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.

pondEast.png

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.

amGP

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.

huGo.png

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.

bbSa.png

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
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