Thursday, March 1, 2012

Birding Goose Pond, Indiana

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Those of us who have been watching birds for a few decades have witnessed the steady decline of many of our birds and the ravenous consumption of natural habitat by the expansion of our human population. It can be mighty depressing.

And this is why, when we witness the opposite happening with birds and their precious habitat, it's not only uplifting, it gives us hope that we CAN be good stewards of the planet and the birds we love so much. Here's an example of if you preserve it/restore it the birds (and birders) will come.
The sky above Goose Pond was constantly filled with birds. These are sandhill cranes, mostly.

Last weekend I was a guest instructor at a nature photography/birding workshop offered by Roberts Camera of Indianapolis and held at the Goose Pond Fish & Wildlife Area near Linton, Indiana. Goose pond is a glacial basin that, for years, was drained and pumped so it could be farmed. In 2005 the owner of the land—which totaled about 7,500 acres—sold the land to the state of Indiana's Department of Natural Resources.

The DNR, with the help of a variety of conservation partners, began restoring the area to a more natural wetland habitat. Almost immediately birds started showing up, including thousands of sandhill cranes. The people of Linton/Greene County, IN noticed and started a nature festival focused on Goose Pond, called Marsh Madness, which is being held on March 3, 2012. The habitat has only been restored and open for less than a decade, yet it's attracting loads of visitors for birding, fishing, hunting, boating, and other outdoor pursuits.

Our event was a week prior to the actual festival, but the birding was fabulous—50 species of birds were found easily during the four separate sessions we ran on Saturday and Sunday. Photographer David FitzSimmons and a team of experts from Roberts Camera handled the photography sessions while I held down the birding outings. Most of the attendees were photographers first, and some were even experiencing bird watching for the first time, which was great. I love nothing more than putting the spotting scope (in this case a totally sweet loaner 65mm Leica spotting scope from Jeff Bouton at Leica Sport Optics) and hearing someone's breath literally leave their body in a gasp when they see the magnified image. We had a lot of those moments at Goose Pond.

One of the gasp moments at Goose Pond was a zoomed-up scope view of this bald eagle's nest.

And the photographers had great success, too. We had two groups afield, one birding, one photographing, in the morning with attendees switching for the afternoon session. David FitzSimmons, total pro that he is, dispensed advice and tips for the workshop attendees both during the indoor sessions and in the field. He'd arranged for Sigma lenses to be available as loaners and Jody, Nick, and Mary Jane from Roberts, along with Jan, a rep from Manfrotto/Gitzo, made sure everyone had all the gear their needed to have a great time taking photos.

The next time Roberts Camera will hold its Marsh Madness Photography/Birding Workshop is in spring 2013. If you're interested in getting better at taking bird photos, I'd suggest checking it out.

Next post: "Hey! What's that big white bird?"