Johnson County Big May Day Bird Count May 10th

The annual Indiana Audubon Big May Day Bird Count will be held on May 10, 2014. As described on the IAS website “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 2nd Saturday in May.”

Last year 127 species were recorded in Johnson County. That is the highest total in the last few years and possibly the record.  We could always use more participants out in the field if we are going to break the record.  Tom Hougham is the compiler and if you are interested in helping please contact Tom at annntom at Or drop me a line and I will make sure Tom gets in contact with you.

Tom sets up small teams that will bird an assigned area.  The teams are usually in the field from dawn to noon and then we meet for lunch at one of the buildings at Johnson County Park to go over totals.  Some people will then continue into the afternoon looking for species not seen in the morning, but that is optional.

Last year Karl Werner and I covered Atterbury FWA and the SW corner of the county.  We ended up with 95 species with a few of the highlights for me being a Common Tern at Driftwood SFA, Black-billed Cuckoo at Atterbury, and a Short-billed Dowitcher in a flooded field.  We held a similar count when I lived in Illinois and it seemed I always ended up with a few unexpected birds.  It seems that anytime you are out in the field for a whole day anything can appear.


Recap – Indiana Audubon Society Field Trip to Atterbury FWA

I am always glad when I can start the recap of an outing and say the birds were good instead of “at least we had good weather”, which we did, or “the camaraderie was good”, which it was, or “the food was good”, which it was. Because when the first thing you see in a recap is one of the latter three, then you know the birding wasn’t good. About the only negative I have is that I think some of the birds I started seeing at the end of last April are still not here. Hopefully soon.

First, I would like to thank Doug Gray for organizing and leading the trip.  The fifteen birders spent approximately the first hour at the north side of Pisgah Lake for warblers and vireos, second hour at Coyote Marsh for Henslow’s Sparrows, and the third hour at Johnson County Park for Bell’s Vireo and Yellow-breasted Chat.

Eying a Henslow's Sparrow - IAS Atterbury Trip 04/26/14
Eying a Henslow’s Sparrow – IAS Atterbury Trip 04/26/14

Some highlights from my perspective were Blue-winged, Yellow, Yellow-rumped, and FOY Common Yellowthroat Warblers plus Warbling, FOY Red-eyed, and White-eyed Vireos at Pisgah. A rare Johnson County fly over Double-crested Cormorant was also seen.  We did get to see a couple of Henslow’s at Coyote Marsh plus a couple of fly by Green Herons. And at Johnson County Park we struck out on Bell’s Vireo but got great looks at a Prairie Warbler and Eastern Kingbird. I will let others decide but I don’t think we were hearing Yellow-breasted Chat, sounded like a distant Brown Thrasher to me. And I will have to go over the final list once Doug sends it out since I am sure I missed some.

Once in a while I get a decent photo.  Yellow Warbler Atterbury 04/25/14
Once in a while I get a decent photo. Yellow Warbler Atterbury 04/25/14

We also saw a big snake sunning on a branch.

Not very well seen, but can someone ID the snake from the photo? Atterbury 04/26/14
Not very well seen, but can someone ID the snake from the photo? Atterbury 04/26/14

A few things I learned from helping Doug lead the trip.

I should have scouted the days before to see if the Bell’s Vireo / Yellow-breasted Chat had returned yet.  I know they were there last year but it doesn’t mean they will be this year.

Review the expected birds for Central Indiana in a field guide before migration and especially before a field trip.  I was asked at one point about the head description of the Prairie Warbler and froze.  All I could think about was a Yellow Warbler.  I don’t know if it is because I rely so much on my hearing, the fact I have been studying birds of different areas for upcoming trips, or as one recent study suggests as we age our brain fills up with data and it is harder to retrieve info.  I like the latter idea but the truth is I should review our local birds constantly.

I was asked a couple of times about the destruction of former park habitat that was traded back to the military for park land elsewhere and the impact on it has had on birding. I once again did not have a good answer but will research it and write a post later about it. I should have had an answer.

Photos.  Don’t try to take photos and help on a field trip.

If anyone wants to come back and try for the mentioned species, or any other species let me know.  I bird the area almost ever weekend.

