5 Reasons Why I Continue to Bird Johnson County

But first some…


I was raised in a small town of less than 5000 people but have lived in both Springfield and Champaign-Urbana, IL. Both cities of over one hundred thousand people.  I didn’t particularly like the traffic when I lived there, but except at Christmas around the mall it was bearable.

JC Farm

A rural landscape in Southern Johnson County.

I don’t mind Indianapolis driving, but given the choice I would rather drive in a smaller, rural town. The town where I grew up is no longer a mere 5000 people because Caterpillar exploded and turned it into a large bedroom community for Peoria. So the point is I like a more rural environment. The southern half of Johnson County is rural.

1. Traffic

Johnson County being a more rural area the roads leading to the birding areas have little traffic. Marion County is of course a more urban, metro environment. Which means one has to drive in a more urban environment to get to the parks. So my mindset even getting to the parks is usually skewed because there is a stop sign every mile for several miles, just getting to a park.

MC Road 2

Emerson Avenue, Indianapolis.

If I see a bird while driving in Johnson County, I usually just stop the car in the road or pull over on the shoulder and observe the bird.  In Marion County if I would stop I would create a traffic jam and have numerous cars honking at me.  And don’t even think about pulling over.


Just stop the car and observe – South Mauxferry Road – Johnson County

2. People and Dogs

I can’t get use to birding with a constant parade of people and dogs going by.  Or people on mountain bikes zooming by.  When I bird Johnson County I often don’t see anyone for hours, especially in late fall to early spring.

3. Bird’s Location

I know where the birds are located in Johnson County. I could spend the next year or two birding Marion County and find as many, or probably more, species than I have found in Johnson County. But I already know where the birds are, and the point is to see birds. And more importantly, I know where the different habitats are in Johnson County.

In the 20 months of birding the Atterbury area, I have seen 189 species of birds. Isn’t the eBird Patch Lists great for figuring these things out?

Patch Total

Since I already have a history in Johnson County I will continue to bird there because I know where the birds are located.  And that always leads to an enjoyable outing.

4. All-in-One-Stop-Shopping

Another thing I like about birding Johnson County is the all-in-one-stop-shopping. The only day I get to bird for any length of time is Saturday. So I like to drive less, bird more. The areas in Johnson County that I’ve noted are relatively close together.  So getting from one habitat to another is just a short drive.

Once I started birding Marion County I found I would have to bird in one environment, and then face the traffic to get to the next. I know Eagle Creek Park is a great one stop shop, but then it falls under comment number two, people and dogs.

5. It Feels Natural

And finally the main reason I like to bird Johnson County is that to me it feels more “natural”. The parks in Marion County are more typical urban parks with finely mowed grass and nice paved walking trails. Not really bushwhacking.

Southeastway Park

A nice paved trail in Southeastway Park. That tree line held many warblers the couple of times I visited.

The places I bird in Johnson County – basically Driftwood, Atterbury, Johnson County Park – have few trails and you are left to your own devices.  Which suits my nature – bushwhacking for birds.

Atterbury FWA

An area by Pisgah Lake – Atterbury FWA. Looks like the area has recently been cleared with a bush hog.

This doesn’t mean I won’t bird Marion County.  It just means I will probably spend more time in Johnson County than I originally thought when we moved.

Now if I had been born and raised in a large, metro area, would this post be exactly the opposite?  Something like “Why I will be Birding Marion County”? 

Who knows.

So how has your background contributed to your style of birding?

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20 Minutes Saturday – 5 Species of Raptors

I spent Saturday birding Johnson County.  Something I needed to do since I had only been getting in an hour here and there on the weekends.

I probably had one of the best hours I have had in a long time.  Really about 20 minutes. I had gone to the old wooden platform at Honker Haven in Atterbury FWA to observe shorebirds, but ended up watching raptors.  The time was from 11:30 to 12:15.  The raptors came from 11:45 to 12:05.  Prime thermal time.

1. Red-Shouldered Hawk – After counting the initial 30 Killdeer without any other shorebirds, it was quiet.  Fifteen minutes later a Red-shouldered Hawk flew the length of the pond being chased by blackbirds.  It landed in a distant tree calling for a few minutes.  But it made all the Killdeer fly giving a much better count – 80.  Once again I am amazed at the number of birds we don’t see and count…

2. Bald Eagle – One came in slowly circling from the west giving good views.


Bald Eagle – pretty high up that I had to lighten the photo – Atterbury FWA. 11/10/14

3. Turkey Vultures – A flock of 25 drifted slowly north to south.  This poor follow came close enough for a photo.  Molting problems buddy?


