Easy Additions Saturday

Since I have now completed my BBS routes and finished helping on a couple other local breeding surveys I took the opportunity to work on my Johnson County IAS Summer Bird Count. The last few years I have been around the 100 species mark and since I was already at 90, I knew it would be tough to add species. With work being demanding the last few weeks I decided to go after EASY additions Saturday.

With sunrise at 6:15 that meant one more Saturday up by 4AM and out by 4:30AM. That put me at Atterbury FWA a little after 5AM. But even before I got there I had a GREAT HORNED OWL fly in front of my car while driving though Franklin. Right time. Right Place.

The first stop which is iffy anyway didn’t produce any owls. But the more reliable spot had 3 EASTERN SCREECH-OWLS flying around for over 10 minutes.  In case you’re wondering I usually play a recording for about 1 minute and that’s it.  This time it was about 30 seconds when the first one started calling.

Not even 6AM and I had added two species to the count.

MOON (2) Easy additions

The Moon was due South as I started my day owling. Atterbury FWA 6/25/16

Before heading to Driftwood I checked the pond in Johnson County Park. Again right place and time. No sooner than I stopped than a KILLDEER started hassling a SPOTTED SANDPIPER. Plus another easy addition was a RED-HEADED WOODPECKER calling in the distance. Two more easy species for the count.

KILL

Even though it was harassing the Spotted Sandpiper I want to think this Killdeer otherwise I might not have seen the spotted. Didn’t notice the garbage by the Killdeer until I looked at the photo. Johnson County Park – 6/25/16

MALL SPSA (1)

Another of the easy additions was a Spotted Sandpiper on the right bobbing its tail. And the Mallard family is growing, compare to the header photo from 2 weeks ago. Johnson County Park – 6/25/16

On to Driftwood, no Double-crested Cormorant but a fly by Red-headed Woodpecker was nice.

To the Dark Road of Atterbury. No Black-billed Cuckoo calling as hoped but a young AMERICAN REDSTART was interested in me.

AMRE (2)

An American Redstart was interested in my walk along the road by constantly flying overhead. Atterbury FWA – 6/25/16

AMRE (1)

I included this photo since it reminded me of all the bird quizzes where you are only given so much to see. Atterbury FWA – 6/25/16

SCTA

I don’t ever remember pishing in a Scarlet Tanager, but he came in overhead as I was trying to get a bird to come out of the bush. Atterbury FWA – 6/25/16

I then decided to walk back and take a long shot check to see if any rails were in the marshy area. By now the sun was up and it was getting hot. As expected no rails or much else of anything.

ATTERBURY FIELD (2)

It’s hard to tell here but the weeds on the path to the marshy area are shoulder-high. And thorny. Atterbury FWA – 6/25/16

FISP

The only bird on the walk through the rough was this Field Sparrow asking me if I was nuts walking in the heat. Atterbury FWA – 6/25/16

So with the heat rising and nothing calling I headed home.  But first a stop by the PURPLE MARTIN house for a list easy species.

PUMA (1)

The Purple Martins were the last of Saturday’s easy additions. Rural Johnson County – 6/25/16

I’ll take the 5 easy additions since the birds were done calling by mid-morning. It’ll now by one species at a time until the last week of July when I can hope for an influx of shorebirds.

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Shelbyville BBS Results

BBS Logo Shelbyville BBS

Official Logo of the BBS

First of all this is not a scientific analysis. This is simply looking at the counts from the first four years the Shelbyville BBS was run (1983-1986) versus the last four years (2011-2014). I didn’t include my data because I want to discuss it at a later date. And I know there are many variables. Things like the weather and the differences in the people who previously did the route. So I’m only looking at discrepancies which jump out at me.

Following are species from the Shelbyville BBS that had either large increases or decrease between the two-time periods.

Shelbyville Decrease 

  1. ROCK PIGEON
  2. YELLOW-BILLED CUCKOO
  3. CHIMNEY SWIFT
  4. NORTHERN FLICKER
  5. RED-WINGED BLACKBIRD
  6. EASTERN MEADOWLARK.

Shelbyville Increase

  1. KILLDEER
  2. WOOD THRUSH
  3. CHIPPING SPARROW
  4. COMMON GRACKLE
  5. BROWN-HEADED COWBIRD
  6. HOUSE FINCH.

None of the decreases were unexpected. Maybe the decrease in Rock Pigeons. My guess is the lower pigeon numbers have something to do with the lack of cattle barns. The big open kind that have cattle below and hay above. Current barns are enclosed compared to the open type used previously. No way for the pigeons to get in to nest.

