Sunday, March 04, 2007

Muscatatuck Ducks

Today is a sunny, crisp Winter day in Indiana and Kentucky. I've been feeling guilty about sitting around watching old movies so much, and decided to take advantage of the weather to go birding. At first, I wanted to go Jasper-Pulaski Fish and Wildlife Area in Northern Indiana to see the Sandhill Cranes, who should be heading North again. However, a close look at the Indiana map shows this area to be a 3.5 hour drive into a snow covered area. Maybe I'll book that trip for next Fall when it's dry. How about Muscatatuck NWR, an easy day trip? Good idea, I congratulated myself.
Muscatatuck has a nine mile auto-trail, where you can stop and look whenever you see anything interesting. I took along the spotting scope and was very glad, because the first set of lakes had the best viewing of the day. Canada Geese were everywhere, of course, honking loudly. Two geese make enough noise to be mistaken for twenty geese! Around this area, I saw:
  • Northern Shovelers
  • Green -Winged Teal
  • American Coot
  • Hooded Merganser
  • American Wigeon
  • Kingfisher
  • Great Blue Heron
  • 2 River Otters
  • Red Shouldered Hawk
This is my first time to actually see the Merganser, Wigeon and Green-Winged Teal. They looked exactly like the pictures in the book, so when one bird had a white crown and another a chestnut head and green eye patch, I had no trouble identifying them. The hawk came circling over the lake and landed in a tree on the other side, too far to really focus on, even with the scope. BUT it came in calling Keer, Keer, Keer, so I knew it was the Red Shoulder rather than the Red-Tailed hawk. These lakes are often quite shallow, and dark spots sticking up are usually bits of tree. However, I watched two such spots and saw them disappear. The scope revealed that they were River Otter eating fish for Sunday brunch.
    Ducks like to sit in the middle of the lake where I can't get a close picture of them. Today I learned that if I can see them well enough for a good photo, they can see me. Wild ducks are very flighty, and will take off on the slightest hint that someone is coming. Geese don't have that problem, and will pose nicely for anyone who wants their picture. I finally got smart when I found three Hooded Mergansers in a secluded pond. There were two males and one female, so I figure some heavy duty courting was going on. I walked on the downstream side of the dam until I was just about even with them. They were busy enough that they didn't notice me for quite a while, and I got some good photos.
    The Turkey Trail is only a mile long, so I set out on it. Muscatatuck has so many water fowl because they have lots of water. They flood the moist soil units in the winter to be sure there is enough water, so any trail gets marshy at least in spots. Winter is a good time to hike in these areas. If it is cold enough to freeze the muddy spots, you can walk over them without sinking in up to your ankles! I did have to take a few detours when the path was completely flooded though. I didn't expect to see any snakes in this weather, and when one was stretched across the path, I was surprised to say the least. A quick picture was followed by a gentle prod with a stick to see if it was alive. The whole body lifted up, and I must conclude that it was frozen. I heartily recommend the bookshop at the Visitor's Center. They have a wider variety of nature books than any park or refuge I have ever seen. They also had terrific photos as posters or post cards, which were taken by a photographer named Mark Trabue. Many of the photos I saw at the NWR can be seen (and probably purchased) online as well.

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