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The forty-second annual Christmas Bird Count will take place all day on Saturday, December 30th. Mark your calendars!

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President’s Corner

Vacation thoughts

By Al Crist

Beth and I recently returned from our annual late-summer vacation. This year the primary destinations were Vermont and the Gaspe’ peninsula of Quebec. On Gaspe’, I was able to check off an item on my “bucket list” that had been on my list for some years. I know it sounds crazy to drive nearly 1,500 miles to see a colony of seabirds, but that was the draw that brought Beth and me to far eastern Quebec.

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Northern Gannets are spectacular seabirds. They’re the largest indigenous seabird in the North Atlantic with wingspans of nearly 6 ft. Not only is their size impressive, their feeding behavior is both breathtaking and remarkable. Gannets feed on groups of schooling fish by plunge-diving. Beth and I sat on a pebble beach near our campground at Forillon National Park and watched small groups of Gannets slowly cruise the area off-shore from the beach. When fish were spotted they would abruptly begin a rocket-like dive into the water from cruising heights as high as 125 ft. As they approached the water their wings were extended backward, close to their bodies, and they entered the water as sleek arrowheads at speeds that can be as high as 60 MPH. What a show! Once in the water their dives are usually less than 10 ft., but can be as deep as 50 ft. Favorite prey include herring, mackerel, capelin, and squid.

Gannets breed in dense colonies on both sides of the North Atlantic.  On the western side of the Atlantic their breeding is confined to 6 colonies, three near Newfoundland and three in the Gulf of St. Lawrence in Quebec. The most famous and accessible breeding colony is on L’Ile Bonaventure, an island a few miles off the coast, near Perce’, Quebec.  The Gannet colony on Bonaventure Island is what we came to see and it did not disappoint. Gannets remain completely at sea except for the few months spent at their breeding colonies. They begin to arrive back on Bonaventure Island in May. Incubation of the single egg each pair produces lasts about 40 days and the chicks are fed by the parents for about 90 days before they fledge. By early October they are all gone from the island. This year the estimated population on the island was 44,000 breeding pairs plus their chicks.

The French of Quebec are so civilized. After hiking for 45 minutes from the boat landing to the cliff-top colony on the north side of the island, we were greeted by a refreshment stand and a picnic area overlooking the colony. One could enjoy a snack along with a cold beer or glass of wine while viewing the Gannets only a few feet away. It was amazing. Birds everywhere; squabbling, bickering, seemingly crash landing as they flew in trying to find their few square feet of territory, birds leaving to catch fish to bring back to their chicks, chicks constantly begging for food, and the powerful smell of bird dung produced by over 100,000 birds. What a spectacle!

One of the things I most enjoy about vacations is the chance to leave everyday thoughts behind and ponder the larger questions of life and living in this modern world. Quebec was just great for this. Our cell phones didn’t work there and radio and newspapers were mostly in French. We forgot about politics, natural disasters, and all the stressful bad news that bombards us daily when at home. Rather than being stressed and, or angered by the news of the day, we enjoyed the incredible scenery and natural areas of the Gaspe’ peninsula, and were buoyed by the story of the conservation success of the Northern Gannet. Since the production of both DDT and PCBs were banned in the 1970’s, levels of both contaminants have declined dramatically in Gannet eggs, resulting in thicker shells and much improved nesting success (from less than 40% to over 75%). Gannet populations are currently increasing more than 3% per year.

And then there is the story of how Gannet chicks fledge; something I find to be truly inspirational. At fledgling stage the chicks really can’t fly. When they fledge, they make their way from the nest to the edge of the cliff, lean forward, and jump! They might flap their wings a few times, but mostly they just clumsily glide, soon splashing down in a sort of crash landing 500 to 1000 yards out in the ocean. At this point in their life, they are completely independent – no more help from mom or dad. Now that’s some “tough love”. They can’t yet fly and they have never fished and they’re on their own. They start paddling out to sea. Scientists estimate they have one to two weeks of excess body fat to live on until they begin to fly and hunt. Their wings and wing muscles must develop enough for them to begin to fly, and living off their body fat for a while will lighten them up to make the first true flight a bit easier. Within a couple of weeks, they must become adequate flyers and teach themselves how to catch fish, all by their little lonesome. Of course, most of this is instinctual, but determination is surely a big part of the process as well.

