28 December 2015

January 17, 2016 Program at INPAWS North Chapter Meeting

On Sunday, January 17, 2016 at 2:00 EST at ETHOS Science Center in Elkhart, Indiana, I will be presenting "Dumb Luck: The Stories Behind the Collections" at the Indiana Native Plant and Wildflower Society (INPAWS) North Chapter monthly meeting. The presentation will highlight 25 of my recent plant finds from northern Indiana and southwest Michigan, including new county and state records, and the events and odd happenings that led to me being in the right place at the right time. The public is invited to attend this meeting and program.

Mimulus alatus in Berrien County, Michigan

Carex decomposita in Allen County, Indiana

Lonicera canadensis in LaPorte County, Indiana

Wolffiella gladiata in St. Joseph County, Indiana

26 October 2015

Fall in St. Joseph County, Indiana

Potato Creek State Park

Potato Creek State Park

Mud Lake

Cooper discovers an Eastern Box Turtle at Potato Creek State Park.

15 September 2015

On the Radio...

Listen to an interview with me at Spring Lake Woods and Bog, an ACRES Land Trust Preserve, at https://lnkd.in/esnVD23. The interview was recently aired on Northeast Indiana Public Radio station WBOI.

31 May 2015

Grass Identification and Ecology Workshop to be Offered at The Morton Arboretum

In 2014, I was asked to lead two sessions of a grass identification and ecology workshop at The Morton Arboretum in Lisle, Illinois.  The workshops both sold out and were very well received, and I've been asked to return to lead the workshop again this summer.  Here is some information for anyone interested.

Tired of seeing "unknown grass" and "Dichanthelium sp." on your vegetation sampling datasheets?  Need to know what species that Elymus is to figure out if you're in a wetland or an upland?  Interested in learning vegetative characteristics for some of our more common grasses?  Just want to know more about grass identification and ecology in general?  If the answer to any of these questions is "yes," then the workshop discussed below being held on September 17-18, 2015 at The Morton Arboretum in Lisle, Illinois may be for you.  If you have any questions about the workshop, email Scott Namestnik at snamestnik@orbisec.com.

Learn to identify the grasses that add beauty and interest to the summer and fall landscape. Grasses allow us to read the landscape: from soils, habitat, disturbance and past land uses. They form a critical component of the biodiversity and with nearly 11,000 species, this is the fourth largest plant family. This workshop consists of an intensive, hands-on approach incorporating both classroom work and field study.  Identify warm season grasses in the field and lab, learn the specialized terminology and distinguishing features, discuss their ecology, and practice identifying species from keys.
Instructor: Scott Namestnik, senior botanist, Orbis Environmental Consulting
Notes: Held both indoors and outdoors. Please dress for the weather each day. Limit 20
Supplies: Please bring a water bottle, a hand lens, and wear sturdy, closed-toed shoes for walking over uneven terrain. Fee includes all workshop handouts, morning refreshments and a box lunch.
Intended audience: Advanced students and professionals.
Certificate information: Can be used as a Naturalist Certificate, WSP elective (14 hours)
Prerequisites: Prior experience with plant identification required
Course number: 
Thursday, September 17 and Friday, September 18, 2015, 9:00 a.m.-4:00 p.m.
Botany Lab, Research Center
Nonmembers: Fees include admission to the Arboretum.
$195.00 member
$230.00 nonmember
$65.00 students; call 630-719-2468 or email registrar-ed@mortonarb.org for student rate
CALL: 630-719-2468
IN PERSON: Stop by the Visitor Center during open hours.


