Sunday, December 25, 2011

Calliope Hummingbird for Christmas

Yesterday, Eric and I headed down to southern Indiana looking for a reported Calliope Hummingbird. We found the house that it was visiting and were warmly welcomed into the backyard by the homeowners even though they were celebrating Christmas with their family. This bird is a first state record and quite a Christmas present for us Nutty Birders!


Calliope Hummingbird

Calliope Hummingbird

Calliope Hummingbird
 Merry Christmas from the Nutty Birders!

-Rob

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Lower Rio Grande Valley


Somehow this story starts in Washington DC of all places.  Over the summer my brothers and I went to DC, after having a flight cancellation and still landing in Indy earlier than our original flight would have landed, the airline gave us free flights.  Originally, I looked at all the places the airline flew, so Jamaica became the destination of choice but that fell through.  At least the lower Rio Grande Valley is a nice consolation.  So we will be heading to Texas with our friend, Chad, on January 1st.  Some of the rare birds around right now include Golden-crowned Warbler, Black-vented Oriole, Brown Jay, Crimson-collared Grosbeak, and Rose-throated Becard.  And of course there are always plenty of chachalacas, Buff-bellied Hummingbirds, Green Jays, and Great Kiskadees to watch.

Greater Roadrunner at Laguna Atascosa NWR, TX
Green Jay after a downpour along the Rio Grande.
Eric

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Say's Phoebe

After a busy semester that didn't include much birding, I figured it was the right time for the chasing of a rare bird. Over the past few weeks a Say's Phoebe had been a loyal resident of a reclaimed strip mine, now Chinook Fish and Wildlife Area, in western Indiana. Even though I see this species almost daily during the summer, I had never seen it in Indiana so the chase was on. There have only been 5 other documented reports of this phoebe in Indiana and most of the others have not been chasable. Rob had not been out to Chinook yet either so we met up and drove the rest of the way out there. Over the first few hours the bird was no where to be seen but we did have Northern Harriers, Rough-legged Hawks, plenty of Tails (Red-tailed Hawks), and a few other species. Overall, it was quiet and we started to figure the bird had taken off with the front that had moved through the day before. Luckily, as we started to leave the bird swooped in front of our car and landed on the fence it had been using for the past few weeks. It was fairly cooperative and we were able to get some decent pics of this rare Indiana visitor.



Eric

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Wonderful World of Christmas Bird Counts

This past week started the fun and exciting Christmas Bird Count (CBC) season. For those of you that are unfamiliar with Christmas Bird Counts, the counts were started on Christmas Day in 1900. Prior to this time, people participated in side hunts in which hunters chose sides and whichever team brought back more birds and mammals won. Frank Chapman, an ornithologist, suggested that people participate in a Christmas Bird Census. Thus, the Christmas Bird Counts were born. The counts were conducted in only 27 locations in the first year, but the count has grown to be conducted in over 1,800 locations around the world! Participants cover a 15 mile diameter circle counting all of the individual birds that they can possibly find.

I have been involved with CBCs for almost as long as I have been birding. Some of my earliest birding memories come from the Hamilton County CBC in central Indiana. The compiler was actually the leader of the first bird hike my mom ever went on, and it wasn't long before he had all of us out participating in the count. It has become one of the birding events that I look most forward to each year. One of my favorite things about the CBCs is that you can participate in multiple counts without even having to travel very far from your home. I regularly participate in three or four counts but could easily do more than five if I had more time.

On December 14th, the first day that counts could officially begin, I travelled to Linton, Indiana to participate in the Goose Pond CBC. My designated area needed a lot of additional coverage, so I recruited a big group of birders to help out.  This group included two young birders that are involved with the Indiana Young Birders Club and Chad Williams of Birding! A Growing Obsession! All of our days started off a little slow in our units, but both of the young birders picked up a few lifers. The best bird in my unit was a single Wilson's Snipe that we accidentally flushed while walking on the dike.

