The forecast for 4 February 2012 was for 100% chance of rain but Paul and Sarah Nahmias dared the skies to cut loose as they joined trip leader Alan Bruner for the 2012 IAS Eagle Field Trip. So we began with quality in participation and hoped for quantity in bird observations along the flooded river bottoms of the Wabash River in Parke and Vermillion Counties.
As we waited at 7:30 a.m. at West Union covered bridge we were entertained by a pair of serenading Great Horned Owls. At 7:45 the first of 14 Bald Eagles flew over, some flying overhead, on their way to the river. By 8:10 we headed down the tow-path road to check out the Russell bottoms where more than 100 swans (about two-thirds Tundra and one-third Trumpeter), 1000+ Gr. White-fronted Geese, 500 Canada Geese, and hundreds of Northen Pintail, many Mallards, Common Goldeneye, Bufflehead, Wood Ducks, and American Wigeon were noisily feeding. A few Bald Eagles and Ring-billed Gulls sprinkled the skies and water surface and the wintering first-year Golden Eagle made a very brief appearance near the north end of the field.
Next stop- Howard bottoms, where there were few waterfowl, but more gulls and at least seven more soaring Bald Eagles. The Golden Eagle made another brief appearance but quickly continued its trek northward.
We stopped at the eagle nest west of Lodi and then the south gatehouse at the Cayuga Power Plant where a pair of young Bald Eagles posed with Paul and Sarah for a photo.
We drove by the eagle nest southeast of the power plant to find one adult on the nest with its mate nearby and bringing in nest material. In the adjacent flooded fields were hundreds more Gr. White-fronted Geese, 500 Snow Goose, and hundreds of ducks with four more Bald Eagles acting as sentinels.
Next up were the Pump-house Bottoms which were also full of waterfowl. This assemblage consisted 3000 Gr. White-fronted Geese, 1000 Snow Geese, and 50 more Trumpeter Swans. Unfortunately the three wintering Whooping Cranes were not in view and the road to their corner was under water.
One last flooded bottom field north of Montezuma added another 141 swans plus 500 Canada Geese and a smattering of Gr. White-fronted Geese and hundreds of Mallards, not to mention another adult Bald Eagle. We ended the trip where we began returning to the West Union bridge at 12:30 p.m.
We ended the day with a total of 182 Trumpeter Swans, 142 Tundra Swans, 4500 Greater White-fronted Geese, 1500 Snow Geese, 1000 Canada Geese (the minority goose!), and hundreds of ducks. In addition we had a flock of about a dozen Wild Turkey, the Golden Eagle, and, oh yes, at least 40 encounters with Bald Eagles including three nests.
The moral of this story is: “Never let the weatherman keep you from attending a field trip!”
Alan W. Bruner
Chair, IAS Field Trip Committee