Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Cass County Spotted Towhee

By Landon Neumann

It’s not every day that a birder finds a statewide rarity on his home turf. But, it happened to me during the first Cass County Christmas Bird Count on December 19, 2013. Here’s a short story about how I found the bird.
Spotted Towhee by Eric Ripma
Before the CBC I had assigned myself a local trail that was in the circle called the River Bluff Trail and some county roads. This spot usually isn't very good in winter but, I was hoping for at least a Yellow-bellied Sapsucker to add to the count.  So on count day I was at the trail bright and early ready to find some birds. The birding started out pretty good, I got the adult male sapsucker right off that I had hoped for.  There were a lot of White-throated and American Tree Sparrows out along the trail and meadows.  Right along the trail, where a river runs parallel, I scored an American Black Duck with a flock of Mallards, which I usually don’t see on that section of the river. Since the trail is 5 miles round-trip and there was 6 inches of snow on the trail the ground, walking was tough going but, I didn't mind. Once I had birded the entire trail, I headed back through the trail again since it is one way. As I was walking, I noticed two female Eastern Towhees sitting in a bush. I was pretty excited about adding them to the count since that species is hard to get in the winter this far north. After I had looked at them, I noticed an adult male towhee nearby that had white spots on his back.  I thought to myself that it looked good for Spotted Towhee - which is a western towhee that occurs in Indiana only on rare occasions.  I studied the bird for a little while before it flew off. Pretty sure that I was correct on my ID, I ran down the trail to my car (which was half a mile away) to check a guide and sure enough the guide confirmed that I had just seen a Spotted Towhee in Indiana!!!  I was pretty excited but, because I knew I needed to finish birding the rest of my area, I left the trail to bird more and then get the word out at lunch.
                During the CBC lunch I was able to get the word out and after lunch some of the birders came with me to re-find the towhee and to document my finding.  Luckily we were able to find it within a few minutes and we were able to get some decent shots of it. The bird stayed for a few more days before it moved on, allowing more birders from around the state to come and see it. Hopefully next year’s Cass County CBC will be as memorable as this one.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Green Jay

By Alexandria Simpson

Green Jay "blue-variant". Courtesy of A. Simpson
When thinking of jays, the color that most often comes to mind is blue.  Most people are familiar with the Blue Jay or another blue-colored jay.  Therefore, you can imagine my surprise when I saw my first Green Jay on a birding trip to Laguna Atascosa NWR in South Texas.  They are certainly green, a beautiful lime green reminiscent of parrots.
In case you still prefer some blue on your jay, the Green Jay does not disappoint: the crown and nape are bright blue.  Add some yellow-green to the bellies, and a black bib, eye line, and throat and you've created a Green Jay.  They seem very colorful but when viewed in their native semi-tropical habitat, they blend in amazingly well with the dappled sunshine and shade.  Males, females, and immatures look identical.
Green Jay and a "blue-variant". Courtesy of A. Simpson.

A few years ago, the Atascosa refuge had a very special jay.  Called the "blue variant" of the Green Jay", it was missing its yellow pigmentation and instead of being bright green, was a dull gray-blue.  When it stood next to a regular jay, the difference was stunning.  It was famous and highly photographed until it disappeared, presumably predated.

Interestingly, the Green Jay is the only common jay species in the Rio Grande Valley.  Nowhere else in the US or Canada can you find these birds; there are also populations in Mexico and South America.  The South Texas subspecies are colored somewhat differently from their South American relations, which are sometimes called Inca Jays.

Green Jays feeding.  Courtesy of A. Simpson.
Like other members of the Corvidae family, which includes jays, ravens, and crows, they are loud, aggressive, and curious birds.  The dinner table certainly never suffers from lack of conversation while the Green Jays are feeding!  A common spectacle, and one that proves their courage, is to see one or more perched atop a javelina, enjoying a free ride.  Studies have shown that Corvids are some of the most intelligent birds.  Green Jays are no exception to this and have been seen using sticks to poke insects out of tree bark.

Groups of Green Jays are called bands, parties, or scolds.  They are mostly family groups with the young from the previous year help out with this year's chicks.  Once the chicks are two years old, they are forced to leave and start a family of their own.

