Thursday, December 31, 2009

Watching Birds With Family

American Goldfinch at Holiday Park

Over the Christmas holiday I was able to go to Holiday Park in Indianapolis to show some birds to my aunts and cousins. Holiday Park has one of the nicest nature centers in all of Indiana and its great bird window only makes it better. For birders it is a great place for Indianapolis because it is one of the most reliable spots for Red-breasted Nuthatches and Pine Siskins but for most people the window is exciting whether you see these birds or not. On our visit we didn't see either but the more common birds and the squirrels put on a show.

Looking out the Bird Window

I have found that taking people who are beginning birders or are just interested in wildlife to a bird window is a great way to spark more interest. Being able to see birds close up without the need to use binoculars makes it a great opportunity to just enjoy the birds.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Nutty Birder - Photo Quiz

Participate in our weekly photo quiz by submitting your answer here We post the correct answer and how we came to that identification on Monday January 4th.


Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Central Indiana Christmas Bird Counts

Brown Creeper

Some cold temperatures and a couple inches of snow were a great way to start the Christmas Bird Count season. Unfortunately, I was not able to make it to the Goose Pond CBC, so my first one of the season was the Hamilton County CBC on December 19. This count was the first one that I participated in several years ago, so it has always been one of my favorites (even though the species count isn't usually too high).

Rob and I started off the Hamilton County CBC at Strawtown Koteewi Park with 3+ Great Horned Owls calling. As it began to get light, we headed over to Morse Reservoir while the snow began to fall with more intensity. Once we got to the reservoir, the snow limited our visibility, and we were only able to record 2 Red-breasted Mergansers and 2 late Wood Ducks among the many geese and Ring-billed Gulls. We came back to this spot when the snow slowed down and had 45 Ruddy Ducks as well. We then went back to Koteewi to look for diurnal birds without too much luck - although we did have many American Tree Sparrows and the only Purple Finch for the count.

Dark-eyed Junco

The next day, we participated in another central Indiana CBC, the Eagle Valley count. This count includes my backyard, so when a Great Horned Owl started calling as we packed up the car it became our first bird for the count. This area includes Eagle Creek Reservoir and the great Eagle Creek Park. Rob and I along with 4 others covered an area on the west side of the reservoir called Eagles Crest. While waiting for enough light to begin, we saw one Great Horned Owl fly over and land in a distant tree. Within a couple minutes of beginning our walk, an American Pipit flew overhead giving its distinctive pip-it call. During the hike, we were able to find lots of Downy and Hairy Woodpeckers along with many Creepers and Golden-crowned Kinglets. We also saw 2 American Pipits and the only Hermit Thrush for the count.

CBCs are always fun and are a great way to help moniter bird populations, so even if you do live in a northern area where there aren't many bird species, it is a great way to spend a day.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Peru, Here I Come

This morning I received an email from Gunner Engblom announcing the winners of the contest that was mentioned in my last post. As I scrolled through the names, I was very excited to see my name included on the list. Thank you all for your support in helping me win this amazing trip. This is an awesome opportunity to help put Peru on the map as a great birding destination and to kick start a strong conservation movement there.

The dates of my trip and the locations that I'll be visiting have not be set but I will share the information as soon as it's available.

Thanks again for your support!

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!


Monday, December 21, 2009

Help Me Win a Trip to Peru

Gunner Engblom is a birder and conservationist from Peru that also owns Kolibri Expeditions which leads birding tours in Peru. In an attempt promote responsible ecotourism that leads to conservation of local habits, Gunner has created a very unique and exciting giveaway. He is giving away guided tours of Peru. In order to win, you must help Gunner promote birding and conservation in Peru.

Peru is an amazing country that I have long dreamed of visiting. It offers incredible biodiversity but is much less visited by birders than countries such as Costa Rica, Equador, and Panama. Gunner has set out to change this. He understand the importance of ecotourists to the preservation of the rainforests and other habitats in Peru. Hopefully through his work, birders will be able to enjoy the awesome flora and fauna of Peru for years to come.

To help me win one of the tours, please follow this link and sign up for Gunner's newsletter about birding and conservation in Peru. If I'm lucky enough to be selected for this trip, I will be sure to post stories and photos from my exciting adventure in Peru!

Thanks in advance for your support!


