August Birding 2017 Week 2

Wednesday morning found me at Southeastway Park hoping to find local birds I missed the first weekend of August. With only a half hour I thought I could make a small loop and pick up a few calling species. And the plan worked with a Northern Parula doing its alternate call which threw me off for a minute. A pair of Wood Thrushes were next along with the local group of Chipping Sparrows. Yellow-throated Warblers are usually present but not this day. A decent start to August Birding 2017 Week 2 I knew would have limited time for birding.

I met up with Mike early Saturday at the local flooded field.  Along with hundreds of Canada Geese and Mallards there were the usual Killdeer, Pectoral, and Least Sandpipers. But nice addictions to the August list were Semipalmated Plover and Short-billed Dowitcher.

I think we had seen most of the shorebird species before a balloon came drifting over the water putting up all the birds. Waterfowl and herons included. After it passed only a few Killdeer returned.

Since I had to leave mid-morning for a four-day out-of-town family trip we decided on the nearby Southeastway Park. Even though it was quiet Mike and I eventually saw most of the expected species. But nothing new for the month.

After leaving Southeastway I still had a little time. I knew some of the needed August species could be found in the small pond behind our residence. So I headed there.

It took a little time but eventually a single Wood Duck popped up on a log.

And eventually a concealed Green Heron flew out from the tangled shoreline.

August Birding 2017 Week 2

This Great Blue Heron seems to be  constantly standing guard over the small pond.

After the short week my Marion County August total was in the high 70’s. And there probably won’t be much movement for another 10 days. Hurry up migration.

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August Birding 2017 Week 1

Last week I blogged about hoping to see as many Marion County August species as possible.  Over half  of the expected species were seen in August Birding 2017 Week 1.

The local flooded field had a small spot on the far side suitable for shorebirds. With the cold front passing on Friday I visited it late Thursday. The glare from the west was heavy but luckily periodic clouds helped with the seeing. With the help of the cloud cover I was able to ID the expected Least, Pectoral, Solitary, and Spotted Sandpipers.

August Birding 2017 Week 1

Early Saturday morning the local flooded field was packed with Canada Geese and Mallards. But no Wood Ducks??

The local park was the starting point Saturday searching for owls. Success was had with both Eastern Screech and Barred Owls. The Barred Owl was seen as it flew away from the area of the screech owls. It must have come in to check out the tape.

The flooded field was the next stop. As I have discovered if I don’t arrive at least 15-20 minutes before sunrise the Great Egrets will be gone. Arriving 15 minutes before sunrise the lone Great Egret there flew away a minute later. Mike then arrived but our scan only produced a few shorebirds.

We decided on Southwestway Park for the local and hopefully a long shot species. And we ended up with a couple of birds I didn’t expect to see in August – Blue Grosbeak and Yellow-breasted Chat.

On the edge of the park a Blue Grosbeak was singing from a tree line .

One of several Eastern Phoebes on the day.

Otherwise it was a battle to avoid mosquitoes while seeing the expected species.

The south end of Eagle Creek Reservoir for a short lake watch was the day’s last stop. An Osprey on the water’s far side was one of the few birds seen.

Sunday I visited the SE corner of the county for a few rural birds. The resident American Kestrel was present at its usual spot as were Eastern Meadowlarks.

The fun though was watching a Cooper’s Hawk turn the tables on American Crows.

This Cooper’s Hawk must have had enough of the local American Crows.

In a reversal of roles the hawk stayed above the crows and would periodically dive at them.

Here comes the hawk after the crows. They crows would disperse and then return. And the process would start over. Instead of the hawk having to fly away the crows eventually flew away from the hawk.

I figure there are an additional 10-15 species that should easily be seen until migration starts later this month. It’s the harder ones which will now be the challenge.

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Bob’s Birding Rules #1

From time to time I think of something I should write down as a Birding Rule. I started a list and told myself when I got 10 I would blog about them. But what happened a couple of weeks ago lead me to do them individually. And I’ll start a new list on the home page keeping track of them there. So without further ado, Bob’s Birding Rules #1.

Bob’s Birding Rules #1 – WHEN BIRDING ALWAYS CARRY A CAMERA

Not once in a while. Not when it’s convenient. Always.

That means it’s available when driving in the car. When you go to the bathroom in the woods. When eating lunch. Always.

Over the years I’ve had a few instances where I have missed great photo opportunities of both local and uncommon birds because I didn’t want to carry a camera. And I kicked myself later it.

