A fabulous and exciting day of birding for the Marsh Madness Crane Festival on Saturday March 1, 2014 at Goose Pond FWA, Greene County Indiana.
We were very lucky on weather. On Saturday March 1, 2014 we enjoyed mild temperatures ranging from 36 F before sunrise to around 50 F in the afternoon. Some water was open in the morning. Considerably more water opened up by the afternoon. Birds filled the air over the Goose Pond FWA property much of the day. The next morning on Sunday, March 2 the weather turned nasty again. Another round of sleet and snow storms, the start of another big freeze now forecast to last several days, and difficult driving conditions during parts of Sunday.
Most people on the Marsh Madness bus and auto tour runs on Saturday saw plenty of Sandhill Cranes. Sandhills departed from and returned to the property throughout much of the day. Kathy McClain reported Sandhill Crane numbers from Beehunter Marsh in the early morning. Amy Kearns and Dan Leach reported on the Sandhill gathering at Beehunter in the evening. I drove to check on the Goose Pond Sandhill Crane roosting locations at sunset. Between our sets of evening locations we tallied at least 12,700 SANDHILL CRANES. This more than doubles the Sandhill tally on the previous weekend.
Geese put on a stupendous show. They included a new GPWFA property high tally of 20,000 SNOW GEESE in the air at one rime. This is by far the largest SNGO tally in property history. Distant Snow Goose flocks in the several thousands were in view in the air much of the day from the tour stop on State Highway 59. A reported day tally of 4800 GREATER WHITE-FRONTED GEESE seemed in accordance with what I saw. Canada Goose reports ranged from 1000 to 1700. Don Gorney reported 3 ROSS’S GEESE mixed in with the flying Snow Geese. The 6 COMMON MERGANSERS at the Hwy 59 stop was a new property high for the species. Bob Dodd reported that MM tour stop visitors were especially pleased to watch the numerous dapper AMERICAN GOLDENEYES diving very close to the Double Ditches peninsula. (The considerable ice further out in Main Pool West pushed the Goldeneyes close to shore.) Adult Bald Eagles were in view at Main Pool West and elsewhere much of the day. The flock of 6 TUNDRA SWANS spent the day the in northern Goose Pond Units. Diving ducks included a group of 25 REDHEADS in one Unit by Amy Kearns. Nobody reported particularly high dabbling duck tallies. I estimated 4000 distant dabbling ducks in a south end Goose Pond Main Pool East at sunset. They were overwhelmingly Northern Pintails and Mallards but too distant in fading light to get individual species tallies on.
The 15 AMERICAN WHITE PELICANS were 2 that landed briefly in the south end of Main Pool West and later a high flying V of 13 heading north. Marsh Madness keynote speaker Bob Russell of USFWS and I found 9 RUSTY BLACKBIRDS at Beehunter Marsh. After sunset my drive around the west and north Goose Pond Units turned up 4 SHORT-EARED OWLS. Amy Kearns spotted one more SEOW in the evening at Beehunter.
The big bird surprise on the day: Don Gorney and Sandy and Jeff Belth found the first ever property record LESSER BLACK-BACKED GULL, an adult, at the Hwy 59 tour stop at Main Pool West. The gull landed only briefly but was photographed. That species was certainly not on our radar as the next addition to the property bird list. The Lesser Black-backed Gull is species number 274 for the property bird list I believe. The impressive Goose Pond FWA property bird list has been accomplished with almost no woods or forest habitat.
The weather smiled on us. We saw more birds than anyone would have imagined based upon the recent freeze at midweek. Many birds were moving. A huge thanks to the 25 birders who helped as guides at the two staffed Marsh Madness tour route stops. That is a lot of birders. Everyone on the Marsh Madness Planning Committee appreciates your fine work helping the hundreds of MM attendees see birds.