Birding and Exercise: First Month Recap

For those of you interested I thought I would post the results of the first month of birding and exercise and compare it to what I thought I could have done birding my normal way.

I ended up seeing 43 species on my walks around the Franklin area compared to the approximately 55 species I could have seen if I would have drove down to Atterbury and Johnson County Park Area during a normal January with more open water.  With the weather cold and snowy the month didn’t offer a lot of opportunities anywhere in the county.  To rack up large species numbers, which is hardly ever my intent, I would have needed to head to SW Indiana.  So for the month of January I don’t think it mattered much if I walked or drove, the birds just weren’t around.

On the bright side I ended up losing 6 pounds on the month from a combination of walking and eating better.  Eating better consists mainly just taking sweets and chips out of my diet.  The loss of those calories plus the extra calories from walking made up the total.  I walked a total of 37 miles on 6 weekend outings plus extra miles from a couple of 2-3 mile walks during most weeks after work.

The bird of the Month - a Leucistic Canada Goose that I first saw flying over the my neighborhood and thought was a Snow Goose.
The Bird of the Month – a Leucistic Canada Goose that I first saw flying over my neighborhood and thought was a Snow Goose.

One exercise program I learned from my days of running was a plan that called for a couple of big running days per week and then shorter, easier runs in between.  That plan seems to work well for working people that can’t get out and exercise daily.  I think it will be a good routine for birding with a longer walk on the weekend days and one of the weekend nights.  To burn calories walking you need to be out for a long time and this program will provide those walks.

The plan for February will be like my previous birding but with walking.  Since I have a feel for what I can do walking and birding, I will now start looking for uncommon birds in my area and some of the more uncommon birds I missed in January.   Plus keep extending the walks to get in shape for migration season.  And hopefully lose another 5-6 pounds.

 

Birding and Exercise – January 2014 Big Walking Day

If I had planned this better I would have started to get myself in shape in December and done a Big Walking Day on January 1, before the weather headed north.  But I didn’t.  So it came down to doing the first Monthly Big Walk this weekend.   Saturday was out with its snow and 4o+MPH gusts.

Here is the reason I decided to do the Big Walk on Sunday.  Snow blowing Saturday. I had planned to walk the bike trail parallel to the road the car is on. 01/25/14
Here is the reason I decided to do the Big Walk on Sunday. Snow blowing Saturday.  I had planned to walk the bike trail parallel to the road the car is on. 01/25/14

So I headed out the door at 8:45 Sunday morning.

It still wasn’t perfect with the temperature at 20F, winds out of the south at 18, and cloudy.  But it was a heck of lot better than Saturday.  The plan was to walk the Greenway Trail which still had open water, out to Lowes/Walmart Pond with its open water, and then home.  That would be about an 8 mile walk, which is about my limit right now in winter boots.  If all worked out I should see about 35 species on that route.

Upon arriving at the trail the second bird I picked up after White-breasted Nuthatch was a Yellow-rumped Warbler.  One of the birds that was on today’s iffy list.  Continuing down the trail I picked up several woodland species plus a Brown Creeper and the resident Belted Kingfisher flying upstream, both birds on the iffy list.  Towards the end of the wooded part of the trail a Cooper’s Hawk was sitting and watching, which explained the birds being quiet.  The Cooper’s didn’t like my presence so he flew away and then I quickly picked up Northern Flicker and maybe the bird of the day – Yellow-bellied Sapsucker.   A bird I really hadn’t expected to see.

YBSA Greenway Trail 012614

Brown Creeper caught taking flight,  Not sure I have ever seen one in a flight profile. Franklin Greenway Trail 01/25/14
Brown Creeper caught taking flight, Not sure I have ever seen one in a flight profile.
Franklin Greenway Trail 01/25/14

Making my way to Province Park I was seeing many of the local birds but nothing new until a Hairy Woodpecker landed in a tree above me.  It was now time to do the least fun part of the day, the segment to Walmart/Lowes Pond.   I was sitting at 26 species and figured the pond was good for 4-5 more species plus on the walk home a few more might get me to 35.  So I started the 2.5 mile walk.  And as anticipated I didn’t see anything on the segment but European Starlings and House Sparrows.  Plus a Mourning Dove.  But nothing new.