And it happened again a couple of weeks ago.

The Upland Sandpiper Story

Bob's Birding Rules #1

A fly over Upland Sandpiper from June 27, 2010. Bureau County, IL

A few weeks ago my Nikon P900 stopped extending. Luckily I had purchased the extended warranty. All that was required was to send it in for repair. In the mean time I carried my old Panasonic DMZ35 which doesn’t have anywhere near the reach of the P900.

Saturday morning July 22 I visited one of the local shorebird sites. The water was viewable with my spotting scope which means it would have been in reach of the P900. But as stated above it was in the shop. I left my DMZ35 in the car since the birds would be too far away.

Through the spotting scope I could see Pectoral Sandpipers and Lesser Yellowlegs, along with smaller shorebirds. While looking through the spotting scope I heard a strange bird call coming from the west and flying over my location. With the naked eye I could tell the bird was defiantly a larger shorebird.

Though my binoculars I immediately recognized it as an Upland Sandpiper.

I watched it fly towards the water and land in the tall grass away from the water. If it hadn’t flown over I would have never spotted it in the tall grass.

Once on the ground an Upland Sandpiper can be tough to spot. LaSalle County, IL – May 23, 2010

I tried and failed to take digiscope photos and then lost sight of the bird. I searched several minutes and later in the day to no avail.

Now if I would have had even the DMZ35 out of the car I could have easily taken flight photos since it went right over my location.

So when birding, always carry a camera, even if it is your older model. And even if they aren’t great photos, you’d at least have documentation photos.

Bob's Birding Rules #1

Same bird from Illinois taken with my Panasonic DMZ 35. There was an Upland Sandpiper pair nesting a few miles from my house. May 25, 2010 – LaSalle County IL

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August Leading to Fall Birding

In many ways I look forward to fall migration more than spring migration. There seems to be less going on personally which gives more time bird. Fewer birds calling helps on ID’ing them. And I just plain enjoy the warmer, dryer temperatures of fall. And it begins with August Leading to Fall Birding.

August Leading to Fall Birding

We aren’t anywhere near this date but late October isn’t far off.

I previously blogged about my August 2012 experiment. That month I birded Southern LaSalle County Illinois all 31 days of August and saw 129 species, 20% more than a typical August. Going back and analyzing the data I figured I would have seen 116 species if I had birded the days before and after cold fronts. If memory is correct that would have been 10-11 days or 5 fronts. So birding only 1/3 of the days I could have seen 90% percent of the species. Pareto would have been proud.

The area I birded in Southern LaSalle County Illinois was south of I80 and approximately 390 square miles. About the size of Marion County. So my plan for August 2017 is to bird Marion County and only on the days preceding and following cold fronts. Plus weekends. Hopefully with work and travel I can bird those days.

Yesterday began August birding. I checked the local flooded field for shorebirds since a Cold Front would be passing today.

Using eBird as a guide the expected number of species for Marion County in August is approximately 115. My August high for Johnson County is 96. Which is about right since there isn’t a large body of water.

The catch in this plan is finding a good shorebird spot in Marion County. If it keeps raining the local spot will be full of water all month. But if it stops now it should be good towards the middle of the month.

The local flooded field is still full but has a small spot on the far side for shorebirds. This photo is from last August.

And hopefully this will lead to more hours in the field. Something I’ve been truly lacking.

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Shorebird Saturday and a Cuckoo

Regular readers will notice I haven’t been as proficient blogging the last few weeks. I’ve been traveling for work and honestly the little time I’ve been in the field hasn’t been productive for blogging. Last Saturday I had family matters to take care of early and didn’t get a chance to head out until late morning.

My plan was to meander towards Johnson County Park checking for shorebirds. Since I’ve been in the car too much the last three weeks, once at the park I was going to take a long walk looking for butterflies.

The score on the flooded fields wasn’t bad. Of the sites I know in the eastern part of Johnson County there were 5 with water and shorebirds and 4 overgrown with weeds.

There wasn’t anything unusual in the way of shorebirds but I had close views of Pectoral and Least Sandpipers.

A distant flooded field just south of Indianapolis. Last week I had a flyover Upland Sandpiper that landed in the tall grass south of the water. I tried to digiscope but failed miserably. And my P900 camera came back from the shop later that day. Figures…

I can’t ever remember being this close to Pectoral and Least Sandpipers without flushing them.

