Saturday, May 29, 2010

IAS Field Trip to Magee Marsh

Last weekend, I led a group of about 40 Indiana Audubon Society members on a trip to Magee Marsh in northeast Ohio. As you already know, our trip started out right with a Kirtland's Warbler on the first day that was seen by almost everyone in attendance! While this was the biggest highlight of the trip, there were many other birds for us to see. We started early the next morning on the boardwalk and got great looks at many species. Some of the highlights for the morning were both Black-billed and Yellow-billed Cuckoo, and Connecticut, Mourning, and Canada Warblers. Unfortunately the Connecticut was not seen by everyone and was missed by a couple of people who have been looking for one for a very long time!

After lunch, we headed out to Metzger Marsh to try our luck with some marsh birds. Right as we started driving down the dike there were many cars stopped. We decided to pull in and see what they were looking for. Just as they were telling us that they had seen one of the recently reported Yellow-headed Blackbirds, I saw one fly across the road and completely disappear. While we never were able to see it again, we did see both and adult and immature Black-crowned Night-Heron and an American Bittern. As we continued down the dike, we saw a few Common Moorhens.

After parking at the end, we scanned the beach and found about ten Ruddy Turnstones with one Dunlin. We took one more hike around the boardwalk at Magee without many new highlights and then headed to dinner and some much needed rest.

We started off early on Sunday morning at the boardwalk but the birding was definitely slower than it had been the last two days. We managed to find a couple of nice flocks of warblers. The birding was slow all day but everyone enjoyed the great weather and wonderful company!

On Monday, most of the group decided to head to a park outside of Toledo called Oak Openings to try for a few grassland species. I choose to take a group out on the boardwalk again. I was another great morning to be out but, the birding was still slow. We managed to add two species to the trip list, Northern Harrier and Acadian Flycatcher! We started making our way home in the early afternoon.

It was a great trip with fantastic participants. We ended up seeing 158 species over the 4 days we were there! We have made many changes at Indiana Audubon recently and it seems to be making a big difference. People are excited and talking about where we will plan the next trip to already!


Thursday, May 27, 2010

Birding the Badlands

Greetings from Medora, ND

After birding the eastern part of North Dakota a few days ago, I drove to the western part of the state to continue doing bird surveys. I had planned on only spending a few days in Theodore Roosevelt National Park but due to some bad weather I have had to spend more time than I expected.

The Badlands at sunset.

The campground in the park is in a riparian corridor along the Missouri River with tall stands of cottonwoods dominating the landscape. This, of course, leads to many bird species. Just while sitting at camp reading birds such as Tennessee and Blackpoll Warblers, Black-headed Grosbeak, and Bullock's Oriole have passed by allowing close views. One morning I even had a Chipping Sparrow hiding under my rain fly of my tent. The rest of the park is much drier and has a much different slate of birds. Say's Phoebe, Rock Wren, and Golden Eagle have been the highlights in these other areas. The wildlife is also abundunt with many Elk, Bison, wild horses, and Priarie Dogs.

The Badlands.
I also chanced upon a Sharp-tailed Grouse lek as I was heading to a transect. As I came over a hill a Ferruginous Hawk glided over and flushed all of the grouse. After realizing they weren't in too much danger the grouse continued their courtship displays.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

North Dakota Migration

Greetings from Bismarck, ND

With a few days off from doing bird surveys, I decided to stay in the eastern part of the state and see if I could catch any eastern warblers in Fargo, ND. After hearing reports of some days of almost 20 warblers I was expecting a great day. I decided to start at a location along the Red River called Forest River. This park used to be a neighborhood but the amount of flooding from the river ended the hopes of a neighborhood in this location. Now the entire area is natural with a mixture of ornamental plantings from the nonexistent neighborhood. I wasn't sure exactly where it was but I quickly found the spot. After a short period I came across a small flock that contained Magnolia and Bay-breasted Warblers. While searching this small flock I ran into a local Fargo birder and we continued on without many highlights other than a great look at a Yellow-bellied Flycatcher.

Yellow-headed Blackbird-one of the common sightings in the marshes of North Dakota.

After a little while we ran into two more birders from Fargo. I had come to this spot because of their posts on the ND listserv so it was nice to put faces with the names. After talking about some local birding spots, I learned that the the sewage lagoons, a place I was planning on visiting, is not accessible without a key. And even if you happen to have a key you don't really have permission to be on the property. Luckily, Keith, one of the other birders, had spare keys that he offered so I would be able to bird the property. However it didn't come to that because, Bob, the other birder from Fargo, decided to check out the lagoons.

Buff-breasted Sandpiper-one of the awesome shorebirds that can be found migrating through North Dakota.

When we arrived at the lagoons it was a bit dissapointing finding the mudflats mostly devoid of birds. On the drive in we had 3 Sanderlings and after a little searching of the mudflats of one cell and the mud edges of another cell we were able to find a couple highlights. These included Red-necked Phalarope and Hudsonian Godwit. After getting many tips on birding locations to visit farther in the central part of the state, I started heading west.

