Sunday, August 31, 2008

Sunrise Series

6:42 am

6:45 am

6:50 am

This sunrise series just goes to show you that when you are photographing a sunrise you should spend lots of time. It is very interesting that the sky can change colors so rapidly, every minute there are new colors in the sky. Many times using bodies of water in your sunrise/sunset pictures will add interest to your photos.

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Fall Warbler Identification: Part 4

Blackburnian and Cape May

While in the spring both the Blackburnian and Cape May Warblers are very distinctive, in the fall they fade into a less glamorous plumage. Even in the fall these warblers are very beautiful but there is no doubt they are less distinctive and colorful. Both of these warblers are treetop foragers uncommonly coming down to eye level for better looks. In the spring the Blackburnian Warbler is known as the “flamethroat” and is the favorite warbler of many birders.

The Blackburnian Identification:
The most important aspect for identifying the Blackburnian Warbler is the face pattern. Each Blackburnian Warbler from the adult male to the first year female has the same distinctive face pattern. The face pattern includes a pale supercillium and dark auriculars. It also has pale sides on its neck which narrows down the possibilities very quickly. This warbler also has a pale bottom half eye ring, probably the most distinctive aspect of the face pattern. Blackburnians have streaking on the sides (never through the belly or chest) and big white wing bars. Almost every Blackburnian Warbler has a yellowish to orange wash through the throat and face.

The Cape May Identification:
Most plumages and ages of the Cape May Warbler have enough yellow and enough streaking on the chest to make this identification simple but the first year females can cause many problems. As with the Blackburnian the most important identifying features of the Cape May are in the face pattern. One important aspect of the face pattern to look for is the pale yellow patch on the side of the neck. It also has a black eye stripe with a pale eyebrow. The first year female Cape May is also much browner overall than other warblers that you can mistake it with.

With some experience with these warblers the identifications will become much easier.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Fall Warbler Identification: Part 3

Orange-crowned vs. Tennessee

The identification challenges that arise with these two warblers drive many the fall birder crazy. With some good looks at these birds you can see many small differences, but as with most warblers good looks are not easy to come by. Orange-crowned Warblers are almost always more yellow overall than the Tennessee except for when the Tennessee is a first year bird. So the only problem that comes from this identification is when the Tennessee is a young bird.

Lakes surrounded by woodland are an excellent place to find warblers during migration.

The most often taught identification tip for these two warblers is the color on the undertail. The Orange-crowned Warbler has yellow undertail coverts and the Tennessee Warbler has white undertail coverts. Many times you are not able to see the undertail coverts and if this is the only way you know how to identify these warblers you will be out of luck. In every identification situation knowing more than one field mark is very important. There are many other ways to identify Orange-crowned Warbler other than the undertail coverts. The Orange-crowned has blurry streaking on its sides and is usually grayer through the upperparts. Orange-crowned also has a much longer tail in comparison to its body than the Tennessee does.

As with all birds, knowing the habits and behaviors of these two warblers will help you make your identification quicker. Orange-crowned usually stays lower to the ground than Tennessee. You will usually see Tennessee Warblers foraging high in the trees while the Orange-crowned will stay in the shrubbier habitat. Although in the fall Tennessee Warblers will forage much lower than they do in the spring. The Tennessee is a much more hyperactive forager than the Orange-crowned. The Orange-crowned feeds by getting bugs out of dead leaf clusters and the Tennessee mostly feeds by foraging in the living foliage. When you look at any bird try to see the whole picture, as soon as you are able to do this you will learn the birds very quickly.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Fall Warbler Identification: Part 2

*Looking at a field guide while reading this article will be very helpful.

I can’t recall all of the times that a birder has looked over and asked “what’s that warbler; it has yellow wing-bars and an eye-ring?” Without ever looking at the bird I can almost assuredly tell them that they are looking at a Chestnut-sided Warbler. Many times when people are not sure on an identification they have already seen the major field marks. This is the hardest part; from this point on it is just memorization. For some reason that I am not sure of, Chestnut-sided Warblers are difficult for beginners to identify. I think that some people get confused by the name; they can identify the warbler when it has chestnut on its side but as soon as they see a first-fall female without a trace of chestnut they are completely lost.

