Whip-poor-will/Bell’s Vireo – Y or N

After Saturday’s hike which turned up White-crowned Sparrows I set out Sunday to see once and for all if Atterbury FWA had EASTERN WHIP-POOR-WILL.  Plus check for NORTHERN BOBWHITE and the returning BELL’S VIREO.

Whip-Poor-Will

This would be the second time in two years I was going to make sure there were no EASTERN WHIP-POOR-WILLS at Atterbury FWA. Sunday’s forecast was perfect for checking – Full Moon, Clear, and Calm Winds.

MOON (2) Looking for Whip-poor-will.

The early morning was perfect for checking for Eastern Whip-poor-wills.

When I arrived it was perfect conditions. I listened at 6 places between 4:50 – 5:40 AM.

The result is I’m pretty confident there are NO Eastern Whip-poor-wills at Atterbury FWA.

It took several years to find a whip-poor-will spot in my home county in Illinois, so I’m not done yet looking in Johnson County.

But I did hear numerous BARRED OWLS with one actually landing by the car for a good view. And of course the chats were chatting in the dark.

Northern Bobwhite

I proceeded to the NW part of Atterbury to listen for Northern Bobwhite. The area has been off-limits for the past several weekends for Spring Turkey Season.  I walked for a couple of miles – no luck there either as the area has had a controlled burn.

EATO (3)

Eastern Towhees were quite numerous singing in the morning daylight.

I did see a RED-HEADED WOODPECKER, several WILLOW FLYCATCHERS, and EASTERN TOWHEES on the walk.

I remembered the park manager saying she had seen a Northern Bobwhite by her office. So I headed the mile east to sit and eat breakfast by a large field north of her office. In a couple of minutes I heard bobwhite calling. Another specifies tied down for the IAS Summer Count.

Bell’s Vireo

The last species I was checking was to see if the Bell’s Vireo had returned to the same area of Johnson County Park. I no sooner got out of the car and one was singing in the same bush as last year, giving great views. Then another came along and they flew off. But one kept singing hidden in a nearby bush.

BEVI (3)

Except for a short period last year I don’t think I have ever seen a Bell’s Vireo out in the open for this long.

BEVI (4)

Later a second bird which looked like a Bell’s Vireo chased this one off its perch. Maybe that’s why it was singing so long in one spot? Staking out his territory?

CHSP

This Chipping Sparrow landed down the road when I was watching the Bell’s Vireo.

AMKE

The resident American Kestrel watching the events at the Johnson County Horse Park.

And that was a very good end to the weekend or so I thought until I came across the COMMON GALLINULE.

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White-crowned Sparrow – 12 Days Late

The past weekend had one main and a couple of smaller goals. The main goal was to see once and for all if Atterbury FWA had EASTERN WHIP-POOR-WILLS. The weather forecast for Saturday called for rain but Sunday was clear with a full moon. So I opted to check for whips and a couple of the minor goals on Sunday. That report will be in the next blog.

On Saturday I did one of the minor goals, check for forest species at Atterbury.

A Different Area in Atterbury

Believe it or not there are a couple of areas I have never explored at Atterbury. From Google Maps they appear similar to other areas so I haven’t explored them. But just in case they had something new I thought I had better check.

I got a late start Saturday because of the rain and I didn’t feel like bushwhacking a new area in the rain. Especially one with the potential for high grass. And as expected, it had most of the forest species which included a KENTUCKY WARBLER on territory.

TRAIL (2)

The path through the wet woods. Perfect for Bushwhacking.

I ended up at the marsh but no rails were calling. Cutting back through the grasslands there were numerous WILLOW FLYCATCHERS and YELLOW-BREASTED CHATS on territory, as there would be throughout the weekend.

WIFL (1)

A Willow Flycatcher calling on the edge of the marsh.

YBCH (5)

A Yellow-breasted Chat checking me out from a small bush.

I found a pair of RED-HEADED WOODPECKERS which is a good since they are on the local endangered watch list.

WHWO (6)

One of the two Red-headed Woodpeckers on a fallen dead tree. Thanks to the DNR for leaving it.

I came across a group of EASTERN KINGBIRDS out either feeding or playing, I couldn’t tell which. At one time I had 6 in my binocular’s field of view.

EAKI (14)

Can you see 4 Eastern Kingbirds? There was a Red-headed Woodpecker in the bush straight back but I don’t see it now.

Another numerous species were SWAINSON’S THRUSH calling from the brush.

SWTH (4)

One of the better views I’ve had lately of Swainson’s Thrush.

What Was to be the Weekend Highlight

Up to finding the COMMON GALLINULE the bird that was going to be the highlight of the weekend was a common species – a WHITE-CROWNED SPARROW.