Today was very dissapointing due to 40 mph wind gusts which created very difficult birding conditions especially when looking for grassland sparrows and Sprague's Pipits. I changed my plans and just searched for shorebirds and waterfowl instead. With some effort I was able to find 2 Buff-breasted Sandpipers that allowed great scope views. A little while later I had a Clark's Grebe that allowed great looks for as long as I wanted to watch. The grebe was so uninterested in me that it slept for almost the whole time I was there.

One of these is not the same-Can you tell what two species are in this photo?

I ended the windy day at a site that has breeding Red-necked Grebes every year. I was not dissapointed and was able to get good scope views of one bird. In the same marsh as the Red-necked Grebe I also had many other species of breeding waterfowl along with Sedge and Marsh Wrens.

Black Tern-one of my favorite birds that inhabit the marshes of North Dakota.


Friday, May 21, 2010

Awesome First Day at Magee

Today was the first day of the Indiana Audubon Society trip to Magee Marsh in northwest Ohio. A few people arrived the day before the trip officially started and ended up having to brave the rain in order to get any birding in at all. Although the rain kept many of the birds from singing, we still had 23 species of warbler and over 100 species on the day. After having lunch at Maumee Bay State Park, we took a walk along their boardwalk and happened upon quite a sight!

There was a juvenile Eastern Screech-Owl sitting in a tree near a nesting box. As we approached, it fell out of the tree and gently landed in the leaves below. We watched as it climbed back up the tree to safety. When we got closer, we realized that we had been under the watchful eye of both of its parents. Not only did we get to see 3 screech-owls, but the adults represented both the gray and rufous morphs!

As we finished up there, I got a call from a very excited birder. There was a Kirtland's Warbler at Magee Marsh. As we sped over there, I hoped that the whole group would be able to see the bird. We arrived at the site and within minutes we saw it! Over the next half hour, the whole group was able to view the Kirtland's! It came within 3 or 4 feet of me while feeding and I was able to get head shots with my 400mm lens. It was one of the most exciting time I have ever had while birding!

Two shots are below. The first one is one of the head shots that I took. The second one was taken by my wife as the Kirtland's seemed to study her from a bush only feet away.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Birding in the Dakotas

Greetings from Lisbon, ND

Just some random comments and pics from North Dakota.

I'd rather be the Cattle Egret than the frog-this was taken in some random field in southeast South Dakota while driving to Sheyenne National Grassland.

Blue-winged Teal nest-You'd never know it was there until the explosion of feathers comes up from your feet.
American Coot nest (I believe)-the reward for wading through water that is almost waist deep.

A closer look at the American Coot nest.

American Bittern- standing a few hundred feet off the highway next to a gravel road.

I've been in Sheyenne National Grassland for 2 days and have had well over 30 American Bitterns, 50 Soras, and hundreds of breeding ducks. I was also lucky enough to see a Yellow Rail.

While waiting for the library to open in Lisbon today I went to the city park. I had 9 warblers and 3 vireos, nothing like the migration in Indiana but it was still nice to see Magnolia and Blackpoll Warblers at eye level.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

South Dakota Bird Surveys

Greetings from Pierre, SD

I have been in South Dakota for just over a week and have had some exciting birds while training in the Black Hills and once I moved east to start my surveys in Fort Pierre National Grassland.

The library is about to close, so I will leave you with some pics from the first week.

Western Grebe-seen from our campsite in Pierre, SD. We were able to watch them doing their "dolphin dives" into the water.

Harris's Sparrow-One of the more beautiful sparrows, this one is just a migrant.

Marsh Wren-Only about 100 feet from our campsite we were able to watch many Marsh Wrens building their intricately woven nests.

One of the other field techs thought it would be funny if he wrote My Mom's on the truck I brought out. I thought it was kind of funny too, so I left it. Your vehicle gets dirty when doing field work.

Friday, May 14, 2010

An Amazing Two Days

The past two days have finally brought migrants into central Indiana. They have arrived by the hundreds delighting all birders that have had a chance to get out during the middle of the week.

On Thursday, I went to Cool Creek Park for a little over an hour before heading into work. I have never seen the park so alive with birds! In my short time in the park, I had 21 species of warblers including 3 Canadas, 2 Black-throated Blues and my first Mourning Warbler of the year! I ended the morning with 61 species and definitely could have gotten many more with a little more time.

This morning I headed out to Eagle Creek feeling that it could be a great day for birding. I was not disappointed! After a slow start, the marina quickly picked up and warblers were everywhere. A major highlight was beautiful male Golden-winged Warbler that sang for much of the time that I was at the marina. As we continued to sort through the flock, a Yellow-bellied Flycatcher appeared. This is quite early for this species and everyone was very excited. Just as I was about to move on to another area of the park, an Alder Flycatcher started singing. This was a new year bird for me.

Our next stop was the skating pond. We had amazing looks at a Mourning Warbler preening in some bare branches and also added Black-throated Blue and Canada Warblers for the day. My last new year bird was a Lincoln's Sparrow. This is number 235 on the year! I finished the day with 28 species of warblers and 105 species in the park!