The loss of the big hedgerows maybe led to the large decreases in the cuckoo and flicker. The blackbird and meadowlark from loss of pasture land.  The rest of the grassland birds had low numbers at the start of the survey 40 years ago.

The biggest surprise was the dramatic increase in Chipping Sparrows. I’m guessing it has something to do with the increase in new houses with well-manicured lawns and Bradford Pear Trees. Those houses and lawns were not there 40 years ago.

The other surprise was the increase In Killdeer. They were everywhere when I ran the route. Different farm practices make nesting better?

The Wood Thrush was almost non-existent in the early years and seemed to be present in almost every large wooded stop. The other increases were to be expected.

If your interested the complete results are at the USGS webpage.

Next post I’ll review the results from the Milroy BBS.

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BBS – Second Impression

When I started birding I often heard from people who have birded much longer than me about the impact modern farming has had on birds. But I didn’t really understand until I ran my two rural BBS (Breeding Bird Survey) routes.

The loss of both suitable habitat for grassland/pasture birds and hedgerows has had to be great. Running my routes I would often end up in the middle of fields and barely hear or see a bird in my 3 minute stops.

But what would it have been like in 1966 when the BBS started?

Hedgerow,_tree_and_yellow_field_-_geograph.org.uk_-_767988 BBS

Though not this quaint, I remember many farms in the 1960’s with lanes like the one in this photo. Hedge and trees on both sides. Not many left now. Attribution: Row17 [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

I can try to tell you. In 1966 I lived in a small semi-rural town outside Peoria, IL. Many weekends I would go to my grandfather’s farm 50 miles north of Peoria miles from any city.  There was a long lane up to his house with hedgerows on either side. My uncles still had cattle so there was pasture land.  The farm was broken into 40 or 80 acre plots surrounded by hedgerows. I wasn’t into birds but I remember numerous birds and animals around the farm. And every farm was similar to his.

I took my daughter by the farm 10 years ago. (The family sold to larger farmers in the 1980’s) All the hedgerows were gone. No one in the area was raising cattle, thus no pastures. It looked like my rural BBS routes. No birds or animals. Just row to row corn and beans. Deserted.

Lifeless to what I remember 50 years ago.

In my next post I’ll share some results to show the decline and also some gains in birds on my two BBS routes.

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Breeding Bird Survey – First Impression

I ran my first BBS (Breeding Bird Survey) last Sunday. And I came away with mixed feelings. Mainly positive but still something seemed off.

First, here is a description of a BBS from the Breeding Bird Survey webpage. “Each survey route is 24.5 miles long with stops at 0.5-mile intervals. At each stop, a 3-minute point count is conducted. During the count, every bird seen within a 0.25-mile radius or heard is recorded. Surveys start one-half hour before local sunrise and take about 5 hours to complete. Over 4100 survey routes are located across the continental U.S. and Canada.”

The Shelbyville Route I ran Sunday is mostly rural agriculture land with some stops along rivers in East-Central Indiana.

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Where I have been…

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And where I’m headed. Maybe there’s a river at the tree line?

What seemed off.

Except for Christmas Counts or the Big May Day Count we basically go birding where, when, and how long we want. Even on those counts we are assigned large territories with the option of when and where to go within those territories.

But Sunday I had a map that told me exactly where and when and how long I could bird a spot.

Not bad, just different from the usual routine.

There were stops along some of the rivers I wished I could have stayed longer. There where more than one rural stop where I was looking at the egg timer count down because I couldn’t see or hear any more Horned Larks or Red-winged Blackbirds. And you can only keep scanning a clear blue horizon for raptors for so long.

031 Breeding Bird Survey View

You’d be amazed how many Horned Larks there are if you’d stop and listen.

029 BBS

Only 3 distant Turkey Vultures on the day and 2 perched Red-tailed Hawks. Not much else in the air on the warm summer morning.

So did I enjoy myself? Of course I did!

I got to bird a new area. I found 60 species in a territory which usually has counts in the 40’s or 50’s. I added some new species to the route.

Most importantly I added data to the 4100 other BBS routes that can and is used by conservationists for making critical decisions.