After meeting up with all of the other participants for lunch and tallying the morning results (we had 102 species), we headed out to hunt down some of the missing species. While looking around Main Pool West, I got a call from a friend asking us to come over and confirm his group's sighting of some Brewer's Blackbirds. We hurried over and found at least three Brewer's with tons of Red-winged Blackbirds and a few Rusties. Overall we had a great day, and it looks like the count ended up with 107 species and will most likely be the highest count in the state!

Rusty Blackbird
Over the weekend, I participated in another count on the east side of Indianapolis, but this count was completely different for me. For the second year in a row, a class was offered for Boy Scouts to earn a birding merit badge. We had 25 boys sign up and another 60 on a waiting list! Everyone had a great time and successfully earned their badge. We had 23 species with the scouts, and the count overall had a total of 50 species by lunch.

Where will you be participating in CBCs this year?

-Rob

Monday, December 5, 2011

The Snowy Owl Irruption of 2011

On December 1, a birder found a Snowy Owl on the eastside of Indianapolis at the Mount Comfort Airport. This owl is part of a major irruption of Snowy Owls this winter. The owls are not escaping the cold weather of the far north nor are they fleeing a snowstorm; rather, they are here in search of food. Normally during irruptions, the owls come south when the population of lemmings crashes but this is an unusual year. Due to an abundance of lemmings during the breeding season, there are an excess of young Snowy Owls. This abundance of owls has created a shortage of food and the young birds must come south in order to survive the winter.

Even though Snowy Owls come south on a regular basis, the irruption this year is extremely impressive. There are reports that over 100 are present in Wisconsin alone! Check out this map from eBird. Remember, this does not include all records, as none of the Indiana birds are on this map at this point. Pretty impressive so far!

Unfortunately for the owls, coming this far south means that they are in a dire situation. They are mostly starving when they arrive and need to find food quickly. They are also not used to vehicles and often end up dying from collisions. If you find a Snowy Owl (or any other bird) that is in need of help, please contact a licensed wildlife rehaber. If you do not know a rehaber, a local park or Wild Birds Unlimited should be able to point you in the right direction. Do not try to help the bird yourself, as you could end up hurting both yourself and the bird.

As for the Snowy at the Mount Comfort Airport, it seems to be doing pretty well. It has been observed hunting, although no one has seen it catch anything that I know of. I expect that rodent populations are high in the area because Northern Harriers and Short-eared Owls regularly winter near the airport, and rodents tend to make up a large portion of their food source, too. Hopefully it will survive the winter and head back to the Arctic for a successful breeding season next summer.

Snowy Owl

Snowy Owl
Have you found any Snowy Owls or other rare visitors this winter?

-Rob

Monday, November 28, 2011

Birding in the Indianapolis Star

Last week I received a phone call from a reporter with the Indianapolis Star. It turned out that he was doing an article on Christmas Bird Counts and competitive birding and someone had recommended that he talk to me about competitive birding. As excited as I was to talk with him and have a story about birding appear in the paper, I have to admit that I was a little hesitant at first mainly based on some horror stories that I had heard from birders about being completely miss quoted by reporters. I decided to be interview anyway and I am very glad I did. The article turned out great and I was very pleased with the section that included my interview.

Check it out here! http://www.indystar.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=2011111280317

Do any of you have any highlights from your competitive birding experiences?

-Rob

Monday, November 21, 2011

Satisfying a Birding Craving!

I have unfortunately not been able to get out birding nearly as often as I would like recently. Since I work for Wild Birds Unlimited and our busiest season is Christmas, my hours there have started to increase a lot. When not working, I have been putting together various programs, including one that I presented last week to a class of kindergartners. That was quite an experience but it is always fun to expose young people to birds although I'm not sure that kids that young will remember much of what I said.

