Saturday, December 26, 2009

Nature's Ornaments!

Pileated Woodpecker... Salamonie. I LOVE this picture! To see one of these amazing birds is one thing, to get a good picture is another - especially with my camera.

We wait all year for the most colorful event of the season - Christmas. We wake up the next day when things are seemingly back to normal willing to wait another year for a repeat event. Not me, not this year. Christmas lasts longer. Not just the 25th. The below pictures represent nature's natural ornaments that we are blessed to enjoy anytime we wish as long as we take care of them! Why wait until Christmas to enjoy our gifts?

Northern Cardinal... Salamonie... Wow! Who could not love this bird?

This past Saturday, I was able to spend some time birding with my best friend John and his wife Megan at the Salamonie Reservoir and State Forest for what turned out to be a terrific morning of birding. Species count was minimal but we did have some good birds - bright birds, including: Pileated Woodpecker, Red-headed Woodpecker, Red-bellied Woodpecker, Downy Woodpecker, Blue Jay, Eastern Bluebird, and Northern Cardinal. Some other highlights included: Bald Eagle and Wild Turkey.

Blue Jay... Salamonie. I have wanted a nice Blue Jay pic for a while now and I would now say that I got one. Can you believe that this was taken through a window? As much as I love all birds, I am becoming very partial to Jays. I love their personality and how they demand attention!

Northern Cardinal... Salamonie. With a drab background, even a female Cardinal shines like a star! Very nice!

On top of spending some time with John and Megan I was also able to spend some time visiting with my very good friend Marvin McNew, Head Interpreter for the Upper Wabash Reservoirs. I worked for Marvin several years ago and loved every minute of my employment. There are very few genuinely nice people in this world and he is definitely one of the rarities! A great guy!

Winter Waterfall... Salamonie State Forest. Just another reason to appreciate God's touch! All you really have to do to appreciate the natural world is to open your eyes!

Tree Sparrow... Salamonie. Perching proud!

Wild Turkey... Salamonie. I can remember about 13 years ago when seeing this bird was very rare in the area. Now, fortunately, they are everywhere.

American Goldfinch... Salamonie. Even in the winter when these birds lose most of their yellow, they are still very striking, especially on a cloudy day.

Saturday was a great day. Good friends, beautiful birds, and fantastic scenery! I love birding!

Monday, December 21, 2009

Don't Forget the Reason's for the Season!

Eastern Bluebird... Marion, IN
It is so hard to believe that we are only a few days away from Christmas. I remember when I was a kid, Christmas could not get here fast enough. The days moved so slow, especially after Thanksgiving. Each day was more boring than the next just waiting for the day of opening presents to arrive. It always did. We opened our presents and were generally dissatisfied with the overall outcome. Hundreds of days of waiting for only a few minutes of material pleasure. Never any real fulfillment.
Fox Squirrel... Marion, IN
So, with these thoughts in mind, I set out to do a little birding in a local park near my parents house this past weekend in my hometown of Marion, IN. Matter Park. Overall, its a nice park. Small. The Mississinewa River runs alongside the park and there's a good number of mature trees throughout with some new landscaping. Much of which is very good for birds.

Northern Cardinal... Marion, IN

It was a bit chilly outside and the ground was covered with about two inches of fresh snow. It was quite and calm. The very first sound I heard when I got out of the van was that of the White-breasted Nuthatch. A sound that makes a winter walk official.

Red-tailed Hawk... Marion, IN

As I walked through the park and started seeing so many of the common birds that we all love such as the Carolina Chickadee, Northern Cardinal, and Downy Woodpecker I began to think about how blessed we are to have these birds in our life and how much joy they have personally brought to me over the years. Each bird that I have ever had the privilege to see has always instantly erased any negative tension that I was holding onto at the time. Birds are a natural remedy from anything materialistic and negative. They provide endless enjoyment, give instant gratification, and cost absolutely nothing. Not a dime. These were gifts that were given to us as flying decorations for the Earth that we live on.