The Lowes/Walmart pond had the usual suspects – Canada Geese, Mallards, Redheads, Common Goldeneyes, and American Coots.  But nothing that hadn’t been there for the last week.  I scanned for a half hour to make sure and then started the walk home.

A few of the Redheads that have been present for a while. Lowes/Walmart Pond 1/26/14
A few of the Redheads that have been present for a while.
Lowes/Walmart Pond 1/26/14

I saw American Kestrels as planned and the other bird of the day – a Killdeer – by a small factory.  Probably the same one I saw in this area 2 weeks ago. But do you think a Red-tailed Hawk was around?  Every time I drive that area I see one or two.  I have seen them on all my walks.  I see them in my sleep. I hear them on every TV show that needs a bird call. But not one today.

Can you see the Red-tailed Hawk?  Neither can I.  There has been one present on this row of poles for the last year.  But not today. 01/26/14
Can you see the Red-tailed Hawk? Neither can I. There has been one present on this row of poles for the last year. But not today. 01/26/14

So I ended up with 32 species and walked 8.6 miles.  Species missed that I should have seen besides the Red-Tailed Hawk were American Tree and White-throated Sparrows, both seen yesterday on a scouting walk.  And I probably could have seen Horned Lark and Eastern Bluebird if I would have walked a few miles into the country.  But that wasn’t going to happen on my tired legs.  But the Sapsucker and Killdeer were both pleasant surprises.

All in all a fun day and I am sure they will be even better as I get in better shape.

 

Birding and Exercise – January Big Day

In the spirit of Ted Floyd’s Big Walk http://blog.aba.org/2013/06/the-bare-naked-big-walk.html and Greg Neise and Jeff Skrentny Illinois Monthly Big Days (See Illinois Birders’ Forum http://www.ilbirds.com/), I have decided to do a monthly self-powered Big Day this year.  I will start this month by walking but I’m sure it will turn into a Bike – Walk when the weather improves.  The forecast this Saturday is calling for a high in the 20’s with snow and wind, and Sunday a little warmer with lighter wind but still snow.  So either day I won’t be biking.

My main reason for doing a Big Day of any sort is what you may find.  Just like my earlier post on the more hours you spend in the field during a month the more species you will find http://wp.me/p3Q2lz-30, almost every Big Day I have done I have ended finding something special. I am sure it has to do with being out 10-12 hours in a day instead of the usual 3-4 hours.

A White-winged Scoter that Ted Hartzler and I found during a Big Day in Northern Illinois in March 2011.  We found it on a small pond scanning through a large flock of scaup.  Scoters are rare inland in Illinois away from Lake Michigan.
A White-winged Scoter that Ted Hartzler and I found during a Big Day in Northern Illinois in March 2011. We found it on a small pond scanning through a large flock of scaup. Scoters are rare inland in Illinois away from Lake Michigan.

The hardest part won’t be the weather or actual physical exercise, but like with all Big Days, it will be on deciding the route.  And since I will be walking there won’t be any chance to go back and hit any areas.  Plus I will probably only have one chance to visit the different habitats.  So each stop will have to pay off.

Thus far this month I have seen 41 species on my weekend walks.  So a goal of seeing 40 seems like a reasonable goal. But if the local pond freezes over in the next couple of days of below zero temperature, then I will be out of luck and 35 might be a better goal.  But if it stays open then the waterfowl might be congregated there with hopefully a large variety of different species and my final total might just surprise me!

One Step Back – Two Steps Forward

The Snow Goose I reported last week flying over my house turned out to be a leucistic Canada Goose. Darn, one step back..

I got an email from Doug Gray Sunday morning that he had seen a leucistic Canada Goose at the Lowes/Walmart pond.  He couldn’t get a photo since the weather wasn’t good.  I replied I would walk out there Sunday afternoon and see if I could get a photo.

I was hoping to see something good like a Sharp-shinned Hawk on the 3.5 mile walk through residential areas but it was very quiet.  Upon arriving the local pair of Red-tailed Hawks were sitting together in the trees east of Walmart.  The pond is still about 1/4 open water and there were an estimated 500 Canada Geese present.  The leucistic Canada Goose was obvious, sleeping by the water.  In a few minutes it awoke and went for a swim.  Obviously not a Snow Goose but I might have wondered what it was if Doug hadn’t ID it.  There are more pictures and discussion about the goose on the Birding Indiana Facebook page.

