Mike called at 10:30 Sunday morning saying that Eric Ripma had reported on FaceBook  a PACIFIC LOON and EARED GREBE at 10:05 from Rick’s Cafe on Eagle Creek Reservoir.  I had planned on going out later that morning locally but figured I’d go along for the search.  So for the 4th time in my years of birding I was going to chase a bird(s).

Mike picked me up and we were off to Rick’s.  On the way we discussed the pertinent field marks of both species and how they differed from COMMON LOONS and HORNED GREBES.  Both which should be present in good numbers.

My only encounter with an Eared Grebe was one in Illinois that was in almost breeding plumage.  But I was almost certain I hadn’t seen a Pacific Loon. There was a question in my mind about our trip to Oregon a few years ago and trouble ID’ing a loon. And checking it appears I decided it was a Common Loon. So no Pacific Loon on my list.

We arrived around 11:30 and were told by Mike, Sarah, and Nick that others reported the loon had flown north. We all scanned the lake to the north and had a couple of possible candidates but the distance was too great.  But way out in front of a raft of LESSER SCAUP was a grebe that matched all the field marks of a non-breeding Eared Grebe. So we were 1 for 2.

We scanned a little longer and decided to go to the only other spots on the south end of the lake that has public access.  We scanned for 15-20 minutes with no luck. We then headed back to the public boat launch just north of Rick’s. We looked for another half hour when I found a loon on the far side of the lake that appeared to be smaller than a Common Loon. Too me it just didn’t “feel” right for a Common Loon.  It appeared overall smaller, darker, and with a smaller bill than a Common Loon. I was pretty certain it was the Pacific Loon but at that distance I wasn’t 100% sure.

By this time we had spent an hour and half scanning and it was getting cold, so we called it a day.

I’m not going to bore you with details but at home I saw on Facebook that Ryan Sanderson had posted a photo of the Pacific Loon in roughly the same area we had seen our candidate. (Check Facebook’s Indiana Rare Bird Alert page) And below are two “looong” distance photos that compare the Pacific Loon to a Common Loon.

PALO 112915
Check this photo of what I think is the Pacific Loon and of a Common Loon below. Both photos are at about the same distance. Notice the rounded head and thin bill of this loon compared to the flat head and bigger bill of the Common Loon. Would I have known this wasn’t a Common Loon if someone hadn’t reported it? Probably not. Eagle Creek 11/29/15

COLO 112915

So what did I think about chase #4?  Let’s just say I didn’t get time to check out the RED-SHOULDERED HAWK in the photo below.  And chase #5 won’t be anytime soon.

And I’ll let it go at that.

A nearby Red-shouldered Hawk I didn’t have time to check out. Eagle Creek 11/29/15


Thanks DNR

Back on November 7 I stopped at Honker Haven, one of the smallish ponds at Atterbury FWA. I really hadn’t expected to see much for a couple of reasons.

First, it has as an observing deck that used to allow you to see the waterfowl that gather in the NW part of the pond.  But the small trees growing up along the edge of the pond had all but blocked the view to the NW part of the pond.

A view of the observing deck and the south end of the pond. Atterbury FWA

Secondly this time of year there are warning signs not to enter since this is a “Waterfowl Resting Area, Restricted Use, Authorized Personnel Only”. And since you can’t go to the edge of the water to look NW you still won’t see any waterfowl on the usually empty southern part.

Waterfowl Resting
You can’t access the pond to view waterfowl this time of year. Atterbury FWA

So imagine my surprise when I get to the top of the deck and the trees blocking the view to the NW are gone! I usually don’t like trees being cut down but these were small trees that should never have been allowed to grow. This is a pretty big deal for basically waterless Johnson County. One more place to view a lake where waterfowl congregate.

You can still see some of the trees in the foreground that used to block the view to the NW. Atterbury FWA
And the waterfowl to the NW. The distance isn’t so great that you can’t ID most everything with a scope. Atterbury FWA

So with the trees down I could actually scope the waterfowl and came up with GADWALL, RING-NECKED DUCKS, GREEN-WINGED TEALS, and of course MALLARDS on the water.

