Craving some Northern bird species, I decided that I wanted to go to Indiana or Illinois and observe some. I was invited by my friend Landon Neumann to come up and do a week’s worth of birding in the area.
Day of arrival: My plane landed in Chicago, IL around 11 A.M. We had seen reports of a Barrows Goldeneye in the area and wanted to go chase them. Confidently rolling into the local park, we began scanning the surrounding waters for the Goldeneye.
After thirty minutes of unsuccessful scanning, we found a small flock of Common Goldeneyes with a female Bufflehead, with no Barrows was to be found. Another thirty minutes failed to turn up the bird, and we were starting to re-trace our steps. We re-traced all the way back to where we started with no BAGO’s to be seen. Although we dipped on our target, the highlights were the four Common Goldeneye’s and the Bufflehead.
Driving along a county road, we started noticing large flocks of birds popping up all over the sides of the road. Expecting most of them to be Horned Larks, we didn’t plan on stopping. However, curiosity got the best of me and I wanted to stop and get out. We walked along the road and found a flock of about 300 Lapland Longspurs feeding on some spilled seed on the side of the road. Among them were a couple Snow Buntings.
Day 1: The first of our real birding days was spent driving local roads and birding the nearby river. Within about twenty minutes of birding the river, I spotted a flock of Greater-White Fronted Geese. A third Cass County record, the Geese were good start to the day.
Although we hit the ground running with the GWFG’s, the rest of the day was slow. American Tree Sparrows and Bald Eagles were some other highlights of the day. Arriving back home, we commenced working on our eBird lists.
Day 2: Target Birds: Varied Thrush, Northern Saw-Whet Owl, and Cackling Goose.
Following reports of a Varied Thrush in Lafeyette, IN for a couple weeks, we planned our chase day for 1/2/13. We planned our route so we would go by a place for Northern Saw-Whet owls on the way there, and a place for Cackling Geese on the way back.
A nice gentleman by the name of Mr. Arvin lives on a fairly large plot of land near Lafayette, IN. The amounts of evergreen trees on his property attract many Saw-Whet Owls every year, and his property is the most reliable place in Indiana to find the little Owls. Arriving at Mr. Arvin’s house around 8:30, we hopped in his Gator to go look for the Saw-Whets. Mr. Arvin has an incredible property for birding. We are very grateful for his efforts in Saw-Whet Owl research, and for keeping his land from getting a road built through it and from plans to make it a state park.
We found our first Owl in a small evergreen tree where it had been seen siting there for about twenty days on and off throughout the months of November and December. This bird wasn’t offering a good photo op, so we continued to the next spot.
As we walked up to the tree where the bird was, I just stood there looking around for several moments till I finally spotted the tiny Owl standing still as a stone in the lower branches. With huge dark eyes the little bird stared at me; it was an amazing experience. Climbing a small ladder to the same level as the owl brought about an excellent photo op. Despite the shady lighting, it as still a great op.
After spending some good time at the Owl spot, we decided we wanted to go for the Varied Thrush. We pulled up to the spot where it was being reported, and we got out of the car and began to walk the road, searching for the Robin sized and very colorful bird.
An hour and a half passed as we continuously birded the area. Finally, one of the local Indiana birders spotted the Thrush feeding on some seed a good distance up the hill. Because of its position, the Thrush never offered any good photo ops as it had done for some people. We spent a good half hour observing the Varied Thrush; I was never expecting that bird when I wanted to go to Indiana!
The next stop we were headed for held our last target bird: Cackling Goose. The place where the Geese were reported is called Celery Bog. It is a reliable place for waterfowl as well as plenty of other rarities all year long.
We scanned the Bog for Cackling Geese among about 450 Canada Geese. Luckily, we found three very suspicious Geese that were bathing by themselves, several yards from the nearest Canada. After observing them for awhile, we figured out that they were Cackling Geese. The dark brown chest and very small bill were key field marks to differentiate a Cackling from a Canada, not to mention the pure size of the birds. They were about 30% smaller than the Canada’s.
Ending the day with three lifers for me and two rarities for IN was a great success for Landon and I. Check back soon for the next part of birding Indiana!