Sunday, December 28, 2008

Goal Hit! 164 Species Seen in Indiana in 2008!

Cackling Goose

I left my mother-in-laws house this morning at approx. 10:45a with one mission - to find a Cackling Goose.  I decided to check out a small wetland spot in Grant County, IN near Taylor University where waterfowl is typically reliable.  As I approached the area and pulled alongside the highway, I was happy to see approx. 75-100 Canada Geese, however, I was also cautiously optimistic as I knew this would likely be my first of many unsuccessful stops for the morning.  As I began to scan the Geese I became instantly excited to see 1 goose that appeared to be out of place, much smaller than the others.  This particular goose was about the size of a 
Mallard, sat on the water more like a duck than a goose, had a much smaller head and neck, dabbled like a duck, often popping its rear straight in the air to find food, and yet, had all of the markings and looks of a Canada Goose.  I continued to watch in disbelief that I had completed my mission so quickly!  I studied the goose for about 30 minutes until I finally concluded that it was indeed a Cackling Goose.   The size, the bill, the neck, and its somewhat distant behavior compared to the other geese made it a certainty!  The bad news was that I forgot my camera so I had to go back to my mother-in-laws, get my camera, go back, re-find the Goose, then zoom as far as I could and take a ton of picture to get only a couple that were somewhat decent.  

I was fortunate enough to come across a Cackling Goose that was on the small side.  Some variations are somewhat larger and can be a bit more confusing to confirm as a Cackling Goose vs. a Canada Goose.  If you compare this Goose to both the Goose (with its head in the water) to the left and the Geese on the right you can see that this Cackling Goose is about the same size as a Mallard Duck.  You can also see the bill is much shorter than the typical Canada Goose. This particular Goose also behaved more like a duck in its feeding behavior and its size allowed it to actually bob up and down as a dabbling duck would while feeding, often flipping up and down only exposing its rear pointing to the sky!

Thanks to this Goose, I will be able to submit my name to the American Birding Association to be listed under Indiana's Annual List of Birds Seen in 2008!  I needed 164 Birds and I did it!  Next years goal will be 200!

1 to Go!

I made a brief visit to Eagle Creek Park yesterday, December 27 in search of Cackling Goose and Red-shouldered Hawk.  Although cloudy and somewhat rainy, the temperature was approx. 60 degrees making it feel like spring!

The brief visit turned out to be a half success when a Red-shouldered Hawk flew directly (close) over my head as I was looking at a small flock of Tree and White-throated Sparrows.  Since I am a bit skittish with Hawk I.D. I wasn't yet satisfied that I had seen the bird so I stuck around a bit later and played a CD (loudly) with some Red-shouldered Hawk calls.  It wasn't but a few minutes later that two beautiful Red-shouldered Hawks flew over the treeline.  I got a several more good looks with the calls and was finally satisfied that I had seen the Red-shouldered Hawk!

Unfortunately, no Cackling Geese!  Hopefully today will produce this (or another) needed species.

Friday, December 26, 2008

Just 2 More Birds!

The year 2008 is about to come to a close - it is hard to believe that a full year has passed.  It is also hard to believe that I have seen 248 species of birds this year, 164 of them in Indiana!  Now, to some birders this may not be many, but for me, a novice lister - gaining this many species has not been a easy task.  For one, it is highly likely that I have seen far more species than I have counted, however, in order for me to count a bird I have to feel EXTREMELY good about its identification.  If I don't feel good, I will solicit a  second or third opinion, if this is not possible or doesn't give me satisfaction, I simply refuse to count it.
As the years draws to a close, now with only 5 days left in 08' I need two more Indiana bird species to achieve my goal of being able to submit my name (among thousands of other birders) to be published in the American Birding Associations (ABA) Annual List Report.  There are multiple areas to list your achievements and it will take years for me to be eligible for most, however, 164 birds (minimum) seen in the state of Indiana in one year will allow me enough birds to be listed under Indiana's Annual List.  The ABA will accept no less than 164 birds for this category!  So, with 5 days to go, I am on a serious mission - 2 birds!  Some welcome candidates would be - Red-shouldered Hawk, Sharp-shinned Hawk, Merlin, Northern Shrike, Cackling Goose,  Screech Owl, White-winged Crossbill.... and several others.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Christmas Bird Count - An Amazing Day!

This past Wednesday, December 17, I was invited by a couple of friends (Rob, Eric R.) to participate with them in the Christmas Bird Count in Greene County at Goose Creek Fish and Wildlife Area.  Until this day, I had never been to this property and anxiously accepted the invitation!  Many birders participated in the count and in total the day produced 103 species!

We left Indianapolis at approx. 4:50a and headed to 
Linton, IN.  When we first arrived, we met 
up with a small group of Birders to watch for waterfowl flying out of their night resting areas.  Aside from several Great Blue Herons, the morning started off  very slow.  As the earth lighted, the first birds of interest were seen.  Two Whooping Cranes!  Whooping Cranes!  A lifer!

