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!

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


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.


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!


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!


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!