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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Finishing Strong

2013 was an insane year, as I have mentioned in previous posts. However, I was able to get out one last time with the hopes of closing down my year list in a big way, and I think I succeeded. I began the year by dipping on a vagrant bird from the west (remember the Varied Thrush?) but was able to end by striking gold with a Snowy Owl.

#149 Snowy Owl

#149 Snowy Owl

This Snowy Owl (#149 and LIFER) is one of about 20 that have descended upon Indiana this year. It has been hanging out in the town of Wabash for the better part of three weeks, and once my work travel and holiday plans wound down, I was able to go after it. I spent the better part of an hour circling the Wal-Mart and surrounding strip malls scanning the rooftops looking for this Arctic beast, because that was where it was reportedly hanging out. After committing to one last pass before giving up, I finally saw it on a building down the street from where it was reported to be. It gave me a great photo opportunity and didn’t seem to mind my presence (probably because it was about 30 feet above and 30 yards away from me). Then I got to watch it barf up a pellet, which unfortunately I could not get on camera.

Following that success, I set my sights on ending the year with a round number. So on the way home I stopped at Arrowhead Prairie.

#150 Northern Harrier

#150 Northern Harrier

Immediately, I saw several Northern Harriers for #150 (and lifer). This one was polite enough to pose on a trail marker.

#151 Northern Shrike

#151 Northern Shrike

I was about ready to head home, until I decided to check out that one last bird silhouette in a distant tree. Expecting it to resolve itself into yet another American Tree Sparrow, I was surprised to see my very first Northern Shrike (#151 and lifer (again!)). I watched it for a few moments, scattering flocks of sparrows as it dove among the weeds.

I ended up finishing my “big year” 99 birds short of my goal of 250, but I am very happy with everything I was able to see this year. I will have a post tomorrow for 10,000 Birds detailing my best bird of the year, and I am looking forward to starting the 2014 list in 2 days!