1. Even when the weather stinks, the snow is deep, and I can’t do birding by foot without a lot of hassle, there are still birds to be found. In this case Horned Larks, Lapland Longspurs, and Snow Buntings along the roads of Johnson County. Actually hundreds of Horned Larks, a few Lapland Longspurs, and only one Snow Bunting.
The photos aren’t the best since the day was pretty dreary.
A few of the hundreds of Horned Larks I saw on the day. This group flew over to a field and waited for cars to pass. Johnson County 02/22/14
I posted this picture to show that it really isn’t so hard to pick out Lapland Longspurs at a glance. I used to have problems picking them out of a flock of Horned Larks but once I got used to the color difference, not so difficult. Horned Lark center, Lapland Longspur right. Johnson County 02/22/14
An out of focus picture but still one that shows the differences in color patterns of a Lapland Longspur and Horned Lark. Johnson County 02/22/14
Plus some sparrows and friends along the plowed roads of Johnson County Park.
American Tree Sparrow – Note the bi-colored bill. Johnson County Park 02/22/14
White-crowned Sparrow. Compare head pattern with the next photo. Johnson County Park 02/22/14
White-throated Sparrow – compare head pattern to previous White-crowned Sparrow. Johnson County Park 02/22/14
Dark-eyed Junco – Johnson County Park 02/22/14
A Fox Sparrow got in on the action. Johnson County Park 02/22/14
OK, Mr. Robin, I will post a picture of you. He wouldn’t move to let me see the Fox Sparrow. He wanted all the attention. Johnson County Park 02/22/14
2. And I have wondered about the following for some time.
I’m not the guy that tracks up the most hours in the field, especially the past year. But I’ve put my share of hours in the field. So where are Horned Larks in the summer? Sunday I must have seen 5 or 6 flocks of 150-200 Horned Larks along the road. In the summer I hear a few but might go weeks without seeing one. I know they are in the fields but besides one gravel road in Illinois that always had 10-20 I never see many in the summer. Just wondering?
This Horned Lark posed nicely for a for photo. Where will it be hiding in July? Johnson County 02/22/14
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Since it snowed 6 inches Friday night which wrecked another Saturday of birding, I thought I would get together a few more pictures from Costa Rica, December 2014.
Remember to click on photo for enlarged view.
Let’s start with the photo that made me the maddest from the trip, a Crimson-collared Tanager that I couldn’t get a good shot. I tried all sorts of angles but none were clear. And then it flew away and I didn’t see another one the trip. La Fortuna area – Dec. 2014
The photo from one of the best times on the trip. You can’t really tell but there are both Turkey and Black Vultures, Magnificent Frigatebirds, and Brown Pelicans soaring together. It was really something to watch. La Flamingo area – Dec. 2014
A closer look at a Magnificent Frigatebird. La Flamingo area – Dec. 2014
Sorry for only catching him/her on a power line, but it kept running back and forth outside our balcony. A Variegated Squirrel, I think. Nothing beats a squirrel with a racing strip down it’s back. La Flamingo area – Dec. 2014
Sorry, another power line shot. This was the only time I didn’t see a Stripe-headed Sparrow peeking out from the bushes. La Flamingo area – Dec. 2014
The most numerous parrot of the trip was the Orange-chinned Parakeet. They enjoyed the bananas at the lodge where we stayed. And in typical parrot fashion were quite vocal about it. La Fortuna area – Dec 2014
We saw numerous Three-toed Sloths on the trip, but this was the only one that gave a half way decent picture. OK, maybe a quarter decent picture. La Fortuna area – Dec. 2014
Both sexes of Passerini’s Tanagers feeding on the local bananas. I was glad to see the females were a duller color like they are here in the temperate zones. I was beginning to think all birds were really colorful. La Fortuna area – Dec. 2014
Another numerous species like the Passerini’s was the Blue-gray Tanager. To me they seemed to keep to cover more than the Passerini’s. La Fortuna area – Dec 2014
I did not get a good photo of a Streaked-backed Oriole but I like this one since it shows off the streaked-back. Like most orioles he wasn’t happy with me getting close. La Flamingo area – Dec. 2014
I had never noticed how many contrasting colors a White-winged Dove has until I studied this one. In other words I had never taken the time to look. La Flamingo Area – Dec. 2014
We were at a hot springs when my brother-in-law noticed a large bird in a tree. Immediately after I took this photo the Osprey flew down to the river and got it’s fish. La Fortuna area – Dec. 2014
Here is a list of non-birding related items that we had read or heard before our trip to Costa Rica in December 2014. In our experience some are correct, some aren’t, and a few fall in the gray middle area.
