Where to Bird?

This past weekend was the last weekend for the IAS Summer Count.  And I spent it looking for species not yet seen in Johnson County in June or July.  But with the storms I didn’t have much luck.

Knowing where I had to bird this past weekend got me wondering, once again, how birders decide where to go birding? Especially people who work during the week and can only get out on the weekends. I assume people with more free time can cover more places during the week so the decision isn’t as hard. But for people like me it is tough.

If you have been following this blog then you know I spend my limited weekend time birding southern Johnson County – the Driftwood, Atterbury, Johnson County Park area. Not really a large area, but when I have to decide where to bird, it is.  Atterbury has 6 or 7 distinct areas that take a couple of hours each to bird thoroughly.  Throw in Driftwood, Johnson County Park, and Irwin Park in Edinburgh and now we are at 10 areas.  And there are a lot of other smaller areas to check also.  So how to choose since I would like to spend time in each area weekly?

"Paris 2010 - Le Penseur" by Daniel Stockman - Flickr: Paris 2010 Day 3 - 9. Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons - http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Paris_2010_-_Le_Penseur.jpg#mediaviewer/File:Paris_2010_-_Le_Penseur.jpg
Where to bird? Hmm? *

I sometimes wish I was a twitcher, chaser, whatever you want to call someone who chases rarities or a bird needed for a list. Then the choice would be easier on many weekends. Or if I didn’t mind driving more to see birds it would be easier.  Then I could go where I think I would have a chance of seeing more species, Goose Pond or the Lake Michigan shoreline for example.

So how do people decide where to bird?  My basic assumption is they use status and distribution and go to the correct habitats where they have the best chance of seeing what might be migrating.  Or if they are lucky enough to bird daily maybe they census the best habitats in their areas over and over.

I would be interested to hear how others decide.

* “The Thinker” “Paris 2010 – Le Penseur” by Daniel Stockman – Flickr: Paris 2010 Day 3 – 9. Licensed under Creative Commons – From Wikimedia Commons

Texas – June 2014

I am not going to go into great detail about the logistics from our family trip to Texas the third week of June, 2014. Our family vacations are a compromise between family vacation and birding trip.  The compromise is to go somewhere new for birding as long as there is a beach nearby.  So we stayed on South Padre Island four days and three days at McAllen. The only problem of the trip was the weather getting home.  Spent way to much time in Houston Airport.

I birded the following sites in this order, one per day: Sabal Palm Sanctuary, Laguna Atascosa National Wildlife Refuge, South Padre Island Birding, Estero Llano Grande, and Bentsen-Rio Grande Valley State Park. Plus a cruise into McAllen one evening to see the Green Parakeets roost. I thought with great luck I might see 37 “Life” birds.  I ended up with 28.  Putting me real close to going over one of those milestones.  But more on that in a later post.

To sum it up – the birding was great, the weather great, and the food too plentiful.  On most outings I was the only one in the park.  Or maybe one of two.  Definitely the off-season. Sabal Palm Sanctuary and Estero Llano Grande were probably the best spots and Bentsen-Rio Grande Valley State Park a bit of a disappointment.  At least in the off-season.

Some comments about the trip.  Golden-fronted Woodpeckers where everywhere.  And I mean everywhere.  A close second were Harris’s Hawks on poles out to Laguna Atascosa. Seemed like every pole in a couple of mile stretch had one.  Biggest miss, Groove-billed Ani. Highlight bird of the trip was Green Jay.  Why can’t we have a green bird in the Midwest?

So without further ado, a few photos from the trip. I will post more later.