Identifying features of the first fall female Chestnut-sided Warbler:
· White eye-ring and yellow wing-bars
· Plain white to gray belly and throat
· A very distinct yellow-green from the cap through the back
· Posture: holds its wings farther down on its side than most warblers

When I look through all of the warblers that could possibly be observed, I really believe that each is very unique and none look similar to the Chestnut-sided Warbler. The white eye-ring could possibly suggest a Nashville Warbler but the Nashville Warbler has lots of yellow throughout the breast. The Chestnut-sided will never show any yellow in the breast, it always has a light gray or white breast. When you see a Chestnut-sided that is not a first fall female, but has some chestnut on the side, you may mistake this warbler for a Bay-breasted Warbler at a quick glance. These two warblers are however very different from each other. The Bay-breasted Warbler is cream colored through its breast and belly. It also has two white wing bars, and holds itself much differently than a Chestnut-sided. The Chestnut-sided looks very laid backed compared to the Bay-breasted. The Bay-breasted always looks as if it were on its tiptoes. The most important thing to remember when identifying warblers in the field is to see the whole bird, don’t just try to see the field marks. The sooner you start to notice the habits and behaviors of warblers the sooner you will understand the identification of warblers.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Warblers of the Americas: An Identification Guide

As Eric said in his last post fall warbler migration is well underway. While out birding today at Shawnee Lookout Park in Cincinnati, I saw a few migrating warblers, including one Blackburnian, one Tennessee, and one Black-throated Green. While watching these birds actively forage in the treetops, I began to think that many people might be interested in learning more about the lives and migration patterns of these amazing little birds.

Front Cover

I highly recommend reading and studying Warblers of the Americas by Jon Curson, David Quinn and David Beadle. This book was published in 1994 but contains information on warblers that is still incredibly accurate. You can learn many field marks by reviewing the 36 full-color plates (pages) that contain amazing drawings and distribution maps. By reviewing and studying these drawings, you will make your birding trips much more enjoyable. There are also pages of information on the identification, geographical variation, voice, habitat, breeding and much more for each species.

This is a very well researched, written and illustrated book that every birder should own.

If you would like to purchase this book please click here to go to

Monday, August 25, 2008

Fall Warbler Identification: Part 1

For many birders throughout the eastern United States the most exciting time for birding will soon be arriving or has already arrived. While many people are very excited, there are also many that are worried about the upcoming season due to the identification challenges that will soon be upon them. Every birder can enjoy the fall warbler migration season more by understanding the identification process of these warblers more clearly. I believe that the reason some people are overwhelmed by the warblers is because of the large number of species that are possible. Most of the warblers are extremely straight forward during the spring, with their bright and distinctive plumages. In the fall the warblers’ plumages have faded and become less bright but are still distinctive.

As with all birds the best way to learn the identification process of warblers is to observe them in the field. It also helps if you look over the warblers before you go out into the field. As with all birds it is very difficult to learn how to identify birds by going out in the field once a week and never looking through or studying a field guide. To start learning the warblers you will need to know how to find them in the field. The most effective way to find warblers is to bird around lakes and rivers. When you are birding in these areas listen for chickadees and titmice because the warblers commonly feed in mixed flocks with these birds. By listening you will soon start hearing different call notes that are not coming from the common birds, but instead from the warblers.

The Marina at Eagle Creek Park in Indianapolis. This is one of the best spots for fall warbler migration in Indiana.

It also helps to know what you should expect to see. You need to learn the regular arrival and departure dates for Warblers, to cut down on the likely possibilities. For example if you are at the very start of fall migration in your area you should not expect to see Palm or Yellow-rumped Warblers. Knowing this can make the identification process become much quicker. Never be too closed-minded about the arrival and departure dates though because any bird is possible at any time, just use the dates as a guideline. You also need to pay attention to the behavior of each warbler. One of the most notable behaviors is the tail fanning of the American Redstart or the tail wagging of the Palm Warbler. If one of these behaviors is observed it is safe to assume that you have correctly identified the bird. Learning the feeding behaviors of warblers will quickly improve your warbler identification, and will especially help in back-lit situations.