Green Jay perched on a Javelina.  Courtesy of A. Simpson
Green Jays are some of the most interesting birds to watch, especially when they cock their heads at you inquiringly.  Their beautiful plumage and loud, aggressive behavior provide plenty of entertainment.  If you've never had been able to view these birds in action, I hope you get the chance to someday.  They may not be blue, but they certainly are amazing birds!

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Birds of the Border

By Matthias Benko

For millions of years, birds have been oblivious to national, state, provincial, and county borders. That was the case this past Saturday when the IYBC headed up to the Indiana/Illinois Lakefront to do a “little birding.” Actually, a “little birding” is quite an understatement. There was quite a lot to keep us busy------for seven straight hours.
The IYBC crew met up at Miller Beach outside of Gary, IN,  at 9 o’clock eastern time last Saturday. There was a reported Red Knot there, but before most of us could get there, it was spooked by a Cooper’s Hawk. However, the missing Red Knot was made up by a fly-by Whimbrel. After some of us had regained our breathing from the Whimbrel sighting, we decided to head over to the Whiting Park to look for migrant warblers.
We were rewarded very quickly at Whiting Park when we found a group of Nashville, Blackpoll, and Bay-breasted Warblers trying to scare off a perched Red-tailed Hawk. Some other highlights at Whiting Park after the small flock included a couple of Wilson’s Warblers,  an Ovenbird,  some American Redstarts, and a black squirrel. We finished up there and decided to go to what would be a life-changing destination for me.
The Migrant Trap is located next to the infamous Horseshoe Casino. Since the birds are very fatigued from the flight across Lake Michigan, they come here in numbers to rest.  We started at a bird feeder area with species like American Goldfinch, Gray Catbird,  Mourning Dove, House Sparrow, and Black-capped (not Indianapolis’s Carolina) Chickadee. After looking at the feeder birds for a few minutes, we started to head down the park’s only trail. Almost immediately we saw one Black-throated Green Warbler and numerous Tennessee Warblers. After the Tennessees, we started seeing lots of Blackpolls. It was getting a bit repetitive, but then I got my first life bird of the trip-------- a male Magnolia Warbler in vibrant fall plumage. It felt like there was some sort of unbreakable bond between the two of us, and I knew for a fact right then and there that the Magnolia Warbler was one of my favorite warblers. Just when it couldn't it get any better, it did. A male Black-throated Blue Warbler showed up. I don’t exactly know how to explain the feeling when I saw him, but I am sure that is what it must feel like to be star-struck. The only two new warblers that I saw on the trip became part of my top three favorite warblers. It is kind of strange how it ended up that way, but I don’t think it was a coincidence.....
At the end of The Migrant Trap, there is a little mudflat area. I saw new two lifers here------- Semipalmated Plover and Sanderling. By that time, we were all hungry, thirsty, and fatigued, so we took a lunch break. After our quick refueling, we headed back to Miller Beach. I ended the day there after I saw my first American Golden Plover (in full plumage!) and my first Black-bellied Plover. All in all, it was a wonderful day for not only us, but the birds who survived their brutal flight across Lake Michigan.

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Jewels in the Countryside of Indiana

By Matthias Benko

The gnats and mosquitoes are swarming all around me. I try to ignore the annoying buzzes and the forming bites. As I keep walking around the parking lot with the group, I catch my first glance at a gargantuan nest box. The next thing I feast my eyes on stops me in my tracks. I have just seen my first Purple Martin.

The Purple Martin colony I have described is located at Willow Slough FWA in Morocco, IN. This is where the Indiana and Illinois Young Birders met up for some birding this past Saturday. Getting there was no easy task for my mom and me. It required waking at 5:30 in the morning, getting everything together, and  traveling 250 miles by car. However, once we got there, I could tell the birds were worth a long road trip. As we gathered at a central point in Willow Slough, we found a Red-headed Woodpecker nest. It was definitely amazing to see such a beautiful creature feeding young. We then walked around the parking lot, looking for species. We saw American Robins, Common Grackles, Cedar Waxwings, and Chipping Sparrows. Once we reached the lakeside, I saw my first Purple Martin. It was so mind-boggling to me that a bird could be bright purple. After I had looked at the nesting colony for a few minutes, our group heard thunder. Since the main attraction of this trip was Kankakee Sands, we decided to drive over there before the rain struck.  
The drive to Kankakee was actually quite productive. On the way there we saw Indigo Buntings, a Red-tailed Hawk, a Dickcissel (a new species for me), and an Eastern Meadowlark.  We arrived at our destination, the headquarters, and I had my first amazing look at a Dickcissel (the first one was obscured by brush). Then, a Henslow’s Sparrow was sighted, and I got my first look at this species. I was so happy to see this bird because, unfortunately, it is endangered in the state of Indiana.  After the Henslow’s Sparrow, I got my first look at a Grasshopper Sparrow. The other highlight at the headquarters was a Common Yellowthroat. After that, our group decided to head to another area of Kankakee.

