As the About page of this blog states, I like searching for uncommon birds in my area. Like this past weekend when I found a second spot for BOBOLINK in Johnson County. The other known spot being at Atterbury FWA.
Back in December I posted about the loss of grassland area at the corner of I-65 and County Line Road. Well the field is still grassland and there is no sign of development. So Sunday I checked the field to see if DICKCISSEL had returned. Dickcissel were present along with calling GRASSHOPPER SPARROWS.
But the big surprise were Bobolink.
I remember even though we were farther north in Illinois Bobolink were uncommon because of lack of grasslands in our agriculture county. Thus I had very few photos from Illinois.
In Illinois I used to take an annual trip to Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie to see Bobolink, Upland Sandpiper, and Loggerhead Shrike. And for the record on the last couple of visits the Upland Sandpiper weren’t present.
The question now is will the owners of the local grasslands cut the grass so the Bobolink have to leave? The Bobolink Field at Atterbury is usually cut in early June for hay. It wasn’t cut until August a couple of years ago and they stayed the entire summer.
The good news is according to The Birds of North America Online the average egg date is May 20 with 12 days of incubation. And if undisturbed the young leave the nest in 11 days. If that holds true then the young are gone around mid-June.
I’ll monitor both fields and hope the grass isn’t cut until late June.
As noted in a previous post I’m worried about Egyptian Geese becoming as widespread as Canada Geese in the Midwest. I know I need to forget about it but after our London trip I’m still troubled.
On our trip the Egyptian Goose was widespread in city parks. About as numerous as the Canada Geese which are also widespread. I didn’t note how many of each but it seemed about equal.
The other thing I noticed is Egyptian Geese are a tree-dwelling species and like to nest in large holes in trees. I saw them several times in the trees around the parks. Maybe this will be our saving grace since the industrial complexes where the Canada Geese abound are to new for trees. However in a few years when the trees mature, they might start to spread.
I thought I took more photos but I think I was after other species. If you want to see Egyptian Geese or want to check out the parks, see Ralph Hancock’s Kensington Gardens and Hyde Park birds.
After Saturday’s hike which turned up White-crowned Sparrows I set out Sunday to see once and for all if Atterbury FWA had EASTERN WHIP-POOR-WILL. Plus check for NORTHERN BOBWHITE and the returning BELL’S VIREO.
This would be the second time in two years I was going to make sure there were no EASTERN WHIP-POOR-WILLS at Atterbury FWA. Sunday’s forecast was perfect for checking – Full Moon, Clear, and Calm Winds.
When I arrived it was perfect conditions. I listened at 6 places between 4:50 – 5:40 AM.
The result is I’m pretty confident there are NO Eastern Whip-poor-wills at Atterbury FWA.
It took several years to find a whip-poor-will spot in my home county in Illinois, so I’m not done yet looking in Johnson County.
But I did hear numerous BARRED OWLS with one actually landing by the car for a good view. And of course the chats were chatting in the dark.
I proceeded to the NW part of Atterbury to listen for Northern Bobwhite. The area has been off-limits for the past several weekends for Spring Turkey Season. I walked for a couple of miles – no luck there either as the area has had a controlled burn.
I did see a RED-HEADED WOODPECKER, several WILLOW FLYCATCHERS, and EASTERN TOWHEES on the walk.
I remembered the park manager saying she had seen a Northern Bobwhite by her office. So I headed the mile east to sit and eat breakfast by a large field north of her office. In a couple of minutes I heard bobwhite calling. Another specifies tied down for the IAS Summer Count.
The last species I was checking was to see if the Bell’s Vireo had returned to the same area of Johnson County Park. I no sooner got out of the car and one was singing in the same bush as last year, giving great views. Then another came along and they flew off. But one kept singing hidden in a nearby bush.
The past weekend had one main and a couple of smaller goals. The main goal was to see once and for all if Atterbury FWA had EASTERN WHIP-POOR-WILLS. The weather forecast for Saturday called for rain but Sunday was clear with a full moon. So I opted to check for whips and a couple of the minor goals on Sunday. That report will be in the next blog.
On Saturday I did one of the minor goals, check for forest species at Atterbury.
A Different Area in Atterbury
Believe it or not there are a couple of areas I have never explored at Atterbury. From Google Maps they appear similar to other areas so I haven’t explored them. But just in case they had something new I thought I had better check.
I got a late start Saturday because of the rain and I didn’t feel like bushwhacking a new area in the rain. Especially one with the potential for high grass. And as expected, it had most of the forest species which included a KENTUCKY WARBLER on territory.
I ended up at the marsh but no rails were calling. Cutting back through the grasslands there were numerous WILLOW FLYCATCHERS and YELLOW-BREASTED CHATS on territory, as there would be throughout the weekend.