P.S. While you are on his blog, read about some of the trips that he offers and begin dreaming of a wonderful trip to Peru.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Goose Pond CBC - Part 2

We decided that our first stop in the afternoon should be in Greene-Sullivan State Forest to look for some of the woodland birds that had been missed during the morning. We made several unsuccessful stops along the road and then headed on to Reservoir 26. We split into two group and headed in opposite directions around the lake. While my group got little other than some Junco, the other group found the only Brown Thrasher on the whole count.

Since it was getting close to dusk, we headed over to Hawthorn Mine for the Short-eared Owl show. We quickly found both Rough-legged Hawks and Northern Harriers. After about 30 minutes of driving around, the first Short-eared Owl popped up from its roost in the grasses. After several minutes, there were a dozen or more owls in the air. Some of them perch close to the road and allow for amazing photography opportunities.

Overall we had a fantastic day and 108 species were seen on the count, the most so far in Indiana this year.

Look for my post tomorrow about how to win a trip to go birding in Peru. Please help me win this trip by following this link and signing up for the free newsletter about birding and conservation in Peru.


Saturday, December 19, 2009

Goose Pond CBC - Part 1

After waking up at 4:30am, and picking up our friend Chad, we arrived at the McDonald's in Linton, IN at 7:00am to meet up with our group for the Goose Pond CBC. This is the fourth year in a row that I have participated in this count and is definitely my favorite CBC each year. After a quick breakfast, we headed out to begin birding in our assigned unit. This year Chad, Stephanie, and I would be covering Unit 12 which I had not had the chance to hike through before.

Shortly after hiking into the unit, our team leader radioed that there were a few Whooping Cranes up flying and headed right towards us. Whooping Cranes are an amazing site to see, and I always feel very lucky when I get to see them. As we continued on our hike, we began to wonder if there were really any birds in our unit. As it started to get warmer outside, more and more sparrows started to pop up. Along with hundreds of American Tree Sparrows, there were a few Song, Swamp, and White-throated Sparrows. I was finally able to find one of the rarer sparrows of the day, a Lincoln's. Most of the rest of the hike was a lesson in counting the unbelievable numbers of American Tree Sparrows in our unit. Luckily, the monotony of this activity was broken when we flushed a Wilson's Snipe. This was a lifer for Chad and a great bird at this time of year.

We finished up our unit with a couple of White-crowned Sparrows in the parking lot and began driving the roads looking for more species. After a short time, we got asked to come look at 3 shorebirds that were walking on the ice in another unit. They turned out to be Least Sandpipers, which is quite rare in the winter and a great bird for the count!

We then headed on to lunch at the McDonald's in Linton. The whole group of birders meets up at 12:30 and Lee Sterrenburg, the count's compiler, reads of a checklist so that we can find out what birds were seen in the morning. We then focus on the missed species in order to add as many species to the count as possible in the afternoon. While at lunch, we started talking to our friend Roger Hedge and decided to take our groups out together to look for some of the species that had been missed in the morning.

Look for a post soon on the second half for the day featuring our trips into Greene-Sullivan State Forest and Hawthorn Mine.


Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Weekly News Feature - Whooping Crane Shot in Indiana

Late last week, an extremely disturbing report was sent out over the IN-BIRD list-serve. A Whooping Crane, one of the most beautiful birds I've personally ever seen, was shot in southwest Indiana during its migration south. This particular bird and its mate were part of a flock of ~19 birds migrating from Wisconsin to Florida.

What's especially heartbreaking is that this female crane is the only one to have ever successfully raised a chick in the wild and led it to Florida, according to the Birders World and International Crane Foundation's websites: "Not only have we lost one of our breeding pairs, we have lost our only successful beeding pair. Hopefully #11-02 will be able to find a new mate, but since we are still low on the female-to-male, I don't know how soon that may be." (Check out the ICF's blog post here -

Rob and I saw the group of Whooping Cranes that migrate over this are of Indiana about four years ago at Goose Pond FWA. They are truly majestic birds, and it angers us to think that someone may have intentionally killed this helpless living thing, who happens to be on the endangered species list.

To all of you who live in this area, a minimum $2,500 reward is being offered to anyone who provides information leading to a conviction in the shooting of this critically endangered species. Please contact the Indiana DNR 24-hour hotline at (800) 847-4367 or the Fish and Wildlife Service at (317) 346-7016. (Callers can remain anonymous.)

On a happier note, we will be heading down to Goose Pond tomorrow morning for the first of three Christmas Bird Counts that we're participating in this year. Look for a report and hopefully some photos later this week!