Too bad it wasn't a Snow Goose...  Still a very cool looking bird.  Leucistic Canada Goose.  Lowes/Walmart Pond 1/19/14
Too bad it wasn’t a Snow Goose… Still a very cool looking bird.
Leucistic Canada Goose. Lowes/Walmart Pond 1/19/14

So no Snow Goose on the county list.  But as is usually the case in birding, if one thing isn’t found something else is.  There were also present two American Black Ducks and two Common Goldeneyes present, new on this years county list. Two steps forward.  Both species were also a pleasant surprise since I have only seen one Goldeneye previously in the county and only one pair of Black Ducks that hung around Atterbury FWA last year.

American Black Duck.  One of two that were present Sunday, 1/19/14. Lowes/Walmart Pond.
American Black Duck. One of two that were present Sunday, 1/19/14.
Lowes/Walmart Pond.

ABDU

Do you think the Common Goldeneye would ever turn or wake up for a picture? Nope.  At least you can see the Golden Eye. Lowes/Walmart Pond 1/19/14
Do you think the Common Goldeneye would ever turn or wake up for a picture? Nope. At least you can see the Golden Eye.
Lowes/Walmart Pond 1/19/14

After viewing for about an hour and deciding there were no other species mixed in I made the 3.5 mile walk home through the snow.

After an hour of birding, the walk home often in the snow.   No sidewalks in the rural areas.  Johnson County. 1/19/14
After an hour of birding, the walk home often in the snow.
No sidewalks in the rural areas. Johnson County. 1/19/14

 

 

 

 

Birding and Exercise – Saturday, Jan. 18 – Larks, Longspurs, Crows, and an Owl

The second weekend of birding and exercise arrives and it is 16F out with a wind chill of zero.  Not as bad as the Christmas Bird Count where Darrel and I walked 4 miles on the I&M Canal in 6 inch snow in 10F  weather.  Which turned out to be a good day because we kept finding small areas of open  water and the birds were congregated there.  But today I plan to walk south and east out-of-town on roads through open agriculture fields searching for Horned Larks, Lapland Longspurs, and hopefully Snow Buntings.  Darrel and I had the wind blocked by trees.  I will not.

So I borrow a scarf from my wife, wrap it around my neck, and head out the door at 8:15AM in multiple layers.  Really not so bad.  I also catch a break because the sun decides to come out, which was not in the forecast.

Cold Landscape - about a mile SE of town looking for larks and longspurs - that must be a glove or scarf on the left of the picture. 16F - 0F wind chill - 01/18/14
Cold Landscape – about a mile SE of town looking for larks and longspurs – that must be a glove or scarf on the left of the picture.
16F – 0F wind chill – 01/18/14

About a mile and half out-of-town I hear my first larks.  Scanning the fields I pick out a few, then a few more, and then the flock erupts out of corn stubble just south of me.  My count is 200.  They land fairly close north of the road and give me plenty of time to scan them, at least the ones not running in and out of the stubble.  I figure about one Lapland Longspur for every Horned lark.  But no buntings.  So I move on.

Another mile or so down the road is a large wooded area besides the road.  I hear a Red-headed Woodpecker calling, then a Northern Flicker.  A little farther and I run across a wave moving through the edge of the trees – chickadees, nuthatches, titmice, downies.  And thrown in is a Brown Creeper, Golden-crowned Kinglet, and a Yellow-rumped warbler.  All birds I wasn’t sure I would see in January on a walk in the area.  But the best part is I have found another good habitat about a mile from my house as the American Crow flies.

One of the many cold American Robins still in the area - there must still be a food source. 01/18/14
One of the many cold American Robins still in the area – there must still be a food source. 01/18/14

After walking a couple of miles through a residential area I come to the last area that might be productive, the north end of the Greenway Trail.  Immediately three Great Blue Herons lift off from the edge of the creek.

Great Blue Heron flying away - I  need to figure out how to have the camera ready with all these clothes on.
Great Blue Heron flying away – I need to figure out how to have the camera ready with all these clothes on.

