Sunday, February 26, 2012

Crossbills and a Hummingbird

Yesterday, I made the drive up to Fort Wayne with Ryan Sanderson to see a Rufous Hummingbird that has been wintering at a private residence. It was cold and windy when we arrived but that did not seem to bother the hummingbird one bit! It made its first appearance at the feeder within minutes of us arriving and came back many times during the hour we were there.
This is how you keep a hummingbird happy in Indiana in the winter.
Rufous Hummingbird on a perch
Another shot of the Rufous perched
Rufous Hummingbird at its favorite feeder

Although there had not been any reports of White-winged Crossbills recently at Lindenwood Cemetery in Fort Wayne, we had some extra time and thought we would check it out. We were pretty surprised when we ran into a large flock of them shortly after getting to the property. We setup our camera in an area where we thought we could get the best light and waited for the crossbills to work their way over to us. They paid little attention to us, at times getting as close as 20 feet or less. When they finally flew away, what we thought was about 16 crossbills, turned into about 30!

A shot of the back of a male White-winged Crossbill. I had never noticed the pattern of black and red stripes on the back before.

A male White-winged Crossbill

A female White-winged Crossbill

Friday, February 24, 2012

Photographing a Saw-whet

Yesterday, I birded with Eric and Clare who are doing a Lower 48 Big Year. Our aim was to add a couple of birds to their year list. We started out at Eagle Creek looking at waterfowl. There were not very many species around and nothing that was new for their Big Year. After a quick stop at the Ornithology Center, we headed towards Lafayette. We had a one o'clock meeting set up with Del Arvin to see the Northern Saw-whet Owls that are wintering on his property. It was a little early when we arrived so we made a stop at Celery Bog. Just like Eagle Creek, there was little to see and it was raining pretty steadily.

We were excited when we checked the radar on my phone and it showed that the rain should be clearing out right about when we arrived to look for the owls. Del meet us as we pulled into his driveway and we were quickly whisked away in his Gator, a 4-wheel drive utility cart, to look for the owls that he had staked out for us that morning.

The first Saw-whet that we stopped for was high up in the tree and barely even looked like a bird until you put your binoculars on it. It was a lifer for both Clare and Eric so they were thrilled with these less than ideal views. Along the way to the next Saw-whet, we stopped to check out one of serveral Barred Owls that call this property home.

Del had told us that our best photo opportunities were to be had with the second owl as long as it hadn't been spooked off its roost. Luckily for us, it was still there! He had a ladder set up where we could stay a comfortable, undisturbing distance from the bird while still getting amazing photos!

Full body shot of the Northern Saw-whet Owl

Upclose shot showing the Saw-whet with its eyes closed. It pretty much igrnored us the whole time we were watching it!

Our day was capped off by a single Common Redpoll that made a brief apperance while we were talking with Del about his awesome property!


Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Review: Birds of the West Indies (Princeton Illustrated Checklists) and Birds of the West Indies (Princeton Field Guides)

In just a couple of weeks, I will be heading to the beautiful Caribbean island of St John for a family vacation. Like always, I plan to squeeze in as much birding as possible and I have bought some field guides to the region to prepare for the trip. Over two-thirds of the island is a U.S. National Park and I can't wait to explore it! 

The two books that I bought are Birds of the West Indies (Princeton Illustrated Checklists) and Birds of the West Indies (Princeton Field Guides). Since they are both published by Princeton University Press and their titles are pretty much the same, I was half expecting that the books would be nearly identical. Luckily I was wrong and they both offer some features that the other book does not.

Birds of the West Indies: (Princeton Illustrated Checklists) by Norman Arlott

This book is the most up-to-date field guide to the West Indies that I could find. It was published in 2010 and thus has the best information on the distribution of birds on the islands that make up the West Indies. One area where I felt that this field guide was lacking was in  the introduction. The introduction covers what I would consider the typical field guide introduction information, a map of the area the guide covers and a short explanation of it, pictures of bird topography, and a short section on what is included in the text to help with identification. Pretty standard stuff and there is nothing necessarily wrong with it but the other field guide just offers readers much more (more on that later).

Once I got into the heart of this book, the first thing I noticed was the fantastic illustrations. They are extremely detailed, have very vivid colors, and I believe they will be a great resource in the field. I should note that no juvenile plumages are shown as a way to save space. The text that accompanies the illustrations is short but concise. It offers good descriptions of behavior, habitat and distribution but lets the illustration show the field marks rather than explaining them to you which I appreciate.

The biggest complaint I have about this guide is that the species range maps are located in the back of the book not with the species illustration and description. This drives me crazy in any field guide and is especially challenging when the there are many islands and I would like to see if the species will be on an island I will be visiting.

Overall, this is a fantastic field guide that has complete coverage of the West Indies. It has been an invaluable resource for my preparation for my trip.

