Monday, December 29, 2008

#4 Vermillion Flycatcher vs. #13 Yellow-billed Cuckoo

#4 Vermillion Flycatcher

12 subspecies of Vermillion Flycatchers have been identified.
The male presents an insect to the female before copulation.
If kept in captivity male Vermillion Flycatchers tend to lose their bright red plumage.
A group of flycatchers is called a “zapper” of flycatchers.
A breeding male Vermillion Flycatcher spends approximately 90% of the day perched.

http://www.birds.cornell.edu/AllAboutBirds/BirdGuide/Vermilion_Flycatcher.html


#13 Yellow-billed Cuckoo

The Yellow-billed Cuckoo occasionally lays an egg in the nest of other birds.
Young cuckoos develop more quickly than almost all other songbirds.
Both parents build the nest, incubate the eggs, and care for the nestlings.
Yellow-billed Cuckoos migrate at night in small to large flocks.
Yellow-billed Cuckoos nest low to the ground to about 12 feet.

http://www.birds.cornell.edu/AllAboutBirds/BirdGuide/Yellow-billed_Cuckoo_dtl.html

Sunday, December 28, 2008

A Look at Polarizing Filters

If you are a nature photographer and do not have a polarizing filter you should definitely purchase one as soon as possible. The filter has many affects including cutting down on reflections and increasing saturation in photos. The filters also make skies bluer when in many situations the sky would appear very light blue to white without the filter.

Here is an example of the affects on saturation and reflections.





A polarizing filter was used in the first photo but not used in the second photo. Look at the changes in the reflection of the water and the increase of saturation in the leaves in the upper right hand corner of the photo.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Photographing McCormick's Creek State Park

The main attraction at McCormick's Creek State Park is an approximately 12 foot waterfall but many of the prettiest parts of the park are down creek from the falls. There are many small falls and rapids throughout the valley both above and below the main falls. For photographers and nature lovers alike hiking below the falls creates many beautiful scenes. Even though the water level is still a bit low I use some waders to create most of my images at this location. Many times the best anlgle at a falls or rapids is from the middle of the creek. There are also great backdrops from the creek including mature Sycamores and cliff faces. In a couple of places the cliff faces can turn into waterfalls during periods with lots of precipitation. Lots of wildlife also lives in the valley. Many species of birds use the area year round and Brown Creepers can be very easily found during the winter. The CBC in this location has one of the highest counts of Brown Creepers for Indiana every year. You can find many herps in the area as well including snakes, salamanders, frogs, and toads.

I made this shot while wading in the stream. This little set of two small falls in below the major falls. Many interesting compositions are possible with this falls.


This shot shows some rushing water and some interesting Sycamore trunks. To see the detail in the trunks click on the photo for a larger version.

I photographed this area of the creek from in the water. Coming in the morning would give better and warmer lighting so I will be making a trip back here when the conditions are better.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

#4 Reddish Egret vs. #13 Western Grebe

Reddish Egret

  • Reddish Egrets are known for their “dancing” while they feed. They use their shadow of their wings to drive prey in front of them.
  • Reddish Egret populations where severely damaged during the 1800’s when they were hunted for their feathers. They were actually completely extirpated from Florida at one point.
  • Reddish Egrets nest in colonies with other herons that are typically located on coastal islands
  • Today, Reddish Egrets are threatened by the destruction of coastal habitat.
  • There are two forms of the Reddish Egret, White and Dark. While 2 dark phase adults can have white chicks, 2 white phase adults can never have a dark phase chick.

Click here to view more information on Reddish Egrets.

Western Grebe

  • Western Grebes nest in large colonies consisting of hundreds of birds, typically on large inland lakes.
  • A group of grebes is known as a “water dance.”
  • Western Grebes are the largest North American grebe species.
  • Western Grebes build their nest on the water and hold it in place by attaching it to reeds.
  • Western Grebes are unable to walk on land due to the placement of their legs.

Click here to view more infomation on Western Grebes.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Migratory Bird Treaty Act

There has recently been some very disturbing news reported on the Ohio Birding listserv. It seems that some people in Cleveland, Ohio have absolutely no respect for birds and most likely wildlife in general. They are committing disgusting crimes against birds and are going completely unpunished. While it may be hard to catch these criminals, they would most likely be barely punished if they did happen to be caught. Before we get to that, let me explain the situation that has caused me to begin to look into these weak penalties.

Two of the situations occurred on the same day at the same lakefront park in Cleveland, Ohio. In the morning, someone drove a vehicle through a group of gulls sitting in the parking lot. This resulted in the death of at least 20 Ring-billed Gulls and the injury of a number of others. No one saw this happen and the individual that did this will undoubtedly go unpunished for this disgusting crime.