When should you expect to see warblers? Watch the weather channel each night to be able to predict whether or not it will be a good day to go find Warblers. During the fall north winds will bring birds in from the north, while in the spring southern winds will help birds migrate north. Without winds there will not be too much bird migration, so if it was slow the day before, it will most likely be slow the next day without overnight winds. The more you learn about the identification and behavior of warblers the more you will be able to enjoy them every day.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Fernald Preserve Grand Opening

Today I had the opportunity to visit the brand new Fernald Preserve. Fernald is located in Harrison, OH and opened its gates for the first time on Wednesday August 20. After years as a uranium metal production facility, it has been converted to an amazing wildlife preserve. The U.S. Department of Energy has spent $4.4 billion to decontaminate the land from its days as a uranium facility. An additional $14 million was spent on ecological restoration and the building of a visitor center.

Fernald - 1988

The preserve covers 1050 acres and has a wide variety of habitats to explore. With 400 acres of woodland, 327 acres of prairie, 140 acres of open water and wetland, and 33 acres of savannah, the birding and photography possibilities are endless. There are many areas that will provide wonderful shorebird habitat when the water is low and all of the wetland areas are already home to many Green Herons. With the variety of habitats, this site offers great birding opportunities all year long.

They incorporated many eco-friendly features in the visitor center. They are using geothermal heating and cooling that will use the surrounding lakes to control the temperature. They have also built a marsh behind the visitor center that will act as a water treatment facility for the center’s waste water.

Fernald Preserve Visitor Center

While it does not appear that the preserve is completed yet, it holds tremendous potential for the future of birding in the Cincinnati area. The area has a few trails throughout the property but will hopefully allow more access by creating more trails throughout the property especially the woodlands. Even without the additional trails, it is an amazing place to bird.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Shorebird Identification Tips-Part 4 of 4

There are still many more identification problems that arise when trying to identify shorebirds, and the hardest of all of the identifications is still left, the Dowitchers. Dowitcher identification can be very difficult depending on what part of the country you live in and what time of year you are observing them. When in breeding plumage, Short-billed Dowitchers are paler through most of the country but there is a prairie subspecies that is as bright as a Long-billed Dowitcher. The Long-billed Dowitcher has a bill that is longer and much straighter. The Long-billed also has longer legs in proportion to its body. Another difference between the two Dowitchers is that the Long-billed has a dark back with rufous barring but the Short-billed has a lighter back with tan barring. The call of the Dowitchers is probably the easiest way to separate the Dowitchers if it calls while you are observing it. The Short-billed gives a low multiple note call and the Long-billed gives a single higher note call. Another sure fire way to identify the Dowitchers is the tail stripping. The Long-billed has much more black on the tail then white and the Short-billed has wider stripes of white than black. These tips only go so far, many Dowitchers are much more difficult to identify in the field especially when they are in basic (winter) plumage.

From left to right: Killdeer, Least Sandpiper, Least Sandpiper, Pectoral Sandpiper, Lesser Yellowlegs

Our last two groups of shorebirds to discuss are the Curlews and the Godwits. Both of these groups are much more distinctive then most other shorebirds. The Godwits comprise only two regular occurring birds, the Marbled and Hudsonian. These are very easily identified. The only possible confusion that can occur is during the winter. The Marbled is a very warm color overall in the winter and the Hudsonian is a much colder gray overall. Our last group is the Curlews which encompass Whimbrel and Long-billed Curlew. These two are also very easily separated. The Whimbrel has a much shorter bill with three dark stripes on the cap. The Long-billed Curlew has a very indistinct head pattern and a very long decurved bill which is unmistakable. There are many other shorebirds that I have not discussed in this series but with this information and some experience you should be able to greatly improve your shorebird identification skills. Every shorebird you see can be identified and with some studying and some experience, you will soon come to see that you can identify shorebirds in the field.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Shorebird Identification Tips - Part 3 of 4