Pushing my camera to its max, a photo of a distant Mallard and Gadwall. Atterbury FWA 11/7/15

One other thing I have noticed is that the slight elevation is good for raptors.  The small elevation is just enough to almost see over the tops of the trees in the basically flat surrounding land. I usually try to be there around noon when the thermals are rising and have seen most of the expected species flying over at one time or another. And sometimes really close when they come gliding over the tops of the trees and catch you off guard.

A photo of a Turkey Vulture to show how close raptors some time come in to the top of the observing platform. Atterbury FWA 11/7/15
A good photo to show how a raptor can catch you off guard. This Red-tailed Hawk came sailing in right over the tree tops and I never saw it coming. Just sailing away. Atterbury FWA 11/7/15

Thanks DNR!

A Not Totally Unexpected Black Vulture

I’ve noticed that many blogs post what they think will be the next 10 birds they’ll find in a certain area.  And they usually rank them in the order they might be seen.

I wish I had made a ranking for Johnson County.  I’ve been telling Mike for sometime the next species I’ll see in Johnson County will be a Black Vulture. I have seen sporadic reports on eBird of Black Vultures but we all know those must be taken with a grain of salt. But after Don Gorney told me he had seen one in Southern Shelby County I knew it was just a matter of time.

But it wasn’t easy. Since moving to the area in late 2012 I have counted 620 Turkey Vultures in Johnson County.  And I bet I have looked at almost every one knowing that eventually one would be a Black Vulture.

And Wednesday it finally happened. We were supposed to go back to Illinois for the holiday but our plans fell through.  Since I had already taken the day off I decided to head to Johnson County. And as luck had it I caught one in the distance flying with a Turkey Vulture west of Johnson County Park.  It was distant but I did get some ID photos.

First look, something didn’t appear right. The tail was too short for a Turkey Vulture. Upper right-hand bird. Johnson County Park 11/25/15
It turned a little and the white outer primaries jumped out. Johnson County Park 11/25/15
A little closer and I was pretty certain now it was a Black Vulture from shape and color. I just needed it to turn. Johnson County Park 11/25/15
And that did it. White primaries and short-tailed! Even the dark head is noticeable here. Johnson County Park 11/25/15
Flying to the west not to be seen again. Johnson County Park 11/25/15
For comparison, a Turkey Vulture later in the day showing the longer tail and silvery flight feathers. Johnson County Park 11/25/15
Even banking a Turkey Vulture shows the silvery flight feathers. Johnson County Park 11/25/15

That makes just the 5th new species I’ve seen in Johnson County this year. It’s always good to add a new species to your main list. But we all know after a couple of years new species are hard to come by on your regular patch. I still have some species I should see even for a mainly water-less area.

I think I will make one of those next 10 lists!

Extra Photos on day:

Even though I’m pretty sure it’s a released bird, it’s still good-looking. Ring-necked Pheasant – Atterbury FWA 11/25/15
And here doing the 2-step. Atterbury FWA 11/25/15



Same Water, Same Birds, Same eBird Report

The first snow of the year turned out to be a little heavier than anticipated.  I should have headed out earlier Saturday morning but the forecast said that first rain and then snow would be here early morning. It never got here until around noon. So by then I thought I would go out and check the local area but then it finally started to snow. And it snowed big, heavy flakes limiting visibility to a few yards. So I waited.

With cabin fever setting in I finally went out around 3:30.  The highlight in the freezing wind and cold was adding BALD EAGLE to one of my local patch totals.  It explained why the few GADWALL on the pond took off.

Sunday was sunny but cold, so I waited to noon to head out.  I was going to head to Johnson County Park but Mike called and said he was already there and not much happening except for 7 RUSTY BLACKBIRDS.

And Mike saw the exact same waterfowl I saw 2 weeks ago at Honker Haven – MALLARD, GADWALL, GREEN-WINGED TEAL. And in almost the same quantities.  Otherwise the lakes were clear.

