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