White River Rookery Survey

On April 26, 2014 I accompanied Karl Werner, Rob Rutledge, and Mike Clay to survey the White River Heron Rookery in NW Johnson County. The rookery is on CILTI property (Central Indiana Land Trust Incorporated) on the west side of the river and is not open to the public. The goal is to census the Heron Rookery every five years. The census should have taken place last year, but high water prevented the count.

Heron Rookery - Map

Heron Rookery - Satellite

The day was perfect for the census. We surveyed the rookery in mid-afternoon under clear skies which was good since the temperature reached 80 degrees Fahrenheit.  That is important since some of the Great Blues fly off the nest uncovering the eggs.  But the warmer temps should have kept them warm for the short time they were exposed.

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One of the active nests we observed through the limbs.

We worked quickly going in a north-south pattern marking the counted trees so we wouldn’t tally them again. We probably weren’t in the main part of the rookery for more than 45 minutes.

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It was very easy to get disoriented if you didn’t try to stick to a constant back and forth walk.

Listed below are the results of this and previous years survey:

Year            Total Nests        Active Nests        Number of Trees
1985                   142
1987                   225
1990                   334
1993                    562
1998                    505
2003              314                    300                        ?
2008 (4/18)    146                    138                        51
2014 (4/27)     89                     85                          36

So why the increase and then decline in the number of nests over the years? I turned to the internet to see what others have speculated on the declines of rookeries. Some of the reasons I found were disturbances in food source, water pollution, eagles in the area taking eggs, a nearby loud noise, or simple an overpopulation of the area.

One of the things I thought about was the growth of the city of Greenwood which lies to the east.  Below is the population growth of Greenwood.

1980     19,327     62.8%

1990     26,265     35.9%

2000     36,037     37.2%

2010     49,791     38.2%

I have only lived in the area a short time, so I don’t know if the city’s expansion effected the herons or their food supply.  But last year I was out observing the rookery from the east side of the river.  The owner of the only house in the area stopped by to talk.  He said the house had been his grandfather’s so he had been coming to the area for years.  He remembered as a child the herons flying all day long to somewhere “east” and then returning.  Presumably with food.  Over the years he had watched the number decline with greater decreases over the last 5-10 years.  He speculated the expansion of gravel pits in the area might have something to do with it.  In the couple of hours I spent there I only saw four herons flying east and then back. So I can’t think that the city’s growth couldn’t have impacted the rookery in some manner.

As for other reasons listed, yes there are Bald Eagles that live on that stretch of the river. The large gravel pits have loud, noisy machinery.  Maybe the composition of the White River has changed.

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A view of the White River looking north of the rookery. Notice all the debris from the recent flooding.

My theory, which I have no proof or facts to back up, is there got to be too many herons for the local food source.  There would have to be over 1000 herons if there were 562 nests, plus the young.  There would have had to been a large supply of food to support that many herons. So hopefully many of the herons moved on to other locations with a better food source.

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A couple more nests. I’m not for sure but these might have been abandoned.

But like most things I have encountered in life, it is probably a combination of several things.

It would good to hear from others about the rise or decline of other heron rookeries.

Thanks to John Castrale for providing the data on past surveys.

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Half Way There

OK, I was going to post this last week but I got busy, then went to Goose Pond Saturday, etc., etc., etc.

Besides being halfway through the calender and birding year, we’re also halfway through the Indiana Audubon Society (IAS) Summer Count which runs June-July.  From the web page “The Indiana Audubon Society Summer Bird Count is a count used to determine which species are present during the months of June and July in any Indiana county.” And of course I will be counting in Johnson county.  

The Summer count is one of those counts I like.  Most counts consist of a one day scramble trying to see as many species as you can.  But the summer count consists of keeping track over a two month period which gives plenty of time to cover the county and see what birds might actually breed there.

But halfway is really a misnomer since I have already seen 90%+ of the birds I will probably see in Johnson County for June and July. Last year in June I saw 102 species on the way to seeing 108 species total.  This year I am a little behind with only 94 species seen in June.  Probably something to do with birding in Texas for a week in June. But after communicating with other birders in the county we are doing OK as a group because others have seen the species I have missed.