The second situation occurred at the same park and is just as disturbing if not more so. A birder observed two men pull up get out of their truck corner and catch a Canada Goose, kill it and proceed to dump the dead goose in a dumpster and drive away. While there is a description of the vehicle and the individuals that committed this crime, it is unlikely that they will ever be caught. Luckily for them, their license plate was covered by snow and the birder that viewed this incident was unable to record the plate number.

These two situations point to a much larger problem. Both of these crimes are a violation of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act but this legislation carries such a weak penalty that it is hardly a deterrent to people who have no respect for wildlife. Currently if you are caught in violation of this act, you are subject to at most a misdemeanor that carries a maximum of a $15000 fine and up to 6 months in jail. While that may seem like a lot, courts rarely hand out these penalties. The courts have so many felony cases, that such a “small” misdemeanor hardly ever gets much attention.

In November of 2007, a bill was introduced to the United State Congress that would finally give the Migratory Bird Treaty Act some teeth. It would make any intentional killing of a bird in violation of the act a felony with a maximum fine of $50,000 and a one year prison sentence. Any other violation would also be a felony with a maximum $25,000 and a six month prison sentence. While this is a much better deterrent, little can be accomplished without additional policing. These proposed changes do little if there are not more people out actively seeking to catch and prosecute the perpetrators of these crimes.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Waterfowl Identification: The Swan Trio

There are three species of swans that occur in the United States: Mute, Trumpeter, and Tundra Swans. The Mute Swan was introduced into the United States from Europe. After seeing this graceful beauty you can understand why people would want to have the Mute Swan live close by. The Tundra Swan has the most extensive range but only migrates and winters in the US. The Trumpeter Swan has had a tougher time adapting to habitat loss but in the recent past many reintroduction programs have made a large improvement in the population.

The Trumpeter and Tundra Swans are very similar in appearance while the Mute is easily distinguished from these two. The main difference between the Mute and the other two is that the Mute Swan has an orange bill. Also the Mute Swan usually swims with a more gently “S” curved neck than the other two swan species. At times when the bill is not visible, for example when flying overhead or when sleeping, the identification can be more difficult. In both of these situations look for the long tail of the Mute Swan to differentiate it. In flight the legs will not stick out past the tail tip in the Mute Swan. When on the ground the Mute and Tundra Swans have an uneven rounded back that is humped much closer to the tail than the neck. In the Trumpeter the hump is almost directly in between the neck and tail.

The differences in Trumpeter from Tundra Swans can be very subtle but with the knowledge of a couple key features most can be identified. The Tundra Swan has a spot of yellow on the lores that the Trumpeter does not have. This field mark can be difficult to discern at times depending on the lighting and viewing distance. The bill shape differs as well. The Tundra Swan has a concave upper mandible making the Tundra’s head and bill look much more sloping than the Trumpeter’s.

No matter which swan species you see remember to enjoy it as these birds are as graceful and beautiful as any.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

#3 Blackburnian Warbler vs. #14 Chestnut-collared Longspur

#3 – Blackburnian Warbler

  • The Blackburnian Warbler only form flocks during migration and are solitary on their wintering grounds.
  • The Blackburnian Warbler is the only North American warbler with an orange throat.
  • While Blackburnian Warblers are typically insectivores, they will eat berries on their wintering grounds.
  • Due to the height of their nests, there is little know about their breeding ecology.
  • Blackburnian Warblers are depended on spruce trees on their breeding grounds.

#14 - Chestnut-collared Longspur

  • A group of longspurs is known as a “drive.”
  • Chestnut-collared Longspurs prefer to nest in areas that have been recently grazed or mowed.
  • Longspur refers to the elongated claw of the hind tow.
  • Chestnut-collared Longspur numbers have decreased as native prairie habitat has been destroyed.
  • Chestnut-collared Longspurs nest twice during their breeding season from the beginning of May to the end of July.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Crossbills

After birding the Indiana lakefront on Lake Michigan without many highlights other than two Northern Shrikes my brother Rob and I went into bird the Illinois lakefront on Lake Michigan for the first time. We started early as the sun just reached over the horizon at Illinois Beach State Park. This state park comprises large inland marshes and miles of lakeshore. Our main objective for the day was to find White-winged Crossbills and other winter finches.

This was taken as the sun rose over Lake Michigan on a windy day at Illinois Beach State Park.


