Sunday, May 31, 2009

Still in Southeast Wyoming

Greetings from Laramie, Wyoming

After about 10 days of doing work in the sage and grassland areas of Wyoming I am very ready to head to the mountains. I still have about 6 or 7 days in sage habitat. There are many great birds in the grassland and sage habitats in Wyoming but the mountains are a much bigger draw. I birded north of Seminoe Reservoir in a riparian zone after working one day and found many MacGillivray's Warblers, Green-tailed Towhees, and Broad-tailed Hummingbirds. One of the hummingbirds was checking out my red truck and eventually came to hover around my head. Watching a Broad-tailed at about a foot is a very cool expecience.

This is one of my campsites in sage country. There were Say's Phoebes, both Eagles, and White-throated Swifts among many species close by.


I then headed to the town of Medicine Bow for a couple of mornings of work in that area. I camped at a lake just south of town that had many birds including my first ever Clark's Grebe and many species of waterfowl. I also was able to photograph an American Avocet and saw them doing there mating display where they cross bills and the male puts his wing around the female. It was very interesting to watch.

Killdeer nest that was literally in the middle of the road

One of the many Avocets that were at East Allen Lake just south of Medicine Bow.

After a couple days in that area I have now headed to some areas east of Laramie. I decided to camp in the mountains so I could see some trees and different birds. I hiked out of camp for about a mile and found many birds including Olive-sided Flycatcher, Red-naped Sapsucker, and Mountain Chickadee. The highlight though was seeing one moose. From my campsite you can always hear Ruby-crowned Kinglets and Red Crossbills and Pine Siskins fly over consistently.

A view from about a mile away from my campsite in Medicine Bow National Forest.

Friday, May 29, 2009

Alaska Day 3 Part 2: Mendenhall Glacier


Closeup of the ice of Mendenhall Glacier

After whale watching in the morning and birding with Mark (still more to come on that later) we headed to the main attraction in Juneau, Mendenhall Glacier. As I started to walk around, I heard people talking about seeing a bear and headed that way. By the time I had made it to where the bear had been seen, it had gotten back into the brush and was barely visable. Fortunately as I scanned the lake, I found a pair of Harlequin Ducks close by. It was the first time that I had ever seen a male, and I was amazed by the unique and colorful patterns of feathers covering its body.


A pair of Harlequin Ducks.

As I waited for the rest of my group to get to the glacier, Mark spotted a Mountain Goat way up on the mountain and got his scope on it. Even though it was far away, it was interesting to watch as it carefully made its way across the treacherous terrain without even slipping once. Luckily the rest of my group got there in time to see the Mountain Goat as well. The bear also reappeared as they arrived and was actually much closer this time.

As the Black Bear slowly moved along while feeding we were able to approach rather closely and get great photos. The bear seemed to not even notice that there were people around and just went about foraging.


Black Bear eating mushrooms.


Black Bear taking in its surroundings.


Not sure whether he is releaved or in pain. I'll let you decide!

Farther down the trail, we came to an Arctic Tern nesting colony. I had only first seen this species early on the whale watching trip but the colony allowed me to really study these birds. They are so graceful and entertaining to watch.


Arctic Tern hovering and looking for food.

Next, we followed the beach path to the waterfall near the face of the glacier. I knew from a distance that it was a very tall waterfall but I did not understand the true power and size of the falls until I was right up next to it. The amount of water flowing down the falls was incredible and the mist from the falls spread out over a large area. At the bottom of the falls, we found an American Dipper looking for food.

Waterfall by the Glacier.


Waterfall with people for size comparison.

As we started back, I noticed two shorebirds on the shore of Mendenhall Lake. There was one Semipalmated Plover and one Pectoral Sandpiper. They were very tolerant of people and I was able to crawl up rather closely to the Pectoral and get several pictures.