Monday, December 7, 2009

Weekly News Feature - Chicago Bird Collision Monitors and Lights Out Chicago

(My wife has asked to become part of the Nutty Birder blog team and will be doing weekly posts on birds/birding in the news. Enjoy! - Rob)

One of the new features on the Nutty Birder blog is a short weekly post discussing a recent news story. The first article we’d like to talk about appeared in the Chicago Tribune last month and highlights an all-volunteer group called the Chicago Bird Collision Monitors.

Started in 2003 and operating as part of the Chicago Audubon Society, the CBCMs patrol a two-square mile area of downtown Chicago as early as 4am in an effort to rescue downed migratory birds. As noted in the article, “With enough volunteers to dispatch a band of 8 to 12 rescuers an hour before daylight, seven days a week, mid-August to mid-November, and again mid-March to mid-June, some 40 percent of the birds are saved, their wounds tended to, feathers unruffled, let loose in the wilds. So far this fall, the count stands at some 1,500 downtown rescues.”

The group consists of folks in a wide range of professions, including (but not limited to) a speech pathologist, a musician who plays with the Joffrey Ballet, an ornithologist from Kenya, and several architects and lawyers. Even individuals who aren’t “officially” part of the organization play an important role in helping these birds. The article mentions a homeless man who keeps the CBCM’s hot line number in his pocket so he can use phones at churches to call the CBCM if he finds a downed bird.

The Chicago Bird Collision Monitors do fantastic work. Another important initiative happening in the area is a program called “Lights Out Chicago”. During migration periods, the lights in several high-rise buildings in downtown Chicago are shut off at 11pm. At one particular site, McCormick Place, bird-crash deaths have been reduced by more than half since the lights were occasionally turned off starting in 1998. On nights when all the lights are out, fatalities drop by 80 percent.

Isn’t it amazing how a few volunteers can make such a huge difference in one of the largest cities in the U.S.?

The full article from the Chicago Tribune can be found here:,0,6325117.story?page=1

To learn more about the Lights Out Chicago program, check out the Chicago Audubon Society’s website: Also included on this site is a “Tool Kit” that can help you start or become involved with a Lights Out program in your city.

Have a great week!


Monday, November 23, 2009

A Rarity on Lake Michigan

Since a very rare bird had been seen for the past week in Berrien County, Michigan, Eric and I decided to make the three and a half hour drive to look for the bird. We got up at 4:30am and were out the door heading towards Lake Michigan. We arrived at Tiscornia Park at 8:20am and met up with Roger Hedge, another birder from central Indiana, and quickly headed out to the end of the pier. When we were about halfway to the end, we stopped to scan through a group of gulls and Eric promptly picked out a Little Gull amongst the flock. This was a lifer for both Eric and I.

Looking back towards the beach.

As we got out to the end of the pier, there was already a large group of birders gathered there scanning for the rare bird. Our friend Alison, a birder from Berrien County, was there and had not seen the bird yet that morning but told us that it had not been seen until 12:30pm the day before. As we stood on the pier and scanned the lake, a Little Gull approached very closely and allowed me to get the following picture.

Little Gull

A little while later, a birder yelled out JAEGER! The juvenile Parasitic Jaeger flew about 20 feet over our heads giving everyone present amazing looks. While we continued to wait for the rarity to show up, we enjoyed watching a Red-necked Grebe only 20-50 yards offshore. We were told that this was a very good bird in Berrien County.

Birders scanning the Lake from the end of the North Pier

Finally after about three hours, our patience paid off. The Ancient Murrelet appeared from the north and started feeding about 150 yards off shore where the river water and lake water merged together. It was diving frequently and spent more time underwater feeding than on the surface. As we watched, it moved in to about 75 yards and delighted the 40 or 50 birders that were present. It slowly moved back to the north and then disappeared just as quickly as it had appeared. It was a lifer for many of the birders that were present, including Eric. I had seen this amazing bird during my cruise to Alaska this past May, and it was even more impressive here than it was in Alaska!

Ancient Murrelet

We left the pier around noon and birded around the county with Alison and three young birders from the Chicago area. We hit many spots and had many awesome birds, with the best being an adult male Long-tailed Duck and a Lesser Black-backed Gull. It was an amazing day with lots of great birds. We will definitely be back to bird in Berrien County again!