10 March 2015

"Feeder" Birds

What defines a "feeder" bird, really?  To me, a "feeder" bird is a bird that comes to food that you've put out for the purpose of attracting birds.  A few years ago, we were able to log Snow Buntings (Plectrophenax nivalis) as feeder birds on our property because we put corn out along our driveway and they showed up to feed on it.
In this sense, our friends Eric and Dawn Scarborough recently had some pretty interesting "feeder" birds at their property in Starke County, Indiana.  Knowing that raptors often feed on animal carcasses, they put a raccoon carcass in an agricultural field and set up a trail camera to capture the results.  Here are some of their photos of one of the two Bald Eagles (Haliaeetus leucocephalus) and two Red-tailed Hawks (Buteo jamaicensis) that feasted on the remains.

05 March 2015

Sedges on TV

Scott was recently featured on an episode of Outdoor Elements, a television program on the local PBS station, discussing one of his favorite topics, sedges.  To see the episode, titled "Grow for It!," which also features Todd Gillian discussing vines and vine control and Marie Laudeman discussing lichens, click here.

03 March 2015

For a New Plant, I Would Crawl to the Edge of the Earth

When most of my friends and family hear that I've gone botanizing for the day, they probably have images of me strolling lazily along a trail through a dry area devoid of poison ivy, plants with thorns and prickles, mosquitoes, yellow jackets, and venomous snakes on a comfortable spring day.  Ninety-nine percent of the time, that couldn't be farther from the truth.  My travels take me to the edges of the Earth, almost literally in some cases.
Scott defies death to photograph a plant. Photo by Erin Victory.
Such was the case on 11 July 2014. While in Keweenaw County, Michigan, Brad Slaughter, Erin Victory, and I were joined by Janet Marr on a trip to Brockway Mountain.  As you can see in the photographs, Brockway Mountain, which reaches 1,320 feet above sea level, drops steeply to mature forest.  Very steeply.  Steeply enough that to see one little plant we crawled on the volcanic rock to the furthest extent that we could go and still feel like we had the toes of our boots firmly planted in a secure crevice. 

Long way down. Photo by Erin Victory.
To add to the danger (and it truly was danger, especially looking back and remembering how I felt at a couple of moments while laying on my belly holding onto the edge of the Earth), it was raining, making everything, especially the creeping juniper (Juniperus horizontalis) on which we were laying, very slick.  The wind... my gosh... the wind.  "Relentless" is the only way to describe it.  One wrong move, and it really would have been over.  This was the same day that LeBron James announced he was returning to Cleveland to bring the Cavaliers and the city that I grew up 30 minutes from a much needed and long awaited championship.  I made a comment to Brad at one point that this was how it was going to end for me... that I would never see a Cleveland major sports championship, and this silly plant would be the reason why.

Brad and Erin get in on the game.
Luckily, I'm here today to write about our trip. And this is what it's like when I go out botanizing.  Okay, this was probably one of my most dangerous outings ever, but it's never all butterflies and flowers.

So what plant could possibly lure us into this dangerous predicament?

Erin livin' life on the edge.
You can see the object of our obsession in the middle of the photograph below.  It's the slightly yellowish green, diminutive plant with tiny white flowers.  Still not sure what it is?  It's one of the rarest species in Michigan, found only on the conglomerate cliff of Brockway Mountain, and this was the only individual we saw.  We were lucky to have Janet with us to show us the location, or we easily could have overlooked it.

We did it all for this plant.
We were there to see Keweenaw rock-rose (Chamaerhodos erecta ssp. nuttallii), a state endangered and critically imperiled member of the family Rosaceae that is considered a western disjunct species (a species geographically separated from its wider distribution area in the western United States). Sadly, this gem is surrounded by invasive species including spotted knapweed (Centaurea stoebe ssp. micranthos) and honeysuckle (Lonicera sp.), so even if trampling and rock climbing don't do it in, its days of occurrence in Michigan may be numbered. Unfortunately, the relentless wind that I mentioned previously prevented perfectly focused photos, even on this low-growing plant.

