Tom & Nancy Ciskowski
Dawn E. Hewitt
Paul D. Hoernig
Kip O. Hoffer
Joan Ten Hoor
Sandra S. Miles
William R. Powers, MD
LuAnne Kohler Shonk
Sherrell G. Shonk
George R. Sly
The Wabash Valley Audubon Society
Cam H. Trampke
Dear Friends of Goose Pond,
You will find several article of interest in our third quarter newsletter. We hope you are doing well and are enjoying the fall migration of birds at Goose Pond!
Friends of Goose Pond
Property Manager’s Report 8-20-14
GPFWA’s “busy” season seems to be year-round now, but in all reality our busiest time of year is quickly approaching. September 1 marks the beginning of dove season and goose season, followed by early teal season on September 6th. All of these activities are very popular at Goose Pond FWA and thus require a substantial amount of attention and effort from property staff. In the past few weeks we have been working hard on summer prescribed fires (144 acres burned to date), mowing levees (35 miles mowed to date) and spraying sunflower fields (32 acres). In between those activities we have also been strategically lower water levels in some wetland units and preparing to raise water levels in others, all in anticipation of incoming migratory birds.
Wildlife use of the property has been reflective of the typical summer “lull” with the exception of two King Rail sightings and shorebird use of manipulated wetland units. Wading bird use remains high with Great Egrets, Snowy Egrets and Great Blue Herons occupying seasonally low water bodies. Waterfowl are continuously increasing; Blue-winged teal are showing up sporadically, while families of Canada Geese, Wood Ducks, and Mallards are becoming noticeably abundant.
In the coming days and weeks, we will continue to see a tremendous effort by property staff to finish summer prescribed fires and preparing the property for a massive influx of public use. On top of all this, we are continuing to handle school groups and planning a special dove hunt for Ball State students.
Travis Stoelting, Assistant Property Manager
Goose Pond, Hillenbrand, Minnehaha, and Fairbanks Landing FWAs
Property Manager’s Report 9-17-14
Things are moving right along at Goose Pond FWA right now with dove season, goose season, and teal season in full swing. On September 1st we had about 120 dove hunters enjoying some fantastic shooting, 3 parties of goose hunters and several birders (representing 9 counties and 1 from PA) reporting an astonishing 25 species of shorebirds in one unit; all happening on the same property. We are very encouraged to see such successful and diverse public use of Goose Pond FWA.
Most of the work of property staff over the past month has been related to the above stated activities in some form or another. We have sprayed, mowed and marked 7 different fields for dove hunters, maintained parking lots, kept the information booths full, etc. Much of the same pattern will be happening in the coming months and throughout the fall/winter hunting season. We also hosted a group of students from the Ball State Chapter of The Wildlife Society on a special dove hunt on September 1.
Wildlife use of the property is really starting to pick up as compared to the last few months. As previously mentioned, we are getting great shorebird response to fall drawdowns in wetland units. Waterfowl numbers are increasing slowly but surely, and we still have a nearly full complement of summer marsh birds. As colder air starts to move in we should see a big boost in duck numbers and occasional waves of new shorebirds.
Lastly, I’m glad to say after nearly a year of writing these Property Manager’s reports, for the first time I’m writing this one as Property Manager. Thanks to all of you for your work and support while I was Assistant.
Travis Stoelting, Property Manager
Goose Pond, Hillenbrand, Minnehaha, and Fairbanks Landing FWAs
Friends of Goose Pond
Community Birding Day
On Saturday, August 23rd nineteen people participated in an evening outing to GPFWA. The evening began at 6:00P with a wonderful dessert of peach and cherry cobbler with ice cream served at Pleasant Grove Farm. We had just begun this delicious treat when a storm front passed through the area. Our event organizer Lee Sterrenburg noted that the temperature prior to the arrival of the brief shower was 91F. By the time the rain had ceased the temperature had dropped to a pleasant 74F and was accompanied by a lovely breeze from the northeast. The temperature drop was most appreciated by everyone in attendance.
Our leaders for the evening were Lee, Kathy McClain, Don Gorney, and George Sly. Don declared that his target bird that evening was Yellow-crowned Night Heron. No sooner had the group began their walk out into MPE along the old CR 1200 W than Lee spotted this bird flying with a group of four Black-crowned Night Herons. The birding was off to a great start. Many in our group were especially thrilled to see the 350 Great Egrets that were recorded. If you haven’t had a chance to see these beautiful birds at their evening roost, you are really missing a wonderful sight.
Thanks to Lee’s report, meticulous as always, I offer this summary of the birds seen.
