Driftwood SFA – Loons, Gulls, and a Swallow

I had already planned to check Driftwood Saturday, but after reading Don Gorney’s post on IN-Bird about the large numbers of Common Loons and Horned Grebes at Eagle Creek, I knew I would have to check out Driftwood.

I arrived a little after 10AM and spent the next 4 hours picking up two new county birds and basically just having a good time observing birds I hardly get to see.   The species aren’t that uncommon for the state, but they are uncommon for Johnson  County since it doesn’t have a large lake or river.

On the day I observed 7 Common Loons (personal high count for the county), 18 Horned Grebes (personal high count for the county), 3 Red-breasted Mergansers (new county bird), 120 Tree Swallows (which eBird flagged as a high count), a Barn Swallow (which eBird flagged as rare this time of year), FOY Brown Thrasher, and a species I thought I might not ever see in the county – 4 Bonaparte’s Gulls (needles to say new county bird).

Knowing that Mike needed a few of this birds for his county list, I gave him a call and he showed up for the remainder of the day.

A cropped photo of a Bald Eagle to start the day.


The loons came close several times.
I never did figure out of the loons were paired up or not.


Several times the loons would get low and start calling. Not sure why so  I will check on it but if you know please leave a comment.

Tuesday I will post some audio I got of the loons calling. And post some things I have learned about audio and Internet browsers.

The Tree Swallows were all huddled together in the cold in one tree.  Some would then go out and forage. Click to enlarge and see if you can spot the one Barn Swallow.

Where is the Barn Swallow?
TRES 3 I actually got one flying low on the lake!


Brrrrr. Cold.
As above.
Not a good photo, but good enough to document my first Red-breasted Merganser in the county.

A series of photos of Horned Grebes.


I didn’t take the time to get a good photo of this Brown Thrasher. Too busy watching the Bonaparte’s Gulls.

And now for a series of photos of the Bonaparte’s Gulls.  Distant photos but I enjoy watching the light and bouncy way they fly.  I immediately new them from that flight pattern. A real treat for a county where I have yet to see a Ring-billed Gull yet this year.




A cropped photo of a Bonaparte’s that came close.
Driftwood SFA
A beautiful, if cold day, to be watching the loons and gulls.


A Great Blue Heron Eating a Big Fish – Plus What I Saw and Learned this Past Week – 3/22/15

Not in any particular order, some things I saw or learned this past week. Sources listed as noted.

1. Many of you witnessed this. Or have seen it in video.  Or maybe on another blog. But until you see it, you don’t realize how big of fish a Great Blue Heron can swallow.

I pulled up to a local retaining pond, got out of the car, and heard a noise on the bank below.  A Great Blue had a fish in its mouth.  The fish looked rather large from my angle.  I had grabbed my camera and was fighting to turn it on and focus.  The Great Blue flew directly across the pond and stood in the shallow water with the fish.  I figured it couldn’t fly very far without losing the large fish.  It then proceeded to swallow it whole. Amazing.






Needless to say, or maybe not considering what it just ate, it didn’t fly away the remaining time I was there.

2. An article in the ABA’s Birding Magazine March 2014 issue entitled A Review of World Birding Strategies by Jason Leifester got me thinking. All of the following numbers are probably off by a few but will serve to get the idea across.

There are 238 bird families in the world of which 88 (37%) are listed in the birds of North America.  I figure if you bird the entire US outside of Alaska you could probably see 77 of the 88 families (87%) without too much trouble. In other words no chasing. There are 2225 bird genera in the world which 319 (14%)  are listed on the ABA list. There are 10000 bird species in the world.  There are 650 (6.5%) birds listed as a 1 or 2 on the ABA list.

At the end of my birding days I would like to say I saw 2500 (25%) of the bird species. Not going to happen. Cost prohibitive.

So maybe I see 1200 genera (50%).  Maybe. But still probably cost prohibitive.

Or lets say I could tell my grand-kids I saw 180 families (75%).  Could happen.

Something to think about when planning trips…

3.  The Black-Crested Titmouse was a separate species until 1982 when it was grouped as a subspecies of the Tufted Titmouse.  Twenty years later in 2002 it was split off again as a separate species. ( Pete Dunne on Bird Watching, page 279) I can’t wait until 2022 to see what happens.

4. I don’t remember in years past seeing Horned Grebes in breeding plumage in the spring.  Then again I didn’t see very many in the area we lived in Illinois.

Horned Grebe – Greenwood Retaining Pond – 03/22/15
Different bird – Horned Grebe – Greenwood Retaining Pond – 03/22/15

5. Grebes sleep with their bills facing forward, nestled in the side of their neck. (The Sibley Guide to Birds, page 26)

Horned Grebe – Greenwood Retaining Pond – 03/22/15

And a few more pictures from the week.

Eastern Meadowlark – Johnson County Park – 03/21/15
I guess I didn’t realize that the tail of the Eastern Towhees was this long. Atterbury FWA – 03/21/15
Blue Jay – Atterbury FWA – 03/21/15
Peaceful – Atterbury FWA – 03/21/15



Four Things I learned this Past Weekend 3/14/15

1. An American Woodcock has decided to call the woods behind our condo home.  Maybe he does every year but this is our first spring here.  I heard him “penting” both Saturday and Sunday. Along with 2 Great Horned Owls.  But I already knew they were there.

