Thursday, December 30, 2010

A Year for the Birds

Well, there were definitely many birding highlights from 2010. From birding in Indiana to traveling through the Mexican countryside I saw more species this year than I had in any past years.

Some of the many highlights from the past year:

Green Jay-During spring break I was able to travel to the Rio Grande Valley with Rob and my Dad and see many beautiful Green Jays along with most other Texas specialties.

Greater Prairie-Chicken: In March I went to Illinois with the Indiana Audubon Society to see some displaying chickens. It was definitely one of the most interesting bird behaviors I have had the chance to watch.

Kentucky Warbler: During April and the start of May I was able to experience the warbler migration in Indiana. Through the short time I was in the state I saw over 30 species of warblers.

Clark's and Western Grebes: During parts of May and June I surveyed birds in North and South Dakota. On this incredibly windy day I was able to watch two grebe species from the car.

Chestnut-collared Longspur: One of the quintesential birds of the Dakota prairie. I saw many longspurs throughout the summer.

Theodore Roosevelt National Park: I spent 4-5 days in the park due to storms delaying the surveys that I had to complete . . . at least it is an awesome place.

Long-billed Curlew: One of the prairie nesting shorebirds in the Dakotas.

American Dipper: One of my favorite birds. This one was found in the Black Hills of South Dakota. I also did bird surveys in the Black Hills for a few weeks this summer.

Lewis's Woodpecker: An awesome woodpecker that can be found in the Black Hills.

Orange-billed Nightingale Thrush: One of the top 2 birding highlights of my year. I was lucky enough to find this third US record hundreds of miles away from its normal range in Mexico.

Five-striped Sparrow: One of the many birds that I was able to find in Arizona. This sparrow is only found in a few canyons in southeast Arizona.

Spotted Owl: One of the "must see" species on a trip to Arizona. Rob and I saw this pair within about 20 feet of the trail.

Red-faced Warbler: Another of the target birds for any trip to Arizona.

White-eared Hummingbird: A southeast Arizona specialty. There were a few coming to the Beatty's feeders in the Huachucas-one of the only reliable places to see them.

Eared Quetzal: One of the major highlights of a trip to Mexico. This "tough to see" species perched out in the open in the same tree as the rare Thick-billed Parrot.

Thick-billed Parrot: An amazing parrot-in the same tree as the above Eared Quetzal.

Tufted Jay: One of the crown jewels of Mexico. This endemic Jay is found along the Durango Highway and is one of the most stunning birds I've ever seen.

A couple of us took a boat out near Colima, Mexico. The highlights were Northern Potoo and Boat-billed Heron.

The year ended well in December with a couple of highlights. The first were these Short-eared Owls that showed up at Eagle Creek Park in Indianapolis. These constituted a first park record.

Long-tailed Duck-the other highlight came with a few birds that were found along the lakefront. These included great looks at Long-tailed Duck and Black-legged Kittiwakes and other birds such as Surf and Black Scoter and Glaucous Gull.

Now, off to look for a Slaty-backed Gull on Lake Michigan-only the second state record for Indiana.


Tuesday, December 21, 2010

CBC Birding

To start off the Christmas Bird Count season I drove over to Linton, Indiana to meet our group at the McDonald's. After getting our assignment of GP10 I drove down to the unit to meet Rob and Chad. While waiting in the parking lot the first Lapland Longspur flew overhead. After Rob and Chad arrived we hiked around GP 10N which is about 2-3 miles of hiking. Throughout the hike we had sparrows flying up from our feet but almost all were American Tree and Song Sparrows. At the end of the hike we found another small flock of sparrows that contained our best bird of the day, a Vesper Sparrow. It turned out to be the only one for the count. I didn't stay for the second half of the day because I still had one final to go for the semester and needed some time to study.

Vesper Sparrow on the Goose Pond CBC.

On Saturday I participated in the Hamilton County Christmas Bird Count. I've been doing this count every year since I started birding. With all of the cold temperatures recently 95% of the water in the county was frozen. Our group was responsible for covering Strawtown Koteewi Park. Our group split up to cover the north and south units seperately. Both areas were loaded with American Robins and we also had quite a few Cedar Waxwings. While most of our hike was uneventful we eventually started seeing a few good species such as Savannah Sparrow and Northern Harrier. Both of these species are tough to find during the winter in Hamilton County.

One of the common species on the Hamilton County CBC.

Cedar Waxwing-we had a couple flocks of waxwings during the CBC.

After our whole group met back up we drove a few county roads north of Strawtown. After a few minutes we ran into a few Horned Larks. After a couple minutes a Lapland Longspur flew in and was eventually followed by 6-8 Snow Buntings. I finished up with a quick check of Morse Reservoir which was almost completely frozen. But there was one Great Blue Heron and a Bald Eagle soaring above Morse Park.
As always the CBC season was a fun birding experience.


Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Another Rare Bird in Indiana

Today I headed down to Bloomington to meet up with Eric to look for a Harris's Sparrow that had been reported at Paynetown SRA on Lake Monroe. I picked him up at 12:45 and headed towards the lake. When we pulled into the parking area where the Harris's had been seen, there were two other birders there looking for it but they had not seen the bird yet. A local birder has started a seed pile in the campground at the site and the sparrow has been frequenting that pile. You are actually able to sit in the warmth of your car and wait for the bird to show up! After about 10 minutes, Eric spotted the bird directly in front of my car. We watched and photographed the bird for the next 20 minutes but it never really came close enough for a great shot.

This is the best that shot that we managed to get.

Harris's Sparrow

This is only the second time that either of us had seen this bird in Indiana. Since it didn't take us long to find the Harris's Sparrow we decided to look for some waterfowl on the lake. There were tons of Hooded Mergansers and a few other species but nothing out of the ordinary. All in all, it was a great day with one very exciting bird!


Thursday, December 2, 2010

An Awesome Rarity and a Few Lakefront Birds

Last night my friend Chad and I decided to chase a rare bird that had been reported in Marshall County, Indiana. He met me at my apartment at 7am and we started our 2.5 hour drive to an Amish farm outside of Bremen, Indiana.

As we pulled into the driveway, we noticed that a couple of other birders were present. Before we could even start looking around another 4 birders pulled in. It only took 20 minutes of looking around before we found this beautiful Vermilion Flycatcher. Over the next hour we got wonderful views of the bird and it approached closely enough for us to take some awesome pictures.

This bird was originally reported by the property owner and a couple of birders were able to check it out. On Tuesday, it was reported on the Indiana Birding Listserv and quite a few birders were able to see the bird on Wednesday. The homeowners are very graciously allowing all birders to come and see the flycatcher. The home is located at 660 4th Drive, Bremen, IN. They have a huge driveway for everyone to park in. This is private property. Please be respectful so that they will invite us all back if they ever have another rare bird! This is the 3rd state record for this species and the first since 2004. Hopefully it will head on to warmer climates soon!

Vermilion Flycatcher

Vermilion Flycatcher

Next we decided to head to Lake Michigan to make a stop at Michigan City Harbor. There were pretty much no birds at the harbor and the only highlight was the resident Peregrine Falcon. Since we didn't have all that much luck at the harbor we decided to take a drive down Beverly Drive to look for a Northern Shrike that had been reported recently. We found the bird easily and got great looks at this lifer for Chad!

All in all it was a great day with two exceptional birds!


Wednesday, November 17, 2010

The Past 3 Weeks

Wow has the time ever flown since I got back from Colorado. I have been so busy that I have not gotten out birding much but, most of my work has been bird related. After having never been asked to speak at anything in my life, I got 2 requests in under a week!

The first request came from one of our customers at the Wild Birds Unlimited that I work at. The customer runs a foundation and one of the things that they do is teach three elementary school classes about birds. The next topic was identification, which I love to teach so I jumped at the opportunity. I must say that I am much more comfortable working with adults and I was quite worried about how I would do working with kids. Luckily, it went great with the third grade class and the kids learned a ton. I also learned a lot about working with kids! Since then, I have been back to the school for the second graders and I will be going back again to teach the fourth graders! I have even been invited back in the spring to talk about migration!

My other speaking engagement was with the Boone County (IN) Bluebird Society. I had no particular topic so it was slightly difficult for me to get rolling when planning the presentation but I finally got something put together. The presentation was at the Zion Nature Center a quaint little nature center in Zionsville. It had been years since I had been there and it was great to look around before I got started. About 20 bluebird enthusiasts were at the meeting and I spoke the them about my favorite birding locations in Indiana and beyond. They all asked wonderful questions and I had a great time!

Me speaking to the Boone County Bluebird Society

This weekend I will be in Chicago but unfortunately will not be birding. I will be heading up to lake Michigan on Tuesday for some birding along the Indiana lakeshore!


Thursday, October 28, 2010

Last Days in Colorado

On our final day in Vail, Stephanie and I attempted to drive to Piney Lake in Arapaho National Forest. It was raining when we started out but quickly turned to snow as we gained elevation. The dirt road was filled with potholes, making for a very bumpy ride. We finally found some birds, a small group of Gray Jays, about 4 miles up the road. We figured the lake would be just ahead so we continued on. About 5 miles later, we came to a curve in the road and found a sign that read "Piney Lake - 12 Miles." We decided we were sick of being thrown around by the potholes and turned around.

On our way back, I noticed a trail head with a trail that led through some habitat that looked spectacular for American Three-toed Woodpeckers. We were no more than 50 feet up the trail when we heard a woodpecker drumming on a tree, and we quickly spotted my lifer American Three-toed! Steph didn't get a very good look at the first bird, so we continued on and found another one that gave us much better and longer looks!

On Saturday morning, we headed back towards Denver for the next leg of our trip. It was snowing very hard at Vail Pass along I-70, and we made it through that area only 20 minutes before they shut down the highway. We heard later that it was closed for the next two days! Man were we lucky!

