Red-tailed Hawk Kiting – Weekend Highlight

After a week of traveling for work I stayed close to home birding. This is rather miss-leading since I would stay close to home for birding anyway. I saw a few migrants but the highlight was watching a Red-tailed Hawk kiting into a southerly wind.


But first, a Swamp Sparrow that was to be the highlight last week but traveling kept me from getting the blog out. Franklin Township Community Park 10/9/16


Mike and I started at the local wet spot which is drying up quickly. Hopefully Sunday’s rain will make a difference. Urban Marion County 10/15/16

On to the local retaining ponds that still don’t have any new waterfowl. We did see a few sparrows – mainly Song but a Lincoln’s and Savannah were mixed in.

Mike headed out and I continued on to the local park for an afternoon of birding.


Before the park I stopped by the new semi-rural area. Not many sparrows but the local American Kestrel was present again. Semi-rural Marion County 10/15/16


The new spot looks like a consistent spot for Eastern Meadowlarks. Next week Horned Larks? Semi-rural Marion County 10/15/16

The park held several migrants including my FOS Golden-crowned Kinglet and Brown Creeper. A getting kind of late Black-throated Green Warbler was in a moving mixed flock.


Ruby-crowned Kinglets were present with this one showing a little of the Ruby. Franklin Township Community Park 10/15/16


Once again Yellow-rumped Warblers were everywhere in the park. Franklin Township Community Park 10/15/16


Nothing special but I liked the way this Mourning Dove was low to the ground hiding by the fence. Franklin Township Community Park 10/15/16

The highlight of the day was watching a Red-tailed Hawk kiting motionless into a 20mph wind. It was amazing how long it stayed hanging in one spot!

rtha-4 red-tailed hawk kiting

The Red-tailed Hawk stayed in this one position long enough for me to take several photos without it ever leaving the field of view. Meaning it never moved. Franklin Township Community Park 10/15/16


I watched it for quite a while but it never did dive into the high grass for a meal. Franklin Township Community Park 10/15/16

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Missing Canada Geese

Since the last couple of weekends were warm and hazy which didn’t allow for photos it was good the weather changed to cold, clear, and windy. Maybe a little too cool since I wore long underwear Saturday but at least I could take photos without wondering if they would be too dark.

Saturday started out by checking if any Great Egrets were still at the local wet area. Sure enough there are still seven there, along with Blue-winged Teal and shorebirds, but missing Canada Geese? I was there long before sunrise and they weren’t flying away as I approached. Past weekends there have been up to 500 geese present before sunrise waiting to fly off to feed. Like in early September when I posted about their early morning flight. Where can that many geese go?

combs-2 missing Canada Geese

The local wet area has no Canada Geese where previously there had been hundreds. Where did they go? But the remaining Great Egrets were still present. Urban Marion County 10/8/16

After an hour of counting Killdeer and seeing if the local Cooper’s Hawk would make a second pass for breakfast, I headed to the retaining ponds to see if any new waterfowl had moved in with the passing front.

And that answered where the missing Canada Geese had gone!


I’m guessing the Canada Geese have decided to roost in the local retention pond since the wet area has become too shallow. The count was the same as the wet area has been on previous weekends – 500. Urban Johnson County 10/8/16


It wasn’t long before most of the geese headed to the fields. The noise didn’t seem to bother this Belted Kingfisher. Urban Johnson County 10/8/16


After the Canada Geese left I stayed to see what else might be around the ponds. I could see the geese in the fields feeding in the recently harvested corn fields.


After a half hour all of the Canada Geese went up in a panic. What would cause them to take flight? I never laid eyes on the cause but I know there are Bald Eagles that fly through. Urban Johnson County 10/8/16

The rest of the morning was searching for migrants. The new semi-rural site produced several raptures plus Vesper and Lincoln Sparrows.


How come I’m never on the right side of the wind to capture American Kestrels hovering? Semi-rural Marion County 10/8/16

I noticed a definite drop in Blue Jays flying through with only one flock of 15.