Out of all of the shorebird identification challenges that people have, the yellowlegs (Greater and Lesser) and Solitary Sandpiper, and the small (Least, Semipalmated, and Western) and large (Baird’s and White-rumped) peeps are probably the most challenging. For the most part when somebody spots a yellowlegs they know right away that it is a yellowlegs, the problem comes when trying to differentiate between the yellowlegs. To identify the Solitary Sandpiper from the yellowlegs look for the shorter bill of the Solitary and the white eye ring. During the entire year look for the distinctive back pattern, dark back with white spots throughout. To distinguish the Greater from the Lesser Yellowlegs you will need to use size and shape more than any other characteristics. Look for a much longer bill that is slightly upturned on the Greater. Also look for much more streaking down the sides of the Greater, sometimes due to molt there is not much streaking in the fall and throughout the entire winter. With some experience you will start to notice the huge size difference between the yellowlegs but when they are seen alone it is very difficult to judge size. As with all birds the more you see them the easier they will become to identify.

When many people begin watching shorebirds they believe that it is impossible to identify the peeps, but with a little dedication you will soon be able to identify most of them not only on the ground, but also in flight. For the peeps the size, shape, and bill shape are by far the most important aspects. The Baird’s and White-rumped Sandpipers are easily distinguished from the small peeps. They have much longer wings that extend beyond the tail and are much different in structure then the small peeps. The large peeps have longer necks that make them look much less compact then the small peeps. Once you have figured out that your bird is a large peep there are a few things that you need to look for. The White-rumped has streaking that goes down the sides but the Baird’s has no streaking on the sides. A great way to identify the Baird’s is by back color and pattern. It has a very sandy brown back with some black spots throughout. The White-rumped is a much colder color throughout then the Baird’s Sandpiper.

All of these shorebirds are Least Sandpipers, except the far right bird, which is a Semipalmated.

The small peeps can be very difficult to identify, especially at a long distance. The Least Sandpiper is the most compact of the three and has yellow legs (the other two have black legs). The Least usually has the most rufous on its back, and it is usually the most colorful of the peeps. For the most part the Semipalmated will be much paler and less colorful then the Least in the fall, this is very helpful when these two species are together. The very best way to identify the peeps in the fall is by bill shape and length. The Least has a short bill that is slightly decurved, and is more pointed toward the tip. The Semipalmated has a much more, blunt tipped bill than the Least, and the Western has a much longer more decurved bill than both of the others. As with most species of birds the more you study the birds before observing them in the wild the better your chances are at identifying them in the field.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

The Endless Possibilities

With all of the areas to photograph wildlife and scenery in Indiana, I would have to say that Goose Pond FWA is my favorite place to photograph in the summer. There are almost endless possibilities if you arrive early. Every day there is a unique, and many times an amazing sunrise or sunset to photograph. The water and vegetation in the marshes enable you to photograph each sunrise and sunset in a unique way. Many mornings there is fog or steam, which enhances your opportunities even more.

This photo was taken on a foggy morning at Goose Pond.

The mornings and evenings give you great chances to photograph birds. Many of the bird species that live in the marshes are hard to photograph due to the distance from the bird. Some of the herons and egrets give you great opportunities for some environmental shots. The sunrises and sunsets are great for taking environmental shots of herons and egrets. Grassland birds are much easier to photograph than the marsh bird species. There are many Grasshopper and Henslow’s Sparrows that give you a chance if you have a long lens. For almost all bird photography you will need at least a 400mm lens.

During the middle of the day my photography usually switches over to butterflies and dragonflies. The entire property is full of butterflies during the middle of the day. There are many swallowtails of all species to photograph, and lots of times with great backgrounds. There are also many dragonflies to photograph throughout the wetlands. If you can find the dragonflies in the early morning it is much easier to photograph them. The colder it is the slower moving they become. Every day you spend at Goose Pond presents you with opportunities, and the more time you spend the better your photography will turn out.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Birding Tourism

As thousands of beachgoers wake up and head to the beach around eleven in the morning, they have no idea that there was a whole different kind of tourist up hours before them roaming on these same beaches. This other tourist has been up since around six a.m. looking for birds and other wildlife on the beaches before the sun even came up. These tourists may not spend quite as much money as the beachgoers but, they are becoming a powerful economic force and contributing a great deal to the conservation of the world’s natural areas.

