The Doldrums

I’m afraid The Doldrums have arrived.  You know the time between January 1 and that day when you have seen all the winter birds you are going to see. Oh, you might pick up one new species here and there, but in all actuality you are now going to wait until mid-March when the first calling Brown Thrasher or the flight of a Tree Swallow over a partially frozen pond signals the start of spring migration.

But until then I’m afraid it might be feeder watching time.

The official date for The Doldrums varies. On one of those very cold, snowy, frozen years it can be as early as January 1.  The kind of year where you go out and see all the local birds on New Year’s Day. And with everything already headed south, you aren’t going to see anything new for a while.

The Doldrums officially hit me last week weekend.  I spent the day with Don and Doug looking for new species in a couple of areas.  It was cold and windy.  The water for the most part was froze over.  The birds weren’t calling or flying. The only real action was at a feeder east of Goose Pond.  We heard a Red-breasted Nuthatch in some pines but that was it.

So what do The Doldrums look like?

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Not much happening at all. Goose Pond FWA 1/23/16
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Or here either. Owen-Putnam SF, IN 1/23/16
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Oh wait. There was one bird flying. A Northern Harrier crosses our path. 1/23/16

Being as it was slow I got very few photos.  And since I have a degree in teaching history (never used if you want to know) I’ll explain The Doldrums.

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The Doldrums or Intertropical Convergence Zone move from season to season influenced by the larger land masses in the Northern Hemisphere.

I most often hear people reference The Doldrums in relation to feeling depressed. As in “I feel I’m in The Doldrums since I haven’t seen a new bird in weeks”.  But The Doldrums really reference a zone around the equator where the wind might not blow for weeks.  And in the days of sailing ships this could be the kiss of death.

Doldrums

We now recognize The Doldrums are really parts of the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans affected by the Intertropical Convergence Zone. From Wikipedia – “a low-pressure area around the equator where the prevailing winds are calm. The Doldrums are also noted for calm periods when the winds disappear altogether, trapping sail-powered boats for periods of days or weeks.”

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There were some Wild Turkeys out and about though. Photo through windshield. Goose Pond Area – 1/23/16

So do The Doldrums also hit in the mid-June to late July period? For some, but not me. First I usually take a bird trip in mid-June.  And I’m a hot weather person and enjoy checking out things in the summer. Plus we have the two-month IAS Summer Count which always adds extra incentive to be out in the hot weather.

So for now:

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Trying out my “new” camera on American Goldfinch at the backyard feeder. It’s the camera I still use. LaSalle County Illinois – 1/2/10

But probably not.

 

 

2015 – A Short Recap

First – one of the main reasons why I blog – I like to review the past weekend – month – year.

Lots of birding, and life for that fact, seems to be on the run.  Birding sometimes seems like run, check, and move on to the next spot. And for me the jury is still out on using eBird apps to list from the field. I still like to sit down at the end of the day and go over the birds I have seen. I think I”ll eventually work the apps into that routine but still not sure yet.

Favorite New Bird

Looking back my favorite new bird of 2015 was the BURROWING OWL outside Denver.  Who doesn’t love a small owl?

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With the back drop of the Rocky Mountains, a Burrowing Owl checks out the area before going and joining the rest of the group. East of Denver, CO – 6/20/15

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But the colors of GAMBEL’S QUAIL makes it a close second.

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I was amazed how close the Gambel’s Quail would come by me. Colorado National Monument- 6/21/15

And for the umpteenth year in a row CAROLINA WREN comes in as my favorite Midwest bird.

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This shot pretty well sums up my thoughts about the feisty Carolina Wren. Never sitting still and always looking about. Northwest Park – Greenwood, IN 5/2/15

Favorite Birding Adventure

I had many good adventures (really every birding outing is a good adventure) so it was hard to pick one out.

I’m going to go with chasing the CLARK’S NUTCRACKER through the alpine forest in Colorado as my best adventure on the Colorado trip and 2015. Sorry no photo of the Clark’s but here is the Alpine Forest that I would be running out of later.

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After hearing a strange call I went chasing the bird through this forest at 10,000 feet. Maybe not my best call. Uncompahgre National Forest, CO – 6/22/15

And chasing the PINYON JAY through the semi-arid landscape of Rabbit Valley and finally catching up to it was also a fun time.

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After chasing Pinyon Jays I knew they didn’t get out in the open for long. But only one decent photo? Colorado National Monument – 6/24/15

And without a doubt my best local adventure was seeing both RED-BREASTED MERGANSERS and BONAPARTE’S GULLS, two new Johnson County Life birds, in one day at the same place.

