Goose Pond FWA waterfowl survey on Tuesday February 12, 2013.

By Lee Sterrenburg:

Property Manager Brad Feaster and I did the weekly DNR waterfowl survey on the morning on February 12. Assistant Manager Travis Stoelting was away for the day and did not participate this time.

The birding was amazing. The day featured a massive migratory influx of ducks and geese. A truly historic day for the Goose Pond FWA wetland restoration. An almost "perfect storm" of superb wetland food crops, usable water levels for dabbling ducks, and ideal weather conditions probably helped to concentrate the ducks and geese staging at Goose Pond on February 12. (Some notes on the wild food crop are at the end below.)

Brad and I met at the south end of Main Pool West. I got there at 7:20 AM and Brad arrived at 7:45 AM. We found ourselves looking at a phenomenal assemblage of over 50,000 ducks and geese crowded in the southern ends of Main Pool West sub-units W4 and W3. In places one could not even see the water--only masses of ducks packed in close to each other.

This was the largest concentration of waterfowl ever reported in one place in the history of the Goose Pond FWA wetland restoration.

Brad called the rest of the DNR crew at the office to come down and see the show. Matt Bredeweg, Mike Knight, Rick Mayfield, and Dennis Workman of staff came and helped us with the tally. Between Brad and the staff we had many decades of experience doing numbers on waterfowl. We needed that experience on this occasion. Matt and Dennis also accompanied us on a drive up the silage pit hill off of CR 400 S for an overlook of Fields B and C and Unit GP7. Most of the duck and goose numbers on the day came from those first two stops, plus brief stop at Beehunter Marsh Unit BH2. Our morning survey ended at 10:45 AM.

On the day we recorded 16 species of waterfowl and 51,040 individuals, of which 42,666 were ducks.

By species, waterfowl totals on the Goose Pond Property were: 5963 GREATER WHITE-FRONTED GEESE, 1980 SNOW GEESE, 180 CANADA GEESE, 4 TUNDRA SWANS, 1 WOOD DUCK, 83 GADWALLS, 10 AMERICAN WIGEON, 4 AMERICAN BLACK DUCKS, 14,996 MALLARDS, 27,641 NORTHERN PINTAILS, 42 GREEN-WINGED TEAL, 15 CANVASBACKS, 31 REDHEADS, 21 RING-NECKED DUCKS, 3 COMMON GOLDENEYES, and 1 HOODED MERGANSER.

The day tally of 27,641 Northern Pintails is by a wide margin the maxim recorded on the ground in one place in Indiana history The highest previous count from the ground in Ken Brock's database is 9640 Northern Pintails at Patoka River NWR on February 17, 2012, by Sue and Richard Vernier. The previous property high for Goose Pond was 9120 Northern Pintails on the DNR waterfowl survey of February 24, 2009, by Brad Feaster, Lee Sterrenburg, and Don Whitehead.

Our tally of 27,641 Northern Pintails also tops anything reported by the Illinois Natural History Survey aerial surveys done in the Lower Wabash watershed the past two years.

In the evening I revisited the south end of Main Pool West, this time with Kathy McClain, John Pohl, and Andy Harrell. The evening was another great visual spectacle, with likely some 25,000-30,000 waterfowl involved. I had hoped to get a line on the additional geese commuting back and forth, going north to south, and back again south to north, out to over to the east of Main Pool West. That endeavor proved difficult. We did get a much more accurate count on the Sandhiil Cranes coming into their Main Pool East for their night roost.

The overall SANDHILL CRANE count on the day was 14,115.

We could not see all the AMERICAN WHITE PELICANS but did manage a partial tally of 73 in the evening by Kathy McClain.

NOTE: the 5963 Greater White-fronted Geese reported here on the Goose Pond property, plus 65 more off the property at Jessup's field on CR 900 W, for an overall day total of 6028, is a DOWNWARD REVISION from the higher total I reported earlier. I have reverted to reporting only the GWFG we tallied in the morning up through 10:45 AM. Trying to get tallies on the evening flights of 1000s of GWFG going in several directions at once was just too confusing. While I believe we probably did see over 8000 GFWG during the course of the day on February 12, I do not have the initial direction of flight for enough flocks written down to provide on paper verification. Hence I am reverting to what we recorded at the start of the DNR survey only. I regard this as a safer number.

NOTE, except for Snow Goose additions and 4 American Black Ducks in the evening (plus 6 Green-winged Teal in GP4 in the afternoon), the below waterfowl totals are all as we found them on the DNR survey in the morning, up through 10:45 AM.

Results by Unit:

GPFWA BEEHUNTER MARSH UNIT BH5N, looking down from Baseline Road, Lee only 7:15-7:25 AM, only staying long enough to get an estimate on roosting Sandhills:
Sandhill Crane 7000 all together on one group, none starting to fly out yet

GPFWA MAIN POOL WEST south end in W4 AND W3, from the bridge on CR1200 W; two visits; the first in the morning by Lee and Brad with Matt Bredeweg, Mike Knight, Rick Mayfield, and Dennis Workman of the DNR staff, 7:40-8:50 A M. Second visit, 4:45-6:20 PM, with Kathy McClain, John Pohl, and Andy Harrell. Except for Snow Geese and 4 American Black Ducks all totals given here are from the morning session:
GREATER WHITE-FRONTED GOOSE 5000 in the morning we saw 5000 all on the deck in the south end of MPW at the start and at the same time, tallied in the air after they all got up at once, put up by a Bald Eagle; a count figure that all six of us agreed upon the morning
Snow Goose 1980 780 on the water the late afternoon, a big additional flight of 1200 arriving and landing from the east and landing at sunset counted in the tally (and some 2000- 3000 other potential additional Snow Geese flying off to the east not included).
Canada Goose 42
Tundra Swan 4 near the Least Tern Island, all adults, all with black bills, curved rather than V shaped white feathering above bills, all with dip or curve in upper mandible (versus straight upper mandible of Trumpeter Swan); later flew over to Field B
Wood Duck 1
Gadwall 55
American Wigeon 5
American Black Duck 4 (added in the evening)
MALLARD 14,000
NORTHERN PINTAIL 24,050 this count very likely missed several thousand more popping up and down in vegetation in W3
Green-winged Teal 29
Canvasback 15
Redhead 31
Ring-necked Duck 21
American White Pelican 73 Kathy McClain's evening tally with many others hidden from view by vegetation
Bald Eagle 5 2 adults & 3 imm, two of which were very instrumental in putting up ducks and geese in the early AM
American Coot 84