Pectoral Sandpiper


As we got back to the parking lot to wait for the bus to pick us up, I noticed some movement in the trees and decided to explore while the others waited. The movement turned out to be a Wilson’s and an Orange-crowned Warbler. They helped me pass the time until the bus arrived to take us all back to the ship.


Orange-crowned Warbler


View looking away from the glacier.

Look for my next post about my time in Sitka and the Alaska Raptor Center. Have a great weekend!

Alaska Day 3 Part 1: Juneau Whale Watching

The first stop on the cruise that actually allowed us to get off and explore on our own was in Juneau. Juneau is a small but beautiful town that also serves as the capital of Alaska. Before arriving, we had arranged to take a whale watching trip with Weather Permitting tours. Captain Greg picked us up at the cruise ship docks and drove us out to the marina to board his boat.

Captain Greg had also arranged to have Mark Schwan, the President of the Juneau Audubon Society, join us for the trip. Mark was very knowledgeable about the local area, and I had a great time birding with him on the trip. We even managed to sneak away for a little extra birding after returning to the harbor but more on that in a later post.

Having never seen whales until this trip, the Humpbacks that we saw on our excursion were quite a treat! It didn't take long until we found our first whale and it certainly wouldn't be the only one of the day. Overall, we saw about 12 whales and it was the best day Captain Greg had had all season.


This is the first whale that we saw. It surfaced multiple times
and allowed for some great pictures for all of us.

The same whale also brought its tail out of the water several times.

Whales were not the only highlight of the trip. There were many Stellar's Sea Lions around throughout the trip. The Sea Lions were fighting over their positions on a buoy in the bay and seemed oblivious to our presence. We approached to a close but respectable distance and took many pictures. As we were watching the ones on the buoy, my wife headed to the back of the boat and found a female swimming right next to us. She was able to get some awesome shots of this very curious individual!

Sunning on the buoy.

Two Sea Lions protecting their positions from attacks from below!

The very curious female that approached our boat very closely.

The birds that we saw while aboard where also exceptional! I found the largest group of Long-tailed Ducks that I have ever seen but unfortunately couldn't photograph them due to distance. I also got my best looks at Marbled Murrelet while on the boat. They are amazing little birds that are very interesting to watch. Additionally, there was a large flight of migrating Pacific Loons. Over the course of the trip I would estimate that we saw more than 75 Pacific loons. Since I had only seen them one time before, this was quite a treat!

Marbled Murrelets getting ready to dive.

As we cruised along, we came upon a beautiful lighthouse. We learned that it is no longer used very often but has instead been turned into a small hotel. The island that it is on is home to one of the highest concentrations of Brown Bears in Alaska. I think that it would be an awesome place to stay someday!

The lighthouse hotel.

As we headed back to the marina, I decided to try to snap some shots of the beautiful scenery that until this point, I had been largely ignoring. The next shot is the best one that I took as it was difficult not to blur the shots as we sped along.

This rocky shore was the resting spot of many gulls including a Glaucous Gull. Black Oystercatchers also roamed the shores and Bald Eagles stood lookout on the rocky peaks.

As we got close to the marina, Captain Greg stopped for us to take some pictures of our next stop, Mendenhall Glacier. If you will be in Juneau and are thinking about whale watching, I highly recommend Captain Greg and Weather Permitting. He picked us up at our cruise ship and dropped us off when we were done. He has a very comfortable custom-made boat and also had wonderful snacks on board including homemade brownies and shrimp that he had actually caught! Most importantly, he knows the area and will definitely find whales for you. He is very knowledgeable and can answer all the questions you can throw his way - trust me I asked enough to know! You can find out more about his tours at https://www.weatherpermittingalaska.com/.

Be sure to check back from my next post about my time at Mendenhall Glacier!

Great Conservation Story

I just came across a story on CNN.com about a women in Trinidad who the locals call 'Crazy Turtle Woman'. She helped to start a conservation group, called Nature Seekers, in 1990 to protect Leatherback Turtles from the slaughter that was occurring on Matura Beach.