The Pec continued to feed ignoring me. There were 22 additional Pecs farther out in the field .

This photos shows why field guides often say Least Sandpipers look like small Pectoral Sandpipers.

A Solitary Sandpiper was the lone bird in this flooded field. Not even a Killdeer.

On the day I only ended up with 5 species of shorebirds with Pectorals numerous at most stops. Hopefully the water will stay with us for a while.

Finally arriving at Johnson County Park I took the long walk to enjoy the nice weather. Butterflies were sparse except for around the small man-made pond.

Tawny Emperor

Tawny-edged Skipper

Common Buckeye

Yellow-billed Cuckoo – Star of the Day

I initially caught a glimpse of it flying across the path and its size made me think of a light-colored Brown Thrasher. It proceeded to jump out giving great looks. And it didn’t seem to mind my presence.

cuckoo

One of those rare occasions when a Yellow-billed Cuckoo wasn’t lurking in the trees.

I know I’ve stated I don’t like close-up photos, but with the cuckoo this close I couldn’t resist.

My newest favorite photo showing both the bill and the tail of the Yellow-billed Cuckoo.

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10000 Foot Turkey Vulture

After running the Western Colorado Douglas Pass BBS route, I headed over to scout the Baxter Pass BBS I planned to run later in the week. The road to the starting point was bad and would be impassable with rain. In May, I had noticed the Uncompahgre Plateau route was vacant so I immediately notified the national and state coordinators saying I would like to run it instead. It all worked out and two days later I found myself up on the Uncompahgre for the second time in four days.  Which lead to the second biggest surprise of the trip, a 10000 Foot Turkey Vulture.

A 10000 Foot Turkey Vulture.

The Baxter Pass Road. I can’t even imagine what it would be like with rain.

The decision to run the Uncompahgre BBS route was a good move since I was familiar with the road and no scouting would be necessary. Plus the great scenery. 

A panoramic view looking west. Mostly Alpine meadows and glades.

As I’ve written in the past the plateau is a high, mountain plateau with an average elevation of 9500 feet. While the temperature in the Valley was 95F, on the plateau they were 75F.

Previously on the plateau the cell service had been spotty. But as I went further along Divide Road it improved, to the point I had no problems.

Halfway through the 25-mile run I found out why cell service was good.

There was just a hint of snow at this elevation.

On a BBS route you record the number of passing vehicles. I had 4 on the day. The same two construction trucks going out and coming back. Otherwise I was alone in the Aspen Glades.

Not exactly true, I had deer, cattle, and birds keeping me company.

So I’m not sure why Turkey Vultures at elevation were a surprise. I know there are Andean Condors at 15,000 feet. Maybe it was the lack of birds in general.

10000 foot Turkey Vulture.

Since I couldn’t linger running the BBS route, on the way back I took the time to watch the Turkey Vultures catching updrafts.

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Golden Eagle Still Nemesis

What determine a nemesis bird is probably different for different birders. Most commonly it’s a bird that has been chased several times and missed. In my case though the term nemesis bird means putting myself in the right habitat at the right time and not seeing the bird. And that’s the case with Golden Eagle still nemesis.

I have put myself in the right habitat for different species several times and have had good luck seeing those birds. But not so for the Golden Eagle.

And my recent trip Colorado is no exception. Sort of.

Running the Douglas Pass BBS route north of Grand Junction looked perfect for seeing a Golden Eagle. Even the old BBS route map from the 1980s had Golden Eagle lair written at one stop. So I was quite hopeful I’d finally see one.

Just below Douglas Pass I saw a distant, large raptor flying up onto the mountainside. The bird landed on the wrong side of a tree which restricted visibility. At that distance and vantage point I wasn’t sure if it was an immature Red-tailed Hawk or a larger bird. I wrote down hawk sp.

The unknown raptor landed in the grove of trees below the pass.

The route continued to switch back up the mountain and I got close to where I’d seen the bird. And soon I started hearing the call of a Golden Eagle. But the call was coming from an area outside my visibility.

The BBS route demanded I keep moving. I decided after completing the route I’d stop in the vicinity of the calling eagle and scan the skies.

Upon completing the Douglas Pass BBS route I went back to a pull-off not far below the pass’s summit. This road makes a sharp turn making it a blind turn from both directions.

The view of the pull-off used to scan for the Golden Eagle. A Mountain Bluebird kept me company.