Canada Goose 22 late evening arrivals
Wood Duck 55
Double-crested Cormorant 46
American White Pelican 5
Great-blue Heron 18
Great Egret 350 (120 in MPE & 220 along the Dbl. ditches peninsula)
Little Blue Heron 3
(Lee noted that Marty Jones had previously alerted him to their possible presence)
Green Heron 13
Black-crowned Night Heron 62 (Lee said that this was the third highest count for this bird at GP)
Yellow-crowned Night Heron 1
Spotted Sandpiper 1
Greater Yellowlegs 1 (heard but not seen)
Common Nighthawk 1
Belted Kingfisher 1
American Crow 20
Tree Swallow 20
Bank Swallow 1
Barn Swallow 6
Song Sparrow 3
Indigo Bunting 3
American Goldfinch 3
Everyone who participated in our evening of birding agreed that it was a delightful outing. The passing storm had left behind beautiful cloud formations and the setting sun bathed the wetlands in some glorious light. This coupled with the pleasant drop in temperature, the excellent variety of birds seen, and the informative narrative provided by Lee, Cathy, and Don made for a most enjoyable event.
Friends of Goose Pond hope to offer this type of birding event again next summer. If you missed our Community Birding Day this time, be sure to continue your membership, look for notices of our outings, and mark your calendar accordingly. We guarantee an outing that is both educational and pleasurable.
Many thanks again to Lee Sterrenburg, Cathy McClain, and Don Gorney for making this event possible.
An Example of Why Goose Pond FWA is a Globally
Significant Important Bird Area
As many of our members may already know, both the National Audubon Society and BirdLife International have accorded GPFWA the special status noted above. While this certainly sounds impressive, I have wondered what this actually means. Obviously a drive along SR 59 is enough to convince even the casual observer that the restored wetlands are excellent habitat for Great Egrets and Great-blue Herons. But the IUCN (Intl. Union for Conservation of Nature) lists the conservation status of such birds as Least Concern. Maybe a place like the Goose Pond isn’t necessarily vital to them. Are there, I’ve pondered, other birds that utilize GPFWA in a manner which makes the area critically important?
A recent perusal of our Friends of Goose Pond Facebook page has helped me to achieve a clearer understanding of exactly what it means for a habitat to be globally significant. In a recent posting, our local birding guru and FoGP member Lee Sterrenburg noted that two Hudsonian Godwits had put down in GP Unit 8 on the 31st of August. He reported that one of them stayed until Sept. 10th. Lee stated that “this appears to be the longest recorded stop a Hudsonian Godwit has made in fall in Indiana history …”.
Intrigued by this, I searched and came upon a most interesting online research article published by the Center for Conservation Biology. The report dealt with two Hudsonian Godwits which had been outfitted with satellite transmitters so that their movements could be tracked. Leaving their breeding grounds in the Mackenzie River delta of northwestern Canada, the birds flew southwestward to the lower Hudson Bay area. This flight covered some 1,500 miles and was accomplished by one of the birds in a non-stop effort of two days (the other required 70 hours). After resting for several weeks, one of these birds then made a most impressive five-day, non-stop flight of 3900 miles to the Orinoco River Basin in Venezuela. The other godwit made a similarly imposing flight of 3,124 miles lasting four and a half days; this took it to the Caribbean coast of Columbia. From northern South America both birds eventually made their way to their wintering grounds near the Atlantic coast of Argentina.
Could it be that GPFWA is coming into play as a stopping point in the amazing migratory journey made by Hudsonian Godwits? A few days after coming upon the information I have described above, I learned from Lee that this was a distinct possibility. In his monthly report to the FoGP Board, he pronounced it probable that the Hudsonian Godwits which have appeared at GPFWA three of the last four years “make four stops along the way” from their breeding grounds (most likely in south-central Alaska in this case). These stops would be in Saskatchewan, at Goose Pond FWA, in the northwest Amazon Basin, and coastal Argentina. As Lee said, “That’s a pretty heady lineup of important geographical shorebird locations.” If I ever needed a clearer picture of what it means to be a globally important bird area, this was it! My mind still reels as I contemplate the incredible endurance of such birds and the manner in which our Goose Pond plays a role in one of the natural world’s great migratory dramas. And yes, doesn’t it give you great satisfaction to support this wonderful wetland area through your membership in Friends of Goose Pond?
Critter Corner No. 8
Common Water Snake
by George Sly
With the beginning of fall, and the anticipation of the frosty weather to come, this edition of Critter Corner is devoted to a common denizen of the Goose Pond wetlands who will soon enter its long winter nap. Normally by late October we will have seen the last of the Common Water Snake until its emergence from hibernation in late March or April. In Indiana, Nerodia sipedon is by far the most common water-dwelling snake. Practically any body of water may serve as habitat for this species but they seem to prefer aquatic habitats that are shallow, relatively warm, and with little or no current.
