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Whooping cranes in Indiana?!? Yes, if you know where to look!

BWD’s editor Dawn Hewitt lived and birded in Bloomington, Indiana, for 31 years. While she was there, the Natural Resources Conservation Service restored a 7,000-acre wetland complex (now expanded to 9,000 acres) called Goose Pond Fish and Wildlife Area. In a few short years, it became a magnet for birds. For about a decade, it was a stopover for hatch-year whooping cranes in the re-introduced eastern population making their maiden southbound journey by following ultra-light aircraft from Wisconsin to Florida as part of Operation Migration. Each year, between seven and a dozen or so new cranes were added to the flock, and they learned to stop at Goose Pond on their way south every year, and again on their way north. We will spend two full days (Feb. 13–14) at Goose Pond and surrounding areas including (but not limited to!) Greene-Sullivan State Forest, Dugger Unit, and Bear Run Mine. Bear Run Mine was the wintering grounds for a ferruginous hawk in 2020!

February is prime whooping-crane viewing season in southern Indiana. Goose Pond is also one of top Christmas bird count circles in Indiana, regularly producing 100 species or more—in the heart of winter. In February, sandhill cranes usually number in the thousands, and vast flocks of snow and greater white-fronted geese can be mind-blowing. Sometimes a few Ross’s geese are among them! Rough-legged hawks and northern harriers hunt open areas by day, and at dusk, short-eared owls take their place, often putting on quite a show. One night, Dawn tallied 60-some short-eared owls in just a few hours! Waterfowl will be abundant, and early shorebirds are a possibility. We’ll hunt for Wilson’s snipe and American white pelicans, and enjoy abundant winter sparrows. We have a good chance for wintering merlins as well.

We’ll also spend a day (Feb. 15) at Lake Monroe, Indiana’s largest lake, which usually hosts dozens of bald eagles (and occasionally a golden!) each winter along with a nice mix of ducks, loons, swans, and grebes. While in culturally rich Bloomington, we’re considering a tour at Indiana University’s Eskenazi Museum of Art (designed by I.M. Pei) or the Tibetan Mongolian Buddhist Cultural Center. Bloomington has ties to the Dalai Lama and is home to two Tibetan buddhist monasteries.

Come birding with Dawn on her old and favorite stomping grounds, ably assisted by her friend and local guide David Rupp of IndiGo Birding Nature Tours. We’ll enjoy some of the best winter birding in the Midwest! This trip is limited to 12 attendees, and social distancing will be maintained throughout the event.

WHAT TO EXPECT

Most birding will involve short hikes on unpaved roads and uneven dirt paths, making access challenging for those with mobility issues. Some will be roadside birding stops at pull-offs with great views. You are responsible for transporting yourself; no vans! Bathroom facilities will be limited; we will often be “in the boonies.” Please also be aware that our daily schedules may be impacted by weather.

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