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London Wetland Centre – Urban Nature

This April while in London I birded 2 locations – Hyde Park and London Wetland Centre. As I noted previously Hyde Park was a 15 minute walk from our hotel and was good for the local birds. The following is a general overview of the London Wetland Centre in case someone is in London and is deciding where to bird. In a future post I’ll reference this post in relation to US birding sites.

London Wetland Centre Background

London Wetland Centre was conveniently from the Kensington area by taken the subway for 15 minutes followed by a 10 minute bus ride . It is one of nine unique wetland centres in the UK run by the Wildfowl & Wetlands Trust (WWT). The site is made from a reclaimed water supply area and covers 105 acres.

The site was envisioned as a “truly urban nature preserve” and this could be seen through its educational activities. “The Wetlands of the World” area had exotic waterfowl wandering around for people to enjoy.

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The “Wetlands of the World” area had many exotic species like this Red-breasted Goose.

The Grounds

Let me say the entry fee is not cheap unless you’re a member. For an out-of-town visitor the entrance fee was 13 pounds – $20.  But I thought this was a fair price given I spent 4 hours there and got good views of most of the expected birds.

The flat paved trials make for easy access. The Visitor Centre has a handicapped accessible glass-in area with a view of the wetlands. The day I visited was a school holiday so many families were there enjoying the site.

But given all that it had several serious birders working around the crowds. At least 20 and this was a Tuesday. Many of those birders appeared to be regulars since they knew each other and when calling out birds had names for the distant buildings as reference points.

The Wetland Centre was designed to watch birds without disturbing them. There are berms that hide the crowds from the birds and viewing is mostly through the 7 hides (blinds). Which is the beauty of the place. Without the berm and hides the birds would constantly flush, like in the US.

561 London Wetland Centre

A view from the Wildside Hide looking back at Peacock Tower and Wader Scrape hide on the left. I think this shows why shorebirds and waterfowl like the site.

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The north Reservoir Lagoon viewed from the third floor of the Wildside Hide.

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Numerous Black-headed Gulls were seen from the hides. Check previous blogs under the Europe category for more species photos from the Wetland Centre.

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I think this is a view of the north side of the property.

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Each small island held several different species.

To wrap up this short review, the London Wetland Centre would be a good choice for a birder visiting London who had a few hours and wanted to see the expected species.

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Wilson’s Snipe – Year Round Resident?

Over the last month I have regularly checked a local “marshy” area to see how long WILSON’S SNIPE will hang around. Last winter I checked twice in December flushing 5 on the 20th. I didn’t get back until February 6 when I flushed 6. With the winter not being overly harsh I figure they were present all winter. They have been present this spring and Saturday taking a short stroll through the marsh flushed three.  I stopped after 1 as not to disturb any others but flushed 2 more on taking a way out I didn’t think they would be located.

Wilson's Snipe - One of four that were on a mud island at Atterbury FWA. By November there were up to 10 at this location. 082513

My first year here in Indiana was dry and Honker Haven at Atterbury FWA was low. Numerous shorebirds including Wilson’s Snipe would be on the mud islands. By November there were up to 10 snipe present at this location. 8/25/13

WISM Summer Wilson's Snipe

The image on the left shows Wilson Snipe’s eBird occurrence for June (all years 1900 -2016) and on the right for Jun-Jul (all years 1900-2016). My sighting from yesterday is the red dot below Indianapolis.

Looking at the eBird map for June shows very few records in Indiana except for the concentration around Goose Pond. And I’m sure there have been more at Goose Pond not recorded on eBird.

WISN Range Map

As seen on a range map from The Birds of North America Online, we are well south of the breeding range of the Wilson’s Snipe.

Checking Brock’s Birds of Indiana we see the average departure date for Central Indiana is May 6 and there are is an “n” in the 20-Year Abundance Table which indicates no records (over the past 20 years).

WISN Brock

Wilson’s Snipe Table taken from Brock’s Birds of Indiana by Kenneth J. Brock

A line from The Birds of North America Online sums it up, “Marshy habitat, cryptic coloration, and crepuscular habits make for remarkably poor knowledge of this common species.”

Like the above sentence states, how does one check on the snipe without disturbing them? More importantly how do you check for young when you can’t even see the adults? Tread softly looking for a nest? Tough situation.

I’d sure like to know if they are breeding in the marsh but it might not be possible except by knowing there is snipe there the entire summer.

I’m open for suggestions.

