Prelude to a County Big Day

It’s 4PM on a beautiful April Sunday afternoon. What am I doing? Cussing a poor, innocent COOPER’S HAWK flying by. And what has it done to receive my wrath? It’s because I’m a mile from the Marion County Line, I’ve been birding since 5:15AM, and I want to go home. But the Cooper’s Hawk is #98 and as soon as I lift my binoculars I will see the ROCK PIGEONS that live at the intersection of I65 and Main in Greenwood. One of those unlucky souls is #99 and I can’t quit on #99. Only a mile from the county line means I really don’t have much of an option for #100 except for a long drive across teh county to an eagle’s nest. I’d rather quit at #99 than drive. So what to do?

Prelude – 10 Days Ago

About 10 days ago I started thinking about a Big Day for Johnson County. Living here for 3+ years I pretty well know the bird’s locations. I used to run Big Days periodically when I lived in Illinois. I thought then and I still do that planning for Big Days make one a better birder.

Having to plan for a Big Day makes you:

  1. On a regular basis bird different spots to know exactly where the birds are located, which is good for long-term trend analysis. If you eBird.
  2. Get out of a rut by birding those areas instead of visiting the same old “productive” spots.
  3. Search for new areas. I’m still looking for a marsh in Johnson County with rails. Or an owl/hawk nest to cut down on the chance of missing them on a Big Day. Also for more shorebirds sites in this rural agriculture county.

With the IAS Big May Day on May 14 that left the weekend of May 7-8 or later. When I lived in Illinois I used to go to Southern Illinois and participate in a fund-raising Big Day the last weekend of April. So I decided I’d run a Big Day the last weekend in April to compare the totals.

Prelude – 29 Hours Previous

Having decided to run a Big Day on May 1 I headed out at 7AM on Saturday, April 30, to do some scouting with Mike. The weather was not very cooperative but we had a good morning with several species seen for the first time this year. Right off the bat we had a late staying NORTHERN SHOVELER at Franklin HS pond where we also flushed a WILSON’S SNIPE. Then a PIED-BILLED GREBE at the Walmart/Lowes Pond which isn’t easy to find this time of year. Later we saw a DOUBLE-CRESTED CORMORANT at Driftwood, which is a tough county bird.

We located areas that if the birds continued overnight would be good spots on Sunday.

Like the regular flooded area which held BLUE-WINGED TEAL along with GREATER YELLOWLEGS.

BWTE

The “Purple Martin” road had numerous warblers plus this ROSE-BREASTED GROSBEAK.

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The “River Road” in Atterbury had one spot with a calling SCARLET TANAGER and YELLOW-BILLED CUCKOO.

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I’m showing the back-end of the cuckoo to show how much water the feathers repel.

Mike heard a BLUE-WINGED WARBLER calling as we drove through Atterbury. It posed for photos in the rain.

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BWWA (1)

Not an uncommon bird but a photo of a singing EASTERN MEADOWLARK during a break in the rain.

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Would these birds be there the next day? Would I find #100.

I’ll finish the story soon.

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London – 10 Things, Maybe True, Or Not

After our trip to Costa Rica I posted about 10 things we had heard about or things we should do before we took our trip. We then determined if they were true or not about the country. I’ll now do the same for our London recent trip.

So following, in no particular order, are 10 things about London we had heard about or things we should do before our trip.

1. Get a London Pass and an Oyster Card – True. If you are going to do any site seeing the London Pass will save you money on admissions to the sites. The Oyster Card is used to get on subway (Underground). Just swipe and go. Once we got the hang of it we used it daily. And there were two workers at each station that helped with directions.

2. Along with #1, the Underground is the only way to get around London – True. Even if the Underground isn’t as modern as my wife thought it would be, it was very efficient. Our hotel was less than a minute from one of the stations. I used it to get to the London Wetlands in about a half hour.

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The entrance to the Undergound sits between restaurants and stores.

3. The food in London is bad – False. I don’t know if it was the particular area we stayed in but we had zero problems with food. Except the Fish and Chips with soggy Peas is just as bad there as here.

