitat, assuming it receives proper management and does not become overrun with invasive species.
Hillenbrand FWA is a relatively small property that historically has lacked resources for proper management. Invasive Serecia lespedeza is taking over much of the grasslands and only prescribed fire has been used in the area to manage it. The long-term quality of the grassland habitat hinges on the ability to control the Serecia lespedeza and woody species in the grasslands.
Hillenbrand FWA is completely owned and managed by the Indiana Department of Natural Resources, Fish and Wildlife Division, and was purchased in 1995. Most revenues used in land acquisition, development, operation and maintenance of Hillenbrand Fish and Wildlife Area are from the sale of game bird habitat hunting stamps and federal aid programs supporting sport fish and wildlife restoration. Federal funds are derived from taxes levied on sport fishing and hunting equipment. Indiana hunters and anglers are proud to provide this property for the enjoyment of all people. Detailed information on Hillenbrand FWA is available throught the IDNR website (http://www.in.gov/dnr/fishwild/3093.htm).
The habitat at Hillenbrand is restored from reclaimed strip mines with 825 ha of quality grasslands, 50 ha of wetlands and 495 ha of mixed forests and shrublands. The ecological value of Hillenbrand FWA is in the grasslands that support breeding Henslow's Sparrows and Northern Bobwhite at globally relevant levels.