Wondering About Horned Larks

This is short post to on a couple of things.

1. Even when the weather stinks, the snow is deep, and I can’t do birding by foot without a lot of hassle, there are still birds to be found.  In this case Horned Larks, Lapland Longspurs, and Snow Buntings along the roads of Johnson County.  Actually hundreds of Horned Larks, a few Lapland Longspurs, and only one Snow Bunting.

The photos aren’t the best since the day was pretty dreary.

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A few of the hundreds of Horned Larks I saw on the day. This group flew over to a field and waited for cars to pass. Johnson County 02/22/14
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I posted this picture to show that it really isn’t so hard to pick out Lapland Longspurs at a glance. I used to have problems picking them out of a flock of Horned Larks but once I got used to the color difference, not so difficult. Horned Lark center, Lapland Longspur right. Johnson County 02/22/14
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An out of focus picture but still one that shows the differences in color patterns of a Lapland Longspur and Horned Lark. Johnson County 02/22/14

Plus some sparrows and friends along the plowed roads of Johnson County Park.

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American Tree Sparrow – Note the bi-colored bill. Johnson County Park 02/22/14
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White-crowned Sparrow. Compare head pattern with the next photo. Johnson County Park 02/22/14
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White-throated Sparrow – compare head pattern to previous White-crowned Sparrow. Johnson County Park 02/22/14
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Dark-eyed Junco – Johnson County Park 02/22/14
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A Fox Sparrow got in on the action. Johnson County Park 02/22/14
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OK, Mr. Robin, I will post a picture of you. He wouldn’t move to let me see the Fox Sparrow. He wanted all the attention. Johnson County Park 02/22/14

2. And I have wondered about the following for some time.

I’m not the guy that tracks up the most hours in the field, especially the past year. But I’ve put my share of hours in the field.  So where are Horned Larks in the summer? Sunday I must have seen 5 or 6 flocks of 150-200 Horned Larks along the road.  In the summer I  hear a few but might go weeks without seeing one. I know they are in the fields but besides one gravel road in Illinois that always had 10-20 I never see many in the summer. Just wondering?

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This Horned Lark posed nicely for a for photo. Where will it be hiding in July? Johnson County 02/22/14

 

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A Few More Pictures from Costa Rica

Since it snowed 6 inches Friday night which wrecked another Saturday of birding, I thought I would get together a few more pictures from Costa Rica, December 2014.

Remember to click on photo for enlarged view.

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Let’s start with the photo that made me the maddest from the trip, a Crimson-collared Tanager that I couldn’t get a good shot. I tried all sorts of angles but none were clear. And then it flew away and I didn’t see another one the trip. La Fortuna area – Dec. 2014
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The photo from one of the best times on the trip. You can’t really tell but there are both Turkey and Black Vultures, Magnificent Frigatebirds, and Brown Pelicans soaring together. It was really something to watch. La Flamingo area – Dec. 2014
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A closer look at a Magnificent Frigatebird. La Flamingo area – Dec. 2014
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Sorry for only catching him/her on a power line, but it  kept running back and forth outside our balcony. A Variegated Squirrel, I think. Nothing beats a squirrel with a racing strip down it’s back. La Flamingo area – Dec. 2014
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Sorry, another power line shot. This was the only time I didn’t see a Stripe-headed Sparrow peeking out from the bushes. La Flamingo area – Dec. 2014
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The most numerous parrot of the trip was the Orange-chinned Parakeet. They enjoyed the bananas at the lodge where we stayed. And in typical parrot fashion were quite vocal about it. La Fortuna area – Dec 2014
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We saw numerous Three-toed Sloths on the trip, but this was the only one that gave a half way decent picture. OK, maybe a quarter decent picture. La Fortuna area – Dec. 2014
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Both sexes of Passerini’s Tanagers feeding on the local bananas. I was glad to see the females were a duller color like they are here in the temperate zones. I was beginning to think all birds were really colorful. La Fortuna area – Dec. 2014
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Another numerous species like the Passerini’s was the Blue-gray Tanager. To me they seemed to keep to cover more than the Passerini’s. La Fortuna area – Dec 2014
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I did not get a good photo of a Streaked-backed Oriole but I like this one since it shows off the streaked-back. Like most orioles he wasn’t happy with me getting close. La Flamingo area – Dec. 2014
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I had never noticed how many contrasting colors a White-winged Dove has until I studied this one. In other words I had never taken the time to look. La Flamingo Area – Dec. 2014
We were at a hot springs when my brother-in-law noticed a large bird in a tree. Immediately after I took this photo the Osprey flew down to the river and got it’s fish. La Fortuna area – Dec. 2014
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A good way to start the day – a flock of White Ibis roosting. I took this picture before sunrise at the one-lane bridge in the previous blog. La Flamingo area – Dec. 2014
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And what is a set of pictures without at least one Great-tailed Grackle? I have decided I must include one from every trip. Or at least a cousin of one. La Flamingo area – Dec. 2014