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The food in London even looked good as well as tasted good. Alright, this isn’t food from London but from the one day tour we took to Paris. Lunch at the Eiffel Tower. We never did figure out the no-flavor White Foam on top.

4. Take an umbrella – True. We didn’t have much rain though almost every day it rained at one point and we needed umbrella.

5. Lots of people – True but… Take this from a guy who grew up in a town that literally had one stoplight at Main and Jefferson. My wife who has been to New York more than I have commented several times it had a completely different feel than New York. The crowds of people never seemed to be a problem.

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We are heading towards Big Ben which is the nickname for the Great Bell of the clock at the north end of the Palace of Westminster in London. As you can see there were lots of people but it didn’t feel like it.

6. Small Rooms in the hotels – True. The room was small but not a problem. Since we spent most of the time out of the hotel it didn’t matter. Now if we had to stay in the room it would be a different story. What do you expect for the cost of real estate in a city that size?

7. London is expensive – False. Relatively. We found most things were less than New York or even Chicago in many cases. Once we got it in our head things cost the same in pounds that we pay in dollars, we were OK. For example, a small coffee at Starbucks was on sale for 1 pound, which is $1.60. Which would be the sale price here also.

8. Speaking of coffee – it sucked – True. OK, I hadn’t heard the coffee was bad but beside the hotel restaurant the coffee was bad at every place I tried. And I like strong, black coffee.

9. Take an electric plug adapter – True. Most electronics – phones, laptops, etc, – are now setup for either the US 110 or European 220 volts, you just need the correct plug adapter.

10. The water pressure in London is bad – False. My wife had been told this by several people. The hotel shower’s water pressure was fine.

11.  I said 10 but thought of 11. The flight is long and unless you pay for first class the flight is tight and a pain – True and False. Going over the flight was full. And tight. And a baby cried the whole 8 hours. So yes it was a PAIN. On the flight back the plane was only 20% full. You could sleep in the center seats. And no babies were crying. I guess it’s a hit and miss.

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Not sure why I took this photo but I’ll use it. Did you know the board the arrow is pointing at folds down and a small crib can be attached? Not that the child slept in it…

A few things we didn’t hear before but wonder about??

1. There is an ice cream stand on every corner. What’s the deal with that?

2. Everybody in customer service, and I mean everybody, says “No worries”. I was beginning to have worries since I heard “No Worries” so often.

3. Not making a statement here but everyone wanted to know the deal on Donald Trump. Once they heard our American accent that was the first question.

4. We are used to flying Southwest Airlines. No frills. So when we were constantly fed on the flight over we were amazed. And what type of internal radar do people have that makes them wake up from a sound sleep when they know there is another meal coming?

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The plane on the left – Big Boeing 777 for long flights – has numerous meals served. The plane on the right – little Boeing 737 – has peanuts thrown at you as the flight attendants run down the aisles. (Not really)

For friends and family somewhere down the line I’ll post a boring travelogue of the trip without any birding.

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BBS – Sign Up Now

Recently on IN-Bird Amy Kearns requested volunteers for the open routes of the Indiana Breeding Bird Survey (BBS). I have always wanted to run one but the time of year usually conflicted with family vacations. Plus I thought we were going to move again and in these positions I think you need longevity. Since we are here for now I signed up for a couple.

I knew running these routes was a good thing since they are used to monitor bird trends. But there was one thing that pushed me over the top to sign up.

Remember last winter when I started blogging about endangered species, here and abroad? On the IUCN’s Red List I noticed something under the endanger species for Indiana.

The IUCN uses the results of the BBS to monitor trends.

RHWO IUCN Breeding Bird Survey

This is the trend justification to place the Red-headed Woodpecker in the Near-Threatened category for the IUCN Red List. Note the two surveys used – Breeding Bird Survey and Christmas Bird Counts.

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CHSW IUCN

The same justification is used for putting the Chimney Swift in the IUCN Red List Near-Threatened category. Only the BBS is used since Chimney Swifts aren’t around in winter.

Along with Christmas Bird Counts I noticed the IUCN uses BBS for justification. That is why I was glad to see one of my routes started in the inaugural year of 1966 and the other in 1983. It will be great to compare my results to surveys taking exactly 50 years ago.