Next time you face a challenge in your life, think of what faces a Gannet chick once it jumps off that cliff! Now that’s inspiration.

Annual Picnic Report

Report from the Annual Picnic held on July 23, 2017

More than a dozen members and their families attended the Annual Picnic this Summer at Koinonia Environmental and Retreat Center near Pierceton. We shared more-than-enough food, great fellowship and stories about how unusually wet the summer had been. This also being the reason for our indoor ‘picnic’; as the wet ground and surrounds had reinvigorated the mosquito population.

 

After lunch and a quick board meeting, A few of the group braved the bugs and — armed with repellent — we kept a quick pace through the wooded portion of the property. Even still, Al’s arms are blurred in the photo (right) from swatting the mosquito clouds that wouldn’t quit.

If you haven’t attended our annual picnic before, we encourage you — and your family — to share a dish and share in the company of a group of conservation-minded folks.

Our annual picnic generally takes place in July each year and is always hosted at one of several nearby natural areas managed by Tippecanoe Audubon Society or one of our partners.

Chipping Sparrow

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By Wilson Lutz

When I was still in knee pants many years ago, I usually spent the afternoons enjoying my newly acquired ability to read. On one such afternoon I was enjoying the comic strip in our daily paper when my mother called me to the front yard.  Across the front of our house was a thick mass of spirea bushes along with other flowering plants just a few feet high. When I got outside, she carefully parted the shrubbery. What she revealed therein was a neat little bird’s nest.  I had had no idea that it was there. Nor did I know what bird had made the nest. My mother informed me that it was the nest of a chipping sparrow. Within the nest were four little eggs. Each egg was light bluish-green with brownish-black spots concentrated at the large end. The chipping sparrow, Spizella passerina, is what I have learned to call a neatbird. It is a trifle smaller than other sparrows. The forehead is black, divided in the middle by a thin white stripe. The plumage on its crown is chestnut colored. Beneath the crown is a light gray horizontal stripe above the eye.  A narrow black stripe proceeds horizontally through the eye. The throat, neck, and abdomen are a uniform light gray. The back and tail are a darker gray. Extending along the darker gray back is a series of  black lines. The tail is deeply forked. The bill is small and black — well adapted to eating small seeds and insects. Chipping sparrows like to use animal hair as a nesting material when it is available. Horse hair is a particular favorite. The female lays a clutch of three or four eggs. The breeding range of the “chippie” is extensive.  It covers nearly all of the United States and extends north into Canada as far as Nova Scotia. Out west the chippies are slightly larger than the eastern birds. [Desert areas are not very hospitable to chippies.] I have often seen chipping sparrows tearing apart the “heads” of dandelions that have gone to seed. Beneath each fuzzy white “parachute” is attached a small, elongated brown seed that the chippies evidently relish. Small insects, worms, and larva are also favorites. The song of the Chipping Sparrow is quite distinctive. It consists of a closely spaced series of notes, all on the same high musical pitch. It is better described as a staccato rather than a trill. To hear the sound of the chipping sparrow on a cool April day is truly one of the welcoming sounds of spring.

The Kosciusko County “Shorebird Farm”

by John Kendall

Northeast Indiana birders were treated to good shorebirding this summer and fall at the Wood Family Farm in Southern Kosciusko County, just west of Sidney. This site held good numbers and diversity of normally scarce shorebirds in an area that is heavily agricultural. Looking back, there couldn’t have been a better recipe for habitat. 