That’s right, a White-crowned Sparrow.

WCSP (1) White-crowned Sparrow

Almost the star of the weekend, a White-crowned Sparrow.

Why you may ask? Because it is 12 days later than my average departure date, including my data from Northern Illinois.

WCSP eBird

As noted on this eBird chart White-crowned Sparrows are virtually gone from Indiana after 5/22 and non-existent June – August.

I was walking along the road after watching the woodpeckers and kingbirds when it flew out on the road. It took me a minute to realize it was a White-crowned Sparrow since I thought they would have gone north by now. A second appeared but I didn’t get it in the photo.

A mid-afternoon discovery of a wooded area that had several warblers including a Cerulean Warbler concluded the day.

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Common Gallinule – An Unexpected Find

I had several things to post about this weekend’s birding but I’ll just cover the last bird of the weekend in this post. A surprise COMMON GALLINULE.

If someone a month ago would have told me I would have had two Rallidaes as my next county birds, I wouldn’t have believed them. But that’s the case having Virginia Rails last week and a Common Gallinule this week. I have been working on the Virginia Rails since locating several spots with Soras. I figured I might eventually find one, but the Common Gallinule was a big surprise. It wasn’t even on my radar as an eventual county bird.

My last stop on the day was at Honker Haven in Atterbury FWA. Even without the platform I figured I would stop for a check.

I left the car parked diagonally and didn’t even close the door since I figured it would by empty. It was except for a lone bird on the far side of the pond. My first thought was Common Gallinule but the bird was heading towards small weeds where a Great Blue Heron had popped out its head.

COGA (20)

The assumed Common Gallinule had walked in behind the weeds where the Great Blue Heron was located. Atterbury FWA 5/22/16

So I ran back to the car for the spotting scope. When I got back the bird was gone. No photo and not a proper ID. I figured it was by the heron which started a chain of events that probably took a half hour but seemed longer.

I walked the perimeter of the pond to the south end for a side view. No bird.

This meant walking into the woods to the west and then back to come up behind the weeds. Which I did and when I got there, no bird.

I figured it had gone into the trees. I knew from prior experience when WOOD DUCKS got in the trees it was hard to find them.  I figured the best strategy was to go back around the lake and keep scanning.

And then it popped out briefly from the trees! ID was correct – Common Gallinule!

My best view would be on the other side of the lake so I went back around.

Sure enough it was out in the open when I got back on the other side of the lake.

COGA (14)

The Common Gallinule came out from under the trees presenting the opportunity for photos. Atterbury FWA 5/22/16

COGA (3) COGA (9)

It eventually came back to the shore and walked on the edge where I had initially saw it.

COGA (18)

Common Gallinule COGA (19)

I called Mike since I knew it would be a county bird for him also and he arrived in about 20 minutes.

And we went through the whole process again since the bird had moved back to the trees.

I’ll keep checking to see if the bird stays but I figure it was just moving through.  The habitat is not what you’d expect for a Common Gallinule. That and if it is in the woods it will be tough to see.

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Spotted Sandpipers – Our Shorebird

This past weekend as part of the IAS Big May Day I saw several shorebirds – LESSER AND GREATER YELLOWLEGS, SOLITARY SANDPIPERS, and WILSON’S SNIPE. Plus a couple of plovers -KILLDEER and SEMIPALMATED PLOVER. I also saw several SPOTTED SANDPIPERS.

One of the Spotted Sandpipers was by a small pond at Atterbury FWA. When I got close it did its “peet weet” call while flying to the far shore.

SPSA

A Spotted Sandpiper showing off its spots. Franklin HS 5/14/16

And it got me thinking my favorite part of the birding year is coming up. If you have follower this blog you know I love the slow summer months.

Others may look forward to the rush of migration, but I look forward to the slow summer, and winter months for that fact, when you can enjoy our birds. During migration I seem rushed to get a glimpse of a migrant which might only be around for a few weeks.

After the rush of migration you can take your time and enjoy the birds. Take notes. Watch birds in their habitat.

One of several birds which exemplifies that feeling are Spotted Sandpipers – our only real non-migrating shorebird. The Killdeer is a plover and the BLACK-NECKED STILT, for the lucky ones that have them on territory, is, well a stilt.

SPSA

As seen on this range map from Birdlife via xeno-canto, the Spotted Sandpipers summer range starts just south of here.

There is nothing better on a warm, humid, summer morning than to hear the “peet” break the silence and watch the little sandpiper fly across the pond. Then observe it “working” the far shore looking for food and watch it decide to fly elsewhere “peet weeting” the whole way.