This story is a lesson in the power of ecotourism and its ability to help save endangered species!

Check out this awesome story here.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Alaska Day 2: Glacier Bay National Park

The first real stop on the cruise was Glacier Bay National Park. While we didn't actually get off of the ship, we did cruise around the park from 10am to 7pm. It was a fantastic day of sightseeing with most of my time spent on deck looking for birds and other animals. As we cruised into the park, bird life picked up quickly. Soon after entering, I found my first Pacific and Red-throated Loons of the trip. It didn't take long and I got my first lifer within the park, Marbled Murrelet.

Unfortunately, we were not able to cruise by any of the seabird nesting colonies so I missed both Puffins for the trip. I guess I just need an excuse to go back soon!

As we pulled up to Johns Hopkins Glacier, I saw my first two Black Oystercatchers landing on a rocky beach in front of the glacier. This is a very beautiful glacier and it is truly amazing how large it actually is. Well at least I thought it was big until we got to Margerie Glacier later on. It was very interesting to examine the different shapes of the ice within the glacier.

Our last stop for the day was the Margerie Glacier. This glacier is 21 miles long, 250 feet tall, and the most likely glacier at which to observe calving. Calving is the breaking off of ice from the glacier. This results in huge splashes and waves at the ice falls from the top of the glacier. While not everyone that visits gets to see calving, we were treated to quite the show. We saw at least 5 huge chunks of ice fall into the water. It is really something that everyone should experience.

As we sailed back through Glacier Bay, I kept looking for more birds and marine mammals. It was fun to watch large groups of gulls fly by the ship. We got to closely observe Mew, Glaucous-winged, and Thayer's Gulls as well as many Black-legged Kittiwakes.

This is a remarkable park that everyone should visit at least once in their life.

Taken shortly after entering Glacier Bay NP.
All of these mountains are part of the Fairweather and Alsek Ranges.

Another shot of the awesome scenery in the park!

Up close shot of the snow covered mountains.

This is the glacier that we saw first. I can't remember its name
but it was the smallest of the glaciers we saw that day.

Johns Hopkins Glacier

Johns Hopkins Glacier

Closeup of Johns Hopkins Glacier

Margerie Glacier

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Alaska: Day 1 - SkyWatch Friday

On the first day of our Alaskan adventure, we left for the airport in Indianapolis at 9:30 on Saturday May 16. Our flight was delayed but we still had enough time to grab lunch on our layover in Dallas and make our flight to Seattle. We headed to bed early so that we could get to Pike's Place Fish Market right when it opened at 7 the next morning.

Mt. Rainier from the Ship

We arrived just before they opened and were able to watch all the fresh fish and beautiful flowers being brought in to the market that day. After breakfast, we headed back to our hotel, grabbed our bags, and headed for the cruise terminal. We arrived just before boarding was about to begin and quickly made it through the check-in process. After boarding, there was a huge buffet available, so we sat on deck having lunch and checking out the amazing scenery that surrounds Seattle. My first life bird from the cruise was a Pigeon Guillemot swimming close to the ship.



Holland America: Westerdam


View from my stateroom

As we left port and sailed through the Puget Sound, we sat on our verandas and watched the beautiful scenery as we passed it by. That night the sunset was awesome.


The next day was a full day at sea as we sailed to Glacier Bay National Park. The best part of a day at sea is all of the seabirds that you can find. I saw many new species while cruising but my favorites were Laysan and Black-footed Albatrosses and Leach's Storm-Petrel. These are all amazing species that are highly specialized open-ocean birds. I also saw my first Sooty and Short-tailed Shearwaters. Unfortunately, it is very difficult to see let alone photograph birds from a moving ship so I do not have any pictures of the species that I saw on the day at sea.

Another highlight of the day was seeing Humpback Whales for the first time ever. They are unbelievably huge even from a cruise ship. I spent a long time watching many different individual whales surface and flip their tails out of the water. Below are a few of my favorite whale pictures from my day at sea!