Our first bird after getting out of the car was a large flock of Pine Siskins calling as they flew over. We didn’t have a single siskin the day before in Indiana so it was a good bird to start off our day. Overall there were very few birds in the park so we headed to our next stop at Lyons Woods in Lake County Illinois. After getting out of the car we entered this large stand of pines and spruces. After just a few steps in we heard crossbills flying over, lucky for us they settled down on the edge so we were able to see them after hiking back to the edge. They didn’t stay long but we were able to see smaller groups flying over and sitting in the spruces for the next hour and a half. Unlike the Red Crossbill the White-wings feed on spruces because they have weaker bills than the Red Crossbills. After finding many crossbills we stopped along the lake a few more times without any highlights.

Today I had a Yellow-bellied Sapsucker come to our feeders in Indianapolis. This is the first time I have seen one at the feeders although I have had many in the yard in the past just never at the feeders.

Have a Great Thanksgiving

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

#3 Whooping Crane vs. #14 Wilson's Phalarope

#3 - Whooping Crane

  • Whooping Crane populations have been rising over the past few years. While there were only 100 Whooping Cranes left in the world in 1987, that number had grown to 468 by 2004.
  • Whooping Cranes are territorial on both their wintering and breeding grounds.
  • Whooping Cranes are the tallest North American bird.
  • Whooping Cranes live between 22 and 24 years in the wild.
  • While many people believe that cranes dance to attract a mate that is not true. Dancing is a normal part of crane development that thwarts aggression, relieves tension and strengthens crane pairs bonds.

#14 - Wilson’s Phalarope

  • Unlike most other bird species, females are larger and more colorful than males.
  • After laying their eggs, the females leave the males to incubate the eggs and they begin their migration.
  • Once they hatch, the young catch food on their own and are not feed by the adults.
  • The Wilson’s is the largest of the phalaropes.
  • The Wilson's Phalarope swims in circles to stir up food but does not swim in deep bodies of water like the other phalaropes.
  • Wilson’s Phalaropes face a huge threat from the draining of the wetlands where they nest.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Waterfowl Identification: The Basics

Geese, swans, dabbling and diving ducks, and mergansers are all included under the title of waterfowl. These species of waterfowl are very easily identified if they are at close range. The difficulty with the identification of waterfowl comes when trying to identify them at a long distance. Many times you will not be able to identify everything you see and this is especially true with the waterfowl. Many times you will just be able to get a glimpse of a duck when it is flying when it is a long way away.

What to Look For on a Sitting Duck

Plumage Pattern: The pattern is very important and easily used on most species of waterfowl. It is very distinctive and easily used for identification on almost every species of waterfowl.

Shape: Shape can be very useful to separate between different families. Each family, a group of closely related species, can be separated from other families by shape. Many times identifying to species using shape is not possible but it does help in many cases.

Size: The size can be very useful to use when trying to rule out some species of waterfowl. Many times size is hard to judge but with practice and patience it becomes much easier to judge.


Female Mallard. Many times female ducks can be much harder to identify than the males.


Many species of waterfowl are migratory making their way from the northern United States and Canada to the southern and central states. During breeding season these species of waterfowl usually nest on small bodies of water and marshes. During migration most species use large bodies of water including the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans, large and small lakes throughout the inland, and the Great Lakes. Many species use these same areas for wintering as well as migration.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

SkyWatch Friday

These photo were take in July in the Outer Banks of North Carolina. The sunrises in the Outer Banks are amazing. I like the rainbow shot because the whole rainbow is visable. Both shots were taken from the balcony at the beach house that we rented.


Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Green Jay vs. Wood Thrush

#3 Green Jay
  • The young from the year before help their parents raise young the year after they are born.
  • Green Jays are very bold and will often allow close approach.
  • They will visit feeders that have oranges and jelly like an oriole.
  • Green Jays are known to use tools such as sticks to find bugs to eat.
  • There are two populations in Central and South America seperated by 900 miles that may represent seperate species.

#14 Wood Thrush

  • Many people consider the song of a Wood Thrush as one of the most musical of all birds.
  • Wood Thrushes return to their breeding grounds year after year.
  • Brown-headed Cowbirds parasitize the nest of the Wood Thrush as much as any other species.
  • It is the official bird of the District of Columbia.
  • Forest fragmentation is a primary concern for conservationists studying the decline of the population

The first upset of the bird bracket occured last time with Anhinga beating Common Loon.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Watery Wednesday: Sunrise


It has been a while in Indiana when there have actually been clouds in the sky during the sunrise or sunset so I was very happy on this morning when we had a good sunrise. This photo was taken on the first day of November even though it felt like it was summer as it was in the 60's.

Check out other Watery Wednesday Posts here.

Monday, November 3, 2008

#3 Common Loon vs. #14 Anhinga

#3 - Common Loon

  • Common Loons are flightless for a few weeks after they lose all of their wing feathers at the same time.

  • Loons occasionally land on wet roadways and become stranded because they need a large amount of open water to be able to takeoff.

