Magical Bird Wonderland

Today I was fortunate enough to have a meeting for work in the small city of Linton. For those of you not familiar with Indiana birding locations, Linton is the home of the Goose Pond Fish and Wildlife Area, also known as Magical Bird Wonderland and the state’s premier birding location not located on Lake Michigan. I made sure to arrive at the meeting extra early to get in some quality birding time. Despite the driving rain, it was a more than great day!

#054 Sandhill Crane

#054 Sandhill Crane

If Indiana does one bird well, it is the Sandhill Crane, and Goose Pond does the Sandhill Crane very well. Since its establishment, Goose Pond has actually altered the migration route of these birds, causing massive swarms of the four-foot-tall beasts to gather there in the winter. There were literally thousands, if not tens of thousands of cranes. They covered the corn stubble fields, grazing like massive herds of avian cattle. They passed overhead in wave after wave of unending V’s. The cranes here may actually be the most incredible natural phenomenon I have ever seen, and a highly worthy year bird #054

#056 American White Pelican

#056 American White Pelican

Also among the impressive flocks of birds was the continuing mass of American White Pelicans that had taken over many of the muskrat lodges in the main pool. These are a rarity in Indiana at this time of year, giving me a very good year bird #056. Not that #055 Common Grackle wasn’t also good, but I will probably not be seeing pelicans every day this spring and summer in my neighborhood.

#058 Redhead

#058 Redhead

The waterfowl kept coming with several species of ducks, many of which were lifers for me. Redheads were year bird #058 as well as life birds. I came home to show Jaime my photos, and the first thing she said was “Redheads!” I told her I was impressed that she knew the name of them, only to be informed that she was just talking about their red heads. This is an appropriately named duck.

#059 Ring-Necked Duck

#059 Ring-Necked Duck

Year bird #059 was the Ring-Necked Duck pictured above (the male is the top center bird in the photo). A few of these small ducks were hanging out in a large group of Redheads, Lesser Scaups, and Gadwalls on a very small pond.

#060 Lesser Scaup

#060 Lesser Scaup

Here is one of the aforementioned Lesser Scaup. In addition to being year bird #060 (which was my target number to get to today), they were also life birds.

#061 Gadwall

#061 Gadwall

The last bird I was able to identify was the humble Gadwall (bottom center bird above). Year bird #061 (putting me over my goal) and yet another lifer as well.

For those of you keeping track at home, you may have noticed that I skipped year bird #057. That is because I didn’t get a picture of them. However, as I was marching to the duck pond to take photos, I accidentally flushed a flock of Sandhill Cranes that was out of sight over a rise. As the birds lifted off, I saw three large white forms fly away with them. My heart literally skipped a beat as I thought “Whooping Cranes!” The total global population of Whooping Cranes is only in the triple digits, so they would have been a very exciting sight. Their rarity also contributed to my not seeing them, because the white birds in question turned out to be Snow Geese. Still exciting for me, though, because they were lifers! I ended the day with a life list of 192 species.

Goose Pond was incredibly impressive, despite the stormy weather and the fact that I missed many of the most impressive migrating flocks of waterfowl (sadly missing from my day list were Greater White-Fronted Geese and Northern Pintail). I will definitely try to make another trip back here some time despite the distance, and I will recommend that if you are even in the vicinity of southwest Indiana, Goose Pond is well worth a visit.

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February 23rd Update

It is bitterly cold outside, which is seriously ruining my ability to see waterfowl close to home. The only bodies of water that are not frozen are the big reservoirs, so I decided to hit a few this morning. My first stop was the Scott Starling Sanctuary just to the north of Eagle Creek.

#053 Killdeer

#053 Killdeer

Bird-wise, there wasn’t much exciting going on except for my first Killdeer of the year. He was running around on the frozen mud looking like he was thinking about what a huge mistake he made coming back up north this early.

Coyote

Coyote

But, the non-avian fauna was pretty impressive. I stumbled upon two surprised coyotes rooting around in a field. In the past year, I have come across quite a few coyotes, and they are always cool to see. I think it is especially interesting that they get so close to the central city of a place as big as Indianapolis.