Turkey Vulture – Atterbury FWA. 11/10/14

4.  Red-tailed Hawks – A pair came circling in about the same path the Bald Eagle had come, but much higher.

5. Cooper’s Hawk – Lastly one came flying through that put all the Killdeer up again.  Checked and still no other shorebirds. The Cooper’s then decided, without telling me, that it was going  to fly along the tree line parallel to the viewing stand.  It came screaming by about 5 feet in front of the platform.  Needless to say giving me a start.

This all happened in about 20 minutes.  And like that it was over.  But the birding was not.

Other highlights:

  • FOS Male and female Redhead at the Greenwood Retaining Ponds. Too early in the day for a photo.
  • The continuing Great Egrets at Honker Haven. Not much habitat in JC for them. GREG
  • A lone Chimney Swift at Johnson County Park – Getting late.
  • Two House Wrens at Johnson County Park – Also getting late.
  • FOS White-throated Sparrows and Dark-eyed Juncos. Also at JCP.

And lastly – One of our largest and smallest water species together.

Big Bird Small Bird

Mute Swan and Pied-billed Grebe. JCP 10/11/14

Later this week, why I am back birding Johnson County.

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This Past Weekend 10/4-5

Just a short post to get back into writing and to let you know I am still here. After this past weekend the move for the most part is over and I should get back into the routine of posting.

I had to spend time moving from a larger to smaller storage unit and moving some (more) boxes.  And dealing with a flat tire. But I found a few hours to get out birding each day.

I spent a couple of hours out Saturday AM in the cold and wind. Started at the retaining ponds off County Line Road.  Not much waterfowl yet – Mallards, American Coots, and Pied-billed Grebes.  But lots of Savannah Sparrows (20+), Eastern Meadowlarks, and Red-winged Blackbirds.


There was one nice large flock of Savannah Sparrows that kept popping up.


I then spent an hour at Southeastway Park where I only hit one wave that had a few warblers.

Sunday afternoon I spent a couple of hours at Atterbury/Johnson County Park area.  Yes, I know I said I was birding Marion County, but that is a discussion for another time.

It was rather quiet but felt good to be out.  I had a personal high count for Atterbury of two Great Egrets.


If I had been quicker I would have caught them both in the same photo.


This guy didn’t want a photo taken.

At Honker Haven the water level is good for shorebirds. There were a couple of Wilson’s Snipe, a Pectoral Sandpiper, and Killdeer.


The snipe were hunkered down in the strong wind. The Pec just kept moving.


The Mute Swan is still in the area, this time at Johnson County Park’s pond.


And this is my last view as the rain started to fall.  A peaceful end to a good day to be out walking.


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Past Couple of Weeks

The last two weeks have mainly been spent on things other than birding but I have been able to get out each weekend for some birding.

A week ago Saturday, 9/13, I met up with Mike Clay for a few hours at Southwestway Park in Indianapolis.  The weather was dark and windy which did not lend itself to photos, or exceptional birding.  But Mike showed me around the park and what habitats are good in which seasons. Probably the highlight were the large number of Indigo Buntings that were around.

That afternoon I stopped by the nearby wet field and saw my first American Coot of season in a near by pond.



A few weeks ago I asked where do people bird.  Regular reader and commenter Andy Beal said that Ft. Harrison Park in Indianapolis was a good spot.  I knew Don Gorney gave regular walks there in the fall so I headed there Sunday morning. There was a good turnout with about 20 people.  It was good to meet several people whose posts I have read in IN-Bird.  It was also good to meet Andy who also was on the walk.  I want thank Don who did a great job leading a group of that size.

There were numerous passerines and I got good looks at many of them.  There was also a nice flock of Double-crested Cormorants that flew over.


An Eastern Wood-Pewee in the morning light.


A distant Rose-breasted Grosbeak.

I did miss a couple of Black-and-White Warblers that were seen.  I think it is starting to turn into my nemesis bird for the area.

After the main walk ended I stayed around and talked to Don.  A Yellow-bellied Flycatcher showed up.  I of course had put my camera away but Aidan Rominger got great photos, as usual, and sent the following for use.

