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