Eastern Bluebird... Marion, IN
So as I continued to wonder about the blessings that surrounded me, I thought about all the hustle and bustle that was going on outside of the park. The craziness that so many of us (me too) live for in order to prove our appreciation for somebody else by buying them something that they probably don't really need. Have I, have we forgotten what the season is supposed to be about? We buy, buy, buy for our family and friends to say thanks for being a part of our lives but are we forgetting about the things that are there for us no matter what?
Cedar Waxwing... Marion, IN
Christmas time is the time of year that we are to give thanks not only to our family and friends but to everything around us that is precious. For me, I think of the birds and what I can do to pay them back for all they have done for me. Birds fight the odds each and every day of their lives. The heat in the summer, the cold in the winter, and the predators under the bushes. It can't be easy being a bird!
So what can you do for the birds this Christmas? How about...
Joining a conservation group that protects birds...
Nature Conservancy (
National Audubon Society (
Put out some Suet and/ or Peanuts
Warm your birdbath
Buy a bird feeder for a friend
Buy a child a field guide and a pair of binoculars...
The list goes on and on....
Cedar Waxwing... Marion, IN
So what are you going to give back to the natural world this Christmas? What are you willing to do to say thanks for everything that you have enjoyed this year? What can you do to alleviate a little stress from a struggling bird this winter? Something? Anything?
And last but certainly not least...
Please give thanks for all that we have to the real reason for the season. The origin that makes all the nature that we enjoy possible.
Happy Holidays My Friends!

Friday, December 18, 2009

CBC, December 16, Goose Pond, Greene Sullivan State Forest

Short-eared Owl.... Hawthorne Mine, Indiana. This bird was no doubt the star of the day. Although several great birds showed up for the counts, the healthy population of this bird in the Hawthorne Mine area is always a Crowd Pleaser!
Northern Flicker... Greene Sullivan State Forest
Wednesday, December 16, 2009 was my second time participating in the Goose Pond CBC and just as with last year, I am happy I did. I could go on an on about not only this property but also the habitats that surround the property. This place is a bird lovers paradise! You have the Wetlands of Goose Pond, the nearby forest of Greene Sullivan, and the local Hawthorne Mines that host a variety of raptors including large populations of Short-eared Owl and Northern Harrier.
Red-headed Woodpecker... Greene Sullivan State Forest

Greene Sullivan State Forest

The day started out a chilling 15 degrees but quickly warmed up to just below freezing. Once my friends and I were assigned our area, we were off to count the birds. Our particular area did not produce many species at first, in fact there were times I wondered if any birds existed at all in our section of the property. They finally did show up and we were blessed with such species as Whooping Crane, Wilson's Snipe (lifer), Swamp Sparrow, American Kestral, Northern Harrier, Belted Kingfisher and a copious quantity of Tree Sparrows. At least 150 in our section alone!

The work of a local Beaver... Goose Pond, Linton, IN.

Goose Pond FWA... Linton, IN. If you were a bird, wouldn't you want to be here?
We birded from about 8am to noon and then met the group to recap the days findings with the rest of the CBC participants. At lunch the tally was about 100 species. Not too bad. Missing species were discussed and then we were off to find some of our missing birds. One bird missing, the Brown Thrasher was spotted by our group at the State Forest about an hour later. Several other of the missing species were also found throughout the remainder of the afternoon. The day end count, I believe ended between 104 and 106 species!

Tufted Titmouse... this bird, along with about 5 others were a blast to watch flipping up leaves for food. My presence didn't seem to bother them at all.
Once we left the State Forest, we were off to the Hawthorne Mine area in search of Northern Shrike, Short-eared Owls, and any other present raptors. Unfortunately, we did not find any Northern Shrikes but did witness an amazing show of Short-eared Owls as well as some other cool raptors like Red-tailed Hawk, Coopers Hawk, and Rough-legged Hawk.
We ended our day at dark and headed home. We were all very tired but extremely pleased with our day. Next CBC for me will be at the Mary Gray Bird Sanctuary in Connersville, IN on December 27. I can't wait.
For more information on the Christmas Bird Count, please click the link on the right side of the page.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Happy Hour in Northern Indiana!

You have to see it to believe it! I have heard about about the amazing Sandhill Crane gatherings at Jasper-Pulaski Fish and Wildlife Area in Medaryville, IN for many years but never (for unknown reasons) made the 2 hour drive to see exactly what it was all about. That is until Saturday, December 5 a day that can best be describes as a "Happy Hour" for Cranes.

This unique place is a resting spot for spring and fall migrating Sandhill Cranes each and every year. Like clockwork, the Cranes show up during their migration to rest and feed at the property and in the nearby cornfields. The biggest part of the daily spectacle is in the early morning at sunrise and about 1 hour before sunset. It is at these times that the cranes fly in to this one area to greet each other by the thousands. Literally, thousands! They fly in from all directions and at times there are so many on the ground, in the sky, and coming in for landings that it becomes overwhelming - in a good way!