Luckily, I was able to sneak away and go birding at Eagle Creek on Sunday morning and my wife was free so she came along as well. The best birds of the day were all found right after we got out of the car at the first stop. Within a couple minutes, I heard a few flyover Pine Siskins and was shocked when I heard a Common Redpoll flyover. Then, we noticed a Snow Goose mixed in with the hundreds of Canada Geese. When all of the geese started to leave the lake to feed for the day, we found a group of 3 white geese in flight that ended up being two Snow and one distinctly smaller Ross's. We ended up meeting up with our friends Katie, Steve, and Mary Lou at our first stop and spent the morning birding with them. Other than a huge increase in the number of waterfowl, especially Bufflehead, there were not very many birds to be found.

Bufflehead in Flight
Hopefully this will help to satisfy my craving to go birding for awhile because I will not be able to go out again until sometime next week.

-Rob

Sunday, November 13, 2011

More From Florida

On Thursday, Stephanie and I decided to head back to the coast for another day of birding. I remembered hearing about a place called Viera Wetlands and I thought it was right around the Canaveral area. Luckily, I had remembered correctly and it was only a short distance south of Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge.

Ritch Grissom Memorial Wetlands, better known to birders as Viera Wetlands, is a 200 acre wetland that is part of the Brevard County water reuse system. Not only do the wetlands make for awesome birding, they help to clean the water for use in irrigation. On our first pass through the property, it was evident that it hosts tons of wading birds. The lighting was not great for photography but we did manage a few nice shots!
 
Glossy Ibis
Snowy Egret by Stephanie Ripma
On our second loop around the property, we noticed a lot more ducks, coots, and Common Gallinules. One of the most interesting ducks was a Blue-winged Teal that was in a transitional plumage. You can see the white crescent starting to show on the head.

Blue-winged Teal by Stephanie Ripma

Common Gallinule by Stephanie Ripma
Since we had finished birding the property by noon, we decided to spend the afternoon at Merritt Island NWR. We made a quick loop around the wildlife drive but only found the expected species. Since there were not many birds around, we moved on to the beach at Canaveral National Seashore. We drove several miles down the beach to one of the parking areas and set up the scope atop one of the walkways over the dunes. Just like on Tuesday, there were tons of Northern Gannets  out over the ocean. Closer to shore, many Royal Terns were present and allowed us to get some decent photos.

Royal Tern
We moved even farther down the beach and setup the scope again. As I was watching more gannets pass by, Steph noticed a large dark bird out over the water. It was our only Magnificent Frigatebird of the trip!

Magnificent Frigatebird
I really enjoyed birding on the east coast of Florida much more than I anticipated and Merritt Island NWR has become one of my favorite refuges that I have ever visited. I hope to come back to visit the area soon and maybe attend the Space Coast Birding and Wildlife Festival!

-Rob

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Merritt Island NWR

Stephanie and I spent the last six days in Orlando visiting Disney World. Although we spent most of our time in the theme parks, we did head over to the coast to do some birding at Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge.

It takes about an hour to get from Orlando out to the coast and we arrived at the refuge just after 9 on Tuesday morning. Our first stop was at the Visitor Center where I was pleasantly surprised to find one of the most knowledgeable volunteers that I have ever run into at a refuge. He knew about the birds at the property and gave us lots of great tips for birding the area. 

We set out for our first stop, the Black Point Wildlife Drive. One of the most common birds on the entire refuge was the Pied-billed Grebe. They were not afraid of people and I was able to get some of my best pictures of this species that I have ever taken.

Pied-billed Grebe

As you would expect with any coastal wildlife refuge in Florida, the waders were the real stars of the show! Everywhere you looked, there were more herons and egrets to look at including some of my favorites that I rarely get to see such as Reddish Egret and Tricolored Heron. We were also able to get some nice pictures of a Green Heron!

Tricolored Heron
Green Heron by Stephanie Ripma
When we were finished with the drive, we headed over to a boat ramp that is known for easy sightings of West Indian Manatee. We again were not disappointed! There were at least 8 manatees and possibly as many as 12! As fun as it was to watch them, they do not make very interested subjects to photograph so we moved on to the Canaveral National Seashore beaches to look for shorebirds and seabirds.