Common water snakes are frequently seen basking on logs, stumps, overhanging branches, or sometimes even on the banks of ponds and marshes. They seem to have some degree of curiosity as I have had them approach me while fishing from a shoreline. One of my childhood memories of first encountering this species was glancing down to check my stringer of bluegills and seeing a Nerodia lying there peering up at me. As an adult with a great fondness for snakes, I’m mortified to report that this first chance meeting saw me take to my heels in terrified flight. Left behind was the stringer of fish and my tackle. Of course, at my first movement, the water snake hightailed it in the opposite direction and was nowhere to be seen when I rather embarrassedly crept back to retrieve my possessions.
This brief story does illustrate the fact that a good many people, even as adults, possess a rather unreasonable fear of the common water snake. As a retired biologist, I can’t recall the number of times people would report seeing one of these snakes while fishing or otherwise being around the water. Invariably they would refer to this animal not as a common water snake but as a “water moccasin”. Despite my assurances that what they had seen was not an example of that highly venomous species, I had the feeling that my explanations were often falling on deaf ears. There are two points to be made here. First, this confusion is a really good example of why biologists generally prefer scientific names over common names. As most of you probably know, each species of organism has its own scientific name. Such names are generally derived from Latin or Greek. They are comprised of the Genus name (in this case Nerodia, referring to the snake’s habits) and the specific name (here it is sipedon, which refers to its bite). A common name on the other hand may refer to different organisms. These two snakes are an example. Sometimes a common name is used for totally different animals. The term gopher may bring to mind a turtle in Florida, a true pocket gopher in Illinois, or a ground squirrel in Indiana. Sometimes common names can mislead; a starfish or a jellyfish is not really a fish. So, to make a long story short, folks living within the range of Nerodia sipedon often simply use the common moniker of “water moccasin” for this species.
A second reason that the common water snake is often mistaken for a true water moccasin, or cottonmouth, is that they do indeed look quite a lot alike. Incidentally, the western cottonmouth (Agkistrodon piscivorus) does actually occur in Indiana. In 1983 a relict population of this snake was found in Dubois County. The cottonmouth is listed as an Endangered Species in Indiana. There are, of course, significant differences in the anatomy of common water snakes and the cottonmouth. The differences are such that they are placed into different families (Colubridae and Viperidae). Think of it as being like separating carnivores into the cat family and the dog family. Nevertheless, many of the water snake species bear a strong resemblance to the cottonmouth in terms of coloration, stocky build, and habitat preference.
Another story might illustrate how much alike they really can look at times. My wife and I had the opportunity a few years ago to canoe the Wekiva River in central Florida. She sat in the bow; I was at the stern. It was a beautiful stream which quietly flowed through forests of cypress and gum and we leisurely paddled our way along attentive to any animals we might spot. As we rounded a bend, I saw a fallen tree whose barren branches hung out over the stream. In the top of this tree, some ten feet above the water, basked a good sized snake. The large heavy build, broad head, and distinct dark crossbands on a brownish body fairly shouted cottonmouth to me. Urging Anne to help me paddle closer, I continued looking upward at the somnolent snake. Now, the closer I got, the less sure I became of my identification. I asked Anne to help me move a little nearer. Now, in close proximity to the snake, I became convinced that it was after all simply a Nerodia species of some sort. If only I could get a little nearer I could be certain. Suddenly I became aware that in spite of my strong paddling I was making no headway in getting closer to my quarry. It was then that I looked to the bow of the canoe to see Anne furiously beating the water to froth. I had inadvertently put her into a position whereby the snake in question loomed ominously right over her head. The turbulent flow issuing from her paddle would have done the old stern-wheeler Mississippi Queen proud. Needless to say I got no nearer the serpent but by now it had indeed resolved itself into a brown water snake. No big deal.
As one would expect of such a highly aquatic snake, their diet consists of fish of assorted kinds including various minnows and catfish. Common water snakes have little impact on game fish populations. They will also eat frogs and toads, their tadpoles, and salamanders. Water snakes are ovoviviparous which essentially means that females retain their eggs internally until the yolk-fed young are born alive. The number of offspring in a litter may be several dozen but the average seems to be around eight. Water snakes of all kinds do of course have their own predators. Large fish, such as bass, as well as wetland birds such as herons will take them. Marshland mammals including raccoons and mink will also prey on snakes. Juvenile water snakes may even fall victim to bullfrogs.
It is best to enjoy a chance meeting with the common water snake from a distance. Although non-venomous and essentially harmless, they do have a nasty disposition. Given a chance they will flee but cornering or trying to handle them seems to bring out their dark side. In such cases, they will bite fiercely and often.
Common water snakes, by acting alternatively as predator and prey, serve as an important cog in the complex ecological machinery of the wetland. Oh, and one more thing. Let’s not call them water moccasins.