The points aren’t in any particular order.
1. We had heard most Costa Ricans spoke some English so you really don’t need to know Spanish. Mostly False. Only at the major locations – the airport for example – or at the lodges. Otherwise very spotty. We could have used knowing basic Spanish.
2. We had read not to exchange money at the airport because of the exchange rate and fees. False – Do it. We would have been better off to pay the higher fees and got some colóns at the airport. We ended up wasting money because we hadn’t broken any U.S. $20’s at the airport and then later going to an ATM.
3. We had heard mixed reports about renting a car. We didn’t rent one and I am glad we didn’t. We hired drivers to get from place to place, which I think is the way to go for the first time traveler. Next time I will do a hybrid system . I would hire a driver for the 3-4 hour journey from the airport to our destination and then rent a car at the location for a few days. I spoke to a gentleman from Saskatchewan who drove and it was “OK” with the most recent GPS software. But I talked to a couple from the U.K. with just maps and they had to stop 20 times asking for directions from the airport. There are very, very few directional road signs. And they are small.
Even the main roads have one lane bridges that slow traffic. This photo is on a nice day but we had to cross several on a very rainy day. La Flamingo – Dec. 2014
4. Don’t forget your exit tax at the airport – $29 per person. True. We talked to several people who knew nothing about it.
5. It is called the Rain Forest for a reason. True. We were in the rain forest area for 4 days. It rained 3 of them. In fact the first day we were there it was clear and the locals said it was the first day in 3 weeks it hadn’t rained.
On the left the view of Arenal Volcano on our first day in the area. This would be the only day the volcano was seen most of the day. On the right is a more typical view (or lack of ) of the volcano.
6. I read you should download a copy of “What to pack for Costa Rica” and then follow it. True. We used the 2 small flashlights we had every night. The lodges aren’t very well-lit. And my wife lost her glasses. But we had packed a second pair as the list recommended. The one we used is located here.
7. We had neither read or heard about the waves at La Flamingo. We were expecting the types of waves we experienced in different parts of the U.S. If I’m describing it correctly, the waves “break” all at once, knocking you down if you’re standing in them. Not what we were expecting. (See losing wife’s glasses in 6 above)
Typical waves at La Flamingo. They “break” all at once knocking you down and push you around. Dec. 2014
8. Allow time at customs/immigration on the flights if you have to make a connecting flight. True and False. Coming back into the U.S it’s true, not so much going out. We saw and have heard of several people missing connecting flights because of the long lines coming back into the U.S. Luckily we had a 3 hour layover in Houston because it took an hour and 20 minutes to get through the long line. But maybe it was because of the holidays?
9. I had read and heard that WiFi is spotty. True. Several places you had to be within 50′ of the service to get your phone, laptop, etc. to work. I didn’t use either but my wife and daughter had some troubles with their phones.
10. You can drink the water. True. None of us had any problems.
I would like to know if you have any points to add or disagree with my points. Just leave a comment below.
I started to call this my 10 favorite photos but I couldn’t narrow it down. So I’ll go with a title of just a few photos.
Let me start by stating up front this was a family vacation with birding added. Though if you ask my family they would say it was a birding trip for me. The trip was my first out of the country in years so I was also using the trip to see how I like traveling aboard.
I am not going to write about the trip in a travelogue format. I will present a brief description of the trip and in my next post discuss some things we had heard or read about Costa Rica before we went and if they were true or not.
A brief description of the trip. On December 13 we flew from Indianapolis to Houston to San Jose. No problems. We had hired a driver to take us to La Fortuna, the town nearest Arenal Volcano. My sister-in-law’s family came in the next day. The lodges we stayed at in La Fortuna had great grounds for birding, so I did most of it there. The day I was to go with a guide to Arenal got all messed up so I didn’t make it. But I did hire a guide one morning that took us around the grounds of a local preserve. After four days in the area we then moved on to the NW resort area – La Flamingo. All the birding there was within walking distance of the hotel. We stayed 3 days and flew home out of Liberia. No problems there either. Got home at 12:30 AM and did the Johnson County CBC the next day. That’s the trip in a nutshell. If you want more details leave a comment and I will reply.
