“On The Road”

Big Oak National Wildlife Refuge

As with so many aspects of life it’s not what you know, it’s who you know. And a great case in point was yesterday when I meet up with a great individual and really good birder, Gary Stegner. So what does knowing Gary and Big Oak NWR have in common? Well Big Oak is closed to the public from December till April, and since Gary worked there when the U.S. Army ran it as the Jefferson Proving Grounds, and now as a volunteer, he has access to the key that opens all the gates throughout the 50,000 acre refuge. Even though the Army still own the property, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services manage the property. Needless to say this place is massive.


The topography of the refuge is mostly flat open fields with very large woodlots,  mature forests, and gently rolling hills. There is one sizable lake which at the time was mostly frozen over. It also contains one of the largest contiguous forest blocks and grassland complexes in Southwest Indiana. And just last year the counted approximately 500 nesting pairs of Henslow Sparrows.

However I’m here to try and find one species. A Golden Eagle. According to Gary they had one on their Christmas Count, and even though it’s like trying to find a needle in a hay stack, it’s a really big needle. And there’s no way you can walk this place, so the use of a vehicle in most important. The gravel roads were rough and bumpy so driving through took a long time.

IMG_3480Some straight-a-ways were miles in length. They would pass through vast open grasslands, then plunge into a large forest. So the variety of birds can be impressive. They have 120 breeding birds on the refuge, and that’s not counting the ones that pass through.

IMG_3479One of the smaller open grasslands that dot the refuge. This is the habitat we spent most of the time looking for our Eagle. We put forth a great effort to find this bird, but dipped in the end.

Now I didn’t drive over 2 hours just to focus on one bird, this wasn’t one of my typical bird chase for a rarity type of thing. I also needed to add birds for my January list and my hopes were high. As the hours ticked away we added more and more birds. The sky was gray and overcast all day which could explain why we saw very few raptors. This would be a great place for Rough-legged Hawks, but we never saw one. Red-tailed Hawks were in abundance, as were Northern Flickers.

The miles rolled along as we drove throughout the refuge. We both commented how lifeless the refuge was. Birding was tough, and the ones we saw we worked pretty hard trying to get. But as the day ended we had a somewhat respectable day list. I was able to finish off the remaining Woodpeckers for January with Red-headed and Pileated. I also ticked off Black Vultures as we passed the compost heap.

After we left the refuge we drove the long way back to get to my car. We did spook up a small flock of Snow Buntings feeding in the corn stubble as we neared Gary’s house. It was a great day and with an open invitation from Gary I will return someday. I can only imagine driving through one of the grasslands and hearing hundreds of Henslow Sparrows singing.

However my day wasn’t over. Driving back towards the Interstate I made a point to drive through the Oxbow. The roads were in a rough state and the lakes were all frozen over except for a few spots on Oxbow Lake.

IMG_3486I was able to get pretty close to this sub-adult Bald Eagle.

After leaving the Oxbow it was onto Lost Bridge and Hidden Valley Lake.

IMG_3489Female and Male Bufflehead

IMG_3507Female Northern Shoveler

IMG_35082 Male and 1 Female Red-breasted Mergansers

As is the case after a day like this birding. I was bushed! And then to read later that a probable Golden Eagle was spotted feeding on a dead Deer carcass near to where I was. Like finding a needle in a hay stack.

Notable birds for the day include:

(Star indicates new bird for the January 100 Species List)

  1. American Crow
  2. Dark-eyed Junco
  3. Song Sparrow
  4. Red-tailed Hawk
  5. White-crowned Sparrow
  6. Black Vulture *
  7. American Tree Sparrow
  8. Northern Flicker
  9. Red-bellied Woodpecker
  10. Savannah Sparrow *
  11. Red-headed Woodpecker *
  12. Pileated Woodpecker *
  13. Northern Mockingbird
  14. Eastern Bluebird *
  15. Eastern Meadowlark *
  16. American Goldfinch
  17. Wild Turkey *
  18. Mourning Dove
  19. Common Goldeneye
  20. Canada Goose
  21. Eastern Towhee
  22. Swamp Sparrow
  23. Cooper’s Hawk
  24. Red-shouldered Hawk
  25. American Kestrel
  26. Snow Bunting
  27. Red-winged Black Bird *
  28. Bald Eagle
  29. Yellow-rumped Warbler
  30. Bufflehead
  31. Horned Grebe *
  32. Ruddy Duck
  33. Northern Shoveler
  34. American Coot
  35. Redhead
  36. Sharp-shinned Hawk *
  37. Ring-billed Gull
  38. Gadwall
  39. Red-breasted Merganser *
  40. Belted Kingfisher
  41. Lesser Scaup
  42. Mallard

My January total is now 84.

One response to ““On The Road”

  1. Good day! Congrats on the new January birds. Did you count the Hawk-Colored Vulture the other day??

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s