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.

Quebec- August 2017 095b.jpg

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.

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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.

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.

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.

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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

Eagle Marsh Wetland Preserve Field Trip

Saturday, March 25th at 9:30 am
Eagle Marsh Wetland Preserve (Fort Wayne)

Eagle Marsh, on the west side of Fort Wayne, is a reconstructed wetland of over 700 acres. It is a former glacial spillway owned by the Little River Wetlands Project. The ponds and marshes within this preserve are stopovers for water birds. We will look for ducks, grebes and other migrants at an opportune time in the migration season. For more information on the site and the Little River group see http://lrwp.org/eaglemarsh.php. Access to Eagle Marsh is from West Jefferson Blvd., about ¼ mile east of the intersection of US-24 and I-69. Turn south onto Olde Canal Place opposite the entrance to Lutheran Hospital. Olde Canal winds back about ½ mile to the Boy Scout Office and parking lot for the preserve. The area is open and can be quite wet underfoot; dress appropriately.

President’s Corner: Record Human Participation for Record Christmas Bird Count

By Al Crist

Wow! The TAS Christmas Bird Count! Double Wow!! We sure had a great count this year, with the most species we’ve ever recorded (71) and a huge crew of counters participating. The 27 committed birders that rose early and braved the windy winter’s day were the most people we’ve had on a CBC in decades. Beth and I had an especially fine CBC. Early that morning our group chanced upon an incredible mixed species flock. Within a few minutes we had counted numerous species with the highlights being Flickers, Hairy Woodpeckers, a Pileated Woodpecker, and four Purple Finches. I can often go whole winters without seeing a Purple Finch.

Now, how about a slightly bigger challenge? Why not give our May bird count a try? Every year, on the 2nd Saturday in May, we count birds in Kosciusko County for the Indiana Audubon Society’s “Big May Day Bird Count”. The objective of the BMDBC is to count the number of birds of each species occurring in a participating county area from midnight to midnight on the count day. We won’t even expect you to count for the full 24 hours! Maybe 20, or so — just kidding.

Most groups begin early in the morning and are done sometime in the afternoon but you can choose to quit earlier as well. The data snapshot obtained from the numerous counts occurring throughout the state provides a valuable scientific record of the bird populations occurring each year in Indiana.

The May count is a great time to improve your birding skills. Whereas we normally see about 60 or so species on the Christmas count, the total species count is usually in the vicinity of 140 for the May count. Migration is at its peak in early May and you’ll probably see species then that you’ll not be able to see again until the next spring. It’s the best time of the year to work on your Warbler identification skills. If you’re more of a novice, you’ll be paired with experienced birders who will enjoy helping you improve your skills. Hope to see you on May 13th.

On a different note, for Beth and I one of the frustrations of living in northern Indiana is the scarcity of natural habitat to visit and to bird. ACRES Land Trust is a great organization that has protected a lot of habitat in our area. But compared to southern Indiana and some of our more northern Midwestern states, northeastern Indiana is a bit lacking in natural environment.

Recently, Beth and I have scratched that frustration itch just a bit. We’ve discovered an amazing natural area in northern Indiana that, for us, has actually been kind of “hidden in plain sight”. In early May, for the second year, we headed northwest to Chesterton, IN for the Indiana Dunes Birding Festival. We had been quite impressed with this event when we first attended in May of 2015. It’s co-sponsored by the National Park Service and the Indiana Audubon Society and is a great opportunity for some really fine spring-migrant birding. The migrating birds cluster along the southern shore of Lake Michigan before making the long flight north along the eastern or western shores of the lake.

Two different parks comprise what’s commonly referred to as the Indiana Dunes. The Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore stretches, in large scattered tracts along the lake shore from Gary, at the western end, to Michigan City, at the east. Interspersed among the incredibly varied and untouched natural areas of the National Lakeshore are several large steel mills and the busy Port of Indiana. The contrast is surreal. Probably nowhere else in the U.S. does heavy industry and extensive pristine natural habitat exist so closely together and, believe it or not, it works. Halfway between Gary and Michigan City sits Indiana Dunes State Park, bordered on three sides by the National Lakeshore and to the north by Lake Michigan. It’s a large state park with incredible and varied habitats: pristine beach, towering open dunes, wooded savannahs on dunes back from the lake, and extensive marshes. Beth and I think Trail #9 in the park is the most spectacular hiking trail we’ve been on in the whole state. The Indiana Dunes (both State Park and National Lakeshore) is a huge chunk of nature, with 15,000 acres of beaches, prairies, wetlands and forests; more than 70 miles of hiking trails; and 15 miles of Lake Michigan shoreline. If you go, be sure to begin your visit at the Indiana Dunes Visitors Center, located on Hwy. 49 just north of Chesterton. National Park rangers will provide you with all kinds of information on the area.