 

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10 Things We Heard About Costa Rica Before Going – True or False?

Here is a list of non-birding related items that we had read or heard before our trip to Costa Rica in December 2014. In our experience some are correct, some aren’t, and a few fall in the gray middle area.

The points aren’t in any particular order.

1. We had heard most Costa Ricans spoke some English so you really don’t need to know Spanish.  Mostly False.  Only at the major locations – the airport for example – or at the lodges.  Otherwise very spotty.  We could have used knowing basic Spanish.

2. We had read not to exchange money at the airport because of the exchange rate and fees.  False – Do it.  We would have been better off to pay the higher fees and got some colóns at the airport.  We ended up wasting money because we hadn’t broken any U.S. $20’s at the airport and then later going to an ATM.

3. We had heard mixed reports about renting a car. We didn’t rent one and I am glad we didn’t.  We hired drivers to get from place to place, which I think is the way to go for the first time traveler.  Next time I will do a hybrid system .  I would hire a driver for the 3-4 hour journey from the airport to our destination and then rent a car at the location for a few days. I spoke to a gentleman from Saskatchewan who drove and it was “OK” with the most recent GPS software. But I talked to a couple from the U.K. with just maps and they had to stop 20 times asking for directions from the airport.  There are very, very few directional road signs. And they are small.

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Even the main roads have one lane bridges that slow traffic. This photo is on a nice day but we had to cross several on a very rainy day. La Flamingo – Dec. 2014

 

4. Don’t forget your exit tax at the airport – $29 per person.  True.  We talked to several people who knew nothing about it.

5. It is called the Rain Forest for a reason. True.  We were in the rain forest area for 4 days.  It rained 3 of them. In fact the first day we were there it was clear and the locals said it was the first day in 3 weeks it hadn’t rained.

Arenal VolcanoArenal Volcano Cloudy

On the left the view of Arenal Volcano on our first day in the area. This would be the only day the volcano was seen most of the day. On the right is a more typical view (or lack of ) of the volcano.

6. I read you should download a copy of “What to pack for Costa Rica” and then follow it.  True. We used the 2 small flashlights we had every night.  The lodges aren’t very well-lit.  And my wife lost her glasses. But we had packed a second pair as the list recommended. The one we used is located here.

7. We had neither read or heard about the waves at La Flamingo.  We were expecting the types of waves we experienced in different parts of the U.S.  If I’m describing it correctly, the waves “break” all at once, knocking you down if you’re standing in them. Not what we were expecting.  (See losing wife’s glasses in 6 above)

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Typical waves at La Flamingo. They “break” all at once knocking you down and push you around. Dec. 2014

 

8. Allow time at customs/immigration on the flights if you have to make a connecting flight.  True and False.  Coming back into the U.S it’s true, not so much going out. We saw and have heard of several people missing connecting flights because of the long lines coming back into the U.S. Luckily we had a 3 hour layover in Houston because it took an hour and 20 minutes to get through the long line.  But maybe it was because of the holidays?