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

To Live's to Fly

This past weekend after attending the Ohio Young Birders Conference (more about this later), I was able to go on a Lake Erie pelagic trip along with many other birders. Usually at this time of year, a boat trip onto Lake Erie is a very cold experience, but we lucked out with some mild temperatures. The boat left from Cleveland and traveled east before cruising out into the lake then heading back west and inland to dock.

Juvenile Herring Gull

After cruising out of the channel and into Lake Erie, we followed a very long breakwall where we were able to watch a cooperative Peregrine Falcon. Knowing that a Purple Sandpiper was probably somewhere along this breakwall, I scanned with binoculars for about 15 or 20 minutes. Soon after, I got lazy and stopped scanning - and then somebody spotted one. I'm just lucky there were people on the boat that were not as lazy me. We were able to go back to the area it was spotted, and everyone got good looks. While still cruising east along the shore, we were able to spot a White-winged Scoter to go along with 4 Black Scoters we had seen while birding before getting to the boat.

Adult Herring Gull

For most of the time the boat was on the water, we chummed for gulls with very modest results. The numbers of gulls was impressive but the diversity was low with only four species seen. While heading north on the lake, we were able to spot a Pomarine Jaeger resting on the water. It didn't stick around long and took off flying past the boat. Not everybody was able to get good looks, but luckily I was able to see it well in flight.

When heading back in to dock we learned that there was a problem - a drawbridge over the channel that we needed to pass under to get back to the dock was stuck and the boat would not be able to get under it. So we docked somewhere else and had people taxied back over to where all the cars were. There positive side of this was spotting a Merlin. This was one of the most cooperative Merlins I have ever seen, and it stayed sitting on a pole in a parking lot while many birders stood below watching it.

It was a great trip and if you are ever able to go on one of these pelagics, don't miss the opportunity.


Thursday, November 12, 2009

Ohio Young Birders Conference and Lake Erie Pelagic

This weekend Eric and I will be heading up to northern Ohio with our friend Chad and his son to attend the Ohio Young Birders Conference on Saturday. Since we have been working on putting together an Indiana Young Birders Club, this should be a very interesting and educational experience for all of us.

The Ohio Young Birders Club was started a few years ago by young birders in northern Ohio under the leadership of Kim Kaufman and the Black Swamp Bird Observatory. It has grown exponentially in its first few years of existence and is the most well-known club in the county. It has also become the model for many new Young Birders clubs in other states, including our own. The Indiana Audubon Society is the primary sponsor the Indiana Young Birders Club, and we hope that someday it will be as beneficial to young birders in Indiana as the OYBC is to young birders in Ohio.

While this is only the second conference that the OYBC has hosted, they have managed to get an amazing young birder to give the keynote speech. Malkolm Boothroyd is a 17 year-old from Canada that did a Big Year by bicycle. He and his parents travelled 13,000 miles and raised $25,000 for conservation. I am sure he has many exciting stories to tell about his experiences.

It just so happens that BSBO is also sponsoring a pelagic trip on Lake Erie on Sunday. The trip leaves from Cleveland and cruises along some of the most well-known birding areas in the region. The best part is that instead of standing on the shore and scanning with a spotting scope, we will be out there on the lake with the birds! In addition to many common ducks and gulls, we are hoping to find a few rarities. You really never know what you can find out on one of the Great Lakes.

Hope you all enjoy your birding adventures this weekend! If anyone else is attending either the Ohio Young Birders Conference or the pelagic trip on Lake Erie sponsored by BSBO, please let us know!


A Storm Brewing in the Black Hills - SkyWatch Friday

This photo was taken in the Black Hills of South Dakota shortly before a summer storm last year.

- Rob

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Clingmans Dome - Great Smoky Mountains National Park - Skywatch Friday

This photo was taken from Clingmans Dome (6,643 feet) in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park in April 2009. It is the hightest point in Tennessee, and the third highest mountain east of the Mississippi. Definitely worth the climb!


Saturday, October 31, 2009

Scissor-tailed Flycatcher on Halloween

A good Halloween day quickly turned into a great Halloween day with just one bird. In the morning I headed to Yellowwood State Forest and Lake Lemon in Brown County, Indiana. I was able to find my first Fox Sparrows of the season and finally got my first Hermit Thrushes of the fall. I also had a late Gray Catbird (most have left the state by now). On Lake Lemon I had my first diving ducks of the fall with a large flock of Lesser Scaups. There were also many Pied-billed Grebes, Northern Shovelers, and some Gadwall.