Keweenaw Rock Rose
Once we crawled back up to safety, we were shown how to correctly approach this cliff-dwelling species by legendary Michigan botanist Tony Reznicek, who essentially took a few rapid steps, leapt, and landed on his belly, clutching the cliff inches from the edge. He shot a couple of quick photos, hopped back up, and walked to where we were standing awestruck, still covering our eyes due to Tony's incredibly dangerous yet confident feet. Regardless, you won't see me doing this anytime soon.  I'll continue to crawl.

01 March 2015

2014-2015 Winter Bird Feeder Count Results

As we have during the past six seasons, Lindsay and I participated in the Indiana Audubon Society Winter Bird Feeder Count this winter.  During this citizen science project, the greatest number of each bird species observed at feeders in your yard on the 20th to 25th of November, December, January, and February are tallied.  For our results from past Winter Bird Feeder Counts, see our posts here (2013-2014)here (2012-2013), here (2011-2012), here (2010-2011), and here (2009-2010).

The area below our feeding stations saw activity from several ground-feeding species such as Mourning Dove and Northern Cardinal
Because of my job change last March, I now work from my home office during the winter, allowing me a better opportunity to count our feeder birds.  Even with this advantage, the trend of decreasing number of individuals that I mentioned last year seems to be continuing, but this observed result may have something to do with an extraordinary number of individuals observed during the 2008-2009 count, the first year we participated in the Winter Bird Feeder Count.  We will continue to track this metric, and as we obtain more data we may see the number of individuals observed annually level out to some extent.

A male Hairy Woodpecker visited our suet feeders in December, January, and February.
In terms of number of species observed at our feeding stations during the count, we had our second best count ever in 2014-2015, tallying 24 species (27 species in 2008-2009 is our high count; 21 species in 2009-2010, 2011-2012, and 2013-2014 are our low counts).  This number is greater than our seven-year average of 22.7 species.  We observed 18 species in November 2014, 17 species in December 2014, 18 species in January 2015, and 20 species in February 2015.  Our seven-year monthly averages stand at 16.3 in November, 17.5 in December, 17.2 in January, and 19.5 in February.

American Goldfinch reached a peak of 15 individuals in November and was represented during all four count periods.
The list of species observed during our 2014-2015 Winter Bird Feeder Count is found at the end of this post.  Species not observed during this count that we have seen on at least one other count include Northern Flicker (Colaptes auratus), American Robin (Turdus migratorius), Gray Catbird (Dumetella carolinensis), Eastern Towhee (Pipilo erythrophthalmus), Snow Bunting (Plectrophenax nivalis), Red-winged Blackbird (Agelaius phoeniceus), Rusty Blackbird (Euphagus carolinus), Common Grackle (Quiscalus quiscula), Brown-headed Cowbird (Molothrus ater), and Common Redpoll (Carduelis flammea); I saw Northern Flicker behind our house the day after the February count period, and I heard American Robin on our property (not at feeders) during the Great Backyard Bird Count February 13-16, 2015.  This was not an irruption year for Common Redpolls, so it is not surprising that we did not have them at our feeders.  The cold weather through February has also probably resulted in fewer blackbirds in northern Indiana this winter. 

2014-2015 saw large numbers of Northern Cardinals visiting our feeders, especially in January and February.
We've now tallied 34 species using our feeders (or hawks showing an interest in feeder birds) during the seven seasons that we've participated in this count.  Species observed at our feeders for the first time during the Winter Bird Feeder Count in 2014-2015 include Sharp-shinned Hawk (Accipiter striatus), Field Sparrow (Spizella pusilla), and White-throated Sparrow (Zonotrichia albicollis).

Two of our first time Winter Bird Feeder Count visitors were observed at the same time in February 2015 - Field Sparrow (back) and White-throated Sparrow (front).
Temperatures during the 2014-2015 Winter Bird Feeder Count on our property were mostly within the range of previous years with the exception of February, which reached a record low temperature of -10 degrees Fahrenheit.  Snow cover overall was fairly average.  The low temperature during our 2014-2015 count was -10 degrees Fahrenheit in February and the high temperature reached 52 degrees Fahrenheit in November.  The deepest snow cover during the count was observed in February (6 inches).