  • Common Loons can dive up to 200 feet under the water.

  • Loons eyes can focus both in the air and in the water.

  • Loon chicks ride on their parents backs until they can fly at approximately 11 weeks of age.

For more information on Common Loons click here.

#14 - Anhinga
  • Anhingas must spread their wings and dry themselves in the sun after swimming because they do not have oil glands for waterproofing as many other waterbirds do.

  • Anhingas typically swim with only their neck and head out of the water while the rest of their body is submerged beneath the surface.

  • Anhingas spear fish with their long bills.

  • Anhingas are often seen soaring high in the air. They are great fliers and can go for long distances without having to flap their wings.

  • The Anhinga is also known as the Water-Turkey because of its large wide turkey like tail.

For more information on Anhingas click here.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Skywatch Friday

Goose Pond Fish and Wildlife Area is located in Greene County, Indiana. Sunrises and Sunsets on the property can be amazing and the wildlife, especially birds, is extremely diverse.

This photo was taken at sunrise over one of the many marshes. The clouds in the sky really were a red color from the rising sun.

My main goal when I was there was to photograph Monarchs and find some rails. I succeeded on both accounts. I was able to find a King Rail at a distance of about 10 feet. There was no need for binoculars. I was also able to find many Monarchs warming up in the sun in the early morning so many sat still which made it much easier to photograph them. These photos were taken in the middle of September when the Monarchs migrate through Indiana.

Checkout more great SkyWatch Posts here.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Sycamore Leaf

Both of these shots were taken at McCormick's Creek State Park. I thought the design on the rock was very interesting.

On this shot I just shot the normal shot with the leaf on the rock. A straightforward shot.

On this one I zoomed out while I was taking the shot. I think it adds a little more interest.

Let me know which you prefer or any other critique you might have.


Monday, October 27, 2008

#2 Scarlet Tanager vs. #15 Scott's Oriole

#2. Scarlet Tanager

1. The Scarlet Tanager almost always builds its nest in a leaf cluster.
2. Many people describe the song of the Scarlet Tanager as a robin with a sore throat.
3. Scarlet Tanagers have been documented eating over 2000 gypsy moth caterpillars in an hour.
4. Breeding male Scarlet Tanagers molt into a plumage very similar to the drab yellow plumage of the female during the winter.
Picture of Scarlet Tanager

#15. Scott’s Oriole

1. The Scott’s Oriole very closely associates with Yucca. It uses Yucca for feeding and building its nest.
2. As all orioles do, the Scott’s Oriole builds a hanging nest.
3. The Scott’s Oriole is closely related to the blackbirds.
4. A group of orioles is known as a “pitch” or a “split” of orioles.
Picture of Scott’s Oriole

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Shades State Park

The color around this small pond were very good and the reflection was great.

After coming home from college for the weekend my mom and I decided to go to Shades State Park which is about an hour from our house. We got up early so we would be there at daybreak which helped us find birds. Before leaving the parking lot, we had already seen a Golden-crowned Kinglet and 4 woodpeckers which included Red-headed, Flicker, Red-bellied, and the Pileated Woodpecker. It was a great way to start the day. I had not visited this park for quite a few years and didn’t remember any of the awesome geographical features that are located along Sugar Creek.

This photo is of Sugar Creek from one of the overlooks.


We decided to take Trail 1 first which takes you on an easy hike through some mature forest. It takes you to a feature called the Devil’s Punch Bowl which is an amazing waterfall. Unfortunately for us there was very little water in this part of the creek. The trail then leads you to Silver Cascade Falls which is another awesome waterfall but there was just a trickle. After this the trail continues to Sugar Creek giving hikers two great views of the area. While we were overlooking the area we were able to watch two Bald Eagles, one adult and one young.


Sugar Creek

We than took parts of Trails 4 and 5. Both of these trails use ladders to get through some of the areas. These ladders are great fun to use and the ravines that you are hiking through are very beautiful and have great plant diversity. These trails lead to Sugar Creek but instead of giving overviews of the creek, they give you access to actually walk around the creek.


Me sitting at the top of one of the ladders. Photo courtesy of my mom.

We then decided to go to another section of the park called Pine Hills Nature Preserve. This area is considered part of the state park but really borders the park making the protected area in the Sugar Creek watershed much larger. On the trail through the area you start at the top of a ridge and then descend down to the level of the creek. As we were making our way back towards the parking area we ran into a large flock of birds. I saw my first Red-breasted Nuthatches of the fall in a small group consisting of at least four individuals. We then found a couple Brown Creepers and both Ruby-crowned and Golden-crowned Kinglets. I was also able to find my first Fox Sparrow and Pine Siskin in the same flock as well.

