Waterfowl

When it’s below freezing but sunny like it was this weekend, it is usually a good thing for waterfowl at the city water treatment ponds which don’t ice over. I added six new species to the green list, which felt good since my hunch paid off and also because my outing to Fox Island last week netted zero new birds for the year.

dcco

Double-crested Cormorant

Riding the greenway along the river, my first interesting sighting was a bird mixed in with the Canada Geese. Double-crested Cormorant is not a bird I would usually expect to associate with typical waterfowl, but this one was swimming along with all of the others. It made an interesting size comparison. A diving Pied-billed Grebe was also a nice early surprise.

AMBD - Copy.JPG

American Black Duck

At the ponds, there were also some mixers-in with the abundant geese. American Black Duck is a bird I don’t see very often. This pair plus Northern Pintail made for two species that I missed last year, and it is good to have them back on the list.

gadw

Gadwall

Gadwall are not ducks that I see on land very often. I don’t recall ever seeing their speckled underbellies before. From afar, they are smudgy gray and black. But at close range they are actually good looking birds!

gwfg

Greater White-fronted Geese

Earlier in the week I was driving back from an appointment and decided to seek out a flock of Greater White-fronted Geese that had been reported from just outside the city limits in a famously productive field. As I turned onto the appropriate road, a flock of about 60 birds flew low over my vehicle for an impressive entrance of a life bird. Not green, but I will take it.

This winter seems to be the winter of the goose in Indiana. Snow and Greater White-fronted are common in the western half of the state but not so much in the east. However, this year both species are making a huge push all over it. Ross’s Geese, an uncommon state bird in general, also seem to be much more abundant than in years past. I have read that this is a trend that is getting stronger, so we’ll see how common these birds become in the near future. In my lifetime I have seen five Snow Geese, this singular flock of Greater White-fronteds, one Ross’s, and zero Cackling.

In other news, I have launched the other nerdy project that I have alluded to on this blog before: another blog, History of a Home. If having two blogs on extremely esoteric subjects doesn’t make me cool, then nothing will.

Advertisements

Cameras for Amateurs

I have always used a bridge camera and likely will never be one of those folks with a DSLR and an armory full of high-dollar lenses. But I got a pretty significant upgrade to the mediocre thing I have been using for the last four years. I now have a Nikon Coolpix P600, which despite being named by a sixth-grader (my pix r coolr then urs!) has some pretty great features. I understand that the photo quality of cameras like this will never approach the professional-grade images that litter the blogosphere, but compared to what I was using before (an L810 with no manual controls whatsoever), the improvement is vast.

DSCN5390.JPG

Old Zoom

Zoom Test.JPG

New zoomin’ with Gadwall action!

Both of the above pictures are uncropped out of the cameras at full zoom. The top one is the old L810 with a 23x zoom and focal equivalent of 540mm, and the bottom one is the new P600. The zoom on it is 60x, which reaches an equivalent focal length of 1200mm. The difference is significant. Both shots were taken from roughly the same point at the terminal pond, but now I can discern Gadwall from even the 150+ yard distance across the water.

CACH.JPG

Carolina Chickadee

The zoom is a very nice feature, but the thing that frustrated me most about my old camera was its awful focusing and shutter speed. With few interesting birds this weekend, I spent most of my time photo testing. Carolina Chickadee made for a good subject because they are small, move quickly, and like to hang out with twigs. The P600 was able to lock onto them and get pleasingly clear shots that the old L810 could never handle well.

The P600 is now two years old and has been replaced by a successor model in the P610 and the even more ridiculously long-ranged P900 with an 83x zoom. But if you are a birder foremost and a photographer second and have a budget of no more than about $300, then the P600 will serve you well.

February16 Cumulative Route

Cumulative February Route

Now that February has ended, I am at 53 species on the year with 163 miles biked/hiked. But even better than that, I am now properly equipped to document the birds that will be making their way north soon!

Monthly Update…

For the past several months, I have been averaging one birding outing and then blogging about it. Let’s keep the tradition alive with the month of March.

Red-Necked Grebe

Red-Necked Grebe

Indiana has been experiencing a particularly brutal winter, as I have written about previously. But one of the unexpected bonuses has been an influx of deep-water waterfowl. Lake Michigan has been completely frozen over, which has caused problems for some of the birds that typically prefer deeper, larger expanses of water.

Red-Necked Grebes

Red-Necked Grebes

These Red-Necked Grebes (lifer!) are among those birds that have been driven inland in search of open water. They found it in Fort Wayne at the terminal pond of the water treatment plant. While not exactly the best-sounding place for me to spend a relaxing Sunday morning, this man-made lake was the best habitat for waterfowl, because it circulates and is heated by whatever they do to it at the plant. Other atypical ducks that have seen surging numbers away from the lakeshore include Long-Tailed Ducks, White-Winged Scoters, and myriad Loons, none of which were also present. But I did get one more lifer.

Common Merganser

Common Merganser

Somehow, the Common Merganser (lifer!) was the only Merganser that I had not yet seen. This male was one of the individuals present that let me complete the trifecta. Even from considerable distance, their shape and color blocking made identification easy.

Gadwalls

Gadwalls

There were hundreds (thousands?) of other birds on the water, too. These Gadwalls represented only the second instance of the species I have seen, and they were in full-on courtship mode, chasing and shoving each other around in the lake. From a distance, the best field mark to identify these ducks is the white spot and black butt.

Lesser Scaup

Lesser Scaup

The river had a few birds as well, like this Lesser Scaup, which can be separated by the shape of the head from the similar Greater Scaup. The Mallard in the background offers an interesting size comparison.

Muscovy Duck

Muscovy Duck

Okay, so this final duck was not present in Fort Wayne, and if you are a long-time reader you may recognize it. I saw this Muscovy Duck on the University of Miami campus (hence the White Ibis behind it) in 2012 when Jaime and I were in Florida for my sister’s graduation. At the time, I counted it, but later on I took it off the life list after learning that the South Florida population is descended from domestic stock. In the mean time, I read a great article on 10,000 Birds arguing the case for birds like this, since they are obviously self-sustaining and breeding in the wild. They are basically in the same boat as the ubiquitous European Starlings, House Sparrows, and Rock Pigeons found in every other city that are also descended from feral individuals. So, I have decided that since it’s my list, I will put it back on. With this armchair tick, my life list now stands at 223 species.

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.