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A bird I never suspected I would see in Johnson County – Bonaparte’s Gull. Driftwood SFA – 3/28/15

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And on the same day another county bird – Red-breasted Merganser. But in its case I figured I would eventually see one in the county. Driftwood SFA – 3/28/15

And 2016 has already started off with 3, count’em 3, towhees in Indiana.  What will the rest of the year bring?

A Shrike, a Third Towhee, and Geese. Though Not So Many Geese.

If you would’ve told me that I’d seen three towhees in Indiana by the 16th of January I would have thought you had a problem.  But if you pay attention to the Indiana birding lists, you know that is very possible.

Saturday I accompanied Don and Becky on a trip to western Indiana.  There had been a SPOTTED TOWHEE for several days at DePauw Nature Park which was on the way west. Don had seen it a couple of days before, I’ve seen them numerous times out west, but Becky had never seen a Spotted, so we decided to stop. Even though it was still kind of dark, and kind of dreary, and kind of cold, Becky and I went looking for the towhee while Don birded the parking lot for a reported Brown Thrasher.  We didn’t have any luck and then others joined us in search of the towhee. After a while we still hadn’t seen it, and since the main point of the day was western Indiana,  we headed back.  Don had come looking for us and was about to the towhee site so he said he would help us look.

Sure enough Don worked his magic.  He wasn’t there a minute when the bird appeared.

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The Spotted Towhee hardly ever leaves the thicket. This was about as good as it got in the short time I saw the towhee. DePauw Nature Park, Greencastle IN 1/16/16

After seeing a Eastern Towhee at Johnson County Park on 1/1 and then seeing the lingering Green-tailed Towhee at Tern Bar Slough on 1/2, this was my third towhee in Indiana this year. Go figure.

We made stops at Chinook Mines looking for raptors and waterfowl.  The highlight for me was seeing a GREATER SCAUP and a flyover CACKLING GOOSE, which was obvious flying with a group of Canada’s.

And then on to the main part of the day at Universal Mines looking for waterfowl, raptors, and shrikes.  The variety of waterfowl was decent but nowhere near my trip last year.

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The view to the north this year. No ice and only distant waterfowl. “Grand Canyon” – Edgar County, IL 1/16/16
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This was last year looking north.
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The view to the south. “Grand Canyon” – Edgar County, IL 1/16/16
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And last year looking south.

The number of CANADA GEESE was down considerably but the number or GREATER WHITE-FRONTED was large.

We timed our arrival with the geese coming from the fields and watched them come in.

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One of the groups of Greater White-fronted Geese coming in to the water. “Grand Canyon” – Edgar County, IL 1/16/16
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If you look close enough you can see the thin lines of group after group of Greater White-fronted Geese way up in the air. “Grand Canyon” – Edgar County, IL 1/16/16

Last year there were numerous Trumpeter Swans on the big lake, but only one MUTE SWAN this year.  And it decided to fly right over us!

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A Mute Swan flying almost right over us and close! “Grand Canyon” – Edgar County, IL 1/16/16

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As I posted a couple of weeks ago, if you have never gone and seen large numbers of geese flying in and out, you need to.  I really can’t describe it.

And the experience of a swan or group of swans flying over is just as unbeliveable.  About the best way I can describe it is WHOOSH! WHOOSH! WHOOSH! I know a group of Canada Geese flying right over is loud but the noise from a swan is unbelievable.

We had pretty well scanned most of the area without any luck on a shrike when Becky spotted a distant bird on the top of a tree. NORTHERN SHRIKE?  A quick look and yes it was.  Don got out his spotting scope giving killer looks. None of us pocess a camera that would give the bird justice, but we did get a couple of “ID” photos.

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From my photo you aren’t sure if this just isn’t a Northern Mockingbird. No just the backside of a Northern Shrike. Universal Mines – Vigo County IN 1/16/16
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At least Becky got a photo that shows it is a Northern Shrike. I think I need to think about a new camera or digigscoping. Universal Mines – Vigo County IN 1/16/16

From there it was time to head home again. A good end to a cold, dreary day. Perfect for birding.

An Eared Grebe – Maybe a Sad Story? Hopefully Not.

A week ago I went Geist Reservoir to view the EARED GREBE that had been reported. In late November I had distant views of one at Eagle Creek.  So it seemed odd to me to have two reported locally in such a short period of time since Eared Grebes are a Western NA grebe and only a few are reported in Indiana per year.

