National Geographic magazine (along with the national Audubon Society, BirdLife International, and the Cornell Lab of Ornithology) is celebrating 2018 as the Year of the Bird, because 2018 is “the centennial of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, the most powerful and important bird protection law ever passed” (National Geographic website). In its January issue, National Geographic includes articles with many fine photos of birds of all types from around the world. The central idea of the articles is “birds matter.” The greater number of bird species in a community, the healthier the community.
The Pumpkinvine Nature Trail connects many natural areas that support a great diversity of birds. Goshen birder Bob Guth verifies that diversity every time he walks the trail, listing the species he observes. Bob has walked the five miles from County Road 33 to State Road 4 at Abshire Park over 40 times. He keeps cumulative lists of what he calls three “hotspots” in that section: #1 from County Road 33 to county Road 26 (122 species); #2 County Road 26 to County Road 28 (116 species); and #3 County Road 28 to State Road 4 (126 species). That’s a lot of birds.
In the stream and trail edge habitat at mile 5.0 (near CR 33) and in the well-preserved hardwood forest around mile 4.5, Bob has seen pileated woodpeckers, eastern Phoebes, yellow-billed cuckoos, redbellied woodpeckers, tufted titmice and black-capped chickadees. In the open area with native grasses and prairie wildflowers, he has spotted Lincoln sparrows, white-throated sparrows, Baltimore orioles, and eastern bluebirds; occasionally he sees goldfinches, white-crowned sparrows, tree sparrows, and song sparrows eating Indian grass. Christine Guth (Bob’s wife) once saw a pair of foxes with three kits near mile 4.0. Horned larks nest in the farmland between 3.5 and 3.0 and snow-buntings and Lapland longspurs migrate through in late fall. Sandhill cranes fly over the trail near Butts Lake, near mile 1.5, in the fall. Wild turkeys frequent the trail between mile 1.0 and 0.5. This is only a sampling of the birds along the trail.
Before European settlement, Elkhart and LaGrange counties were covered with hardwood forests and wetlands, with smaller pockets of prairies and savannas. Today only fragments of these habitats remain. The Pumpkinvine is an important 16-mile long and 80-foot wide green connector of the remaining fragments. This connector allows birds, insects and mammals to move from fragment to fragment, where they feed, breed and raise their young. Connected habitat fragments helps sustain the vitality and size of animal and plant populations. Interconnecting diverse populations of native species is critical to sustaining a high quality natural environment. By providing a connecting greenway for birds, the Pumpkinvine Nature Trail plays an important role in improving the environmental quality of Elkhart and LaGrange Counties.
An index to birds along the Pumpkinvine Nature Trail can be found at www.ebird.com.