So I decided to stay local.

A pair of American Kestrels at the local grassland. Greenwood – 11/22/15
A Savanna Sparrow checking to see who was out in the cold weather. Greenwood – 11/22/15

So I headed to my local ponds.

And just like Mike I saw the same waterfowl on the same ponds that I did 2 weeks ago. MALLARD, GADWALL, NORTHERN SHOVELER, AND PIED-BILLED GREBE.  The same species on the same ponds in about the same numbers. I should have just copied my eBird report from 2 weeks ago. And like Mike the other ponds were clear.

Really kind of creepy.

In the years I have been birding I can remember things not changing much in November. But I don’t remember things remaining this static like this for a few weeks.

Maybe the cold will make things move.  I hope so since we are getting close to the Christmas Bird Counts.

But there were a few changes this week. One was the lack of TURKEY VULTURES. I think this was the first weekend I hadn’t seen Turkey Vultures since last winter.  And AMERICAN ROBINS numbers went from flocks of 100+ to a couple of birds.

And there was one addition.  I saw a flock of birds across the field that I assumed was the local European Starling flock.  They would fly up and land like distant starlings do.  When I eventually made my way to that area the flock flew up out of the grass.  Not starlings but my first AMERICAN TREE SPARROWS of the winter and a largish flock at that. My estimate was 55 birds. It was too bad they were distant and the sun was the wrong angle to see of they had any other species mixed in with them.

The American Tree Sparrows were too distant to get a photo or to show their large numbers. Franklin TCP 11/22/15
A Red-tailed Hawk taken through the car window. I only post this photo because I’m sure it is the closest I have ever been to a Red-tailed Hawk. Kind of like being in a rehab facility where they are close in a cage. It flew in and landed by the car. I watched it for a few minutes and then it moved on. Greenwood – 11/22/15

I spent the rest of the afternoon walking the local park.  It was good to be out in the sunshine since I can’t stand the dark, depressing, shorter days of November. Not much outside of the expected species at the park although YELLOW-RUMPED WARBLERS still remain albeit in smaller numbers.

A Northern Mockingbird enjoying the sun. Just like me. Franklin TCP 11/22/15


Beach Bunting

Mike and I headed to the Lake Michigan last Saturday in hopes of a good lake movement with plenty of loons and gulls and who knows what else.  It didn’t happen. The winds were too calm. But when you work you can’t pick and choose what day you get to take birding adventures.

Pretty much how the day went. What birds we saw were distant. A flock of ? against the Chicago skyline. Miller Beach – 11/7/15

At every stop though we heard a group of small birds flying over giving a distinct call that we were not familiar. But ID’ing the birds in flight as Snow Buntings was relatively easy from their unique colors. Here is the flight call of the Snow Bunting we were having a hard time identifying.

Sibley points out that when Snow Buntings are in flock they give out a short, nasal zrrt. That is the call that is heard in the recording and we heard on the beach.

Mike got a photo of the only Snow Bunting that we saw on the ground. The rest were always noisily flying about. Michigan City, IN 11/14/15




What’s it take to see 300 Species Annually in Indiana?

I recently saw where Don Gorney once again saw 300 species in Indiana in a year. And it got me thinking what’s it take in the way of the time and mileage to see 300 species?  Or to see a portion of that number, say 250 or 275?

My local goal in Illinois was always to see 230 species annually.  And then reach 250 in Illinois by taking an additional 4-5 trips at the right times of the year.

But living in Indianapolis instead of a major migration route like I did in Illinois means I would have to do a lot more work to reach 250 species.

So the question is how many trips to Goose Pond or the Lake Michigan Lakefront at prime time does it take to reach 250 species? And how many additional trips are involved to reach 275? 300?

I began my analysis by downloading all the species reported in Indiana to eBird so far in 2015.  I then removed the 200 species I would see on an annual basis by birding locally.