We were very excited to find the beach loaded with birds. The most numerous were Laughing Gulls. Stephanie had a great time photographing both the gulls and the shorebirds and ended up with quite a few awesome shots!

Laughing Gull by Stephanie Ripma

Ruddy Turnstone by Stephanie Ripma
While she was busy on the beach taking photos, I was scanning the ocean from a raised platform looking for any and all seabirds that I could find. Being a landlocked Midwesterner, it was amazing to watch tons of Northern Gannets moving offshore! I really like to study the birds that I am seeing in order to help me identify them move quickly and with more accuracy the next time I see the species. The gannets cooperated nicely with a number of different ages present with plumages varying from the dark juveniles to the white adults. Some were even sitting on the water allowing for even better study!
Adult Northern Gannet
While watching the gannets, I had two Parasitic Jaegers flyby as well as a group of three shearwaters that were too far out for me to identify.

Our last stop of the day was at Scrub Ridge Trail in search of Florida Scrub-Jays. I was expecting a nice leisurely walk photographing a bunch of jays. Man was I wrong. It was evident the second we stepped out of the car that the mosquitoes were going to be a major issue. Stephanie was only out of the car for about three minutes but ended up with about 20 bites all over her arms and legs. While she waited in the car, I decided to have a quick look around and try for some jays. I was only able to find two jays and they were just flyovers that did not allow for any photos. The highlight of my walk was a Gopher Tortoise right on the path!

Gopher Tortoise
We ended up with over 90 species of birds on the day and had a great time exploring a refuge that I had never visited before!

-Rob

Friday, November 4, 2011

Deer vs Car ... It's That Time of Year Again

Last Saturday as I was driving to Eagle Creek to meet up with some birders that are new to the area, I had a little accident. As I was driving down the road, I was suddenly struck by something on the drivers side of my car. It turns out that a deer actually ran into the side of my car! It must have jumped at the last second since its front hooves landed on my hood and one of them actually left a hoof print on the hood!

The deer actually ended up running off but my car did not come out unscathed. There is actually $3,200 in damage and it will take over a week to fix once the shop gets the parts in. Luckily we have good insurance!




Tomorrow my wife and I will be participating in the Ohio Young Birders Club Conference in Columbus, Ohio. I can't wait to hear all of the wonderful presentations that the young birders have put together!

-Rob


Thursday, October 27, 2011

Rusty Blackbirds: Species Profile

Yesterday while I was birding at the Skating Pond at Eagle Creek Park, I came across a flock of 15 Rusty Blackbirds. Rusties are one of my favorite blackbird species but I don't get to see them all that often. Rusty Blackbirds are one of the most rapidly declining species in North America with studies showing declines anywhere between 85 and 99 percent over the last 50 years. One of the strangest things is that no one seems to be sure why this species is in such step decline.
Rusty Blackbirds favor wet areas such as marshes and the edges of ponds which makes the Skating Pond an amazing to see them during late October and early November when they are migrating through the area. Although they are reported in Indiana all winter, they do not hang out at Eagle Creek once the water freezes.

One of the most interesting aspects of the Rusty Blackbird has to do with its molt. they undergo only one molt per year. This means the rusty coloration that we see at this time of year is not molted, rather it is worn away over the winter and the males are jet black and the females are mostly gray by the time breeding season comes along.

Rusty Blackbird in Nonbreeding Plumage
If you are here in central Indiana, be on the lookout for some Rusty Blackbirds over the next few weeks and again in March. If not, you can learn more about when they will be in your area by using the eBird map that you can find here.


