Sunday, January 5, 2014

Elkhart County Christmas Bird Count 2013

Saturday morning, I headed out early to participate in the beginning to intermediate bird hike at the Elkhart Environmental Center for the annual Christmas Bird Hike. Others met at Oxbow Park with specific routes to travel and count. They drove around in pairs counting as many different birds as they could find. It was neat to see the milkweed in winter outside, too.


At the EEC, we started with a bird feeder count. I almost just showed up for the later hike; however, I found the bird feeder count worthwhile. They have great windows and had plenty of feeding options outside, including an upside down suet cake feeder I hadn't seen before. The European Starlings didn't like hanging upside down for the suet, but the woodpeckers are okay with it. We counted the largest number of birds we saw at one time of a particular species. For me, it was good to do this with other people as I learned tricks and pointers to help distinguish different birds. I know the basic birds that visit our feeder yet the "brown" birds sometimes confuse me. With the guided practice I was able to differentiate better between these species, such as the American Tree Sparrow, Song Sparrow, and House Sparrow. 

The feeder counts can also be done at home. The list of "probable" birds is less than 40, so it's a good place to start on a bird count if you have a feeder. I tried to count the birds at our feeder that afternoon and we had NO visitors. Granted the kids had been outside earlier building snow forts, yet I checked over several hours and never saw any of our regular visits. This morning is a different story! The feeders are hopping! 

It was neat to see bird count participants coming up on their bikes! Nicole Bauman and friends really walk the talk of being a good earth steward. 

Nearby, there is a sign . . . Growing Not Mowing. In sections, natural growth is allowed to improve habitat. Many areas could 

We took the River Greenway Trail near the EEC. This is a nice free hike in Elkhart. It goes through a wooded section and winds down by the river, connecting to Studebaker park.

There was a honey locust along the trail--the spiky thorns on these give a different texture to the landscape!

The river view was pretty. Ice is forming along both edges. We drive along the St. Joseph regularly. I like seeing the changes in the ice each day. 

A small stream feeding into the river had a layer of ice over the top! One thing I really like about winter hikes is seeing the paths that animals make. Tracks are often easier to see as well.

As we walked, we stopped at various spots and waited for the birds. When we are still and quite, we usually can hear nearby birds. Scanning the trees, we often find other birds as well as we watch for movement. 

The river was gorgeous! In each section, the ice formed differently. We saw a few ducks and a muskrat.

This tree was interesting . . . it could provide shelter for birds and animals. It's also easy to see significant bird activity from the various holes that develop over time. What started as a woodpecker looking for insects gets larger and larger. 

It's often easier to find the bird with the naked eye and then use the binoculars to get a closer look. What a cute owl bag made out of upcycled sweaters--perfect for the hike today!

There is a beautiful LARGE tree along this path. Pretty!

Same tree reaching up into the sky!

Binocular Time! Binoculars and guide books were available to use on the hike, helping see birds up close. Besides the birds, I enjoyed taking a hike! Learning the calls can really help while birding. Lindsay Grossman, the hike leader, suggested listening to the call while watching the bird through binoculars. She is an Indiana Master Naturalist and several of the attendees were as well. It's a great program to look into!

One species often makes several different types of calls. Some are reserved just for mating, so would be heard during the mating season of that bird. For example, chickadees mate in very early spring, so their singing would be heard earlier than some of the others. Their normal call sounds like cheese----burger. 

In the evening, the field reporters gathered together to compile the results at the one room school house at Bonneyville Mill. Several brought soup and other food to snack on. I enjoy this part of the Christmas Bird Count as we get to hear the different spots people find birds. There are many dedicated volunteers that search the same area each year to give a good bird representation in this citizen scientist activity. 

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