Here are a few of my favorite birds-photos from the trip. I’m sure I’ll post more at a later date.
Remember to click the photos for a better view – especially the Broad-billed Motmot’s.
Probably the best photo of the trip, this Tropical Kingbird was perched outside our balcony. La Flamingo – Dec 2014
This Yellow-bellied Elaenia was actively feeding in the grounds at our lodge at La Fortuna. Dec 2014
This Social Flycatcher was checking out a couple of dogs running by the tree. La Fortuna – Dec. 2014
A Palm Tanager was hanging around, literally, eating bananas outside our lodge. La Fortuna Dec. 2014
I saw numerous Scaly-breasted Hummingbirds on the trip. La Fortuna – Dec. 2014
After seeing numerous Great Kiskadees in Texas and Costa Rica, one of the few birds I was actually hoping to see so I could compare them was a Boat-billed Flycatcher. I was initially a little tentative on the ID until it called. La Flamingo – Dec. 2014
Not the best of photos but it was taken under a tree in the rain. I was waiting for the rest of the group to come back when I saw some movement under a tree – a Broad-billed Motmot. I almost missed the tail at first (Click to enlarge and look close). Like myself, it sat for a long time just avoiding the rain. La Fortuna – Dec. 2014
Out walking one morning I came across this Ringed Kingfisher hunting by one of the numerous one-lane bridges. La Flamingo – Dec. 2014
I watched this Rufous-naped Wren for quite a while coming and going but never did figure out where the nest was being built. Seeing a wren this size was cool! La Flamingo Dec. 2014
And lastly, there is something eerie about a Black Vulture beachcombing. La Flamingo – Dec. 2014
As I noted back in early December the company I work for changed computer systems and I was transitioning to a new position. As with most things both took longer then planned and culminated the last couple of weeks. Heck, for the first time in as long as I can remember I worked both weekend days and didn’t bird at all. Nor have I had time to blog.
So it was good to walk out of work yesterday and see some uncommon birds. At least uncommon for the Shelby County area.
Two Snow Geese mixed in with hundreds of Canada Geese. Shelbyville Retaining Pond 02/10/15
A white and dark Snow Goose. Not anything like the thousands reported lately at Goose Pond but still good to see.
Not the first Snow Geese I have seen in the area having seen two down the road in December. But I can add the Snow Geese along to the Red-necked Grebe I saw last year at the work pond.
And I should be over the hump and back to birding and blogging this weekend.
In the last few months I have drifted away what I like to do most in birding – bird the local area. And I have come to miss the familiarity of the local haunts.
So with that I went back to Johnson County Saturday to bird the spots I have spent the majority of the last two years.
I arrived an hour and fifteen minutes before sunrise and immediately had an Eastern Screech-Owl at one of the usual spots. I don’t know if it is me but I it wasn’t very far away and I still couldn’t find it with a flashlight. The other usual Eastern Screech-Owl spot was silent. As was the usual Barred Owl site. I’m not having much luck with Barred Owls this year.
There were numerous Red-tailed Hawks on territory including one dark juvenile that had me thinking Rough-legged. The local crows started to harass it which prevented me from getting a decent photo.
The bulk of the day was spent at Johnson County Park since there were still many hunters at Atterbury FWA. I spent several hours walking looking for sparrows and bushwhacking through thickets checking for owl whitewash before the snow came. I didn’t find any whitewash but in the past it has paid off several times. I came across a couple of good sized flocks of sparrows with the first flock consisting of several White-crowned and White-throated Sparrows.
White-crowned Sparrow JC Park 01/31/15
Same bird as above looking dapper.
While standing in some small saplings observing the White-crowned Sparrows, three American Kestrels came screaming by chasing each other and almost hit me. My guess is they were only two to three feet above my head. They landed on a power line across the road, all three still calling at each other. One then flew to a nearby tree and kept calling. They all eventually moved on with the one still calling.
Two of the three American Kestrels on wires, the other having moved on to a nearby tree. JC park 01/31/15
The third Kestrel just to the north, and still calling. JC Park 01/31/15
I did manage to record one of the American Kestrels that kept calling.