So now the fun part of the count, when I can target habitat and birds.  And inevitably when I target an area I always seem to pick up other species that I hadn’t expected.  Especially the last week of July when hopefully migrating shorebirds will be coming through like they did last year.

I really haven’t seen any unexpected birds in June except the Olive-sided Flycatcher and Mute Swans seen on June 1. But I haven’t come across a breeding Blue-winged Teal like I did last year at the famed Lowes/Walmart pond. And the grass was cut at Atterbury’s Bobolink field at the end of May, so no Bobolinks.

But hopefully I will come across a migrating Cliff Swallow or Sedge Wren later in the month.  Or even an Upland Sandpiper or Loggerhead Shrike.  OK, I’m dreaming.

Here are some summer birds from 2009 in Illinois.

OK, I have already seen you this June.  Green Heron – Green River SP, IL 07/04/09

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Saw one of your friends last June, but not this year.  American Coot -  Green River SP, IL 07/04/09

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Saw lots of you this June.  Common Yellowthroat – Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie, IL 06/12/09

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And you too.  Killdeer – Goose Lake Prairie State Natural Area, IL 06/12/09

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But they cut the grass, so not good odds on seeing you this summer in Johnson County.   Bobolink – Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie, IL 06/12/09

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And here is one for dreaming in Johnson County.  But you never no!  Loggerhead Shrike – Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie, IL 06/12/09

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So, how is your Summer Count coming?  Let me know.

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Goose Pond – 7/5/14 – Greater Yellowlegs for Starters

With an extra day off due to the holiday, I made a run down to Goose Pond.  And as we just got a new car for my daughter which gets great mileage, I didn’t feel as guilty on the gas money. One Hundred Ninety-eight miles total on 4.5 gallons of gas ($15.80) – 44 miles to the gallon.  And as usual I brought a PBJ for lunch, so no cash outlay there.  But I did stop at Starbucks in Martinsville…

After going out early yesterday to Atterbury FWA and not having great visibility until the fog lifted, I waited today to leave so I would arrive around 8AM after the fog would hopefully have lifted.  Which it had.  But the drive was mostly in fog.

Mute Swan yesterday at Atterbury FWA in fog

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While at Goose Pond I birded from the Double Ditches for a couple of hours, the bridge at 1200W for a couple of hours, and checked out the other units but didn’t spend much time at those locations.

On the way to the bridge at 1200W I got my best view and photos ever of a very cooperative Northern Bobwhite.  He was first in the road and then flew onto a little snag. What more to say?

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The terns were present and flying around the island.

Goose Pond looking north towards the island from the bridge at 1200W .

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From 400 meters it was obvious they were Least Terns.  Since the distance was to great for photos and the island is restricted I made sketches from the scope view.  I know there have only been 2 terns reported plus the  young ones but I swear there were four.  Two groups of two flying at different ends of the island. I’ll wait and hear back from others to see if I was seeing things.

Least Tern sketch – just to show how I document birds in conjunction with a voice recorder.  I’m not a great artist, but I can usually get the essence down.

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While watching from the bridge Black-necked Stilts kept constantly flying by with there legs extended back, even when I was under the tree over the bridge.

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Then one went by with legs extended, but it was brown. Which through me off.  A Greater Yellowlegs, early, but not exceptionally.

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As stated, I didn’t see much in the NW units but there were Cliff Swallows coming out from under a bridge.  This gives me hope that Johnson County might have nesting Cliff Swallows since I always thought Cliff Swallows needed a large, high bridge. It appears I was incorrect and can now start checking more bridges.

Cliff Swallow Bridge

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At noon I decided to go back and walk out the double ditches.  Glad I did.  While out there I heard Common Gallinules calling on both sides.  Then I thought I was hearing things when I heard a Sandhill Crane call for about 10 minutes.  I never could locate it but when I got home I saw on eBird that Don Gorney had one listed on July 1. And when I got back to the car a couple of guys were trying to fish on the west side of the road.  They made so much noise that they flushed a Least Bittern.  It flew about 20 meters in front of me and landed about 50 meters out.  I got great views but it dropped before I got a picture.  Nice way to end the day.