YBFL FT. Harrison - Aidan

A very cooperative Yellow-bellied Flycatcher. Photo by Aidan Rominger.

This past weekend I birded Southeastway Park on Saturday morning and the local flooded field on Sunday. I didn’t get to Southeastway until 9:30 and since this was my first time there, I spent most of the time just walking the edges.  I came across a small flock of birds moving through the trees and had a male Cape May Warbler give great looks for 5 seconds, and then move on.  I can see the park being a regular place to bird for migrants.

Sunday morning with the winds at 20 mph I decided to visit the local flooded field instead of look for warblers.  Wasn’t expecting much but always worth look. Killdeer numbers were way down with only 10 versus the 100+ the last few times.  There were Pectoral, Least, and Semipalmated Sandpipers.  Plus 2 Semipalmated Plovers.

And then there was a light colored bird that I knew wasn’t one of the others. Now keep in mind I am viewing at 175 meters through my spotting scope.  It was smaller than a Killdeer and the Pecs.  It then walked by a Least and was bigger.  It walked by a Semipalmated Plover. About the same size.  So a large peep.  My initial thought had been Sanderling but the GISS was wrong.  It wasn’t acting like one and didn’t look plump enough for one.  It look more long and lean, with long primary projections.  That left me to decide on Baird’s or White Rumped Sandpiper.  Really wasn’t to hard from there with the lighter coloring it was a Baird’s.  Plus the face was plain with no eyeline, just a plain light brown

So I picked up two Indiana life birds over the weekend – the Cape May and the Baird’s.  Just shows what you can do locally if you get out and bird.

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Back at it…

As my mother used to ask when I hadn’t called in a while (before cell phones and when long-distance calls cost too much), “Have you fallen off the face of the earth?”.  No, I am still here and have even birded some. Just no extra time to blog. But I am getting back into a routine after the move so the blogging should increase.

I took today off and took some time to lake watch at Eagle Creek Reservoir from Rick’s parking lot on the off-chance a Sabine’s Gull would fly by. Or maybe a Franklin’s. Or dare I say the J-word?  I did the same thing last Sunday afternoon. It is the right time of the year, maybe a week or two early.  But there have been steady winds from the north the last couple of days. Didn’t have luck either time, but you won’t know unless you look.

A few pictures of the above mentioned gulls from previous years.

SAGU Carlyle Lake 092510

Juvenile Sabine’s Gull from the Illinois Ornithological Society’s Pelagic Field Trip on Carlyle Lake. 09/25/10


SAGU Carlyle Lake 092510A

Same Bird Flying away. Notice the distinctive tri-colored wings. Photo cropped and enlarged.

PAJA Carlyle Lake 092510

Parasitic Jaeger – same location and date as above Sabine’ Gull. Just looks Bad A**, especially at close range.

FRGU LL 052612A

Franklin’s Gull – A yearly visitor to the Illinois Valley, where I did most of my birding in Illinois. LaSalle Lake 052612

It was good to get the “feel” of the 25 Ringed-bills coming and going. I really haven’t watched gulls since I moved to Indiana and I need to get the “feel” of Ringed-bills so I can differentiate a different gull or tern that might chance by.

RBGU Eagle CreekA 091214

Take time to watch the “common” birds so you will notice the uncommon birds.

RBGU Eagle CreekB 091214

Like this “common” Ring-billed Gull in flight.

RBGU Eagle CreekC 091214

Eagle Creek Reservoir 091214

The only other bird of note was an Osprey that I first noticed on a light pole on the dam and then hunting below the dam. Otherwise it was quiet.

OSPR Eagle Creek 091214

Osprey, a long ways away. Eagle Creek Reservoir 091214

I will join Mike tomorrow morning at Southwestway Park and then hopefully go on Don Gorney’s walk at Ft. Harrison Sunday morning. So I should have more to report Monday.

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Starting Over

If you have been following this blog then you know I believe that you can find most birds that are yearly residents or migrate through the Midwest within minutes of your home. I just don’t believe you have to travel far from home to see most birds. So when we moved from Franklin to the south side of Indianapolis last month, I was lost on where to bird. Living in Franklin it was a no brainer to head to Atterbury FWA area, a 15 minute drive.  But now Atterbury is a half hour drive one way. Time which I would rather spend birding.