That left approximately 120 species of which I figured 17 would be picked up by just going to the additional areas – Black Vulture and Northern Bobwhite for example.

I then noticed there were 14 that were one day wonders that only one person reported and thus probably not chasable.

And there were 3 rarities that were reported in the Indianapolis area that were seen by many people.

That left 87 species that I used for my data set.

The Results

To see 300 species from Indianapolis it would take 45 trips outside the local area averaging 218 miles or 9840 total miles. At an average of 60mph that equates to 164 hours of driving.

That involves 12 trips to the Goose Pond area for a total of 29 species. And 10 trips to the lakefront for another 20.

So starting with a local base of 210 or so and looking at the data, 4-5 trips to Goose Pond should pick up basically 20 additional species, 3 trips to the lake should get another 13, a trip to Universal Mines for 3, and Kankakee Sands for 4.  That is total of 40.  We are now at 250. So 10 trips at 2500 miles for 40 species.

To get to 265 the law of diminishing returns really kicks in.  It would probably involve 6 trips picking 2-3 species at a time. So another 6 trips at 1000 miles for 15 species.

And anything over 265 it’s probably going to be 1 new species per trip.

Or 35 more trips at 6500 miles.

So there you have it. What it might take to get to a desired species total in Indiana.  Of course my numbers are approximates and you can slice and dice the numbers several different ways, but my numbers should be close enough to give you the idea.

The Data:

Download (XLSX, 23KB)

Using a Photo for the ID

While driving out of Atterbury FWA last Saturday I noticed an AMERICAN KESTREL on a wire. Not that unusual at that location.

An American Kestrel checking out dinner in the adjacent field. Atterbury FWA 11/7/15

I pulled over for a photo and then noticed another smaller bird this side of the kestrel. The smaller bird was to far away to make out a positive ID through my binoculars. So I took a few longer distance photos.

What I could make out through my binoculars.

  1. The bird looked yellowish. Kind of like a winter American Goldfinch.  But the shape was wrong. Not plump like a goldfinch.
  2. From the way it was sitting on the wire maybe a Vesper Sparrow? But that didn’t seem correct either.  Something about the face was wrong.
  3. The bird then flew and even hearing the song as it flew away didn’t help. Once again it sounded kind of like an American Goldfinch.

So hopefully one of the photos would be good enough to make a call on the ID.

And one was!

Something I hadn’t seen before, an American Pipit on a wire. I think that through me off the ID in the field. Atterbury FWA 11/7/15

And one quick glance showed it was an AMERICAN PIPIT. Note the long, narrow bill and how its slim appearance.

It’s not that unusual for me to use a photo to confirm an ID away from the Midwest, but I can honestly say this is the first time in a long time that I used a photo to ID a bird locally. I think it has to do with the fact I know the local birds fairly well. And this is one of the few times I have seen an American Pipit. And never seen one up on a wire.

Once again it shows to keep reviewing birds that might be coming through your area. Something I have been neglecting…




Laura Hare Preserve – Some Changes

I usually don’t post on a birding spot that I didn’t stay and bird very long but my posts on Laura Hare Preserve have been my mostly heavily internet searched posts. It’s either there are a lot of hikers checking it out or I’m linked to some hiking/trail internet site that I don’t know about. If you do know why, I’d appreciate a comment.

So after birding Driftwood SWA Saturday I headed to Laura Hare Preserve. The first couple hundred yards walk into the preserve is usually the best for birding.

A beautiful day looking out over Lamb Lake. Laura Hare Preserve 11/7/15

The bulk of the preserve is mainly forest without much understory so the variety of birds in that part isn’t very high. Usually woodpeckers, titmice, and chickadees.  And thrushes in season.  And of course in spring and early summer it’s one of the few places close by to find Worm-eating and Hooded Warblers, Louisiana Waterthrush, and Ovenbirds.

But the first couple of hundred yards is made up of mixed trees and thickets and small pools of standing water. Just great for a variety of birds. And there have been all types of passerines in that area. And I usually walk out seeing something new for the site.

