County Line Orchard may delay haying work amid nesting bird controversy



The fate of multiple pairs of grassland birds nesting in a field at County Line Orchard in Hobart that serves as an overflow parking in the fall and was slated for haying this month erupted into a social media controversy and prompted the orchard to consider delaying the work until after nesting season.

The matter appeared to come to the broader attention of the public on June 12 after the Chicago Ornithological Society’s Facebook page shared a June 3 post from Ken Wysocki, who describes himself as a content creator from Blue Island, Illinois. The Chicago Ornithological Society referred questions to Wysocki who could not be reached by press time.

According to Wysocki’s post, “For many years grassland birds have attempted to nest at the County Line Orchard overflow parking lot in Hobart in Northwest Indiana. Last week 12 pairs of nesting kickcissels, 6 pairs of nesting bobolinks and 4 pairs of nesting Savannah sparrows were reported on the site.”

The post goes on to say County Line has tens of thousands of visitors and brings in millions to the local economy. The parking lot often overflows into the field where these grassland birds nest, the post continues.

“Unfortunately, for the last few years the field parking lot has been mowed in the middle of breeding season” the post continues, alleging that the mowing likely kills many of the birds trying to nest and the fledglings.

An employee for County Line Orchard, who declined to provide a name, said the field is a working field and the hay harvested is used to feed farm animals. The area serves as an overflow parking lot for about two months a year during the orchard season.

Adam Delucenay, North Grassland Biologist with the Indiana Department of Natural Resources, said Friday that he did receive some calls from the public about the nesting birds and had talked to a representative from County Line Orchard about the situation.

Delucenay said the species nesting in the hay are not on a threatened or endangered list. The loss of nesting sites is unfortunate, he said, but it is not in violation of DNR rules. Before Delucenay’s contact with the orchard, he said they had already decided to delay the haying of the land in question until August when the nesting season ends.

“Although there is nothing from the DNR perspective to prevent them from haying if they wanted to,” Delucenay said. The property is zoned agricultural. He said the orchard will use the time to come up with a management plan moving forward.

County Line Orchard released a statement of the grassland bird nesting on Facebook on Thursday.

“County Line Orchard has been a working farm since 1984. We farm 350 acres of apples, corn, soybeans, pumpkins, flowers and hay. For the past twenty years, we have followed the same planting and harvesting cycles for these crops. These cycles and practices align with other farmers in our community,” the statement read.

The statement was no longer visible on Facebook Friday afternoon.

County Line Orchard did not return multiple requests for comment.

cnapoleon@chicagotribune.com



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