Saturday, February 9, 2013

The Amazing Saw-whet!

For a while now, time has not been on my side and unfortunately, I haven't had much time to blog.  Actually, I haven't really had much time to do anything to blog about but, recently, the Indiana Young Birders took a trip to Lafayette, IN to see one of the most secretive owls known - the Saw-whet.  This amazing owl has finally given me something to post about.

We visited the property of Dr. Delano Arvin on January 19th and were among approximately 25 other participants anxious to see these amazing birds in their natural setting.  Dr. Arvin's property has attracted these owls for many winters and this year has hosted 6 six.  Saw-whet's are cool for a lot of reasons but mostly because they are so cooperative. Standing only about 7 inches tall, Saw-whet's have little fear of humans, most likely because they rarely have encounters with us.  They are so small that they are rarely seen and for most of the year, the reside in areas that have little human activity.  

The owls on January 19th were very cooperative.  We were able to get some amazing looks at 3 and a fair look at one that was pretty well hidden - 4 in all.  Yes, that is four Saw-whets in a single morning!  The young birders were amazed at the chance to see these marvelous creatures and were even more excited that they could get virtually eye to eye without the owls making a single flinch.  The adults were equally amazed and most had not yet seen a Saw-whet owl, so this trip offered not only some terrific views but also an addition to many life lists.

To make the trip even better, participants also had a chance to see a Barred Owl and a number of other woodland birds including Northern Flicker, Hairy Woodpecker, Downy Woodpecker, Yellow-rumped Warbler and a copious number of Carolina Chickadees. I couldn't imagine a birding adventure without a chickadee.

A BIG THANKS to the Arvin family for hosting another amazing trip for the Indiana Young Birders Club!

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Our Biggest Day at the Biggest Week!

 American Woodcocks... at this particular location along the boardwalk, there were two families totaling 8!

My son and I made a last minute decision and a mad dash north after deciding we couldn't take hearing about and/or reading one more person's post on Facebook about what a good time they were having or the awesome birds they were seeing at the Biggest Week in American Birding.  It seemed as though everybody in the U.S.(and from around the world) that had any passion for birds was there and by golly, we were going to be too!  If for only one day.

We arrived late Friday night and after getting some essential nutrition (Taco Bell and Oreos) to fuel us up for our Big Saturday we headed to bed ready to dream about the warblers to come...

 A massive assemblage of birders taking their turn to see the very rare Kirtland's Warbler.

Saturday came early but we were ready.  Not having much time, we headed straight for the main drag, the boardwalk at Magee Marsh.  This boardwalk serves as a resting spot for migrants that are heading farther north over Lake Erie as well as a final destination for other migrants that are ready to stop and nest.  It twists and turns through several acres of woodland habitat making it very appealing to birders of all ages and abilities.  Warblers and other migrants often seem to be "dripping" from the trees and at times double digits of species can been seen without hardly moving an inch - often, within minutes.  No, I am not exaggerating.

 Baltimore Oriole.  This awesome bird was everywhere!

Barn Swallow.  One of many at the Magee Marsh Bird Center entrance.

My son and I spent most of our day on the boardwalk and never left the Magee Marsh area.  In our short time, we racked up 17 species of warblers along with a multitude of other cool birds that were at times, only a few feet away from our  face.  Baltimore Orioles, Bald Eagles, American Woodcocks, Swainson's Thrushes, Red-eyed Vireos, Great Egrets, Trumpeter Swans, and Eastern Kingbirds came into view constantly throughout the day to remind us that we were definitely in a real-life fantasy!

 View of Lake Erie from the parking lot of Magee Marsh.

We took only two breaks during the day.  One, to have a quick lunch and the second, to track down some of the great people of the Black Swamp Bird Observatory.  We lucked out and were able to catch up with Karen Zach, Kim Kaufman, and Ken Keffer.  Because these amazing folks were so busy we were unfortunately not able to chat long but, we were able to exchange a few handshakes and hugs and it is this that made our day complete!

Our long trip home wasn't really long enough.  In one day we were able to bank enough bird stories to last us a lifetime.  Memories that my son and I will have forever.  Memories of our Big Day during the Biggest Week.  Memories that we would not have if it were not for birds!

Prothonatary Warbler.  We watched as this very tenacious bird remove mouthfuls of moss from the base of many trees to build her nest under the stairs of the boardwalk.

Trumpeter Swans.  Always adding a touch of class to the marsh.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

2012 IAS Spring Festival at Mary Gray

Indiana Young Birders showing off their fantastic artwork!

Every spring, IAS members come together to celebrate birds, birding, and nature at the annual Spring Festival at the Mary Gray Bird Sanctuary in Connersville, IN.  It's a casual festival that's loosely structured - on purpose.  You see, this festival is unique because it celebrates a gorgeous 700+ acre nature preserve owned by the IAS that hosts old forest, new forest, meadows, creeks, and ponds which are home to a wide diversity of birds, wildflowers, amphibians, reptiles, and mammals.  But, most of all this festival celebrates the members who care about the property and gives these same members a chance to come together and enjoy what they love the most - nature! 