-Rob

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

A Few Minutes with a LeConte's Sparrow

This morning while at Eagle Creek Park, I decided to bird in the south fields to see what sparrows might be on the move. I had run into a couple of relatively new birders at the skating pond and they decided to join me. It started off a little slow but after about 10 minutes, I heard a chip note that I was not familiar with. One of the other birds pointed out at bird perched up in the open about 30 feet in front of us. I was shocked when I put my binoculars on it and it was a LeConte's Sparrow! It sat there for a long time and allowed me to get some nice shots!
LeConte's Sparrow

LeConte's Sparrow

-Rob


Monday, October 17, 2011

Flicker Bath - Bird Photography Weekly

On Sunday, I got to bird at Eagle Creek for a few hours with Eric. He was in town for a 2012 planning meeting for the Indiana Young Birders Club but I will post more on that later.

There were lots of good birds around the park including my first Rusty Blackbird of the fall! One of my favorite parts of the day was watching a pair of Northern Flickers bathing in a small pond. I was able to get some decent photos even though the birds were pretty far away.



-Rob

Monday, October 10, 2011

Bird Banding in Biology of Birds Class

Last Friday my Biology of Birds class went out to Kent Farm, in the forests outside of Bloomington. We have gone out birding on a couple of previous field trips but we were set to band birds on the last one. We weren't disappointed as we were able to catch lots of birds including some nice migrants. We ended up catching Nashville and Yellow-rumped Warblers, White-eyed Vireo, Swainson's Thrush, White-throated Sparrows, Eastern Phoebe, as well as many common species such as Carolina Chickadee and Northern Cardinal.



Brown Thrasher-It's really nice to see birds up close because you can get a much better sense of the sizes of all the birds.



-Eric

A Morning of Birding on the Gulf Coast

This past weekend, my wife and I along with my in-laws drove down to Panama City Beach for a family wedding. Stephanie and I were able to sneak away for a morning and go birding at St. Andrew's State Park. we arrived at 7:30am and found that the park does not open until 8 which I found funny since they have a campground and people are in the park all night.

We decided to find a place to park with public beach access so that we could try to photograph some shorebirds and gulls. There wasn't much moving on the beach other than Sanderlings and Laughing Gulls. Luckily, one of the Sanderlings was very friendly and let me get some great shots!
Sanderling
Sanderling
Sanderling
After taking some pictures, we headed back to the park. The birding was very slow but the park was beautiful and contained habitats that I rarely get to bird in. The first interesting bird for me was a small flock of Brown-headed Nuthatches. I spend very little time in the southeastern part of the United States so I hardly ever get to see this species.

We hiked around Alligator Pond hoping to get some herons and egrets but there were very few to be found. We did find one alligator thought!

American Alligator
Butterflies are what really kept the morning interesting. They were everywhere! I did not mange many photos as it was very windy but the sheer number of individuals was amazing. This is one of the only decent photos that I got, a Gulf Fritillary.

Gull Fritillary
Overall, it was a really cool park that I will definitely visit again if I am in the Panama City Beach area!

-Rob

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

A First for Eagle Creek Park

While I was away over the weekend a rare bird was found at Eagle Creek Park close to my home in central Indiana. This seems to be the way it always goes. I go away to an event for a few days and something great shows up and I have to hope it sticks around long enough for me to see it! Two years ago the first state record of Green Violet-ear showed up while I was away at a festival but that would have been a long drive even from home. To actually have a rarity show up in a park that I bird in multiple times a weeks is a whole different story.
On Saturday morning, while at the Indiana Audubon Fall Festival, I was checking my emails and found that a birder had found a jaeger at Eagle Creek that they believed to be a Parasitic. After just a few minutes I got a text from a friend of mine letting me know that he was looking at the jaeger and he was pretty sure it was actually a Long-tailed! Now here in central Indiana, any jaeger is a good jaeger but a Long-tailed is an incredibly awesome find. I was left to hope that it would stick around until late Sunday afternoon when I would have a chance to go look for it.