9. I had read and heard that WiFi is spotty. True.  Several places you had to be within 50′ of the service to get your phone, laptop, etc. to work.  I didn’t use either but my wife and daughter had some troubles with their phones.

10. You can drink the water. True.  None of us had any problems.

I would like to know if you have any points to add or disagree with my points. Just  leave a comment below.

A Few Photos from December 2014 Costa Rica Trip

I started to call this my 10 favorite photos but I couldn’t narrow it down.  So I’ll go with a title of just a few photos.

Let me start by stating up front this was a family vacation with birding added. Though if you ask my family they would say it was a birding trip for me. The trip was my first out of the country in years so I was also using the trip to see how I like traveling aboard.

I am not going to write about the trip in a travelogue format. I will present a brief description of the trip and in my next post discuss some things we had heard or read about Costa Rica before we went and if they were true or not.

A brief description of the trip. On December 13 we flew from Indianapolis to Houston to San Jose. No problems. We had hired a driver to take us to La Fortuna, the town nearest Arenal Volcano.  My sister-in-law’s family came in the next day. The lodges we stayed at in La Fortuna had great grounds for birding, so I did most of it there.  The day I was to go with a guide to Arenal got all messed up so I didn’t make it.  But I did hire a guide one morning that took us around the grounds of a local preserve. After four days in the area we then moved on to the NW resort area – La Flamingo. All the birding there was within walking distance of the hotel. We stayed 3 days and flew home out of Liberia.  No problems there either.  Got home at 12:30 AM and did the Johnson County CBC the next day. That’s the trip in a nutshell.  If you want more details leave a comment and I will reply.

Here are a few of my favorite birds-photos from the trip. I’m sure I’ll post more at a later date.

Remember to click the photos for a better view – especially the Broad-billed Motmot’s.

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Probably the best photo of the trip, this Tropical Kingbird was perched outside our balcony. La Flamingo – Dec 2014

 

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This Yellow-bellied Elaenia was actively feeding in the grounds at our lodge at La Fortuna. Dec 2014

 

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This Social Flycatcher was checking out a couple of dogs running by the tree. La Fortuna – Dec. 2014

 

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A Palm Tanager was hanging around, literally, eating bananas outside our lodge. La Fortuna Dec. 2014

 

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I saw numerous Scaly-breasted Hummingbirds on the trip. La Fortuna – Dec. 2014

 

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After seeing numerous Great Kiskadees in Texas and Costa Rica, one of the few birds I was actually hoping to see so I could compare them was a  Boat-billed Flycatcher. I was initially a little tentative on the ID until it called. La Flamingo – Dec. 2014

 

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Not the best of photos but it was taken under a tree in the rain. I was waiting for the rest of the group to come back when I saw some movement under a tree – a Broad-billed Motmot. I almost missed the tail at first (Click to enlarge and look close). Like myself, it sat for a long time just avoiding the rain. La Fortuna – Dec. 2014

 

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Out walking one morning I came across this Ringed Kingfisher hunting by one of the numerous one-lane bridges. La Flamingo – Dec. 2014

 

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I watched this Rufous-naped Wren for quite a while coming and going but never did figure out where the nest was being built. Seeing a wren this size was cool! La Flamingo Dec. 2014

 

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And lastly, there is something eerie about a Black Vulture beachcombing. La Flamingo – Dec. 2014

 

One White, One Dark

As I noted back in early December the company I work for changed computer systems and I was transitioning to a new position.  As with most things both took longer then planned and  culminated the last couple of weeks.  Heck, for the first time in as long as I can remember I worked both weekend days and didn’t bird at all. Nor have I had time to blog.