For those with further interest in Indiana snakes, I recommend:
Conant, Roger and Joseph T. Collins. 1998. Reptiles and Amphibians: Eastern/Central North America. Peterson Field Guides. Houghton Mifflin Co. New York.
MacGowan, Brian and Bruce Kingsbury. Snakes of Indiana. IUPUI Fort Wayne and IDNR, Division of Fish and Game. Indianapolis.
Minton, Sherman A. 2001. Amphibians & Reptiles of Indiana. Indiana Academy of Sciences. Indianapolis.
The Passenger Pigeon (Ectopistes migratorius): Some Reflections
by George Sly
On Monday, September 1, 2014, at 11 a.m. the Cincinnati Zoo paused to remember Martha, the world’s last passenger pigeon. As you may recall, 2014 marks 100 years since the passing of Martha in her enclosure at the zoo. It seems quite likely that this is the only species for which we know the exact time of its extinction. Still, even after a century’s passing, it is difficult for me to comprehend how such an plentiful species was totally lost. By most estimates, the Passenger Pigeon was the most abundant bird in North America. Data from Chipper Woods Bird Observatory’s website put their population number at 5,000,000,000 individuals; a number that represented 40% of all the birds on the continent. Observers in the 19th Century reported seeing flocks of these swiftly flying birds that were a mile wide and passed overhead in a living stream for hours upon hours. And yet, they are no more.
Nesting in colonies that could cover 30 up to 850 square miles of forest, the birds were tempting targets for market hunters. Tens of thousands were said to have been taken on a nearly daily basis. This, coupled with the clearing of their forest habitat for agriculture, started them on the slippery slope to extinction. Their decline was well underway by the mid-1800’s. The last reported wild specimens were shot in Wisconsin in 1899.
One of America’s foremost and pioneering spokesmen for the environment was the late Aldo Leopold. In his best-known work, A Sand County Almanac and Sketches Here and There, is an essay entitled, On a Monument to the Pigeon. It is of course the Passenger Pigeon of which he speaks. In prose which borders upon poetry, here are some of his reflections upon the loss of this species.
“We grieve because no living man will see again the onrushing phalanx of victorious birds, sweeping a path for spring across the March skies, chasing the defeated winter from all the woods and prairies of Wisconsin.”
“There will always be pigeons in books and in museums, but these are effigies and images, dead to all hardships and to all delights. Book-pigeons cannot dive out of a cloud to make the deer run for cover, or clap their wings in thunderous applause of mast-laden woods. … They know no urge of seasons; they feel no kiss of sun, no lash of wind and weather. They live forever by not living at all.”
“For one species to mourn the death of another is a new thing under the sun. The Cro-Magnon who slew the last mammoth thought only of steaks. The sportsman who shot the last pigeon thought only of his prowess. The sailor who clubbed the last auk thought of nothing at all. But we, who have lost our pigeons, mourn the loss.”
I like to believe that the loss of this amazing bird has led us to be more conscious of the impact we humans can have on wild things and wild places. To be sure, there are success stories. Increases in the population of Whooping Cranes and expansion of their geographic range might be an illustration that we are doing better. The rebound of Bald Eagle, Brown Pelican, and Osprey populations subsequent to the banning of DDT gives me hope. But many other birds still teeter on the verge of the precipice that claimed the Passenger Pigeon. Attwater’s Prairie Chicken, California Condor, Everglades Snail Kite, Red-cockaded Woodpecker, and Kirtland’s Warbler - these names all elicit a sense of foreboding among those who treasure our wildlife heritage.
One of the greatest destroyers of wild species is habitat loss and even here I harbor hope. The restoration of the Goose Pond is a case in point. Thanks to the will and efforts of those who envisioned the reality of this 8,000 acre wetland rising again from its ashes, we can all be a bit more optimistic. Now, where there was dry land (relatively speaking) we see scores of Great Egrets, we catch a fleeting glimpse of a King Rail, we are awestricken by wave after wave of Sandhill Crane descending into Beehunter Marsh, we marvel as the champions of long-distance migration – Hudsonian Godwits – choose this property as their resting place.
I cannot close without coming back once again to the wisdom of Aldo Leopold. In the opening lines of A Sand County Almanac, he tells us that “There are some who can live without wild things, and some who cannot. These essays are the delights and dilemmas of one who cannot.” I suspect that those of you who have chosen to join the Friends of Goose Pond will understand these sentiments completely. And so I thank you and I congratulate you for your membership. Through support of the Goose Pond habitat restoration, you are playing an important role in assuring that there will still be wild things to fill both the hearts and the minds of your grandchildren with wonder and delight.
Leopold, Aldo.1949. A Sand County Almanac And Sketches Here and There.
Oxford University Press. New York.