But Saturday was Different

I don’t know if it was because I got there later in the morning but I suspect it was the change to the landscape. Because it was very quiet. As I reported on my last visit there the area was hit hard with storms in July with a lot of water and wind damage. And as a result there had been some changes.

As I showed in that post part of the trail had been washed out. That area has now been fortified with concrete for drainage. In the following photos you can see the damage that happened in July but also the recent needed repair to keep the trail from constantly washing out.

The heavy rains in June and July washed out part of the trail. Laura Hare Preserve 7/25/15
Now a concrete drainage pad has been added to keep the trail from washing away. Note the lack of understory compared to the previous photo. Laura Hare Preserve 11/7/15

But it looks like in doing the repair that some of the undergrowth was removed. Hopefully just for the construction. I’m not sure why but the lack of undergrowth took away a lot of the habitat.

I know it is fall but you would have never have been ale to see through the trees last year. Laura Hare Preserve 11/7/15

My thought is that left alone the undergrowth and the birds will be back in the spring.

I didn’t spend anytime walking the complete trail since I wanted to move on to Johnson County Park.

But if you are into hiking more than birds, the preserve is still a good place to go.

Just odd to see a deer on the edge of a deep lake. Laura Hare Preserve 11/7/15

Mainly the Same but Not Quite

I have admittedly been doing too much easy birding.  Getting started later and later on Saturday mornings and not staying out as long. And as my last post suggested, I was blaming the consistent weather for the SAMENESS of the birds. Maybe the amount of traveling I did for work in October contributed, but I was in a rut.

Time for a change.  So I decided I needed a day of birding like I used to do every Saturday to break the rut. Make a plan, up early, and get out the door. See what’s out there. So that is what I did.

Pre-Sunrise – Great Horned Owl

I started an hour before sunrise and drove the road south of Franklin to see if the GREAT HORNED OWL was on its usual telephone poll.  And sure enough silhouetted in the glow of the town lights it sat. I drove by and stopped a little further down the road to look back. We watched each other for a bit before the owl decided I might be trouble and flew off to the woods to the east.

And with one exception that was how the day would go. Many of the expected birds were on their “spots”.

GHOW 101109
I’ve used this photo before but it is one of the few Great Horned Owl photos I have and I feel I should post a photo since I’m talking about it. A sleeping Great Horned Owl from Middleton, WI. 10/11/09

Sunrise/Early Morning – Ring-billed Gull 

The first few hours of the day were spent at Driftwood SFA. And as usual it had birds in the trees plus birds in the air. The first bird I saw on the morning was a RING-BILLED GULL.  Not that unusual elsewhere but uncommon in basically waterless Johnson County as seen by this being only my second sighting this year. I assume it had been following the adjacent Flatrock River.

A little later I saw a juvenile BALD EAGLE which was definetly following the river’s course.


Not any unexpected passerines at Driftwood.  The day startled at sunrise  with EASTERN BLUEBIRDS, CEDAR WAXWINGS, YELLOW-RUMPED WARBLERS, and DARK-EYED JUNCOS in the same tree.

Various Driftwood SFA
I like this photo because it shows how similar in size different species can appear in the field. Cedar Waxwing (upper right), Eastern Bluebirds (center), and Yellow-rumped Warbler (lower-left). Lower center bird is another Cedar Waxwing. I really had never noticed that these different species seem similar in size. Driftwood SFA 11/07/15
And a comparison of Eastern Bluebird and Dark-eyed Junco. Driftwood SWA 11/07/15

Sibley lists the following sizes:

Eastern Bluebird – 7″

Cedar Waxwing – 7.25″

Yellow-rumped Warbler – 5.5″ (seems bigger, plump shape?)

Dark-eyed Junco – 6.25″

So not really all that close in size but puffed up in the early morning chill they can appear similar from a distance.

Other Species

Over the next couple of hours I would see my first non-Mallard/Wood Duck waterfowl of the fall – RING-NECKED DUCKS. And I ended up with a slightly uncommon YELLOW-BELLIED SAPSUCKER, my first in Johnson County for the year.

