A new phase: Chasing eagles at Summit Lake State Park

Summit Lake State Park

I’ve been planning to focus more on birds as I explore natural Northern Indiana. And November is peak bird season at Summit Lake State Park, which, along with its Nature Area, are well-known stopovers on migratory bird flights. But I knew I was underequipped for a bird expedition there last Monday.

I’ve only dabbled in avian photography, albeit with surprising results, so I have little technique. And my 70-300 zoom lens wasn’t up to the task. (As part of the bird plan, I had a camera store friend in Indy on the lookout for the one I needed.) But I figured with sun, sky, clouds and 800 acres of water, a trip to rural Henry County would be productive, bird-ready or not.

So, after capturing the previsualized waterscapes from a couple lakeshores inside the park, we drove outside to the Nature Area, which is separated by a county road and requires permission to explore. Just as I spotted a well-used parking area on the preserve’s southern perimeter, Raina saw the bald eagle roosting in a roadside tree, overlooking the 2,680-acre state park’s 800-acre lake of the same name.

That we’d spot an eagle wasn’t surprising. The open water, deciduous woodlands, open brush, old fields, thickets, mudflats, marshes, wetlands, and prairie restorations support an estimated 100 bird species.

The Indiana Audubon Society says 27 species of warblers; 25 species of ducks, swans, geese, and grebes; and 17 species of shorebirds are regularly found at Summit Lake. Some unusual species that have been documented include the marsh wren, least bittern, American bittern, king rail, osprey, black tern and great egret, and the bald eagle.

Summit Lake attracts one of the largest concentrations of migrating waterfowl in the Midwest outside of the Great Lakes. And with the exceptions of loons and deep-diving ducks, they concentrate in the Nature Area’s three marshes and pond in the park’s far northeastern reaches.

Inside the park I shot some ducks and gulls on the water and Canada geese in flight. And, as I approached the treed eagle in the Nature Area, the magnificent raptor departed the tree, spread its 6- to 7-foot wingspan and circled twice overhead, in perfect afternoon sun, before disappearing north over the marsh.


Created by a dam at the Big Blue River headwaters in the mid-1970s, Summit Lake is so named due to the park’s status as the highest elevation in the area – near the highest elevation in the state, actually. It’s located just north of New Castle.

Within its boundaries, but again separate from the park proper, the 127-acre Zeigler Woods Nature Preserve features old-growth woodlands, rolling hills and a scenic valley. Permission from the park office is required to park by and enter the preserve, which is on the southwest side by the dam.

With no trail and an abundance of greenbrier, this Dedicated State Nature Preserve is a high-quality example of the rolling, moist, upland hardwood forests and depressional wetlands that were native to East-Central Indiana. This plot shows little evidence of human disturbance.

Zeigler Woods features mature stands of white oak, northern red oak, white ash, shagbark hickory, sugar maple, and American elm on the rich slopes, with the drier ridges and slopes supporting black oak, basswood, blue ash, red elm, and pignut hickory.

Before Summit Lake, we surveyed the 35-acre Stout Woods Nature Preserve northwest of New Castle, a high-quality example of the Central Till Plain Flatwoods forest type that was native to vast areas of Central Indiana in pre-settlement times. Little impacted by invasive species, this woodland with wetlands supports a rich diversity of plants and animals that include salamanders, sedges, white oaks, red oaks, bur oaks, and tulip poplars.

Owned by Purdue University, the Stout Woods were owned by the Stout family for more than a century and sit off road behind a corn field.


While they betray my equipment and technique shortcomings, I captured a few photos of ducks, gulls, geese and the eagle that I posted in a Summit Lake Photo Album, along with pics of Stout and Ziegler.

On Wednesday I got a message from Indy. On Friday I picked up a Nikkor 80-400mm zoom, bringing my camera system and work to the next level.

On Saturday I started a new phase, looking at nature from a little bit closer perspective.

Photographs: Top left, right: Summit Lake State Park; Bottom: Stout Woods Nature Preserve


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