Spotted Sandpipers

A Spotted Sandpiper flying away after it flushed from a hidden spot on the rocky edge of the pond. Atterbury FWA 45/14/16

SPSA 5 SPSA 4 SPSA 3 SPSA 2

To me that is the best part of birding.

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Nuthatch – Don’t be fooled!

More from the London trip.

I’m up and out the door at 6:30AM heading to Hyde Park to look for local birds. Which is strange since its 1:30AM in Indiana. Funny what we can fool our bodies into doing.

In a previous post I wrote about how I use eBird to find birds in a given area with a frequency of greater than 6%. I use that information to make flashcards and download vocalizations to learn those birds.

One of the things I didn’t mention is to make sure you take time to familiarize yourself with birds in the 2-5% range. That way if one of the birds under 6% show up you will have a clue to its ID.

Like the Eurasian Nuthatch that I wasn’t prepared.

Eurasian Nuthatch 388

An Eurasian Nuthatch calling from the top of a tree. London’s Hyde Park 4/3/16

That’s right. I wasn’t prepared for a nuthatch. The EURASIAN NUTHATCH isn’t seen often in Hyde Park so it came out under 6% on my spreadsheet. And since it resembles our WHITE-BREASTED NUTHATCH I figured I’d recognize it easily. So I didn’t spend a lot of time on it.

Wrong!

I should have spent more time studying it. Especially its habits. When was the last time, or anytime, you saw a White-breasted Nuthatch calling for the top of a tree? Me neither. But this Eurasian species sure liked doing it.

I should have listened to the call one more time. It’s nothing like a White-breasted Nuthatch.

I still hadn’t figured out what the bird was and it kept calling and I kept watching. (Regular readers will know I don’t carry a field guide. Not even in a new place. I take notes and figure it out when I get back. Which I did for this nuthatch.)

Eurasian Nuthatch 401

Should have been an easy ID. The bird is farther away than what it appears and my mind couldn’t wrap around the call being a Nuthatch. London’s Hyde Park 4/3/16

Eurasian Nuthatch 394

Now in this pose there is no doubt about its identity – upturned bill, short tail, blue-gray above, and buffy below. London’s Hyde Park 4/3/16

From the coloring the only bird I could think of was a Northern Wheatear but they are ground birds.

Finally I had to get back to the hotel and I’m heading out of the park when it dawns on me. A Nuthatch! I think the process of elimination finally nailed it.

So the moral of the story is to make sure you spend a little time on those 2-5 percenters.

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Big May Day 2016 Highlights

My portion of the Johnson County Christmas Bird Count IAS Big May Day Count (felt like a Christmas Bird Count) started out and ended well with several surprises in the middle. I’ll stick to the highlights with some follow-up posts over the next few weeks covering a few other things on the day.

Big May Day – The Start

The weather at 5AM was 50F and windy, with light rain. The only thing that changed during the day was the rain stopped. Otherwise the temperature and wind held steady all day. I noticed the temperature on the local bank said 51F when I went by early in the day and said 50F late in the afternoon. I have participated in several Christmas Counts that were warmer.

So I didn’t start optimistic.

But the first bird, a GREAT HORNED OWL, flew off its usual telephone pole as soon as I drove up. There was hope.

I called in an EASTERN SCREECH-OWL and missed on Barred Owl. While waiting in the dark for a Barred Owl a bird flew in with white wing marks like a nighthawk. I didn’t remember those on a Barred Owl?? A couple of minutes it swooped back in – it was a COMMON NIGHTHAWK. Which was reassuring since I didn’t remember a Barred Owl acting that way.

The morning continued on with several FOY. Like CEDAR WAXWINGS.

CEDW (2)

I saw a flock of birds in a tight group fly into a distant tree. I was sure they were Cedar Waxwings but couldn’t tell at this distance. 5/14/16

CEDW (1)

So out comes the new camera for a distant photo showing they were Cedar Waxwings. 5/14/16

Next was one of those county lister things when I found 1 CLIFF SWALLOW mixed in a feeding flock. No photo. Have you ever tried to take a photo of a swallow? A few BANK SWALLOWS were also mixed in for good measure.

BLGR (3)

Mike and I came across the resident Blue Grosbeak at Johnson County Park. 5/14/16

Big May Day – The Middle

After lunch we went out searching for species we’d missed. First we hit one of the local shorebirds sites.

