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 They do great work and make a huge difference in the quality of education for hundreds of kids!


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!


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!


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)!


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!


Monday, September 12, 2011

Birding in Rural Indiana

When one thinks of awesome places to go birding, I doubt they would consider rural north central to be that place. Over the weekend, I co-lead a field trip with Indiana Young Birders Club member Landon Neumann to local birding hotspots in Cass County. While you might not see as many warblers as you would at Eagle Creek Park or as many shorebirds as you would at Goose Pond FWA, it is a fantastic place to spend a day birding.

We went to many places that most Indiana birders have probably never heard of. Our first stop was at the Berry Patch, the local high school's outdoor learning lab and cross-country course. The habitat here is exceptional! Birds were everywhere and the biggest challenge was not finding warblers but identifying them as they moved at light speed through the tops of the trees against a dark and foggy background. Even with those challenges, we had eight species in just an hour of birding.

Next we stopped at France Park, a large county park, just outside of Logansport. There were very few warblers but we got all 6 of the vireos that you can expect in the area including one each of Blue-headed and Philadelphia. After a quick stop at birdless Lake Cicott, we headed to some shorebird spots that Landon had found over the summer. The first is farm field that appears to have some broken drainage tile. It is right along a very busy highway which makes for some interesting birding since the parking is on the shoulder. Since shorebirds in Cass County are few and far between, we were happy to find both Yellowlegs, and Solitary and Pectoral Sandpipers mixed in with all of the Killdeer. Our second shorebird stop was a bust with only one Killdeer present.

We finished the day at the Highway 17 marsh with lots of swallows and our only Green Heron and Pied-billed Grebe of the day.

Hopefully more people will start birding their local parks more frequently. Who knows what birds we are missing out there!


Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Lake Michigan Jaegers

Over the weekend, Chad and Ceth Williams and I headed up to Indiana Dunes State Park to put on a program about birds and birding sponsored by the Indiana Young Birders Club. We had a fantastic turnout with almost 100 people stopping by to make a hummingbird nest, take out id quiz, or watch us band some birds!

While at the lakefront, we couldn't help but stop by Miller Beach, check out my birding guide for this site here, to spend some time conducting a lakewatch! We were not disappointed with our efforts. On our first stop at Miller, we only had about an hour and a half to bird. When we arrived at 7:30am the winds were blowing about 20mph from the north, perfect jaeger conditions. We immediately noticed large groups of teal moving over the lake, mostly Blue-winged. As I scanned, I pickup up a jaeger a ways over the lake. As I watched through the scope and it got closer, I noticed a long streamer tail! My lifer Long-tailed Jaeger! We had one more jaeger in the morning but it went unidentified due to distance.

Other highlights for the morning were, a bunch of Sanderlings on the beach, a flyby Ruddy Turnstone, tons of migrant Common Terns and a few Black Terns.


After our event at Dunes State Park, we returned to Miller Beach to conduct another lakewatch. This time, we were able to add two juvenile Parasitic Jaegers and one more unidentified jaeger to our list. The most interesting bird of the afternoon was an adult Bonaparte's Gull that was in the middle of molting. It still had a fair amount of black on its head and bright red legs! It was accompanied by a juvenile Bonaparte's Gull that allowed for some good photography!

Molting adult Bonaparte's Gull

Juvenile Bonaparte's Gull

Juvenile Bonaparte's Gull

Juvenile Bonaparte's Gull in Flight

Friday, September 2, 2011

A Lack of Warblers at Eagle Creek

For the third time this week, I went out to Eagle Creek to look for shorebirds and warblers. The warblers were a huge disappointment. Most seem to have left the area and some, like Black-and-white, were completely absent when just two days before they had been everywhere!

There were not as many shorebirds left either but I was able to find one Buff-breasted Sandpiper, the second reported from the park this fall! While watching the Buff-breasted, I noticed a Green Heron hunting on the shore just a short way from me. I moved down closer and sat there for a few minutes while he got used to me. It wasn't long before he move in closer and posed beautifully for me!

Green Heron

Green Heron

Now its on to Dunes State Park for an Indiana Young Birders Club event on Sunday!