Blue Jays seem to be making a comeback after their decline several years ago as a result of West Nile Virus.
Species observed most frequently (those present during all four count periods) in 2014-2015 were Red-bellied Woodpecker (Melanerpes carolinus), Downy Woodpecker (Picoides pubescens), Blue Jay (Cyanocitta cristata), Black-capped Chickadee (Poecile atricapillus), Tufted Titmouse (Baeolophus bicolor), White-breasted Nuthatch (Sitta carolinensis), American Tree Sparrow (Spizella arborea), Song Sparrow (Melospiza melodia), Dark-eyed Junco (Junco hyemalis), Northern Cardinal (Cardinalis cardinalis), House Finch (Carpodacus mexicanus), American Goldfinch (Spinus tristis), and House Sparrow (Passer domesticus).

We tallied 11 Dark-eyed Juncos at our feeders during both the December and January count periods.
Species observed in greatest abundance during a single month of the count (with the greatest number observed at one time in parentheses) were House Sparrow (45 in January, 20 in February, and 12 in November), American Tree Sparrow (24 in February and 11 in January), Northern Cardinal (18 in February and 17 in January), American Goldfinch (15 in November), House Finch (13 in January), Pine Siskin (Carduelis pinus, 13 in December), and Dark-eyed Junco (11 in December and February).

A flock of 13 Pine Siskins showed up at our feeders just in time to be counted during the December count period.
The most abundant species based on average over the four months of the count were House Sparrow (21.0), Northern Cardinal (11.5), and American Tree Sparrow (10.5). 

American Tree Sparrows and Northern Cardinals are common winter residents.
White-crowned Sparrows (Zonotrichia leucophrys) made a bit of a rebound at our feeding stations in 2014-2015.  From 2008-2009 to 2012-2013, this species declined in number of individuals at our feeders from an average of 3.0 to an average of 0.25.  In 2014-2015, we found an average of 2.0 White-crowned Sparrows at our feeding stations during the count period.

White-crowned Sparrows may be making a comeback at our feeders, but we did not see any during the February count period.
We logged average high counts for six species in 2014-2015: Sharp-shinned Hawk (0.25), Blue Jay (5.75), Song Sparrow (1.00), Northern Cardinal (11.50), House Finch (7.75), and House Sparrow (21.00).  Hopefully these high counts are not indicative of a trend of increasing non-native species at our feeders.  We'll have to keep an eye on this during future counts.

The non-native House Finch may be increasing at our feeders.
2014-2015 Winter Bird Feeder Count Species List
Sharp-shinned Hawk
Cooper's Hawk (Accipiter cooperii)
Mourning Dove (Zenaida macroura)
Red-bellied Woodpecker
Downy Woodpecker
Hairy Woodpecker (Picoides villosus)
Blue Jay
American Crow (Corvus brachyrhynchos)
Black-capped Chickadee
Tufted Titmouse
White-breasted Nuthatch
European Starling (Sturnus vulgaris)
American Tree Sparrow
Field Sparrow
Fox Sparrow (Passerella iliaca)
Song Sparrow
White-throated Sparrow
White-crowned Sparrow
Dark-eyed Junco
Northern Cardinal
House Finch
Pine Siskin
American Goldfinch
House Sparrow

22 February 2015

A "Three New Sedge" Day!

It's not everyday that I get to see a sedge (Carex) species that I haven't seen before.  Imagine my surprise and excitement, then, at having the opportunity to see three sedge species I'd never seen in a single day... just one state away in Michigan!  Well, I guess the Upper Peninsula technically counts as Michigan, even though it feels a bit more like Alaska.
Carex media
On 11 July 2014, I was in the Upper Peninsula to prepare for a field trip I was leading at the annual Michigan Botanical Club Foray.  Prior to our trip, Brad Slaughter contacted Janet Marr about getting access to an island just off of the mainland, and Janet made contact with the landowner and was able to get permission for us to borrow canoes to access the island.  During our free time, Erin Victory, Brad, Janet, and I paddled out to the island with hopes of seeing Intermediate Sedge (Carex media) and Ross' Sedge (Carex rossii).  Janet had recently been to the island and was able to take us directly to a clump of Intermediate Sedge. 