We arrived at Eagle Creek around 4pm on Sunday and saw the bird within about 30 seconds! I had seen only one Long-tailed previously on Lake Michigan but you never get close views there so having one on the reservoir is a real treat! The scope views were awesome but I was not able to get any photos since we were looking almost directly into the sun.

I had to work on both Monday and Tuesday but was able to sneak away out to Eagle Creek this morning to look for the bird again. When I arrived, it was not in sight but soon flew in from the north. I got a few terrible photos with my camera and a few more with my phone held up to my scope. After seeing these photos, I really think I need to get an adapter to attach my DSLR to my scope!


Long-tailed Jaeger in Flight With Camera


Long-tailed Jaeger in Flight with Camera


Long-tailed Jaeger on the Water through my Scope


Long-tailed Jaeger on the Water through my Scope

The bird is still out there as of this afternoon. If you have a chance to get out to Eagle Creek you definitely should look for the jaeger. It's only the second inland record for Indiana and you rarely get this close a view when they are seen at the lakefront.

-Rob

Monday, October 3, 2011

IAS Fall Festival and the Amazing Kaufmans!

This past weekend was the Indiana Audubon Society Fall Festival at Pokagon State Park in northeast Indiana. The festival was kicked off by an fun and entertaining program by Foster Brown and Mark Szabo. All of the young birders in the room, and those young at heart were dancing and singing along and having a great time! Afterward a few people hung out in one of the hotel lounges and got to know each other better. At about 10, our keynote speaker and his wife arrived. We were all lucky to get to spend a couple hours  talking with the celebrity couple of birding Kenn and Kim Kaufman!

The alarm went off early the next morning in order for me to make it to meet up with the group that Jim Haw and I would lead on a tour of Pigeon River FWA. It was a very cold start to the day with the thermometer in my car showing 37 degrees! At our first stop, there were a few Sandhill Cranes on the ground and flying around but that was about the only highlight. We barely fit all of the cars into the parking lot at the next stop but the last car squeezed in and we were on our way in the woods. Unfortunately, the birds did not get the message the we were looking for them. Even the few that we heard refused to show themselves!

We decided to abandon this location but on the way back to the cars, some of the group got to see a Ruby-crowned Kinglet moving through some dense shrubs. We were on to our next stop, a small marsh hosts the only known nesting Common Gallinules on the property. We found one gallinule but the highlight of this stop was the flyover Pine Siskin! It was the first siskin reported in the state this fall. The rest of the stops yielded nothing of note.

We had a great slate of afternoon presenters that was capped off by Kim talking about the how to make a successful young birders club! Everyone left that talk feeling very inspired to help make the IYBC succeed!

The culmination of the day was a fantastic buffet dinner and a phenomenal keynote speech by Kenn Kaufman. Kenn's ability to weave the stories of his birding adventures and historical lessons is incredible!

After Kenn's talk, all of the young birders surprised the Kaufmans with some handmade bird shirts! The kids did their research because Kenn got his favorite bird, a Western Kingbird. The kids had another surprise up their sleeves and they presented Kenn with a copy of his field guide that they had all signed!

After field trips the next morning, we came back to Pokagan to hear Don Gorney speak about the Lights Out Indy program and then there was a short book signing with Kenn and Joel Greenberg. We enjoyed hanging out with the Kaufman for a little while longer but then it was time to head home.


Stephanie and I with Kenn and Kim Kaufmann

Everyone has been raving about what an awesome festival it was this year! The Kaufmans made this a very special festival especially for those of us that are involved with the Indiana Young Birders Club! Thank you Kenn and Kim for everything you do to promote birds and conservation!

Thursday, September 29, 2011

L.I.F.T. Foundation Launches Website

You all may remember that last year for the first time ever, I went into schools to work with elementary school children on bird identification. I had never imaged that I would work with kids on any level and to be honest, I was pretty worried about going in on the first day. It turns out that working in schools is pretty awesome especially when you are working with kids who have never been able to go explore the outdoors. Adults may enjoy the beauty of birds but they rarely exhibit the excitement and amazement that kids do.