SEPL (2)

Another FOY was a Semipalmated Plover. 5/14/16

SEPL (1)

The plover was hanging out with Least and Solitary Sandpipers. 5/14/16

SOSA (1)

Did you ever notice you hear Solitary Sandpipers before you see them? They always seem to be calling. 5/14/16

Then I visited a spot which previously had a SORA calling and at that time I thought I had heard a portion of a calling VIRGINIA RAIL. Yesterday no Sora but 2 Virginia Rails called. Johnson County #214.

I added a few more species we had missed in the morning like GRASSHOPPER SPARROW, WILSON’S SNIPE, and PIED-BILLED GREBE. Not the same grebe from my previous story. But I was still glad to see one late in the day.

Big May Day – The End

When the Worthsville Road exit on I65 was recently added it opened up observation to a flooded field I thought might be good for shorebirds. Well it hasn’t panned out for shorebirds. But I still made it my last stop of the day yesterday.

Once again there were no shorebirds however there was a distant piece of white trash.

No, looking again the trash looked like a gull.

Assuming it was a Ring-billed I got out the scope to confirm. The bird was walking away but I could still see the small black bill, gray ear patch, and yellowish legs. A Bonaparte’s Gull in Johnson County in May. Who would have thought? (Yes, eBird flagged it if you were wondering)

BOGU (19)

Testing the zoom of my new camera this photo of a Bonaparte’s Gull is taken at 450 meters in windy conditions. 5/14/16

BOGU (2)

Note the small black bill and grayish ear mark, field marks for a Bonaparte’s Gull. 5/14/16

And for fun a departing photo, to make up for the lack of photos from another dark Saturday.

GBHE - Big May Day

Not sure I have ever seen a Great Blue Heron on a guard rail. 5/14/16

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Trees are Gone, Now Observation Stand?

This post is directed to birders in Johnson County who might have observed birds from the observation stand at Honker Haven in Atterbury FWA. If you aren’t around Johnson County maybe it relates to something that’s happened in your local area.

Back in November I thanked the DNR for taking down the trees at Honker Haven in Atterbury FWA. It was a good thing since it opened up the pond to viewing from the observation platform.

Observation Stand - Atterbury

The wooden observation stand with a clear view overlooking Honker Haven at Atterbury FWA.

The stand was helpful in seeing and photographing birds in the pond, especially the far NW corner.

COLO (18)

A photo of a Common Loon Taken from the top of the observation deck. 3/25/16

Most Saturdays I would try to time it so I was at the observation deck around noon to scan for soaring raptors. That extra bit of elevation made a real difference.

RSHA Atterbury

A Red-shouldered Hawk soaring over the observation deck on a clear Saturday. 8/22/15

It was extremely helpful in the fall when the water level dropped and shorebirds would be on the small islands that formed on the pond.

DUNL

A pair of Dunlin in the center of Honker Haven. 11/2/13

But after successfully removing the trees the stand has also been removed.

ATTERBURY DECK

The Observing Stand is no more. From this angle you can see there is slight rise around the pond which should help from startling the birds.

Granted, the stand was getting a bit up in the years. I have seen people take one step on it and turn around. My guess is it was removed for safety reasons.

ATTEBURY DECK

I can always observe from the top of my car which I have resorted to at other locations in the past.

But honestly most of the time I didn’t go up on the deck because it seemed to spook the birds. What I did like about the stand was using the bottom posts for a “blind”. The birds never seemed to fly when I used that strategy.

I guess I’ll have to use the adjacent trees as a “blind” now.

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Redemption Wednesday

I’m hoping for redemption today with a few photos from Sunday. Saturday the wind gusts were blowing at greater than 25MPH in the open areas which meant taking photos of grasslands birds tough. I still tried to take photos of distant birds though. And the photos from the woods weren’t any better with the overcast skies and light rains.

Sunday afternoon I went to the central part of Atterbury FWA. That part of Atterbury is closed daily until 1PM for Spring Turkey Season. So to see if it will be worth birding next Saturday on the IAS Big May Day Count I went bushwhacking after 1PM. I did come across several species that might be needed if not found in the morning Saturday. The lighting wasn’t much better with overcast skies but they weren’t the heavy clouds. I got a few photos which hopefully will redeem myself.

Henslow's Sparrow - redemption from Saturdays's so-so photo.

Confirmed a Henslow’s Sparrow was still present at the same location as last year. A much better photo than the one on Saturday.

LISP (6)

I stumbled across a Lincoln’s Sparrow which wasn’t in any hurry to jump back in the undergrowth.

LISP (1)

Same Lincoln Sparrow looking around. Note the buffy color.

LISP (9)

Easily my best photos of a Lincoln’s Sparrow.

GCKI (1)

I think the Great Crested Flycatchers are setting up a nest. Its partner wasn’t too far away.