Carex media; note the fresh spikelet.
Intermediate Sedge has a circumboreal distribution, and although it is widespread in Canada, it is only known from eight states (and that includes Alaska).  In Michigan, it is only known from Keweenaw County, where it is found on Isle Royale and on the north shore of the peninsula. As such, it is considered threatened in Michigan. This handsome sedge grows in thin soils of forest openings and on rocky shores.

Carex media along the shore of the island.
As we continued our hike across the small island, our next target was Ross' Sedge, and it wasn't long before we started locating populations of this rarity as well. Ross' Sedge is in section Acrocystis, meaning that it shares characteristics with Pennsylvania Sedge (Carex pensylvanica), Whitetinge Sedge (Carex albicans), and Parasol Sedge (Carex umbellata).

Carex rossii
Similar to Intermediate Sedge, Ross' Sedge is state threatened and known in Michigan only from Keweenaw County. This is one of several western disjunct species that occurs in the Upper Peninsula; it is much more widespread in the western United States and most of Canada.

Spike of Carex rossii.  Note the leaf-like lowest pistillate bract of the non-basal spike.
Ross' Sedge occurs in sandy and rocky soils in a range of habitats such as coniferous woodlands and prairies; in Michigan, it grows on rocky bluffs and slopes.

Carex rossii
The third new sedge of my trip, Back's Sedge (Carex backii), was found at Brockway Mountain after receiving a tip from Tony Reznicek.  To find this unique sedge, I drove in persistent rain to the approximate location of the plant, located it from the car, and hopped out for some very quick photographs.

Carex backii
Back's Sedge is morphologically similar to James' Sedge (Carex jamesii), putting it in section Phyllostachyae.  If the somewhat hidden spikelets were overlooked, it may look like a vegetative sedge in section Laxiflorae.

Carex backii.  Note the wide bracts that conceal the spikes.
Back's Sedge has a mostly northern distribution in the United States and is also known from Canada. In Michigan, it is found throughout much of the western Upper Peninsula, as well as in a handful of mostly northern Lower Peninsula counties. It grows in dry rocky and sandy ground, either in the open or in shade

03 February 2015

In Case You Missed It...

Scott was recently featured on an episode of Outdoor Elements, a television program on the local PBS station.  To see the episode, titled "Science at Work," which also features Brad Bumgardner and Brendan Grube discussing bird counts and Jeremy Sheets discussing bat surveys, click here.

Photograph by Evie Kirkwood

13 January 2015

Christmas Bird Count Season Comes to a Close

Have you noticed a lot of people out in the cold peering through binoculars lately?  Were you driving behind a car that inexplicably kept slowing down and that had its windows down despite the howling winds, freezing rain, or barely double-digit temperatures?  If so, you likely experienced someone participating in the annual Christmas Bird Count.  The count took place at hundreds of locations throughout the western hemisphere from December 14 to January 5, just as it has for the past 115 years.

Participants in the Northeast LaPorte County Christmas Bird Count look for a particularly vocal Carolina Wren (Thryothorus ludovicianus).
I had the opportunity to assist with four Christmas Bird Counts in Indiana and Michigan this season, including two that I have helped with for many years and two that I joined for the first time in 2014.  The first count that I joined was a new one for me, the Northeast LaPorte County Christmas Bird Count, on December 15, 2014.