So one  reason I haven’t been blogging, besides the move and being out-of-town for business for a few days, is the lack of direction in birding. I have birded each weekend through August but have not been enthusiastic about it. I’m now pretty sure the course I am going to take, plus some rest, so the enthusiasm has returned.

First let me say that if Atterbury was a prime birding spot I would continue to make the drive. But as I will blog in the next couple of weeks, in my opinion Atterbury is deteriorating as a birding site. The military is starting the construction on the area they swapped out in 2010.  Plus there are crops being grown on former grassland areas.  Plus as I blogged last September, it is essentially closed from September through January except to hunters. I will continue to make the occasional Johnson County run, but not on a weekly basis.

Readers also know I have never got into a groove like I did in Illinois.  My basic schedule was to bird Saturday AM for passerines, bird  the local gull/shorebird area Sunday afternoon, then stop on the way home from work a couple of nights a week to scan gulls or shorebirds.  But I hadn’t been able to do that easily living in Franklin.

I have already found a flooded field between work and our new residence that was packed with shorebirds.  Plus there are two parks, where hunting is not allowed, that I can bird to and from work. And  I can easily get to Eagle Creek on a Sunday afternoon to watch the gulls, something I really miss.

So I am back into birding the way I like it.  Time will tell how it works out.

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Sorry I haven’t posted in the last couple of weeks. We are in the process of moving and there hasn’t been much extra time for blogging or birding.  Plus we didn’t have TV/internet access for 10 days.  (Still not sure that was such a bad thing.)  I did get in a few hours birding last weekend.  Saw another Osprey at Driftwood.  I am not sure it wasn’t in the area all summer.  But then back to fixing things up, unpacking, and resting up from the move. Should be able to bird this weekend but will be gone next week for work.  So I am really looking to  get back into a regular pattern Labor Day Weekend.

The blog is one-year old today.  Which according to something I read I have outlasted 99% of all people who start blogs. Who knows if that is accurate.

More on all these subjects in the coming months.

Thanks for reading and responding, Bob.

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A Quiet First Weekend of August

First of all, let me say the birding was slow this past weekend. A few migrating shorebirds at Edinburgh retaining pond was about it.  Otherwise the birds were quiet. I spent a lot of time Saturday morning walking the edges of fields that might have Sedge Wrens.  No luck.  And I didn’t hear any Wood Thrushes anywhere either. It’s probably a function of not being in the right habitat in previous years but I had my first August Dickcissel in 3 years.

The best bird was an Osprey circling over the parking lot after work Monday in Shelbyville.  Seemed a little out-of-place. I will go ahead and post a few pictures from this weekend.

And let me add we are moving again next week. I probably need to write a post how the location change might or might not affect my birding. So for the month of August there might not be many posts. But then again there might be more since I will be hanging out in Starbucks more.


Started the day with a Great Blue Heron at Driftwood. 08/02/14


This American Goldfinch was pretending not to watch me. Also at Driftwood. 08/02/14


A Mourning Dove was sitting for a photo a couple of weeks ago.


I like this photo of the House Wren because it shows the barring on the wings and tail of the bird. Which is usually how I see them, going away. Click photo to enlarge.   Atterbury FWA 08/02/14


And a Spotted Sandpiper flew in at my last stop Saturday. Atterbury FWA 08/02/14


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Where to Bird?

This past weekend was the last weekend for the IAS Summer Count.  And I spent it looking for species not yet seen in Johnson County in June or July.  But with the storms I didn’t have much luck.

Knowing where I had to bird this past weekend got me wondering, once again, how birders decide where to go birding? Especially people who work during the week and can only get out on the weekends. I assume people with more free time can cover more places during the week so the decision isn’t as hard. But for people like me it is tough.

If you have been following this blog then you know I spend my limited weekend time birding southern Johnson County – the Driftwood, Atterbury, Johnson County Park area. Not really a large area, but when I have to decide where to bird, it is.  Atterbury has 6 or 7 distinct areas that take a couple of hours each to bird thoroughly.  Throw in Driftwood, Johnson County Park, and Irwin Park in Edinburgh and now we are at 10 areas.  And there are a lot of other smaller areas to check also.  So how to choose since I would like to spend time in each area weekly?