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A Quest My Good Man

I think I have been very good not using Monty Python references in this blog. If you are even a small fan of Monty Python you know you can reference anything to their skits. Today though I say the heck with it. I’m on a Common Nighthawk Quest.

That’s right my good man. A quest for Common Nighthawks.

OK. No more Monty Python in case you don’t get the reference.

CONI 090111 Common Nighthawk

On a country road in Illinois I came across a small flock of Common Nighthawks foraging. They would fly from field to field over road. LaSalle County IL 9/1/11

After whiffing on the EASTERN WHIP-POOR-WILLS I got thinking about Common Nighthawks. I don’t have a “go to” location in Johnson County for nighthawks and that bothers me.

I have participated in 3 IAS Summer Counts and have only seen 1 nighthawk on those counts. This seems strange because the little town we lived in Illinois had three locations.

  1. The old Kmart plaza built-in the 1960’s.
  2. The High School that is 80 years old.
  3. Over some old buildings in the small downtown

What do these three locations have in common? Old, GRAVEL, flat roofs. The kind nighthawks LIKE to nest.

And what does my new, urban environment have? Lots of new, RUBBER, flat roofs. The kind nighthawks DON’T LIKE.

It’s no wonder Common Nighthawks are on the decline. Not enough to be on a watch list but enough to be concerned. One thought is the change from the flat, gravel roofs to the rubber roofs.

CONI'S 090111 A Quest

I wish I would have had the new camera for this encounter. LaSalle County IL 9/1/11

I will now to turn my quest to the “older” section of Greenwood versus the newer area I usually bird. There are some old strip malls and an old Kmart that might proof fruitful. I’ll also check the two small towns that have limited downtown areas but might have gravel roofs.

So for fun, one more Monty Python reference.

Bridgekeeper: What… is your quest?

Sir Lancelot: To seek the Holy Grail Common Nighthawk.

I’m sure I’ll let you know if I succeed in my quest. My good man.

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Summer Count – Snipe and Collared-Doves

Yesterday was my official start of the IAS Summer Count for Johnson County. If interested you can read about participating in the count at the IAS webpage or on IN-Bird.

The highlight of the day was finding WILSON’S SNIPE at a local “marshy” area. Even though I knew it was a late date for snipe my research has led to a separate blog that I will post in a day or two.

Other Highlights

An EURASIAN COLLARED-DOVE was at the previous known spot in Franklin. I check this every trip to Atterbury and haven’t seen one since late June of last year. Conservatively saying I stop two times a month that means I have checked a minimum of 20 times without seeing one. Now they are on the IAS Summer Count for the County.

ECOD (1)

An early morning photo to document the Eurasian Collared-Dove in Franklin. 6/4/16

Another species I added which hasn’t been on my previous three years of participating was a BLUE-WINGED WARBLER. It was at the same location Mike and I saw one on April 30th. I’m guessing it’s on territory since it’s still present.

BWWA (2)

Blue-winged Warbler – Atterbury FWA 4/30/16

There are a couple of spots in the county I know that have breeding PROTHONOTARY WARBLERS. With the grass now shoulder-high I bushwhacked back to one location and it didn’t take long to hear one calling.

PROW (5)

This Prothonotary Warbler was actively feeding but wouldn’t stay put for a photo. Atterbury FWA 6/4/16

PROW (2)

From tree to stick and back. Then into the forest to sit and sing. Atterbury FWA 6/4/16

There were also breeding WOOD DUCKS in the swampy area.

SWAMP (2)

This is the area of the Prothonotary Warbler and numerous breeding Wood Ducks. The Wood Ducks scattered when I came out of the trees. Atterbury FWA 6/4/16

I had unofficially started the count earlier this week with a stop at the new BOBOLINK location to make sure I counted them before the grass was cut. DICKCISSELS were also calling from the tall grass.

BOBO (3)

Someday I will get a good photo of a Bobolink. Urban Johnson County 6/2/16

DICK (3)

As I have seen lately on Facebook Dickcissels are much more obligating for taking photos. Urban Johnson County 6/2/16

DICK (5)

NRWS (1) Start of Summer Count

I couldn’t resist this photo of a Northern Rough-winged Swallow. The head reminds me of an alien in a science-fiction movie. Atterbury FWA 6/4/16

I spent over an hour walking the River Road hoping to hear a BLACK-BILLED CUCKOO. No luck. But I did hear YELLOW-BILLED CUCKOOS and AMERICAN REDSTARTS, a species I didn’t have a June location previously.

