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

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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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Yellow-bellied Flycatcher – Weekend Highlights

With great weather over the weekend I spent a lot of time in the field looking for migrants. Besides spending several hours watching the Buff-breasted Sandpipers, I visited several other local sites. It will be easier to show the photos and give a dialog about each one.

YBFL (1) Yellow-bellied Flycatcher

After getting up and out early both Saturday and Sunday, I didn’t get out until 10 AM Labor Day. I still came across one wave of migrants at Franklin Township Community Park which included 3 warbler species and this Yellow-bellied Flycatcher. The photo doesn’t do it justice as it was the yellowest one I have ever seen. 9/5/16

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I have tried to crop and enlarge but it still doesn’t bring out its colors.

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Even at this distance and with the poor photo quality, the size and droopy wing shape of an Osprey is distinct. Look right and up from the boat’s mast. Rick’s Cafe Boatyard 9/3/16

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One of the two Osprey flies on the far side of Eagle Creek Reservoir.

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The local Red-tailed Hawk circles overhead at Franklin Township Community Park. 9/5/16

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Friday afternoon I walked the perimeter of Southeastway Park hoping I would come across a group of migrants. This Tennessee Warbler was the only one. 9/2/16

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Saturday morning at Southwestway Park I heard a popping in the bush. A Wood Thrush was working its way along the ground and hopping up on twigs. 9/3/16

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It finally got up a little higher to give me a look.

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A young Chipping Sparrow with its breast striping through me off for a moment. Not use to Chipping Sparrows with stripes… Southeastway Park 9/2/16

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A Belted Kingfisher was working the pond looking for lunch. It flew back and forth with its rattling call. Greenwood Retaining Ponds 9/3/16


I couldn’t find this species in my field guides. It flew real slow and was heading south. Franklin Township Community Park 9/5/16

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Buff-breasted Sandpipers – Athletic Fields

My next post was going to cover making sure the last of August and beginning of September to check your local athletic fields for American-Golden Plovers and Buff-breasted Sandpipers. But since I found some of each I thought I had better do a “special” post. The rest of the weekend I’ll cover later this week.

Saturday afternoon after my usually birding I stopped by St. Francis Soccer Fields (7702 S Arlington Ave, Indianapolis, IN 46237) to check for shorebirds. There are 16 fields stretching over a half mile located behind a locked fenced. I scanned from the small rise along the street.

Of course there was too much air shimmer from the sun but on a far field I thought I made out an American Golden-Plover and possible two Buff-breasted Sandpipers. But maybe they were Pectoral Sandpipers.

Sunday morning I was there at sunrise to beat the air shimmer and to have the sun to my back. And the plan seemed to work with even distant birds showing clearly in the scope.

St. Francis Soccer

St. Francis Soccer Fields at 7:30AM – it’s a half mile to the far side.

It didn’t take long scanning through the 350 Killdeer to find the American Golden-Plover. It was close to the road but flushed and still landed on a middle field.


The day started well with the American Golden-Plover near the road.

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It flushed a little later but still only to one of the middle fields.

Then the scan for the Buff-Breasted Sandpipers commenced. The far fields must have some undulations because the birds, including the Canada Geese, would disappear out of view and reappear. So I figured I might be in for a long morning.

After 45 minutes a possible Buff-breasted Sandpiper came into view on a FAR field. Then another. I watched them for a few minutes and from the Buff color, small size, not a distinctive breast, and their feeding habit was sure of the ID. But at that distance a photo was going to be poor. I called Mike since I knew he wanted to see them and to confirm the ID.

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The difficulty in getting a photo at 600+ meters. At least you can see the general shape and color of the Buff-breasted Sandpiper right of the goal.

After an hour off and on seeing them he finally confirmed the ID. The problem was until the sun was high enough and they moved back into a better position the bird’s color and shape weren’t obvious.  Mike then proceeded to find a third one.

BBSA (3)

By seeing only half of the trash can you get an idea on the depth of the ground’s undulation. Buff-Breasted to the far right.

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Two of the Buff-breasted feeding right of the goal.