"Paris 2010 - Le Penseur" by Daniel Stockman - Flickr: Paris 2010 Day 3 - 9. Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons - http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Paris_2010_-_Le_Penseur.jpg#mediaviewer/File:Paris_2010_-_Le_Penseur.jpg

Where to bird? Hmm? *

I sometimes wish I was a twitcher, chaser, whatever you want to call someone who chases rarities or a bird needed for a list. Then the choice would be easier on many weekends. Or if I didn’t mind driving more to see birds it would be easier.  Then I could go where I think I would have a chance of seeing more species, Goose Pond or the Lake Michigan shoreline for example.

So how do people decide where to bird?  My basic assumption is they use status and distribution and go to the correct habitats where they have the best chance of seeing what might be migrating.  Or if they are lucky enough to bird daily maybe they census the best habitats in their areas over and over.

I would be interested to hear how others decide.

* “The Thinker” “Paris 2010 – Le Penseur” by Daniel Stockman – Flickr: Paris 2010 Day 3 – 9. Licensed under Creative Commons – From Wikimedia Commons

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Texas – June 2014

I am not going to go into great detail about the logistics from our family trip to Texas the third week of June, 2014. Our family vacations are a compromise between family vacation and birding trip.  The compromise is to go somewhere new for birding as long as there is a beach nearby.  So we stayed on South Padre Island four days and three days at McAllen. The only problem of the trip was the weather getting home.  Spent way to much time in Houston Airport.

I birded the following sites in this order, one per day: Sabal Palm Sanctuary, Laguna Atascosa National Wildlife Refuge, South Padre Island Birding, Estero Llano Grande, and Bentsen-Rio Grande Valley State Park. Plus a cruise into McAllen one evening to see the Green Parakeets roost. I thought with great luck I might see 37 “Life” birds.  I ended up with 28.  Putting me real close to going over one of those milestones.  But more on that in a later post.

To sum it up – the birding was great, the weather great, and the food too plentiful.  On most outings I was the only one in the park.  Or maybe one of two.  Definitely the off-season. Sabal Palm Sanctuary and Estero Llano Grande were probably the best spots and Bentsen-Rio Grande Valley State Park a bit of a disappointment.  At least in the off-season.

Some comments about the trip.  Golden-fronted Woodpeckers where everywhere.  And I mean everywhere.  A close second were Harris’s Hawks on poles out to Laguna Atascosa. Seemed like every pole in a couple of mile stretch had one.  Biggest miss, Groove-billed Ani. Highlight bird of the trip was Green Jay.  Why can’t we have a green bird in the Midwest?

So without further ado, a few photos from the trip. I will post more later.


The most satisfying bird of the trip, Clapper Rail. I went to the South Padre Birding Center really for only this bird. I had listened to another one on the north side of the site for a half hour and it never emerged. So I took the long way back around just to see what I might have missed. And not far from the visitor’s center I hear the clacking again. And then it comes into view calling. I watched it for quite a while showing several people from a covered seating area. 6/22/14


As I stated, Golden-fronted Woodpeckers where everywhere.


Why can’t we have a chocolate hawk in the Midwest? Harris’s Hawk – Buena Vista Blvd 6/21/14


Also present in good numbers but nothing like the Golden-fronted. Ladder-backed Woodpecker – Sabal Palm Sanctuary 6/20/14


Maybe Golden-fronted Woodpeckers where everywhere, but Great-tailed Grackles were the most numerous bird. Bentsen-Rio Grande Valley SP 06/24/14


A Plain Chachalaca showing it tail feathers. Laguna Atascosa NWR 6/21/14


One of the birds I wasn’t sure I was going to see, but saw several at Sabal Palm – Hooded Oriole – 6/20/14


I only saw one each of Green Kingfisher and Ringed Kingfisher, both at Bentsen-Rio Grande Valley SP 6/24/14.


So my wife and daughter only went birding with me once and only for a couple of hours. We stopped by the Kingfisher Overlook at Bentsen-Rio Grande Valley SP (why aren’t there benches there??) and was looking over the small lake when my wife says “there is a big bird over there with a big bill”. Yes, I would have probably overlooked the Ringed Kingfisher if she hadn’t pointed it out. And who would have thought you would see Kingfishers at a “Kingfisher” overlook?


And I will end with this picture. This was taken to the SW from the Bentsen-Rio Grande Valley Hawk Watch platform. I assume from the distance it was across the Rio Grande in Mexico. Not sure what they are advertising. If someone can hazard a guess I would appreciate it.



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