Ruby-crowned Kinglets were on the move both Saturday and Sunday. Franklin Township Community Park 10/9/16


As were Yellow-rumped Warblers with 25 seen in a concentrated area. Franklin Township Community Park 10/9/16


Showing off its signature ID. Franklin Township Community Park 10/9/16


This Tennessee Warbler was the only warbler I stumbled across Sunday. Franklin Township Community Park 10/9/16

I’ll be back in the next post with photos of the Weekend Highlight.

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Red-tailed Vulture

Last Sunday I decided to try a new spot for sparrows. Didn’t find any “yellow” sparrows but it was loaded with Song and Swamp Sparrows. Plus my FOS White-crowned Sparrow was singing nearby and a few Eastern Meadowlarks thrown in for a bonus.

That’s all well and good but what caught my eye was a hawk in a nearby tree. When I first arrived there were crows hanging around. Every so often a couple would make a bee-line to a nearby tree.

It took a few minutes to finally spot the hawk they were harassing. Or was it a vulture? I wasn’t sure.

I wasn’t that far away and for someone who didn’t start birding yesterday, the call should have been instantaneous. But it wasn’t. So I walked closer hoping it wouldn’t fly.

rtha-head-2 Red-tailed Vulture

First look from a distance. The body says hawk but the head said vulture. Semi-rural Marion County 10/2/16

As I moved closer it became clear that it was a hawk without any head feathers. Something I’ve never seen before. I was pretty certain it was a Red-tailed but still not 100%.


What would cause the head on this Red-tailed Hawk not to have feathers? Molting? Disease? I didn’t know. Semi-rural Marion County 10/2/16

Otherwise the bird appeared healthy. After being harassed long enough it flew over to a nearby roof not showing any signs of illness. Its flight and landing both looked normal.





If I’d just seen the head in this photo I would have called this a vulture. Semi-rural Marion County 10/2/16

For fun I looked at other vultures around the world seeing if this guy looked like any of them. Thinks to Wikipedia I discovered there are 23 species in the world – 16 Old World and 7 New World. I looked at all 23 and none really have the brown of Red-tailed Hawk with a gray head. To my eye the closet one in appearance to the odd hawk is the Old World Cinereous Vulture also known as Eurasian Black Vulture or Monk Vulture.


This Cinereous Vulture is about as close as I could find to matching the odd-looking Red-tailed Hawk.

If anyone has any idea what is wrong with the hawk please leave a comment.

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European Starlings – Weekend Favorite

If you don’t count the early morning fog and mist the weather cooperated to some extent this past weekend. I had several favorites but I don’t know if I can call any of them highlights. So I’ll go with my favorite being the flock of European Starlings I watched Sunday.

I know, how can I call the starling a favorite? Most people, and even most birders including myself, take a look at starlings and move on. But I got caught up watching them Sunday which extended my stay at the local park by almost an hour.

A few starlings had been calling off and on for the first two hours I birded the park. Then all of a sudden there were hundreds calling on the other side of the tree line which made listening for passerines tough.

I took one more walk to the other side of the tree line still not paying attention to the starlings when all of a sudden they all went up at once. 

I had no idea that there were this many starlings a few hundred feet away!

eust-2 European Starlings

The European Starlings make their way to the nearby trees. Franklin Township Community Park 10/2/16


All of the starlings made it successful to the trees. Franklin Township Community Park 10/2/16

How do I know the starlings made it successfully to the trees. Because the instigator came up empty.


I never saw the Red-tailed Hawk until all of a sudden it was on a nearby backstop. It must have come in low and fast avoiding detection. Franklin Township Community Park 10/2/16

I watched this scenario play out several times. The starlings would leave the trees, go back to feed, and the hawk would try again.


Up we go again. The hawk would try for a starling, they would go up and land and the whole scene would repeat. Franklin Township Community Park 10/2/16

Now there were a couple of things that made this the weekend favorite.

  1. I have seen large flocks of starlings go up and down many times in my life. But I don’t ever remember being right in the middle of the action. I stood in the middle of the path from the trees and their feeding area.
  2. Watching a hundred European Starlings bath at the same time. (Sorry about the fence) Since all browsers don’t support the same video this might not work on Internet Explorer.