Burr Oak leaves against a log.

The area around Sugar Creek holds many treasures and if you have a chance to visit make the most of your time in this beautiful area.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Skywatch Friday

After working in the Black Hills of South Dakota and throughout North Dakota for the summer I had the chance to go to Yellowstone National Park with my younger brother, Dan, and my Dad. We stayed just outside of Grand Teton National Park so we had a little bit of a drive to get into Yellowstone; luckily Grand Teton National Park is an awesome area too. If you have never been to the area you probably don’t understand the size of each of the parks. Yellowstone is larger than the Grand Tetons and to drive from the southern end of Yellowstone to the northern end it takes more than an hour. Before going to these parks it is a good idea to think about this so you can stay somewhere that is close to the area you are going to spend most of your time. For example if you wanted to see many mammals you would want to stay close to the Hayden Valley. When I was there I noticed that the best place by far for moose was not in Yellowstone National Park but actually in the southern part of Grand Teton National Park. Birding in both of these parks is also very good but not usually the reason to make a visit here. I was able to find my first Barrow’s Goldeneye, Green-tailed Towhee, and Williamson’s Sapsucker among many others.

The hot springs in Yellowstone National Park look like something from another world.


This Uinta Ground Squirrel was in Grand Teton National Park. It is one of the mammals that is a little less appreciated because of all of the big mammals in the park.



The sky with the clouds made for a beautiful setting while photographing the hot springs.

This picture is a small sections of one of the hot springs. The hot springs create many beautiful patterns.

Check out more great SkyWatch Friday posts here.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Brown County State Park

Brown County State Park is one of the most popular state parks in Indiana. In the fall it can have amazing color and with the many vistas people can easily enjoy the color. Unfortunately this fall has not been the best year for fall color. On my recent visit I was disappointed by the amount of color but at least there was some.

This picture was taken from one of the vistas.


The steam and the reflection helped to make this an interesting shot.

This area had some of the best reds in the park but overall there was not much color.

Monday, October 20, 2008

#2 Swallow-tailed Kite vs. #15 Northern Bobwhite

Here are some interesting facts to consideer when deciding who to vote for in our poll.

#2 - Swallow-tailed Kite

1. The Swallow-tailed Kite rarely flaps its wings while flying, but it almost continuously rotates its tail, often to nearly 90 degrees, in order to hold a heading, make a sharp turn, or trace tight circles while drifting across the sky.
2. The Swallow-tailed Kite frequently eats while flying.
3. The Swallow-tailed Kite drinks by skimming the surface and collecting water in its bill.
4. The Swallow-tailed Kite used to nest as far north as Minnesota but habitat destruction and shooting have reduced its range.
5. The Swallow-tailed Kite tolerates other kites near the nest, but not other hawks or eagles.

Swallow-tailed Kite picture and information.

#15 - Northern Bobwhite

1. There are 22 different subspecies of Northern Bobwhite and while the females show little differences, the males can be dramatically different.
2. Northern Bobwhites form coveys (groups) of 5 to 30 individuals.
3. Chicks leave the nest approximately 24 hours after hatching.
4. Northern Bobwhites are heavily over-hunted and in many locations numbers are kept inflated by individuals that are raised in captivity and release for the sole purpose of being hunted.
5. The Bobwhite got its name from its distinctive ‘bob WHITE’ call.

Northern Bobwhite picture and information.

The winner of the previous poll was the Snowy Owl.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Today's Flowers

This photograph of a Tickseed Sunflower was taken at Big Bone Lick State Park in Kentucky. The park is full of flowers during the early fall and offers many opportunites to take great photographs. The park is also great for birding.

Click here to see more great Today's Flowers posts.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Indiana Waterfalls

While looking through some pictures from state parks in Indiana I discovered that McCormick’s Creek State Park had a real waterfall. The only waterfalls that I have seen in Indiana are about a foot tall with just a trickle of water. I have been to McCormick’s Creek State Park quite a few times and have even given a presentation about birds there but somehow I never came across the falls or the signs that direct you that way.

I hadn’t decided where I was going to go when I woke up but decided to try to find the falls at McCormick’s Creek State Park since it was cloudy which allows the use of a slow shutter speed. It was much more impressive in real life at about 9-10 feet tall. The fall colors added to the effect and the waterfall met all of my expectations.



After more than an hour I decided to look for some birds, the only bird that was around the falls was a Red-headed Woodpecker which made up for the absence of birds. Once I was concentrating on birds I found many including good numbers of both kinglets and White-throated Sparrows. I also heard my first Brown Creeper of the fall. The highlight was a single Orange-crowned Warbler that was hanging out with the White-throated Sparrows. It allowed very close views and was my first one of the fall.

