CANCELLED: Tonight’s Owls and Rodents Spring Program

Tonight’s ‘owls and rodents’ program has been cancelled due to a campus-wide power outage that is not expected to be resolved in time. We hope to be able to reschedule this program and will keep you all informed through our website and facebook page.

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Owls and Rodents Program

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Tuesday, April 25th at 6:30 pm
Hoff Room, Manchester University Student Union

The consequences of using Barn Owls to control pest rodents: a case study

For many years, the sugarcane agricultural industry in south Florida has been implementing a nest box program in an attempt to inflate the local population of Barn Owls. It is hoped that these birds serve as biological controllers of rodent pests. This program has resulted in one of the densest populations in the world of what is typically considered an imperiled species. From 2005-2006, Jason Martin studied these owls and their relationship to both their prey and the agricultural environment in which they live. In this talk, he will present the findings of his research as well as potential conservation implications.

Jason Martin received his Ph.D. in Wildlife Ecology & Conservation from the University of Florida. Following this, he worked as a biologist for the state wildlife agencies of Florida and New York. He currently lives in Warsaw, IN and works as a wetlands biologist for Kleenco Maintenance and Construction.

For more information, please contact Dave Hicks at (260) 982-2471 or djhicks@manchester.edu

Mary Thornton Nature Preserve Field Trip

Saturday, April 22nd at 9:30 am
Mary Thornton Nature Preserve  (Wabash)

This ACRES Land Trust property provides a great example of an oak/hickory forest being converted into a beech/maple forest. The understory is native and diverse, and the property contains ephemeral wetlands that provide amphibian habitat and breeding areas. Even though the preserve is relatively small, wildlife is abundant.

Directions: From Wabash at SR 13 and US 24, take SR 13 nort 2.6 miles to 300 N and turn right (east). Travel 1.4 miles to the preserve on the right.

For more information, please contact Dave Hicks at (260) 982-2471 or djhicks@manchester.edu

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.

Change of venue

The venue for the April 25th program has been moved across campus. Fortunately, it’s a small campus so, it’s not too far from its scheduled location.

The program will now be held in the Science Center, room 101.

It’s really easy to find. Click here for a campus map.

 

Field Trip to Eagle Marsh

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.

For more information, please contact Dave Hicks at (260) 982-2471 or djhicks@manchester.edu

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.

Black Vulture

By Wilson Lutz

Vultures are often described as Nature’s undertakers. No mess on the highway seems too repugnant for a vulture to dine on. Here in North America, vultures are represented by three species: the turkey vulture, the black vulture and the California condor. Genetic evidence places the vultures in close relation to the stork family although our intuition might have placed them closer to the hawks and eagles. Our common vulture in northern Indiana is the turkey vulture. Historically, the slightly smaller black vulture, Coragyps atratus, seldom ventured much farther north than the extreme southern part of the state along the Ohio River. The black vulture and the turkey vulture are easily differentiated. The turkey vulture’s head and neck are naked and red, whereas the black vulture’s head and neck are naked and black. Also, the black vulture has large whitish patches near the wing tips, a feature that is absent in the turkey vulture.  The wing span is about four and a half feet. Black vultures do more wing flapping than turkey vultures. Black vultures make their nests on the ground. The usual clutch is one to three greenish colored eggs variously marked by purple splotches. The eggs require approximately six weeks to hatch. To conserve energy, black vultures lower their metabolic rate during the night. At dawn, they spread their wings toward the rising sun to absorb heat and regain their normal body temperatures.

The original terrain of the black vulture was the southern United States from the east coast to the west as far as Texas. In Indiana, they were seldom seen north of the Ohio River.  Formerly, the only location in Indiana where they could be found dependably was the Clifty Falls State Park area on the north bank of the Ohio River. With global warming now in progress, black vultures are being seen farther north including the Lake Monroe area and the area around Bloomington. In fact, they are becoming persona non grata. Some farmers have found that black vultures sometimes kill and devour newborn calves. Also, it seems that the birds have a well developed instinct to pick and peck at anything made of black rubber. Windshield wipers on automobiles or rubber seals around car windows are fair game. They have even ripped away rubber roofing seals on utility buildings. Like other birds, black vulture reproduction was severely compromised by the widespread use of DDT during the middle of the last century. Now that DDT is no longer in use, the black vulture has rebounded well.  Federal law prohibits killing black vultures without a permit. The permit costs $50 and is not easy to obtain.

If climate warming continues, we in our area will soon be able to add the black vulture to our northern lndiana birding lists. They will also help us keep our roads free of carrion.

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