Northern Indiana received significant rainfall from April through July. Southern Kosciusko County received nearly 15 inches of rain from April through June, followed by a whopping 8.6 inches in July. This allowed many northern Indiana fields to flood this summer, but most are tiled and drain too fast to hold the food that shorebirds need. By late July, the rain stopped, with only 3 inches of rain falling over the next 6 weeks.

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I had been watching nesting colonies of Bobolinks, Dickcissels, meadowlarks and a few Grasshopper and Henslow’s Sparrows in this Southern Kosciusko County hayfield since 2014. In June, I noticed that the flooded low area across 900 South to the north, along CR 400 East held a large pond of several acres. In past years, there had been a few shorebirds and freshly-fledged Hooded Mergansers in July 2015. The pond had historically drained too fast, not enough, or at the wrong time. This year, there were at least 3 more ponds that had developed, draining the 100-acre hay field and discharging into the annually-flooded area (pond) that bisects 400 East. Like the flooded pond below them, these wetlands had also grown typical pond/marsh edge vegetation, staying flooded through June. Soras, Pied-billed Grebes and Mallards began nesting. The drawdown of each pond began in mid to late July. Other than Killdeer, the first date that shorebirds were observed using the site was 28 July. Initially, the pectorals and yellowlegs dominated, using the heavily vegetated pond edges first and moving later to the centers of the ponds, which became a bountiful, vegetation-free mudflat.

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Highlights included several new county-record species of shorebirds, with many birders adding several new species to their county lists. Birders visiting in early mornings and evenings were also treated to the memorable songs of Soras and Pied-billed Grebes.

Also interesting were bickering pectorals and yellowlegs amongst periodic looks at molting, bathing and drinking grassland nesters.

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As the lower pond began to dry, more peeps and plovers arrived. In late August, it became apparent that there were at least two different-aged broods of Pied-billed Grebes, totaling at least 12 individuals. The youngest group was in peril as the pond’s last 3’ of water drained in only 2 days. No Grebes were found after September 3, except for 2 at the farm pond. ¾ mile north along 400 East.

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Like other ephemeral sites of the past, the Kosciusko Shorebird Farm was an enjoyable experience, including meeting the farmers, showing them the Bobolinks and other species. Other interesting species included Turkey Vultures in the grass field, Blue Herons, Great Egrets, 2 Green Herons, a hungry Peregrine Falcon, and all the Swallow species.


Highlights from the Kosciusko County “Shorebird Farm”

species

total

max.

date

Hudsonian Godwit*        

1

1

17 Aug.

Buff-breasted Sandpiper*      

1

1

10 Sep.

Ruddy Turnstone*

1

1

10 Aug.

Wilson’s Phalarope*

1

1

8-11 Aug.

White-rumped Sandpiper

1

1

8 Aug.

Baird’s Sandpiper

4

2

23 Aug, 2 Sep.

Stilt Sandpiper

14

8

28 Aug.

American Golden-Plover

4

2

10 Sep.

Black-bellied Plover

1

1

30 Aug.

Short-billed Dowitcher

4

2

8-17 Aug.

Semipalmated Plover

18

8

30 Aug.

Semipalmated Sandpiper

8

3

23, 28 Aug, 2 Sep.

Wilson’s Snipe

4

2

26 Aug., 2 Sep.

Pectoral Sandpiper

208

140

14 Aug.

Least Sandpiper

26

13

28 Aug.

Greater Yellowlegs

22

6

14, 22 Aug.

Lesser Yellowlegs

106

50

13 Aug.

Solitary Sandpiper

31

20

9 Aug.

Spotted Sandpiper

34

12

9 Aug.

Killdeer

260

100

13 Aug.

*First county record
Sightings from e-Bird. Contributors: Annie Aquirre, Matthew Bowman, Angie Capp, Conrad Harstine, Jeff McCoy, Tanner Troyer, Debby Vincent, Stephanie Wagner, Nathaniel Wise, Nick Yarde, John Kendall

Annual Dinner

followed by an educational program about

Freshwater Mussels

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presented by Warren Pryor, Department of Biology, University of Saint Francis

This event will be held at the Manchester University campus on the second floor of the Jo Young Switzer Center (JYSC) student union in the Hoff Room. The JYSC is located on East Street, a couple hundred feet North of the College Avenue intersection.