Audio of the American Kestrel calling close to me. Turn up your volume to hear. ( A Downy Woodpecker and Carolina Chickadee thought they would get in their 2 cents also)
Before I came upon the second flock of sparrows I was walking through a grass field that had a section plowed. I kept hearing what I thought were Horned Larks. The spot looked good for Horned Larks but the area is surrounded by miles of woods, not farm land. So I was puzzled. I scanned the area several times but did not see any larks.
Are there Horned larks out there? JC park 1/31/15
Moving on to the brushy area on the other side I came upon a flock of American Tree Sparrows. So the question is does the song of a flock of Tree Sparrows sound like the tingled song of a Horned Larks at a distance?
A little later while watching the flock of sparrows I heard a Red-shouldered Hawk in the distance. It then got near enough that I could see it in the thicket. It was a Blue Jay imitating the Red-shouldered Hawk. No, it was practicing imitating a Red-shouldered Hawk because the hawk was still calling off and on in the distance.
Audio of a Blue Jay practicing its imitation of a Blue Jay. If you listen hard enough you can hear the distant, real Red-shouldered Hawk at 10 seconds.
I didn’t find anything unusual at Johnson County Park but did hear a Killdeer, which in itself isn’t unusual but I hadn’t heard one since the first of the month,
I then stopped by Walmart/Lowes Pond in Franklin on the way home. On the limited amount of open water there was a pair of Common Goldeneye to go with the Canada Geese, Mallards, and American Coots.
Local birds at Lowes/Walmart pond. Franklin 01/31/15
It was a good day to be out and looking for the local birds.
While preparing for my Costa Rica trip I used Stiles and Skutch’s Birds of Costa Rica published in 1989. And do you know what I found out? I like the “old” style field guides for certain situations.
Let me explain.
Going to Costa Rica made me, in certain respects, once again a beginning birder. Sure I was going to know several birds from NA that wintered there, but the majority of birds I needed to learn. And in some cases completely new genera.
I have already explained how I learned the 200 or so species in a previous post. But what I didn’t discuss was why I like the “older” field guide.
The reason I liked the “older” guides are – The Picture Plates.
A scanned image of the vireo plates from Birds of Costa Rica.
For someone learning new birds, and maybe for beginners in general, having all the similar species on one page was great. After learning the birds on the 3×5 note cards, I would then spend time reviewing and contrasting the birds on the plates. I especially liked that the authors only gave the basic field marks in the descriptions on the facing page. At this stage did I really need to know all the details giving in the description pages?
A scanned image of the description pages of vireos from Birds of Costa Rica.
I walked away from the trip thinking about someone going to a new area, or maybe any beginning birder, if they really needed all the detail, pictures, or different angled photos presented in the modern Sibley’s or National Geographic field guides? I did quite well with just the plates in the Birds of Costa Rica.
I also own Howell and Webb’s A Guide to the Birds of Mexico published just a few years later than Birds of Costa Rica. It has the same format but also includes something missing in Birds of Costa Rica, the size of the bird in the brief description on the facing page. Which to me is a great benefit. And I know it would defeat the purpose of brevity but in my eyes a very small distribution map would have made it complete.
I know the older Peterson guides show birds grouped together. So before my trip to Southern California last November I purchased Peterson’s Western Birds from the 1980’s. It follows the same format as Birds of Costa Rica – the birds are presented on plates in the middle of the book. So I then proceeded to cut out the plates and took them with me on the trip. It was a great asset.
A scanned image of the vireo and kinglet plates from Peterson’s Western Birds. You can tell they have been cut out since there are no shadows on the image.
Sibley does have the birds grouped together at the start of each section but they are too small and far apart. Less flight shots of passerines (which I really never use) and more group pictures would be a greater benefit to me.
National Geographic puts together waterfowl and raptors in flight which is very useful. But they could use the other genera together, like the older field guides.
I don’t own many other “modern” guides so I’m not aware if they have group pictures. Let me know in the comment section if they do.
Otherwise I think the “modern” guides are all in all, quite good.
Some days I get lucky with photography, most days I don’t. Saturday I didn’t. But I had a good day birding none the less. This also means I get to show some pictures I have taken over the years.
