Number observed: 1
Details: The bird flew in over our 9-acre, man-made, subdivision lake in Zionsville, Indiana about 6:25pm 5/25/19 as we sat down to supper on our screened-in porch. The temperature was in the mid-70’s, the sky was mostly clear, it was sunny and there was a light breeze. My first impression of the bird was formed while looking through the screens of our porch, across the lake without binoculars (a distance of about 150 yards estimated using Google Maps to measure between points). Superficially, it appeared to be a tern-like bird in silhouette and feeding-behavior but it was much too large to be a tern. The bird’s length and wing span were about as large, but not larger than the Canada Geese (CANG) who are frequent visitors to our lake but were not present at the time of this rare bird sighting. The bird’s body was slimmer than a CANG body i.e. it did not have the girth of a CANG body. Unlike CANG, this bird’s wings were pointed. It was a strong and elegant flyer. It dove for fish and stayed in the water for moments following a strike, then returned to banking and skillfully maneuvering over the surface, looking down for more fish. The bird had several successful strikes for fish. It repeatedly flew out of sight to the east and returned and to the northwest and returned to fish some more for a total of about 25 minutes. Double-Crested Cormorant (DCCO), an infrequent visitor to this lake, but relatively common to our area, was ruled out immediately due to dissimilar feeding behavior: the DCCO floats on the surface of the water and dives, in contrast to this bird, which was flying high above the surface of the water, then diving forcefully, head first. Also the coloration was dissimilar: the DCCO has no white plumage. After the bird flew out of sight the first time, I went back into our home to get binoculars (Zeiss Victory HT, 8 x 42) and Richard Crossley’s The Crossley ID Guide Eastern Birds (2011) to aid further observation and attempt identification. The western sun illuminated the bird’s long, thick ivory bill, cream-colored face, dark chocolate-brown head/neck, and a clear-cut line marking a transition to a pure white belly and legs. There was a triangular white patch under the wing. Its back, upper wings and wedge-shaped/at-times-splaying tail were all uniformly dark chocolate brown. A photo of what I was seeing was found on p.111 in Crossley’s guide and was labeled “adult female”. When I saw it might be a Brown Booby (BRBO), I was skeptical: I carefully read the description and looked at the range map, which indicated this bird is normally seen in the Dry Tortugas and is “rare” north of that location. The text indicates that the BRBO is “often misidentified as a Northern Gannet” (NOGA). In Crossley’s guide, NOGA is on the facing page (p.110). The NOGA looked to be equally “rare” to central Indiana; but, I decided to be extra cautious and rule it out as well by using Crossley’s NOGA photos and description. The plumage of the bird I was observing did not resemble any of Crossley’s photos of NOGA. This bird was seen by 2 people (including myself) with & without binoculars under excellent conditions. The bird flew within 30 yards of the observers and was last seen flying northwest. No vocalization was heard.