January 5, 2020, at Indiana Dunes State Park Nature Center
Remember the little bird who used to tell you things before anyone else did? One must have told J. that January 5, 2020, was National Bird Day, with a 10 a.m. activity at the Indiana Dunes State Park Nature Center.
Together with several families, we helped to fill the many feeders, logs, and hollow stumps behind the Nature Center with safflower, sunflower, and thistle seeds; peanuts; and other goodies. I was sure the presence of many people clomping around would deter the birds until we went back in, but several hung around in the trees overlooking the feeder area, and the bolder chickadees came in to see what was going on (or to make sure we were doing our jobs).
After breakfast at Third Coast Spice Cafe, a shopping interlude at Molly Bea’s, and a stop at the Indiana Dunes Visitor Center, we returned to take photos and for part 2 of National Bird Day — bird bingo. It didn’t take long to spot a cardinal, a titmouse, and a nuthatch eating upside down. The elusive square was held by the Cooper’s hawk. The staff told us they see one perhaps once a week. That no doubt puts a damper on the feeder activity.
After taking more photo, we settled into the very good little library at the nature center, which has books for kids and books on animals, nature, local history, and art. It’s a gem of a resource which I don’t often see in use.
After I spent more than I should (as usual) at the Schoolhouse Shop, we ended National Bird Day with half-price veggie pizza at Villa Nova in Chesterton. Mmmm. No chicken.
December 8, 2019, at Indiana Dunes State Park Nature Center
I’m a little slow but one day years ago when I saw a woodpecker at Promontory Point I realized there are two in the field guides that look very similar — the downy and the hairy. One is smaller but I could never remember which.
Smaller isn’t a good field sign if you haven’t seen both and you’re not sure of the relative proportions.
On a July 2018 visit to Indiana Dunes State Park Nature Center, two woodpeckers happened to land on opposite sides of the same feeder, facing each other. In that moment, I couldn’t miss the most obvious differences between the two, despite the similarity (mostly) of their plumage.
The downy is quite diminutive when seen across from his larger cousin, the hairy. More than that, the downy sports a delicate stub of a bill compared to the hairy’s railroad spike — the bill is almost the length of the hairy’s head.
Finally I got it. I will not have trouble identifying either again. There are other differences, but that bill is the most obvious. Now I have in mind: “downy=diminutive” — body size and bill.
As a side note, the downy is the one you’re more likely to see at your typical suburban bird feeder. I can’t be sure at this late date, but the downy is likely the one my dad fed with free suet from the local butcher.
According to Audubon, the hairy requires larger trees and is less likely to show up at suburban feeders or city parks. I’ve seen enough of them at the nature center to know that area (and their feeders) suit the hairy just fine.
I loved many things about where I grew up, like the bird feeders hanging from the wild cherry trees out my parents’ back window. My mother was exceptionally fond of black-capped chickadees, the clowns among snowbirds. Blue jays annoyed my mother because they drove off the chickadees and smaller birds.
The folks at the Indiana Dunes State Park Nature Center seem to have solved this. The smaller finches and snowbirds gather at a tube feeder, while the blue jays and cardinals share tray feeders with gray squirrels (the red squirrels tend to stay on the ground or on the log trough feeders). That’s not to say chickadees, nuthatches, and titmice don’t use the tray feeders, just not at the same time as jays or squirrels.
As corvids, related to crows, jays leave little doubt as to when they’re in the area. The Nature Center is equipped with outdoor microphones to bring the soothing sounds of running water, leaves rustling, and bird chatter indoors. You can be sitting there in a trance, enjoying the peace and small sounds of nature when:
JAY! JAY! JAY!
You’re jarred to consciousness by screeching that’s already loud and further amplified until it sounds like there’s a blue jay in your ear canal. I’ve been known to fly out of my seat almost as quickly as the smaller birds fly off the feeders.
Except the birds on the tube feeders—they can munch on unbothered. If my parents had only known.
When the sun sets, sandhill cranes return from area fields to Goose Pasture at Jasper Pulaski Fish and Wildlife Area in Indiana. Turn your sound up. Taken Sunday, December 3, a peak time during migration.
And what a sunset.
On Sunday, November 13, I met J. at the Starbucks near the Homewood train station, where we began our trip to Jasper Pulaski Fish and Wildlife Area in Indiana. Here each November and December thousands of sandhill cranes congregate on … Continue reading →