With Mike unavailable I stayed close to home. But I still picked up the last of the easy winter birds to add to my Indiana Life list without going to Lake Michigan.
The day started well before dawn trying for an Eastern Screech-Owl I have been hearing at my residence. But of course they won’t call when you want them too. Driving to Southeastway Park I checked every telephone pole for a Great Horned Owl. Not really paying attention at that early hour I about ran through a stop sign with a police car behind me. I had better refine that practice.
Further down the road on a pole I often see a local Red-tailed Hawk, a Great Horned was standing night guard. We watched each other for a few minutes and then I headed to the park for other owls. I took a leisurely stroll around the park but never did hear a Barred Owl.
I caught this Great Horned Owl sleeping one morning in Middleton, WI. 10/11/09
I then headed to Geist Reservoir. On arriving there were two Red-shoulder Hawks being harassed by American Crows at the parking lot. They were sitting close for a great photo-op. But by the time I jump out of the car they were flying away calling. And that was how the day went for photos.
Yes, I have used this photo before. I better get a new Red-shouldered Hawk photo. Atterbury FWA, IN 02/02/14
Observing the reservoir there was a little open water with Canada Geese and Mallards. But flying over the frozen lake was a flock of 25 geese with one of them white. It was just a little smaller than a Canada – a Snow Goose. But to far away for a photo.
These are rafts of Snow Geese at Carlyle Lake in Illinois. Estimates were anywhere to 500,000 on up to a 1,000,000 birds. I really don’t know if that is true but when one group flew it was amazing. Carlyle Lake, IL 01/22/12
Walking up the creek I observed a Great Blue Heron flying up the creek and over the spillway to the lake. Then another. And another. I counted twenty-one herons flying in a ten minute period. The creek is open so they must had a feeding spot up the creek. Not sure what disturbed them except there had been people with several dogs around.
This is one of the few photos I did not mark a date or location. Don’t even have a good guess. Great Blue Heron – United States – 21st Century
In the afternoon I headed to Eagle Creek and observed from Rick’s. The only open water was about a half-mile north. It contained a large assortment of Canada Geese, White-fronted Geese, Mallards, and a few Common Goldeneye, Common Mergansers, and Northern Pintail.
But the stars, at least for me, were two Red-breasted Mergansers. They continued the weekly string I have of adding Indiana Life birds. They gave good views in the spotting scope but were too far a way for a photo. Of course.
First the female, and then a male Red-breasted Mergansers. They were in a group of 8 that went slowly by the bank. Illinois River, LaSalle County, IL 03/30/11
Male Red-Breasted Merganser – details above photo.
After an hour in the cold wind I called it a day. Photoless.
Last week I wrote about my search for a better way to learn birds. I will now conclude the story. (link to last week’s blog)
What the Researchers Discovered
The researchers found out that the most effective way of learning and more importantly, retaining, is to learn a small amount of material and test yourself on it. Repeatedly. Using things like flashcards or small written tests. Once you have learned a small amount of material do the same thing with the next group of material. BUT MAKE SURE TO GO BACK AND TEST YOURSELF ON THE PREVIOUS MATERIAL ON A REGULAR BASIS.
So how did I implement the research? For next to nothing I purchased a second copy of Stiles and Skutch’s Birds of Costa Rica from Amazon. I already had a copy of Sibley’s Western Birds that I decided to sacrifice for the cause. After reviewing status and distribution charts for both areas, I came up with a list of birds to study.
Using an Exacto knife I proceeded to cut out the selected birds and tape them to the back of 3×5 note cards. Then I wrote the key field marks and for Costa Rica birds the area’s they might be seen. I started with the birds listed as common and moved to uncommon. This was not a fast process. I had the common birds done in a couple of weeks. However I was still cutting out the uncommon species the week before we left for Costa Rica.
And now the real thing. In a light rain a Gray-headed Chachalaca which was easy to ID after studying the cards. La Fortuna area, Costa Rica 12/16/14
Yellow-throated Euphonia giving some Tanagers a hard time. La Fortuna area 12/16/14
I ended up with well over 200 cards, which can be seen by the size of the stack.
I settled in a routine of quizzing myself while I was on the treadmill (i.e. dreadmill – I hate being indoors). Let me say that sure helped pass the time. I worked in groups of 15-20 cards and would quiz myself on the picture, asking what field marks made this different from similar species. I usually never did get them all right, like confusing the Scarlet-thighed Dacnis and Red-legged Honeycreeper.