Indiana has much more beauty than first meets the eye, every time out into the field I find some new and interesting natural aspect of the state.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Top 5 Birding Field Guides

It is always beneficial for birders to own more than one field guide to refer to. We recommend the following field guides for all birders.

1. The Sibley Guide to Birds

Pros: Number of plumages shown, very concise bird illustrations, good descriptions of songs.
Cons: Large size of guide, many rare birds left out, no natural history information of birds.
You can purchase The Sibley Guide to Birds here.

2. Peterson Field Guide to Birds of North America
Pros: Many comparative plates for identifying difficult species, natural history of most birds.
Cons: Not all plumages shown, many rare birds left out.
You can purchase Peterson Field Guide to Birds here.

3. Kaufman Field Guide to Birds of North America

Pros: Natural history of most birds, arrows pointing out the field marks, easy to carry around.
Cons: Many plumages not shown, some rare birds left out.
You can purchase Kaufman Field Guide to Birds here.

4. National Geographic Field Guide to the Birds of North America

Pros: Includes all rare birds, natural history of birds included.
Cons: Many plumages not shown.
You can purchase National Geographic Field Guide to the Birds of North America here.

5. Stokes Field Guide to Birds

Pros: Natural history of birds included, photos help show the habitat to find each bird.
Cons: The photo style limits helpfulness when trying to ID birds, many rare birds left out.

You can purchase Stokes Field Guide to Birds: Eastern Region here.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

SkyWatch Friday

This series of SkyWatch Friday shots was taken in Maui in June. Maui is one of the best places in the world to watch and photograph sunsets. These photos were taken over a period of about 20 minutes and show the changes that take place over a very short period of time during a sunset.

Taken at 6:52 P.M.

Taken at 7:02 P.M.

Taken at 7:10 P.M.

You can find more great SkyWatch Friday post here.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Top Ten Birding Locations in Indiana

These sites were chosen and ordered by a formula containing the number and quality or migrating birds, breeding birds and rare birds seen at these sites. There will be more posts to come about birding at each of these locations.

1. Goose Pond Fish and Wildlife Area (15.7/20)
Location: Greene County
Highlights: Breeding marsh birds, shorebird migration, waterfowl, and many rare birds including Ibises and Black-bellied Whistling Duck.

2. Eagle Creek Park (14.3/20)
Location: Marion County
Highlights: Warbler migration, Breeding forest birds, and occasional rare water birds including the only Ross’s Gull ever recorded in Indiana.

3. Miller Beach (13.7/20)
Location: Lake County
Highlights: Shorebird migration, Gulls, Jaegers, and many rare birds. By far the best place to see rare birds in Indiana.

4. Brookville Reservoir (13.5/20)
Location: Franklin County
Highlights: Shorebird migration, waterfowl migration, and it is one of the best locations in eastern Indiana for rare birds.

5. Kankakee Sands (12.9/20)
Location: Newton County
Highlights: Breeding grassland birds, shorebird migration, and rare rails including Black and Yellow.

6. Jasper Pulaski Fish and Wildlife Area (12.9/20)
Location: Pulaski County
Highlights: Thousands of Sandhill Cranes and the occasional Whooping Crane.

7. Gibson Lake (12.8/20)
Location: Gibson County
Highlights: Largest Least Tern colony in Indiana, shorebird migration, and rare wading and shorebirds.

8. Migrant Trap (12/20)
Location: Lake County
Highlights: Warbler migration, sparrow migration, and lake birds.

9. Hawthorne Mines (12/20)
Location: Greene County
Highlights: Many wintering hawks, large flocks of blackbirds in the fall and winter, and a wintering Prairie Falcon.

10. Pine Creek Gamebird Habitat Area (10.9/20)
Location: Benton County
Highlights: Migrating shorebirds, migrating sparrows, and breeding grassland and marsh birds.

If we did not include a spot that you think should be included or have any questions about any of the locations let us know.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

#2 Snowy Owl vs. #15 Cedar Waxwing

Here are some interesting facts to consideer when deciding who to vote for in our poll.

#2 - Snowy Owl

1. Snowy Owls typically lay between 5 and 8 eggs but have been know to lay as many as 14.
2. Snowy Owls are mostly diurnal hunters.
3. It was recently discovered that Snowy Owls are closely related to the horned owls.
4. Snowy Owls can eat more the 1600 lemmings per year. They must also capture between 7 and 12 mice per day to meet their food needs.
5. While the female incubates the eggs and cares for the young in the nest, the male brings her and the young food.