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As seen on this range map from BirdLife International the Eared Grebe (known as Black-necked Grebe to the rest of the world) is Western NA bird.

The Eared Grebe had first been reported by Nick Kiehl on 12/30/15 and was subsequently reported by several people on eBird.  When I went with Don Gorney to Gibson County on Jan. 2 he told that he had seen the bird the day before on the spillway side of the dam. Don said Kirk Roth speculated that the bird had been washed over the spillway by the heavy rains and now couldn’t get out.

Grebes can’t erupt to take flight but need a length of water to fly. So if this bird didn’t get out of the spillway it probably wouldn’t ever be able to take off.

I arrived at 12:40 and at 1:40 I still hadn’t found the grebe. I briefly checked the spillway, and the water down stream thinking that was where it would be. I finally texted Andy Belt since he had seen it the day before.  He said it was in the spillway RIGHT NEXT TO THE DAM. I guess I couldn’t comprehend the reports meant that close to the dam. I assumed it had floated downstream a little ways.

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This photo was taken a week later on 1/9/16. I placed a STAR where the Eared Grebe had been located the previous week. I just couldn’t comprehend how close the grebe was to the spillway.

I discussed the situation with my wife but there really wasn’t much one could do.  My only hope was that it would finally tire a bit and drift down the creek.  There would be ample room for it to take off flying from there.

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The Eared Grebe fighting the current right next to the spillway. Geist Reservoir 1/3/16
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Also not a great photo in the poor light but good enough to ID this as a Eared Grebe. Note the head and bill shape and faintly white patches on the chin and nape to distinguish this from a Horned Grebe. Geist Reservoir – 1/3/16

I later saw on Facebook that it was reported gone by mid-week. And it wasn’t present this past Saturday.

One can only hope it got enough strength to fly away. And this really didn’t end up being a Sad Story.

 

The Only Way to Describe It

Surreal.

From Dictionary.com – surreal – “having the disorienting, hallucinatory quality of dream; unreal; fantastic:”

And that is the only way I can describe the scene when 100,000+ SNOW GEESE are flying overhead honking. And that doesn’t do it justice. You must see it yourself to really comprehend the scene.

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No way to describe the scene that lasted off and on all morning. Thousands and thousands of Snow Geese. Gibson Lake – 1/2/16

And this was the way it went all morning when I accompanied Don Gorney last Saturday on my first trip to Gibson County. While looking for other various specialties there was always the awareness of the Snow Geese flying in the distance.

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That isn’t a cloud in the background but thousands of Snow Geese. Gibson County – 1/2/16

I hadn’t seen this many Snow Geese since I went on chase #3 for a Little Gull at Carlyle Lake in Southern Illinois. That day there was the same constant swirling of Snow Geese until they settled on the lake. It is too bad that there isn’t access to Gibson Lake so we could see the vast amount of waterfowl that must be present.

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I know I have used this photo before but it still just amazes me. Those are rafts of Snow Geese. The photo is taken from a mile away so how many geese are there? A million? Carlyle Lake IL 1/28/12

And Snow Geese weren’t the only birds in large flocks. Though I didn’t get a picture (how can you get one that does the scene justice?)  on the day we saw huge flocks of blackbirds – mainly COMMON GRACKLES. It would probably take someone with a video camera to record the long line of blackbirds and then try to get a count. I swear one of the flocks was a couple of miles long.

Early in the day we stopped by the town of Francisco to see if there were EURASIAN COLLARED-DOVES next to the grain elevator like every small town.  And of course there were.

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One of 15 Eurasian Collared-Doves that were present. Of course sometimes the sun isn’t cooperative when trying to take a photo. Francisco, IN 1/2/16

On the day we saw several impressive birds starting with the lingering GREEN-TAILED TOWHEE. Don had already spent time with it in December and I had spent considerable time with them last summer in Colorado, so we didn’t linger at the sight.

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Green-tailed Towhee on the ground. I didn’t grab my camera when getting out of the car.  So the photo credit is goes to Don Gorney. Gibson Lake Area 1/2/16
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Another photo showing the bright rufous cap in the morning sun. Don’s main goal is to get a good photo ID and not an award-winning photo. But  I think they are still good photos. Photo by Don Gorney. Gibson Lake Area 1/2/16

Hoping for waterfowl we moved on to Tern Bar Slough. There was little variety and numbers are still low. Hopefully the current cold snap will send some south. Moving on we encountered both endangered RUSTY BLACKBIRDS and RED-HEADED WOODPECKERS in the same woods. Which was good to see.

