City Birds

Last night I rode up to the Cascades waterworks between North Walnut and College. I walked out to the waterfall to see what I could see. I first noticed the crop of water lotus that was growing close to shore, and the flowers were just beginning to bud out. The yellow balls were about 2 inches wide, and should bloom fully when we get some warm weather. I went down to the water’s edge, with rush hour commuters on either side.

I looked across the water to the College side of the pond, and there was a young great blue heron standing on the wall and eyeing the fish in the water below.

Great blue heron Cascades Pond
Great blue heron Cascades Pond

But my attention soon changed focus as I heard and saw a pair of medium sized birds hovering over my head. From their calls, and eventually when I saw the male, I knew they were a couple of red-winged blackbirds, and really did not want me to come near the water lotus. The mom hopped about on the leaves sticking up out of the water, and called to me repeatedly while the dad would fly over my head.

I kept my attention on the water lotus as I thought I had seen a mammal swimming between the plants, but then realized that might be what was disturbing the blackbirds. I looked up and realized the heron had flown off in the meantime, and I started to leave also.

But as I walked along the water’s edge, I realized that the nest was not among the water lotus leaves (now I see that did not make sense), but rather in the uncut grass which defined the verge. I stepped into the grass, and was buzzed by the birds, so I am pretty certain I am right. Let’s hope the grounds keepers know enough not to mow that last foot of grass, it is a family home!

Bald Eagles at Lake Monroe

Jojo and I have been out yakking and canoeing on Lake Monroe this August, and reecently we got to watch a full grown (big) bald eagle circle above us. The wings were significantly larger that a buzzard, and we could clearly see the white head and tail. I grabbed the camera and got this low-res, fuzzy view, but you can make out the white, and the silhouette is all eagle.

The next week, we saw one in a dead tree overlooking the water. We paddled past and stopped to go swimming. After a while we saw one, then another eagle fly over head. First we heard a very unusual calls from the trees where we saw the first eagle, a descending series of resonant tones. The the other full grown and a juvenile were on the shore opposite us, and they called back. We were just out of the water when one of them circled above us, and then flew to the other side of the bay, and dived at the water. We didn’t see anything in the claws, but we were not sure.

Bald Eagle over Lake Monroe
Bald Eagle over Lake Monroe

Bald eagle at Lake Monroe
Bald eagle at Lake Monroe

Raptor chick?

While visiting Pine Grove at Lake Monroe, I walked up a ravine about 50 feet, and was surprised by a rather large bird on the ground. It was mostly white, with some black trimming the wings. It was the size of a chicken, maybe a bit larger, with fuzzy fledgling feathers. When it saw me, it retreated under a stone ledge. It made an incredible hissing sound with two distinct tones, I at first thought there were 2 animals there, the other hiding deeper under the ledge.

I ran down to my bike and grabbed by camera, and came back. I turned off the flash so I would not scare it, so these pictures are not very clear. I could see that it had three claws in front and one is back. It’s beak was not long like a heron, which was my first guess, but rather curved like a raptor’s. But who knows I could not make out the legs well enough to tell if it was a wading bird. We had seen an adult blue heron fly away from this area ealier, which made me think this was the important clue.

We were afraid that critters would get the fledgling that night, so we biked up to the Paynetown ranger office, and told them about it, they said Rex Watters would look into it, I hope he did. After talking to several folks there, we thought perhaps it was a baby osprey! But again, I just don’t know, so anyone has a clue, please leave a comment.

May Birds

On Sunday morning, Jojo and took one of our bike loops to Lake Monroe, and it was the single biggest bird day I’ve ever had. By late May most of our migraters are back and nesting. We stopped for a moment on the trail that overlooks Jackson Creek, and watched while a pair of Mallard ducks waddled into the water and started floating down stream.

Once back on the road, and close to the lake, the birds started showing themselves. First a bluebird flew right in front of me, then we saw some goldfinches. Riding through the woods I heard the unmistakable sound of a red-breasted grosbeak (chick-burr) and then a vireo in the upper story of the trees. I often hear woodpeckers, in town we have flickers, red bellies, and downy woodpeckers at our feeder, but in the woods we get lucky and see the large pileated woodpecker.

So early the next day, I was outside our house moving the recycle bins, and to my surprise, a Cooper’s Hawk swooped over my head and landed in a low branch. The birds in the surrounding trees were twittering up a storm, and I could see why, the hawk had an adult starling in its claws, and was just waiting around to see if he was going to be hassled. He then flew to another tree, and from there I suppose to Dunn’s Woods, were I know a pair is nesting. (I am not being grammatically sexist, the males are noticeably smaller that that females.)

