Monday, March 30, 2009

Visiting Clifty Falls State Park - Watery Wednesday

I had a presentation about bird songs to give at Clifty Falls so I headed down on Friday because quite a bit of my family was going to be there. On my way down I stopped at one of only three Indiana National Wildlife Refuges, Muscatatuck NWR. This is a large property with a mix of hardwood forests, marshes, and grasslands. I was able to find my first Great Egret and Greater Yellowlegs in Indiana for the year and many species of waterfowl. Once I made it down to Clifty Falls State Park in Jefferson County I had planned on hiking around and photographing the many falls. I didn't know that it takes long hikes to get to the bases of most of the falls so I ended up only having time to photograph one. On my way to the falls I heard and saw a Louisiana Waterthrush. This species has one of the best songs of all warblers in my opinion.

Big Clifty Falls

On Friday night we went on a Woodcock watch with a few people including the naturalist of the park, Dick Davis. He is very knowledgeable about everything in the area. He took us to a spot where Jefferson's and Spotted Salamander breed but unfortunately none were around. There were many egg masses however. We were successful in finding American Woodcocks. We were able to observe 2 on the ground and a few others doing their flight displays.

The next morning we started off with a bird hike. I would be giving a presentation later in the day for a group of people that are part of a Getaway Weekend. Many of these people were present and everybody was able to have great views of Cedar Waxwing, Eastern Bluebird, and Yellow-rumped Warbler. The birdwalk was followed by a talk about tree rings which I unfortunately missed while I was hiking around the park (I heard it was very good). I was able to see some of the demonstration in the field which was very interesting. Then there was a presentation about the history of the local geology then I gave mine. We will probably post segments of mine in the future but we have not used video very often and have lots to learn about it.

This is a Ring-necked Snake that I found along a trail as I was hiking to the falls.

Big Clifty Falls. This falls is about 60 feet tall.
See more great Watery Wednesday Posts here.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Small Ringed Plover Identification

Click on the above chart to be able to read it. Then try to ID the following four birds. If you like this type of thing you might like to check out our new weekly ID quizzes on our website. The link is:

Plover #1

Plover #2

Plover #3

Plover #4

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

#7 Snowy Egret vs. #10 Laysan Albatross

Snowy Egret

  • Snowy Egrets were hunted to near extinction in the 1800s and early 1900s. There feathers were sold for twice the price of gold.
  • These birds preform elaborate displays when returning to their nests so that their mate can identify them.
  • Snowy Egrets are known to be very good at detecting and avoiding poisonous snakes.
  • Adults are easily identified by their yellow feet and black legs.
  • A Snowy Egrets typically yellow lores can become bright red during the breeding season.

Click here to view more information on Snowy Egrets.

For pictures of Snowy Egrets, click here.

Laysan Albatross

  • This albatross is named after one of the islands that it breeds on in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands.
  • They are currently expanding the number of breeding colonies that they inhabit and have even begun to nest off of the coast of Mexico.
  • The biggest breeding colony is located on Midway Atoll in Hawaii. There are about 441,000 pairs nesting on this island alone.
  • Their diet consists mostly of squid.
  • Many chicks are dying on Midway Atoll due to lead poisoning from lead based paints that were used on former military buildings on the island. The government is currently doing nothing to fix the problem because the clean up with cost $5.6 million and there is no money dedicated to the new Northwest Hawaiian Island Marine National Monument.

Click here to view more information on Laysan Albatrosses.

For pictures of Laysan Albatrosses, click here.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Birding the Dry Tortugas - SkyWatch Friday

Brown Noddy

The Fort

Dry Tortugas National Park is definitely one of the birding highlights in the United States. With a nesting seabird colony containing more than 100,000 Sooty Terns and 20,000 Brown Noddies the amount of birds is simply amazing. If birds don't interest you there is always the amazing variety of colorful fish and rare turtles that can be seen while snorkeling. And still after exploring all of the natural world on the island there is the huge fort that takes up the entire island left to explore.

The Birds

The seabird colony is the most amazing bird spectacle that I have seen. While scanning the island where the birds nest one can only wonder what it would be like to be in the middle of the colony. This is the only place in the United States where Sooty and Bridled Terns, Brown Noddies, and Brown and Masked Boobies are seen with regularity. Magnificent Frigatebirds also nest close by and soar over the fort throughout the day. While standing on top of the fort the Frigatebirds will fly over within twenty feet allowing very close views. On the way out to the island I was able to find some Northern Gannets including two adults, I had only ever seen young Gannets in the past. The park has installed a fresh water fountain in the fort to help migrating songbirds survive. Although I was a little early for spring songbird migration I was able to watch many Northern Parulas and Palm Warblers take baths. The island is fairly small so finding birds is not all that difficult and with so many birds a trip to the Tortugas is a must for every bird lover.