This has pushed me to work with more and more schools and I will actually be going into my fourth different school in the last 12 months. This all started with a simple conversation with a customer at work. She happened to mention that she was purchasing bird seed for a school that she taught science lesson at. As we kept talking she told me more about the foundation that she, Susan, and her husband had started and asked if I would be willing to come in and teach the students about birds. As I said above, I was a little worried to go in and work with students but I decided it was a great opportunity and said yes. And I'm glad I did.


Susan with Students

I bring all of this up because the LIFT Foundation has just launched a new website detailing the work that they do in the Pike Township school district. Please check out the site at http://rsklift.org/. They do great work and make a huge difference in the quality of education for hundreds of kids!

-Rob

Monday, September 26, 2011

Bad Weather = Awesome Birding!

Yesterday, on a dark and dreary Sunday morning, I drug myself out of bed to go birding at Eagle Creek Park. It had rained over night and judging by the radar there was more rain on the way but sometime the worst weather leads to the best birds.

The shear volume of birds was evident immediately upon stepping out of the car. For the next two and a half hours, it was pretty much non-stop warblers! My first surprise was a Yellow-throated Warbler. It had been several weeks since I had seen one and even though they are hardier warblers, I thought I might not see another one until the spring.

The warbler of the day for me was a Canada. It was a beautiful first year female that suddenly appeared in front of us while we were sorting through one of the many flocks.

As the warblers were starting to disappear, we got a call from someone that was looking at 4 dark backed gulls on the mudflats at the north end of the park. The whole group hurried over and we found ourselves looking at 4 adult Lesser Back-backed Gulls! As far as I know, this is the most individuals that have ever been seen at once in Indiana!



One of the four Lesser Black-backed Gulls at Eagle Creek

Sunday was definitely one of those very special fall migration days where everything falls into place perfectly! Migrants were on the move, a storm moved through and forced them down, and a ton of birders were there to witness the magical event!

-Rob

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Beginning Birders Overrun with Warblers!

This morning, I led the first of two beginning bird hikes for Zion Nature Center. We are focusing on fall migrants and we were not disappointed today!

I got to Starkey Park in Zionsville a little early and started finding birds immediately! While waiting for people to arrive, I had two Rose-breasted Grosbeaks, several Gray Catbirds, and a Tennessee Warbler. Once I met up with the rest of the group, it took us several minutes to find another flock of birds.

The first warbler we found was an Ovenbird moving through the brush. The Ovenbird led us to a large flock of birds including a Bay-breasted Warbler with tons of bay still visible! We stayed with that flock until all of the birds dissappeared. There were very few birds to look at for the next 20 minutes but then we found the biggest flock of the day! It started out slowly with just one Magnolia Warbler. Then a Least Flycatcher perched up for everyone to study closely. To our surprise, the Least was joined by another flycatcher which turned out to be a Yellow-bellied! It was a lifer for several people! We spent the next 30 minutes in this spot and there was always something to be looking at. We ended up with about 30 individual warblers of eight species just in this small area, mostly in one bush.

There were several other small flocks around the park but the highlight of the hike for me came in the parking lot after many of the participants had already left. At first we spotted only one Broad-winged Hawk. Then the numbers continued to grow until there were over 50 birds in one thermal! It is prime migration time for Broad-wingeds so be sure to keep an eye on the sky over the next few days!

Everyone was able to get great looks at many warblers, flycatchers, and vireos. Be sure to join us next Wednesday at 8am for our last fall migration hike!

-Rob

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Midwest Birding Symposium: Days 3 and 4

After another late night hangout out with people at Hotel Lakeside, we made it out the door at 6:30 and were on the boardwalk at Magee by 7. To avoid the massive group following the tour guides, I took our Indiana Audubon group in from the east entrance to the boardwalk. We found a couple of small flocks during the first hour with the highlights being a very cooperative Philadelphia Vireo and a variety of thrushes including Gray-checked and Veery.

