Friday, January 31, 2014

A Ferruginous Hawk in Indiana

Last week, a Ferruginous Hawk was found in southern Indiana.  It was the first time that one had been photographed in the state and there are only a few sight records ever.  So, Landon Neumann and I decided to take a stab at it, and since there were a couple other good birds in the area we figured we could make a great day out of it.  

Our first target was a Harris's Sparrow that has been present in Evansville since at least December.   After driving around, familiarizing ourselves with the spot, the Harris's Sparrow popped out.  Over the next ten minutes we had some great views of the bird.  After a few minutes, the bird sat up and started singing!  I'd never heard one in Indiana before.

Harris's Sparrow
Our next target was the Ferruginous Hawk.  The bird had most often been seen during the late morning and early afternoon and that is exactly when it floated over!  Many birders were present for some good views despite the cold wind and sun angle that made viewing the bird difficult.  Once the bird headed south, a few of us decided to bird the northern part of Sommerville Mine.  While there weren't many highlights, the amount of raptors was impressive.  We estimated 50+ Northern Harriers and 20+ Rough-legged Hawks, all of which put on quite a show.  

The adult Ferruginous Hawk from Sommerville Mines.

A backside view of one of the many Northern Harriers.

A juvenile Rough-legged Hawk.

The same Rough-legged Hawk from above.  We saw many successful
hunts from the raptors at Sommerville.
Our last stop was Monty's Station at Patoka NWR.  We were hoping for a Loggerhead Shrike that has been seen in the area.  Unfortunately, we never found the shrike and most of the area was completely frozen/flooded over the roads.  It looks like a spectacular place once Indiana thaws out a bit!


Wednesday, January 22, 2014

An Exciting Feeder Bird

Rob writes: This morning when I looked out my window, there was a great surprise on my suet feeder, a Yellow-bellied Sapsucker! Luckily the sapsucker stuck around and I was able to get a blurry photo through the window.

This was the first time that I have ever had a Yellow-bellied Sapsucker in my yard.
It has also made several more stops at my suet feeder this afternoon along with the other usual feeder birds. It's been a great thing to watch on this cold and now snowy day.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Snowy Owl in Hamilton County, IN

Eric writes: A Snowy Owl was reported in Hamilton County Indiana today.  So, a couple hours after the owl was first seen, Rob and I headed to the spot.  As soon as we reached the area, we noticed the big, white blob that was the Snowy Owl.  We watched for about 20 minutes but the bird never really came in too close for photos, although it was still a blast to watch.

My first Hamilton County Snowy Owl

The Snowy in flight-it was quite active while we watched.
I didn't expect to see much other than the Snowy Owl but there were a couple large flocks of Lapland Longspurs and a number of Horned Larks with a few Snow Buntings mixed in.  

A handful of the Lapland Longspurs we saw today.

Monday, January 13, 2014

A Frozen Eagle Creek Park

After the frigid (-40° windchill) temperatures last week, Eagle Creek Park has turned into a frozen tundra of sorts.  The recent highs in the 40's have helped, but the reservoir is still almost completely frozen.  So, what us birders are left with on days like this, is watching the seed pile at the end of the Handicap Road.  Luckily, there have been many birds using the seed pile, almost all of which are tame and willing to be photographed. 

American Tree Sparrow-usually the most numerous bird at the seed pile

Can you ever get sick of Blue Jays?  One of Indiana's most beautiful and
charismatic birds . . .

Fox Sparrow-at least ten are visiting the seed pile this winter

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Snowy Owls: Project Snowstorm

Have you ever wondered what that Snowy Owl you are watching, does at night?  Or, do you have questions about where that Snowy Owl went, now that it has disappeared from the same field it has been hunting for a week?  Project Snowstorm is tracking Snowy Owls during this irruption years to answer questions such as these.  By tagging, healthy Snowy Owls, with GPS transmitters, researches are able to see exactly where a bird is at any one time.  So far, one interesting finding is that a Snowy Owl on the east coast has spent nights over the ocean, presumably hunting waterfowl.  For more information and to donate to help make the project a success go to  

Here are two Snowy Owls that I have seen during this invasion!

Snowy Owl from Muskegon, MI in December 2013

The same owl as above in flight.

Snowy Owl from Wabash, Indiana in December 2013

Monday, January 6, 2014

Keep Those Birds Safe and Warm

Suet is one sure way to keep many species safe and warm this winter. This Downy Woodpecker loves suet!
Rob writes: If you are concerned about your birds in the freezing temperatures and deep snow, check out this post I wrote for Birds & Blooms Blog. It's five tips for helping birds this winter and can be found at this link,!

Sunday, January 5, 2014

A Christmas Bird Count in the Upper Peninsula

Rob writes: Just a couple of days after Christmas, Eric and I headed north to participate in a Christmas Bird Count (CBC) in the the Upper Peninsula (UP) of Michigan.

This is the route that we took to and from the UP for our 1,500 mile trip.
On the way, we met up with our friend Landon in Logansport and took a slight detour to look for the Snowy Owl that had been reported in Wabash, Indiana. We hadn't even arrived at the Walmart where the bird had been reported when it flew across the road and landed on a building just across the street! It was great to find the bird so quickly and be back on the road.

This was the first time that Eric had ever seen a Snowy Owl in Indiana.
Our next stop was a few hours north in Manistee, Michigan. There had been a Harlequin Duck reported along the lakeshore there, but we couldn't find it. As a consolation prize, we had several White-winged Scotors, two Long-tailed Ducks, and a few other waterfowl species.

This male White-winged Scoter was one of the highlights of the first day of our trip.
We were extremely excited to find two Long-tailed Ducks on the river in Manistee.
We hurried up to Charlevoix so that we could search for a reported Northern Hawk Owl, but light was fading fast and we couldn't find the bird. We crossed the Mackinac Bridge in the dark and finally arrived at our hotel in Rudyard after a very long day of birding.  I would highly recommend staying at the Northern Country Inn for your birding trips to the UP!  It's a small family-owned inn with very clean and comfortable rooms.

We spent the next day scouring our CBC circle for birds and didn't end up taking very many photos throughout the day. I really only photographed one species, a Northern Shrike.

It was great to see so many Northern Shrikes since I don't get to see many in central Indiana.

The next morning, we planned to check the river in Sault St. Marie but found it almost completely frozen over when we arrived. We quickly moved on to the Dafter Dump in search of gulls and were not disappointed! Among the many Herring Gulls, we found Glaucous, Iceland and Great Black-backed Gulls. From there we headed back south to search for the hawk owl again.  Unfortunately, we struck out for a second time. We made another stop in Manistee and found most of the same species again before driving south to Muskegon for the night.

The next morning, we birded right along the shore in Muskegon and found tons of ducks in the open water. The best species was a gorgeous male Long-tailed Duck.  Later, we headed to a really interesting birding location. The Muskegon Wastewater System, is a huge property with a variety of habitats available for birding. In order to bird on the property, you have to stop at the Administration Building to get a permit. Once you get the permit, you can pretty much visit any part of the area that you would like.

We were there mainly in search of Snowy Owls, and it didn't take long for us the find one. It was very tame and would have been in a great position for photos had a power line not been in the way.

The Muskegon Wastewater System property is a great place for finding Snowy Owls during the winter months.
After birding the property a bit more and seeing thousands of gulls, a few Rough-legged Hawks and a Northern Shrike, we started our long drive home. The trip was a great way to end the year!