Shelby County Snow Geese

I decided to take the long way home meandering through the agriculture landscape looking for white blobs (Snowy Owls) or maybe a hawk sitting on the smallest, top limb of a tree (Rough-legged Hawk).  I didn’t really expect to see any, and I didn’t, but I did come across a pair of Snow Geese at a retention pond on the north side of Shelbyville.

And as Landon Neumann states often on IN-Bird, birds like these are good to see in the “cornfield desert”. Or something similar to that. It conveys the idea well.

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The pair of Snow Geese in a “natural setting” – factory grounds by a retention pond. Shelbyville, IN 12/29/14
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A better view of one of the two. I like to observe Snow Geese near Canada Geese to get a good feel for their size. The size contrast helps so on the few occasions I come across the smaller Ross’s Geese it is easier to make the ID.
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And here practicing it’s dance moves in preparation for a New Year’s Eve Party.



My 5 Best Birds of the Year – 2014

As with the tradition of bird bloggers, one must pick out their best birds for the previous year.  Not sure I like the term best bird, since all birds are in some way the best bird. But I like going through the exercise because it makes me reflect on the previous year.

Since I birded outside the Midwest on 3 occasions this year- South Texas, Southern California, and Costa Rica – picking a Best Bird of the Year is a little more difficult this year. But keeping with societies hangup for lists, I now present my top 5 birds of 2014.

5. Rufous-crowned Sparrow

Seen at Mission Hills Regional Park in San Diego in November.  I had not expected to see it since it was low on the status and distribution list. A very nice surprise.

A completely unexpected bird that sat up for great looks. Mission Hills – San Diego, CA – Nov. 2014


4. Montezuma Oropendola

This was one of the birds I had definitely wanted to see in Costa Rica.  A large blackbird but with a chestnut back, yellow tipped tail, and white under eye.  What else to say.

MORO Corrected
I lightened the photo to try to show the coloring a little better. Taken photos is tough during the rainy season since it is always dark and rainy. Hence the term “Rain Forest” – La Fortuna area – Costa Rica – Dec. 2014

3. Green Jay

As I have stated previously, why can’t the Midwest have a blue headed, green body jay?  I probably wouldn’t even travel much if I could see one of these in my neighborhood.

Not the clearest of pictures, but the best one I had to show the contrasting blue head, black face and throat, and green body. Laguna Atascosa National Wildlife Refuge – Texas – June 2014


2. Carolina Wren

Still my favorite Midwest bird.  If not my favorite bird. What’s not to like about an always chattering, feisty, brown above, buff below fireball?

Carolina Wren - Common in Indiana - Not so common in North-Central Illinois
Carolina Wren – Illinois

1. Golden-olive Woodpecker

Of all the new birds I saw this year this one probably made me gasp the loudest when I first saw it. It almost looked fake with the colors seeming to be painted on. I looked and looked and still couldn’t believe the coloring.

I still can’t believe that the colors aren’t painted on it’s body. La Fortuna area – Costa Rica – Dec. 2014

So there you have my top 5 for 2014.  Hopefully you have had as good of time reflecting  on the birds you saw in 2014.

ABA #400 – Birding Southern California in November

Even though the migrants had moved on and I knew the number of species present wouldn’t be large, my new position at work gave me a chance to bird the San Diego area for two days in November.

I reached out to San Diego blogger Greg Gillson for the best spot to see some of the western birds I haven’t seen. Resident birds like Black and Say’s Phoebe’s, California Towhee, Cassin’s Kingbird, Nuttall’s and Acorn Woodpecker. Since I was sitting at 397 species on the ABA (American Birding Association) list, seeing just a few of these birds would put me over 400.  Greg replied that Mission Trails Regional Park would be a choice in November.  And he was correct.

I decided to go to Mission Trails the first day for traffic reasons and work the coast the second day.  I didn’t even get out of the motel parking lot when I heard and then saw a Black Phoebe calling.  ABA #398.

Really bad photo in early morning light. Black Phoebe – San Diego 11/21/14

I eventually got moving towards the park after seeing a Western Gull, and numerous Anna’s Hummingbirds and Audubon’s Yellow-rumped Warblers.