The amount of spray they put up was amazing. Even more than the Laughing Gull feeding frenzy in Alabama.

That’s was why I picked the European Starlings. There is always an adventure or story out there if you don’t get in a hurry. It usually comes to you.

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3 Years Old

The blog turns 3 this month.

birthday-3 3 years old


I know the way to accomplish something and to make it succeed is to be in sync with your audience. Which I’m not to a degree. I could probably have a larger audience if I chased and reported on the latest rare bird. Or spent more time getting good photos instead of enjoying birds. But that isn’t me.


We had just moved to Indiana when I started this blog. I had originally planned to start while we lived in Illinois but the decision to move delayed the start.

The timing worked out well as the intent of the blog then and still is to demonstrate that you can find most regional birds in a small radius of your home. If you just look.

So I had the chance to explore a new area and report on it.

Along those lines I rarely see change. Though I do occasionally see people like Greg of gregandbirds looking for shorebirds at a local athletic fields. But what I mostly see are people still birding the major spots in their areas or travel to other “good” spots. Maybe they are birding lesser known areas but it doesn’t show up on listservs or eBird. For a perspective I think is spot on check out Ven Remsen’s comment about eBird Hotspots in response to this ABA blog post.

I still wonder how many birds are out there but since people don’t seem to want to bushwhack (explore) their local territories we’ll probably never know. Most times it appears birders all congregate at the same area.

In 3 years of repeatedly birding the Atterbury FWA – Johnson County Park area I have seen 196 species. Throw in the rare visit to Eagle Creek and the number is closer to 205. The first three years of birding the Starved Rock area of Illinois I saw 218 species. The numbers are probably comparable since I saw 10 species of gulls plus all the regular terns and herons at Starved Rock. It can be done.

I understand people want to see birds. They go where birds are being reported. But the point is that you can see the vast majority of those same birds in your immediate area without much travel. I’m talking within 10-15 miles of most homes. If you just look.

Take the occasional trip to a different habitat in your state, country, the world. They’re fun and add to your understanding of birds. But for regional birds that much travel isn’t needed.

Sooner than later I’m going to have to address what I see as the shortcomings of eBird, Facebook, ABA, and other birding media. I think they have done more good than bad but all have a self-interest in perpetuating the idea you must drive and travel to see that elusive rare bird or work on building up a huge life list. Which I think in the long run does more harm than good.

Do you know the closest spot to see find the different regional species?

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American Crows – Weekend Highlights

I told myself sometime ago I was going to post weekend highlights to make life a little easier. Having a regimented blog post concerning the weekend and one more later in the week about whatever I want fits my schedule. But I hadn’t thought of what would happen if the weather was so dark (fog and haze) that there wouldn’t be a highlight?

At least not in photos. Because every time I go birding it is an adventure and there are always highlights. The problem is I don’t get photos of everything to share.

So like the man once said, go with what you have got.

Mike and I birded Combs Wet Area and Southeastway Park in the fog and haze Saturday morning. When we arrived at dawn, Combs was packed with geese and ducks but like I previously reported was void of geese within a half hour. The odd thing is that I haven’t seen any Blue-winged Teal there yet this fall. I have seen them there each of the last couple of September’s. The only shorebirds were a couple of Pectoral Sandpipers and a few Least Sandpipers. Of course there were a lot of Killdeer.

Southeastway was slow in the fog. We might have been better off to come back later in morning. We did hear a Broad-winged Hawk calling in the trees but after a half hour search never located it.