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Since it is close to the road a Bald Eagle’s nest that I have seen on several web sites. Gibson Lake area – 1/2/16

We then spent a considerable amount of time watching the Snow Geese while Don picked a few ROSS’S GEESE out of the swirling flock. A few groups of GREATER WHITE-FRONTED GEESE also flew by at a higher elevation.

In the afternoon we headed to Somerville Mine in the eastern part of the county to search for raptors.  They were numerous with many RED-TAILED HAWKS, NORTHERN HARRIERS, and more limited numbers of ROUGH-LEGGED HAWKS and AMERICAN KESTRELS.

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One of several Northern Harriers we saw on the day. None of the raptors really came close to our area. Somerville Mine – 1/2/16

We also went into Warrick County in search of Northern Shrikes and MERLINS.  We missed on the Shrikes but found a few Merlins.

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I always expect Merlins to be larger. They aren’t hard to spot but they just aren’t a big bird. Warrick County – 1/2/16

We extended the day a little and went back to Somerville Mine area to catch the initial flights of SHORT-EARED OWLS at dusk.

From my first trip to the area I can see why Gibson County always does well on counts. The varied habitat is great for a wide variety of species.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Start of the Year – Owling and Swans

Funny how your birding perspective changes on January 1.  Birds people haven’t really been interested in except on a superficial level are now important. Need to get them checked off the list so you won’t need to worry about them later in the year.  I’d like to say I’m immune to that feeling but I’m not.  I think keeping a list and targeting certain birds keeps one going out in the field on a regular basis.

So with that I was up early in the cold on January 1 listening for owls at Johnson County Park. And in pretty quick succession I heard an EASTERN SCREECH-OWL and a BARRED OWL at their usual locations. I started to worry about the GREAT HORNED OWLS but they finally start calling, albeit a little later than usual. With a little extra time I tried for NORTHERN SAW-WHET OWL but to no avail. Since I have heard the 3 normally occurring owls for our area I will continue to try for a Northern Saw-whet.

I took a quick look at one of the local ponds before continuing on and mixed in the 400+ Mallards were 3 NORTHERN PINTAILS and 4 AMERICAN BLACK DUCKS. Those were the first Northern Pintails that I have seen in Johnson County in over a year. Otherwise it continues to be species sparse.

Driving on I noticed large white birds in a flooded field just north of Driftwood SWA. Luckily it was early and a holiday since this was a busy road.  How often do you get a break like that? Still thinking they were Snow Geese when I got out of the car I heard the call of a Swan. Not an expert at all but it sounded like the WHOOP of a TRUMPETER SWAN instead of the barking of the Tundra’s.  I watched them with cars buzzing by and then headed to Driftwood.  And while at Driftwood they went flying by headed south. So I was at the right place at the right time for once.

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These Trumpeter Swans were about a quarter-mile from the road. But they still stood out easily size-wise compared to the Canada Geese. Johnson County 1/1/16
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I can’t believe that I was disturbing them at this distance but they do appear to be looking right at me. Johnson County 1/1/16
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There were a total of seven adults and this one youngster. Johnson County 1/1/16
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I was thinking of calling a few people about the swans but it wasn’t long until they were heading south. Driftwood SWA 1/1/16

I can’t find any other records of Trumpeter’s in Johnson County so these could be the first recorded. And as always if I have these ID’d wrong let me know.

On to Driftwood which wasn’t birdy but the water level was very high from all the recent rains. AMERICAN TREE SPARROWS were the highlight with several flocks.

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A sign of the high water. The normal water level is left of the submerged tree line. And this is usually a large sandy beach that I use to scan the lake. Driftwood SWA 1/1/16
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An American Tree Sparrow was obliging on letting me take photos. Driftwood SWA 1/1/16

The rest of the day in southern Johnson County was uneventful except for a TURKEY VULTURE that was still present and the continuing migration of SANDHILL CRANES.

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A flock of the continuing migration of Sandhill Cranes flew over while I walked Johnson County Park. 1/1/16

In the slightly unusual sightings department I saw a RED-SHOULDERED HAWK fly into a tree at the local Meijer’s store on the way home. I would say it’s an odd location but I have seen both Cooper’s and Red-tailed Hawks in the same area.

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A Red-shouldered Hawk was somewhat of a surprise in the Meijer parking lot. South Indianapolis – 1/1/16