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.


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


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.


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.


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!
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!


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.


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!