I have talked to people who think BBS are a waste of time and effort. Can someone tell me how else we are going to monitor birds over the long haul? eBird and its equivalent in other countries will make a difference someday, but it has only been around for 10 years.

For now we need to continue on with BBS, Christmas Bird Counts, and May Big Days which Cornell (eBird) has also started to promote heavily.

Why not sign up for a BBS?

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Migrants are Here!

I spent most of Saturday birding the usual spots in Johnson County. I met Mike at Northwest Park in Greenwood first thing in the morning and spent the rest of the day heading south. I didn’t see anything out of the ordinary unless you count my second county sighting of BLACK VULTURES and the large number of shorebirds at a flooded field south of Franklin. Otherwise it was just a pleasant day birding seeing 15 or so new migrants. I checked my records and all of them arrived pretty much on schedule. And not much bushwhacking either.  Just the usual spots checking for new migrants.

This post will display more attempts with my new camera. It doesn’t matter what camera you use when birds don’t cooperate and won’t get out of the bushes!

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I’ll start with what I think is the best photo of the day. A White-eyed Vireo came out to check me out and stayed out posing for photos. Johnson County Park 4/23/16

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A Brown Thrasher showing as much eye-ring as the previous White-eyed Vireo. Driftwood SFA 4/23/16

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Prairie Warblers were numerous Saturday though they wouldn’t come out for a photo, as noted here. Johnson County Park 4/23/16

GRCA

It took me a minute or two to recognize the call of the Gray Catbird coming from the bushes. That happened on several of the “new” birds Saturday. Driftwood SFA 4/23/16

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Yellow Warblers were out in force at Driftwood. It was good to see them back in good numbers. Driftwood SFA 4/23/16

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I think subconsciously I knew how feisty Blue-gray Gnatcatchers are but until I tried to get a photo it wasn’t an issue. They never sit still and I felt lucky to get this shot. Driftwood SFA 4/23/16

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A Turkey Vulture I think going into adulthood as shown with more black than red on its head. Johnson County Park 4/23/16

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An Eastern Kingbird looked like it was checking out a spot to set up a nest. Johnson County Park 4/23/16

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Purple Martins were back at the reliable spot just north of Atterbury FWA. Rural Johnson County 4/23/16

SHOREBIRDS (2)

I know it is hard to see the shorebirds in this photo. I counted 100 at this location and probably missed some in the corn stubble. Most were Lesser Yellowlegs and Solitary Sandpipers with a few Greater Yellowlegs and Spotted Sandpipers. Rural Johnson County 4/23/16

BLVU (2)

My second sighting of a Black Vulture in Johnson County. The first was last November. Note the short tail. Rural Johnson County 4/23/16

And that was about it for this pleasant Saturday to be out.

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Different Looking, but Act the Same

I previously blogged about birds I saw in London that looked slightly different from birds we see in the US. Birds like coots and wrens. While at the London Wetlands Centre I birded with a couple of British birders and we discussed birds which are in the same family, act the same, even might sound the same, but look different.

Following are some of those birds I think fall into that category.

Northern Lapwing

Probably the most obvious was the Northern Lapwing. Even though they don’t look or sound like a Killdeer, they sure act like one. London Wetlands Centre 4/5/16

Black-headed Gull

On second thought I should have included the Black-headed Gull in the first group since it does look like a Bonaparte’s Gull. However while watching it fly I could tell it was larger since it didn’t have the Bonaparte’s “bouncy” flight. London Wetlands Centre 4/5/16

Eurasian Blackbird

The Eurasian Blackbird is a thrush, it is about the same size, and acts like an American Robin. But the similarities end there. Hyde Park 4/5/16

European Robin

This one’s a stretch. At first the European Robin reminded me of an Eastern Bluebird with them both being thrushes. Now I don’t think as much. Cute little bird though. Hyde Park 4/5/16

Eurasian Blue Tit

Now everything except appearance about the Eurasian Blue Tit was like a Carolina Chickadee, even its call. Hyde Park 4/05/16