I then returned home to watch the Indiana University football game which started very well but quickly became Iowa's game in the second half. Luckily while the game was starting to go Iowa's way a Scissor-tailed Flycatcher was reported about 5 minutes from where I live. When I arrived there was a group of about 10 people with a spotting scope on the bird. It can't get much easier then that. This Scissor-tailed showed up at the IU Cross Country Course, a place I had never birded. The habitat is great for many sparrows and is also a nice location for the flycatcher (it had multiple successful flycatching attempts). This was my first Scissor-tailed for Indiana. I rarely get state birds away from the Lake Michigan shore let alone 5 minutes from where I live.

Gray Catbird-It's getting a little late for Catbirds in Indiana but most years a few overwinter.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Indiana Fall Color - Watery Wednesday

This picture was taken at McCormick's Creek State Park in south central Indiana. With lots of rain in the past week the creek was much higher than usual and the waterfall just downstream was inaccessible.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Miller Beach - SkyWatch Friday

This photo was taken at Miller Beach near the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore in early October.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Learning Bird Songs

If you want to learn bird calls and songs go check out:

I have known about this site for quite a while now and it has been extremely helpful for learning lots of different bird songs and calls. It has over 6000 species' songs or calls that are all free to play. It is really a great resource for all birders.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Goose Pond Fish and Wildlife Area Birds

I hadn't been to Goose Pond in more than a month, so I decided to head over to see if any rare birds were around. I didn't find anything unusual, so it turned into a trip for sparrows. When I first arrived, I walked out into Main Pool West to look for waterfowl and waders. The number of Great Egrets on the property now is unbelievable. For the first hour after sunrise, Great Egrets were constantly flying by with many more hunting in the marsh. This morning I would estimate at least 100 in Main Pool West alone. On my way out of the marsh, I saw a late departing Blue Grosbeak along with many sparrows.

After birding MPW, I decided to just look for sparrows. I visited a few units but found the best sparrows at GP5S. I had never birded the area of the unit I did today, and I was surprised when I found a very tame Henslow's Sparrow. A little ways farther along the edge of the marsh and grassland, I found a cooperative Nelson's Sparrow. One other highlight was a group of 5+ Lincoln's Sparrows in the same bush.

The typical shot of a Nelson's Sparrow. He just wouldn't come out completely into the open.

A very cooperative Henslow's Sparrow. This guy let me approach within 15 feet while he sat there chipping away.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

How to Find Nelson's and LeConte's Sparrow

While up along the coast of Lake Michigan I realized that not everyone knows how to find Nelson's and LeConte's Sparrows. If you live in the right location these two species should be seen almost every year. If you live somewhere in their migration route they can easily be missed but if you know where to look you will probably find them.

The first key to finding these sparrows is to know the habitat. Any marshy areas and wet fields are good places to check. They usually do not associate with the marshy habitat that only contain cattails. They can also rarely be found in dry fields but I wouldn't suggest looking for them in this habitat unless you are hoping for some other species in the field as well.

It also helps to walk through the habitat instead of walking along the edges depending on the size of the area. If the area is large it is extremely important to walk through the middle, if it is small you can bird from the edge.

Learning the flight pattern is also a big help. If you can ID it in flight you won't waste a bunch of time chasing around the common sparrows (not that they aren't worth chasing around). Both sparrows should be able to be ID'd in flight by their short, sharp, worn looking tails. Once you have realized it is either Nelson's or LeConte's then you can look for the some field marks to ID between the two. Watch for a pale rump that contrasts with the rest of the body and prominent white stripes on the back for the Nelson's and look for an overall very pale buffy colored bird for identifying the LeConte's.

When perched these two birds are relatively easy to ID. Overall color is much different and with a little experience a split second look can ID it for you. A couple field marks to look for when beginning though is streaking on the nape and the distinctness of streaking on the sides. The Nelson's has a plain gray nape while the LeConte's has a gray nape that is streaked. And the LeConte's has very distinct streaking on the side while the Nelson's has blurry, indistinct streaking.

A bunch of people from the Indiana Audubon Society at McCool Pool. This is a great place to find both of these species. Everyone got looks at both species on this trip out. I won't try to name everyone in this picture.