Then to the south I hear the ruckus of several crows.  Walking that way the crows begin flying towards me on the other side of the tree line and I can tell that one of them isn’t a crow but it also isn’t a Red-tailed Hawk.  Red-shouldered maybe?  They finally land back up the trail were I just came from.  I turn and run back finally catching up.  Hard running in all the clothes I had on.  The 8 crows are relentless diving and calling.  I finally make out their target through the trees.  A Great Horned Owl!  They keep pestering it for a few minutes and then the owl flies on with the crows in hot pursuit.  I never get a clear few of the owl, so no picture.  But like I tell my friends, “You can’t get action like that on TV!”

The crows were harassing the Great Horned Owl on the wrong side of the tree line for me to get a picture.  This photo is from the afternoon of 7/2/13 at Atturbury FWA.  Same scenario except I heard the calls of several Blue Jays.  Upon arrival there were 10 jays mobbing this fellow.  He sat patiently until they quieted down and then he moved on.
The crows were harassing the Great Horned Owl on the wrong side of the tree line for me to get a picture. This photo is from the afternoon of 7/2/13 at Atterbury FWA. Same scenario except I heard the calls of several Blue Jays. Upon arrival there were 10 jays mobbing this fellow. He sat patiently until they quieted down and then he moved on.

Cold and getting tired, and knowing I can’t top that action, I head home.  Three hours walking, 6.5 miles.  Another good day to be out.

 

Birding and Exercise – To Lowes/Walmart Pond

The weather on Sunday was better than Saturday.  High 30’s and clear with a slight wind.  Great day for a winter’s walk.

So after lunch I went out on another day of walking for exercise to birding locations.  Instead of my usual practice of driving.  Earlier in the morning I had run to the store so I made a quick scouting stop on the way there.  The Lowes-Walmart retaining pond had a small opening with waterfowl and since it had been my initial thought as the destination for my afternoon walk, the open water confirmed it.

I learned today that I don’t think it is always better to walk as Ted Floyd recommends after his Big Day Walk.  http://blog.aba.org/2013/06/the-bare-naked-big-walk.htm  The road from home to the pond is mostly light industrial areas and agriculture fields with lots of cars and no sidewalks.  It would have been hard to hear birds had they been there, but this time of year there aren’t many birds in those area.  I think a better practice might be to bike to some areas and walk to others.

But there was a pair of Red-tailed Hawks on territory. One letting me get close.

Red-tailed Hawk letting me get close before flying across a field to it's normal perch. Franklin 011214
Red-tailed Hawk letting me get close before flying across a field to it’s normal perch.
Franklin 011214

And a pair of American Kestrels too. But not much else on the walk besides a flock of European Starlings.  The pond was better with 10 Redheads, 10 American Coots, a lone female Hooded Merganser, a few Mallards, and 300+ Canada Geese.  I scanned the geese for a length of time but didn’t see anything like Cackling or White-fronted.

A look Lowes/Walmart pond.  Or is it the Walmart/Lowes pond.  Nothing special except there is open water while all the other local ponds are still frozen. Franklin 011214
A look Lowes/Walmart pond. Or is it the Walmart/Lowes pond? Nothing special except there is open water while all the other local ponds are still frozen.
Franklin 011214

So after a half hour scan I started the 3.5 mile walk back home. So on the day 7 miles walked and I was out 2h and 55m.  And yes, my legs were sore at the end today.  Need those new boots and socks…

 

 

 

Birding and Exercise – First Day

I told myself going into writing this blog it was to be more of an educational blog and not about me per say, but until I figure out how I am going to bird, I guess it will be somewhat about me.

I did my first long birding walk Saturday morning.  Went 6.2 miles in about 2h 40m. Saw 21 species.  My initial reaction?

I am in shape to go about 6 miles walking right now.  At least in the old hiking boots that I walked in.   The last couple of blocks were hard on my feet.  And I was starting to get tired.  So that was about right for walking in wet, melting ice conditions.  But first thing is to get new shoes/boots. And they need to be waterproof.

I overdressed and had to carry too many clothes.  At least for most of the walk.  But I had my “man purse” (as my daughter calls it) with me so I put them in there.  But a cold front passed through the last half hour and it started to get cold.  If I would have been out longer I would have needed to put the clothes back on.  So the second thing is a real backpack to carry lightweights clothes.  Just in case.