And I was sorry I had to leave just a little early but I was helping in the afternoon on a Great Blue Heron Rookery count on a piece of property of the Central Indiana Land Trust.

And lastly, I would like to thank Sally because the food was good, and I am just not saying that because. Especially the brownie I ate. Or was it two?




Remember – Indiana Audubon Society Field Trip to Atterbury FWA is this Saturday – April 26, 2014

The IAS is sponsoring a Field Trip to Atterbury FWA this Saturday.  As you know from reading my posts this is the area I do a large percentage of my birding. I posted earlier this year about the field trip and some of the birds that might be expected on the trip – .

For more information and how to contact trip leader Doug Gray about signing up for the trip please go the following – .

I usually don’t like putting up complete lists of birds, but following are my personal lists from Atterbury last year to give an idea of the birds present.

Hope to see you Saturday.

Last weekend in April                                              First weekend in May

Canada Goose Canada Goose
Wood Duck Wood Duck
Mallard Wild Turkey
Wild Turkey Great Blue Heron
Great Blue Heron Turkey Vulture
Turkey Vulture Bald Eagle
Sora Red-tailed Hawk
American Coot Sora
Killdeer Killdeer
Solitary Sandpiper American Woodcock
American Woodcock Mourning Dove
Mourning Dove Yellow-billed Cuckoo
Barred Owl Black-billed Cuckoo
Chimney Swift Barred Owl
Belted Kingfisher Chimney Swift
Red-bellied Woodpecker Belted Kingfisher
Downy Woodpecker Red-bellied Woodpecker
Hairy Woodpecker Downy Woodpecker
Northern Flicker Hairy Woodpecker
Great Crested Flycatcher Northern Flicker
White-eyed Vireo Pileated Woodpecker
Warbling Vireo American Kestrel
Red-eyed Vireo Eastern Wood-Pewee
Blue Jay Willow Flycatcher
American Crow Eastern Phoebe
Horned Lark Great Crested Flycatcher
Northern Rough-winged Swallow White-eyed Vireo
Purple Martin Bell’s Vireo
Tree Swallow Yellow-throated Vireo
Barn Swallow Warbling Vireo
Carolina Chickadee Red-eyed Vireo
Tufted Titmouse Blue Jay
House Wren American Crow
Carolina Wren Northern Rough-winged Swallow
Blue-gray Gnatcatcher Tree Swallow
Eastern Bluebird Carolina Chickadee
Wood Thrush Tufted Titmouse
American Robin White-breasted Nuthatch
Gray Catbird House Wren
Brown Thrasher Carolina Wren
Northern Mockingbird Blue-gray Gnatcatcher
European Starling Eastern Bluebird
Northern Waterthrush Veery
Common Yellowthroat Swainson’s Thrush
Northern Parula Wood Thrush
Yellow Warbler American Robin
Palm Warbler Gray Catbird
Yellow-rumped Warbler Brown Thrasher
Yellow-throated Warbler Northern Mockingbird
Prairie Warbler European Starling
Yellow-breasted Chat Blue-winged Warbler
Eastern Towhee Common Yellowthroat
Chipping Sparrow Yellow Warbler
Field Sparrow Palm Warbler
Song Sparrow Yellow-rumped Warbler
Swamp Sparrow Yellow-throated Warbler
White-throated Sparrow Prairie Warbler
White-crowned Sparrow Yellow-breasted Chat
Northern Cardinal Eastern Towhee
Red-winged Blackbird Chipping Sparrow
Eastern Meadowlark Field Sparrow
Common Grackle Song Sparrow
Brown-headed Cowbird Swamp Sparrow
American Goldfinch White-throated Sparrow
White-crowned Sparrow
Scarlet Tanager
Northern Cardinal
Rose-breasted Grosbeak
Indigo Bunting
Red-winged Blackbird
Eastern Meadowlark
Common Grackle
Brown-headed Cowbird
Orchard Oriole
Baltimore Oriole
American Goldfinch

Weekend of 4/19-20 – Migration has Started in Earnest

Nothing uncommon to report but migration has started in earnest.  This weekend I recorded 10 First-of Year (FOY) species.  Probably the most satisfying was a Sora at a sorta-new location.  Franklin HS has an area in front of the school that is set aside for habitat restoration or a natural area, I can’t remember which they call it.  Anyway it has always been dry with some dead cattails, so I never paid it much attention, until recently when we received all the rain.