Sarah proudly displaying her new Crossley guide that she won for her outstanding work on a weekend field notebook!

 Sophia showing off her new Kaufman Guide for her outstanding bird identification abilities!

One of our annual highlights is being able celebrate the property with our youngest generation of bird lovers, the members of the Indiana Young Birders Club.  This year the festival was filled with youth who not only birded and chased amphibians but also painted bluebird box doors, documented their weekend in field notebooks, and tested their knowledge with an I.D. quiz.

Our I.D. Quiz winner was Sophia T., an awesome young birder that even helped her dad band birds!  Sarah S., won a Crossley guide for her work on our weekend field notebook contest.  Another cool young birder highlight was a great presentation given by Scarlett Arvin who did an outstanding job presenting on her experience last year in Maine.  We do have a great group of kids!

Is there anything more cute than five little Carolina Chickadees?

And the birds!  Oh, the birds!  From Cape May Warblers to Rose-breasted Grosbeaks, festival participants  documented 110 species over that included not only spring migrants but local nesting birds that make the sanctuary their home.  Family life was everywhere including an opportunity for some quick looks at nesting Carolina Chickadees and Eastern Bluebirds feeding their "teenage" kids sitting on the branches of trees.  

Everywhere you looked there was something to do.  Tim Tolford., was banding birds, which is always a nature festival hit. Doug Gray was on site to express the importance of diversity in birding, and each night we were even able to relax and watch a late night movie, about birds, of course.

But, like with all good times, we eventually had to say goodbye and on Sunday afternoon we did.  Driving away smiling because we knew next year, we'd be back.

Artists at work!

Many thanks to Amy and Carl Wilms (resident managers), Trevor and Natalie Abernathy (resident caretakers), and all of the volunteers that worked so hard to make the event wonderful!

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Wild Violets!

Common Blue Violet

Last weekend, I decided to take a walk through Southwestway Park in Indianapolis to see what wildflowers were enjoying our early spring. I was amazed to find many!

There were May Apples, Trillium, and others beginning to put on their spring show but more than any, I noticed the Violets. Honestly, I haven't paid much attention to them before. In fact, I learned right away that I had been taking them for granted, never really showing much appreciation for their individual beauty. This trip, I felt somewhat moved (I am sure God had some involvement with this) to focus on the violets as a reminder that it's okay to periodically pause. So, for the remainder of my hike I decided to get down on my knees and appreciate the violets at eye level.

Yellow Violet

At eye level, I was even more amazed when I rediscovered that violets were not only blue (mostly purple) but also yellow and white. Each amazingly distinct and incredibly gorgeous.

After I got home, I looked up violets to see what I could find on the internet and was immediately disheartened to learn that violets are under-appreciated and considered a weed by most. Typing in wild violet will mostly pull up ways to eradicate this lovely plant since it enjoys showing its beauty to the world via our yards. I have never been one to worry too much about grass versus weeds in my yard so long as it's green but, apparently most do providing me a new theory that that most yard fanatics don't spend much time on their belly actually looking at what they are killing.

I'm not judging but, I am on a violet kick right now, okay!

White Violet

My guess is most people reading this blog have taken the time to look at a violets just as I have and have equally appreciated what they offer to our landscape - especially in a woodland setting. But, if you haven't please do.

I am now convinced that this orchid-like flower was designed for attention and so deserves a moment of our time to appreciate it not as a an ordinary flower but as a gift. One for which I am personally thankful.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

IYBC 100 Guide Giveaway!

The Indiana Young Birders Club is on a mission. That is, a mission to get as many kids interested in birds and nature as possible and to provide opportunities for them (and those already interested) once they become interested. It's not an easy task but, we are committed to the challenge.

The IYBC is especially excited about our newest program - the IYBC 100 Guide Giveaway! Yes, you read correct. The IYBC is giving away 100 Kaufman Field Guides to Birds of North America in 2012 to young birders/ nature lovers, scout leaders, and educators in an effort to introduce them and others to the world of birds or sharpen their current skills to become better birders.

Guides will be given away at IYBC/ IAS events, through online contests, and by applying online. However the guide is won, each guide will be free of charge. The only thing the IYBC is asking in return is a picture of the winner with their guide and permission to share the photograph to help spread the enthusiasm of youth birding.

Ceth doing his research

Of course, a program like this would not be possible without support. The IYBC is extremely thankful for the generosity of the Indiana Audubon Society, Ohio Ornithological Society, Midwest Birding Symposium, and Kenn and Kim Kaufman for making our initiative possible.

For more information on the 100 Guide Giveaway, please visit:

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Singing the Blues over a Tropical Memory

For as long as I can remember, the Blue Jay has been my favorite bird. I can't say for sure what initially did it for me. Its nagging personality, dominant behavoir, striking coloration - I'm not sure. But, whatever it was, I have loved this bird for a long time.

Almost everyday I put out a hand full of peanuts for no other reason than to make sure my Blue Jays are happy. If I rush off to work and forget to put out the peanuts, I worry all day about what my Blue Jays must be thinking about me. Nothing could ever replace my Blue Jays.