Magnificent Frigatebird

Sooty Tern
Check out more great SkyWatch Friday Posts here.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Making it to Key West - SkyWatch Friday

After spending about five days in the Ft. Myers area we headed down to Key West. We made it about an hour before sunset and having never been here before we weren't sure where a good location might be. We soon found out there really isn't a great place. There is only one spot a State Historic Site and they kick you out about five minutes after the sun sets. Tomorrow we head out to Dry Tortugas National Park. There should be many birds and quite a few new ones for me to study including Sooty Tern and Brown Noddy.

Here is a shot of the sunset. A storm had just passed over so the sky was pretty interesting. If the sky is any good tomorrow we will head to a different island to photograph the sunset.

Check out other great SkyWatch Friday Posts here.

#6 Indigo Bunting vs. #11 Rose-breasted Grosbeak

Indigo Bunting

  • Indigo Buntings migrate at night using the stars for navigation.
  • The sequence of notes in a males song can very between individual from different areas. This can occur even when the areas are only a few hundred yards apart.
  • Indigo and Lazuli Buntings sometimes interbreed where their ranges overlap.
  • Their feathers are actually black. The blue color is created when light passes through their feathers. This is why they can look so many different shades of blue.
  • Indigo Buntings are one of the few birds thats populations are increasing. This is due to the fact that there preferred habitat of woodland edges has become more common due to the clearing of land.

Click here to view more information on Indigo Buntings.

For pictures of Indigo Buntings, click here.

Rose-breasted Grosbeak

  • The nest of a Rose-breasted Grosbeak is so thin that many times you can see the eggs through the nest.
  • Rose-breasted Grosbeaks interbreed with Black-headed Grosbeaks where their ranges overlap.
  • Males participate in the incubation of the nest. they spend about 1.3 of the day incubating.
  • Unlike most songbirds, the females are known to sing.
  • The name grosbeak come for the French word grosbec which means large beak.

Click here to view more information on Rose-breasted Grosbeaks.

For pictures of Rose-breasted Grosbeaks, click here.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Florida Birds - Watery Wednesday

After only three days in Florida I have seen over 100 species and 2 lifers, Brown-headed Nuthatch and Short-tailed Hawk. I still have a little over four days left and will be heading down to the Keys in a couple days. Right now we are on Ft. Myers Beach.

Here are a couple of the many photos to come from Florida.

Snowy Egret

Laughing Gull

Check out more great Watery Wednesday posts here.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Sweet Sunset - SkyWatch Friday

After a day full of clouds the sky started to clear up so I headed to the lake. I had been driving around the lake a couple days ago looking for some shoreline that looked interesting and I happened to find about 200 feet of shore that is very interesting. Big sandstone slabs have fallen from the cliffs around the lake to make for beautiful shorelines. I usually shoot from the other side of the lake where the entire shore is just sand and pebbles. There is no doubt I will be spending much more time on this side of the lake for future sunsets. Many more interesting compositions are available that I have yet to take advantage of.

The cold is back to Indiana but I will be leaving for Florida tomorrow. If I have time I will post some bird photos while I am there, if not I will catch up with everybody in a week.

The warm light hitting the rock only lasted for about 5 minutes. I used a 3 stop Grad ND filter to balance the sky and foreground and a 3 stop ND filter to allow for a long exposure.

This was taken just after the sun had dropped below the horizon. I used a 3 stop Grad ND filter on this one.

Check out more great SkyWatch Friday posts here.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

#6 Purple Gallinule vs #11 Heerman's Gull

Purple Gallinule

  • Despite its awkward flight, Purple Gallinule's have turned up in the northern US and southern Canada.
  • Purple Gallinule's have the ability to walk on top of floating vegetation.
  • They typically hold their food with one of their feet while they are eating.
  • Gallinules are closely related to the rails.
  • Purple Gallinules typically nest very early in the year with young birds having been seen as early as February.

Click here to view more information on Purple Gallinules.

For pictures of Purple Gallinules, click here.