Franklin HS Marsh 042014

It is now a nice little marsh area.  I didn’t have much time Sunday AM so I thought I would check it out.  Upon arriving there were some Blue-winged Teal, an American Coot, and a Pied-billed Grebe on the water.  A couple of Wilson’s Snipe didn’t like me standing on the bank and whined and flushed to the other side of the area.  A couple of Tree Swallows also flew over.

TRES Driftwood 041320

Then I tried a short Sora tape and immediately got a response.  And it was out in the open walking around.  I got a few photos from the distance.  Coming from the vast cornfield wasteland of Illinois it is always good to find a marsh, even if it is small.

SORA Franklin HS 042014A

SORA Franklin HS 042014

Mike and I birded Driftwood SFA, Irwin Park, and a flooded field Saturday morning.  Mike has been a little short with me and my inability to take photos, which I admit needs a lot of work, so he brought his “real” camera.  I will post his photos when I receive them.

The FOY birds I saw this weekend are as follows: Green Heron, Sora, Solitary Sandpiper, Greater Yellowlegs, Warbling Vireo, Northern Rough-winged Swallow, Purple Martin, House Wren, Wood Thrush, and Prairie Warbler.


Can it be counted?

Saturday morning I saw and then heard one other Ring-necked Pheasant at Atterbury FWA. That didn’t really surprise me because the habitat there is pretty good for it. But is it countable for birding lists?

A cold Ring-necked Pheasant in North-Central Illinois.  Not all that unusual there. 01/22/10
A cold Ring-necked Pheasant in North-Central Illinois. Not all that unusual there. 01/22/10

The short answer about listing the bird is yes. It is my list so I can count what I want. But if I had to submit the list for some kind of record to a rules committee, would it be countable? The answer is probably no.

The Ring-necked Pheasant was introduced from Asia as a game bird in the U.S. The American Birding Association rules state:

  1. an introduced species may be counted only where and when it meets the ABA Checklist’s definition for being an established population. An introduced species observed well away from the accepted geographic area is not counted if it is more likely to be a local escape or release rather than an individual straying from the distant population;


As seen on the below distribution map the Ring-necked Pheasantfalls in the geographic area of Central Illinois and Indiana.

Ring-necked pheasant

The wild population I used to see around Matthiessen State Park in Illinois were probably countable because, I think, at one-time the state released Ring-necked Pheasants for hunting and they became established in the area. So how do you know if the birds have lived there for years or are ones that were recently released in the area for hunting?

Reading the DNR website Ring-necked Pheasant are released at Atterbury every February for hunting. But how do I know for sure if the ones I saw were released this past February or ones that were released 14 months ago or 26 months ago and are now established? I really don’t.

But if I had to guess they were probably released this past February but I really don’t spend a lot of time in that particular area of Atterbury, especially in the early morning when they are calling. Maybe they have always been there and I have just missed them.

So unless you are submitting your list for a national or state record, I say count the birds and move on.


A Sparrow and a Thrush

The plan for the day was to search for rails and maybe a bittern at the cattail marsh at Atterbury.  Then meet up with Mike at Laura Hare for another try at migrating Hermit Thrush.

So as with most weekends the adventure started by bushwhacking through some brush.  This time through thorns to get to the marsh.  But no need to waste your time on the outing.  Even though it was a perfect morning to be out, no rails or bitterns were heard or seen.

Atterbury Marsh 041214

Nor were any Woodcocks or Owls and I was out early enough to hear them.  The water was still very high in the marsh so I understood why the rails weren’t there, yet.  I’ll try again next week. The good news is only one leg came out of my boot after getting stuck in the muck. A nice save and I got the leg in the boot before I stepped in the muck!

But I had heard Henslow’s Sparrows on my walk to the marsh.  I heard them last year on the far side of the same field in July and August so I was surprised to hear them this early in the spring on this side. I bet I stared at this thorn bush for 5 minutes listening to the Henslow’s before it finally flicked a wing and I spotted it.