Be sure to watch for my stories from Glacier Bay National Park tomorrow!
Check out more great SkyWatch Friday posts here!

#8 Baltimore Oriole vs. #9 Bobolink

Baltimore Oriole

  • The Baltimore and the Bullock's Orioles used to be considered the same species and were called the Northern Oriole.
  • These two species also hybridize extensively where their ranges overlap but they are not closely related genetically.
  • New World Orioles got there name from the Old World Orioles that look and act very similarly. In reality, the New World Orioles are actually more closely related to blackbirds and meadowlarks.
  • Although males do not get their adult plumage until the fall of their second year, some first-year males do successfully attract a mate and nest.
  • The Baltimore Orioles baseball team was in fact named after this species.

Click here to view more information on Baltimore Orioles.

For pictures of Baltimore Orioles, click here.

Bobolink

  • Bobolinks are extraordinary migrants traveling up to 12,500 miles per year.
  • One female that was known to be at least 9 years old had made this migration annually and had traveled a distance equal to 4.5 trips around the earth at the equator.
  • The Bobolink is one of the only songbirds to undergo 2 complete molts per year.
  • The male's breeding plumage is created by the wearing off of some of the feather tips revealing the feathers below.
  • While mostly a daytime feeder, Bobolinks will feed on bright nights when trying to build up fat reserves for their long migrations.

Click here to view more information on Bobolinks.

For pictures of Bobolinks, click here.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Back From Alaska


Wow, it has been a long time since I have had the opportunity to post here on the blog. I have spent the last week on an Alaskan cruise out of Seattle. It was an amazing trip with many awesome birds and other wildlife along the way. There are also so many scenic landscapes to shoot that it is hard to decide where to point your camera!

Although the trip wasn't a birding trip, I did manage to squeeze in quite a bit of birding. I added new species at every stop and ended up have 105 species for the trip. This included 39 life birds which is the most lifers I have had in a week in a very very long time. It was an unbelieveable trip and I will be writing a series of posts to tell you all about it. These should start to appear on the blog starting tomorrow.

The photo above was taken at Glacier Bay National Park and is really a good example of the scenery that you observe from the cruise ship the whole time you are aboard.

Rob

Unconnected

Greetings from Rawlins, WY


I can't believe it has been a week since I last posted. Memorial Day weekend made it difficult to go to libraries for internet as their hours were very short. After my time in Casper where I was able to find my first Greater Sage-Grouses and hear my first Sage Sparrow, I headed to the southeast section of the state to get a new phone. The only place in all of Wyoming that sells T-mobile phones is a Target in Cheyenne. After buying a new phone I headed to Laramie where I planned on spending a couple days to find Mountain Plover and a few other interesting species. I stayed in a hotel to get a shower and have a bed for a night.

The next morning I birded Hutton Lake National Wildlife Refuge where American Avocets, Marsh Wrens, and White-faced Ibis were everywhere among many more species. On the way in I found both McCown's and Chestnut-collared Longspurs. As I was driving around north of Laramie looking for Mountain Plover, I got a call from a couple other field techs so I drove east to hang out with them. Thomas, one of the other field techs had found a pair of Mountain Plovers so we headed there and after a short hike we got scope views of one of the Plovers. We then drove west to Whetland Reservoir which we expected to take about 45 minutes. After about two hours of wandering around and trying to find it we were on the dam. On the way we drove through the Laramie Range which is an amazing area.

McCown's Longspur-unfortunately they wouldn't let a close approach for a good pic.


White-tailed Prairie Dog


Once we were on the dam the sun had almost set so we decided to camp in the ditch so we were protected from the wind. The reservoir was good but hard to drive around. We had all the waterfowl you could expect there including awesome views of Cinnamon Teal, a common bird in Wyoming, but an amazing bird for anybody from the east. We then drove down to Laramie and ended up staying at the KOA. The next day we went our own ways to start getting transects done again.