2. Why it’s called a Ring-necked Duck. You think after birding for several years now I would know that answer.  But I guess I never gave it a thought. I spent an hour sketching a male and female Ring-necked Saturday afternoon.  When I get home I always check my Sibley’s and National Geo to see what I missed.  The faint spur on the female was the only thing I hadn’t notice.  And the following in NG’s description of the male – “narrow cinnamon collar is often hard to see in the field.”  What cinnamon collar?  I’ve never noticed one.

The cinnamon collar should be at the base of the neck. Not here. Meijer’s Pond, Marion County 3/14/15
OK, I can see a faint hint of cinnamon on the front of the neck. Barely. I’ll keep looking.

3. If you live in the Midwest, you need to find yourself either a cornfield by a river that floods or better yet, a cornfield that never drains.  I can’t tell you how many times I have found waterfowl or shorebirds in a field that retains its water.  My local one contained Canada Geese, Mallards, Blue-winged Teal, Green-winged Teal, Northern Shovelers, American Wigeon, Lesser Scaup, and American Coots.  I looked for shorebirds but only Killdeer.  The only problem with a flooded field is that the waterfowl is usually on the side away from you and the shim makes it hard to see.

The local flooded field.

I also had Canvasback, Redheads, Ring-necked Ducks, and Hooded Mergansers at the local retaining ponds.

Lesser Scaup
Hooded Mergansers
Sleeping Redheads
Confused American Coots. Not sure which way to go.

4. Sandhill Cranes like to stop and regroup. A lot.  I had 4 flocks totaling 600 birds fly over and only one group kept to the V pattern and kept moving.  The other three looped several times before making a rough V and flying on.

Circling and circling.
Starting to make a V.
Finally half of the flock broke off and made a V. I mean a A.

And a few other photos.

Mourning Dove
Nice Day Sunday to be out in the sun.



Lowes Parking Lot – McAllen, TX 6/24/14

I still have a few photos from our Texas trip in June 2014.  In particular I thought I would share a few photos from an evening outing to a Lowes parking lot.

If you follow this blog you know I’m not into chasing.  But we were already staying in McAllen and one of the few reliable spots to see a Green Parakeet in the U.S. is on the north side of McAllen. So I thought I had better go take a look. Even though it felt like chasing.

The time of day to see them is at dusk when they come to roost.  In fact, here is how the location is located on an eBird map –

McAllen- Parakeet roost (10th Str. b/w Violet & Dove)

So after dinner one evening my wife, daughter, and I headed to north McAllen.  We found out that 10th Str. b/w Violet & Dove is close to a Lowes parking lot. So we parked and waited.  It wasn’t long before they came.

As you can tell it is dusk. The parakeets came flying in groups of 5 – 10. McAllen, TX 6/24/14
Hard to get good photos with the setting sun and the birds on high wires. McAllen, TX 6/24/14
A couple of Parakeets kept checking us out to see what we were up to. I figured city birds would be used to people by now. McAllen, TX 6/24/14


The Lowes was in a shopping plaza that had a couple of fountains. The parakeets enjoyed the chance for a drink since the area was in the midst of a long dry spell. McAllen, TX 6/24/14


I lightened the next two photos to show how green the Green Parakeets really are. McAllen, TX 6/24/14
One other point – these are not small birds. They were bigger than what I expected.

While watching the parakeets a couple of local people stopped by and talked about them. They said we should be there in the winter when there were many more. One lady pointed at all the telephone wires and said they would be full.  She said the noise from the chatter was unbelievable.  That would explain the reported 800 reported at this location on eBird. (We saw 50) It would also explain her saying she liked the parakeets but wished they would move elsewhere!


30000 Geese. I Think.

On January 18  I posted about the large number of geese Mike and I saw at  Universal Mines.  I posted on eBird that we saw 20,000 Canada Geese and 500 White-fronted Geese.  Of course those were estimates.

The point of the following post is to clear up in my mind that we didn’t see 10,000 or  100,000 but somewhere in between.  And that the next time I come across this situation I know what type of photos and angles to shoot to get a better count.

I used the few photos I took to refine my guess.  And I am confident to say we saw 30,000 geese.  I think.

Here is my methodology.  I arbitrarily made a box – the one with a red X – and counted the geese.  I counted approximately 150.  I then made other squares I thought looked like they had the same density.  There were 16 of these boxes in this photo or approximately 2500 geese.

CANG-Count-South I then expanded the idea over the whole southern half of the lake and came up with 5 boxes of 1200 or 6000 geese. More or less.

CANG Count South 2I then tried the same concept on the north side but didn’t have as good of photos since all the geese were in flight.

CANG NorthThe north photo shows 16 boxes of 100 – 120 each or somewhere around 1800.  Let’s call it 2000. And this was probably 1/3 of the geese in flight. So another 6000.