Birds of the West Indies (Princeton Field Guides) by Herbert Raffaele

This field guide was published back in 2003 so it is a little older than the book by Arlott but the information does not seem to be dated at all. Raffaele offers one of the best introductions to a field guide that I have seen in a long time. He not only covers the typical information featured in a field guide introduction, but also includes a section on endangered species of the islands and the islands' conservation issues.

The illustrations in this guide are extremely well done but on average, they do not show the vivid colors of many of the species quite as well as the guide by Arlott. There are a couple of notable exceptions. This field guide offers much better illustrations of both parrots and hummingbirds. Also, since this book is slightly larger, I do not feel that the illustrations are quite as crowded. the larger size also allowed more juvenile plumages to be included.

This book also addresses the major complaint I had with the other field guide. All of the range maps area included next to the text discussing each species. This allows me to quickly recognize if the species will be present on the island that I am visiting.

I feel that this too is a must have guide for the region. I always like to have multiple field guides with me when visiting new locations and I can't wait to test these two out in the field!


*All links are Amazon Affiliate Links

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

New Format for Submitting Birding Location Guides

There is now a much easier way to add birding locations and information about birding locations on our website,  Now with as much or as little effort as you want to put forth you can add information that will help other birders have successful birding adventures.  Keep an eye on the website for more changes to come!

A screen shot of our new form. Click here to go to the live form!


Monday, February 20, 2012

IYBC and the Great Backyard Bird Count

This past Saturday, the Indiana Young Birders Club (IYBC) teamed up with the Eagle Creek Park Ornithology Center to teach kids about birds as part of the Great Backyard Bird Count (GBBC). In the past we have struggled with getting many people to attend the GBBC event but this year went extremely well. The first young birders arrived just a few minutes after we had set up at 8am and they were eager to take our bird quiz and help us count the birds! Over the next four hours many budding birders came through and I am pretty sure many of them will join the IYBC!
My friend Chad, who co-founded the club with me, invited Katie, a birder that is new to the area, to come out and help with the event. It turns out she is awesome at making sure that we get tons of awesome photos of our events and is now the unofficial photographer for the IYBC! She also got a few lifers during the event including all three mergansers! Here are some of the shots she took to document this event.

Chad's son Ceth photographing the waterfowl

Part of our bird quiz that the young birders could enter for a chance to win a Kaufman Field Guide

Me (right) and Scott Arvin, another one of our adult mentors.
If you are a young birder or know a young birder who might be interested in the club, visit our website here. You can also view our awesome new Warbler newsletter here.


Friday, February 17, 2012

Birds in Flight

Caspian Tern in flight.
Caspian Tern in flight.
Northern Shoveler in flight.
Even though photographing birds in flight can be a challenge, if you stick with it, it can be quite rewarding.  At first, many photographers struggle with keeping the bird in the shot but if you have been using binoculars for a long time it can be a fairly easy transition.


Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Review of Bird Codes by Nemesis Code

For birders that struggle with listserv postings that use only Alpha codes, this is an essential app. The new Bird Codes app from Nemesis Code helps you convert those pesky alpha codes to bird names and can also convert birds' common names into alpha codes. I especially like that this app offers not just the common names for birds but also the scientific names.

If it were not for the inexpensive cost of the app (it's only $0.99), I would be looking for more features. It is simple and straighforward to use and has no glitches that I could find. It is currently only available on iPhone, iPad, and iPod Touch.

I would highly recommend this app for the birder that is always lost and confused when people write or speak in alpha codes.

*I received this app free from Nemesis Code for the purpose of writing a review.

Monday, February 13, 2012

North America's First Hooded Crane

When the Hooded Crane that was being seen in Tennessee left, everyone wondered where it might show up next. Luckily for me and hundreds of other birders from Indiana and around the midwest, the next stop for this crane turned out to be Goose Pond FWA. It was found on Wednesday and by the end of the day, many birders had seen the crane. I seriously considered heading to Goose Pond on Thursday but since I already had plans to go on Friday with my friends Eric and Clare Malbone, to help them add species for their big year, I decided to wait and hope that the crane would stick around.

We arrived at Goose Pond before sunrise in an attempt to see the crane before it left its roost in Beehunter Unit 5 North. As we set up our scopes, we could hear the trumpeting of Sandhill Cranes all around us. Scanning the marsh, we realized that this was a huge gathering of cranes with as many as 10,000 present. Everyone kept scanning the flock but could not find anything other than Sandhill.

Suddenly my phone rang and it was Lee Sterrenburg calling to let me know that the Hooded Crane had been seen just down the road. Everyone hopped in their cars and raced off to find the crane. As we got close, someone flagged us down to let us know that the Hooded Crane had just flown and we would have to start the search all over again.

On Thursday, the crane had spent several hours in one field  so it seemed like a good idea to check that location. All of the cars decided to head over to that field. As we came over a hill, it was evident that a large number of cranes were again feeding in this area. I scanned through the cranes from the backseat of the car and finally noticed something extremely out of place. It was the Hooded Crane!