Snowy Owl Picture and Information

#15 - Cedar Waxwing

1. Cedar Waxwings are known to get drunk off of the many berries they feed on.
2. Some Cedar Waxwings are now being seen with orange tail tips; the usual is a yellow tail tip. The reason for this is believed to be because of a non native plant, a species of honeysuckle.
3. During most of the years Cedar Waxwings travel in flocks giving their high pitched trilling call the whole time.
4. The Cedar Waxwing is one of the latest breeding songbirds. They do not start nesting until late June.The Cedar Waxwing is named for the Eastern Red Cedar tree where they often feed.

Cedar Waxwing Picture and Information

The winner of the previous poll was Roseate Spoonbill.

Monday, October 13, 2008

The Sparrows are Here

Going birding in a new location is always fun. When you bird at the same place over and over, you start to know exactly where and what to expect, to see throughout the park. When you start birding a place that you have never been before, you have to analyze the habitat and figure out where the birds will be. You won’t know exactly what species to expect. You may be able to guess pretty closely what will be in which areas but you still won’t know exactly what to expect throughout the park.

This past weekend I went down to Cincinnati and was able to do some birding with my brother at Miami Whitewater Wetlands. At this time of year the possibilities are almost endless at this location. Possibilities can’t be endless but this place is about as close as it comes. There is excellent habitat for almost any species of sparrows and some good habitat for migrating warblers and other tree dwelling passerines. We only had a short time before we had to meet the rest of our family for lunch and a great Colts game so we quickly headed out into the middle of the now dry marsh.

Sunrise at Miami Whitewater Wetlands.

Our main target birds were LeConte’s and Nelson’s Sharp-tailed Sparrows both of which are somewhat uncommon and most of the time very difficult to find. Lucky for us we were able to find both fairly quickly and got very good looks at both of them. While trying to find them we also found a Sora and many other sparrows including many Swamp, Song, Field, White-crowned, White-throated, and Lincoln’s Sparrows. I have never been to any other location with as many Lincoln’s Sparrows. Their usual habitat is along tree lines with lots of undergrowth but at Miami Whitewater Wetlands we had them not only in their usual haunts but also out in the marsh. As these are one of my favorite sparrows this made it a great day.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Skywatch Friday


This scene occured in Custer State Park in June. These buffalo were in the perfect place with a great blue sky and clouds. Custer State Park is one of the best places to photograph buffalo. It has great backgrounds to use and you can get very close to the buffalo while staying in your car.


Here is a closeup of one of the many buffalo.


This picture was taken with a 300mm lens. Many times the buffalo will stand on the road and cause a traffic jam. It is very easy to get within a few feet of them while in your car.

Check out other SkyWatch Friday posts.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Bird Bracket


So far we are through all of the number 1 vs. 16 matchups with no upsets. The entire layout is shown above so you can look ahead to future matchups. Make sure you vote each time a new matchup is posted, it's a warmup for the upcoming presidential election. Of course there is no bad vote when it comes to the birds.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Winter Residents

While birding this past Sunday at Eagle Creek Park in Indianapolis, it was very evident that many of our local winter residents are on their way back into town. While there were still some migrants present, such as many Yellow-rumped Warblers, winter residents were everywhere.

After stopping to pick up the reported Franklin’s Gull, we continued on to the marina where we found many birds. There were many Ruby-crowned and Golden-crowned Kinglet and White-throated Sparrows, both a sure sign that fall is here. After finding a few migrant warblers, we decided to check the mudflats on the north end of the reservoir. While there were only a few shorebirds present, we did find another winter resident on our hike, two Dark-eyed Juncos.

It is really starting to feel like fall and the presence of our winter residents show that winter is not all that far away. Overall it was a great day that was capped off by our Birdathon luncheon to celebrate a successful year of fundraising.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

SkyWatch Friday


This photo was taken in Custer State Park in the Black Hills of South Dakota. We had been out photographing buffalo and Pronghorn but the sky ended up giving us a real show. There we amazing cloud formations as the storm rolled in and we took as many pictures as we could before it started pouring.

Check out more SkyWatch Friday posts.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Learning to Photograph Waterfalls

This past weekend I made my first trip ever to Great Smoky Mountain National Park. While I was only there for a short amount of time and saw only a small portion of the park, the beauty and photographic opportunities surrounded me. From the rocky creeks to the waterfalls, there are beautiful photographs to be taken everywhere you look.

After making a 1.5 mile hike, I finally came upon my first waterfall of the trip. Grotto Falls, located along the Roaring Fork Motor Trail near Gatlinburg, is an amazing waterfall to photograph. Being a beginning nature photographer, this was the first opportunity I had ever had to photograph waterfalls and it was very challenging. I spent over an hour learning how to shoot waterfalls and experimenting with many different angles. I still have a lot to learn but, the following photos are what I produced during my hour at Grotto Falls.