"Man Purse" - Actually a classic Messenger Bag
“Man Purse” – Actually a classic Messenger Bag

If I am to continue to do “urban” birding I need to plan to go by convenient stores or fast food restaurants to use the facilities.  I’m not out in the sticks anymore.

Carrying the camera is problematic.  But I can work on that.  How does Dorian Anderson carry a camera on his biking big year?  http://bikingforbirds.blogspot.com/

I only saw 21 species.  At first I was a little disappointed for the number versus distance covered, but after some thought, I am not sure I would have seen more if I would have traveled farther.  Maybe picked up some raptors.  It was just that kind of slow winter morning.

On a slow day even a Mallard looks good. Province Park 01/11/14
On a slow day even a Mallard looks good.
Province Park 01/11/14

But I did see a wren hopping around under a log in a boggy area.  About 80% sure it was my current nemesis – the Winter Wren – but it didn’t sing and I didn’t get a clear look.  Spent 20 minutes circling and walking that area to no avail.  It could have been a Carolina Wren….

Was there or was there not a Winter Wren in there? Perfect habitat. Franklin Greenway Trail 01/11/14
Was there or was there not a Winter Wren in there? Perfect habitat.
Franklin Greenway Trail 01/11/14

And now for the biggest problem.  Three hours on a Saturday morning without coffee.  Sure I drank plenty of coffee before the walk (thus the need to plan the bathroom stops better) but I could always use more. So the backpack really isn’t for extra clothes, it’s for the coffee.  And snacks of course.

A patriotic American Crow standing guard. Franklin 01/11/14
A patriotic American Crow standing guard.
Franklin 01/11/14

 

 

Birding and Exercise

I used to run.  A lot.  For about 5 years it averaged an hour a day.  Then I severely strained a muscle from too many consecutive 5K and 10K races and the running came to a screeching halt.  After a couple of years it was back to a point that I could run at a lower level.  But by that time I had switched from a casual birder/serious runner to serious birder/casual runner.  And I wasn’t ready to go back to being a serious runner.

But now it is more than a few years later and I have put on the pounds and miss the feeling one gets from regularly exercise.  And I really don’t have the extra time to do both to a level I find acceptable.  Plus something has always bothered me about driving to go birding.  So over the last couple of years as I decided the focus of my birding would be on my local area, I kept thinking I should combine the two activities.  But not being able to get very far out of town for the 4 winter months really kept me from pursuing the idea.  In Illinois I lived in the center of town and it was a two mile walk to the edge of town.  I always felt I would miss the winter diurnal raptors and longspurs/buntings without a big effort.  Plus when I was in Illinois that meant missing the uncommon gulls that would show up at the Starved Rock Lock and Dam. And my two favorite birding areas in the summer were about 18 miles from my house, in opposite directions.

But now in Indiana I live on the edge of town. I can be walking on a country road in 5 minutes.  There is no close river or lake to see gulls, so that doesn’t matter no matter what the weather.  Plus my favorite birding areas are only 8-10 miles away.  In basically the same direction.

So now I am proposing to myself instead of driving the usual 15-20 minutes to an area outside of town, to walk/slow jog 40-45 minutes to a similar habitat in or by town.  Then walk/slow jog to another site, etc.  This especially applies to the winter months.  The summer won’t be as tough since I can bike the 8-10 miles to Atterbury and Johnson County Park in an hour or so.  During the work week I will walk/jog more for exercise, at least until the days lengthen.  And on the weekends it will be more for birding.

I will still bird by car when going out with other people, driving to sites farther away like Goose Pond, and when the weather is bad.  But the plan for now is to do most of my birding by my own power.

So that’s the plan for now.  I will share my revised yearly goals on birding and losing weight, plus my thoughts on Green Birding at a later date.

But I need to get through this weekend when I have planned to take a couple of long walk/jogs.  Maybe I will say that this was a bad idea and be right back to driving.

 

 

 

 

Personal Experience – The Best Source for Finding Uncommon Birds in Your Area

It’s time to wrap up writing about sources for finding uncommon birds and get to writing about finding specific species. Birds like the nemesis Winter Wren or the hard-to-find, but very satisfying when found, Long-eared Owl.