And then it happenned. My first dose of true temptation on December 30, 2010 at Laguna Atascosa near South Padre Island, TX. My wife and I were at the feeders for about two minutes when it showed up. My heart dropped, my blood pressure went up, and I became instantly still. I became infatuated with "another bird". The guilt was terrible but, I could not stop looking. The green feathers, the blue feathers, the tinge of yellow - oh, the excitement! I knew the bird would be cool but I had no idea it would be THAT COOL!!!

I was infatuated to a point of tunnel vision, no other bird mattered. It was all about the Green Jay for the remainer of the trip.

The day I said goodbye to South Texas on January 2, 2011 was hard. On the way to the airport, on the plane, and as I was driving home, all I could think about was that entrancing green that I saw in Texas. But, on January 3 I realized that I was only infatuation as I looked out my living room window and instantly realized, my Blue Jays could not be replaced and that they needn't worry.


It happenned again. This time on January 2, 2012, my first day of a weeklong birding adventure in South Texas with my friends Rob and Eric Ripma. Just like before, the Green Jays arrived and instantly, nothing else mattered - at least not as much as the Green Jays. There were Hooded Orioles, Altamira Orioles, and Great Kiskadees everywhere. The Salineno feeders were a hub of colorful activity. But it didn't matter, all I wanted was the Green Jays.

We stopped at a number of cool destinations and saw some very cool birds throughout the trip but my heart had turned green and no matter where we went I was always hoping a Green Jay would make its appearance - and, it almost always did.

The trip home was much like before, I was sad to be leaving such and extroidinary bird but I knew once I saw a Blue Jay again, I would remember the species that owned my heart. But this time, it has been different. My Blue Jays are making me smile as they always have but I feel like something is missing.

Something gaudy and green with a lot of Texas hospitality.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Texas, Part 2. Estero Llano Grande and South Padre Island

Least Grebe and Northern Shoveler... Estero Llano Grande

I've decided that it is next to impossible to write about Texas in a blog. One single birding trip to this state could easily transform into a novel. This will be part 2 of at least 4 blogs posts on our trip this past January. Of course, I am going to have to speed up the posting so that I can also write about something else before the end of theyear! This post is going to highlight Estero Llano Grande State Park and South Padre Island (specifically, the World Birding Center).

Both places are my favorite. Just like Salineno and Falcon Lake - my favorites. Yes, I am one of those people that just can't make up my mind. Just like my ongoing dilemma between a Blue Jay and a Green Jay - I can't decide which is my number one favorite bird. I mean, it has always been the Blue Jay so how can I put this gorgeous bird on the back burner? I can't! So, I now have two favorite birds; The Blue Jay and the Green Jay! In fact, as I type this I am smiling at the sound of a Blue Jay outside the window making his normal obnoxious racket before his approach to snatch his favorite food - a peanut.

Let me get back on track! Estero Llano Grande State Park is a World Birding Center in Weslaco, TX. A very birder/nature lover friendly park, Estero has great trails that will guide you around ponds, creeks, and Texas woodlands allowing you to capture a number of birds in a variety of habitats. From Buff-bellied Hummingbirds to Green Kingfishers and Least Grebes to Northern Shovelers, your eyes will never slow down from the excitement! Estero is also a great place to see the Common Pauraque. Like so many parks in the Rio Grande Valley, Estero is also a location for rarities which tend to pop up all year long. During our visit we were blessed with some great looks at a Rose-throated Becard - thank goodness for the great bird finding ability of Eric Ripma! Now, off to South Padre...

Least Sandpipers... Estero Llano Grande

Northern Pintail and Wigeon... South Padre WBC

Snowy Egret... South Padre WBC

The World Birding Center at South Padre Island is a birders/photographers dream. Just like Merritt Island or Ding Darling in Florida, the birds seem to enjoy being subjects of photography. If the sun is just right, great pictures can be taken with almost any type of camera. So, at this place don't be intimidated by the big lenses, I promise your $100 camera will take just as many good pictures as your neighbor's $10k camera.

Ok, back on point. This destination will give you a chance to utilize a boardwalk system that will get you up close and personal to a wide variety of waterfowl, shorebirds, and marsh birds. For us this included: Northern Pintail, Wigeon, Tri-colored Heron, Little Blue Heron, Snowy Egret, Great Egret, Great Blue Heron, Roseate Spoonbill, Red Head Duck, Reddish Egret, American Oystercatcher, Gull-billed Tern, Marsh Wren, Sedge Wren, and Marbled Godwit. The list goes on and one. Oh, did I mention all of these birds were RIGHT THERE!!!

Tri-colored Heron... South Padre WBC

Roseate Spoonbill... South Padre WBC

Whether it be Estero Llano Grande or South Padre Island World Birding Center you should plan for a full day at each location. You can rush but you'll only be stressed that you did. So take your time and be ready for a LOT of birds!

Indiana State Bird

Indiana State Bird
Northern Cardinal