A beautiful scene in the Laramie Range.


I headed through the Snowy Range where I was hoping for Brown-capped Rosy-Finch but unfortunately the deep snow made it tough to look for the finches. I will be going back in the next week or so when I have time to explore a little more. I headed north to Seminoe Reservoir to do a transect the next day. Unfortunately the rain and wind caught up with me right after I had set up my tent. I hadn't expected storms so didn't set up any extra support for my tent. Once the wind started up my tent was on its side. I packed it all up getting soaked in the process and drove south to a different campground. My tent and everything I had in it was pretty wet so I just slept in the back of my truck.


Wilson's Snipe


Over the past few days I have been doing transects around Rawlins, WY. I had lots of Sage Sparrows, Sage Thrashers, and Brewer's Sparrow on all of them. Today I had a couple pairs of Mountain Plovers on my transect and a pair of Golden Eagles.

Eric

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

"Going No Where and No Where Fast" - Watery Wednesday

Greetings from Casper, WY



I woke up at about 4:30 this morning to drive to my transect. For some reason it feels weird when you are in the car alone without the radio or a CD playing so I put on some John Mellencamp. And for some reason the lyrics to my favorite song on the CD went right along with how the morning started. I couldn't find the roads that the map showed and don't believe they actually exist. I evenutally decided to go all the way to Casper and take a road out of Casper. It worked and I got there at about as late as I possibly could have to still do the bird survey. It was a pretty good transect with many Brewer's Sparrows, Lark Buntings, and three Golden Eagles. I then drove south of town to find my next transect. I found more Golden Eagles, a few Lazuli Buntings, and a McCown's Longspur. I also saw my first ever (alive and wild) Badger. After tomorrow's transect I will be taking a few day break in the southeast part of the state.



This is one of the many beautiful creeks in the Bighorn Mountains of Wyoming.

Check out more great Watery Wednesday posts here.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Starting to Get to Work

Greetings from Casper, WY

After having fun during the five days of training I drove from Hot Springs, SD to the Bighorn Mountains of Wyoming. It felt like leaving a second home because I had spent so much time at Whitney Preserve last summer since I worked in the Black Hills. The Bighorn Mountains are simply amazing. I birded there on Sunday after a long drive on Saturday. From my campsite I had 2 Golden Eagles, 2 Prairie Falcons, Mountain Chickadee, Dusky Flycatcher, and an American Dipper with a nest. I drove to the highest point in the road which was at 9666 feet and hiked up a little from there to try to find Rosy-Finches. I was very successful and had lots of Black and Gray-crowned Rosy Finches. I also had American Pipits doing flight displays from the tundra. I did a little work this morning without any bird highlights and then drove to Casper. The first route I tried had a road closed so I backtracked then the second route had a snow drift on it causing me to have to turn around one more time. After that I made great time and am happy to be in a city where I can get supplies, internet access, etc.

Eric

PS: Pictures will be coming soon but I haven't been able to put them on my computer yet.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Off to Alaska

Today, I will be flying to Seattle for an Alaskan cruise. The cruise leaves tomorrow and goes to many of the great cities in southeast Alaska. We spend the first day at sea and then the fun really starts. We will cruise Glacier Bay National Park, then stop in Juneau, Sitka, Ketchikan, and Victoria, British Columbia before returning to Seattle.

Of course I will be doing a lot of birding and hope to add many new life birds since I have never been to the Pacific Northwest. I have planned to do a little birding with the President of the Juneau Audubon Society while on a whale-watching cruise, and I hope to do at least a little more birding at every stop. I have also rented a 80-400 mm zoom lens for my camera so hopefully I will have many awesome pictures to share with everyone when I get back!

I will have very limited internet access but hope to post some updates at least a couple of times during my trip!