The price of dinner is $12 and includes: Honey roasted turkey, lasagna, salad, roasted sweet potatoes, green beans and carrot cake. Those who do not wish to join us for dinner may attend the program for no cost. 

Reservations are required for dinner. Use the form below to save your spot or Contact Dave Hicks at (260) 982-2471 or djhicks@manchester.edu

 

Did you know that nearly 300 species of mussels inhabit freshwater rivers and lakes in North America? This is the richest diversity of mussels found in the world. Freshwater mussels are sedentary, long-lived (some live over 100 years) mollusks that live in sediments and filter water to feed. Because they are filter-feeders, mussels are excellent indicators of the health of our lakes and rivers. In addition, mussels are a vital link in the food chain because they are a major food item for wildlife such as raccoon, muskrat, and otter. Their lustrous pearl-like interiors have made them valuable in the cultured pearl and jewelry industry.

The Tippecanoe Audubon Society is sponsoring an educational presentation on the mussels in our local lakes and rivers on November 14 in the Hoff Room at Manchester University. Dinner will be served at 6:30 pm and the program will start at 7:30 pm. If you would like to attend the program but, do not wish to join us for dinner, please arrive a little before 7:30 p.m. There is no charge if you only attend the program. 

Warren Pryor, professor of biology at the University of St. Francis will help us learn all about our native mussels and explain why they’re so important to our streams and rivers. Dr. Pryor will talk about the research he and his students have been conducting on the mussel beds in our local watersheds.

Fall 2017 Field Trips

Saturday, october 28 @ 9:30 am
hathaway preserve at ross run (near lagro)

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This ACRES preserve features the gorge of Ross Run.  This will be a great trip for the cliffs, waterfall and fall colors, as well as late migrant and winter resident birds.  Be prepared for some ups and downs on the trail.

From Wabash at SR 13 and US 24, take US 24 east 2.0 miles to SR 524 and turn right toward Lagro. Travel east 1.5 miles to SR 524 (Davis St.) and turn right (south).  Travel SR 524 for 1.5 miles to Baumbauer Rd., and turn right (west). Travel 2.2 miles to the preserve on the right. acreslandtrust.org/preserve/hathaway-preserve-at-ross-run/

Saturday, November 18 @ 9:30 am
TAS Herbert Taylor Preserve (near Liberty Mills)

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This site on the bluffs above the Eel River was TAS’s first preserve.  From SR 13 north of North Manchester, turn east and travel into Liberty Mills.  At the east side of town, turn north (L).  Follow the street to the old schoolhouse and bear right.  Follow the road through a couple of right-angle bends and turn off at the TAS preserve sign.  Follow the lane on the south side of the pines to the parking area. 

Use the form below to request more information about these field trips

41st Annual Spring Bird Count

Big May Day Count
May 13, 2017

Please join the Tippecanoe Audubon Society for the annual “Big May Day Bird Count” on May 13th. The objective of the BMDBC is to count the number of birds of each species occurring in a participating county from midnight to midnight on the second Saturday in May. This data snapshot provides a valuable scientific record of the bird populations occurring each year in Indiana. The results will be compiled, analyzed, and published in the Indiana Audubon Quarterly.

This will be TAS’s 41th year participating in this count, which is sponsored by the Indiana Audubon Society. We will cover all of Kosciusko County to document the spring migration. This should be a great time to get your annual look at warblers, thrushes, and shorebirds as they pass through our area. Typically, our group observes over 125 species in this count. Both experienced and novice birders are needed, and you may participate for a whole day or part of a day.

To participate, contact Greg Clark at (260) 982-7588 or gwclark@manchester.edu