Thursday, December 27, 2012

Birding Without Binoculars!

By Landon Neumann

Have you ever birded without binoculars?  Well, two months ago I had the experience of birding without binoculars.  You’re probably wondering why I didn’t bring my binoculars when I went birding.  Well, it was actually on accident.  I had been gathering my gear together for the morning before I was to meet up with a local birder to go birding with and when we pulled into the first spot I realized I had forgotten my binoculars.  Being already eight o’clock I didn’t want to go back even though the other birder said we could go back, so I birded without binoculars.

Luckily, I had my scope and camera with me, so I wasn’t entirely without optics.  At the spot we began at we had birds like White-throated and White-crowned Sparrows; however, most of the birds were fairly close, so identifying these birds was too hard of a challenge even without binoculars.  After birding at our first stop, which was France Park, we sent off for Georgetown Rd. Being late fall it was fairly quiet until we came across a mixed flock that involved your basic woodland birds such as: Carolina Chickadees, Tufted Titmouse, White-breasted Nuthatch, Downy Woodpecker and so on.  After watching  the flock  for a few minutes I noticed a woodpecker flying away from a tree about twenty feet from me, I yelled out, “ Yellow Bellied Sapsucker.” After that I thought, “Did I really just identify that woodpecker that was flying away from me from a distance without using binoculars?”  Within five minutes we found the sapsucker again, which turned out to be a nice adult.

The moral of the story is that sometimes birding without binoculars can make you a better birder because it can train you to recognize subtle field marks and behavior in birds that you might otherwise take for granted when using binoculars.  Hopefully you will try to bird without binoculars sometime.  It can be rewarding and fun, but I still enjoy using binoculars when I go birding.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

An Indiana Invasion! By Landon Neumann

Fall birding is always lot of fun.  It’s even cooler when you have the chance to see birds that rarely come south to Indiana come down in large numbers for the winter. Two weeks ago I had the chance to go up to the lakefront to witness the spectacular winter finch and Bohemian Waxwing display that has been going on this fall.   It was an amazing day of birding.

A friend of mine had wanted to go up to the lakefront this November, so on November 10th we left bright and early to drive up to the lakefront to meet up with some local birders to bird with.  We were hoping to see Bohemian Waxwings and Evening Grosbeaks.  Both of these birds are pretty rare in Indiana except during invasion years like this year.  After meeting up with the group our group headed over to Johnson Beach to look for Bohemian Waxwings that had been reported there.  At the beach we didn’t have much, so we moved on to Ogden Dunes where waxwings, crossbills, and a Townsend’s Solitaire had been reported.

As we arrived at Ogden Dunes a birder had re-found the Solitaire, so our group rushed over to look at this western thrush that shows up in Indiana every now and then.  After we had gotten good looks at the Solitaire we ascended up a dune, so that we could watch for waxwings and crossbills fly over the pinerys.  For the next half an hour we enjoyed frequent flyover White-winged Crossbills with the occasional Red Crossbill flying right above our heads.  Then it happened.  As we enjoyed our latest crossbill flock we saw two large waxwings fly into the tree.  A quick scan revealed them to be Bohemian Waxwings!   For the birders on top of the dune it felt like Christmas day.  Everyone was giving each high-five as we celebrated.  After another fifteen minutes we went down the dune and enjoyed a Red-throated Loon swimming on the lake.  Just to top the day off we next went to Indiana Dunes State park where there had been Evening Grosbeaks at the feeders and within fifteen minutes we had thirty-one Evening Grosbeaks pigging out at the park’s feeders.  
After a quick lunch we conducted a lakewatch to try to find some Cave Swallows. We didn’t get any swallows or really any birds for that matter but, it didn’t really matter because we had already seen Bohemian Waxwings (a lifer for me), and Evening Grosbeaks in Indiana!  It will be a day I will always remember.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

“How Nightshade Changed My Life”

By Alexandra Forsythe

They say every birder has a "spark" bird - a bird that captures your heart and transforms you from a bird watcher into a birder.  My spark bird was a Northern Saw-Whet Owl that I named "Nightshade".

I had the honor of meeting Nightshade during the Northern Saw-Whet Owl banding program at the Indiana Dunes State Park last year.  Nightshade was one of the owls caught that night.  Unlike the other captured owls, Nightshade fought ferociously and managed to get herself very tangled in the net.  The net had to be cut in order to free her.  I admired her spirit and asked to adopt her.  Visitors who adopt the captured owls are kept informed of their owl's travels if they are captured again.  Plus, the adoption fees help the Dunes continue to learn more about the owls.  It's an incredible program; you get such a feeling of satisfaction knowing you're helping not just one owl, but an entire species!

Nightshade, in owl fashion, spun my head around and turned me into a birder.  I started looking for birds everywhere I went and thinking about birds almost obsessively. 

I also realized that I wanted to help others appreciate and learn more about owls and other birds.  I created a PowerPoint presentation about Northern Saw-Whet Owls that I had the honor of presenting during two of the Dunes' banding programs.  I also wrote some booklets and created pamphlets that are available as free downloads on the Resources page of my website:

In addition, I am giving a presentation on North American Owls at Pokagon State Park's Nature Center where I work as a volunteer helping visitors identify and learn more about birds.  I designed the owl program so that people of all ages will enjoy it, from quizzes that test your ability to identify the owls of North America to crafts, worksheets, and prizes for the kids.  It will be at 1:00pm on November 11.

I'm hoping people will come to the programs at the Dunes and Pokagon as curious visitors, but leave with a lifelong appreciation of birds.  I think Nightshade would agree!