Friday, May 15, 2009

Southern Hills

Greetings from Hot Springs, SD

The past five days have went by quickly. After getting my car fixed I made it to Custer to start training. We have been based out of Whitney Preserve in the southern Hills. The birding has been pretty good with some of the better birds being Prairie Falcon, Golden Eagle, and Pinyon Jay. We also had some American Redstarts to remind me of the eastern Warbler migration I am missing out on. I will be heading to Wyoming tomorrow with a few stops for birds on the way.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

#8 Black Skimmer vs #9 American Oystercatcher

Black Skimmer

  • The Black Skimmer is the only representative of the skimmer family that lives in the Americas.
  • Skimmers us touch while foraging for food which allows them to be feed in low or no light situations.
  • When they hatch, the mandibles are of equal length but when the fledge four weeks later, the lower mandible is already 1 cm longer.
  • The Black Skimmer is the only bird in the United States that has a longer lower mandible than upper one.
  • The development of beachfront property poses a big threat to the nesting success of Black Skimmers.

Click here to view more information on Black Skimmers.

For pictures of Black Skimmers, click here.

American Oystercatcher

  • American Oystercatchers use their long blade-like bills to severe the adductor muscles of mussels before they can close their shells.
  • Adults use broken shells and pebbles to conceal their eggs in the nest.
  • Young are able to run around after just 24 hours but are unable to open bivalve shells until they are 2 months old.
  • Oystercatchers have returned to New England where they were extirpated due to market hunting and egg collecting.
  • Like Black Skimmers, they are severely threatened due to beachfront development.

Click here to view more information on American Oystercatchers.

For pictures of American Oystercatchers, click here.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Awesome Weekend Birding

On Saturday, I participated in the Hamilton County Spring Bird Count as I do every year. I again covered Ritchey Woods in Fishers, Indiana but this year, Eric was not able to cover the property with me. Although it was wind and the day started out very slow with cool temperatures and very windy conditions, I ended up with a great list of species. I had 26 warblers on the day including many that were the only ones found on the count. I also had my first Willow Flycatcher of the year and both Yellow-billed and Black-billed Cuckoos. By the time I had finished for the morning, I had 89 species.

After a morning of counting, all the participants go to Cool Creek Park for a lunch that is put on by the naturalists at the park. After lunch, we count up all the species that everyone has seen in the morning and this year came up with the second highest count ever for our county with 125. i was very happy to have contributed many sights to that list. It was another successful count and I recommend that all birders get involved with local counts and conservation efforts.

On Sunday morning, I headed to Eagle Creek Park in Indianapolis. This park is well known by birders in the area and it is a hotspot at all times of the year. It was another good day for finding migrants. At the marina, there were both an Orange-crowned and Black-throated Blue Warbler that came within 5 feet of our small group. The orange crown was actually visible on the Orange-crowned Warbler and the female Black-throated Blue Warbler provided a great study of her unique and beautiful facial pattern.

P.S. Eric has successfully made it to the Black Hills for his training with the Rocky Mountain Bird Observatory. His car is fixed and he hopes that that will be the end of his problems for the summer. it should be very exciting to see his updates on the blog!

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Some Ups, Some Downs

Greetings from Rapid City SD,

After participation in the Hamilton County May Bird Count for a few hours yesterday I began my drive west. I was able to leave by my planned time all ready to go thanks to much help from my mom and dad. I made it with no problems into northwest Iowa and decided to camp at Lewis and Clark State Park. After the sun set about 15 American White Pelicans landed in the lake just behind my camp. I decided not to put up my rain guard over my tent which turned out to be a mistake when it started raining at about midnight. When I went to put on my rain guard I couldn't find it so I decided to pack up and sleep in the car. After taking down the tent I realized I had left the rain guard under my tent. I didn't feel like setting the tent back up so I just slept in the car anyway.

