A Guide, or Not?

Soon we will be taking a family/birding vacation to Costa Rica.

Costa Rica Rainforest – Original Photo by Gunther Wegner

I have been reading for the last year about birding the tropics.  Most of the information state that birding tropics is a completely different experience than birding the mid-latitude temperate climates.  So it might be a good idea to either go with a tour or hire a daily guide.

But it’s not that easy.

Which has led to a back and forth discussion with myself.

First of all, let me say that money doesn’t really come into play.   If I am going to pay the money to go to the tropics, another $50-100 for a daily guide is kind of a moot point.  So that rules out money.

I’ve decided that the real issue is what type of birder you are and what you expect from the adventure.

Probably a Guide

If having as many birds on your list is your thing, then definitely hire a guide or go with a tour.

If you are the type that figures you will only go to the tropics a time or two in your life, and want to see as many birds as possible, than hiring a guide is probably the right thing.

Probably Not

But, and here is where I have my internal argument, if you really like to “see” the birds of an area, especially the common birds, do you need a guide?

When I go to a different area of the U.S. I don’t hire a guide.  I contact a local birder, ask for a good spot to see the local, common birds, and go bird.  As I have stated many times I like to take my time and try to see, maybe even sketch, the common birds of an area.  But with a tour or even a local guide, I feel you have to move at their pace. Which is usually faster than I like and usually leads to not seeing the local birds in-depth.

I have my Answer, Or Not

So I think I have my answer.

Or maybe not.

Back to the point about how birding the tropics is different.  I really don’t want to waste my limited birding time in the tropics by missing birds because I don’t understand the situation.  So probably the best  compromise is to hire a local guide for the first morning. Get a feel for birding the tropics from someone who knows and on subsequent days journey out on my own like I do in the U.S.

Now I hope I have my answer.

And I would appreciate any advice from anyone who has birded the tropics.


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Better Birders “Ship”

During my travels last month I read Linchpin by Seth Godin.

Product Details

Here is a link to the book at Amazon – Linchpin.

The book discusses making yourself indispensable at your job – a linchpin if you will. By doing so one can better avoid the corporate layoffs that plague America.  It was a good read that makes one think.

So how does the book relate to birding?  The book deals with how one becomes a linchpin.  At work or even with a hobby, the author has noted that people who are passionate about their work are the best linchpins.  And one of their best traits is that they “ship”.

By “ship” he means they produce.  On time, on schedule. And it doesn’t have to be a product.  It can be art, novels, reports, ideas, etc.  They don’t wait until they have it perfect. They “ship” when it is done. And then move on to the next exciting thing.

And they don’t wait for the “boss” to tell them what to do next.  They know without asking.

Have you ever noticed this trait with successful people, including “better” birders? They “ship”.  (We will leave what constitutes a “better” birder for another time)  They are constantly out in the field.  They post to their local listserves like IN-Bird.  And they do it in a timely manner.  They submit rare bird forms and in a timely manner.  They write articles for their local and maybe even national societies.  They travel to and learn birds from other locations that helps them ID their local birds even better.  They help do bird census outside of the regular Christmas and Spring Bird Counts.

I could go on and on but you get the idea.  Better birders “ship”.

And other people wonder how they get it all done?

Have you observed these traits in the “better” birders you know?



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November 2014 – Way Too Much Travel

Two Weeks in Ohio

The division of the company where I’m employed is switching to a “new” computer system today, Monday, December 1.  So I have been in NW Ohio two of the last four weeks training on the “new” system.  The upside is that we had already switched to the “new” system at the plant I worked at in Illinois.  So I’m familiar with the system. The downside is that it is still a computer change and anyone one that has been through one can tell you that it’s not fun.

A Week Out West

A couple of months ago I took a new position in our company.  Until a replacement is found I’m still at my current position but slowly transitioning to the new one.  I now report to someone from overseas who was in the States a couple of weeks ago.  So I traveled with him that week.

A Week for Thanksgiving

And the past week was Thanksgiving.  So we were out-of-town at relatives for several days.