My other amazing encounters this month were a great blue heron flying up from one of the ponds in Miller-Showers park, a catbird in our neighborhood, a cedar waxwing near the Von Lee, and a broad winged hawk over the Hoosier Forest.

Cooper's hawks, trout lilies, and spring beauty

I was walking in Dunn Woods at lunch today and heard the unmistakable call of a Cooper’s hawk nearby. I looked at the nest they used last year, and sure enough I saw a tail hanging over the edge, then turn and disappear in the sticks that make up the nest. I walked to the top of the hill where I had seen a patch of trout lily (Erythronium americanum) leaves a couple day earlier. Sure enough, there were dozens of the the little yellow wildflowers, sharing the forest floor with the Spring Beauty (Claytonia virginica) that is widely dispersed in Dunn Woods.

Cooper’s Hawks lookin’ for a home in Dunn Woods

Today I was in Dunn Woods at lunch and stopped to sit on a stump, it was really warm out. I was there just a few minutes when I saw a shadow and heard a hawk call. I gaze at the area east of the Law School and soon saw her fly to a perch high in a beech tree.

She spent some time preening, and looking about, not hunting, it seemed more like she was checking it out. The male builds a nest, last year’s is still in place, but the one from year before (2007) is gone. I plan on keeping an eye on where they nest, last year they had 4 fledglings that that I spotted flying about.

I thought the sound of the red-wing blackbirds was the sign of spring, but it has snowed since then. But today makes me realize, this is it!

She's looking for a home
She's looking for a home

Winter Hawks in Bean Blossom Valley

I was riding in the Bean Blossom valley on a cold mid-February day, and even though I had my Ipod in one ear, and there were some guys cutting wood in a field nearby, I clearly heard a hawk call. I stopped my bike and looked around and saw first one buteo, then 2 more circling above the nearby ridge. They made some further vocalization that sound like “kree”, not a red-tail hawk call, but a short crisp sound. I have not heard this hawk before, it could be red-shouldered hawk or broad-winged hawk, I just don’t know. Their wing tips curved up at the very end, and I think they had some white coloring underneath.

They could have been migrants, but it seemed they were hunting, not migrating. That same day I heard my first redwing blackbirds along Shilo Road near Bean Blossom Creek. They are a harbinger of spring, much more so that robins, who often winter her. On my way out of town I ran into some bird watchers who had found a flock of bluebirds in the forest ridge overlooking Kerr Creek, so even though it will be still be cold, the migrations have begun. I am anxiously waiting for a fly over of cranes, I hear and then see them nearly every year.

First eagle of February

I saw my first eagle of the year on Jan 22 during a ride on the ice of Lake Monroe. He/she was sitting on the shoreline next to the ice at dusk as I was coming into Pine Grove bay.

I think I saw the same bird (or perhaps a relation) just as I was riding west from Pine Grove ramp. The funny thing is that I had just been talking to a birdwatcher who had come down from Bargersville. He talked a bunch about seeing eagles, and I wished him the best. We both saw a robin hopping around in the snow, I guess they don’t all migrate. He decided to head down to Paynetown, and passed me as I was riding on the snow. A few minutes later an eagle flew across the road in front of me.

It was warm (in the 40’s), and I saw two hawks hunting as I rode, one looked to be an accipitor, but the other was much bigger, perhaps a red-shouldered or red-tail hawk. I didn’t hear them call, which is often the best clue to a bird’s identity, and they look similar in flight.

One heron, three coyotes, and an eagle on frozen Lake Monroe

Frozen Lake MonroeOn the way out of Pine Grove, I watched a great blue heron take off from shore and cross the lake, I am sure he was hungry as all of Lake Monroe was frozen. I heard a few woodpeckers calling as I rode over the ice towards Elkinsville, and I found some tracks in the snow cover the ice. But it was not till I was returning westward, when I spotted three coyotes running across the ice. They stopped and watched me for a while as I watched them, but when I started moving, they took off, one split off parallel to me along the ice, the other two started running towards the south shore.

Then as I came around the last point before heading for Pine Grove ramp, I saw a full grown bald eagle take off heading east, he/she had been standing on the shoreline, no doubt wondering when the ice would melt.

Cooper's Hawk near Bryan Park

Today I saw one of the young Cooper’s hawks in a tree near Dodds and Grant Streets. He/she was fluffed up, and watching the yards around with rodents on the mind: the bird did not react to me at all even though I moved ever closer to get a better view. I’m sure it’s one of the 4-5 fledglings who were born in Dunn Woods last spring, I’m happy to see them, but where will the young ones nest next year? The parents have been there 2 years that I have seen, and there are two nests, one to the south and one to the west. Maybe there will be more than one nesting pair this year