I woke up early to do a little birding in the park and was not dissapointed. There were many migrant sparrows, warblers, and thrushes. The highlights were about 35 Harris's Sparrows (only the second time I have seen this species and first time I have heard it singing), 30+ Lincoln's Sparrow, and an Orange-crowned Warbler that was friendly enough to show his orange crown. I decided to start my days driving after a couple hours. I then stopped by Vermillion Lake in eastern South Dakota. Many ducks and one Black-crowned Night-Heron made it worthwhile but at one spot my phone fell out of the truck and I ran it over. The screen is broken but it still works fine.

At this point I just wanted to make it to the Black Hills in western South Dakota where my training will take place. Unfortunately it didn't turn out to be as easy as one would think. With 110 miles still to go the truck broke down. Luckily I was only about a mile from the last gas station. I was able to get Mike, a tow truck driver, to help me out. He thought he knew what the problem was but said that the closest place to go that could fix it was Rapid City which is just east of the Black Hills.

A 110 miles and lots of money later I am sitting in a hotel room hoping that the repair shop will be able to fix it quickly so I can get to training as soon as possible.

Friday, May 8, 2009

A Week of Finals, A Summer of Wyoming

The week after our big day was finals week for Indiana University. Now it is finally over and I was able to catch up with the birds over the past day and a half. I had a couple of first of year birds which were Eastern Wood-Pewee and Bay-breasted Warbler. Both of these along with about 25 species of warblers were at my favorite park during spring migration, Eagle Creek Park. After birding at Eagle Creek and doing a few errands I went home to find some migrants in the yard. I found Common Yellowthroat, Yellow, Blackpoll, Nashville, and Wilson's Warblers. I also had Indigo Bunting, Red-headed Woodpecker, and both Blue-headed and Warbling Vireos. We also have a at least five Rose-breasted Grosbeaks, Gray Catbird, and Baltimore Orioles visiting the feeders. I now have one last morning to experience Indiana warbler migration. Tomorrow after birding I will be heading to the Black Hills of South Dakota for training with the Rocky Mountain Bird Observatory and then will be on my way to working in Wyoming.

I'll try to post regularly while I am out there.
Eric

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Big Day 2009 - 161 Species

We, Eric Ripma, Stephanie Ripma, and myself, began our Big Day by camping in Yellowwood State Forest just outside of Bloomington. We had planned to wake up at 2:30am and get going but we were too excited to sleep and began around 1:45am instead. While attempting to get some sleep, we heard, Whip-poor-will, Barred Owl, Gray-cheeked Thrush, and Swainson’s Thrush. We quickly headed over to Friendship Road where we heard Chuck-wills-widow, Great Horned Owl, and Sora.

Our next stop was Fairfax SRA where we hoped to pick up may migrant passerines at sunup. We got to the site shortly before sunrise and were able to pick up our final expected owl, Eastern Screech-Owl. There were many warblers and other passerines as we had hoped and we spend more time here than we had planned for. We unfortunately had little activity on the lake and completely missed any terns. We left Fairfax with 80 species and headed to Paynetown SRA.

At Paynetown, we were again after migrant passerines and we were not disappointed. We added many species that we only saw once on our Big Day including Green Heron, Bank Swallow, Golden-winged, Magnolia, Black-throated Blue, and Pine Warblers, Summer Tanager, and Swamp Sparrow.

After finding very few species at Cutright and Hardin Ridge, we headed back to the Friendship Road area where we got our only House Wren and Hairy Woodpeckers of the day. Then we drove back through Yellowwood SF to Lake Lemon. We made stops at Little Africa, the base of Shuffle Creek Road, and Riddle Point with very few species other than our only Veery and Ruddy Duck. After a quick stop for lunch, we headed to the Goose Pond area with 124 species on our list.