 

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Say “Hello”, Please

Probably my biggest problem with birding is that birders do not say “hello”.  OK, that is not my biggest problem, the Eastern Time Zone is, and Warblers are probably number two.  But birders not saying hello has to be right up there somewhere.

A Baltimore Oriole yelling “hello” to a friend.

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I encountered it again in Texas last week.  It is the slow time of the year.  On most days I was the only person birding the site.  And these are larger state parks.  On two occasions I came across other birders that did not say hello even after I did.  OK, one did nod.  It was fairly obvious that I was birding – binocs, camera, man purse with a notebook sticking out.  But I wasn’t dressed in the “official” birding uniform like they were.  They had on khaki hat, shirt, shorts, and boots.  I had on my tourist clothes – floppy hat, shirt, jeans, and in this case tennis shoes.  So they probably thought I was some crazy tourist that birded once a year.  Too bad because I could have put them on some decent birds, in one case I had just observed a Green Kingfisher buried deep in a large bush.

But this doesn’t just happen in Texas.  I have seen it in the Midwest ever since I started birding.  I used to think it was because people were intimidated that the person they were saying hello to would be a “better” birder.  Then after a while I noticed the “better” birders wouldn’t say hello either.  I thought they didn’t want to mingle with us lesser mortals. But  I don’t think either is correct.  I think it is our society.

A Western Meadowlark calling “hey” to a buddy.

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When I used to run, once a week I would run with a guy who would say hello to everyone.  We would be out a couple of hours on a long trail and we would say hello to all runners, walkers, bikers.  Most of them looked at us like we were nuts.  A few would say hello back but give us a strange look.  It didn’t change over the years.

I now work in a facility that has 600+ people.  The first thing I noticed when I transferred here last year is that no one says hello or even gives a nod.  What’s up with that?

If my mother was alive she would have been 99 last Sunday.  She was from a rural area of Kentucky and a different time.  She always said the world changed in the 1960′s when television became popular.  And in her opinion it didn’t change for the better. People started to stay inside instead of being outside and chatting with neighbors.  And I think the computer – internet world has continued that trend.  As I have heard several times, “You might communicate with a person on the other side of the world, but when was the last time you said hello to your neighbor?”

A Yellow Warbler calling over to the neighbors.

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So the next time you are out birding and someone says “hello”, please at least say “hello” back.  Or take the initiative yourself. There are just too few birders not to do at least that much.

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Not in Kansas (Or Indiana)

I thought I had better put up a quick blurb to explain why I hadn’t posted anything the last week.  The following should explain.

Black-Bellied Whistling Ducks and 11 young. Sabal Palm Sanctuary 06/20/14

As one can tell from the picture I am not in Indiana or anywhere else in the Midwest.  The photo of a pair of Black-bellied Whistling-Ducks and 11 young was taken on 6/20/14 at Sabal Palm Sanctuary in Brownsville, TX.  Of course I had many pictures to pick from but my daughter picked this one cause of the “cute babies”.  A scientific term I think.

Just a few more hours of birding and I’ll be home posting about the trip.  At least I will try since I think I have taken more photos in the last week than I have all year.

A parting photo from today.

Great Kiskadee, Estero Llano Grande SP, Weslaco TXGRKI Estero Llano Grande SP Weslaco TX

 

 

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Laura Hare Preserve in the Summer & an Osprey

First of all, what are the odds on seeing an Osprey in Johnson County in June?  And what are the odds of seeing one almost exactly a year later after Mike Clay and I saw one last June? But first the rest of the day.

Don’t let anyone tell you that birding is not a dangerous activity. We have all heard of people falling into lakes and rivers while birding. Or sliding down into ravines. Or getting lost and having to spend the night in the forest unprepared. Or sliding backwards down steep hills in their cars during Christmas Bird Counts. OK, I have only heard that story once but it was a good story.