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BBSA (4) Buff-breasted Sandpipers

And this is as good as it gets. The blurry photo gives the general size, shape, and color of the Buff-breasted Sandpiper. It’s just right of the can.

I left at 9:45 when the ground had started to heat up and the air shimmer from the sun had made scoping the far fields difficult.

If you decide to try for the birds odds are you won’t get close views. My advice is to go in early morning and you’ll need a scope.

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Undertail Patterns – Useful for ID

I’m basically a generalist. There are few things which I want to become an “expert”. When it comes to birding I want to know the key points, including status and distribution, to be able to positively ID a species. But I don’t spend hours going over molt and plumage. One of the things I do periodically review to help ID species is undertail patterns, especially on Warblers.

Last Saturday I met up with Mike and we basically caught up on the week because there weren’t any migrants moving at the local park. Just quiet. As were my next couple of stops. I made a final quick stop at Atterbury before the rains of the afternoon hit. The last two weeks Mike and I had commented on not hearing Indigo Buntings for some time.


My first sighting of an Indigo Bunting in over 3 weeks. Even in the rain the ID is pretty straightforward. Unlike the next species. Atterbury FWA 8/27/16

As the rain started in earnest I was getting back in the car when a small yellow bird went flying into a nearby tree.

I initially thought from the size and coloring it was a Yellow Warbler since they breed in good numbers in this area. But the eye seemed a little too big. Could it be a Wilson’s Warbler?

This is where Undertail Patterns come into play

WIWA (1)

From this view I’m still not sure of the species. Atterbury FWA 8/27/16

I first came across the importance of Undertail Patterns in Jon Dunn and Kimball Garrett’s Warblers field guide. The drawings show how a warbler would look from beneath a warbler.

Undertail Patterns A

Note the Undertail Patterns of the Yellow Warbler, upper left block, and the Wilson’s Warbler, lower right block. Plates 31 and 32 from Warblers.

Since I didn’t get a definite view in flight or initially on the limb, if I could get a good view of the Undertail Patterns of the bird I could probably confirm the species.

WIWA (4)

WIWA Undertail Patterns

The original and cropped/enlarged photo showing the dark undertail pattern of Wilson’s Warbler. And if you look close you might see a smudge of dark on the crown.

So knowing your Undertail Patterns can be useful in ID’ing certain species.

Note: If you look immediately left of the Wilson’s Warbler Undertail pattern in the plates above you will see Hooded Warblers have an all white pattern. I still don’t know why I didn’t know that

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Stilt Sandpiper, Maybe? – Weekend Highlights

When it’s the end of August, the temperature is 74F, the humidity is 90% at 5AM, and there is a chance of thunderstorms all day, you hope the birding isn’t going to slow. But if you have birded long enough to read the signs you know it is going to be slow. And it was. Almost eerily quiet. So not many highlights.

Franklin Township Community Park was the start of the day for a little owling which didn’t pan out but I had my first encounter of the year with mosquitoes. It was just a matter of time before all the rain started to produce good number of them.  The reason I picked Franklin Township Community Park was because it’s adjacent to watered high school athletic fields and this is a good time of year to check them for shorebirds. They aren’t as productive as sod farms but you never know. Like the time I found the American Golden Plovers in Franklin.

KILL (1)

Taken right before sunrise this photo shows some of the 50 Killdeer on the athletic fields. One never knows when an American Golden-Plover or Buff-breasted Sandpiper might show. 8/27/16

On to the local shorebird spot and the morning departure of Canada Geese. It doesn’t take long for 500 geese to fly off even in smaller groups of 25.

A quick binocular scan didn’t produce many shorebirds besides Killdeer and a few peeps. And one Lesser Yellowlegs. Or not?

STSA (2) Stilt Sandpiper

My first impression was a Lesser Yellowlegs. But it wasn’t feeding in a frenzied manner.

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The legs seemed a little too short and the bill not needle enough.

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It then came into view a little better and the bright supercilium started pointing to a Stilt Sandpiper.


Here is a cropped and enlarged photo. Bill doesn’t look long enough for a Stilt Sandpiper but it might be the angle.