The Gulf of Mexico

While not all birding tourists go to the beach, these types of situations are happening all over the world. The average tourist has no idea that there are people traveling all over the world just to see birds. When many people learn that there are individuals out there that participate in this activity, they ask why anyone would spend thousands of dollars just to go look at birds. Sandy Komito, a birder and frequent birding tourist, offers an insightful explanation. "There's a build-up of anticipation. You never know: Will you find them? Won't you find them? I think I can use the word ecstatic when you do find it." While the average tourist may not understand this excitement, any birder understands what he is saying.

Ecotourism is defined as responsible travel to natural areas, which conserves the environment and sustains the well-being of the local people. Birding is the largest, fastest growing and most environmentally conscience group of ecotourists. Although ecotourism makes up only 5% to 10% of the tourism market, it is the fastest growing segments in the industry. While tourism as a whole only grows at a rate of 4% per year, ecotourism grows at a rate of 10% to 30% annually.

According to the National Survey on Recreation and the Environment, 69 million Americans view, identify or photograph birds every year and the number of people who consider themselves birders have increased over 332% since 1983 making birding the fastest-growing outdoor recreation activity in the country. While this seems like a lot of people, you must remember that only about 3% to 7% of birders are considered serious or advance birders that can identify over 40 birds without a field guide. In a survey conducted at the Hummer/Bird Celebration in Rockport, Texas, it was also found that birders are disproportionately female, over the age of 46, college graduates and members of middle to upper income households. Given the economic status and education level of birders, they are more likely to be aware of their environmental impact and to pay to enter local protected areas as well as to pay local guides a substantial amount of money daily during their trips.

According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife service, 18 million birders take trips each yeah contributing $32 billion dollars to the economy. The birding industry also employs over 800,000 people. There are many local economies that are almost completely supported by birders that come to these cites every year to see the local specialties. Mio, Michigan is one of those cites. Every year thousands of birders come to this site to see the very rare Kirtland’s Warbler. With only 1,200 individuals of this species left in the world, it is a bird that every birder dreams of seeing. In 1993, Mio launched the Kirtland’s Warbler festival which drew in 7000 people in its first year. The two day festival drew in about $700,000 in a town where the yearly per capita income is $8000.

The state of Texas has taken birding tourism to the next level with the creation of the Great Texas Coastal Birding Trail. Texas developed this trail to encourage the conservation of the coastal wetlands that so many birders visit and to show birders that these sites, that were previously thought to be unrelated, were actually a group of sites that could be birded all in one trip. The trail was completed in 2002 and has 308 sites. In 2001, before the trail was even complete, 400,000 people had visited the sites. The development of the trail has allowed more land to be conserved in the region. One example is Paradise Ponds in Port Aransas that was developed through a grant from Texas as well as a donation of some land by a local landowner and the city council as a show of support for the Great Texas Coastal Birding Trail. Stories such as this one give light to the kinds of great conservation that can be achieved through birding tourism. The trail also has had a significant impact on the local economies along the trail. At another site along the trail, High Island, every spring thousands of birders arrive for warbler migration. During the two month long period, birders spend between $4 million and $6 million. At another site, Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge, birders contribute $36.5 million to local hotels, restaurants, gas stations and other stores.

Snowy Egret

Birding tourism has also brought about conservation in Panama. Old military buildings in the former U.S. Panama Canal Zone are being turned into hotels for traveling birders. While Panama has 90 more species of birds than Costa Rica, an international birding hot spot, there are only a fraction the number of birders that visit the country. In fact, Costa Rica earns more than $400 million from American birders every year. That accounts for more than 41% of their tourism revenues. Arias de Para hopes the change that. He has opened Canopy Tower in an abandon secret U.S. radar tower. He has transformed the tower into a seven room eco-lodge. Within one year of opening, Audubon has named Canopy Tower on of the top nine eco-resorts in the world. At Canopy Tower, as well as at many of the other hotels in the region, the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute has been showing the owners how to conserve the surrounding birding locations as well as to make trails through them.

