Important Bird Areas

Sugar Creek Valley

Indiana

The Sugar Creek Valley IBA is an approximately 15 mile-long riparian corridor located in parts of Montgomery, Fountain, and Parke counties. The major water feature of this IBA is its namesake; however, portions of several Sugar Creek tributaries are also included, especially Indian Creek and Sugar Mill Creek. The elongated boundary for the IBA begins with Davis Bridge in Montgomery County (about 2 miles up-stream from Pine Hills Nature Preserve) and terminates at West Union Bridge in Parke County (approximately a mile from where Sugar Creek flows into the Wabash River).

The Sugar Creek Valley contains one of the largest and most contiguous forested lands in the "Central Till Plain" natural region; its impressive cliffs and ravines also contain relic stands of hemlocks and pines. For these reasons, the area maintains relatively large nesting populations of neotropical passerines, such as the Wood Thrush and Worm-eating Warbler (both of which are WatchList species), when compared to the remaining northern half of the state as well as birds, like Black-throated Green and Magnolia Warblers, that are more typical of boreal forests.

Ornithological Summary

The Sugar Creek corridor is the one of largest and most contiguous riparian habitats within the "Central Till Plain" natural region; its population and diversity of neotropical passerine species is perhaps only rivaled by the large forested areas of the "Shawnee Hills" natural region and isolated bottomland habitats of the riparian valleys of southwestern Indiana.

The greatest portion of the entrenched Sugar Creek valley is composed of floodplain forest and upland deciduous forest habitats. These areas support critical populations of several vulnerable species of breeding birds - the Sugar Creek corridor most likely contains the largest populations of Wood Thrush, Cerulean Warbler, Worm-eating Warbler, Louisiana Waterthrush, and Kentucky Warbler comparatively to any other area in the northern half of the state. In addition, relic stands of eastern hemlock, white pine, and Canada yew can be found in various spots throughout the valley (including Shades State Park and Pine Hills Nature Preserve). These smaller habitats have provided breeding evidence for several typical northern or boreal birds over the past few years - Magnolia Warbler (first state record), Black-throated Green Warbler, and Blackburnian Warbler have all been either suspected or confirmed as breeding birds within Shades State Park.

Various species of brushland and early successional habitats also occur within the corridor; Whip-poor-will, Blue-winged Warbler, and Prairie Warbler can all be found during the nesting season along Sugar Creek, although their respective populations are smaller when compared to species utilizing the upland and riparian forest habitats. Such brushy and old-field areas have been mostly created by man-made disturbances (timber-cutting and unmowed recreational areas and lawns, for instance). Currently, these areas are not maintained, so the occurrence of brushland habitat and its respecitve bird populations are diminishing given the cumpulsory forest succession.

Sugar Creek also supports large populations of transient birds during northbound and southbound migrations as well as congregations of species of management concern. Vireos, thrushes, warblers, and tanagers benefit from the contiguous forested habitat of the valley during migratory stop-overs, for instance. In addition, Sugar Creek maintains a large roost of Bald Eagles during the winter near the western boundary of this proposed IBA (near the West Union covered bridge); over the past several years, it's been estimated that over 75 eagles are part of this roost.

Conservation Issues

Given the scenic beauty created by the striking erosional features and the unique vegetation of the area, a great amount of public interest and pressure for increased private residential construction has been focused on the Sugar Creek Valley for the past several years. Many undeveloped and undisturbed portions of the corridor are currently for sale, and, consequently, the threat of habitat destruction and fragmentation for many nesting species is reaching a critical point. In addition, several of these pristine areas could be sold for the development of active recreational facilities or for extractive industries such as timber harvest.

Ownership

The greatest proportion (approximately 75 - 80%) of the land within the proposed Sugar Creek Valley IBA is privately-owned; however, several large tracts of habitat are owned and managed by the IDNR (either as a state park or nature preserve), and land trusts (such as the Central Indiana Land Trust Incoroporated, i.e., CILTI) are beginning to work towards purchasing additional properties or placing onservation easements on unprotected land. The following properties and respective acreages are owned by the state: Shades State Park (890 Ha); Turkey Run State Park (964 Ha); and Pine Hills Nature Preserve (194 Ha). In addition, Mossy Point Nature Preserve, a 42-hectare property lcoated in the southwestern region of the proposed IBA, is managed by CILTI.

Habitat

The Sugar Creek Valley IBA falls entirely within the entrenched valley section of the larger "Central Till Plain" natural region. Many portions of the Sugar Creek valley are decidedly different than the level, forested riparian cooridors found in other parts of central Indiana; deep canyons with an exposed bedrock of sandstone, siltstone, shale, and limestone are remarkably common in the area, as demonstrated in the steep ravines and cliff areas within Shades State Park, Turkey Run State Park, and Pine Hills Nature Preserve. Such areas were created after the last glaciers receded northward, and streams swollen with glacial meltwater cut into the bedrock deposited earlier by a once vast inland sea. The cliff edges, like those found along Indian and Clifty creeks, are covered with scattered stands of evergreens mixed with hardwood trees. White pine, hemlock, and Canada yew, trees more typical of the northern or boreal forests, are relics which have persisted from times when the local climate was much cooler. In areas not as deeply ravined, the more typical riparian species, such as Eastern Sycamore, dominate the wooded landscape; many acres of dense upland forest, which harbor species such as American beech, sugar maple, and tuliptree, also occur along the gentler hillsides of the valley.

Much of the shrubland areas can be found within unmowed patches of lawns and successional habitats created by natural and man-made disturbances, both in privately-held lands (especially along the bordering agricultural fields) and publicly-owned properties. Depending on mowing practices, Shades State Park in particular can offer significant brush and old-field habitats in the southeastern (former airstrip) and southwestern (campground and picnic area) quadrants.