An inquisitive Black-capped Chickadee (Poecile atricapillus) observed on the Northeast LaPorte County Christmas Bird Count.
For this count I joined Dennis Richardson, Frances Sipocz-Richardson, Jo Brugos, John Brugos, and Kip Miller.  Upon arriving at the Richardsons' home, I heard Brown Creeper (Certhia americana) and Eastern Bluebird (Sialia sialis); a nice way to start off the day!

One of several Common Loons (Gavia immer) that we saw in northeast LaPorte County on Christmas Bird Count day.
Our group visited a variety of habitats during the day, ranging from lakes to wetlands to pine plantations to forests.  Although bird numbers seemed low, we tallied a very respectable 48 species, birding from 8:00 AM central time until dusk. 

An iconic Great Blue Heron (Ardea herodias) soars over a northeast LaPorte County wetland.
Some of our highlights during the Northeast LaPorte County Christmas Bird Count included American Black Duck (Anas rubripes), Canvasback (Aythya valisineria), Redhead (Aythya americana), Lesser Scaup (Aythya affinis), White-winged Scoter (Melanitta deglandi), Common Goldeneye (Bucephala clangula), Hooded Merganser (Lophodytes cucullatus), Common Merganser (Mergus merganser), Ruddy Duck (Oxyura jamaicensis), Common Loon (Gavia immer), Horned Grebe (Podiceps auritus), Bald Eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus), Red-shouldered Hawk (Buteo lineatus), Rough-legged Hawk (Buteo lagopus), Pileated Woodpecker (Dryocopus pileatus), and Carolina Wren (Thryothorus ludovicianus).

A White-winged Scoter (Melanitta deglandi, in the back on the right) stole the show at the Northeast LaPorte County Christmas Bird Count.
A couple of days later, on December 17, 2014, I was at it again, this time across the state line into Michigan to help with the New Buffalo Christmas Bird Count.  I was teamed with the amazing Kip Miller, and we were joined for most of the morning by Helen Obenchain.  Before Helen arrived, Kip and I got an early start with owling and had spectacular looks at a red-phase Eastern Screech Owl (Megascops asio).  We then searched to no avail for a Snowy Owl (Bubo scandiacus) that Kip had seen at the New Buffalo harbor the previous day, but we were at least treated to a Lesser Black-backed Gull (Larus fuscus) as a consolation prize.  Again, I can certainly think of worse ways to start out a day of birding!

Early morning owling during the New Buffalo Christmas Bird Count produced a red-phase Eastern Screech Owl (Megascops asio).
Kip and I (and Helen for part of the morning) visited various habitats, including lakefront, deciduous forest, fields, planted prairie, and wetlands.  My eyes were thoroughly tired when I headed home after seeing 42 species during almost 11 straight hours of birding. 

Birds were difficult to see on the choppy Lake Michigan waters during the New Buffalo Christmas Bird Count, but this pair of Horned Grebes (Podiceps auritus) was relatively close to shore.
We had plenty of highlights during the New Buffalo Christmas Bird Count, including Redhead (Aythya americana), Common Goldeneye (Bucephala clangula), Hooded Merganser (Lophodytes cucullatus), Red-breasted Merganser (Mergus serrator), Ruddy Duck (Oxyura jamaicensis), Red-throated Loon (Gavia stellata), Horned Grebe (Podiceps auritus), Sharp-shinned Hawk (Accipiter striatus), Bonaparte's Gull (Chroicocephalus philadelphia), Lesser Black-backed Gull (Larus fuscus), Eastern Screech Owl (Megascops asio), Hairy Woodpecker (Picoides villosus), Pileated Woodpecker (Dryocopus pileatus), Brown Creeper (Certhia americana), Carolina Wren (Thryothorus ludovicianus), Winter Wren (Troglodytes hiemalis), and Field Sparrow (Spizella pusilla).