Common Redshank

Looking at the Common Redshank now, it appears more like a Greater Yellowlegs than it did in the field. In the field it was bigger and slower moving. London Wetlands Center 4/05/16

Common Snipe

The Common Snipe should have gone with the birds that look similar. Nothing different about it from the Wilson’s Snipe. My mistake. London Wetlands Centre 4/5/16

Little Grebe

The Little Grebe did act like a Pied-billed Grebe, just a lot more colorful. London Wetlands Centre 4/5/16

European Goldfinch different from AMGO

And now my family’s favorite photo, an European Goldfinch. They act like American Goldfinches but as you can see don’t look anything like them. London’s Theatre District 4/3/16

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Peek-a-Boo Meadowlark

(I wrote most of this blog the last week of March and now just getting a chance to post. I thought I’d better get it posted since most posts going forward will be about London and migration. The photos are with my old camera.)

One of the frustrating things about birding is hearing a bird and not being able to see it. Especially grassland birds when the grass isn’t high. You hear them calling constantly but never see them.

Where are they at?

One of the prime examples is the EASTERN MEADOWLARK.

Eastern Meadowlark

An Eastern Meadowlark showing its bright colors in the afternoon soon. Franklin HS – 3/26/16

You can hear meadowlarks calling. There might be 1, 2, or 10 birds out there but you don’t know for sure because you never see them.

Or yes you do when they pop up to sing on a bush or tree. Otherwise they are hidden.

How do they hide in such short grass?

EAME (19)

Photo of the same area as above taken in a burst of 5 photos, so there wasn’t much time between the photos. Where did it go? Franklin HS – 3/26/16

I spent some time with an Eastern Meadowlark on a recent Saturday afternoon trying to find out. (I started with a Wilson Snipe but it wasn’t cooperating.)  I heard the meadowlark but couldn’t see him. So I waited and watched and after some time he popped up again.

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The meadowlark is back out in the open. Franklin HS – 3/26/16

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And just as quickly he disappeared. If you look close you can see his head barely exposed in the center of the photo. Franklin HS – 3/23/16

He was hidden, popped up, sang for a while, and disappeared again.  Where did he go?

If you look closely at the following photo you will catch a glance of his head on the center of the photo to the far right. Now I know why I don’t see them. He sang in the above photos, ducked, and ran to the west.

He is walking in grass only about half his height, he’s walking low, and keeping his camouflaged non-yellow side towards me.

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The meadowlark is keeping low and heading west. Franklin HS – 3/23/16

And when he did sing he didn’t stand all the way up. He just kept low singing. No wonder I’m overlooking them. If I hadn’t caught any of the minimally exposed yellow color I’d miss him.

EAME (8)

A zoomed photo to show how little of the meadowlark is exposed.

I ended the session with the understanding how I miss seeing Eastern Meadowlarks.

Not sure I’ll find them any easier though I now have an understanding.

EAME (20)

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Mainly Celery Bog Sunday

I had to head back to Lafayette again this weekend. This time I had 4 hours to bird on Sunday. So just like last weekend I took the time to bird another spot that I hadn’t birded before, Celery Bog in West Lafayette.

But first a few words on Saturday. I tried for rails at a small wetland area in Shelby County just across the road from Johnson County. No luck. The habitat almost looks good for rails, but I’m thinking it is too overgrown. But I’ll try again.

I then checked the flooded fields south of Franklin. There were SOLITARY SANDPIPERS but not any other shorebirds.

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This is one of 3 Solitary Sandpipers hanging out in a flooded field south of Franklin. 3/16/16

The bulk of Saturday morning was spent at Laura Hare Preserve. I was searching for HERMIT THRUSH, WINTER WREN, and LOUISIANA WATERTHRUSH. I ended up seeing one Hermit Thrush and 3 Louisiana Waterthrushes. But no photos.

And the reason for no photos was because I finally got a new camera. A Nikon Coolpix P900. Which I wasn’t having much luck with Saturday. So the time at Celery Bog was as much for birding as to take the time to learn the camera.

One could get use to birding Celery Bog on a regular basis. Nice habitat and access. I spent 2-1/2 hours walking the length of the area.