A terrible but identifiable photo of the Hooded Crane
Everyone quickly got out of the car and got their spotting scopes out and on the bird. It was a little far away for photos but everyone took some anyway. The question you might have is what in the world is a Hooded Crane and why would it ever show up in Greene County, Indiana.

The Hooded Crane is an extremely beautiful crane that normally breeds in southeaster Russia and northern China. Over 80% of the population winters at the Izumi Feeding Station in Japan with the rest spreading out over Japan, South Korea, and China. It is a vulnerable species with less than 10,000 remaining in the wild. That answers the question of what a Hooded Crane is but it opens up the whole question of what is a crane that lives exclusively in Asia doing in Indiana?

There will be many arguments about this question over the next several months. There will be those that say that there is no way that this individual arrived in our area on its own and that it must have escaped from someone's personal collection. The more research I do, the less and less likely I believe this to be the case. There are just not that many Hooded Cranes in the United States in collections and every individual that is owned by a zoo is accounted for. If this crane is from a private collections, why was the bird not pinioned (surgically rendered incapable of flight)? How did it arrive in the country if its in a private collection? The only real way is through the black market but it seems to me that that would be extremely difficult to smuggle a crane into the United States.

This all leads me to the theory of arrival that seems to be the most accepted by birders currently. There are groups of Sandhill Cranes that breed in Siberia. It seems that a Hooded Crane could have gotten mixed up with a group of Sandhill Cranes and migrated with them back to North America. It does now seem to be heading back north with the Sandhill Cranes and I really hope that it continues to be seen throughout its migration.

Records committees including the Indiana Bird Records Committee that I chair will have to figure out which theory they feel more comfortable with but I for one am just excited to have seen such an awesome bird!

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

The Warblers Are Coming!

Ok, well maybe they aren't really coming yet, but with all of the plans coming together for the Biggest Week in American Birding (BWIAB), they can't be too far behind. Magee Marsh in Northwest Ohio is the "Warbler Capital of the World", and I am lucky enough to be attending the BWIAB as both a trip leader and offical blogger.

Check out the whole lineup of field trips, workshops, and keynotes, and if that's not enough to convince you to make the trip, take a look at the list of species seen during last year's festival! The Black Swamp Bird Observatory (BSBO) has done a fantastic job planning the festival, and you will see many new and exciting changes from the 2011 event, including a new home for the evening keynote speakers at the Maumee Bay Lodge and Conference Center.

Kirtland's Warbler - The most rare warbler you might see while at the festival this spring.

Black-throated Green Warbler - A common sight along the boardwalk at Magee Marsh. (Photo by Stephanie Ripma)

Registration will open soon, so be sure to keep an eye out for information as I am sure that the trips, workshops, and keynotes will sell out quickly! Also, check back here on for more information and to find out what trips I will be leading.


Tuesday, February 7, 2012

The Movements and Migration of Common Loons

Yesterday, I was reading an email about a Common Loon that was found at Brookville Reservoir in east central Indiana on January 1. That's not a terribly unusual sighting for Indiana other than that this bird has a radio antenna attached to it that allows scientists to track its movement. After seeing the bird again on February 6, the observers started doing some research to learn more about this bird and where it came from. It turns out that it is part of a long-term research project on the movement of Common Loons that is run by Kevin Kenow from the USGS.

Common Loon on Breeding Grounds at Seney National Wildlife Refuge (This is not the loon currently at Brookville)

There are several loons that have been tagged in northern Wisconsin and south central Minnesota. The individual currently at Brookville breeds on the Turtle Flambeau Flowage in northern Wisconsin. During its 2010 fall migration, it stopped at Brookville Reservoir but continued on to the Gulf of Mexico to winter. It returned to Wisconsin in the spring and attempted to nest. The nest was unsuccessful due to black fly issues (these are just about the nastiest biting insects in the northwoods) according to Kevin Kenow.

It will be interesting to continue to follow this loon and see if he has better success nesting this year. Check out the movements of about 20 different loons on the project's website at:


Monday, February 6, 2012

Celebration of Blue

Little Blue Heron

In celebration of the Giants winning the Super Bowl last night I had to post a blue bird.  Now I just hope I can make it through the months ahead without any football on tv.


Sunday, February 5, 2012

Interesting Fact: Limpkin

Did you know? . . . that the 10th primary of a Limpkin is about 4 inches shorter than its longest primary?  The 10th primary is the outermost primary; the primaries are counted from the inside out.  This feather is also curved but only in 2nd year and older birds.  The juvenile birds show a straight 10th primary.  It is unknown why this would be the case; one possible explanation is that the 10th primary is used in some sort of mating display that first year birds don't go through.  This changing shape of the feather in different age groups also gives observers a chance to age birds but it is quite difficult to see especially when the bird is perched.

To see some pictures go to:
There are a few pictures of Limpkins in flight that the primary can be clearly seen.