Sunday morning was spent at Franklin Township Community Park. Not much in the way of warbler migrants but I watched a steady flow of Blue Jays fly from the north tree line and keep moving south. I figure they were migrating since I probably under counted at 50, which is many more than the normal 10 in the park.

amcr American Crows

I spent Sunday morning with these dudes constantly flying around the Franklin Township Community Park (FTCP). I think they had found scrapings left over from Saturday’s soccer games. 9/25/16


The main group of American Crows moved back and forth from the goalpost to the scoreboard on a regular basis. FTCP 9/25/16


These two photos show the difference how birds appears at a distance. The larger of the American Crows is much closer than the smaller one. Without knowing that and looking only at the photo, I would think we had a rare, smaller crow. FTCP 9/25/16



The photographic highlight of the weekend was capturing migrating Double-crested Cormorants. You can sort of tell they are in a V heading south. FTCP 9/25/16


Back home the Northern Flicker family was out together. If I had been a second sooner a fourth one would be in the photo. Indianapolis 9/25/16


Couldn’t pass up the chance for a photo of one of the Red-tailed Hawks that live in the woods by our place. Indianapolis 9/25/16

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Blackbirds and GMO Corn

As I mentioned in my last post I was surprised to see Red-winged Blackbirds last Sunday. That was because I have noticed the lack of blackbirds in Late-August and Early-September. Not just Red-winged Blackbirds but also Brown-headed Cowbirds and Common Grackles.

rwbl-1 Blackbirds

Not a bird to usually catch my attention but this was my first Red-winged Blackbird of the fall. Franklin Township Community Park 9/18/16



From eBird the seasonal distribution of Red-winged Blackbird in Indiana. Note the big drop off in August.

So where do Blackbirds Go in Late Summer?

As I have previously mentioned I try to pick and choose what I read about birding so I don’t spend my life on the internet. H. David Bohlen reports around the 5th of each month his sightings from Sangamon County Illinois on the Illinois Listserv. One of the things I noticed is his report of “inexplicably low numbers of Blackbirds” and wonders if it is sterile or GMO corn.

From what I can gather from the internet it’s not that blackbirds don’t eat the GMO corn but there are none of the normal “weeds” for them to eat. If I understand correctly the GMO corn has been modified to withstand the use of pesticides. When farmers use pesticides it doesn’t effect the corn. But the “weeds” have not been modified so it will kill them. Leaving nothing for the blackbirds (and birds in general) to eat.

Probably Molting

Having said that the Red-winged Blackbirds are probably just molting during this time. As Arthur Cleveland Bent states in Life Histories of Familiar North American Birds “early in August, all the redwings seem to disappear, during the molting period, and are not much in evidence until the middle of September or later”.

So molting is probably what the blackbirds are doing in August and September and not directly effected in August by GMO corn.

But I can’t think in the long run GMO corn will have an effect on blackbird population as their main food are weed seeds and insects.

It will be interesting to watch the population trends of the Red-winged Blackbird as it is usually the most numerous species on our spring counts. Hopefully over time we won’t see their numbers drop but I’m not hopeful.

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Philadelphia Vireos – Weekend Highlights

Saturday was spent helping with the Indy Urban BioBlitz. The rain wasn’t cooperating but it eventually stopped and some birding was done. I couldn’t attend the wrap up though I later heard the group had over 50 species. My most unusual sighting was an Osprey lazily flying over the south side of Garfield Park.


The only photograph I took at the Indy-Urban-BioBlitz was of an American Kestrel being harassed by the local Blue Jays. Garfield Park, 9/17/16

I wasn’t in any hurry to start Sunday morning and thought I’d bird the local park for an hour or so. I walked the perimeter of the park and ended up hitting a few waves so the hour turned into three hours. The morning was hot and muggy at times since the park was still damp from rain. That meant wearing the hot rubber boots. 🙁

The best time was spent watching two Philadelphia Vireos feeding along the edge of the south side. They would feed in and out of the Walnut trees which allowed good looks.

phvi-3 Philadelphia Vireos

I first caught sight of the two Philadelphia Vireos feeding out in the open along the tree line. Franklin Community Township Park 9/18/16


They were often out in the open but always seemed to have a twig between us. Franklin Community Township Park 9/18/16


Notice the bright yellow breast which differentiates it from other vireos. Franklin Community Township Park 9/18/16

Other highlights were a Sharp-shinned Hawk that I first thought was the local Cooper’s Hawk until I realized it was a miniature version. I heard three Yellow-billed Cuckoos on different sides of the park, saw and heard numerous Swainson’s Thrushes, and my first Red-winged Blackbirds in weeks. Also several warblers including a Golden-winged and my annual fall Bay-breasted.