The first sighting in the area we arrived at was a Bobolink; however, only one person saw it. Besides that, we also saw an Orchard Oriole, a Baltimore Oriole, and a Lark Sparrow. We ran out of luck after the Lark Sparrow. It had begun to pour so heavily that we decided to end the field trip a few hours early. It would have been awesome to stay longer, but it would have been no fun to bird in the pouring rain.

This was truly an amazing field trip. I would like to thank the IYBC team for planning such a marvelous trip. I can’t wait to go back to Kankakee on a sunny day. 

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Birding Basics and Beyond!

By Alexandra Forsythe

Red-headed Woodpecker by Alex F.

We had a great crowd at Pokagon for the "Birding Basics and Beyond!" program! There were dozens of children and teens who were interested in birds, so hopefully we'll have several new members in the IYBC soon.
Mr. Velasquez gave an interesting presentation about the birds and other animals he's encountered on his adventures.  He inspired everyone to grab their passport and binoculars and head for the tropics!
Yellow-rumped Warbler by Alex F.
We took the attendees on a birding hike, and even though the weather was not ideal, we spotted a number of species, including Yellow-Bellied Sapsucker, Red-Headed Woodpecker, Yellow-rumped Warbler, and Golden-crowned Kinglet.
I'm certain everyone had fun and learned a lot - with Fred Wooley, Lauren Loffer, and John Velasquez, it was sure to be a hit!

Monday, April 1, 2013

Spotted Redshank at Goose Pond, IN

By Landon Neumann

Spotted Redshank, Goose Pond, IN.  Photo by Ryan Sanderson
A Spotted Redshank in Indiana was definitely not what I was expecting to happen this past week, but I guess there is never the impossible in the birding world.  After hearing about the Redshank on Thursday I quickly went into action to find a ride to be able to see this bird. Well, after finding a ride with Chicago young birders, Ethan and Aaron Gyllenhaal, and Ted Wolfe I was able to chase this mega-rarity on Saturday.

Spotted Redshank (right) at Goose Pond.  Photo by Ryan Sanderson
After a very long three hour drive through the great Indiana corn desert we arrived at Goose Pond FWA.  Right, as we pulled in the bird was actually viewable from the car! However, right as we were getting our stuff out the bird flew to the other field that it was feeding at, so we had to walk the ½ hike down the levee to get better look at it since we had only see it flying away.  During the walk we encountered over 100 birders along the levee. Some people were as far away as Massachusetts!  After a fifteen minute hike we reached where the bird was, so we set our scopes up to see the bird. Within a minute of searching we had found the bird in our scopes!  We were all overjoyed to get such great look at this bird.

After we had found the bird we observed the bird for the next hour or two.  It was neat to see the bird’s red legs, but also its red base that it had on its bill. While we were watching the redshank, it called for us a couple times and it was frequently chasing away Lesser Yellowlegs, who were feeding close to it.  The field that it was in was also filled with other birds. Some of the highlights that were in the field apart from Redshank were 23 American Golden Plovers, a Long Billed Dowitcher, and 3 Black Necked Stilts. The field was also jammed back with Green-winged and Blue-winged Teal, Pectoral Sandpipers, and both species of yellowlegs. Overall, it was a lot of fun birding along the levee.

I’m very thankful to see such a rare bird. It was one of the rarest birds I’ve ever seen in North America. If you haven’t seen it yet I would strongly recommend you go see it. It will be a while, if ever, before one shows up again in Indiana.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Herons, Loons, Grebes, Ducks, Towhees- Oh my!

