Blue-winged warbler at Mary Gray Sanctuary (photo by Scott Arvin).

Blue-winged warbler at Mary Gray Sanctuary (photo by Scott Arvin)

I have been spending so much time on US 65, I am thinking of building a hut at the base of one of the many “Jesus Is Real” signs and assert squatters rights. I would have thought that bad weather would be but a memory for my trip to Earlham College spanning April 14-15 but alas. An ornithology class field trip was scheduled for the morning and I was looking forward to the phenologiccal manifestations of early spring at place substantially south of Chicago. But there was a significant snowfall the night of April 14 and the world that awaited us was one of winter’s white.  The students gathered in the morning chill and it was a pleasant outing, but birds were limited to the earliest of arrivals: golden-crowned kinglets, yellow-rumped warbler, red-winged blackbird, and a pine warbler. (The drive home along 65 was interminable: the snow had created a back up the preceding evening and a car with one adult and two children slammed into a stopped truck, killing all aboard and throttling the movement of traffic lasting until at least my arrival.)

Earlham students gather for a spring bird walk.

Earlham students gather for a spring bird walk.

Earlham College has a national reputation- and is probably Indiana’s premier small liberal arts college- imbued with Quaker traditions. The Joseph Moore Museum has, I think, the largest collection of birds in the state.  Heather Learner, a biology professor, is director of the museum and we met last August at the AOU meeting. Her predecessor was Bill Buskirk, who taught at Earlham for many years and is still active with the school. He and I met some years ago when I was conducting bird surveys nearby. Heather invited me to speak at Earlham and I had a great time talking with her museum studies students. One of them, Asa Duffee, was really taken by the passenger pigeon story and created the anniversary exhibit that graces the museum. The panels had been printed and installed just hours before my arrival. They have three passenger pigeons in their collection, including one striking bird with its wings partially opened. The following week had me headed towards Indiana State University.

Passenger pigeon on display at Joseph Moore Museum at Earlham College.

Passenger pigeon on display at Joseph Moore Museum at Earlham College.

I was invited by Peter Scott (whom I also met at AOU) and his colleague Rusty Gonser to be the Earth Day Speaker. (Randy also organizes the February Darwin Day festivities and presented me with a leftover Charles Darwin Bobble Head Doll: one of the more interesting items of swag I have received so far.) Peter and his wife, Diana Hews (who is chair of the biology department) generously put me up for my stay. They have a lovely house surrounded by woods and it was an unusual experience for me to fall asleep to the singing of spring peepers. As I lay there, the serenading would suddenly stop, only to renew a short while later. I wondered what was afoot in the forest.

Fortunately for me, Peter has recently retired so he was able to spend time taking me birding. I arrived probably around noon, plenty of time to explore one of Indiana’s premier birding areas: Goose Pond, 8,000 acres of wetland and grassland. I was there once before, in the spring of 2013, when Cindy and I ran down to see a spotted redshank. (In 1973, my dad drove me to Brigantine NJ, an almost 1,800 round trip from home, to see a purported spotted redshank, that we never found but was most likely an oiled yellowlegs. It was a long-suppurating wound that needed healing.) The birding was excellent. We only had 34 species but some were not expected (at least by me).  I am still not used to seeing black-necked stilts in the Midwest, where they now breed in increasing numbers. In addition, I added a number of year birds including  bobwhite (a species declining across most of its range), American bittern, warbling vireo, and Henslow’s sparrows. The overwhelming highlight, though, were two white-faced ibis. One bird was an adult in alternate plumage with an obvious white rim to the face, while the second was in  transitional plumage showing little white.

Goose Pond  Fish and Wildlife Area, complete with helpful signs.

Goose Pond Fish and Wildlife Area, complete with helpful signs.

Randy had set up the next day with me talking to students and faculty before the evening talk, which had a nice turnout. A lunch with graduate students was particularly fun, with a wide ranging discussion of topics including ideas for books and how each first learned of passenger pigeons. A student from India said that she learned about it in high school (I doubt many American’s can say that.).  But the highlight was seeing Margaret Moga: Peggy and I were  birding/prairie friends back 20 or more years ago when she was in graduate school at Loyola. Her field is neuroanatomy and she teaches at the Indiana University Medical School which is located on the ISU campus.

Peggy and Peter in front of the Paul Dresser house.

Peggy and Peter in front of the Paul Dresser house.

My final spring jaunt to Indiana (May 2-4) was to be the keynote speaker at the Indiana Audubon Society’s spring meeting at the Mary Gray Bird Sanctuary in Connersville. On Friday, the day before the meeting, I picked up my good friend Jeanette Jaskula, who lives in Rensselaer  right off US 65, and we proceeded on to Connersville. (Jeanette has two delightful youngsters and she said that being away from home for two consecutive nights- which this trip entailed- would be the longest time she has been away from them. I thank her husband Mike Nickels for making this possible) And there would  be other friends at the meeting as well including Steve and Sarah Sass, Peter Scott, and Terri Gorney. (I also met one of Indiana’s most active young birders, Alexandra Forsythe, and her parents: Alex graciously asked me to sign a copy of A Feathered River, which she had reviewed quite favorably on her blog, and a terrific conversation ensued.)

Steve, Sarah, and Jeanette.

Steve, Sarah, and Jeanette.

On our way to the refuge that first day we spotted black vultures in with the turkeys as they all fed contentedly on a fawn carcass Mary Gray Bird Sanctuary is a lovely 700 acre  area of wooded ravines with a few small artificial lakes. In the morning Jeanette. Steve, a visiting couple, and I took an early morning walk. We were treated to a stunning male scarlet tanager, parula warbler, yellow-throated warbler, and Louisiana waterthrush. A blue-winged warbler sang from afar. Later that day, I was scheduled to lead a walk for the young birders who were present. There were 18 youngsters present, about half of whom had a genuine interest in nature and birds. Our route around the lakes yielded a few expected warblers but things did not get really interesting until we were almost at our starting point and  met a non-birding parent who said she saw a dark bird with a red bill swimming along the cattail-fringed edge of the closest lake. The group walked back to pursue the area more closely but failed to see anything. I started clapping my hands and a low and behold a common gallinule flushed from the marsh and flew towards the near shore. It proceeded to climb the bank and ascend a tree where it crouched down. I have never seen a gallinule that high in a tree before: word spread and lots of folks were able to see it.

Common gallinule at Mary Gray (photo by Scott Arvin)

Common gallinule at Mary Gray (photo by Scott Arvin)

April 15 in east-central IN.

April 15 in east-central IN.

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