Peak numbers of Cranes are typically in November. This year the Cranes peaked on November 24 at 14,500! During our visit, I would guess there were between 7 - 10,000 Cranes! Along with these amazing numbers, you also get the fantastic sound effects! These birds are so noisy is almost comical. It is definitely a great social event. Check out the below video.

Sandhill Cranes can be found throughout North America and are between 41-46" tall with a wingspan between 73-77". They usually weigh between 7-10 pounds. They are a large, gorgeous, noisy bird that is extremely social and is typically seen in large flocks.

Making the trip to see this amazing congregation of Cranes was well worth it. The only thing I regret was that we had not made the trip much sooner. My family and I had a great time seeing these birds and I know it may a positive impact on each of my kids. There isn't a movie or video game out there that could replace what we seen at Jasper Pulaski on
December 5, 2009!
To find out more about Sandhill Cranes please check out the following links!

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

News from My Windowsill! They Keep Me Tropical!

I haven't had much time to get out and bird lately so I thought I would post some pictures of some Orchids that are currently blooming in my windowsills. As the weather gets more and more winter like, these awesome plants keep in the tropical mindset. They keep me dreaming about my next trip to South America - hopefully sooner than later. I took these pictures on 12/1.
SLC. Love Castle 'Kurenai'

Phalaenopsis (Moth Orchid)... Unknown name

Phalaenopsis 'Fortune Beauty' Cordova Fortune Bubba x Golden Bee

BLC. Sanyung Ruby 'Kuang Lung' AM-AOS

Sakura Angel 'Nana'... A few more that should bless me toward the end of December

Sunday, November 29, 2009

A Bad Day Birding! Never!

I had a very late start this morning but after a LONG last week preparing for the busy holiday season at work, I was ready to get out do at least a little birding. I needed it! Between work and the seemingly never-ending challenges that my teenager continues to put me through - stress relief couldn't come fast enough. As always, birding was just what the doctor ordered. At least for a little while.

American Goldfinch... Southwestway Park, Indianapolis, IN. If this was the only bird you saw during a day of birding... how could you be upset?
I don't believe there is a such things as a bad day of birding. To me, just having the ability to get outside to "bird" is wonderful! Birding allows me to get outside and forget about everything else that is going on in life. Most importantly, the stressful things in life that need to be released.
Today was one of those days that many would consider a bad day of birding. I saw a whole 10 species. Only 10. I was told by a couple of friends upon entering my first location that I wouldn't see anything and they absolutely correct - not a thing. I arrived at my next location to find the exact same thing. Hmm. From there, I went to Southwestway, a park very close to my home. I walked an entire trail and did not see one bird?? Finally, I came upon a spot near the mouth of the trail - a honey hole! At this one spot, after a morning of nothing, I found the birds. At this one spot there were 10 species that included: Tufted Titmouse, Carolina Chickadee, Northern Cardinal, Song Sparrow, Tree Sparrow, Golden-crowned Kinglet, and Downy Woodpecker, White-breasted Nuthatch, Rock Pigeon, and American Goldfinch.
Jackpot!... Southwestway, Indianapolis, IN. The highlight of my morning was this flock of American Goldfinches. This may not seem like a highlight to many or even a bird worth seeing but to me, a flock of this beautiful bird is like hitting a gold mine! There could always be an alternative... somebody could decide to tear this shrub down and this flock of Goldfinches could have never landed in it!?!!
There is really no such thing as a bad day of birding! Unless your not really a birder!

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

One Great Weekend, Bonus - 6 Lifers!

It all started on November 14, 2009. We woke up in our hotel room after a late night's drive excited to attend the Ohio Young Birders Conference that was being held at the Ottawa NWR Visitors Center and hosted by the Ohio Young Birders Club. The conference was unique in that all presenters were actually young birders. From the first words of the first presenter, I was amazed at the enthusiasm for birds that these young birders possessed. Each spoke on a different topic - California Condors, Piping Plovers, and even a story of a Big Year by bicycle - a young birder and his parents birded more miles by bike in one year than I think I have travelled by car! All presentations were absolutely amazing!
Tundra Swans... Ottawa NWR. My day immediately started with a Lifer - Tundra Swan. As you can see there was not only a Swan but many gorgeous Swans decorating the wetland. I would estimate about 300 Swans visible throughout the property this particular day. There were also Mallards and Canada Geese in this picture.
The Young Birders... these four were the primary components of the conference. All were very cool kids and represented the club with class. I am still amazed!
Kim Kaufman... the Visionary behind the OYBC seen here giving away 1 of many prizes throughout the morning. This lady is nothing less than absolutely amazing - a true definition of genuine!
Kenn Kaufman... yeap, THE Kenn! Kenn was also on-site to support his wife and the OYBC. Here he was reviewing answers to the Bird Quiz that was part of the day. Members I.D.'d birds from pictures and then entered their answers for a chance to win a set of field guides based on their accuracy!