HESP Bush Atterbury 041214

He jumped up and I maneuvered a little to get the following photos.

HESP Atterbury 0412147

HESP Atterbury 0412146

HESP Atterbury 0412145

Notice the olive colored face and short tail.

HESP Atterbury 0412143

HESP Atterbury 0412141

I also saw and heard a species that I will post about later this week.

On to Laura Hare, showing up 15 minutes late, after waiting around for the Henslow’s to pop up.  Just like last week the best birding was 100 meters from the parking lot in the boggy area.  Several species including a Louisiana Waterthrush was calling as was a Pileated Woodpecker.  We then got on a warbler up high that we at first thought was a Yellow-throated but it just didn’t look right.  Yellow on the throat but no white on the sides.  It then sang the song of a Northern Parula, ending that discussion.

On to the forest to search for Hermit Thrush.  We really hadn’t gone far when Mike saw a bird flutter up ahead on the trail.  Turned out to be two Hermit Thrushes.

HETH Laura Hare 0412142

HETH Laura Hare 0412143

HETH Laura Hare 0412141

We ended up with 3 Hermit Thrushes on the day.  Except for the boggy area near the parking lot, it was quiet. (in other words no Winter Wren)

A quick check on the way home at the best wet area I have found in the county only produced Killdeer, Pectoral Sandpipers, and Wilson Snipe.

And I will end with a photo of an Eastern Bluebird I took the other night.

ESBL Franklin HS 040914




Have you read your Field Guide Cover to Cover?

After writing about the release of Sibley’s second edition last week, I started to write a post about how many birding books someone really needs, and that got me thinking about how I really use a field guide or any book on bird in particular.

This all really started a few months ago with the release of The Warbler Guide Song and Call Companion by Tom Stephenson. The book came out to great reviews and really looked like a great book to get. I was all set to buy when I started thinking, wait, I have numerous field guides that contain sections on warblers and I even own a specialty book on warblers.  What am I going to get out of buying another book on warblers? Well I really don’t know since I haven’t read any of them thoroughly!

That’s right, if I really think about it, I haven’t read and studied any of the books thoroughly. And I bet I am not alone on this.  If others are like me they scan the introduction and then read the parts they need when they need them.  Like when I am getting ready for migration I scan the parts on vireos and warblers, for example.  If I am going on an out of state trip I read about species native to those areas.  But to have sat down and read the book from cover to cover like a good novel? Nope, haven’t done it.

And I bet if I took the time to sit and read and study a field guide from cover-to-cover, and I mean really read and study, and then read Pete Dunne’s Essential Field Book Companion the same way, I think it would answer most of the questions I have about birds and birding.

Do I need the specialty books outside the fact I like to read about birds and birding? Probably if I decide to become a gull addict. But outside of that, probably not need, but still want.

In case you forgot what the cover of The Sibley Field Guide to Birds of Eastern North America looked like, here is a picture of my worn copy.
In case you forgot what the cover of The Sibley Field Guide to Birds of Eastern North America looked like, here is a picture of my worn copy.

So I challenge myself to read my The Sibley Field Guide to Birds of Eastern North America from cover-to-cover. All 431 pages. I will let you know how it goes and what I find out.

How do you read/use a field guide?


April 5-6 – Several FOY & Nemesis Overcome

The theme for this weekend was water, water everywhere.  The rain on Thursday had flooded all the fields and even some roads.

Typical seen this weekend - water in the fields and on the roads - SE of Franklin. 04/05/14
Typical seen this weekend – water in the fields and on the roads – SE of Franklin. 04/05/14

But I still headed out on my bike Saturday heading east of town to look for shorebirds in the flooded fields.  The Red-tailed Hawk was on her nest but I still couldn’t get a good picture. Someone needs to tell me how to take a picture of an object when there are branches in the way.

RTHA on Nest 040514

The first couple of hours consisted of seeing most of the expected species including FOY Chipping Sparrow and Barn Swallows. I finally arrived at the flooded field that had shorebirds last year but none were present today.  Until I started to leave. The noise I made must have disturbed 4 Wilson’s Snipe and they flushed 40-50 feet. Sorry no photos but everything moved quick. The 6 mile ride home into the wind was uneventful except that I am out of shape and about threw-up.