The most satisfying bird of the trip, Clapper Rail. I went to the South Padre Birding Center really for only this bird. I had listened to another one on the north side of the site for a half hour and it never emerged. So I took the long way back around just to see what I might have missed. And not far from the visitor’s center I hear the clacking again. And then it comes into view calling. I watched it for quite a while showing several people from a covered seating area. 6/22/14
As I stated, Golden-fronted Woodpeckers where everywhere.
Why can’t we have a chocolate hawk in the Midwest? Harris’s Hawk – Buena Vista Blvd 6/21/14
Also present in good numbers but nothing like the Golden-fronted. Ladder-backed Woodpecker – Sabal Palm Sanctuary 6/20/14
Maybe Golden-fronted Woodpeckers where everywhere, but Great-tailed Grackles were the most numerous bird. Bentsen-Rio Grande Valley SP 06/24/14
A Plain Chachalaca showing it tail feathers. Laguna Atascosa NWR 6/21/14
One of the birds I wasn’t sure I was going to see, but saw several at Sabal Palm – Hooded Oriole – 6/20/14
I only saw one each of Green Kingfisher and Ringed Kingfisher, both at Bentsen-Rio Grande Valley SP 6/24/14.
So my wife and daughter only went birding with me once and only for a couple of hours. We stopped by the Kingfisher Overlook at Bentsen-Rio Grande Valley SP (why aren’t there benches there??) and was looking over the small lake when my wife says “there is a big bird over there with a big bill”. Yes, I would have probably overlooked the Ringed Kingfisher if she hadn’t pointed it out. And who would have thought you would see Kingfishers at a “Kingfisher” overlook?
And I will end with this picture. This was taken to the SW from the Bentsen-Rio Grande Valley Hawk Watch platform. I assume from the distance it was across the Rio Grande in Mexico. Not sure what they are advertising. If someone can hazard a guess I would appreciate it.



White River Rookery Survey

On April 26, 2014 I accompanied Karl Werner, Rob Rutledge, and Mike Clay to survey the White River Heron Rookery in NW Johnson County. The rookery is on CILTI property (Central Indiana Land Trust Incorporated) on the west side of the river and is not open to the public. The goal is to census the Heron Rookery every five years. The census should have taken place last year, but high water prevented the count.

Heron Rookery - Map

Heron Rookery - Satellite

The day was perfect for the census. We surveyed the rookery in mid-afternoon under clear skies which was good since the temperature reached 80 degrees Fahrenheit.  That is important since some of the Great Blues fly off the nest uncovering the eggs.  But the warmer temps should have kept them warm for the short time they were exposed.

One of the active nests we observed through the limbs.

We worked quickly going in a north-south pattern marking the counted trees so we wouldn’t tally them again. We probably weren’t in the main part of the rookery for more than 45 minutes.

It was very easy to get disoriented if you didn’t try to stick to a constant back and forth walk.

Listed below are the results of this and previous years survey:

Year            Total Nests        Active Nests        Number of Trees
1985                   142
1987                   225
1990                   334
1993                    562
1998                    505
2003              314                    300                        ?
2008 (4/18)    146                    138                        51
2014 (4/27)     89                     85                          36

So why the increase and then decline in the number of nests over the years? I turned to the internet to see what others have speculated on the declines of rookeries. Some of the reasons I found were disturbances in food source, water pollution, eagles in the area taking eggs, a nearby loud noise, or simple an overpopulation of the area.

One of the things I thought about was the growth of the city of Greenwood which lies to the east.  Below is the population growth of Greenwood.

1980     19,327     62.8%

1990     26,265     35.9%

2000     36,037     37.2%

2010     49,791     38.2%

I have only lived in the area a short time, so I don’t know if the city’s expansion effected the herons or their food supply.  But last year I was out observing the rookery from the east side of the river.  The owner of the only house in the area stopped by to talk.  He said the house had been his grandfather’s so he had been coming to the area for years.  He remembered as a child the herons flying all day long to somewhere “east” and then returning.  Presumably with food.  Over the years he had watched the number decline with greater decreases over the last 5-10 years.  He speculated the expansion of gravel pits in the area might have something to do with it.  In the couple of hours I spent there I only saw four herons flying east and then back. So I can’t think that the city’s growth couldn’t have impacted the rookery in some manner.

As for other reasons listed, yes there are Bald Eagles that live on that stretch of the river. The large gravel pits have loud, noisy machinery.  Maybe the composition of the White River has changed.

A view of the White River looking north of the rookery. Notice all the debris from the recent flooding.