1/2 sec f/9 ISO 200

2.5 sec f/18 ISO 200

2 sec f/18 ISO 200

Monday, September 29, 2008

South Florida in March

Last spring I made a trip to south Florida with my brother Eric and my dad. We went to all of the great birding spots in the area including, Ding Darling NWR, Little Estero Lagoon, Corkscrew Swamp and Everglades NP. Although we have been to the area many times before, there were still quite a few of the local specialties that we had not seen before.

On our way down I-75 from Indianapolis, we stopped in Ocala, Florida and had the opportunity to bird at Ocala National Forest. We had never birded in the area and were able to find a few Florida Scrub-Jays. Unfortunately, we were not able to find a Red-cockaded Woodpecker or a Brown-headed Nuthatch. We also found a very cooperative Snapping Turtle that we were able to photograph. Later in the afternoon we continued on down to Captiva Island near Sanibel. We spent a few days in the area mainly focusing on photographing the wonderful birds at Ding Darling NWR, in Fort Myers Beach, and on the property around our hotel. We also decided to go to Cape Coral and try to find the Burrowing Owls that reside there. We were able to find one of the nesting locations and found one owl at the entrance to one of the burrows. This was a life bird for all of us and we were very excited to have seen such a beautiful owl. It does worry me that the area with the burrows is listed for sale and already surrounded by houses. I hope that the habitat for these special owls is not destroyed in the future. As always, we had many great birds and enjoyed 2 days of amazing birding.

Snapping Turtle at Ocala National Forest

As we headed for Homestead and the Miami entrance to the Everglades, we made 2 stops. First, we stopped at Little Estero Lagoon in Fort Myers Beach. This is an excellent spot to photograph herons, egret, and shorebirds. We observed and photographed many birds here including Wilson’s Plover, Yellow-crowned Night-Heron, Wood Stork, Roseate Spoonbill, and all of the normal herons and egrets. Continuing on, we stopped at Corkscrew Swamp. The water levels in the area were really low due to the ongoing drought. Even with the water being low, we saw many of the expected birds and got to see the Painted Bunting that resides at the sanctuary during the winter months. From there we drove straight over to Homestead and prepared for an early morning trip into the Everglades National Park.

Great Blue Heron at Little Estero Lagoon

The next morning we were up early and on our way into the Everglades. We had never been there before and were excited to see the area and find some new birds. Our first stop was at the famous Anhinga Trail. We saw many birds at very close range and were able to take many great pictures. There were also many alligators in the area and it was very interesting to watch them. It is amazing to watch Purple Gallinules, Anhingas, and so many other beautiful birds at such a close range.

We then went back to the Visitor Center to look around and to get some maps of the area. It is a great visitor center with a very helpful and informative staff to help you with any questions you may have. We were very interested in seeing a Snail Kite but we were told that there had not been any reported in the area due to the drought. While we were slightly disappointed that Snail Kites had not been seen recently we knew that there was still a chance for us to find one.

From the visitor center we drove the main park road and stopped at another famous trail. Snake Bight trail is famous among birders and is something we felt we had to do during our trip. It was a great hike and we were able to see our only Great White Heron of the trip. Unfortunately, there were no Flamingos in the bight. We continued on to Flamingo and found some very interesting things there. We found an American Oystercatcher, Black-necked Stilt, and a Black Skimmer. While going into the store to get lunch, we noticed a large crocodile resting on the shore across from some docks.

From there we headed back towards Homestead and decided to drive through another area of the Everglades just to the north to search for a Snail Kite. Although we drove back roads for almost 3 hours, there was no Snail Kite to be found.

On our last day in south Florida, we decided to drive south through some of the Keys and see if we could find anything interesting down there. While there were very few birds, we were able to find a Key Deer on Big Pine Key, which is an endangered sub-species of the very common White-tailed Deer. They are only the size of a medium-sized dog and it is amazing how small these deer really are. After seeing the Key Deer, we headed back to the Everglades to walk Anhinga Trial one more time.

Anhinga Trail Visitor Center

We got there just before sunset and had just enough time to walk the boardwalk one more time. As we walked around we saw many of the birds that we had seen during our first walk the day before. As we rounded the corner near the end of our walk a large Kite flew over. We knew immediately that the bird was the Snail Kite that we had been searching for. We watched it till it was out of sight and then ran back along the boardwalk to try to relocate the Kite. When we got to one of the observation areas, there were already a few people watching the bird. It had landed only 50 feet from the boardwalk and was looking right at us. We were able to observe this bird for about 30 minutes until it was to dark and we had to head back to our car. It was great to find our target bird just minutes before the end of our trip.