While there are many positive attributes of birding tourism, there are some potential problems that should be discussed. One potential problem is the disruption of birds especially during nesting season. Birders sometimes forget that the birds are sensitive to human impact and could potentially abandon their nests if they feel threatened by humans. Rare birds are highly sought after but, they are also typically the most susceptible to human disruption. This problem can be avoided by having well trained guides that will keep their clients from approaching the birds too closely.

Another issue that comes up with birders is the accommodations for them in birding locations. Since they are typically higher income individuals, they may require or request more high-end hotels and restaurants in the areas they are visiting. This can lead to the destruction of critical habitat due to the building of new hotels, restaurants and shopping centers. A more extreme result of this is the transfer of cash flow from the locals to foreigners that own the high-end place, also known as “cash leaks.” This can cause the locals who do not benefit from the tourism to resist the conservation of local lands. There are a couple of ways that this problem is solved by birders. The first is that birds typically take precedence over everything else on birding trips. Although the participants are high income, they do not care about the accommodations as much as getting to see the birds. In fact, birders going to High Island, Texas often sleep on the floor of a local school’s gymnasium for little cost. When birders do stay in resort type accommodations, they prefer resorts that are environmentally friendly, maintain private reserves and hire locals as guides.

There are also many things that birders and do to support conservation in the regions they are visiting. Kenn Kaufman’s best selling field guide has recently been translated to Spanish and he has started to get donations in order to send the books to areas of the United States that have large Spanish speaking populations. This will help the local people become more familiar with the birds of their region and hopefully lead to additional birders that will push for the protection for those species. Birders also participate in research projects for multiple organizations around the world. These bird counts and citizen science projects provide ornithologists with valuable information. This information can lead to the protection of species that are in decline, such as the purchase of critical habitats and hunting restrictions. This information is especially important in areas in Central and South America where prior research has been very limited. Birders must do things to ensure that there will be birds to watch in the future and so that other birders can continue to travel and see new and exciting birds. In order to ensure that this will happen, birders must insist that local guides be certified. Birder should also not shy away from criticizing their guides should they do something to disrupt the birds. It is also important to remember the one of the best ways to ensure the continued conservation of land is to continue to educate the locals about the effects of wildlife disturbance.

There are many positive effects of birding tourism for birders, locals, and the birds. Birding tourism is one of the best ways to encourage the continued conservation of birdable land. Locals are also positively affected by birding tourism. The money earned from birding tourism is a large part of the economy in many birding locations. Locals gain a great deal economically from the presents of birders in their area. Birding also contributes positively to the conservation of land for birds and other wildlife. This contributes to many birders green forms of tourism. Although there are some negative impacts of birding tourism, the benefits in this situation far outweigh them. Birding tourism is a great way to economically stimulate a rural area and also to increase conservation in biologically threatened areas.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Shorebird Identification Tips-Part 2 of 4

There are many identification challenges when identifying shorebirds. I will start by describing the identifying features of the large and small Plovers. These two groups include Black-bellied, American-golden, Piping, Snowy, Wilson’s, and Semipalmated Plover. The large plovers (Black-bellied and American-golden) are easily separated from the rest and for most of the year are very different from each other. In almost every case the American-golden Plover has a much warmer tone overall. Sometimes the best way to identify these two birds is by wing length and bill size. The American Golden-Plover has longer wings that project beyond the tail and has a smaller, thinner bill. In many instances you need to use all of these characteristics to be sure of the identification.

Wilson's Plover

The smaller Plovers are one of the easier groups of shorebirds to identify. The Piping, Wilson’s, and Snowy Plovers frequent more sandy areas and the Semipalmated Plover frequent mudflats; but all of these can be found in both areas. The Piping Plover has yellow legs, and a very short stubby bill to separate it from the Snowy Plover. The Piping and the Snowy Plovers are very pale overall, which comes in very useful when identifying these Plovers. The Wilson’s Plover has a big bill and a dark brown back. It also has a thick dark brown band across the chest. The Snowy and Piping Plovers have much thinner bands across their chests. The Semipalmated Plover has yellow legs and always has yellow in its bill. This Plover has a darker back then the other Plovers, and is much more widespread throughout North America. So for most people the Semipalmated Plover will be the most common small plover.