Heermann's Gull

  • Heermann's Gulls are known to steal food from other birds especially Brown Pelican's. It has been observed that adults typically steal from adults while juveniles steal from other juveniles.
  • The Heermann's Gull is the only gull in the United States that breeds south of the border and travel north to the US to spend the non-breeding season.
  • They have recently started to attempt to breed in California but have so far been unsuccessful.
  • About 90% of the 150,000 known pairs nest on Isla Rasa off Baja California in the Gulf of California.
  • Due to the limited breeding range these gulls the islands that they nest on need to be protected from egg harvesting, introduced mammals, industrial development for guano extraction, and tourism.

Click here to view more information on Heermann's Gulls.

For pictures of Heermann's Gulls, click here.

Using ND Filters - Watery Wednesday

After getting a couple ND filters for my birthday I had to test them out. I had previously planned on using them in this location once I had them. I wanted to capture the swirling water that this small falls created. The only thing that an ND filter does is let in less light during an exposure allowing the photographer to use longer shutter speeds.

This was a 25 second exposure. Without the ND filters the slowest shutter speeds were around 2 seconds.

This was a 20 second exposure. I used the vertical orientation to make the biggest swirl the focal point.

Check out more great Watery Wednesday posts here.

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Spizella Sparrow Identification

There are six species of sparrows that occur in the United States that are in the genus Spizella. This includes Black-chinned, American Tree, Field, Brewer’s, Clay-colored, and Chipping. Many people have trouble when it comes to identifying sparrows because of their overall drab appearance but the identification of sparrows is similar to all other bird identification. Of these six species the Black-chinned is the most distinctive and the Brewer’s is the least distinctive. The most common is the Chipping which occurs throughout the US but each of the Spizella sparrows are common in their range.

Black-chinned Sparrow:
This is a very easy sparrow to identify. The adult has a gray head, chest, and belly with a black chin and a pink bill. This alone should allow you to identify this sparrow very quickly and concisely. The first winter is very similar to the adult but does not have a black chin. The gray body and head with a pink bill should be sufficient to differentiate this bird from any other.

American Tree, Field, and Chipping Sparrows
The Adults
Both the adult American Tree and Field Sparrows look the same year round. The Chipping’s plumage changes from summer to winter. The small pink bill, white eye-ring, and rufous coloring throughout the wings, back, and cap are important to notice when identifying Field Sparrows. Field Sparrows do show variation in the amount of rufous that they show so the best way to recognize them is by the big white eye-ring and pink bill. Everyone looks for the spot on the chest of the American Tree Sparrow to identify them which is a very good field mark but other factors are easy to pick up on as well. Look for the bicolored bill, dark upper mandible and pale lower mandible. The American Tree also has more gray on the nape, neck, and eyebrow than Chipping or Field. The Chipping Sparrow is much more gray overall than American Tree or Field. The gray chest, belly, nape, and cheek in addition to the black eye-line should make for an easy identification.

American Tree Sparrow

Clay-colored (Non-breeding Plumage) and Chipping Sparrow (Non-breeding Plumage)
The Clay-colored and Chipping Sparrows can look very similar when in nonbreeding plumage. The overall coloration is a little different but without experience it can be tough to differentiate the two. The Clay-colored is buffier on the chest, sides, and face. The face patterns of Clay-colored and Chipping Sparrow contribute to the overall different appearance between these two species. The Clay-colored has a much more contrasting malar stripe and gray nape than the Chipping Sparrow and the Clay-colored has pale lores while the Chipping has dark lores. Using these field marks these sparrows should become much easier and quicker to identify leaving more time for observation.

Chipping Sparrow

Brewer’s Sparrow
This sparrow is much more subtly colored than any of the other Spizella sparrows. It is a sparrow with very little contrast throughout its plumage, the very drab look to this sparrow should help to clinch the ID. Listen to this sparrow sing and you will soon learn that this sparrow is anything but dull once it starts its song. The streaking on the cap, eyebrow, and nape in addition to the eye-ring should end any confusion with other species.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

SkyWatch Friday - Black-necked Stilts

These photos were taken in August of 2006 at Goose Pond FWA in Linton, Indiana. Shortly after the creation of this extensive wetland, it was obvious that it would be a hotspot for birds that are typically hard to find in Indiana. The property is one of my favorite places to bird because there is always something interesting to find there.

Black-necked Stilts used to be extremely rare in Indiana and still only nest in a few locations around the state. The first documented nest occured in 2002 in a farm field in Sullivan County (near Goose Pond) but was unsuccessful. Goose Pond had its first breeding record in 2004 when one or possibly two pairs nested. In 2005 another nest was found at Cane Ridge in Gibson County. Since then, the birds have bred even farther north at Pine Creek Game Bird Habitat outside of Lafayette.