Walking back from our successful wade through the meadow. Another thing to keep in mind is to be prepared for the habitat. I had not brought waders so my boots were flooded very quickly after entering the meadow and once I was back on solid ground I had to pour the water out of my boots. Directly behind me is Alison who was also not prepared so decided to go without shoes into the marsh. Everybody else was ready with waders which is the way to go when looking for these species.

Thanks to Chad Williams for these two photos.


Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Indiana Audubon Fall Festival - Bird Banding and More

After a rather slow morning of birding at Michigan City Harbor, Mount Baldy, and West Beach we headed back to the Indiana Dunes State Park for a short IAS membership meeting and then the afternoon presentations. The first presenter was a young birder from Berrian County, Michigan. Her name is Allison Vilag and she gave a fantastic presentation on what it is like to be a young birder.

Shortly after her presentation was over, John Kendall talked for a few minutes about a new shorebird project at a stormwater basin called McCool Pool. While the site is currently not favorable to shorebirds, it does host many migrating Nelson's and LeConte's Sparrows. After the short talk, the group headed over to McCool Pool. Even though it was raining quite hard, we found at least six Nelson's Sparrows and one LeConte's Sparrow.

The evening ended with a dinner and presentation about the birds of the Indiana Dunes by Ken Brock. The next morning, we hit a few more spots along the lake and then headed to IDSP again to watch some bird banding. This was definately the highlight of the weekend. Right when we got there, Brad Bumgardener, one of the naturalists at IDSPm was banding a White-throated Sparrow. The next bird up was a Brown Creeper. It was amazing to see how small these birds really are! We banded a few more species and then listened to a great presentation about Goose Pond FWA by Lee Sterrenburg.

Below are a few of my favorite pictures from the bird banding demonstration.

Brown Creeper
A Brown Creeper shortly before being released.

White-breasted Nuthatch
A White-breasted Nuthatch banded and ready to be released.

White-throated Sparrow
Brad showing all of us the wing of a White-throated Sparrow.

Watery Wednesday - Molokini

This photo was taken in Maui as my wife and I were heading to Molokini for a day of snorkeling. Molokini is a partially sunken volcanic crater about 2 miles off the coast of Maui and is a fantastic snorkeling destination. We sailed with Trilogy and highly recommend the company. We're definitely going to book another excursion with them when we go back to Maui!


Monday, October 5, 2009

Birding Indiana's Lakefront

This past weekend provided some fun birding along Lake Michigan during the Indiana Audubon Fall Festival. It started quite slowly on Saturday morning with the lake being devoid of birds. The winds were out of the south so they weren't very conductive for good lakewatching conditions. In the afternoon, it picked up inland with lots of sparrows, including Nelson's Sparrow (the name recently changed from Nelson's Sharp-tailed) and LeConte's Sparrow. We were also able to take part in some bird banding of several different species at the Indiana Dunes State Park Nature Center.

More stories and photos from this weekend will be coming soon!

Friday, October 2, 2009

Indiana Audubon Fall Festival

Greetings from Merrillville, Indiana:

This evening, Eric, Stephanie, and I arrived in the Indiana Dunes area for the IAS Fall Festival. Although we were running a little late due to traffic, we got to hear a fantastic presentation by John Kendall about his record setting Indiana Big Year that he did in 2008. It was a fascinating presentation and really makes me want to make a run at the Big Year record!

Tomorrow I will be leading a group around the Dunes starting at Michigan City Harbor. Hopefully we will be able to find some awesome birds for everyone. Tomorrow night after the keynote speech, we will be participating in some Northern Saw-whet Owl banding at Indiana Dunes State Park. This is the first time that there has banding attempt at this site and we really hope that it goes well.

I will be sure to keep you all up to date on the excitement of the weekend!


Thursday, October 1, 2009

Friday, September 25, 2009

What? A flock of migrants?

This has been one of the least exciting fall migrations since I began birding about 10 years ago. I have been able to find some migrants here and there, but each one is taking a large amount of energy. I think I am spoiled after birding at Eagle Creek Park for so long. I finally came across a nice size flock with many FOS (first of season) birds, even though it was rainy and foggy while I was out. Many later migrants have already started to return to Indiana exemplified by my sightings of Yellow-bellied Sapsucker, Palm Warbler, and Blue-headed Vireo. I only saw 8 species of warblers but the amount of woodpeckers and vireos made up for it. In Indiana, there are 7 regularly occuring woodpeckers, and I was able to see all but the Red-headed today. There was also a very cooperative Philadelphia Vireo and a couple cooperative Blue-headed Vireos.