The gull had been eating from a McDonald’s bag, but I decided not to take that photo. Western Gull – San Diego 11/21/14
Anna’s Hummingbirds were all around the motel parking lot. San Diego – 11/21/14


Odd seeing the yellow throat. The most numerous species on the day. Audubon’s Yellow-rumped Warbler – San Diego 11/21/14

Once reaching Mission Trails I had the same problem as the motel, getting out of the parking lot. There were lots of birds flying and calling and I since I wasn’t sure if there would be more down the road, I stayed put in the parking lot.  Lesser Goldfinches were in good numbers.

I lightened the photo to show the distinctive dark cap. Lesser Goldfinch – Mission Trails 11/17/14

A Western Scrub-Jay flew in.  More Anna Hummingbirds.  Then two Nuttell’s Woodpeckers called and flew into a distant tree,  ABA #399. I watched them for some time but they never came closer.  Interesting on the barred back versus the stripped of the Downy Woodpecker.

Finally crossing over to the campground parking lot there was a Lark Sparrow that puzzled me for a minute.  Guess I had missed it when studying up on the status and distribution.

Lark Sparrow – Mission Hills, San Diego 11/17/14

Then a House Wrens flew in along with Bushtits.

Secretive House Sparrow popped out for a moment. Mission Hills, San Diego 11/17/14


I saw several flocks of Bushtits on the day. Wish we had them back east… Mission Hills, San Diego 11/17/14

Then a bird I initially thought from its flight was a Jay, flew by and out to an open field.  It perched on a distant pole but sat and gave a good, if distant view.  Cassin’s Kingbird – ABA #400. (For the record #300 was a Baird’s Sandpiper in Illinois on 8/21/10).

By the time I got done looking at the bird through my binocs, a second one flew in on another pole. Cassin’s Kingbird – Mission Hills – San Diego – 11/21/14

I will post about the rest of the trip at a later date.

So on to #500.  I am guessing the time gap between 400 and 500 will be a lot shorter than the gap between 300 and 400 and will come in Arizona.

Johnson County Christmas Bird Count 2014 – Quiet, Very Quiet…

I would like to tell you I have as good a story as last year’s American Kestrel story, but I don’t.

My family arrived back from Costa Rica around 12:15AM the night before the count. So after traveling for 12-13 hours Saturday I really didn’t feel like owling Sunday morning.  And even with starting later it still took me awhile to get going.  I think I finally got moving about noon Christmas Day, 4 days later.

But I had a good time birding with Megan and Jules, even if the morning was quiet. And I do mean quiet. And after listening to Great Kiskadees calling in Costa Rica for a week, it made it even more so.

I just noticed I didn't take a picture of a Great Kiskadee in Costa Rica. This picture is from last summer in South Texas.
I just noticed I didn’t take a picture of a Great Kiskadee in Costa Rica. This picture is from last summer in South Texas.

The group’s thoughts are that once again the weather was too nice.  Without the nasty weather to concentrate the birds around open water or a food source, it seems they can spread out and be difficult to find.

So we birded the few spots in the eastern part of the circle where we could find birds.  The best was probably a Ruby-crowned Kinglet at Johnson County Park. But a second year Bald Eagle along Sugar Creek was a good surprise.  Nothing real different in our area’s 32 species, which did not include a Tufted Titmouse.  I told you it was quiet.

But Tom and Ann observed a Golden Eagle, which if documented and accepted, I think it would be a Johnson County CBC first. Otherwise nothing of note was mentioned at the lunch meeting and Mike didn’t report anything later by email. I think the complete count ended up with 53 species, well below the average in the low 60’s. I did mention it was quiet, right?

A Guide, or Not?

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

Costa Rica Rainforest – Original Photo by Gunther Wegner

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

But it’s not that easy.

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

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

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

Probably a Guide

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

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

Probably Not

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

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

I have my Answer, Or Not

So I think I have my answer.

Or maybe not.

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

Now I hope I have my answer.

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


Better Birders “Ship”

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

Product Details

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And other people wonder how they get it all done?

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



November 2014 – Way Too Much Travel

Two Weeks in Ohio

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

A Week Out West

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

A Week for Thanksgiving

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

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

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


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

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


And the same bird feeding.