Snow Buntings... Ottawa NWR. Although it was sad for the conference to end, we were all very delighted when Kim announced that the Ottawa Auto-tour was being opened just for us. These Buntings were a few of the very cool birds we seen during the tour.
My son... as always having a great time outside. This time, rock skipping!
Me and one of my 5 birding buddies (I have 5 children) out doing a Pelagic Birding Trip on Lake Erie hosted by the Black Swamp Bird Observatory.
This Pelagic trip on the lake was on November 15 and was worth every penny paid to attend. Several awesome birders were on board including Kenn Kaufman. I picked up 4 lifers on the lake this day - Black Scoter, Pomarine Jaeger, and Peregrine Falcon.

My boy enjoying the Gulls!

Merlin... Cleveland, Ohio. Lifer #6. This particular bird was definitely a bonus since we found it in a spot we had never planned on coming upon. There was an issue with the mechanical bridge over the river our boat needed to pass under so we had to dock about a mile down the lake. In most cases, this would have angered most people but not us birders - especially when we were welcomed by this Merlin.

Sunset at Metzger Marsh... near Ottawa NWR. Muy bonita!
The weekend takes my World List to #424 and ABA to 229!
The best part of the trip was that I was able to spend some quality time with my son!

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Yellow Rail in Downtown Indianapolis!

There are some things in life that are just more important than sleeping in! Yeap, this past Sunday I finally decided that I was going to have a slow morning. I was tired, a little down, and eager to sleep in after several months of go, go, go! Well, I did sleep in a bit but was suddenly awakened (earlier than I wanted) by my cell phone. Before the message ended and after I heard the words "Yellow Rail" I was dressed and ready to go. Don Gorney had discovered this misguided bird while driving downtown Indianapolis on Sunday. After assuming the bird was either lost or a victim of a window strike, Don called out the troops (which thankfully included me) to help catch the bird so that it could be released in a more suitable habitat.

Yellow Rail (photo by J. Mueller)... Downtown Statehouse, Indianapolis, IN
By the time I had arrived, several dedicated individuals were already looking throughout the bushes on the lawn of the Indiana Statehouse in search for this secretive bird. After about 20 minutes, Don rediscovered the bird. It quickly flew out of the roses and into a another group of small shrubs and hid almost instantly. We found it again and after everyone had a chance to take pictures and look at the bird we gathered around and prepared to capture it. While Don held the net, another gentleman and I got down on our knees and prompted the bird to move forward into the net... it did just what we wanted, was caught, and was taken to a nearby wetland. It was a strong bird so I believe it will be OK. Since their behavior is to fly low up and then back down into hiding, the bird would have likely been hit by a car if it had not been captured. An absolutely awesome experience AND the first time I have ever seen a Yellow Rail.
Yellow Rail (photo by L Voss)... Downtown Indianapolis, IN. Can you see it? I like this picture since it shows the secretive behavior of the Rail.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

A fall day...not much to say.

I hadn't been able to get out much in the past couple of weeks but this past Sunday I was able to take a morning stroll around my parents property to enjoy some of the nice weather and beautiful scenery that comes will Fall. The day was extremely peaceful and is exactly what I was looking for - along with a bird or two if possible.
House Finch... a very under appreciated bird. There were House Finches everywhere. All appeared to be happy and healthy and were enjoying the day as much as I was.

A female House Finch... belting a few fall sounds.

Eastern Bluebird... A somewhat drab adult but a beautiful bird nonetheless. There was alot of bird activity on the property but not many species. Lots of Bluebirds, House Finches, Goldfinches, Field Sparrows, Blue Jays, Carolina Chickadees, a Ruby-crowned Kinglet, and a Downy Woodpecker.

A most beautiful death... I paused for a minute to take one last look behind me before heading back up to the house when this Milkweed caught my eye. I stared at it for a short while thinking that I had never realized an exploding milkweed seedpod was so beautiful!
I have never been a big fan of fall in the past but over the last couple of years I have come to enjoy it more and more. It is truly a peaceful time of year that is unlike any other. There is a sadness to the season that will provoke me to pause and just stare at my surroundings. It seems to be nature's way of saying goodbye with a few simple reminders (such as this Milkweed pod) telling us that goodbye's aren't forever.

Indiana State Bird

Indiana State Bird
Northern Cardinal