Lake Monroe - My birding destination of choice during migration.

I can't wait to get out tomorrow morning for what I hope to be even a better wave of migrants.


Thursday, September 24, 2009

Highlights from the Midwest Birding Symposuim

It has taken me a few days to really gather all my thoughts from the Midwest Birding Symposium, and I am now finally ready to share them with you. This was by far the most fun birding event I have ever attended. It's hard to imagine, but there really were 750 people at the symposium that were as crazy about birds as I am. Not only were there some great birders from the Midwest in attendence, but some of the most famous individuals in birding were also there. Scott Weidensaul gave a fantastic presentation on his book, Of a Feather. Al Batt had everyone rolling with laughter, and Jim McCormac taught us all about the wonderful birding along the Great Lakes. I especially enjoyed meeting Kenn Kaufman. I have always loved his book Kingbird Highway, and it was amazing to listen to him tell the stories that he wrote about in his latest work, Flights Against the Sunset. I was also able to speak with Kenn and his wife Kim for about 20 minutes later in the weekend.

Me with Kenn Kaufman

Additionally, I had the pleasure of birding with a group from the Lab of Ornithology at Cornell University - Chris Wood, Jessie Berry, and Mary Guthrie. We birded the boardwalk at Magee Marsh and Ottawa NWR. We had a great day, and I hope to be able to visit the Lab soon.

Chad Williams, Me, Chris Wood, Jessie Berry, Mary Guthrie, Andy Johnson

While hanging out with all of these awesome birders was a wonderful experience, a certain bird did steal the show! After listening to Jim McCormac speak about birds along Lake Erie, Bill Thompson III announced that a Kirtland's Warbler had been found 5 minutes down the road. I have never seen an auditorium clear so quickly. We joined up with Dan Ross from Columbus, OH and hurried over to find this great rarity. After much searching, I was rewarded with beautiful looks of this life bird! Hundreds of people were able to see the Kirkland's Warbler, and it really made the weekend special for a large number of birders.

A shot of the Kirtland's Warbler by Chad Williams

It was a pleasure to meet so many leaders of the birding world this past weekend, and I spent time with several other wonderful people in addition to those mentioned above. I had a great time birding with Andy Johnson, a fantastic young birder from Ann Arbor, MI. While at the Kirtland's Warbler site, I met a long-time reader of my blog, Kelly Riccetti of Red and the Peanut, as well as Dave Lewis of Birds from Behind. I also had the chance to speak with BirdChick and Mike from 10000 Birds.

To everyone I met at the conference, I hope to see you again soon!


Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Welcome to Autumn: SkyWatch Friday

As autumn begins, I thought that I would share with you the beautiful fall colors that will soon follow in my neck of the woods. These photos were take two years ago at Lake Monroe outside of Bloomington, Indiana. I hope you all are as excited to be able to photograph amazing colors like these this fall as I am!

Check out more great SkyWatch Friday posts here.


Friday, September 18, 2009

Midwest Birding Symposium - Day 1 - A Life Bird!

Greetings all!

I'm posting on Rob's behalf today, as access to the internet is fairly limited for him this weekend. So far, he's having a great time at the birding symposium. I received a text message a short while ago that he saw a Kirtland's Warbler at East Harbor State Park in Lakeside, Ohio - a life bird for him!

Kirtland's Warblers are endangered and one of the rarest members of the wood warbler family. They nest in just a few counties in Michigan's northern Lower and Upper peninsulas, in Wisconsin and the Canadian province of Ontario.

For more information on this rare species, check out Cornell's All About Birds site on Kirtland's Warblers or Michigan's DNR site.

Have a great weekend!

Stephanie Ripma

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Midwest Birding Symposium - SkyWatch Friday

It has been awhile since I have written on the blog due to many changes currently happening in my life. My wife and I have moved back to Indianapolis and have been in the process of getting into our new apartment and unpacking. We finally got our internet hooked up tonight so hopefully you all will be seeing more posts from me soon!

Tomorrow I will be heading up to the Midwest Birding Symposium. It should be a fantastic event with many great speakers and hopefully a few interesting birds! I will be sure to post some updates as time allows!

For SkyWatch Friday, here is one of my favorite pictures from my spring trip to Alaska. We saw this sunset from the ship and were able to snap a few pictures before it disappeared!


See more great SkyWatch Friday posts here!