Here is the key point, the birds whose names I couldn’t remember immediately in the field, I recognized enough that I could describe them in my voice recorder and easily ID them back at the lodge.
In both Southern California and Costa Rica I had no problems with any of the birds I studied. The problem I did have were birds that were so low on the status and distribution lists that I hadn’t bothered to learn them. Carrying the voice recorder and describing the birds in detail made ID’ing them relatively easy though.
I finished both trips without any lingering doubts like I had on previous trips.
Going forward I will now use this method before migration or before traveling to new areas. I have already made cards for the winter finches and hawks I might encounter in the Midwest. Soon I will be making cards for what I hope will be an early spring migration.
So how do you learn new birds? Please leave an answer in the comment section.
In the attempt to add a few more birds to my Indiana Life list, Mike and I (and probably a large percentage of Central Indiana birders) headed to Universal Mines NW of Terre Haute Saturday morning to view the numerous swans and geese that had been reported. This would be my first visit to the area.
The high temperature for the day was supposed to reach 50F with winds gusting to 45 MPH in the afternoon. So it was either leave early, fight the cold, and avoid the winds. Or go later, be warm, and fight the wind. We choose the former.
We left early so we could arrive a little before sunrise to watch the morning flight. When we arrived there were still thousands of geese and hundreds of swans still on the only open water in the area – an old strip mine known as the “Grand Canyon”.
The south end of the “Grand Canyon” at sunrise. 10,000 Geese?? 01/17/15
A closer view showing more individual geese. 01/17/15
Now here is the rub for Indiana Birders. The water is on the Illinois side of the border with Indiana.
A satellite view showing the distance from the “Grand Canyon” to the Illinois-Indiana border.
I already knew the lake was in Illinois but assumed it was closer. When reporting birds people usually report an Illinois count and then have an Indiana count for the birds that “fly” over the border. The problem is that unless you actually park on the border, which is 400 meters away, it is hard to tell what birds actually fly over. But as I have previously stated my belief on listing, it is your bird list and unless it is a very rare bird, you can do what you want on your list. So Mike and I made our best guess on birds that flew towards the border. Enough on that topic.
On the morning we saw great numbers, and I mean GREAT NUMBERS, of Canada Geese, Greater White-fronted Geese, and Trumpeter Swans. Plus 5 Tundra Swans (my goal bird) that we didn’t see fly over the border. I don’t think I have ever seen that many geese at once though I have seen large numbers at Hennepin-Hopper Lake in Illinois.
Geese becoming air born at sunrise on the north side of the “Grand Canyon”. Another 10,000? 20,000? More? 01/17/15
Trumpeter Swans flying over the road. 01/17/15
A long distance shot of Greater White-fronted Geese. 01/17/15
And here is my first attempt at video. Something (an eagle? gun shots?) put all the birds on the north side in the air at once. A sight to behold.
At this point I’m not going to estimate the number of geese. I think I will take a closer look at the photos and see if I can come up with a guess. I’ll post about that at a later date.
On the way home we stopped at Chinook Mines for a quick pass. Nothing to report but I did get a nice photo of a calling Eastern Meadowlark and a Rough-legged Hawk in flight.
An Eastern Meadowlark that was calling at Chinook Mines. 01/17/15
And a Rough-legged Hawk flying over. (I lightened the photo) Chinook Mines 01/17/15
Now for the bird that I did add to my list today. Carl Huffman has been reporting Black Vultures regularly on eBird at DePauw Nature Park in Greencastle. Since it wasn’t far out-of-the-way and since I needed the bird for the list, we stopped by. This is north of the usual range for Black Vultures (see map below) but there are other sites north of the range where they appear. Hopefully this will be another consistent site.
I put a red X on Greencastle to show how far north the Black Vultures are from their normal range.
After seeing 6 Turkey Vultures we ended seeing 2 Black Vultures at a distance which didn’t allow photos. I did get one photo of a Turkey Vulture though.
A really lightened photo of a Turkey Vulture. DePauw Nature Park 01/17/15
Even if the Tundra Swans stayed on the Illinois side and couldn’t be added to the list, I got to add Black Vulture.