We had reservations to camp beginning Thursday at the State Park and the first night was quite pleasant. Shortly after dusk we listened to the eerie sound of Whip-poor-wills calling near the campground. Unfortunately, it all went south Friday night at the campground, with giant RVs and screaming kids everywhere. Now don’t get me wrong. There is nothing wrong with either big RVs or kids. Both are fine in moderation, but they were certainly not in moderation at the state park. On Saturday, we knew we could not stand another night there and ended up camping at the National Lakeshore campground, which was new to us. What a great campground! The sites are well separated by woods, the showers and bathrooms are great, and there are no electrical hook-ups which discourages the big RVs. It’s a much quieter campground than at the state park. Pizza trucks set up on week-ends next to the country store at the little crossroads just outside the campground. A quick one-mile hike or bike ride north from the campground takes you past the “Great Marsh” (the largest interdunal wetland in the Lake Michigan watershed), through the village of Beverly Shores, and to a fantastic public beach on the lake. Along the way, you also pass the Beverly Shores train station, probably the cutest train station on the planet! Hop on and in less than an hour you’re in downtown Chicago. The National Lakeshore campground and the surrounding natural areas have since become one of our favorite week-end destinations.

2016 Christmas Bird Count

By Dave Hicks

The TAS Christmas Count was held on December 31, 2016, as part of the National Audubon Society’s 117th count.  The count was highly successful despite high winds, with a record number of 71 species sighted (plus one hybrid).  The highest previous species numbers were 68 in 2009 and 2012, and the long-term average (from 1976 on) is 58.6.  The number of individual birds seen was not a record, however; at 8041, it was considerably less than the long-term average of 10,495.  Despite the record number of species, no new species were found this year.  Some species have been seen only a handful of times on previous TAS Christmas Counts, namely Horned Grebe, Northern Shoveler, Turkey Vulture, Osprey and Hermit Thrush.

Twenty-seven participants turned out to count, the largest number since the 1980s.  Thank you to Margit Codispoti, Al Crist, Beth Deimling, Steve Doud, Alex Forsythe, Pardee Gunter, Tai Gunter, Toshiko Gunter, Lila Hammer, Steve Hammer, Dave Hicks, Deb Hustin, Lana Jarrett, Casey Jones, Jennifer Jones, John Kendall, Cliff Kindy, Arlene Kindy, John Komorowski, Dee Moore, Stan Moore, Melissa Paar, Andrew Pawuk, Connie Pickett, Dan Pickett, Jim Townsend and Nathaniel Wise.  It was great to welcome several new counters to the group.

This is the fortieth TAS count for which we have data.  (There were a couple of counts in the nineties that couldn’t be held because of weather).  This is therefore a good point to summarize some trends over the years.  Although the number of counters this year was the greatest in a long time, the long-term trend is downward, as is the number of individual birds counted.  However, the number of species has trended upwards (though not quite significantly) despite the smaller number of observers.  It is interesting to speculate why this might be.  Have we collectively learned the good spots to find birding spots in our count circle?  Or are we seeing an influx of species due to a warming climate?

One of the best parts of the count is the fun of finding unexpected species.  Andrew Pawuk said, “Turning west off of SR 15 onto 600 N, John Komorowski and I slowly began driving and scanning the fields for birds.  Just over the first rise in the road a large flock of what appeared to be European Starlings began flying from north to south over 600 N.  As we drove closer towards the flock that was now streaming in multiple dozens over the country road, John exclaimed, “SNOW BUNTINGS!”  The white feathers on the underparts gave away the flock’s real identity.  For my brother-in-law and me, this was by far the largest flock of Snow Buntings we had ever seen in our lifetimes; at least 300 flew right over our car and in front of us as they landed just over a rise in the field.”  Deb Hustin found an unusual species in an unusual location. “The count day was cold and blustery. We were counting the usual winter mixed flock of black-brown-grey birds including woodpeckers, tufted titmice, chickadees and nuthatches. They were joined by two Golden-crowned Kinglets, hugging the brush about knee height – our best view of kinglets in a long time.”