GPFWA MAIN POOL EAST, Sandhills flying into the Unit and landing in the evening (4:45-6:20 PM), counted from the bridge on CR 1200 W:
Sandhill Crane 7,115 we did not see or count all of them coming in, too busy sometimes with geese and ducks; this total is from trying to get counts on all the incoming ground flocks over the course of watch and adding them up at the end

GPFWA Field B , viewed from atop the visitors center hill off CR 400 S, Lee and Brad with Matt and Dennis:
Greater White-fronted Goose 350
Snow Goose 550
<<Tundra Swan 4>> same birds as in MPW, closer views here
Mallard 40
Northern Pintail 150
Hooded Merganser 1 flyby, seen by Brad only
Killdeer 2

GPFWA UNIT GP7, also looking down from the visitors center hill, same time and observers as Field B:
Greater White-fronted Goose 530
Mallard 500
Northern Pintail 400
Green-winged Teal 6

GPFWA UNIT GP16, driving by on the Highway, Brad and Lee, 9:05 AM:
Greater White-fronted Goose 75

A fast check of GP5SC and GP5N turned up empty.

GPFWA FIELD K, on CR 1100 W, driving by, Brad and Lee:
American Kestrel 1
Killdeer 2

JESSUP'S FIELD on CR 900 W, off the Goose Pond property, by Brad and Lee, 9:05 AM:
Greater White-fronted Goose 65
Sandhill Crane 300

GPFWA BEEHUNTER MARSH UNIT BH2, by Brad and Lee only, from the small hill near the eastern BH3 parking lot, 9:20-22 AM
Canada Goose 65
Mallard 100
Northern Pintail 3000
American Kestrel 1
Killdeer 1
'
GPFWA UNIT GP11S, Lee only, 10:20-27 AM:
Gadwall 10
Mallard 320
Northern Pintail 35
Great Blue Heron 3
Ring-billed Gull 1
Song Sparrow 3
Common Grackle 1

GPFWA UNIT GP9, Lee only, 10:28-35 AM
Greater White-fronted Goose 8
Canada Goose 55
Mallard 118

GPFWA UNIT GP11N, Lee only, 10:43-45 AM:
Canada Goose 12
American Wigeon 4
Mallard 12
Green-winged Teal 1

The morning part of the DNR survey ended at 10:45 AM. I went and did the morning DNR tallies.

Late in the afternoon I went by GPFWA UNIT GP4 added only to the day total:
Green-winged Teal 36

In the evening I did the session at the south end of MPW, as per the above.

Well after sunset:

GPFWA UNIT GP10S, evening, driving on CR 1400 W, Lee only, 6:48 PM:
Short-eared Owl 1

GPFWA UNIT GP15, evening along CR1475 W, Lee only, 6:50-7:04 PM
American Woodcock 4 peent displays and wing flutters

NOTES:

DISCUSSION: WHY THE HUGE INCREASE IN NORTHERN PINTAIL NUMBERS? what might account for a sudden jump in Northern Pintail numbers, and a jump of more than 17,000 birds above the previous state (from the ground) high? Other than: it was a good year for Northern Pintail breeding; the Goose Pond wetlands are altering the flyway patterns as predicted; and the sudden influx of temporarily warm weather moved N. Pintails northward out of the Lower Wabash Basin?

Some further surmises:

The excellent wild food crop and commodious water levels in the GPFWA wetlands during the winter of 2012-13 might also be part of the answer. The wild food crop this winter may be the best ever in the history of the Goose Pond restoration.

The combination of very high water during late winter of 2011-12 up through early spring 2012, followed by a long and eventually extreme drought up through August and beyond, allowed early successional grasses (especially foxtail grass and barnyard grass) and various smartweeds to grow in immense profusion as some of the wetland Units dried out. Case in point: the south end of Main Pool West had excellent fall season grassy habitat. We recorded a fall season high of 11 Le Conte's Sparrows on one visit to W4, and there were still 6 Le Conte's Sparrows left in W4 there on the Goose Pond CBC on December 19, 2012. The whole south end of Main Pool West subsequently re-flooded following the rains and snows of late December through January. The flooded grasses and smartweed and other vegetation now provided the prime habitat where the circa 50,000+ ducks and geese were foraging and resting in W4 and W3 on the morning of February 12 2013.

That the ducks are feeding inside Goose Pond FWA tends to make for a difference from places like Lake Gibson in Gibson County, where the ducks rest or roost on the Lake but fly outward to agricultural fields to feed. The thousands of Greater White-fronted Geese at GPFWA lately also appear to be feeding at least part of the time inside the property wetlands.

--Lee Sterrenburg, Bloomington & Brad Feaster, Linton, along with other observers as named above: Matt Bredeweg, Mike Knight, Rick Mayfield, and Dennis Workman in the morning; and Kathy McClain, John Pohl, and Andy Harrell in the evening.