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!


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.

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.


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?


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?