For more information on these birds' lives visit:

Saturday, August 16, 2008

The Lucky Duck

Arriving at Beehunter Marsh on August 15, as the sun was just starting to peek over the distant trees, we (my brother and I) were ready to see and video some great birds. We had purchased a new video camera the day before and were ready to see how well it would perform. As we parked and got ready to go, we soon realized we were surrounded by a great variety of grassland bird species. There were at least ten Sedge Wrens on one short stretch of road, which is more than I have ever had in one place at one time in Indiana. There were also many Henslow’s Sparrow and Dickcissels.

This amazing place is located in Greene County and is one of the premier wetlands in all of the Midwest. Goose Pond, when finished, will be over 8000 acres not including Beehunter Marsh (a couple miles east of Goose Pond). With all of the breeding and rare birds arriving at Goose Pond already, it seems that there will be endless possibilities especially when the entire habitat is restored. Some of the southern birds that have already started to breed at Goose Pond include Bell’s Vireo, Black-necked Stilt, and King Rail.

Beehunter Marsh

In the late morning we met up with a group of birder friends to show them the birds on the property. In a short period of time we found Sedge Wren, Black-necked Stilt, Caspian Tern, and Grasshopper and Henslow’s Sparrows. Aside from the many birds found here, you can also enjoy thousands of butterflies. There are many Black, Eastern Tiger, and Spicebush Swallowtail butterflies. After we had a quick lunch we hiked into one of the bigger wetland areas where there was a pair of Blue Grosbeaks. As we were leaving a Little Blue Heron flew directly over our heads, grabbing our attention for a couple of minutes. Right after the Little Blue Heron was out of site we spotted an odd looking duck flying out over the marsh. The flashes of white quickly showed us it was a Black-bellied Whistling- Duck. This duck was found on June 12 but had not been seen since July 16. In the near future, Goose Pond will make many rare Indiana species become much more regular visitors to Indiana.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Shorebird Identification Tips - Part 1 of 4

It’s that time of year again; fall shorebird migration is in full swing throughout the entire country. If you are lucky to live near some great shorebird habitat, you can observe them every day during migration. If not, it may seem impossible to identify a shorebird other then Killdeer. While field experience is very important when identifying some of the drab adult shorebirds that come through in the fall, it is essential to be prepared before you go out “shorebirding”.

Before you will be able to tackle every shorebird identification, you need to know the basics. Identifying shorebirds is unlike identifying any other family of birds. While trying to identify warblers for instance, you focus more on plumages then you do on body shape and size. With shorebirds, body shape and size are among the most important identifying aspects in the identification process. The first time you see a particular shorebird species, it seems like there are endless possibilities on the identification. If you start noticing the shape and size of the bird, your identification skills will greatly increase.

Common Shorebird Species - Shapes and Sizes
*When "relative" is used it is referring to size in comparison to body size

Large Plovers: Small to medium-sized shorebirds with short necks and fairly small bills. These long-winged and fairly long-legged shorebirds are similar to a Killdeer in size and shape.

Small Plovers: Small shorebirds with short necks and long legs relative to their body size. All small plovers have short wings and are compact in shape. The bills are smaller and stubbier than any other shorebird species.

Wilson's Plover

Yellowlegs and Solitary Sandpiper: These elegant shorebirds are very long legged with relatively long bills. They have long necks and long wings which gives the impression of a very large shorebird.

Curlews: Large shorebirds with long legs and a long neck. Curlews are the only shorebirds with a very long decurved bill.

Godwits: Large shorebirds with long legs and a long neck. Godwits have very long up-turned bills.

Large Peeps: These fairly small shorebirds have relatively long legs and a short decurved bill. The large peeps have very long wings that project past the tail when they are not flying.

Small Peeps: Small shorebirds with short slightly decurved bills. They have fairly short wings with medium length legs and look plump overall.

Dowitchers: Medium to large-sized shorebirds with long straight bills. Dowitchers are stocky overall with relatively short legs.

Phalaropes: These small shorebirds are very slight and slender. Phalaropes have fine bills with relatively long wings.