A closer view of the Mountain Bluebird using the dead tree to fly out for insects.

And Pine Siskins would land at my feet to add a little gravel to their diet.

From my vantage point I noticed a gas truck coming up and another gas truck coming down the pass. I’m thinking it would be interesting if they’d meet right at the turn where I was located. I assumed the drivers made this turn every day so there shouldn’t be a problem.

Looking down from the pull-off at a gas truck making its way up the switch back road.

The road coming down from the summit.

The immediate view coming up to the summit.

The best photo of the turn without falling off the pull-out. The eagle came flying over left of center.

Watching the skies but also keeping an eye on the gasoline trucks, I see they are going to meet at almost the same time at the turn. And I mean at the same time.

So of course right when the trucks meet at the turn the battery in my camera dies, and a Golden Eagle flies over with its wings positioned for a steep dive.

I got a glimpse of the brown and tan on the bird since it isn’t 50 feet away. By the time I get my binoculars on the bird and change the camera battery, the Golden Eagles is now probably a mile out over the valley and moving away fast. The only photos are of the Golden Eagle flying away.

The black blur left of center is the Golden Eagle flying away.

I sat and scanned for another hour without a hint of the bird. With the poor look the Golden Eagle will remain my nemesis bird.

Golden Eagle Still Nemesis

At least the scenery was beautiful.

And if you’re wondering, the truck drivers were pros and didn’t even come close to each other. They knew exactly when to slow down to make the turn.

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Butterflying Leading to a Black-billed Cuckoo

After spending Saturday at Goose Pond I needed time Sunday morning finishing the IAS Spring Field Notes and submitting my BBS route data. Learning butterflies has been slow going since I haven’t spent nearly enough time to become proficient. So the plan was to spend Sunday afternoon working on butterfly ID’s at the local park. This became Butterflying Leading to a Black-billed Cuckoo.

Sunday afternoon about 3:30 found me walking the gravel road in the afternoon heat. The Butterflies of Indiana Field Guide states one of the best spots to observe butterflies is gravel roads. And even though it was slow the gravel road gave up a few butterfly photos.

The other big surprise on the day, an American Snout. Note the length of the long, pointed palps.

Getting closer to the “South Woods” I hear a distant cuckoo calling from the woods. A Yellow-billed Cuckoo had been calling from the “Central Woods” immediately upon arriving. I wasn’t paying attention to the second one as I continued on trying to ID a bright yellow butterfly. The cuckoo keeps calling for several minutes. And it dawned on me.

It’s a Black-billed Cuckoo calling in the distance.

It’s definitely a Black-billed Cuckoo by the soft “coo-coo-coo” call. Continuing to chase butterflies the cuckoo continues to call as they do in the afternoon heat.

One of the few photos I have of a Black-billed Cuckoo. In the rain from May 2016.

Checking my records this is the first Black-billed Cuckoo I’ve observed outside of May or September. I know they breed in the lower Midwest but I’ve never encountered one in the middle of the summer.

These are the reported Indiana eBird sightings for Black-billed Cuckoos over the last 10 years. And there aren’t many.

The bird was calling from deep in the woods so the opportunity to see it didn’t arise. I’m not sure I was aware Black-billed Cuckoos call in the heat of the afternoon like Yellow-billed Cuckoos. But it would make sense if they have the same habit habits.

On the other hand I’m not out often in the mid-afternoon heat so maybe I’ve been missing them. Butterflying brought me out.

It was a good encounter to hear a rather uncommon species. And like the end of the Long-billed Curlew a few days ago, you’ll never know what’s out there unless you look.

A Clouded Sulphur on the edge of the road. I cropped the photo to remove the trash from the photo.

Butterflying leading to a Black-billed Cuckoo

A Common Roadside Skipper was the last species of the day.

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Goose Pond Annual July 4th Visit

Though others make numerous trips to Goose Pond readers know I prefer to bird closer to home. So I look forward to Mike and I’s Goose Pond annual July 4th visit. It’s usually my only chance to see or hear species like Least Bittern, Marsh Wren, Least Tern, Black-necked Stilts, and Common Gallinule. Except this year due to scheduling conflicts we couldn’t go until Saturday July 8.

Photos of the trip will be sparse since my Nikon P900 is out for repair and I had to revert back to my old Panasonic DZ35.