Saturday afternoon I checked the local Great Blue Heron rookery.

Great Blue Heron Rookery. I count 12 nests and 11 Herons.  04/05/14
Great Blue Heron Rookery. I count 12 nests and 11 herons. 04/05/14

GBHE 040514

GBHE on Nest 040514

Now for the unusual part.  I watched a Red-tailed Hawk come in a couple of times and land on the top of a tree – like a Rough-legged Hawk. It then dove down in one of the nests fighting with one of the Herons.  Anyone know why?

Red-tailed Hawk that was harassing Great Blue-Heron on their Nests.  Was the hawk using the nest previously and want them out? Was it after food?  I'm not sure.  04/05/14
Red-tailed Hawk that was harassing Great Blue-Heron on their nests. Was the hawk using the nest previously and wanted them out? Was it after food? I’m not sure. 04/05/14

Mike called and wanted to go out Sunday morning.  We decided Laura Hare Preserve would be the best spot to find migrant Hermit Thrush and the nemesis Winter Wren.

Before sunrise and before the birds would be back-lit I stopped by another wet area on the way. While there a flock of 8 Pectoral Sandpipers flew in and I located a couple of Lesser Yellowlegs.

Sunrise Sunday Morning - SW of Franklin.  If you look close enough you can see 5 Blue-winged Teal and a couple of Lesser Yellowlegs. 04/06/14
Sunrise Sunday Morning – SW of Franklin. I liked the picture even though it really doesn’t show birds.  But if you look close enough you can see 5 Blue-winged Teal on the water and a couple of Lesser Yellowlegs on the waters’s edge. 04/06/14

Immediately arriving at Laura Hare Preserve two Pileated Woodpeckers flew in.  If I would of had the camera out I would have got a great picture instead of the following sad picture.

Pileated Woodpecker fat sunrise.  I just liked the way the sun caught the red.  Laura Hare Preserve. 04/06/14
Pileated Woodpecker at sunrise. I just liked the way the sun caught the red. Laura Hare Preserve. 04/06/14

I don’t know how many times I have looked for Winter Wren since I moved to Johnson County last year.  At least a dozen, probably more.  I never found what I thought would be the right habitat until the Laura Hare Preserve opened up last November.  And with the winter we had I never headed there figuring everything would be frozen.  So with the next couple of weeks being the height of spring migration for Winter Wren, my hopes were high.

Mike and I hadn’t walked 100 yards when we heard the song (warble?) of a Winter Wren.  With a little work Mike was able to locate it in the brush and my current Johnson County nemesis bird had been overcome. That easy, but definitely not anti-climatic. It kept hopping around for a bit but we got a couple of quick looks. But I still want better looks in the future.

We then preceded to the ravine area in hopes of more wrens and maybe a Hermit Thrush.  No luck but we heard and then saw a Louisiana Waterthrush, totaling 3 on the day.  The preserve still looks good for Hooded and Worm-eating Warblers this spring and summer.

We then checked a spot at Atterbury FWA without much activity except for a Barred Owl calling at 11AM.  I did get a picture of a Field Sparrow and a Brown Thrasher at a top of a tree.

FISP Atterbury 040614

BRTH Atterbury 040514A

Another good weekend of birding (there all good if I’m birding) with another Johnson county life bird and 7 FOY’s seen.

So what’s my next Johnson County nemesis?





March 2014 Recap

In one of those odd occurrences I saw the same number of species in Johnson County in March of 2014 as I did in March of 2013 – 85 species.  The difference being 10 different species between the years.  Here are the differences:

2014 2013
Ross’s Goose Mute Swan
Cackling Goose Double-crested Cormorant
Blue-winged Teal Northern Harrier
Northern Pintail Pectoral Sandpiper
Long-tailed Duck Wilson’s Snipe
Common Goldeneye Barred Owl
Northern Bobwhite Hairy Woodpecker
Common Loon Merlin
Herring Gull Ruby-crowned Kinglet
Eurasian Collared-Dove Purple Finch

The highlights this March were the Ross’s Geese, Long-tailed Duck, Common Loon, Herring Gull, and Eurasian Collared-Dove.  Misses that might not be seen again in 2014 were Mute Swan (Tom had one on Lamb Lake in late March), Merlin, and Purple Finch. Merlin and Purple Finch are still a possibility in April and again in the fall. Mute Swan is a topic for another day as we have a year-round pair in Johnson County.  But are they countable?