Not even close to a good photo but my first Red-winged Blackbirds in weeks. This will be the topic of a blog in the near future. Franklin Community Township Park 9/18/16


One of the unique colors of Midwest birding is the green of a Chestnut-sided Warbler. We call it lime green but to my eye it isn’t quite that color. Franklin Community Township Park 9/18/16


A Great Crested Flycatcher came out during one of the waves to see what was happening. Franklin Community Township Park 9/18/16


Brown Thrashers are starting to appear after lying low in August. I had a group of three moving together. Franklin Community Township Park 9/18/16


My feeble attempt to photograph a Chimney Swift. This guy was close so I gave it a try. Franklin Community Township Park 9/18/16

It was an enjoyable outing with over 40 species, many of them actually showing on the edge of the woods.

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Yellow-billed Cuckoo – Weekend Highlight

I’ve been traveling for work so I didn’t have time to post earlier this week. The rain last Saturday made photography tough and since I didn’t see many birds on Sunday, not many photos.  The highlight was a cooperative Yellow-billed Cuckoo that showed nicely at Southwestway Park.

ybcu-2 Yellow-billed Cuckoo

After moving from branch to branch, the Yellow-billed Cuckoo decided to sit for a minute. Almost out in the open. Southwestway Park 9/10/16



There were a couple of young Indigo Buntings moving along the edge. The bird’s odd colors and lack of a tail was enough to throw me off for a minute. Southwestway Park 9/10/16


I’ll swear anytime a woodpecker lands on a pole it will always be on the opposite side. Whom am I kidding? Woodpeckers like this Pileated Woodpecker now exactly where you are located. Northwest Park Greenwood 9/11/16

Other seen but not photographed highlights. An Osprey was carrying a fish over Southwestway Park, which seemed odd. After seeing numerous Swainson’s Thrush my annual Gray-cheeked Thrush popped up on a limb along the trail. With a good look the plain face and lack of color sets it off from the Swainson’s. And Mike and I heard a Hairy Woodpecker. Still haven’t seen one in months…

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15 Minutes Can Make a Difference

Early on Saturday morning of Labor Day Weekend I read a post on IN-Bird by Joni Jones about seeing Great Egrets leaving their roost at 7AM. I had planned to go to the local wet area around sunrise at 7:17AM, but changed my plans after reading her post and instead arrived at 6:45AM. And I’m glad I did because those 15 minutes made a difference.


As seen on the first photo of the day, the local wet area is packed with geese, ducks, and herons.  6:59AM

Here are counts at 7AM:

  1. Canada Geese – 500
  2. Mallard – 250
  3. Green-winged Teal – 1
  4. Great Blue Heron – 22
  5. Great Egret – 16

Immediately after the count the Canada Geese started flying east to feed elsewhere for the day.  7:07AM


In group after group of approximately 25 birds they kept coming off the water.  7:07AM


Within 10 minutes the numbers had dropped drastically.  7:09 AM

combs-9 15 minutes

It only took another 4 minutes for the numbers to drop another 50% leaving maybe 10% of the birds which had been present 15 minutes earlier.  7:13AM

COMBS (10)

I stopped by later in the day and there wasn’t a bird present. – 3:06PM

The moral of the story is to get there even earlier then planned because if I would arrived at sunrise I would have seen 90% less birds.




On Labor Day morning I stopped by to check for shorebirds. There were a couple of shorebirds but more unusual was the presence of the resident Great Egrets and Great Blue Herons

And they were sitting!


When I first pulled up to the wet area there were egrets and herons present, but something didn’t look quite right??


What made it look unusual was that the Great Egrets were sitting on the ground and on their “ankles”.


I honestly don’t recall ever seeing egrets and herons sitting on their “ankles”.


Maybe it was a good way to keep cool and take a nap in the mid-day heat?

In case you’re wondering the heron’s “knee” is hidden up under their feathers. The part they are sitting on in the photos is more like our “ankle”.

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