By Matthias Benko

Matthias (on-scope) with other IYB's checking out a Ruddy Duck!
Yesterday, The IYBC took an amazing field trip to the Heron Rookery in Hamilton County. All who participated in the event are now experts on Great Blue Herons.  A few facts about herons include that they have something called nuptial plumes connected to their head during breeding season (February-July), there is almost no way to tell males and females apart, and they nest in trees! That’s kind of counterintuitive  right? I thought wading birds nest on ground near water.  I was totally wrong. However, besides seeing tons of Great Blue Herons and their nests, we saw much more. There was a Common Loon that flew over the place where we met.  Among the Loon, we also saw the following (brace yourselves, there is a lot): European Starlings, American Robins, Eastern Bluebirds,  a Pileated Woodpecker, a pair of Wood Ducks, a male American Kestrel, a female Northern Flicker, and a male Eastern Towhee (a new bird for me, I had only seen a female twice before.) Then, after someone had guessed the “secret duck” for a field guide, we decided to head off on another adventure.

IYB's on 3-23-13!!  Matthias (left)
The Star of the Show!  A Great Blue Heron.  Photo by Ceth Williams
The Morse Reservoir is a place I had never visited before. I honestly had no idea what I was missing out on! There were Common Loons in full plumage (a lifer for me), Horned Grebes in mid-molt (another lifer), Mute Swans, American Coots, Mallards, and Ruddy Ducks (yet another lifer). I also found out by talking to Rob Ripma that one of my spark birds was a Harris’s Sparrow! (At that time, I was not a very seasoned birder.) All in all, this trip was worth it in so many varied ways. I am proud to call myself a part of the Indiana Young Birders’ Club.  

Sunday, March 3, 2013

IYBC Field Guide Giveaway!

 By Chad Williams

I can remember how excited I was when I turned the pages of my first field guide!  I knew there were a lot of birds out there and, I knew that there were a lot of different birds out there but, I didn't have a clue that there TONS more all around!  I also didn't know that they came in so many shapes and sizes! When looking at the first pages, I realized immediately I had to learn as much as I could about as many birds as I could and then find a way to go see them – in real life. 

It’s been many years since my first Peterson’s Guide but, still today I am not sure the sun has ever set before I have opened the pages to one of my many field guides.  Whether I’m using a guide to identify a specific of bird or simply using it to fantasize about my next adventure – I incessantly have my nose buried in a field guide.  An entirely new world opened the day I turned the pages of my first guide and I haven’t looked back since.

The Indiana Young Birders Club is on a mission to get new field guides into the hands of any young birder that has a passion for birds and that needs a field guide to help expand on his/her passion.  To date, we've given over 100 field guides away (free of charge) to young birders/naturalists with a fiery desire to learn more about birds and we want that number to grow!  So, throughout 2013 we will be giving away field guides at IYBC programs and via our website simply by submitting a short online essay about birds, a birding adventure, or a favorite bird species.  Our only request in return is that each recipient sends us a picture of themselves showing off their new guide.  Simple!

To learn more about the IYBC 100 Guide Giveaway, to apply for a field guide, or to donate to our field guide mission, please check us out at www.indianayoungbirders.org.

Please help spread the message about this amazing opportunity!

Happy Birding!!!

Pictures left to right and top to bottom: Carlynn and Benji B. (top left), Kamden M. (top right), Lorena and Serena W. (middle), Naomi and Kiana V. and Grandma (bottom left), Joshua and Mary R. (bottom right)

Friday, February 8, 2013

Salamonie Eagle Watch

By Alexandra Forsythe

Alexandra (left), Lynnanne Fager (center)

If you've never attended an Eagle Watch, you’re really missing out!  In Indiana, we are fortunate to have several Eagle Watch locations across the state from Turkey Run to Mississinewa.  During these events, you learn more about eagles, visit roosting sites, and if the conditions are right, you may see dozens of eagles in one location.

This year, I was fortunate enough to help at the Salamonie Eagle Watch event on February 2 and 3.  I created interactive display/quiz boards about Bald Eagles to entertain and educate the visitors.  

