My New Favorite Photos? Henslow’s Sparrow

I don’t exactly know what it is about the following photos but they really caught my attention. A week ago Saturday, April 20, Mike and I were checking for shorebirds at Atterbury FWA when I initially heard this Henslow’s Sparrow. After a couple of minutes we spotted him sitting out in the open.


037These aren’t the best photos I have ever taken, far from it. But the contrasting colors just struck me. Especially the next one, even with the head turned away.  I had never really noticed the difference between the yellow-green head and the light-brown back.

035Notice how the pattern on the light-brown back just stands out.

038And the white eye-ring.

I guess if you take your time and look there is always something new and different to see.  Especially with local birds.



What I Learned the Week of 4/6 – Do Your Homework

1. Do your homework

I’m always preaching to do more reading and studying in case an uncommon bird shows up in your local area.  And make sure to travel to an area with “your” uncommon birds so you can learn its field marks, songs, and habitats.  I should follow my own advice.

Sunday while observing shorebirds, yes we finally got shorebirds (that’s next), I kept hearing a warble song in the distance. The area I was observing shorebirds is distant from any trees but there was no wind so I figured it was distant House Finches. I heard the sound off and on for about an hour. I also heard the rattle of Horned Larks calling and moving about the corn stubble plus a rattle call that I was attributing to distant Red-winged Blackbirds.

The flooded cornfield where I was observing shorebirds. The calls were coming from just across the water. Johnson County 04/12/15

I’m guessing you know where I’m going with this.  Still not catching on I see a group of birds fly up and out of the corn/grass stubble across the water.  And they sure aren’t acting like Horned Larks.  So were they Smith’s Longspurs?  If I had done more study up front, I would have known their calls better and if they sing their warble song during migration.  If I would have traveled to Western Indiana I would have been familiar with their calls and habitat.

Were there Smith Longspurs over in the short grass? I will never know. Johnson County 04/12/15

But I hadn’t done my homework so I will never know for sure if they were or not.

2. As noted above we finally had shorebirds

We also had a lot of rain, which means a lot of water in the fields.  I think I have noted this before, but don’t waste a lot of time checking every field with water.  Do a quick check and keep moving.

Because shorebirds tend to use the same flooded fields.

This field has been a regular field for observing shorebirds while other fields never have any. Johnson County 04/12/15

Since I am still relatively new to the area I give a quick check to every flooded field.  But just like back in Illinois the shorebirds use the same flooded fields, not any new ones.  So just like an area good for migrants, I basically just check the same flooded fields.

I have seen it hypothesized that fields that retain water, usually because of damaged drainage tiles, give off that “ozone” or dying vegetation smell that birds can detect. Or they just remember which ones retain water like they do other locations. Who knows for sure?

Luckily I saw the Pectoral Sandpipers fly into the stubble or I would probably missed them. Johnson County 04/12/15
Pectoral Sandpiper blending into the stubble. Johnson County 04/12/15
A better shot showing their dark bib. Johnson County 04/12/15
A distant Greater Yellowlegs. There were also Lesser Yellowlegs present. Johnson County 04/12/15

3. Sitting and Waiting versus Getting Up and Going

The case of Smith’s Longspurs in #1 above got me thinking about birding by sitting and waiting or moving from spot to spot. Since we don’t get that many shorebirds in Johnson County I was taking my time and watching the shorebirds. I didn’t go to the other 2 areas  I know might have shorebirds.

If I had moved on I would have missed out on the maybe Smith’s Longspurs. But maybe there would have been other shorebirds at other locations? So is it better to sit and wait?

I knew a birder that during migration would find a good area with warblers moving through.  He would find a break in a tree line, open up his folding chair, and sit and wait. The rest of the group would make the usual walk and come back and compare.  He often would have just as many species, and often something we missed.

So is it better to sit and wait or keep moving.  Probably depends.  But as humans I think we are driven to the latter – a need to keep moving.

A few more photos from the weekend.

Laura Hare Preserve was pretty quite Saturday Morning. 04/11/15
Except for three Hermit Thrushes flying around. This was the only one that was out of the brush long enough for a photo. 04/11/15
Mike first spotted three Purple Finches feeding – 2 males and a female. A bird we rarely see in our area. Atterbury FWA 04/11/15
And one of several Red-winged Blackbirds calling as I walked the perimeter of a pond seeing if Wilson’s Snipe would flush. One did! Franklin HS 04/11/15






What I learned the Week of 3/30 – The Internet and Audio Files

I didn’t learn a lot this week except Charlotte’s traffic is worse than Indianapolis. Enough said.