So Saturday morning I am watching a pair of White-eyed Vireos when I hear a deer coming down the path. Now if you read my first entry about Laura Hare Preserve, then you know that at the beginning of the trail there is a steep incline. Well the deer, or two as it turns out, were hauling butt down the hill. They haven’t seen me yet since the trail takes a little turn at the base. And when they come around the corner they see me. Now this is all happening in about 5 seconds so I really haven’t grasped what is going on. The first deer gets about 10 feet from me, it seemed much closer, and I wave my sketchbook and yell something like “Owwwww”. The first deer veers left and takes a big leap into the lake. The second deer veers right and runs through a small, marshy area. Me, I am counting my good luck that the deer jumped into the lake because now a mother Wood Duck and young ones come out for a good view. Well I eventually get the good look when my heart slows down. Now the second deer has run around me through the marsh and has come out down the trail. The first deer I assumed swam to the other side of the lake, with the lake being probably 20-30 meters wide at this point. Anyway I assume it was OK because I heard a lot of snorting coming from the other side after a couple of minutes. At least I assumed it was the first deer and not the second deer. Deer can swim, right?

The rest of the morning didn’t disappoint from a birding point of view. Laura Hare had numerous Worm-eating Warblers, Louisiana Waterthrushes, Ovenbirds, and even a couple of Kentucky Warblers. Numerous Wood Thrushes were seen walking along the trail. Yes, they were walking on the trail. About all the species you would expect from the deep woods except I whiffed on Hooded Warbler. But I know they are there since Tom, Ann, and Karl reported them a week or so ago. Sorry, only one picture since I haven’t figured out how to take pictures in the dark woods. Yet.

Louisiana Waterthrush

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I then proceeded to the Iron Bridge Road at Atterbury in hopes of adding Cerulean Warbler to the Johnson County IAS Summer Count. Never did see any Cerulean but heard 3 on the morning. With the cooler temps the birds were still calling into the late morning. I also had a female Summer Tanager land on the road a few feet ahead of me. She was a dark mustard yellow with a large bill. No hint of black in the wing. My National Geographic calls her color “ochre” yellow. Sorry, but I am not familiar with the color “ochre”. And my mother was from the south.

One of two White-breasted Nuthatches that kept coming around.

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I had better views of the Yellow-billed Cuckoo but it wouldn’t come down for pictures.

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After a couple of hours there I went by Pisgah Lake to see if anything uncommon was there. As I pulled into the parking lot a big bird was flying slowly west to east. First thought was Red-tailed Hawk. Now parking at a 45 degree angle in the middle of the lot and looking out the window, maybe a Bald Eagle, this is a big bird. Finally out of the car, seeing that it looks like a large gull flying, and getting the binocs on it, it’s apparent it’s a Osprey. It flies to the end of the lake, circles, and comes back by heading west over the trees. I wait 45 minutes but it does not appear again. So what is an Osprey doing in Johnson County in June for the second year in a row? Is it nesting in the area and I am just not out in the field often enough to see it? Or is it just a coincidence. But like the TV detective says, I don’t like coincidences. I will continue to look for it this summer.

A few pictures on the day.

Male Orchard Oriole seen on the day.

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Bathing Baltimore Oriole.

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A Great Egret that has been hanging the pond at work and a Great Blue Heron from Pisgah Lake. I wonder what the Great Egret is checking out.  Nothing usually around that exciting except a lot of Canada Geese.

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Enlarged view of the Great Egret and Great Blue Heron’s heads – check out the eyes.

GREG Head

GBHE Head

 

 

 

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Summer is Here

What follows is a pretty lame travelog type report from my birding Saturday morning.  I didn’t see any migrants or anything else uncommon this past weekend, though the Great Horned Owl was cool, so I’m going to assume that summer is officially here.  I did check a couple of spots for a White-rumped Sandpiper, usually the last of the migrants, but no shorebirds of any type were seen, not even a Spotted.  The ponds where I saw Spotted last year are very high from the recent rains.  Hopefully Spotted Sandpipers were just quiet sitting on nests and haven’t moved elsewhere.

