The West Beach Important Bird Area is located along the Lake-Porter County boundary in northwestern Indiana, near the southernmost point of Lake Michigan. West Beach is owned and managed by the National Parks Service as part of the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore (IDNL).
Along with the West Beach property, the IBA boundary for this site encompasses additional IDNL holdings, including the adjacent Long Lake and Inland Marsh parcels. In all, nearly 1500 acres of critical habitat ? including beach, dunes, woodlots, savanna, emergent marsh, and lake ? comprise this Important Bird Area.
The mosaic of habitats encompassed by the West Beach IBA attract a great diversity of birds throughout the year, although, as with many other sites along the Lake Michigan shoreline, fall migration and the winter months comprise the most significant ornithological occurrences in the area.
Several features of West Beach help make the site critical for migrants, such as its location near the southernmost tip of Lake Michigan, the deep waters of the lake, and the surrounding parcels of upland habitat, which include a small Jack Pine forest and successional dune vegetative communities.
The months of November and December are the most critical time of the year at West Beach ? during these months, large waves of migrant waterfowl and waterbirds are passing through the region. Large flotillas of diving ducks, loons, and grebes are typically seen within the immediate waters of Lake Michigan at this locale. Single day counts for the most abundant species, such as Red-breasted Merganser, can exceed 1000 individuals, and rafts of Common Loons sometimes reach several hundred individuals. Also, uncommon to rare waterbird species are often found here, including Red-throated Loon, Western Grebe, and, earlier in the fall, Parasitic Jaeger.
The small Jack Pine forest located just south of the lakeshore provides important habitat for migrant landbirds, especially for species associated with northern forests. West Beach is typically the only location in the state where one can find such birds as Long-eared Owl, Red Crossbill, and Common Redpoll on a given late fall or winter?s day.
Also included within the West Beach IBA are two smaller water features ? Long Lake and Inland Marsh. The emergent vegetation surrounding both of these bodies supplies critical habitat for migrant and nesting marsh birds, including such state-endangered species like Least Bittern.