My theory, which I have no proof or facts to back up, is there got to be too many herons for the local food source.  There would have to be over 1000 herons if there were 562 nests, plus the young.  There would have had to been a large supply of food to support that many herons. So hopefully many of the herons moved on to other locations with a better food source.

A couple more nests. I’m not for sure but these might have been abandoned.

But like most things I have encountered in life, it is probably a combination of several things.

It would good to hear from others about the rise or decline of other heron rookeries.

Thanks to John Castrale for providing the data on past surveys.

Half Way There

OK, I was going to post this last week but I got busy, then went to Goose Pond Saturday, etc., etc., etc.

Besides being halfway through the calender and birding year, we’re also halfway through the Indiana Audubon Society (IAS) Summer Count which runs June-July.  From the web page “The Indiana Audubon Society Summer Bird Count is a count used to determine which species are present during the months of June and July in any Indiana county.” And of course I will be counting in Johnson county.  

The Summer count is one of those counts I like.  Most counts consist of a one day scramble trying to see as many species as you can.  But the summer count consists of keeping track over a two month period which gives plenty of time to cover the county and see what birds might actually breed there.

But halfway is really a misnomer since I have already seen 90%+ of the birds I will probably see in Johnson County for June and July. Last year in June I saw 102 species on the way to seeing 108 species total.  This year I am a little behind with only 94 species seen in June.  Probably something to do with birding in Texas for a week in June. But after communicating with other birders in the county we are doing OK as a group because others have seen the species I have missed.

So now the fun part of the count, when I can target habitat and birds.  And inevitably when I target an area I always seem to pick up other species that I hadn’t expected.  Especially the last week of July when hopefully migrating shorebirds will be coming through like they did last year.

I really haven’t seen any unexpected birds in June except the Olive-sided Flycatcher and Mute Swans seen on June 1. But I haven’t come across a breeding Blue-winged Teal like I did last year at the famed Lowes/Walmart pond. And the grass was cut at Atterbury’s Bobolink field at the end of May, so no Bobolinks.

But hopefully I will come across a migrating Cliff Swallow or Sedge Wren later in the month.  Or even an Upland Sandpiper or Loggerhead Shrike.  OK, I’m dreaming.

Here are some summer birds from 2009 in Illinois.

OK, I have already seen you this June.  Green Heron – Green River SP, IL 07/04/09

GRHE 070409

Saw one of your friends last June, but not this year.  American Coot –  Green River SP, IL 07/04/09

AMCO and Young 070409

Saw lots of you this June.  Common Yellowthroat – Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie, IL 06/12/09

COYE 061209

And you too.  Killdeer – Goose Lake Prairie State Natural Area, IL 06/12/09

KILL 061209

But they cut the grass, so not good odds on seeing you this summer in Johnson County.   Bobolink – Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie, IL 06/12/09

BOBO 061209

And here is one for dreaming in Johnson County.  But you never no!  Loggerhead Shrike – Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie, IL 06/12/09

LOSH 061209

So, how is your Summer Count coming?  Let me know.

Goose Pond – 7/5/14 – Greater Yellowlegs for Starters

With an extra day off due to the holiday, I made a run down to Goose Pond.  And as we just got a new car for my daughter which gets great mileage, I didn’t feel as guilty on the gas money. One Hundred Ninety-eight miles total on 4.5 gallons of gas ($15.80) – 44 miles to the gallon.  And as usual I brought a PBJ for lunch, so no cash outlay there.  But I did stop at Starbucks in Martinsville…

After going out early yesterday to Atterbury FWA and not having great visibility until the fog lifted, I waited today to leave so I would arrive around 8AM after the fog would hopefully have lifted.  Which it had.  But the drive was mostly in fog.

Mute Swan yesterday at Atterbury FWA in fog

MUSW Atterbury 070414

While at Goose Pond I birded from the Double Ditches for a couple of hours, the bridge at 1200W for a couple of hours, and checked out the other units but didn’t spend much time at those locations.

On the way to the bridge at 1200W I got my best view and photos ever of a very cooperative Northern Bobwhite.  He was first in the road and then flew onto a little snag. What more to say?




The terns were present and flying around the island.

Goose Pond looking north towards the island from the bridge at 1200W .

