By Landon Neumann

On December 14th, 2011 I conducted my first Christmas Bird Count at Goose Pond Fish and Wildlife Area The Wildlife Area, near Linton, Indiana, is an 8,000+ acre complex of prairie and wetland habitat, managed by the Indiana Department of Natural Resources, where conservation organizations have undertaken extensive habitat restoration efforts. It is also a fantastic spot for birding.

After traveling a few hours, our group arrived at a local fast food restaurant where we were given our birding assignments. Soon we headed off to our assigned areas. As the sun began to rise we watched the ducks (mostly Mallards) and European Starlings fly from their nighttime roosts. We marveled at the number of American Tree Sparrows in the thickets. We continued along the trail to find Swamp, White-crowned, and Song sparrows in the flocks of American Tree Sparrows. Away from the sparrows, we saw Mallards, American Black Ducks, Northern Harriers, and Rough-legged Hawks flying over our heads. Close by, another birder’s area held an American Wigeon. After such a display, we continued our hike only to find our area rather birdless. The rest of the morning few birds were found, only a few American Coots and American Tree Sparrows, but this drought of birds would end. 

American Wigeon/Photo by Donna Dewhurst/FWS
Once we had finished birding our area in the morning and reported our numbers to our area leader, we headed back to the fast food restaurant for lunch. There we learned what birds had been reported elsewhere in the circle that morning. After lunch our group decided to search for the Ross’s Goose and Whooping Cranes that had been reported the same morning. We busted on the Ross’s Goose, but we did find the two Whooping Cranes. We celebrated quickly, hurrying off to bird another part of the marsh that we had failed to see earlier in the day.  

Whooping Crane/Photo by Ryan Hagerty/FWS
The birding was pretty slow, but then we received a call from a guy who had spotted a female Brewer’s Blackbird and wondered if anyone could come take a picture of it. We hopped in the car and dashed off to where the blackbird had been found. It turned out that the bird was too far away to photograph, but most of us at least got good view of it. After hearing from the count leader that we were only two birds away from breaking the Indiana Christmas Bird Count species record, we quickly joined our two groups together and set off to the local state forest to look for forest birds. The state forest proved to be a bust, although we did get some nice views of Ruddy Duck. Undaunted, we continued to bird, now looking for Short-eared Owls.

Ruddy Duck/Photo by Hollingsworth/FWS
We headed to the Beehunter Marsh (another part of Goose Pond) to look for Short-eared Owls. At Beehunter Marsh we had Trumpeter and Tundra swans, as well as more Whooping Cranes, before we looked for Short-eared Owls. When we arrived at the owls’ habitat, we began scanning for the skies for them, but soon our hope began to fade. For the next twenty minutes we saw nothing. Then, suddenly, we heard screeching from a Short-eared Owl. We were just in time to catch a glimpse of one soaring away into the dusky landscape.

Overall the Christmas Bird Count gave me four new lifers: Trumpeter Swan, American Wigeon, Whooping Crane, and Shorted-eared Owl. Even though the count tragically failed to break the Indiana Christmas Bird Count species record, we still came close ending that day, with 107 species, a very respectable number if you ask me. I had a blast helping conduct the count, and recommend everyone should do one. I know I will again!

Landon NeumanAbout the author: Landon Neumann, 14, lives in Logansport, Indiana. He has been birding for about five years. His favorite group of birds are shorebirds, but is favorite bird is Painted Redstart. Landon participated in 2011 Camp Colorado.