So it was good to walk out of work yesterday and see some uncommon birds. At least  uncommon for the Shelby County area.

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Two Snow Geese mixed in with hundreds of Canada Geese. Shelbyville Retaining Pond 02/10/15

A white and dark Snow Goose. Not anything like the thousands reported lately at Goose Pond but still good to see.

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021Not the first Snow Geese I have seen in the area having seen two down the road in December. But I can add the Snow Geese along to the Red-necked Grebe I saw last year at the work pond.

And I should be over the hump and back to birding and blogging this weekend.

 

Back to Bushwhacking – Johnson County 1/31/15

In the last few months I have drifted away what I like to do most in birding – bird the local area. And I have come to miss the familiarity of the local haunts.

So with that I went back to Johnson County Saturday to bird the spots I have spent the majority of the last two years.

I arrived an hour and fifteen minutes before sunrise and immediately had an Eastern Screech-Owl at one of the usual spots. I don’t know if it is me but I it wasn’t very far away and I still couldn’t find it with a flashlight.  The other usual Eastern Screech-Owl spot was silent. As was the usual Barred Owl site. I’m not having much luck with Barred Owls this year.

There were numerous Red-tailed Hawks on territory including one dark juvenile that had me thinking Rough-legged.  The local crows started to harass it which prevented me from getting a decent photo.

The bulk of the day was spent at Johnson County Park since there were still many hunters at Atterbury FWA. I spent several hours walking looking for sparrows and bushwhacking through thickets checking for owl whitewash before the snow came.  I didn’t find any whitewash but in the past it has paid off several times.  I came across a couple of good sized flocks of sparrows with the first flock consisting of several White-crowned and White-throated Sparrows.

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White-crowned Sparrow JC Park 01/31/15
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Same bird as above looking dapper.

While standing in some small saplings observing the White-crowned Sparrows, three American Kestrels came screaming by chasing each other and almost hit me.  My guess is they were only two to three feet above my head.  They landed on a power line across the road, all three still calling at each other.  One then flew to a nearby tree and kept calling.  They all eventually moved on with the one still calling.

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Two of the three American Kestrels on wires, the other having moved on to a nearby tree. JC park 01/31/15
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The third Kestrel just to the north, and still calling. JC Park 01/31/15

I did manage to record one of the American Kestrels that kept calling.

Audio of the American Kestrel calling close to me. Turn up your volume to hear. ( A Downy Woodpecker and Carolina Chickadee thought they would get in their 2 cents also)

Before I came upon the second flock of sparrows I was walking through a grass field that had a section plowed.  I kept hearing what I thought were Horned Larks.  The spot looked good for Horned Larks but the area is surrounded by miles of woods, not farm land.  So I was puzzled.  I scanned the area several times but did not see any larks.

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Are there Horned larks out there? JC park 1/31/15

Moving on to the brushy area on the other side I came upon a flock of American Tree Sparrows.  So the question is does the song of a flock of Tree Sparrows sound like the tingled song of a Horned Larks at a distance?

A little later while watching the flock of sparrows I heard a Red-shouldered Hawk in the distance.  It then got near enough that I could see it in the thicket.  It was a Blue Jay imitating the Red-shouldered Hawk.  No, it was practicing imitating a Red-shouldered Hawk because the hawk was still calling off and on in the distance.

Audio of a Blue Jay practicing its imitation of a Blue Jay. If you listen hard enough you can hear the distant, real Red-shouldered Hawk at 10 seconds.

I didn’t find anything unusual at Johnson County Park but did hear a Killdeer, which in itself isn’t unusual but I hadn’t heard one since the first of the month,

I then stopped by Walmart/Lowes Pond in Franklin on the way home.  On the limited amount of open water there was a pair of Common Goldeneye to go with the Canada Geese, Mallards, and American Coots.

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Local birds at Lowes/Walmart pond. Franklin 01/31/15

It was a good day to be out and looking for the local birds.