Plus what free time I have is being used for an upcoming trip.

So there you have the reasons I didn’t blog the month of November.  And there really wasn’t anything to report for the little birding I did for the month of November in Indiana.


But that doesn’t mean I didn’t get to bird at all.  The new position will periodically take me to Southern California.  Which it did a few weeks ago.  We concluded business on a Thursday and I stayed on a couple of days and birded, picking up ABA #400. I will report on that trip soon.


One of several (American) Bushtits that were moving through in a flock. Mission Trails Regional Park – San Diego County CA 11/19/14



And the same bird feeding.



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Nov. 1 – Fox Sparrow

Still rather quit in the area but picked up some “First Of Season” birds over the weekend.  Finally saw a small influx of waterfowl with a few Northern Shovelers and Ruddy Ducks (seen below) showing up.


Also saw my first American Tree Sparrows and Fox Sparrows for the fall.  The Fox Sparrow actually sat up for some decent pictures.



I was only out a couple of hours each day on the weekend but it was good to be out in the afternoon sun. Watched both a Downy and Hairy Woodpeckers feeding.



And a couple of Mallards enjoying the fall weather on a late Sunday afternoon.




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The Eighth Benefit of Walking 30 Minutes a Day


We can all list the 7 benefits of walking 30 minutes a day since we have heard them so many times. Well, maybe we can’t list them all but we can list a few of them.

Here are the benefits from the American Heart Association”s web page:

Research has shown that walking at least 30 minutes a day can help you:

But  I bet you don’t know the 8th one that benefits birders??


If you have been following this blog you know that my family moved in early August and the rest of the month was spent unpacking the move.  As usual in those type of circumstances I did not eat well or exercise much.

So I ended up putting on a few pounds (or more) and generally felt crummy.  Work wasn’t easy.  Birding wasn’t easy.  I just felt tired all the time.


So starting on Labor Day my wife and I started walking 30 minutes a day.  Maybe not every day but at least 6 times a week.  And I cut out sweets and chips, my weaknesses.  We did it right after work so we would be sure not to skip it.  You have all heard to walk with someone and to make sure to pick a set time.

From a former runner this is the best advice to make sure you don’t stop the program.

After about 4 weeks I could definitely feel a change in the way I felt and my weight had dropped back and was even lower than my premove weight.

Plus I started to notice the 8th benefit.


Prior to October while birding on a Saturday, I would notice by noon that I was dragging and wasn’t sharp.  I would have trouble recognizing bird calls.

But one Saturday this October my wife was out of town.  So I decided to bird most of the day.  I started at 8AM and at 3PM I was still going strong without any notable loss of energy or trouble identifying birds.  Clock

Just the lack of birds stopped me from continuing on.



So the Eighth Benefit is . . .

By walking 30 minutes a day you improve your stamina and ability to bird for longer periods of time.  Not just longer, but birding sharper as well.

Have you ever noticed a similar result from walking?

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October 25, 2014 – Turkey Vulture Saturday

This wasn’t the first time I had encountered large numbers of Turkey Vultures in Edinburgh, but it was the highest count. And this was my personal high count ever for one group of Turkey Vultures. 

Over the last two years I have seen 20 – 25 Turkey Vultures in the dead tree west of Casey’s.  But this time there was at least 3 times that many. And yes, I did look at every one of them in hopes of a Black Vulture, which I didn’t spot.

Otherwise the day was quiet except for a Blue-headed Vireo at Irwin Park.  Still no waterfowl.


This was a few of the Turkey Vultures starting to soar. As seen from Irwin Park about 10AM.


This is the typical few of the dead tree west of Casey’s, 20 or so Turkey Vultures. But today there were more…


They were also in the tree just to the south of the dead tree.


And on the Christmas Lights on the water tower just south of the trees.


Plus one on the cross of the church by the trees. There has got to be a proverb or saying with this caption but it eludes me.

I  count 70 in the attached photos, which is what I counted in the field. And I am sure I missed some.

How many do you count?

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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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