Thursday, January 27, 2011

Chasing a Second State Record

Over the past few weeks, I have been so busy that I have not been able to get out birding nearly as much as I would like. My work with Indiana Audubon Society has been consuming a lot of time as has working at Wild Birds Unlimited. While I was at our January board meeting for IAS, I saw a report on our state list-serv that a Slaty-backed Gull that had been seen in December had been re-found. I got a call from a friend hoping that I would be able to chase it with him the next day. Since that was not possible, I figured that I would again miss out on this bird.

I looked at my schedule and realized that I had the time to make a run up to Lake Michigan on Tuesday so I start to put a quick trip together. At 5:45am on Tuesday, my friends Ted Meyer and John Sumner picked me up and we headed up to Logansport to pick up a young birder named Landon Neumann. We finally arrived at the Hammond Marina at 9:30 and immediately headed out on the rocky edge around the Stateline Power Plant. It was quickly evident that there were hundreds if not thousands of waterfowl and hundreds of gulls.

We quickly picked up most of the common lakefront species and then went to work on scanning all the gulls for any sign of the Slaty-backed. As we scanned, some of the waterfowl moved in pretty close and I took a break from scanning to snap some pictures. The main highlight was an adult male White-winged Scoter that suddenly appeared only a few yards from where we were standing.

White-winged Scoter

Canvasback

When I was finished shooting, I went back to scanning. There were tons of gulls but we could not find our main target. Some of the other gulls present were, Glaucous, Herring, Ring-billed, Great Black-backed, Thayer's, and a very cooperative Black-legged Kittiwake.

Black-legged Kittiwake

We were starting to run out of time so we made the decision to move on to one other location to look for our target. We were just about to our next destination when my phone rang. It was lakefront birder John Kendall and he had just gotten word that they Slaty-backed had been located just a few hundred yards from where we had been looking for it from all morning! We hurried back and practically ran down the pier to find the Slaty-backed Gull. As we caught up to the group, everyone had the bird in their scopes and we were quickly able to locate it in ours as well. Although it was far away, we still got great looks. It was a great test for my new Vortex Razor scope that I got for Christmas!

We all enjoyed the bird for about 10 minutes but then we had to start heading home. It was a wonderful day to be in the field and we all had a lot of fun!

-Rob

Sunday, January 2, 2011

New Years Birding

To start the new year off right, Eric and I headed up the Lake Michigan today. Our target was the recently reported Slaty-backed Gull that is a second state record. We left home at 6am and arrived at the Whiting Refinery Beach at about 8:45. Over the next 45 minutes, we watched many gulls and ducks but the Slaty never arrived. We decided to try another location just down the road but again had no luck. Although we were beginning to wonder if the bird was even still in the area, we drove over to another park to the west to try our luck one more time. After another hour of searching, we decided that it just must not be around today. But that is not to say that our trip today was a waste!

On our first three stops described above, we had many new species for the year. It was my first birding trip of 2011, so almost every bird I saw was a year bird! Some of the best birds on our first stops were Thayer's and Glaucous Gulls and a large variety of waterfowl!

As we headed east along the shore, we made a stop at the Port of Indiana. There were lots of ducks in the area but the highlight was a pair of juvenile Black-legged Kittiwakes! We had great scope views, and I was happy to add that species to my Indiana Year List.

After a quick drive through Beverly Shores to look for Northern Shrike (we did not find one), we made our final stop at Washington Park in Michigan City. We were looking for two birds that had been recently reported, and we were not disappointed! The first duck that Eric put his scope on was the Long-tailed Duck that has been hanging out in the harbor. We ran into another birder who told us that he had just seen our other target bird only 10 minutes before we got there, so we hurried over the area in the park where it was seen. We found the bird within 30 seconds of getting out of the car - a Purple Sandpiper has taken up residence inside the protected harbor and is not afraid of people at all. The shots below were taken from a distance of about 15 feet!

Purple Sandpiper

Purple Sandpiper

Overall it was an great day with some awesome birds. I can't wait to see what else this year has in store!
-Rob