But as usual I still had a good time this weekend.  After reading Roger Hedge’s report Friday on IN-BIRD about a Black-billed Cuckoo in Boone county, I decided to start on the west side of Atterbury in a spot I have head one call at dawn each of the last 2 years.  On the way out Saturday I came across a Great Horned Owl just south of Franklin.  This is probably the same bird that was my first bird of the year.

Great Horned Owl at dawn Saturday

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Also on the way to Atterbury I stopped by a freshly cut hay field where I heard Grasshopper and Savannah Sparrows.  Which was a good thing since later that morning I found out that the field that holds Bobolinks had been cut. Not sure where I will see one for the IAS Summer Count.

On the west side of Atterbury there wasn’t a Black-billed Cuckoo but plenty of high, wet, grass to walk through.

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Did I say wet? My clothes finally dried out when I got home a little after noon.  Anyway I got good looks at Barn and Tree Swallows and a Willow Flycatcher at the parking lot when I returned from my walk through the tall, wet, unproductive grass.

Barn Swallows

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Tree Swallow

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Willow Flycatcher – giving the “fitz-bew” call the whole time.

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From there I moved on to the  previously mentioned Bobolink field.  On the way a Henslow’s Sparrow was given good, if distant, looks.

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From there I spent the remainder of the morning at Driftwood SFA watching the comings and goings of Baltimore and Orchard Orioles, Warbling Vireos, Willow Flycatchers, American Robins and a host of other birds.

Another Willow Flycatcher showing it’s yellowish lower mandible.

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Mother Kingbird on nest. This was a distant shot so I wouldn’t upset her.

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Orchard Oriole nest.  It was fun to watch the parents return and the young ones head pop out for food. Someday my photo skills will improve so I can catch that moment.

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And I went out for a while Sunday after the rain and checked a couple of spots for breeding Blue-winged Teal.  No luck but I about lost my head from a couple of Tree Swallows that didn’t like me getting with 30-40 meters of their nest in a bluebird box. They were constantly diving within an inch or two of my head which kept me moving at a pretty fast pace.  The only bird that poised for a picture was an Eastern Phoebe who didn’t call or pump it’s tail much.

Eastern Phoebe – I think it was getting tired of me taking notes and watching it flycatch for a half hour. Thus the hard stare in my direction.

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Not much else to report since I have been spending most of my free time getting ready for my first trip to The Rio Grande area later this month.  You’ve gotta love a bird named Plain Chachalaca.

Roger Hedge
Roger Hedge
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Olive-sided Flycatcher – Mute Swans

After missing the last two weekends to graduations in and out of state, which means I missed the last half of migration, I finally got time to bird Sunday.  The plan was to hit a few spots around Atterbury FWA looking for late migrants and waterfowl for the IAS Summer count which runs the months of June and July.

I didn’t find any late migrants but did come across an Olive-sided Flycatcher at a spot that usually has a Blue Grosbeak. And yes, the grosbeak as usual was there,  singing with about 5 Dickcissels. and I might have tracked the Blue Grosbeak to its nesting tree.

The flycatcher was only the 5th one I have seen in the Midwest and the first since moving to Indiana (Johnson County #207).  So the excitement I felt when first seeing it is hard to describe.  I always feel fortunate to see a bird that migrates through our area in such a narrow window of time. It migrates for just a couple of weeks around the end of May. I didn’t get in any hurry and spent an hour or so watching the flycatcher, getting a few photos, making a rough sketch, and taking several notes. It never called so I didn’t get to hear about any beer. Darn it.  So I drank my coffee.

First view of the Olive-sided Flycatcher. First thought was a Eastern Kingbird, then Eastern Wood-Pewee.  Atterbury FWA 06/01/14

First view of the Olive-sided Flycatcher. First thought was an Eastern Kingbird, then Eastern Wood-Pewee. Atterbury FWA 06/01/14

Little closer - vest is becoming apparent.

Little closer – vest is becoming apparent.

Not much doubt now - big head and a vest!

Not much doubt now – big head and a vest!

If there had been any doubt this side view showing relatively big head.

If there had been any doubt this side view showing relatively big head.

A few more photos from a distance.

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Not a clear picture but one showing the white patches on the flank that are sometimes seen on Olive-sided.

