Saturday, November 24, 2007

Indiana Eagles

"Oh, what a beautiful morning," we thought as we drove over the Ohio River into Indiana for another birding trip with the Beckham Bird Club. The sunrise shone pink behind our shoulders, while the full moon set behind the Kennedy Bridge. My camera, unfortunately, was in its case in the back of the car, so there are no pictures. With such a great start, we expected a cool but sunny day, and boy, what a mistake that was! The clouds only broke once, and the temperature never got warm enough to be pleasantly brisk. Giant frost crystals awaited us at Muscatatuck National Wildlife Refuge when we arrived, but we were not deterred and drove off to see the birds.
At our first stop we saw Canadian Geese and Mallards swimming in the pools between ice sheets, a Great Blue Heron trying to stay warm in the brush nearby, and two Wilsons's Snipes. The Killdeer slipped around trying to walk on the ice. A Harrier flew overhead then on to the next small lake. Soon, a larger bird came over, and it was a Bald Eagle, which circled the lake then landed in a tree to survey the neighborhood. Closeups indicated that this bird had just recently acquired its white feathers, as we could see remnants of brown feathers on his head and the tip of his tail. He posed in the tree while we all took a look with the scopes, then moved on. The Blue Heron directly under the Eagle kept his head pointing straight up to keep a close eye on this big guy.
The next lake didn't offer much for the water birds, since there wasn't as much water as we had seen there before. In addition to the Canadian Geese, we saw a few Black Ducks, some Green-winged Teal, and a Pintail Duck - a life addition for me. A Goose slid on the ice and landed on her tail, just as I would have while walking on ice. Two Red-Shoulder Hawks perched in trees across the lake, and we tried to pish some smaller birds in with little luck.
River Otters have been released at Muscatatuck, and we found a family of five in one of the more remote lakes. At first, they looked like fish in the water, until we put the scope on them, which was hard considering how quickly they swam. An old beaver lodge had been renovated for the Otter family, and everyone came out to welcome the newcomers.
After lunch, the group moved to Hardy Lake State Park, which I had not visited before. Right away we saw a lone Loon (my first) out on the lake, and two Bald Eagles flying overhead. Some American Coots patrolled the edge of the lake. Horned Grebes and three Common Mergansers joined them, also increasing my lifetime list. The lake was large enough that we lost sight of several birds and never did identify them successfully. A Large Eared Owl had been sighted in the woods in other years, and Blue Jays called loudly the entire time we walked there. Might the owl still be around? We tried to call one down with a recording, and although we found no owls, the Jays finally got quiet. Hark! Is that a Crane calling? Quickly scanning the sky with binoculars, we found a long V of Sandhill Cranes flying over the lake and out of sight. Tom had seen a flock at Brownstown, which landed and left again in a few minutes, so this was a bonus for the day.
By the end of the afternoon, many of us were tired, cold and thinking about heading home, when both Bald Eagles came right towards us. One landed in a tree, while the other began to swoop and dive, obviously going for a fish. Something was wrong with my camera settings, and I couldn't get any clear shots, although the Eagle repeated his actions for me to try again. The Loon started singing its plaintive song, and the cold, dreary day became perfect. Then I remembered the movie setting. Just click to see if the Eagle finally catches the fish before it flies off. Overall, the leader announced, we saw 60 different species during the trip- a pretty good total for a cold gray day in Indiana.

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