We made a couple of quick stops on the way up to Estes Park, including a stop at Boulder Reservoir. There were tons of Western Grebes on the lake but not tpo much else, so we moved on. As we arrived in Estes Park, we noticed some elk right on the golf course in the middle of town. It was quite a sight, and there were many people who had pulled into the Visitor Center parking lot to check out the herd!

We got an early start the next morning and headed into Rocky Mountain National Park. The wind was howling and Trail Ridge Road was closed 7 miles into the park due to the high winds and heavy snow. Our first stop was right where the road was closed. The view was awesome, and we took some nice pictures, but as I suspected, the birds were not active in the windy conditions. Next, we tried the Endovalley Picnic Area. As we walked around the loop, we noticed that a group of Steller's Jays was following us around! They were very tame and allowed us to capture the photos below!

Steller's Jay

Steller's Jay

We battled high winds the next day as well and headed back towards Denver after just a couple of hours in the park. When we got to Denver, we had some time to kill before going to dinner, so we decided to visit Chatfield State Park again. There was pretty much the same mix of birds, but we found a nice spot by the marina to take some awesome pictures of gulls and American White Pelicans. Some of my favorites are below.

Ring-billed Gull

California Gull

American White Pelican

American White Pelican

Black-billed Magpie

It was a great trip, and even without focusing on birding the whole time, we ended with 72 species and I had 6 lifers!


Thursday, October 21, 2010

A Moose and 2 Lifers!

Yesterday, Stephanie and I decided that we liked Sylvan Lake State Park so much that we wanted to bird there again, so we headed out the door at 8:00 and we were at the park by 8:30. One of the first birds that we found was Cassin's Finch. This was a lifer for me, but we were unable to take any photos due to them being terribly back lit.

We continued past the lake on the forest road and finally came upon another flock of birds. We parked in a small pull-off and followed the flock up the road. We found a group of Gray Jays, our first of the trip, and had a flyover Williamson's Sapsucker. As we continued on, we noticed some cows coming down the road towards us. All of a sudden they started running straight at us. We were pretty close to the car so we quickly ran back and jumped in. As I looked back I noticed that something was chasing the cows! It was a huge moose! Below are a couple of pictures I took as it ran by.

A moose chasing a group of about 20 cows!

Another moose shot.

This morning, we drove back to Denver for another stop at Red Rocks Park. There had been a Golden-crowned Sparrow reported from their feeders, and it would be a lifer if I could find it. There was one birder there when we arrived who had seen and photographed the bird shortly before we got there. After about 15 minutes, I got a very short glimpse of the bird, but it disappeared into the bushes immediately. Over the next 45 minutes, I only got one more look at the bird, but I was able to see it nonetheless.

While I was waiting for the bird, Stephanie was busy photographing the more common birds at the feeders. Below are a couple of the shots she took.

Dark-eyed Junco

Western Scrub-Jay


Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Sylvan Lake State Park Birding

This morning my wife and I got up early and headed to Sylvan Lake State Park about 30 minutes west of where we are staying. It was very cloudy and foggy as we drove west, but it started to clear a little as we arrived at the park. Our first new bird of the day was a Townsend's Solitaire on the drive into the park. We stopped at the Visitor's Center to pick up a map and a checklist of the birds of the park.

Sylvan Lake State Park Visitor Center

Next, we headed to the lake. There is a fantastic trail that goes all the way around the lake. Shortly after we started out hike, an Osprey flew over and then a few minutes later, a Bald Eagle landed in a tree across the lake. The highlight of our hike was my lifer Williamson's Sapsucker! I was not expecting this bird at all but was very glad to see it in my binoculars when I was finally saw it through the pine trees.

The drive to Sylvan Lake.

Sylvan Lake

Sylvan Lake State Park

At the very end of our hike, we came upon a bridge over a rushing creek. I immediately noticed an American Dipper that was close enough for some photographs. Below are 2 of my favorites. After taking these pictures, I dropped part of my camera in the creek but was able to fish it out just before it was lost forever!

American Dipper

American Dipper


Monday, October 18, 2010

First Few Days in Colorado

On Saturday, my wife Stephanie and I flew into Denver for a 10 day vacation in Colorado. We will be spending 7 days in Vail and then 3 days in Estes Park. Our flight arrived at 8:15am, and we headed straight to Chatfield State Park. It is a beautiful park that has a huge reservoir. We immediately noticed a large number of grebes on the lake. While most were Western, I was able to find one Clark's, a lifer for me!

Due to the time of day, there were not very many birds around. Our highlight other than the Clark's Grebe was a large number of American White Pelicans.

American White Pelican

Our next stop was Red Rocks Park on the west side of Denver. This park has some of the most amazing scenery that I have ever seen. Since it was the middle of the afternoon on a Saturday, there were people everywhere and no birds to be found. But the fantastic views more than made up for the lack of birds!

Red Rocks Park

Red Rocks Park

Red Rocks Park

Red Rocks Park

Below are a couple of my favorite pictures that my wife took while we drove west to Vail, one of a chipmonk that I have yet to identify, and a picture of a very cool Steller's Jay!

I-70 West of Denver

I-70 West of Denver

Some type of chipmunk.

Steller's Jay