Friday night the National Weather Service issued a Dense Fog Advisory until 9AM Saturday. Two years ago the fog was so bad we didn’t see any birds until almost 10AM. But driving down the fog was spotty so I was feeling better about it.

Our first stop was the Yellow-crowned Night-Heron spot where the fog wasn’t bad. Two herons were feeding out in the fields which made photos tough. But seeing this species was a treat since I don’t see it annually.

And this is as good as it gets with the fog and my old camera. Yellow-crowned Night-Heron feeding in the tall grass.

We moved on to Main Pool East in search of shorebirds before the sun’s angle made observing them a problem. Water levels were just right at the end of the old road and we observed Lesser Yellowlegs, Least Sandpipers, Killdeer, and Black-necked Stilts. Since I’m not around them often I kept thinking I was hearing a Common Gallinule’s whiny call in the reeds. And eventually one appeared.

One of several Lesser Yellowlegs seen on the day.

On to Main Pool West South Bridge where we saw three distant Least Terns flying. Not much else at this location due the water being high at Goose Pond.

In fact I thought the water levels made it the least favorable of my five July trips.

We ran into the Timmons brothers who said GP4 had Least Bitterns, one of Mike’s target birds. Upon arriving we heard numerous Common Gallinules and ended up seeing several young.

A mother Common Gallinule and her young. I’ll be glad when my P900 camera is back.

 

But to see a Least Bittern one has to be patient. While waiting we heard a couple of Marsh Wren calling but of course we didn’t see this nearly impossible visual species. Eventually I saw a Least Bittern flying from reed bed to reed bed being chased by a Red-winged Blackbird.

Things were slowing down and Mike had to be back early afternoon. So we headed back to Indy after successfully seeing the sought out species.

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Totally Unsuspected Long-billed Curlew

Let me set the scene. Wrapping up birding Rabbit Valley I now had the challenge of where to bird in the late-morning 90 degree heat. I’d decided to check Brewster’s Ridge on the Utah border where Scott’s Oriole, a more southwestern species, had been reported. But instead I encountered a totally unsuspected Long-billed Curlew.

Brewster’s Ridge as seen from Rabbit Valley.

The view of the arid plateau goes on and on…

Brewster’s Ridge is a high, very dry plateau which I’d visited on a previous trip. Even though I knew early morning would’ve been better for finding singing orioles, I thought I might get lucky anyway. So I drove slowly through the arid land listening for birds in the sparse Pinyon-Juniper woodlands. With very little wind the trailing dust from the gravel roads hung behind the car. But the windows were open as I continued to listen for singing birds.

And I did encounter a few.

Loggerhead Shrikes were plentiful in this environment.

My daughter liked the “do” on this Ash-throated Flycatcher.

But not much else was happening on the plateau in the noonday heat. After a half hour I spotted a large bird in a small tree. I figured it was the Red-tailed Hawk I’d seen circling a few minutes earlier.

A Red-tailed Hawk kept me company on the plateau seeing as there wasn’t anything else moving.

But the bird was the wrong shade of brown for a Red-tailed Hawk. Since it was a large bird the thought of a Golden Eagle did cross my mind.

Then suddenly the bird turned into two birds. One went to the ground and the other flew into a nearby tree.

Totally Unsuspected Long-billed Curlew

An out of focus photo I took in my haste to catch the Long-billed Curlewgliding.

From the bill and call the species was obvious.

A Totally Unsuspected Long-billed Curlew!

I was in complete amazement that a shorebird, especially a large shorebird, might be nesting and breeding in such an arid environment. And unless I was completely missing it there was no water for miles.

The presumed male landed in a nearby tree and kept me entertained with his constant calling.

The male, I assume, stayed in the tree calling while the female continued on the ground feeding. I’m thinking they were a pair so I didn’t linger around long in case they were nesting in the area. But in the short time I watched I got good looks and video of the both birds.

The presumed female feeding in the tall grass.

Now I often beat myself up for not reading my field guides in enough detail. But in this case I didn’t feel so bad. I at least knew Long-billed Curlew were in the area. And I assumed they’d be around the few bodies of waters or small man-made reservoirs. And reading my field guide after the encounter it states to look around the prairie potholes. There were no potholes or water anywhere.

So yes, they were totally unexpected Long-billed Curlew and another case of “you never know what you’ll find unless you look.”

At a later date I’ll post more photos and videos of the curlews.

And yes I whiffed on the Scott’s Orioles.

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