The most abundant bird after AMERICAN COOTS and TREE SWALLOWS were YELLOW-RUMPED WARBLERS. I had a minimum of 25.

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I had to try a waterfowl shot with my new camera, this American Coot was the subject. Celery Bog, W. Lafayette 3/17/16

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Tree Swallows were numerous in the dead trees along the water’s edge. Celery Bog, W. Lafayette 3/17/16

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A few photos of the numerous Yellow-rumped Warblers. I don’t remember ever hearing them call as much as they did Sunday. Celery Bog, W. Lafayette 3/17/16

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Yellow-rumped Warbler

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Yellow-rumped Warbler

There were also a fair assortment of waterfowl and my FOS GREAT EGRET.

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A distant shot of a Great Egret to show the zoom capabilities. Celery Bog, W. Lafayette 3/17/16

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A zoomed shot of the egret, nowhere near the max zoom. Celery Bog, W. Lafayette 3/17/16

I heard a BLACK-THROATED GREEN WARBLER calling in the woods which I hadn’t expected. It stuck to the tops of the trees but I did manage a few shots.

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A Black-throated Green Warbler got my attention doing his zee zee zoo zee call. Celery Bog 3/17/16

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BTNW (6)

The highlight of the day came at the end of the walk. There was a RED-SHOULDERED HAWK ahead on the path. I watched it eating something and then it seemed to carry it away. A mouse a maybe?

Here is the sequence of events.

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1

RSHA (12)

2

RSHA (15)

3

RSHA (18)

4

RSHA (19) Celery Bog

5

And just so you know I wasn’t sold on the camera after Saturday. But the day at Celery Bog swayed my opinion. I think the improved photos show that.

I’ll blog about the new camera soon and keep reviewing it through migration.

 

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Indiana vs. London Birds, Almost a Tie

While preparing for the trip to London, I noticed that many of the birds we see in Indiana are almost the same as London birds. It must have to do that birds, like humans, migrated to certain areas and developed just a little different. Plus maybe because the two areas have the same mid-latitude temperate climates.

So many of the birds are the same but slightly different. A tie if you will.

Probably the most obvious was the crow.

Carrion Crow

A Carrion Crow, about the same size and look of the American Crow. Hyde Park, 4/5/16

Common Pochard

Except for a slight difference in the bill, the Common Pochard sure looks like a Redhead. St. James Park 4/3/16

Gray Heron

The Gray Heron looks similar to a Great Blue Heron but is different in several aspects – mainly size – 36″ vs. 46″. St. James Park 4/3/16

Eurasian Moorhen

I really can’t see a difference between the Eurasian Moorhen and our Common Gallinule. My NG says “shorter bill and more rounded top to frontal shield”. I guess. St. James Park 4/3/16

Eurasian Coot

The all white frontal shield is a pretty obvious difference between the Eurasian Coot and American Coot. St. James Park 4/3/16

Great Cormorant

I have seen Great Cormorants on the East Coast and they are just as similar there as in London to the Double-crested Cormorant. Main difference is the white patch on throat. London Wetland Centre 4/5/16

Tufted Duck

The previously posted  Tufted Duck. Basically a Ring-necked Duck without the white spur on the side and of course with the hanging tuft. Hyde Park 4/2/16

Eurasian Wigeon

Eurasian Wigeon has a rufous head versus the American Wigeon gray-green head. St. James Park 4/3/16

 Eurasian Wren

The Eurasian Wren, basically our Winter and Pacific Wren. Hyde Park, 4/5/16

Eurasian Magpie

A Eurasian Magpie, not a Midwest bird but similar to the western US Black-billed Magpie. Hyde Park 4/5/16

Song Thrush

The Song Thrush reminded me of our Wood Thrush. Hyde Park 4/5/16

Soon I’ll post about London birds that acted like our birds but looked different.

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Green Woodpeckers

This next post from our London trip will involve one of the last birds I saw on the trip – EUROPEAN GREEN WOODPECKER (eBird list it as Eurasian so the name must have been updated). Or just Green Woodpecker to the locals. If you have been following this blog from the start you know I have a thing about green birds. Green Woodpeckers in particular.