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Mr. Dickcissel kept making the flycatcher move from one of the trees.

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The Olive-sided Flycatcher would alternate between the dead limb on the right, under the clouds, sallie down catching insects above the grasses, and fly up in the tree on the left.  Then repeat.

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I finally moved on down to Pisgah Lake where there were two Mute Swans, an uncommon bird for Johnson County. I am always glad to watch them, even if they are causing problems elsewhere in the U.S.

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And a mother Wood Duck and her young were out in the marsh. Dig the eye.

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A picture of a Red-winged Blackbird I took waiting for the Wood Ducks to come out.

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And a male Bell’s Vireo was singing on territory at Johnson County Park.  He came out for about two seconds, so no photos.

I checked the Edinburgh retaining pond.  No late shorebirds or Blue-winged teal but I’ll keep checking.

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Nests

I spent a few hours Saturday morning covering a small area of Driftwood SFA watching just a few birds and seeing if they were heading to nests.

The easiest to observe from a distance was a pair of Eastern Kingbirds on a nest.

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A male Yellow Warbler was singing from a tree top which lead to a nest in an adjacent tree. See the nest?

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And a Baltimore Oriole’s nest way up in a Cottonwood(?) tree.

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I also came across a couple of Brown Thrasher’s doing their chuck call at me when I walked by, so I am guessing they had a nest in the bush.  A couple more Yellow Warblers were on territory singing.  And numerous American Robins were flying in and out of the hedges.

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A pair of Spotted Sandpipers were walking along the water’s edge.

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It’s amazing to me how many birds were probably nesting in the small 9-10 acre area I was observing. Eastern Towhees, Song Sparrows, Mourning Doves, Gray Catbirds, Blue-Gray Gnatcatchers, Orchid Orioles for example.

And Saturday afternoon I came across this Savannah Sparrow at the local High School.

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Big May Day Count – SE Johnson County

Sorry for the late report. I should have had this out earlier this week but in one of those rare times life has taken priority over birding. And will continue to do so for the next few weeks.  So postings might be sparse.

I once again covered the SE portion of Johnson County for the annual IAS Big May Day Count.  In a nutshell I was out from 4:30AM to 5:30PM covering Atterbury FWA, Driftwood SFA, Irwin Park in Edinburgh, the south portion of Johnson County Park, and a couple of areas along roads that usually hold particular species.  I birded alone except for an hour or so around lunch when I was with Mike Clay.  The weather in the morning ranged from light showers to heavy downpours at times which severely limited photo taking until afternoon and made several changes in plans on when and where to bird.

My final count was 101 species compared to 95 last year adding 12 FOY species. The difference was a couple more warblers and in the fact we had less participants.  After lunch I went out and found a few more birds we were missing on territory that would have normally been covered in the AM. The preliminary final count for the county was 133 species versus 127 last year.

My highlights were going out early and hearing both Barred and Great Horned Owls.  Black-billed Cuckoos were calling from two different locations at dawn, with one being at a marsh which makes one think Least Bittern. But it is a small marsh and sounded like a cuckoo.  A Double-crested Cormorant was at Driftwood, always hard to find in Johnson County.  A flock of Cedar Waxwings showed up in one spot, the first I had seen all year. Irwin Park had Prothonotary Warbler and Red-headed Woodpecker again this year. A lone Dickcissel was at the usual field north of Edinburgh. The retaining pond on the way into Edinburgh held 7 species of shorebirds including Semipalmated Plover, Least Sandpipers, and a Dunlin. And I discovered a new spot for Bell’s Vireo in Atterbury after whiffing at Johnson County Park.

Some of the misses were American Woodcock and Sora, the first time in the last 5 years I haven’t heard either one on a May count. The weather through me off so I didn’t get to the Grasshopper/Savannah Sparrow area.   And the Eurasian Collard-Dove was not in Franklin.

Following are a few photos Mike Clay took on the day at Johnson County Park.

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Yellow-billed Cuckoo

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Willow Flycatcher

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Blue Grosbeak

And the only decent photo I got on the day – Yellow-throated Vireo.

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