1. I was in North Carolina the week for work.  Picked up the rental car in Charlotte and drove two hours to the country town where we have a plant.  Immediately getting out of the car I heard a Fish Crow.

There is no mistaken the call of a Fish Crow.

I have thought this before when I birded in southern Illinois. To me it isn’t even close to an American Crow‘s call.  I have read how people have confused the two calls, something I just don’t understand.  About 5 minutes later an American Crow flew by and it was completely different.

A comparison on the 2 calls from Xeno-canto.

2. Non-birding but relevant to this post.  Different web browsers support different audio formats. Which makes it a real pain when I want to post some audio I recorded. So unless  I want to pay a royalty for patents I will have to post 2 different audio files.

Audio Files
Listed are the different types of audio files used on which browsers. It is a couple years old but is still correct. You can see that there isn’t one audio type used on all browsers. Unless you want to pay big money. From Scirra website.

3. Following is a recording I made of Common Loons calling at Driftwood last week.  I hadn’t heard them calling since I was young and we went to Northern Minnesota in the summers.  They called every few minutes for the 3+ hours I was at Driftwood.

One of the two following should work. You will probably have to turn up your volume.

4. Speaking of Driftwood, after the Bonaparte’s Gulls were there the previous weekend, I played the odds that more gulls would be there last weekend. And as luck would have it, 2 Ring-billed Gulls spent the afternoon flying.  Not a rare bird but uncommon for Johnson County.

Funny how “common” birds are a treat to watch when you don’t see them often. Ring-billed Gulls and a Red-breasted Merganser. Driftwood SFA 04/04/15
A little closer view.
And keeping with the recent theme of showing birds with a fish, here is one of the gulls getting ready to eat.

And a few more pictures from the weekend.

A Red-breasted Merganser leading a group of Ruddy Ducks. Driftwood SFA 04/04/15
This Field Sparrow was singing well into the afternoon. Driftwood SFA 04/04/15
Just a photo to show how numerous Pied-billed Grebes were last Saturday. On every small pond there were several of them with at least eight on this one. Who is hiding in the shadows? Atterbury FWA 04/04/15
Not sure I have ever seen a Great Blue Heron this well hid in the brush. Must have been enjoying the afternoon sun. Greenwood Retention Pond 04/05/15




What I learned the week of 3/23 – Mean Moorhens

I’m a few days late on this. Out of town – North Carolina – for work. No birding if you can believe that.

1. The 7.5 Challenge

I see where Wisconsin Birders did a 7.5 mile radius challenge last year – The 2014 Wisconsin Local Patch Challenge.  As stated, “it’s a relatively green challenge, where birders try to find as many species as possible 7.5 miles or less from home.” Looks like Illinois might be doing it this year.

Of course for someone like me that is into finding uncommon species in my local area, this is right up my alley.  I think the real point of the challenge is finding new, local areas to bird.  Not for someone that lives on a lake that sits and counts all day.

2. No shorebirds yet locally

I keep checking my local flooded field (a  floodeld??).  But no shorebirds.  A nice assortment of waterfowl.  And yes, it is within 7.5 miles.

3. Very Angry Moorhen

I was reading about  “The very angry Moorhen” and it got me thinking about a Mad Moorhen (Common Gallinule) that I saw last year in Texas.  I was at The World Birding Center in South Padre (I think I need to blog about something that calls itself “The World” ) and was watching a family of Mottled Ducks.

Happy Mom and young ones out for a morning swim.
Then out of no where comes the Mad Moorhen.
The Mad Moorhen strikes.
Everyone scatters.
Mom goes one way, the young ones the other, and the Mad Moorhen another.
And it starts all over going the other way. This scenario would repeat several times that morning.

For some reason the Common Gallinule didn’t like them and kept attacking them.  This went on for a good hour. I never did figure out if there was nest nearby or it just had a bad disposition.

OK, I really didn’t hang around the whole hour just to watch their interaction.  There was a Clapper Rail that kept vocalizing and I was hoping it would walk out in the open.  Of course, like I posted back in July, 2014, I got tired of waiting and walked around the boardwalk, where a Clapper Rail was out in plain sight.

The rail is yelling, “Bob, I am right here.”

4. The size of shorebirds

I knew that the length of birds listed in field guides is from bill tip to tail tip.  But I really hadn’t thought what this meant until I read this post by Greg Gillson – Who’s bigger? I knew that plovers always “seem” larger than shorebirds and this post explains why.