My favorite bird from our 2014 Costa Rica trip was the Golden-olive Woodpecker. I must have liked it since I picked it as my favorite bird of 2014.

GOWO

A Golden-olive Woodpecker eyeing a banana which is out of the photo. La Fortuna, Alajuela, Costa Rica 12/15/14

I have whined in the past about not having bright green birds in the Midwest so when I saw Europe had a Green Woodpecker, it was one bird I definitely wanted to see.

I made the usual flashcards for the trip so I knew what the woodpecker would look like.

EGWO Flashcard

The mandatory flashcard of the birds I might see cut from an old Peterson British Birds Field Guide.

EGWO Collins

I studied the Green Woodpecker in my Collins, I mean Princeton Birds of Europe by Svensson, et al.

I learned the call of the European Green Woodpecker. This sounds similar to a Northern Flicker to me.

Link to European Green Woodpecker Call on xeno-canto.

I learned their habitat – city parks like Northern Flickers and checked where they were being seen on eBird.

I was ready.

And I almost missed it.

If it hadn’t been for two British birders that I spent several hours with at the London Wetlands Centre I might have missed it.

I didn’t think I’d have any problem seeing one in London’s City Parks since we see Northern Flickers in our city parks. They are reported in eBird to be in those parks and the habitat looked right.

But after many hours of walking through the parks with an ear always listening, I hadn’t heard or seen one. So going to the Wetlands was my last chance.

After spending time with the British birders looking at the wetland’s birds we headed back to the Visitor Center via a wooded trail. While walking they started naming the local birds of London and if I had seen them. Which I had for the most part. A little further down the path one asked about Green Woodpecker? I said no I hadn’t and yes I would. He stated they had seen one at the present spot 10 days previously.

And just like that one started calling and flew into a nearby tree!

EGWO 5

The photo is back-lit and the European Green Woodpecker wasn’t cooperative, but I did get a few photos. London Wetland Centre, UK 4/5/16

Then another one started calling in the area. Two!

The closest one never positioned itself for a good photo. It was back-lit but I did get good looks of it through my binoculars.  We watched it for a few minutes and then it left with its undulating flight towards the other one.

EGWO 4

I tried to lighten the photos to show more green but it didn’t help much. London Wetland Centre, UK 4/5/16

EGWO 3

I think you can still see it’s a cool looking bird. London Wetland Centre, UK 4/5/16

EGWO 2

It’s about the same size as a Northern Flicker. Check out that face! London Wetland Centre, UK 4/5/16

Sometimes things do work out.

Now do I want to make it my life’s goal to see all the green woodpeckers of the world? Maybe. I’ll research it and get back at a later date.

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A Broad Daylight Owl – Strange

After dropping my daughter in Lafayette Saturday morning I headed to my first birding location in Benton County.

But before I reached my first stop I saw one of the oddest things I have ever seen while birding.

A large bird flew across the road coming from a farm field heading to a wooded area. Now mind the time is 10AM. My first thought was a RED-TAILED HAWK but it was too “fat” for a hawk. My next thought was a BALD EAGLE. But it was too small for an eagle. The bird proceeded to land on a fence post and gazed back at me.

A GREAT HORNED OWL out in the open in broad daylight. A first.

I got the car stopped in the middle of the road and took a photo through the car window. By the time I re-positioned the car it had flown away.

Great Horned Owl

The photo was the best I could get through the car window before it moved on. A Great Horned Owl gazing back at 10AM in the morning. Rural Benton County 4/9/16

So what was a Great Horned Owl doing flying across a corn field in broad daylight? I didn’t see any crows or jays around mobbing it. My daughter asked if it looked like it might be ill, but it appeared to be flying fine. I’m not sure what it was doing flying across the field??

In all my years of birding I can’t recall seeing a Great Horned Owl flying in the open in daylight unless it was being harassed by crows or jays. And then they stuck to the tree line. Never across a field. I have seen a few Great Horned Owls flying at dawn or dusk but even then they were close to trees.

Have you ever seen owls flying out in the open during daylight hours? If so, I’d like to hear about it.

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