Wilson's Phalarope

If you use these basic guidelines you will be able to limit the number of identification possibilities when viewing a shorebird. The more prepared you are to identify shorebirds the more fun you will have while watching them. All shorebirds are unique and interesting and by taking time to observe these gems you will be able to observe many behaviors shown by no other birds.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Shorebird Massacre

I recently received an email that I found quite disturbing. It was about the massacre of thousands of shorebirds a year on the Caribbean island of Barbados. While protected in their breeding and wintering grounds, these shorebirds are being shot by the thousands during their already difficult migration. Barbados is a small country of only 282,000 people and only a fraction of their population is involved in these hunts. The hunters are the rich, upper class whites who make up less than four percent of the total population. While it has been known for many years that these hunters are destroying shorebird populations, as is evidenced by their collection of the last known Eskimo Curlew specimen, the wildfowlers as they are known are such a powerful lobbying group that the government of Barbados has been able to do nothing to stop the killing.

Other then the obvious issues with the decimation of shorebird populations, you may be wondering why this is important to me here in the Midwest. The reality is that this hunting can and most likely will lead to a noticeable drop in the total number of individual shorebirds coming through the United States. One species that is of particular concern is the American Golden-Plover. This species has been declining in the United States and we may continue to see populations or this and many other shorebirds fall if the killing is not stopped or at least regulated.

While this is already a sad story for both shorebirds and birders alike, it gets even worse for these birds. Since there are few regulations for hunting in Barbados and those regulations are rarely enforced, the killing is allowed to go on at a staggering rate. It is considered an honor to shoot all of the birds in the swamp and individual daily bad counts regularly reach 1,000 birds. The birds are allegedly tricked into landing in the swamps by the use of loud recordings of their calls and the use of caged birds. Then they are shot as they forage in the swamps. By being shot while in the water, it gives the birds little chance to escape and survive.

The wildfowlers have a huge list of excuses as to why they should be allowed to continue this horrifying “tradition.” While I understand that the hunting of shorebirds has been a long lived tradition on the island for over 400 years, it is inexcusable to continue destroying shorebird populations just for the sake of tradition. They have also argued that the money that they spend on hunting in the “shooting swamps” allows many birds to use the areas in the 8 months that they are not hunting. While this may seem like a fair argument, they are overlooking the fact that they are hunting at the only time that the shorebirds are present. While other birds may benefit from the swamps in the “off season,” this does not justify the shooting of 45,000 shorebirds in the other 4 months.

Something must be done to stop these hunts and it starts with the governments of the United States and Canada pressuring the Barbadian government to first enforce the few laws regarding hunting that are on the books and then by signing the Migratory Bird Treaty Act and enforcing the laws that it stipulates.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

A Morning for the Mississippi Kite

When I turned the corner to enter the marina at Eagle Creek Park in Indianapolis, I was sure that the Mississippi Kite that had been seen the day before would be gone. I did not realize that for the next couple of hours I would be observing the fascinating behavior of a very cooperative sub-adult Mississippi Kite. I had only seen Mississippi Kites one other time in southern Indiana at Lincoln State Park and that was only in flight. In Indiana, Kites only occur in the extreme southern portion where they breed each summer. They rarely stray into central and northern Indiana. Although Mississippi Kites are rare in the area, they have been quickly expanding their range farther north into Indiana in recent years. During the two hours that I watched the Kite it made five stoops for prey and came up with a meal each time. Each meal it caught was a cicada but it also feeds on dragonflies and other insects as do all of the other North American Kites. Some Kite species such as the Swallow-tailed Kite feed on prey other then insects, like small rodents. The Kite hit each cicada with such an impact that every time it caught one, one of its wings would fall off. After the catch the Kite took its prey back to the same perch each time and removed the shell to eat the cicada inside. I had never been able to observe such a cooperative raptor, hunting. During this time many birders came and went much too quickly and never observed the kite while hunting. I have observed that a lot of birders have a tendency to move to quickly when looking for birds. Many birders just want to see the next bird, check it off their list and move on to the next lifer. They always get ahead of themselves and they never really learn about the birds. Of course each person needs to decide for themselves what approach they want to take when observing birds but I believe that you see more birds and learn more about the birds you are seeing by being patient and taking your surroundings in.