As we entered the Goose Pond area we quickly picked up many new species. We made a quick drive down CR-100S and through the northern portion of Beehunter Marsh and picked up many of the common species in this area. We then proceeded on to a flooded farm field just west of BH-3. There were many yellowlegs in the field but the highlight was a flyover Black-bellied Plover. We quickly moved on to the Goose Pond Units along 1400W. We again picked up some of the common species and were also rewarded with 2 Gadwall flying over GP-12, 1 Common Moorhen swimming in GP-12, and 5 Forester’s Terns over GP-10.

We made a quick stop along SR-59 to look for shorebirds and found 4 Black-necked Stilts and 2 Caspian Terns. We continued on to the back side of Main Pool West along CR 1200W. As we walked along the road, we found Henslow’s and Grasshopper Sparrow, Northern Harrier, and Sedge Wren. On a quick drive along CR 1100W we found our first Bell’s Vireo of the day and the first reported for the property for the year. We headed back to the units along CR 1400W.

As we turned onto CR 200S, We saw a large group of white egrets flying in the distance, after catching up with them, we were able to get a scope on the group and see that there were 43 Great Egrets, 1 Little Blue Heron, and 1 Cattle Egret. Also along the road, we heard an American Bittern, and saw one Bald Eagle on its nest and 2 Wilson’s Snipe. We then went back to a pull-off along SR-59 to watch the evening shorebird flight.

As we started scoping the area, there was nothing different than when we had been there the hour before. Eric spotted 1 Sanderling, only the third record for the property. Then we picked up on 11 Cattle Egrets flying towards us and landing in a tree only a few hundred yards away. As we kept scoping, I found 6 Willets flying into the unit only the second record for the property. We also had 757 Lesser Yellowlegs fling out of the unit between 7:44 and 8:20.

We attempted to hear King Rail along the Farmhouse Drive but were not successful.

We ended the day with 161 species, tying last year’s total. This was our first ever attempt at a southern Indiana Big Day and we are very happy with the result. It was a very exciting day with many extraordinary birds!

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

#8 Northern Saw-whet Owl vs. #9 American Dipper

Northern Saw-whet Owl

  • Deer mice are the main prey item of Northern Saw-whet Owls. Adults divide a mouse up into 2 meals. One adult owl was found dead after trying to swallow a mouse whole.
  • While the female sits on the nest for the incubation period, the male brings food.
  • The female keeps the nest cavity very clean while she broods her nestlings.
  • When mice are plentiful, the owl will kill several in quick succession and store them for eating when food is more scarce.
  • Northern Saw-whet Owls are known by a variety of different names including Little Nightbird and Queen Charlotte Owl.

Click here to view more information on Northern Saw-whet Owls.

For pictures of Northern Saw-whet Owls, click here.

American Dipper

  • American Dippers nest along streams and are very picky about the nest site. The site must be safe from floods and difficult for predators to access. These requirements lead to few good nesting sites and this appears to limit the Dippers population.
  • Unlike most other songbirds, Dippers molt both their wing and tail feathers all at once in the late summer. They are flightless during this period.
  • In order to survive in the cold streams that they reside in, they have a low metabolic rate, extra oxygen-carrying capacity in their blood and a very thick coat of feathers.
  • Dippers have an extra eyelid called a nictitatin membrane that allows it see underwater.
  • A group of Dippers is known as a "ladle" of Dippers.

Click here to view more information on American Dippers.

For pictures of American Dippers, click here.

Friday, May 1, 2009

Amos Butler Birdathon

Tomorrow my brother Rob, his wife Stephanie, and I will be doing a big day from Monroe to Greene County in Indiana. The weather was being predicted to be very nice until a couple days ago. Now they are predicing rain with a high of 60 degrees. Many birds are around right now so we could still end up with a good count as long as we dont run into too much rain. The birds should stay active throughout the day because of the cloudy conditions so it might help in the long run.

For more information about the Amos Butler Birdathon go to: http://www.amosbutleraudubon.org/2009_Birdathon.htm

Yellowwood State Forest: Hooded, Kentucky, Parula, Blue-winged, Worm-eating, and many other warblers breeding grounds.