Birders migrating to the Woods to see special winter visitors
Sister Jean Fuqua has a life list of seeing 146 different species of birds at Saint Mary-of-the-Woods, and the most recent additions to the list were the most exciting.
Beginning last November, birders who visit the motherhouse grounds began seeing Common Redpolls and White-winged Crossbills and Red Crossbills. These three species rarely migrate so far south during the winter. Dr. Steven Lima, a biology professor at Indiana State University in Terre Haute, and Michael Brown, a local birding photographer, say these birds have not been seen in this area since the mid-1980s.
“Seeing both species of Crossbills here in Providence Park has to be my most exciting bird-sighting here on the campus,” Sister Jean said. “I had seen both of these birds before, not here, but seeing them both in the same tree on the same day right here was indeed a treat.”
Several of both species have found a home at Saint Mary-of-the-Woods. They are attracted to the Alder trees that surround LeFer Lake near the main entrance to the grounds, and the Hemlock trees along the fence adjacent to St. Mary’s Road and in Providence Park near Providence Hall and the new Log Cabin Chapel.
Bird-watchers have come from Vincennes, Martinsville, Bloomington, Evansville and Indianapolis to see the birds in action.
“The campus has the highest concentration of Eastern Hemlock trees in this part of Indiana, which is a food source favored by the Crossbills,” Steve said.
A Redpoll? A Crossbill? What’s so special about them?
“The Common Redpolls are specialty birds from the arctic that for some reason like to feed in Alder and birch trees. The pond with the bridge over it just north of the main entrance is encircled by Alder trees. There are only three or four Redpolls feeding there and they come and go and are the size of Goldfinches and are often quiet when feeding so they are easy to miss,” Michael said. “Shortly after I photographed the Redpolls, three birders from Martinsville and Bloomington area arrived. They had driven here just to see the Redpolls.”
“On November 17, I found a male Red Crossbill and two female White-Winged Crossbills near the Log Cabin Chapel. I initially heard the chattering call of the male Red Crossbill, which then led me to the White-winged Crossbills. They were ripping cones from the nearby Hemlocks to consume the seeds inside,” Steven added.
The sightings are likely to continue for a few more weeks, but as spring inches closer, the birds are expected to begin migrating northward. Sister Jean, and her birding companion, Sister Jeanne Knoerle, will continue their trips through nature with binoculars in hand.
“I started in 1980 and I wish I had started sooner,” Sister Jean said. “I love the beauty of the birds. It is something you can do by yourself and there’s no competition.”
The list of North American species she has seen has surpassed 600. She, too, is a traveler to other places, such as Goose Pond in Greene County, Indiana, Universal in Western Vigo County and Vermillion County near the Indiana-Illinois state line.
The Woods is a place of natural beauty and where you can often see nature at work and at play. In addition to the typical and easy-to-recognize Robins, Cardinals, Blue Jays, Woodpeckers, Finches and other well-known species, you are likely to see Bluebirds which have been re-introduced to the area.
You know that legendary line from the Wizard of Oz, right? “Lions and tigers and bears, oh my!” Well at Saint Mary-of-the-Woods, “It’s Robins and Cardinals and Crossbills, oh my!”
What are you waiting for? Plan your own visit to learn about birds around the Woods and enjoy the many other special places to visit and things to do. Make a day or weekend of it.