View GPFWA 070514

From 400 meters it was obvious they were Least Terns.  Since the distance was to great for photos and the island is restricted I made sketches from the scope view.  I know there have only been 2 terns reported plus the  young ones but I swear there were four.  Two groups of two flying at different ends of the island. I’ll wait and hear back from others to see if I was seeing things.

Least Tern sketch – just to show how I document birds in conjunction with a voice recorder.  I’m not a great artist, but I can usually get the essence down.


While watching from the bridge Black-necked Stilts kept constantly flying by with there legs extended back, even when I was under the tree over the bridge.

BNST Flyover GPFWA 070514

Then one went by with legs extended, but it was brown. Which through me off.  A Greater Yellowlegs, early, but not exceptionally.


As stated, I didn’t see much in the NW units but there were Cliff Swallows coming out from under a bridge.  This gives me hope that Johnson County might have nesting Cliff Swallows since I always thought Cliff Swallows needed a large, high bridge. It appears I was incorrect and can now start checking more bridges.

Cliff Swallow Bridge

CLSW Bridge GPFWA 070514

At noon I decided to go back and walk out the double ditches.  Glad I did.  While out there I heard Common Gallinules calling on both sides.  Then I thought I was hearing things when I heard a Sandhill Crane call for about 10 minutes.  I never could locate it but when I got home I saw on eBird that Don Gorney had one listed on July 1. And when I got back to the car a couple of guys were trying to fish on the west side of the road.  They made so much noise that they flushed a Least Bittern.  It flew about 20 meters in front of me and landed about 50 meters out.  I got great views but it dropped before I got a picture.  Nice way to end the day.


Say “Hello”, Please

Probably my biggest problem with birding is that birders do not say “hello”.  OK, that is not my biggest problem, the Eastern Time Zone is, and Warblers are probably number two.  But birders not saying hello has to be right up there somewhere.

A Baltimore Oriole yelling “hello” to a friend.

BAOR 052211

I encountered it again in Texas last week.  It is the slow time of the year.  On most days I was the only person birding the site.  And these are larger state parks.  On two occasions I came across other birders that did not say hello even after I did.  OK, one did nod.  It was fairly obvious that I was birding – binocs, camera, man purse with a notebook sticking out.  But I wasn’t dressed in the “official” birding uniform like they were.  They had on khaki hat, shirt, shorts, and boots.  I had on my tourist clothes – floppy hat, shirt, jeans, and in this case tennis shoes.  So they probably thought I was some crazy tourist that birded once a year.  Too bad because I could have put them on some decent birds, in one case I had just observed a Green Kingfisher buried deep in a large bush.

But this doesn’t just happen in Texas.  I have seen it in the Midwest ever since I started birding.  I used to think it was because people were intimidated that the person they were saying hello to would be a “better” birder.  Then after a while I noticed the “better” birders wouldn’t say hello either.  I thought they didn’t want to mingle with us lesser mortals. But  I don’t think either is correct.  I think it is our society.

A Western Meadowlark calling “hey” to a buddy.

WEME LL 071611

When I used to run, once a week I would run with a guy who would say hello to everyone.  We would be out a couple of hours on a long trail and we would say hello to all runners, walkers, bikers.  Most of them looked at us like we were nuts.  A few would say hello back but give us a strange look.  It didn’t change over the years.

I now work in a facility that has 600+ people.  The first thing I noticed when I transferred here last year is that no one says hello or even gives a nod.  What’s up with that?

If my mother was alive she would have been 99 last Sunday.  She was from a rural area of Kentucky and a different time.  She always said the world changed in the 1960’s when television became popular.  And in her opinion it didn’t change for the better. People started to stay inside instead of being outside and chatting with neighbors.  And I think the computer – internet world has continued that trend.  As I have heard several times, “You might communicate with a person on the other side of the world, but when was the last time you said hello to your neighbor?”

A Yellow Warbler calling over to the neighbors.

YEWA 061311

So the next time you are out birding and someone says “hello”, please at least say “hello” back.  Or take the initiative yourself. There are just too few birders not to do at least that much.