Bufflehead pair that never swam close enough to get in the same picture as the Ross's Geese.  Franklin 03/30/14
Bufflehead pair that never swam close enough to get in the same picture as the Ross’s Geese. Franklin 03/30/14

Par, the number of birds I expected to see for the month, was 75.  I might have set that a little low but the continuing waterfowl bumped up the total species seen.  I will have to evaluate that next year.

March 2014 was still cold with only a few of the weekend days not cold and blustery.  And the continued freeze on the Great Lakes could be seen around the state with Red-necked Grebes and Red-throated Loons being seen inland.

Red-necked Grebe in Shelby County. Never did see one in Johnson County. 03/28/14
Red-necked Grebe in Shelby County. Never did see one in Johnson County. 03/28/14

And it was dry towards the end of the month so shorebird spots were dry. I can also tell I didn’t get out as early on the weekends by missing Barred Owl.

Hours in the field were comparable (5 weekends):

March 2013 – 2210 minutes – 36.8 hours in the field.

March 2014 – 2057 minutes – 34.3 hours in the field.

The big difference were miles driven:

March 2013 – 515 miles

March 2014 – 333 miles

So I saw the same number on 182 less miles (7 gallons of gas in my car).  So that begs the following question.  Would I have seen more species driving more miles or seen even more driving less?  I would never have seen the Eurasian-collared Dove driving and probably missed the Ross’s Geese. But I would never have got to Driftwood to see the Common Loons.  So there is a balance there I will need to explore.

Still not as many miles walked/biked as I would have liked because of the weather. No pounds lost but none gained. Hopefully more miles walked/biked with improved weather in April.

New Field Guides – Should I Buy Another?

The U.S. birding community is all abuzz after 14 years of the release of his first edition of David Sibley’s 2nd Edition of The Sibley Guide to Birds.  And that has got me thinking about field guides. Do I need another field guide? And if so why?

The Sibley Guide To Birds - Second Edition  Image from Amazon
The Sibley Guide To Birds – Second Edition Image from Amazon

Just how much money do I need to spend on field guides?  I have used Sibley’s smaller Eastern North America Field Guide as my main source since I started birding.  And for certain things I have switched to the National Geographic Field Guide to the Birds of NA.  I also own the Big Sibley, Western NA Sibley, the bigger NG Complete Birds of NA, and the Stokes Field Guide to the Birds of NA.  Plus field guides to Costa Rica, Australia, and Europe.  And then there are specialty books on sparrows, warblers, etc.

So how many more field guides/books does one person need?  The more I birded the less I used field guides until I’m at the point I no longer carry one in the field. Instead I rely on describing anything I find interesting into my voice recorder and then check the field guides when I get back to the car or home.   And then I basically just use a couple – Sibley’s or Stokes. Sibley’s for his fine drawings and Stokes for their fine photographs.  From the comparison and contrast from those two sources I can usually answer my questions.

So how would buying the new Big Sibley’s benefit me?

First, I am familiar with the taxonomic order in the old version.  Second, there haven’t been that many splits or consolidations that would throw me off.  Third, I never used the range maps in the first edition. I check the NG which are better.  Fourth, I thought the drawings  in the first edition were top-notch.  And lastly, and probably the most important, my book shelf is already full.

My Bird Bookcase - minus a few in my bag that I carry to the car.
My Bird Bookcase – minus a few in my bag that I carry to the car.

So besides just having the new edition of Sibley’s I can’t think of a good reason to update.  For now I will probably keep my money and buy a field guide to South Africa or the Far East so I can dream of birds far away.

But if you have a compelling reason for me to purchase the new Sibley’s I would love to hear it.