Red-Tailed Hawk

Red-Tailed Hawk

While we’re on the subject of apex predators, I also saw this Red-Tailed Hawk at the Eagle Creek Reservoir. I went with intentions of finding some ducks or maybe non-Canada Geese, but was happy to see this fellow surveying his domain instead. I usually only see Red-Tails on the side of the highway as I speed by at 70 miles per hour, so to actually stop and get a good look was nice.

 

Completing the Set

Before I get into this post, I will start by saying that despite my lack of blogging, I have been actively birding. Last week gave me birds 048 Red-Winged Blackbird, 049 Turkey Vulture, and 050 Red-Breasted Nuthatch. No photos, but still getting check marks on my list.

Now onto this weekend. I took the hour drive south to Monroe County with specific intentions to check out the Beanblossom Bottoms Nature Preserve, which is a rather new network of trails and boardwalks in a low-lying area surrounded by hills.

Beanblossom Bottoms

Beanblossom Bottoms

After taking a few wrong roads (because they don’t tend to label them way out in the country), I arrived at the preserve, which is mostly reclaimed agricultural fields. This is what most of it looks like. It is a relatively unique habitat, and the marshy ground hosts shrubs and saplings that harbor Red-Winged Blackbirds, Eastern Bluebirds, and American Goldfinches in great numbers. It was also beneficial that the ground was frozen, otherwise much of the area would have been an impassable mud pit. This habitat was great for birding, but it was not the star of the show.

Beanblossom Bottoms Swamp Trail

Beanblossom Bottoms Swamp Trail

The reason I came was for the hardwood swamp. The mighty combination of beavers and time created this mini ecosystem, which contains the preferred dead tree habitat of my target species of the weekend…

Red-Headed Woodpecker

#051 Red-Headed Woodpecker

The Red-Headed Woodpecker was the seventh and final woodpecker on my Indiana list (not to mention bird #051 on my year list). I had only ever seen one before in my life, but Beanblossom Bottoms abounded with them. They were by far the most common bird I saw that day, which was kind of surprising considering how absent they have been from every other place I have been birding in the state. That is probably because of their habitat, though. Living in Indianapolis, it’s not every day that I can make it to a good, old-fashioned swamp. In any case, I don’t think they were excited to see me. Check out the dirty look that the one pictured above was giving me as I invaded his privacy to take photos.

#052 Swamp Sparrow

#052 Swamp Sparrow

Another bird, though somewhat unexpected, was also worth my while. Year bird #052 (and a lifer as well) was the Swamp Sparrow. There were two of these running in and out of brush cover, making it almost impossible for me to identify them, let alone get a picture. I was glad that I brought my field guide, because I was ultimately able to ID them from a combination of field marks (reddish crown, grayish chest), chip note, and habitat (I was standing in the middle of a swamp, after all).

Bald Eagle

Bald Eagle

The last bird of my trip was a Bald Eagle, although I didn’t realize it. From one of the observation platforms, I saw a nest high in a tree several hundred yards away. I thought it would make a good picture, so at full zoom I took the photo above. It was only after I got home that I noticed a Bald Eagle actually sitting in it. Though Bald Eagle is already on my year list, I was happy to get this shot, because it validated my nest identification skills.

 

The Woodpeckers of Groundhog Day

Today it is snowing and cold and generally not pleasant at all. So I set out this morning in search of woodpeckers. Specifically, there were two species I had somehow missed in the month of January: Hairy Woodpecker and Northern Flicker. I got them both this morning at Holliday Park. The Flicker came first (bird #046 on the year), followed by the Hairy (#047). I now have an almost complete woodpecker set, with 6 of the 7 regularly occurring Indiana species on my year list. The only one missing now is the Red-Headed Woodpecker, which is more commonly seen in the summer, but still not commonly seen.

Northern Flicker

#046 Northern Flicker

Year bird #045 came earlier in the week, and it was an immature Cooper’s Hawk seen while walking Emma The Dog.