I inched up to a Long-eared Owl through thickets and got a picture through the trees. LaSalle County, IL 2011
I slowly bushwhacked through thickets to a Long-eared Owl and for a picture through the limbs.
LaSalle County, IL 2011

Or Sedge Wren’s or Cliff Swallows. Or the I can’t believe there has only been one unconfirmed sighting of Eurasian Collared-Dove in Johnson County. Every little town in Illinois with a grain elevator has them.  Why not Indiana?  That is a topic for another post.

Eurasian Collared-Dove Grand Ridge, IL 02/27/11
Eurasian Collared-Dove
Grand Ridge, IL 02/27/11

But I have got off topic.

The best source to finding birds in your local area is by first experiencing these birds in other areas. Maybe through an Audubon field trip to an area not so far away. By going on just a few of these field trips you’ll pick up on all the varied habitats and what species frequent these areas.  You can then bring that knowledge back to your area and find these uncommon birds.

When I first started I went with the Starved Rock Audubon Society on field trips . By going on as many of these local walks and by asking a question or hundred, I found out where most of the local birds where located. I then started using that information to search for other habitat in my local area that might hold uncommon birds. The repeated learning and searching paid off on our local spring and Christmas Bird Counts. I knew where different species would be.

And that experience started to lead to things that weren’t in the literature. We have all read that a Great Horned Owl inhabits at night the same area a Red-tailed Hawk does during the day. And the same coexistence between Short-eared Owls and Northern Harriers. But then I started seeing the same type of relationship between summer and winter birds.

Back to our friend, the Winter Wren. Something I have never read, but I’m sure is written somewhere, is that the Winter Wren inhabits in winter the same area that Louisiana Waterthrushes inhabit in summer. If you know a good Louisiana Waterthrush area, odds are there will be a Winter Wren there in winter. And there are many other seasonal relationships like these that personal experience will teach you.

So one more post to tie up finding uncommon birds and then on to writing about finding specific species.

First Bird 2014

If the ponds were not frozen, I had planned to start the New Year looking for uncommon waterfowl in my area.  I no sooner got a little ways out of town and saw my first bird of 2014 sitting on a telephone pole.

A great picture, don't think you think!  My first bird of 2014 - a Great Horned Owl on a telephone pole 45 minutes before sunrise.  We sat for about 10 minutes watching each other before it finally flew on.  Great looks at a good bird to start the year. Johnson County 010114
A great picture, don’t think you think! My first bird of 2014 – a Great Horned Owl on a telephone pole 45 minutes before sunrise.
We sat for about 10 minutes watching each other before it finally flew on. Great looks at a good bird to start the year.
Johnson County 01/01/14

The ponds were frozen and hunters are still hunting through January 5, so I headed to Irwin Park in Edinburgh.   The park was closed to vehicle traffic because the high water was still inside the levee but was now frozen.  So I parked outside and walked the levee loop.  What a productive walk.  I had all the woodpeckers less Hairy.

Yellow-bellied Sapsucker - Irwin Park - 01/01/14
Yellow-bellied Sapsucker – Irwin Park – 01/01/14

Both kinglets, a 2nd or 3rd year Bald Eagle, Yellow-rumped Warblers, Brown Creeper, and a Sharp-shinned Hawk.

Sharp-shinned Hawk - Irwin Park - 01/01/14 I initially spotted it down by the river and then by my car on the way out.   No doubt about it flying by as I first thought it was a dove. The square tail seals the deal.
Sharp-shinned Hawk – Irwin Park – 01/01/14
I initially spotted it down by the river and then by my car on the way out.
No doubt about its ID flying by as I first thought it was a dove.
The square tail sealed the deal.

I was glad to see the sapsucker since I only saw two in the county last year and real glad to see the Sharp-shinned Hawk after only seeing one last year.  In fact the hawk is on my “B” list of birds – birds I should see in the county but not sure I will.

I then decided to drive home looking for Rough-legged Hawks or Snowy Owls – no luck on either one.  But I did see a couple of Red-tailed Hawks, American Kestrel, Cooper’s Hawk, and a female Northern Harrier.  Another bird I only saw a couple of times last year.

So the day started out good and continued all the way to the home.