ATFL

To show the contrast in Myiarchus flycatchers, an Ash-throated Flycatcher from Rabbit Valley CO. Note how its plain colors blend in to the habitat and the previous Great Crested blends in to our brighter environment.

BAOR (1)

Always a crowd pleaser when they are out in the open, a colorful Baltimore Oriole.

BAOR (2)

Same Baltimore Oriole in a different tree. I think I must have been close to the nest as it kept moving from tree to tree.

WAVI (2)

And to contrast the colorful oriole here is a drab Warbling Vireo.

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eBird 6% Rule

Before I go on a trip outside my local patch, like the recent London trip, I check eBird to see what species might be seen. For most birding spots eBird gives a good overview. You can do this if you are registered with eBird or not.

Before I go into details let me say this might look complicated, but it isn’t. If you have basic spreadsheet experience the following takes less than 5 minutes. If it isn’t clear leave a comment and I’ll try to clear it up.

The first thing is check to see if the area as caught on in eBird. Go to the EXPLORE DATA tab and choose EXPLORE A REGION. Then scroll down to London, England.

eBird - Explore London

Choose BAR CHARTS.

BarChart

London’s Bar Chart comes up.

LondonBarChart

By looking at the bar chart you can tell if the area has caught on in eBird. If the green lines are mostly narrow you know not many people have submitted eBird lists. In this case the green distribution lines are thick so we can tell it has been birded. You could go through the bar chart and make your own list but what I like to do is download the data.

Go to the bottom of the chart and select DOWNLOAD HISTOGRAM DATA.  This will download a CSV text file that you need to open with your favorite spreadsheet software. I’ll be using Microsoft Excel.

HistogramData

This is how the histogram looks when it’s opened.

HistogramInfo

Then manipulate the spreadsheet as follows:

  1. Delete rows 1-9

Instructions 1

2. Delete all the columns except for the week before the trip, the actual week, and the week after, leaving 3 weeks. In this case the last week of March and first two weeks of April.

Instructions 2

3. Insert a new column and number all species in ascending order.

Instructions 3

4. Sort on column D in Descending order Largest to Smallest

Instructions 4

5. Change the values to 2 decimals.

Instructions 5

I found out Eurasian Coot is the most common bird seen in London the first week of April. Sometimes I add all 3 columns and take an average.

I then look for birding spots where I could probably see most of these species and see if the spots fit the timing and logistics of the trip. I did the previous steps with 4 or 5 London eBird Hotspots and right or wrong came up with Hyde Park and the London Wetlands Centre.

My final list had 64 possible birds between the two sites with a frequency of 6% or greater. I ended up seeing 55 of the 64 or 86%. Plus I saw 2 species not on the list. A Common Buzzard and a bird which will be the topic of the next London blog.

Of the 9 I didn’t see there were 3 I probably could have seen with a little more time – Great Spotted Woodpecker, Eurasian Jay, and Mistle Thrush. But they’ll be there on the next trip.

On trips involving more birding than vacation, like last years Colorado trip, the percentage level can easily be pushed down to the 2-3% level.

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IAS Big May Day Bird Count – Sign Up!

The Indiana Audubon Society (IAS) will hold its annual Big May Day Bird Count on May 14. As seen on its webpage the “objective of the BMDBC is to count the number of birds of each species occurring in a participating county area from midnight to midnight on the second Saturday in May. This data snapshot provides a valuable scientific record of the bird populations occurring each year in Indiana.”

I have participated in the last 3 counts for Johnson County and previously for several years in the LaSalle County count in Illinois. I have always found these counts to be fun. Groups start at different times and go until 12:30PM. We then meet at Johnson County Park for lunch and to recap the morning. From there some people will go searching for species we missed in the morning.

The last 3 years in Johnson County we have seen 2015 – 122, 2014 – 134, and 2013 – 127 species.

Some other data recapping last year’s count taken from the Indiana Audubon Quarterly Vol. 93, No. 4 November, 2015: “Thirty two of the 92 counties (35%) participated and reported 244 individual species. (See Indiana Map below) According to the annual data since collected since 1991, the number of counties participating was down compared to the average of 40, but the number of individual species reported (244) is above the average of 238. Additionally, the total birds counted (116,729) by 376 observers is well below the average of 150,751.”

If you’re interested in helping on a count please contact a county compiler. The compilers are listed on the left side of the page on the link to the Indiana Audubon in the first paragraph.

Big May Day Count Counites

The counties in red are the ones conducing Big May Days. IAS Webpage

If you are interested helping on the JOHNSON COUNTY count please contact Tom at annntom AT embarqmail.com. You can bird as much or as little as you want. Or even report from a feeder or your yard.  All birds count!

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