I ended up having a productive two hours at Driftwood which says something about getting up and out the door.

In a couple of days I’ll post about my late morning and early afternoon adventures.  And some changes at Laura Hare Nature Preserve.

Other Photos

Beaver Driftwood SFA
Two beavers were working the north portion of the lake. I forget how big these guys are. Driftwood SWA 11/07/15
EABL Driftwood SFA
Two Eastern Bluebirds showing their color. Driftwood SWA 11/07/15
GBHE Driftwood SFA
A Great Blue Heron basking in the morning sunlight. Driftwood SWA 11/07/15
PBGR Driftwood SFA
A group of Grebes (say that 3 time fast) swimming away. Pied-billed Grebes at Driftwood SWA 11/07/15
A beautiful fall morning to bird. Driftwood SWA 11/07/15



An Owl to Help the Waiting

It seems it has been at least a month that I have been WAITING for the seasons to change the scenery from late summer birds to early winter birds.  And with the weather in the 70 degree range this past week, I don’t think it is going to happen quite yet.

So Mike and I headed out last Saturday morning to check a few spots before the rain hit. After the rain last week we were hoping that the local shorebird spot might be have some birds.  As my last post showed not only was it dried up, but plowed under. So we headed to the local ponds hoping some waterfowl had moved in. No waterfowl exept for a large number of Canada Geese. And the wind had now moved to the east at 15mph and a light rain was starting to fall. Enough of that. We discussed plans for the next few weekends, weather cooperating, and I headed home early.

The weather had improved by mid-afternoon and I had cabin fever, so I headed to the local park.  Really not expecting anything different while we WAIT for the seasons to change. But a good walk in fall weather is always good.

Franklin TP Sign
The intro sign to my local park. I really hadn’t paid much attention to it before. I’ll have to check the webpage listed at the bottom of the sign.
The bird of the day, in terms of numbers, was easily the American Robin. They were everywhere giving the false hope they might be something else. Franklin TCP 10/31/15

And as expected there really wasn’t much happening outside the local species and large numbers of American Robins, Northern Flickers, and Yellow-rumped Warblers. And I saw a Lincoln’s Sparrow that had more markings on the breast than I have seen before.  So that was fun trying to figure out.  Not even one raptor flying.

A Carolina Wren getting close to scold me for pishing for sparrows. Franklin TCP 10/31/15
Two White-throated Sparrows discussing if they should drop down in the brush. And of course they did. Franklin TCP 10/31/15

But while walking through the park’s small forested area I saw a raptor fly from high up in one tree down and then back up to sit on a high branch.  First thought since it was daytime was a hawk but something told me it was an owl.  And sure enough it was a totally unexpected Barred Owl.

It’s amazing to me how well Barred Owls blend into their landscape. If I hadn’t watch it land I would have never picked up it’s location. Franklin TCP 10/31/15

Having seen them in daylight off and on over the years in Illinois I knew that I had to follow it to exactly were it landed.  Or it would blend in so well I would never find it in the trees.  And I couldn’t move. Loosing the angle of sight and the same thing would happen.

So I stood in the same spot and watched the owl watching me.

I never could get a line of sight on the owl through the underbrush. Don’t you wonder how many owls go unnoticed? Franklin TCP 10/31/15

Of course the line of sight did not give me a clear photo line. And past experience told me that it would flush if I tried to move towards it.  So I moved 2 feet left, no better view. Then 2 feet right.  Still no good. And the path was too narrow to go much further left or right.

BAOW 122909
Since I didn’t get a good photo Saturday I’ll add this obliging Barred Owl sitting in the sun at Starved Rock State Park in Illinois. It hung around for a few weeks at this spot. 12/29/09

So I gazed at the owl for many minutes and then decided to try to get a better line of sight by moving forward. And as expected after about 3 steps it flushed, not to be seen again.

But anytime I see an owl in the daytime it’s a treat.