Potato Creek State Park is located in north-central Indiana just 10 miles to the southwest of the city of South Bend. Within the six square miles of parkland an interesting mosaic of habitats exist, which includes a 327-acre lake, streams, ponds, marshes, fens, sedge meadows, old fields, and mature forests.
When it first opened in 1977, however, much of the landscape at this IBA was recovering farmland; the overgrown fields attracted such declining grassland species as Grasshopper Sparrow, Henslow's Sparrow, and Bobolink. Unfortunately, as succession progressed in the following years, the populations of these birds at Potato Creek disappeared in the 1980s. Now, through a plan to actively re-establish the habitats to those of pre-settlement days, native prairie patches have been replanted, and several grassland species, including Sedge Wren, can usually be found nesting here during the summer months.
The natural wetlands, which were drained to farm the land over the last 100 years, are also being restored to provide what may be the most valuable habitat at this IBA. The wetland types which can now be found here include saturated sedge meadows, shallow marshes, swamps, and beaver ponds. In all, over a square mile of Potato Creek State Park is covered by such wetlands and the 327-acre Worster Lake.
Swamp Rose Nature Preserve can also be found on the property and provides some of the best nesting habitat for such state-listed species as Red-shouldered Hawk and Virginia Rail. Located in the northeastern section of the park, the nature preserve offers a look at the eutrophic process, whereby an open lake naturally progresses into an extensive emergent wetland. This parcel of land also supports several unusual plants and species of mammals associated with wetland habitats.
The diversity of its habitats combined with its relative isolation from other natural landscapes helps make Potato Creek State Park one of the most significant areas in north-central Indiana for congregations of migratory birds as well as breeding populations of species listed as those of conservation priority.
The lake and wetlands at this Important Bird Area are two of the primary features which help attract some of Indiana's most endangered species during the breeding season. For instance, out of the nine known nesting sites in the state for Osprey, Potato Creek State Park hosts two breeding pair, from which six birds were fledged in 2005. In addition, Sandhill Crane and Virginia Rail have nested here in the past; both species are listed on the state's registry of endangered species. Also, several declining grassland species of birds, including Sedge Wren, can be found during the summer months at this site, thanks to the acreage of restored native prairie.
During migratory periods, the woodlots, shrublands, and wetlands at Potato Creek support arguably the largest concentrations of neotropical migrants in the north-central section of Indiana. WatchList species such as Blue-winged Warbler, Golden-winged Warbler, and Cerulean Warbler are typically found each May in the park. In addition, some of the region's largest breeding populations of several Watchlist birds, including American Woodcock and Willow Flycatcher, can be found in these habitats during the summer months; Alder Flycatcher, an uncommon to rare nester in the state due to its northerly breeding distribution, is also a nesting species at Potato Creek State Park.
Habitat succession is one of the primary causes of conservation concern at Potato Creek State Park. As the area continues to mature from its prior use as agricultural fields, the old fields and grasslands will be susceptible to reforestation. Although an increase in woodlands in north-central Indiana is not necessarily a drawback, habitat succession within the non-forested patches at Potato Creek would undermine the ecological diversity and overall avian species richness at the park. Several WatchList birds which can currently be found at this IBA during some part of their life cycle, including species such as American Woodcock and Blue-winged Warbler, would likely become a rarer part of the site's avifauna if succession is allowed to progress. Fortunately, Potato Creek State Park does have an active prescribed burn program to help maintain the prairies and some of the field areas in their current vegetative state.
Threats associated with a fragmented landscape can also be found here. For instance, breeding landbirds probably experience a significant rate of nest failure due to the noticeable populations of Brown-headed Cowbirds and mammalian nest predators on-site. Mute Swans have also been a noticeable addition to the park's bird culture in recent years. Although many people admire this non-native species for their beauty, Mute Swans can be aggressive towards other waterfowl and lower food resources for native ducks, geese, and other wetland species; the impact of the swans on overall wetland ecological health and diversity should be closely monitored at this IBA in the coming years.