Monday, May 10, 2010

A Cold, Windy May Bird Count

It seems that the weather never quite cooperates for our May Bird Count and this year was no exception. As we got out of the car at Ritchey Woods to start our day, it was about 45 degrees outside with a 20-25mph wind with gusts up to 35mph. As most of you know, those are not great birding conditions. Our first bird of the day was a beautiful Baltimore Oriole perched in a bare tree right at the trail head.

We struggled to find warblers in the wind but we ended up with 13 species. The only new year bird that I found at Ritchey was a single Willow Flycatcher that called only once! This was number 221 for the year in Indiana for me.

Next we headed over to a site where Lark Sparrows had been reported recently. I was lucky to see the Lark Sparrow for about 20 seconds before it disappeared in the weeds never to show back up for the rest of the group. We also had our only Great Egret of the day here.

After another quick stop with nothing of note, we headed back to Cool Creek for lunch and a tally from all of the teams that had gone out. Even with all of the wind, the group found 126 species and finished within 5 of the record. It was a great morning out birding despite the weather and everyone had a great time!

Friday, May 7, 2010

Warblers, Warblers, Warblers

The warblers have finally started pouring through Indiana this spring. Many of the species are more than a week behind their normal schedules but have now started coming through. There are also a few species that are arriving a little earlier than normal, it is an interesting spring. This morning at Eagle Creek Park in Indianapolis, Indiana we saw a Golden-winged, Black-throated Blue, and Canada Warblers in the same loose flock of warblers. All three of these species are uncommon migrants in central Indiana. We were also lucky enough to get great looks at other warblers such as Blackburnian, Magnolia, Chestnut-sided, Blackpoll, and Wilson's.

Here are some warbler pictures to get ready for the full onslaught of warblers and other neotropical migrants.

Louisiana Waterthrush-one of the few warblers that isn't colorful

Prairie Warbler

Blue-winged Warbler-singing his "bee-buzz" song

Yellow Warbler-one of the most common warblers in Indiana

Prothonotary Warbler-one of the most beautiful warblers

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

IAS Spring Festival

This past weekend, I attended the IAS Spring Festival at Mary Gray Bird Sanctuary for the first time ever. I arrived on Friday afternoon and quickly got to work helping set everything up. After a short board meeting and a little birding, Ross Brittian started his presentation on the owls of Indiana. Once he finished up, we went outside to try to catch some Eastern Screech-Owls. While we did hear them call once or twice, none of them ended up in our nets.

The next morning I was going to be leading a bird hike on the property but when I woke up to thunderstorms at 4am, I began to wonder if my hike would happen. We decided to give it a try in the rain. It was slow for the first 2 hours but then the rain stopped and the amount of birds quickly picked up! We ended the day with 69 species including 15 warblers.

My hike was set to go out again at 7am on Sunday but we were again threatened by rain. This time we were even luckier and the rain stopped just as the hike started. Although this hike was much shorter, we found 57 species including 14 warblers and 2 year birds for me, Acadian Flycatcher and Yellow-breasted Chat.

It was a very successful weekend. The event was attended by about 45 adults and over 24 kids. Hopefully we can continue to make this event bigger and better. Now on to our Fall Festival at McCormick's State Park!

Sunday, May 2, 2010

A Quick Trip to Florida!

My wife Stephanie and I recently decided that we needed a vacation and took a long weekend trip to Florida. While birding was not indended to be our main purpose for the trip, we spent the majority of our time hitting our favorite birding spots and even managed to squeeze in a tour of STA-5. Below are some of our favorite photos from the trip with a short description of each one!

This Yellow-crowned Night-Heron was feeding right along the Wildlife Drive at 'Ding' Darling NWR on Sanibel Island.

This Willet showed no fear as I photographed it along the beach at Lover's Key State Park.

Another photo from Lover's Key. This White Ibis was actively feeding along the beach for the better part of an hour.

Steph found this snake as we were hiking in the Bailey Tract of Ding Darling. We believe it is some species of Racer.

One of only three lifers on this trip, this Shiny Cowbird was hanging out at the feeder next to the visitor center at Corkscrew Sanctuary.

This Sandwich Tern was fishing just off the beach at Lover's Key. It was so much fun to watch them dive in for a fish!

One of the many beautiful flowers that can be found at Corkscrew.

The Magnificent Frigatebird is one of my favorite birds in southern Florida. This female flew low over our heads at Lover's Key.

This juvenile Little Blue Heron was seen at Ding Darling. You can find pretty much every species of wading bird that can be found in Florida within this amazing refuge!

This Great Egret was hunting lizards in the grassy areas next to the Wildlife Drive at Ding Darling. You can tell that this individual is in full breeding plumage by the green lores!

I saved my favorite shot for last. I spent a long time photographing this Anhinga as he sunned himself at Ding Darling. Even with the numerous cars that stopped to check him out, he never budged!