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Bird Photography Contest

We have started a monthly bird photography contest on our website To enter the contest you have to enter your photos into the group pool at Photos of birds, birders, and good birding areas are welcome. We will choose the top three to be displayed on the photography page of Credit along with a link to the photographers webpage will be displayed below the photo.

If you do not have an account on you will have to sign up for an account which is free of charge.

This is a Magnificent Frigatebird that came soaring right overhead while I was in the Keys.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

A Tame Barred Owl

Even though Barred Owls occur commonly throughout the state of Indiana I still feel lucky when I find one. I went out in the evening looking for migrant passerines when I found this owl. This Barred Owl made up for the lack of migrants. He was the most cooperative Barred Owl I have seen. He never flew away from the time I stopped my car next to him to the time I left and most the time he payed no attention to me at all. It was getting dark so I had to push the ISO high to get this shot resulting in the low quality of the picture but I was just happy to get a picture of him at all.

Monday, August 31, 2009

Birding Eagle Creek Park: Watery Wednesday

It is always nice to spend a morning at Eagle Creek Park in central Indiana during migration as I am not usually home during May or September. Rob and I arrived early to pretty clear skies but very quickly the clouds rolled in blanketing the sky. Warblers and other migrant passerines are usually more concentrated at sunrise when they feed in the areas warmed by the sun. The bugs start moving around earlier in the sun so the birds take advantage of the easier prey. Unfortunately when it is cloudy you can't take advantage of this behavior.

The clouds about to cover the sun.

Our first bird was a Snowy Egret which is a pretty unusual bird for Eagle Creek. I had found this bird about a week ago so knew it was around. We then headed to the marina for the expected warbler show. It took a while to find anything at all. Our first flock contained only three species of warblers. As we were driving out of the marina area we noticed a few other Eagle Creek birders had found a flock. This flock was much better and we had Blackburnian and Cape May in the mix.

Do you see the Geese?

We decided to go check the north end mudflats for shorebirds at this point. We, along with a couple other birders, hiked to the north end and found many shorebirds but little diversity. We were able to study many at somewhat close range including two cooperative Stilt Sandpipers. A Bald Eagle and two Black Terns were also fun to watch.

If you are ever in the central Indiana area during migration be sure to stop by Eagle Creek Park. It is excellent for warbler migration in May and September and sometimes has lots of waterfowl and shorebirds.

Check out more great Watery Wednesday posts here.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Lake Superior Sunset: SkyWatch Friday

Just a couple more sunset shots from the UP of Michigan:

I liked the pastel colors in the sunset on this evening.

On the shore of Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore. The rocky shore
is lots of fun to explore. Hopefully I can make it back soon.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Peep ID Article Preview

Eric has recently finished writing an article about peep identification. Peeps are a group of 5 small sandpipers and the group includes Baird's, Least, Semipalmated, Western, and White-rumped. This is a very difficult group to deistinguish between in the field and this article aims to give you great identification points to look for when you see these species. The full article can be found on our Nutty Birder website or by following this link

Below is a short excerpt from the article:

Distinguishing Small Peeps from Large Peeps:
Without much experience, distinguishing sizes of peeps in the field can be difficult. The best way to get a grasp on the different sizes is to bird in a location where there are many shorebirds. After a few experiences with these species, it shouldn’t be too difficult to understand the size difference. One of the biggest differences in shape between small and large peeps is wing length. While in a resting position the wings of a large peep extend beyond the tail feathers while the wings of a small peep do not extend beyond the tail feathers. Because of this, large peeps have a more elegant, thin look than the small peeps. Small peeps look stout and much less elegant.

Junvenile Least Sandpiper

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Little Beaver Lake and Miner's Beach: SkyWatch Friday

Both of the photos below were taken on a trip to the UP of Michigan. The first was taken at Little Beaver Lake right near our campsite. The second shot is from the southeast corner of Miner's Beach.

Little Beaver Lake Sunset

Little Beaver Lake

Miner's Beach - Southeast End

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Seney NWR: Watery Wednesday

While in the UP of Michigan, Eric and I made a short trip to Seney National Wildlife Refuge. This refuge is best known as a great area to see Trumpeter Swans. While there, we not only got to see Trumpeter Swans with their cygnets, we also saw a Common Loon with its young. Below are a few of the pictures that we took while at the refuge.

Seney NWR Ponds

Trumpeter Swan

Common Loon stretching its wings

Check out more great Watery Wednesday posts here.