We finally hit a large flock of warblers but they were moving very quickly and I am sure that we missed many species in the mix. We finished our birding on the board walk with 12 species of warblers and 4 vireo species and decided to head over to Ottawa NWR to drive around the auto tour.

There were not nearly as many birds as we had hoped for at Ottawa. Only one area along the whole drive contained shorebird habitat and there were not that many shorebirds in the area. The most interesting one was a Semipalmated Sandpiper that had its breast dyed pink as part of a shorebird study!

The real highlight of the auto tour was photographing the Trumpeter Swans!




We spent the rest of the day listening to awesome presentations including my favorite one of the the weekend by Michael O'Brien. He spoke about the flights calls of birds and how you can identify birds that are migrating overhead at night by their call notes! I will definitely be working on learning more of the flight calls after that presentation!

The evening keynotes were incredible! It started off with Julie Zickafoose telling us about her life as a bird rehaber in southeastern Ohio. Her stories are fantastic and you really must hear her speak sometime. The final keynote of the symposium was by Al Batt. Al is one of the funniest birders that I have ever meet and always has the crowd rolling with laughter.

We enjoyed one more evening sitting on the screened in porch chatting with friends. The next morning, Eric, my mom, and I decided to try out a new birding site, Meadowbrook Marsh. We found some nice flocks of warblers and saw our only Black-crowned Night-Heron of the trip. We also found a pretty cool dragonfly and a very interesting bird's nest.



Common Darner


Nest in a Broken Tree

The Midwest Birding Symposium is an amazing event and I highly recommend that everyone attend in two years back in Lakeside (this event is held every other year)!


-Rob


Monday, September 19, 2011

Midwest Birding Symposium: Days 1 and 2

Almost 1,000 people from the 37 states and multiple foreign countries decended upon Lakeside, OH this past weekend to attend the Midwest Birding Symposium. The event is one of the premier birding festivals in the county and fully lives up to its reputation as the world's friendliest birding festival!There were many well known birders in attendance including my personal favorite, Kenn Kaufman!

It was a great chance to hang out with old friends and meet some new ones! I spent quite a bit of time birding with Kelly Riccetti (Red and the Peanut), Corky (one of Kelly's professors from college that she had not seen since she took his class in the 80s), and Robert Mortensen (Birding is Fun).

On Thursday night, my mom and I went on the sunset cruise that was the kick off event for the symposium. We had a great time meeting new people and enjoying the sunset while we cruised around the Lake Erie Islands!

The Goodtime 1

After getting off the boat, a bunch of us hung out in the lobby of Hotel Lakeside. That is where I got to meet Greg Miller who is featured in the book, The Big Year: A Tale of Man, Nature, and Fowl Obsession , that is being turned into a movie! He will be played by Jack Black! View the trailer here.


Greg Miller and I at Hotel Lakeside

Even though we stayed up way to late, my alarm went off at 5am so that we could make it to Magee Marsh by sunrise. We were even able to convince Kelly, who swore she could not get up before 6:15, to come with us! The birding was a little slow by Magee standards but since Robert is from Utah, he had lots of lifers! He ended up with seven lifers that morning and got his 400th lifer later on during the symposium!

As for me, the highlight of the morning was photographing a flock of 27 Sanderlings on the beach!



I attended presentations for the rest of the day including talks by John Robinson, Mark Garland, Bridget Stutchbury, author of The Private Lives of Birds , and Pete Dunne.


Hoover Auditorium Opening Ceremony

Before the keynote speeches, I was suprised to hear my name called by Bill Thompson III. I had brought the most people to the symposium using a group code. I won a poster signed by all of the speakers at the symposium! I was even more shocked when my name was called a second time during the raffle drawing and I won a huge set of books from Cornell!

Check back tomorrow to hear about the rest of the weekend!

-Rob