Black-necked Stilt in Flight It is amazing to just stand on the dikes and watch these beautiful birds fly around you.

Black-necked Stilt foragingThey are somewhat unafraid of people and allow for close observation as the feed.

Check out other great SkyWatch Friday posts here.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

#6 Tufted Puffin vs. #11 Greater Roadrunner

Tufted Puffin

  • These birds nest in burrows that they dig into cliff edges and slopes. These burrows can be up to 5 feet deep.
  • Adult Tufted Puffins eat their catch while still underwater.
  • Adults also have the ability to hold up to 20 small fish in crosswise in their bills for transportation back to the nest.
  • Until the 1980s, tens of thousands of Tufted Puffins were killed by getting caught in fishing nets. Many are still killed by being caught in nets close to shore.
  • Tufted Puffins are the size of pigeons but they weight twice as much.

Click here to view more information on Tufted Puffins.

For pictures of Tufted Puffins, click here.

Greater Roadrunner

  • Greater Roadrunners can reach speeds of up to 19 mph.
  • To warm up after cold desert nights, Roadrunners will turn its back to the sun and fluff up its feathers to expose the skin underneath. The skin is black in order to help the bird absorb more heat.
  • Greater Roadrunners eat many venomous prey items including rattlesnakes. Sometimes, two Roadrunners will team up to take down a large snake.
  • They are very opportunistic hunters and have been known to capture small birds at feeders and nest boxes.
  • Roadrunners have the ability to get by with little or no water as long as they are eating food with a high enough water content.

Click here to view more information on Greater Roadrunners.

For pictures of Greater Roadrunners, click here.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Tips for Taking Waterfall Pictures - Watery Wednesday

5. Photograph when the lighting is right. Photography is all about capturing light. The best times to photograph waterfalls are cloudy days. For the most part direct sun on any falls will not enhance the image in any way, of course there are times when this rule should be broken.

4. Use foreground features. It is important not to only include the waterfall in the picture. Lines in the foreground that lead to the waterfall and swirling leaves/bubbles both enhance the image when used properly.

3. Use a polarizing filter. A polarizing filter is used to cut down reflections. It is very useful when working around waterfalls to give the rocks around the falls their actual color instead of just a reflection.

2. Use slow shutter speeds. The use of slow shutter speeds creates a more pleasing image. It makes the image have more of a calm mood.

1. Use a tripod. If you have a tripod use it if you don't buy one (even cheap ones will work well), there is no way to use slow shutter speeds without a tripod. It also allows for a much sharper image at any shutter speed.

I took this one on a cloudy day. To add interest I included much of the area around the falls so people could see the whole area not just the waterfall.

This is an example of a leading line. The fallen tree works well to draw the viewers eyes through the photo and eventually to the falls itself.

Check out more great Watery Wednesday posts here.

Monday, March 2, 2009

This Could be a Little Awkward

While I was out birding and photographing some waterfalls at Cataract Falls State Recreation Area I noticed these toilets. I guess if you really have to go, you might have to use one of them. I think they are off to the toilet grave (I wonder what that looks like). Really, I'm pretty sure they are about to either replace the toilets or just take them out completely.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Bring On March

February is usually my least favorite month, very few birds and very cold temperatures are not a good combination in my opinion. But this February had many highlights and even some warm temperatures mixed in with the cold. The big invasion of White-winged Crossbills continued, the American Woodcocks arrived, and the waterfowl migration has begun. The biggest highlight of the month for me was seeing my first Hoary Redpoll mixed in with about 40 Common Redpolls on the Indiana lakefront. The flocks of White-winged Crossbills that I saw in February including great looks at both males and females at Eagle Creek Park were also a highlight. And the sign of spring in the bird world, the Red-winged Blackbird, along with grackles and other blackbirds moving back into the state was a great sight for the month. As of February 28 I have seen 111 species in Indiana this year.

I started March by going to Beehunter Marsh and Goose Pond FWA. What a sight, 3-4 thousand Sandhill Cranes among thousands of ducks and geese. If you live anywhere near this area it will definitely be worth the trip for the next couple weeks, the number of birds is just amazing. March will definitely be a fun month, I start off by going to southern Florida for spring break and then at the end of the month I will be going to Clifty Falls State Park to give a talk about bird songs.

Some of the many Sandhill Cranes.

Here is one of my favorite photos that I took in February.