Winter Wrens (Troglodytes hiemalis) can sometimes be difficult to come by, but this one seen during the New Buffalo Christmas Bird Count was quite cooperative. 
Since Kip coordinates the New Buffalo count, he sometimes observes areas outside of the section that he is specifically covering.  Species in the table below that are marked with an X were seen outside of our section.  While searching for the Winter Wren (Troglodytes hiemalis) pictured above, we ran into a couple of other birders who had seen Eurasian Collared Doves (Streptopelia decaocto) in their count area, so Kip and I made a late afternoon trip to see these birds, which are as yet uncommon in southwest Michigan.

Eurasian Collared Doves (Streptopelia decaocto) had never before been observed during the New Buffalo Christmas Bird Count.
I was at it again just a few days later, participating in the South Bend Christmas Bird Count on December 20, 2014.  I coordinate the southwest quarter of the count circle, and was lucky enough to have two other teams helping out with our area.  Lindsay and I covered the southern portion of the area, owling and birding from 5:00 AM until about 4:00 PM.  We started the day with four gray phase Eastern Screech Owls (Megascops asio) and 2 Barred Owls (Strix varia) on our list before most of the population of South Bend had even rolled out of bed.

One of four gray phase Eastern Screech Owls (Megascops asio) that we saw during the South Bend Christmas Bird Count.
I enjoy the area that we cover during the South Bend Christmas Bird Count because of our variety of habitat, ranging from deciduous forest to pine plantation to old field to agricultural fields to suburban feeders to wetlands, but what we really lack is open water areas.  Consequently, we don't get many ducks or gulls, but we were able to tally 38 species and good numbers of individuals on one of the birdiest days I can remember for a South Bend count.  Other birders on the count, however, felt that it was a pretty slow day.

A Barred Owl (Strix varia) looks on just before sunrise on the day of the South Bend Christmas Bird Count.
Amongst our highlights during the South Bend Christmas Bird Count were the following: Wild Turkey (Meleagris gallopavo), Red-shouldered Hawk (Buteo lineatus), Eastern Screech Owl (Megascops asio), Barred Owl (Strix varia), Yellow-bellied Sapsucker (Sphyrapicus varius), Hairy Woodpecker (Picoides villosus), Pileated Woodpecker (Dryocopus pileatus), Brown Creeper (Certhia americana), Carolina Wren (Thryothorus ludovicianus), Golden-crowned Kinglet (Regulus satrapa), Red-winged Blackbird (Agelaius phoeniceus), Purple Finch (Haemorhous purpureus), and Pine Siskin (Carduelis pinus).

A Red-shouldered Hawk (Buteo lineatus) observed during the South Bend Christmas Bird Count looks for its next meal.
The final count in which I participated was the Elkhart County Christmas Bird Count on January 3, 2015. Unfortunately, the weather was not cooperative that day, with rain, freezing rain, and snow all day long. I began owling before 6:00 AM and quickly picked up two red phase Eastern Screech Owls (Megascops asio) at one location and a gray phase at another.  I was joined by Ted Miller for the remainder of the day, and we birded until we lost daylight, covering habitats including suburban feeders, river, ponds, wetlands, deciduous forest, old field, and agricultural fields.  The constant precipitation prohibited any photographs, and birds were sparse.  We were able to tally 32 species for the day, but even the numbers of individuals were down, presumably due to the weather and visibility conditions.  I often add species by ear while driving, but all that we could hear was the sloshing of slush beneath the tires and the monotonous beat of my windshield wipers.  Highlights for the day included Gadwall (Anas strepera), Rough-legged Hawk (Buteo lagopus), American Kestrel (Falco sparverius), Eastern Screech Owl (Megascops asio), Barred Owl (Strix varia), and Horned Lark (Eremophila alpestris).
My 2014-2015 Christmas Bird Count totals.  An "X" designates a species observed in the count circle on count day but in a different sector than where I was technically counting.
Overall for the 2014-2015 Christmas Bird Count, I tallied 70 species with the help of several wonderful birders.  I'm already looking forward to assisting with these counts, and maybe a couple of others, next December and January!