Sunday I made my semi-annual trip to the local BALD EAGLE’S nest. It’s on the other side of the county and there isn’t any reason for me to go except to see the eagles. Looks like a good year with at least two juveniles in the nest.

BAEA NEST (2)

The tall tree in the center hosts the Bald Eagle’s nest. Johnson County 6/5/16

BAEA (6)

Like any children the young eagles appeared to be fighting over food on several occasions. Johnson County 6/5/16

BAEA (1)

This was the best of the photos showing one of the young eagles. Johnson County 6/5/16

It was good start to the Summer Count with 70+ species over the three days.

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Superficially Same but Different

I have previously blogged about the birds I observed in London that looked and acted the same as our birds and about birds that looked different but acted the same. This post will cover a third group of birds which are superficially the same but don’t have equivalent US species that jump out at me.

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Birds like Greylag Geese are similar to Greater White-fronted Geese but just superficially to me. Hyde Park 4/2/16

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The Common Shelduck reminds me of a Common Merganser but it is bigger with buff and of course the shell on its bill. St. James Park 4/3/16

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The Long-tailed Tit is sort of like our chickadee but the color is off and of course ours don’t have the long tail. Hyde Park 4/5/16

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The Red-crested Pochard has me stumped. It really doesn’t remind me of any waterfowl in the US. Hyde Park 4/2/16

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This has to be the luckiest photo I have ever taken. I heard a Willow Warbler calling in the back of a tree and watched it feeding for several minutes. It jumped up once and I grabbed the camera.  I took three photos and it dove back down in the bushes. I didn’t think I had the camera up in time and went on chasing a Wren. Back at the hotel I had two blurred photos and this one. Remarkable! Reminds me of a Tennessee Warbler.

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This Blackcap acted like a typical warbler, hiding in the tree limbs. At least this photo shows its black cap against its gray body. Hyde Park 4/5/16

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Like the Monk Parakeet has in our larger cities, the Rose-ringed Parakeet has adapted to an urban environment. Hyde Park 4/5/16

And I saved, at least in my opinion, the best for last. 

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We have nothing like a Great Crested Grebe.

108 not even superficially

The grebe from a different angle. The tufts are not as apparent.

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Bobolink – 2nd JC Location

As the About page of this blog states, I like searching for uncommon birds in my area. Like this past weekend when I found a second spot for BOBOLINK in Johnson County. The other known spot being at Atterbury FWA.

Back in December I posted about the loss of grassland area at the corner of I-65 and County Line Road. Well the field is still grassland and there is no sign of development. So Sunday I checked the field to see if DICKCISSEL had returned.  Dickcissel were present along with calling GRASSHOPPER SPARROWS.

But the big surprise were Bobolink.

BOBO (6)

One problem with Bobolink is they seem to be distant and never looking my direction. Urban Johnson County 5/29/16

BOBO

Same problem at Atterbury, the Bobolink are way out in the field and facing away. I now know how to ID one from behind. Atterbury FWA 5/28/16

Bobolink

As seen on this range map Central Indiana is on the southern edge of Bobolink’s breeding range. So finding them after mid-May is hit or miss. Range map from xeno-canto.

I remember even though we were farther north in Illinois Bobolink were uncommon because of lack of grasslands in our agriculture county. Thus I had very few photos from Illinois.

Bobolink

One of my few close photos. Rural LaSalle County, IL 5/8/2009

In Illinois I used to take an annual trip to Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie to see Bobolink, Upland Sandpiper, and Loggerhead Shrike. And for the record on the last couple of visits the Upland Sandpiper weren’t present.

Bobolink 061209

At Midewin they were abundant and one could get close by walking the trails. 6/12/2009

Female Bobolink

Even the females were easy to ID at Midewin since they would be in the trees along the trails.

The question now is will the owners of the local grasslands cut the grass so the Bobolink have to leave? The Bobolink Field at Atterbury is usually cut in early June for hay. It wasn’t cut until August a couple of years ago and they stayed the entire summer.

The good news is according to The Birds of North America Online the average egg date is May 20 with 12 days of incubation. And if undisturbed the young leave the nest in 11 days. If that holds true then the young are gone around mid-June.

I’ll monitor both fields and hope the grass isn’t cut until late June.

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