Afterward, we began our assignment at 
Goose Pond by surveying a large 

section of land, which I believe was Unit 11.  I wasn't aware of how out of shape I was until about an hour into the project where I felt as though I needed instant hip replacement!  The terrain was frozen and rough!  There was 
little bird activity, however, to my excitement, I was able to pick up several lifers.  Eastern Meadowlark, Savannah Sparrow, Northern Bobwhite, Northern Harrier, and Rough Legged Hawk.

We then took a short break to recap at lunch and then took off to do some birding at Sullivan-Greene State Forest and Hawthorne Mine.  Both 
properties produced multiple birds.  The highlights for the State Forest were a Brown Creeper, Purple Finches, Pileated Woodpecker, and Yellow-rumped Warblers.  Hawthorne Mine was another story altogether!

The visit to Hawthorne Mine will no doubt go down in history for me as one of my best birding moments.  We went to look primarily for - Northern Shrike, Short-eared Owl, and waterfowl.  Unfortunately, we were unable to locate a Northern Shrike.  However, we did not only find a Short-eared Owl but were treated to Short-eared Owls in every direction we looked.  Over the entire property, no matter where you looked, you could see a Short-eared Owl at close range - whether perched or hunting - they were everywhere!  Absolutely everywhere!  After calming down somewhat from the excitement of the Owls, we refocused our search to waterfowl and were again treated to some rarities and unexpected numbers of some very nice ducks.   I picked up the following birds as lifers at Hawthorne Mine - Short-eared Owl, Mute Swan, Trumpeter Swan, and Canvasback.  Additional highlights included a ton of Northern Harriers, American Kestral, Green-winged Teal, and Red-tailed Hawk.  In all, I was able to obtain 10 life birds for the day - not to bad at all!

To read more about the importance of the Christmas Bird Count go to:

My new life list total is - 250!

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Snowy Owl! Snow Buntings! Five Lifers! What a Day!

There is nothing more I can say about today except WOW, what - a - day!  I had a birders dream day!  My best friend John, my daughter, and me went to Ft. Wayne (Allen County) today to try our luck at seeing a Snowy Owl that has recently taken up residence in the area.  At first, we were pessimistic since there was some snow on the ground and we weren't seeing anything that stood out to be an Owl.  However, another birder found a distant glob of snow in the middle of the field that appeared to be in the shape of an Owl so we got out and walked some way to find out.  Just as we were all starting to think that the shape was indeed a glob of snow or a rock - it came to life and began to look at us just as you can see in the picture.  I took several shots from far away and was happy I was able to catch a shot of this beautiful bird.  Simply breathtaking.

As we were looking for the owl we came across 3 other species that were additions to my life list.  A flock of Snow Buntings, Horned Larks, and a group of American Pipits.  Can it get any better?

Yes!  Once I got home and was reviewing my pictures, I discovered that there was another 
group of birds I had never seen mixed amongst the Horned Larks - Lapland Longspurs!

Five lifers in 1 square mile!  Merry Christmas to me!

Saturday, December 6, 2008

So Comes the Snow, So Comes the Birds!

I have lived in Indiana my entire life and every year I say the same thing, I hate snow, I hate ice, and I hate the cold!  I am definitely a warm weather man.  I have full intentions on moving to a nice warm location in Mexico upon retirement - unfortunately, many, many years in the future.

HOWEVER, I did come to one positive conclusion today as I was sitting in my recliner and counting my backyard feathered visitors for "Feeder Watch" - a data gathering project for Cornell University.  My conclusion - there is not a prettier scene or a site more relaxing than watching the backyard feeders when the snow is falling!  When the snow comes, so do the backyard guests - often in great numbers!  Today was one of those days.   

This morning, as I was making my coffee, I heard my first guest chirping - a Northern Cardinal.  Cardinals are usually the first birds to arrive in the mornings, usually just as the sun is lighting the planet.  Next comes the arrival of my most loyal visitors - The American Goldfinch.  Sometimes referred to as the "Wild 
Canary", the American Goldfinch is a common backyard feeder bird year-round in Indiana and is known in the summer for its very bright yellow feathers.  In the winter, it loses most of its spectacular yellow plumage but some do retain a pale yellow tint and some tend to be spotted bright yellow throughout the year.   I took this picture on the left today of one Goldfinch that retained a beautiful yellow throat!  Today, I had a record number of American Goldfinches at my feeders - at one time I counted 23!  I also had record numbers of Mourning Doves and Dark-eyed Juncos all which was result of the cold weather and especially the snowfall.  Seed eating birds know that snow is going to make their ability to find food more of a challenge so they move out fast when they know things are getting ready to get tough!

Today, I was glad I lived in Indiana!

Indiana State Bird

Indiana State Bird
Northern Cardinal