Despite the hazardous road conditions, we had a huge turnout.  We even had some familiar faces: Don and Terri Gorney!  The eagles did not disappoint; dozens of eagles were happy to pose for the cameras.  For up close and personal viewings of Bald Eagles, Zach Walker from Of Wings of Eagles brought Belle (an education eagle), and Soarin’ Hawk Raptor Rehab brought Jefferson for his debut as an education eagle.

Be sure to attend an Eagle Watch program.  You won’t be sorry!

Photo provided by Alexandra Forsythe.

Sunday, January 27, 2013

IYBC Saw-whet Owl Trip!

By Ceth Williams

On January the 19th the Indiana Young Birders took a trip to Lafayette, Indiana to the property of Dr. Delano Arvin to take a couple of hikes around the woods to see Saw-whet Owls. These owls are one of the tiniest owls in the world so we were very excited to them. First, we hiked up to the top of a hill where an owl was resting in a grove of pine trees. It was hard to see, but it was still cool. In the next spot we went there was an owl right in the open making it very easy to get pictures. There was also another owl further back in the woods.

Around thirty people showed up to see the owls. There were a bunch of kids, but there were also quite a few adults. The kids got to ride on the gator to go see the Barred Owls because they would fly off if you walked to see them. We walked to see the Saw-whet’s. The gator was fun!  Sadly enough, my sock hat got taken off by a branch. But, we turned back around to get it.

The pictures of the Saw-whet Owl at the bottom of the hill were amazing. The little thing was right in your face.  At the top of the hill it was harder, but I still managed to find a hole and get good shots. It was dark where the Barred Owls were, but I was still able to get a few pictures. This property is one of the best places the IYBC visits. There are so many opportunities to see things you can’t always see together in one place and when we go we also learn about many other things in the woods.

IYBC’s next trip there will be in April. So I hope the experience is as good as it always is and maybe better. This is really one of the best trips we have taken. I will come and attend every event. I hope everyone else enjoys it as much as I have.

Pictures (all by Ceth Williams on the Arvin property): (Top) Saw-whet Owl, (Middle) Barred Owl, (Bottom) Hornet Nest.

Friday, January 11, 2013

Christmas Bird Counts and How Young Birders Can Help Your Local Teams

Sarah Sass

Sarah at her first CBC in 2009

Have you ever been on a Christmas bird count?  Well, if you haven’t, I highly recommend it.  Not just for the sake of birding, but for the conversation.  Christmas bird counts are a good way to meet other birders who may just be the same age as you or they may just live near you.  Being young birders, we don’t all have a driver’s licenses.  Therefore, if you don’t have a parent into birding, it could be quite hard to get a ride to a birding hotspot such as Goose Pond.  Getting to know another birder that lives near you could help you get out to enjoy some of the birds that you may not have another opportunity to see.

One reason that young birders are needed on Christmas bird counts is that we offer great eyesight and excellent hearing.  Having young birders like us on the team can help to increase the number of birds that your team either sees or hears.  So don’t hesitate to find out when a team near you will head out for a full day of birding.

Lindsey and Sarah Sass in 2012

When you do meet a birder to hang out with while in the field, don’t be afraid to start a conversation, whether it’s about birds, family, or even yourself.   Birders love to hear birding stories, and even how that person started birding.  It’s important that you feel comfortable with the group that you are with, because on Christmas bird counts, you need to work as a group to spot things.  In many cases, you will need to shout out the birds that you think you see or hear so your group can clarify and count. 

Many Christmas bird counts have what’s called a compiling party at the end.  At a compiling party, all of the teams in that particular count will get their data recorded.  From what I just told you, the compiling party may sound kind of boring, but before you get your data recorded all of the birders get to hang out, tell stories, and eat some food.  It’s kind of like a small potluck.  All of the birders bring food to share at the party.  You can meet even more birders!  There are plenty out there, and compiling parties are one of the best places to meet other birders. So never overlook the compiling party. 

So, when our birding mentors are no longer around, we young birders will need to step in and carry on what the last generation did.  It is best to start birding at a young age to have more experience.  I started birding when I was eight years old, and I have been into walking and the outdoors since I was only two years old!  My life list has 251 species on it, and my last life bird, the Merlin, I got on a Christmas bird count.  I have participated in four Christmas bird counts just this season, and I have enjoyed every one of them.  That’s the basic information about Christmas bird counts and why young people like us need to get involved in Christmas bird counts.