Sometimes a second look pays off, even close to home, as Dan and Connie Pickett found. “In our territory for the Christmas count we are fortunate enough to have active Bald Eagle and Osprey nests. On that very windy morning we were not seeing too many songbirds, so we decided to stake out those two nest sites. At the Eagle nest we did not see any of the birds, but counted three checking out the waterfowl buffet on the north shore of Winona lake. Then we went to the Osprey nest in hope of a sighting. We must have sat observing the nest for about 20 minutes with no luck, so decided to go home and eat some lunch. As we got out of the car at home (west shore of Winona Lake), to our joy and excitement an Osprey flew from over the partially frozen lake to right over our house! So who was staking out who?”  It’s always hard to anticipate the best sites to check out, as Casey Jones noted: “We spent a couple hours walking around natural areas greater than 40 acres, or so, only to find the most species diversity at a quarter-acre boat launch on Chapman Lake.”

Steve Doud and Alex Forsythe used some tech tools to draw out birds. Steve says, “While I don’t condone excessive bird song playing in the field, our best sightings were the result of targeted iPod use for secretive passerines in specific habitats.  We had both singing Swamp Sparrow and Winter Wren in a frozen cattail area on upper Tippe; no idea how they make a living there in winter.  At a wooded marsh on south end, a Carolina Wren put in an appearance, but didn’t have much to say.  While trying for Screech Owl (unsuccessfully) near the country club, a mixed flock of small birds mobbed the tape, including a Hermit Thrush, which put on quite a display.  Alex was able to get killer photos of all these birds.  She has developed the ability to use photography as primary ID, in lieu of other optics, while I still depend on real time binoc use.  Makes a good combination.”

Enjoying a day birding with friends is always a high point of the count, as Jim Townsend said. “I have probably been on as many bird counts as anyone.  What stands out to me is just getting to know the other people with me on the counts.  Whether it is just one other person or a full car with four of us, it is a great time to spend with friends both old and new.”

Pied-Billed Grebe 52

Horned Grebe 1

Ruddy Duck 1

Mute Swan 123

Tundra Swan 7

Canada Goose 1682

Gadwall 3

Mallard 601

Mallard hybrid 1

American Black Duck 4

Northern Shoveler 2

Canvasback 12

Redhead 39

Ring-Necked Duck 135

Lesser Scaup 16

Common Goldeneye 109

Bufflehead 22

Hooded Merganser 85

Great Blue Heron 2

Turkey Vulture 4

Osprey 1

Bald Eagle 3

Sharp-Shinned Hawk 4

Cooper's Hawk 3

Red-Tailed Hawk 30

Rough-Legged Hawk 1

American Kestrel 14

Wild Turkey 32

American Coot 2028

Ring-Billed Gull 208

Herring Gull 92

Rock Pigeon 131

Mourning Dove 49

Eastern Screech Owl 1

Barred Owl 1

Belted Kingfisher 5

Red-Headed Woodpecker 3

Red-Bellied Woodpecker 37

Downy Woodpecker 64

Hairy Woodpecker 10

Northern Flicker 13

Pileated Woodpecker 7

Blue Jay 63

American Crow 254

Cedar Waxwing 45

Eastern Bluebird 68

American Robin 60

Hermit Thrush 1

European Starling 519

White-Breasted Nuthatch 52

Brown Creeper 9

Carolina Wren 2

Winter Wren 1

Golden-Crowned Kinglet 2

Black-Capped Chickadee 62

Tufted Titmouse 55

Horned Lark 103

House Sparrow 410

American Goldfinch 48

Purple Finch 6

House Finch 72

Snow Bunting 300

Song Sparrow 7

Swamp Sparrow 4

White-Crowned Sparrow 5

White-Throated Sparrow 2

Dark-Eyed Junco 98

American Tree Sparrow 73

Northern Cardinal 61

Red-Winged Blackbird 18

Common Grackle 1

Brown-Headed Cowbird 2

Archives

Past Tippe-Topics have (finally) been uploaded to the website. All issues are available for download and most years are searchable with any standard .PDF reader application.

Use this wealth of local knowledge to search for more information about a particular species in each issue’s “Bird of the Month” article or to simply take a stroll back through time to see bird conservation discussions from yesteryear.

Our apologies if you’re searching for content from 2007. We’ve had some difficulty tracking down issues from that year. Otherwise, all newsletters have been combined by calendar year and are available in the links below.

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