Southwestward, to Goose Pond!

I write this entry from a Red Roof Inn on the outskirts of Evansville, Indiana. Work has me making numerous stops all over the state over the course of three days. Today, I found myself pointed southwest, which is pretty easy to do considering Fort Wayne is about as northeast as you can go.

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Eurasian Collared Dove

This is not a birding trip. I swear. But at one of my very first stops in the city of Delphi, I found a new state bird in Eurasian Collared Dove foraging in the maple seeds directly above my appointment destination. A good omen!

Two of my next stops were Shelburn and Winslow, small towns serendipitously placed on either end of Goose Pond Fish and Wildlife Area. Goose Pond is the real deal. I have been there once before, but that was in February a few years back. Today the sun was shining and the migrants were migrating, so I got out for about an hour to stretch my legs after driving for so long.

Goose Pond is 9,000+ acres of restored wetland habitat in western Greene County that packs such a big ecological punch that it attracts some insane rarities (Spotted Redshank, anyone?) and has actually altered the migration routes for many species that historically didn’t push very far into Indiana.

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Black-necked Stilt

The absurdly cool, ludicrously proportioned Black-necked Stilt is one of those birds.

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Black-necked Stilt pair

Goose Pond has made these gangly birds common in the southwest corner of the state, and they even breed here, which may be something this pair is getting ready to do. Stilts were my biggest target in visiting Goose Pond, and they did not disappoint as life birds!

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Greater Yellowlegs

I was fortunate that this Greater Yellowlegs was around, because the stilts were much more interested in it than in me. They kept chasing it away when it foraged too close to them. They absolutely dwarfed it, too.

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Green-winged Teal

While shorebird watching, I had a close encounter of the teal kind. This handsome drake landed right in front of me and gave me the best look at the species that I have ever had.

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Swamp Sparrow

All birds at Goose Pond are beautiful, including the little brown jobs. I admit guilt in having sup-par sparrow watching skills. I usually assume every non-Zonitrichia sparrow is a Song Sparrow, but now I am wondering how many Swamp Sparrows I have missed in my life.

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Northern Harrier

The weather was perfect for birding today, as evidenced by the blue sky behind this Northern Harrier. It flew right in front of the moon at one point, but my camera would not focus fast enough for a photo.

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American White Pelican

I don’t think I will ever get tired of the reaction people give me when I tell them that there are pelicans in Indiana.

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Snake

Some other animals were around, too. I don’t know anything about snakes, but Wikipedia tells me this snake butt might belong to a Northern Water Snake. Can anyone corroborate? It was big.

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Goose Pond – Unit 10

Goose Pond is broken up into segments divided by (unpaved (sometimes flooded)) county roads. The one that I tromped around in and that seems to be the place to go for the best diversity of birds is Unit 10. The place is so huge you could easily spend a weekend there and still not see it all, so I will be back again the next chance I get.

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Summer

The calendar isn’t totally accurate. Despite the fact that we are still technically in spring, the birds tell me that it is summer. Instead of a random assortment of migrating birds, my first birding outing in two weeks today brought me many summer residents who are here to stay for at least another couple of months (well, with one exception).

The first stop was at a very flooded Eagle Marsh for the first notable bird. I was alerted to it thanks to the always reliable IN-Bird-L email list: Bell’s Vireo. Having scanned through field guides, I guess I was aware that this is a bird, so it was not technically a brain bird for me (see definition), but I knew almost nothing about it. Not where it lives, not what it looks like, and not what it sounds like. The emails on the list-serve described “vigorous singing,” so I looked up its voice (you can too), and heard its distinct scratching-a-record call almost immediately on exiting my vehicle. It stayed well hidden in dense brush, and I only got two glimpses of it: once when it flew to another dense area of brush, and once when it popped its head up for about an eighth of a second. But I stayed and listened to him for almost half an hour, which is as good a field mark as any. Life bird #205 and year bird #122.

So enough about that Bell’s Vireo. Here is a pretty picture of another bird that I also saw at the marsh:

Indigo Bunting

Indigo Bunting

I also saw year bird #123 Common Yellowthroat, the only warbler of the entire day, on that stop. Several muskrats were also a highlight.

After Eagle Marsh, I headed to Franke Park, being turned away by flooded roads to Fox Island (common theme). The very first species of bird that I saw was this:

American White Pelican

American White Pelican

You know it’s a good birding day when there are pelicans acting like Canada Geese. These chaps must have been migrating and grounded by the storms that we had a few days ago, and they were making a holiday of it by staying at the park. This picture was taken from the window of my car, to give you an indication of how close they were. I have seen these elsewhere this year in both Greene and Marion Counties, but this was by far the best look I have ever had of this species.

#124 Eastern Wood-Pewee

#124 Eastern Wood-Pewee

I heard about a thousand Eastern Wood-Pewees while at Franke, and this one was good for year bird #124.

Great Crested Flycatcher

Great Crested Flycatcher

And while we’re talking about flycatchers, here is one of many of the Great Crested variety that were hanging around the frog pond.

I finished the day with distant looks (but great audio) from a Wood Thrush, year bird #125. I am exactly half way to my stated goal of 250, but I am pretty sure that I can save that number for another year. It will be nearly impossible with all of the spring migrants that I missed from being busy with first-time homeownership, that new job in a new city, and a baby due in two months. But if that is my tradeoff for less birding, I will gladly take it!

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.