CANG North 2And this photo of geese just taking off is also the only photo of geese on the water on the north side.  The 3 boxes have around 400 geese each or 1200 geese on the west side of the lake.  The photo doesn’t show it but the geese go on to the north end of the lake.  I figure we aren’t seeing the east side or the north 60% of the lake.  Or another  15000 = 1200*6 *2. (Total on west side x rest of lake x the east side)

I learned from this exercise that I need to take the correct photos.  Because if I had taken a photo showing the complete north side of the lake I would have a better approximation and wouldn’t have any doubts.

Any suggestions on how to count high numbers of birds such as these would be appreciated.

When You Least Expect It…

I wasn’t sure where to bird this past Saturday.  Sunday was definitely out with 4-6″ of snow planned.  And Saturday was going to be cold, so cold that the Indiana Audubon called off a field trip to Goose Pond.  But Landon Nuemann had found a Red-throated Loon in Logansport so who knew what could be found in open water.  So with that I headed out in search of open water and anything that might be hanging around the water.

After several stops I finally made it to the reliable Franklin Lowes/Walmart pond.  There was a nice assortment of waterfowl including Canada Geese, Mallards, American Black Ducks, Redhead, Canvasback, Lesser Scaup, Gadwall, and American Coots. But I got there a lot later in the day then I planned.

Because I had spent the first 2-1/2 hours on one hawk.

Not any hawk, but a DARK BROWN HAWK. And I don’t mean brown in the usual Red-tailed brown.

RTHA 022815
Here is a Red-tailed Hawk that was in the same area Saturday Morning. As you can see the brown is lighter and mixed with white. Johnson County – 02/28/15

I mean brown like in a Harris’s Hawk, which was the first thing that popped in my head.  I hopefully know status and distribution well enough to rule out a Harris’s Hawk but you never know where anything will turn up.

Harris's Hawk A
A Harris’s Hawk in the morning light. This hawk is a little to chocolate brown colored for the bird I saw Saturday. Cameron County, TX June 2014

I initially saw The Hawk from about 350 meters. My initial thought was a dark-phase Rough-legged Hawk since it was sitting on the top branch of a tree.  As I have stated before your initial thought is usually the correct thought.  Like the time in 1999 when I came within one question of being on “Who Wants to be a Millionaire?”.  It was the last round of phone questions before going on the show and I second guessed myself.  Should have stayed with the original answer.  But that is a story for another day.  But I should have stayed with my first thought on The Hawk.

So I tried to get closer but The Hawk didn’t like that and moved. So I moved again and The Hawk flew off. I still didn’t have a photo in the early morning light. But when it flew off I finally got a look at its underside – a dark body and dark underwing coverts. I had recently seen a photo of a Harlan’s Hawk on Indiana Advanced Birding Facebook page posted by Allan Claybon. And The Hawk’s underside seemed to be a good match. But so is a dark-phase Rough-legged Hawk and this bird seemed to have a little wider wing span then a Red-tailed.

Since I wasn’t sure, I either mark down a Buteo species or keep looking. I kept looking.

Thirty minutes later I pick up the bird on the north side of County Line Road in Marion County – 400 meters away. It once again was sitting on the top limb of a tree. So whatever it turned out to be it will be a two county bird – Johnson and Marion. County Line Road is a busy road but I go over and pull way over. I get out of the car and we start the cat and mouse again. It flies back east to another tree. I can’t go east since there is median. But I’m going to get a picture. It flies low and away to the east. No picture. I am still not sure of the species since I am not familiar with dark-phase hawks. So at this point it is still a Buteo species.

I search a while longer, can’t find The Hawk, and decide to go get gas. I come back for one last look, and it is now back where I first discovered it. I drive as close I dare, get out the camera, and start shooting photos against the overcast day. The Hawk once again flies behind a group of trees. I search for another half hour without any success. I now have about 2-1/2 hours in on The Hawk and finally decide to head south to southern Johnson County as originally planned.

I only manage a few pictures of The Hawk on a distant snag. Johnson County, 02/2/15

But before I head south I make the 5 minute drive home to consult the references. Over the course of the morning I have wavered back and forth on the species.  But I have been leaning towards Harlan’s because Sibley’s shows the Harlan’s with a white tail.  And that is what I was seeing in the field. Otherwise the two suspects look similar to me in the field guide.

Getting home I don’t change my opinion.  The tail color seems right for a Harlan’s.

Sunday morning I get up and post a picture on Indiana Advanced Birding Facebook page. As I stated I don’t have a lot of experience with dark-phase hawks but think it is a Harlan’s.  Luckily two birders with much more experience than myself respond.

Don Gorney responded that it is a Rough-legged Hawk – here is his response. “Based on overall structure and the width of the dark tail band, it is a Rough-legged Hawk. Despite recent reports in the last five years, Harlan’s Red-tailed Hawk is extremely rare for Indiana. I think the bird might be an adult female.

And Michael Retter also responded with these comments, “In addition to what Don mentioned, a dark Harlan’s almost always has white streaking on the breast. The bill also seems on the small side to me, which is more of a Rough-leg thing.

I would like to thank them for their comments and clarifying the identity of The Hawk.

So, when you least expect it, and you think it is going to be a slow day, go birding.  You might just pick up a County Lifer.  Or make that two.