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Even in this blurry distant photo you can tell the size compared to the Killdeer. Even feeding a Lesser Yellowlegs legs should appear longer than the Killdeer’s legs whereas a Stilt Sandpiper’s would be about the same. And in this pose the bill appears fairly thick.

Am I 100% sure it is a Stilt Sandpiper? No. In the field it didn’t appear or act to be a Lesser Yellowlegs. And everyone is encouraged to chime in if they have an opinion.

No birding Sunday as the day was spent painting the daughter’s bedroom. Luckily she has no more rooms to paint!

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Hairy Woodpecker – Common?

Let’s say you got the following request:  “I’m from out of your area and will be in town next week. And I really want to see a Hairy Woodpecker. Could you help?”

I don’t know about you but my reply would be “How much time do you have?”

As I alluded at the end of the last post – birds listed as common sometimes aren’t.

I prided myself in LaSalle County Illinois and now Johnson County Indiana of knowing where to find the abundant, common, and scarce birds.

But on any given day is anything abundant to common? Some are “usually” abundant – like Red-bellied and Downy Woodpeckers, others common – like a Northern Flicker, and scarcer like Pileated and Red-headed Woodpeckers.

So where does the Hairy Woodworker fall? 

Supposedly Fairly Common per National Geographic and Dunne. At least Sibley lists it as uncommon.

But I can’t tell you with certainty where to find one in Johnson County. And that bothers me.

HAWO Hairy Woodpecker

How uncommon is a Hairy Woodpecker? I had to use a photo from the Internet since I couldn’t find one of my own. Granted, I didn’t start tagging photos until I started the blog, but that was 3 years ago. DickDaniels ( – Own work  http://CC BY-SA 3.0

All I know is when we have a count – Christmas, Big May Day – there is a sigh of relieve when someone says they saw a Hairy Woodpecker.

Maybe people are seeing them at their feeders but I’m not a feeder type guy.

There are several other birds listed as common such as Belted Kingfisher, Carolina Wren, and Song Sparrow which seem to be scarce on count days. There are more but you get the idea.

The point is to demonstrate the only sure way to know your local bird distribution is to bird the different habitats regularly.

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Week Early on Migrants – Weekend Highlights

The real weekend highlight was Saturday helping my daughter paint the living room of her new apartment. Turned out quite well if I say so myself. But that still leaves the bedroom…

Mike and I knew we were probably a week early but ventured out Sunday morning looking for migrant passerines at the local park. We were hoping the passing of the strong cold front Saturday might have pulled some though. No migrants were found but with the cooler weather the birds were more vocal and active. For instance we both commented on hearing Red-eyed Vireos, Baltimore Orioles, and Blue-gray Gnatcatchers for the first time in weeks.

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I did get to watch this Carolina Wren for a few minutes before Mike arrived. Northwest Park – Greenwood – 8/21/16


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Until another Carolina Wren came by and it had to go check it out. Northwest Park – Greenwood – 8/21/16

RTHU week early

As I have seen on social media Ruby-throated Hummingbirds are moving in good numbers. We saw several Sunday. Northwest Park – Greenwood – 8/21/16


A flycatcher showed well from behind but never turned around. I’ll let you use your ID skills to figure out which species. I’ll give the answer at the bottom of the post. Northwest Park – Greenwood – 8/21/16

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A young Cooper’s Hawk posed for a nice photo. Northwest Park – Greenwood – 8/21/16

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Another photo of the Cooper’s Hawk for fun.

It was on to the local shorebird spot. Expectations weren’t high with the passing of the cold front on Saturday, and our assumptions were correct. A couple of Semipalmated Plovers, Killdeer, Least Sandpipers, and Spotted Sandpipers was all she wrote. But it was a beautiful day.

COMBS 082116

Not much activity at the local shorebirds spot. A few distant shorebirds to go with 3 Great Egrets and a Red-tailed Hawk in a distant tree. The setting moon added a nice touch to the scene. Urban Marion County 8/21/16

Mike headed out and after watching the end of the Olympic Marathon I went looking for a Hairy Woodpecker at another local park. No luck. Someday I’m going to write about the supposedly common birds I can never find. Like a Hairy Woodpecker.

ID answer – Great Crested Flycatcher – brownish outer tail feathers diagnostic. 

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