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.

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.