I found a pair of RED-HEADED WOODPECKERS which is a good since they are on the local endangered watch list.
I came across a group of EASTERN KINGBIRDS out either feeding or playing, I couldn’t tell which. At one time I had 6 in my binocular’s field of view.
Another numerous species were SWAINSON’S THRUSH calling from the brush.
What Was to be the Weekend Highlight
Up to finding the COMMON GALLINULE the bird that was going to be the highlight of the weekend was a common species – a WHITE-CROWNED SPARROW.
That’s right, a White-crowned Sparrow.
Why you may ask? Because it is 12 days later than my average departure date, including my data from Northern Illinois.
I was walking along the road after watching the woodpeckers and kingbirds when it flew out on the road. It took me a minute to realize it was a White-crowned Sparrow since I thought they would have gone north by now. A second appeared but I didn’t get it in the photo.
A mid-afternoon discovery of a wooded area that had several warblers including a Cerulean Warbler concluded the day.
I had several things to post about this weekend’s birding but I’ll just cover the last bird of the weekend in this post. A surprise COMMON GALLINULE.
If someone a month ago would have told me I would have had two Rallidaes as my next county birds, I wouldn’t have believed them. But that’s the case having Virginia Rails last week and a Common Gallinule this week. I have been working on the Virginia Rails since locating several spots with Soras. I figured I might eventually find one, but the Common Gallinule was a big surprise. It wasn’t even on my radar as an eventual county bird.
I left the car parked diagonally and didn’t even close the door since I figured it would by empty. It was except for a lone bird on the far side of the pond. My first thought was Common Gallinule but the bird was heading towards small weeds where a Great Blue Heron had popped out its head.
So I ran back to the car for the spotting scope. When I got back the bird was gone. No photo and not a proper ID. I figured it was by the heron which started a chain of events that probably took a half hour but seemed longer.
I walked the perimeter of the pond to the south end for a side view. No bird.
This meant walking into the woods to the west and then back to come up behind the weeds. Which I did and when I got there, no bird.
I figured it had gone into the trees. I knew from prior experience when WOOD DUCKS got in the trees it was hard to find them. I figured the best strategy was to go back around the lake and keep scanning.
And then it popped out briefly from the trees! ID was correct – Common Gallinule!
My best view would be on the other side of the lake so I went back around.
Sure enough it was out in the open when I got back on the other side of the lake.
It eventually came back to the shore and walked on the edge where I had initially saw it.
I called Mike since I knew it would be a county bird for him also and he arrived in about 20 minutes.
And we went through the whole process again since the bird had moved back to the trees.
I’ll keep checking to see if the bird stays but I figure it was just moving through. The habitat is not what you’d expect for a Common Gallinule. That and if it is in the woods it will be tough to see.
This past weekend as part of the IAS Big May Day I saw several shorebirds – LESSER AND GREATER YELLOWLEGS, SOLITARY SANDPIPERS, and WILSON’S SNIPE. Plus a couple of plovers -KILLDEER and SEMIPALMATED PLOVER. I also saw several SPOTTED SANDPIPERS.
One of the Spotted Sandpipers was by a small pond at Atterbury FWA. When I got close it did its “peet weet” call while flying to the far shore.
And it got me thinking my favorite part of the birding year is coming up. If you have follower this blog you know I love the slow summer months.
Others may look forward to the rush of migration, but I look forward to the slow summer, and winter months for that fact, when you can enjoy our birds. During migration I seem rushed to get a glimpse of a migrant which might only be around for a few weeks.
After the rush of migration you can take your time and enjoy the birds. Take notes. Watch birds in their habitat.
One of several birds which exemplifies that feeling are Spotted Sandpipers – our only real non-migrating shorebird. The Killdeer is a plover and the BLACK-NECKED STILT, for the lucky ones that have them on territory, is, well a stilt.
There is nothing better on a warm, humid, summer morning than to hear the “peet” break the silence and watch the little sandpiper fly across the pond. Then observe it “working” the far shore looking for food and watch it decide to fly elsewhere “peet weeting” the whole way.
I’m up and out the door at 6:30AM heading to Hyde Park to look for local birds. Which is strange since its 1:30AM in Indiana. Funny what we can fool our bodies into doing.
In a previous post I wrote about how I use eBird to find birds in a given area with a frequency of greater than 6%. I use that information to make flashcards and download vocalizations to learn those birds.
One of the things I didn’t mention is to make sure you take time to familiarize yourself with birds in the 2-5% range. That way if one of the birds under 6% show up you will have a clue to its ID.
Like the Eurasian Nuthatch that I wasn’t prepared.
That’s right. I wasn’t prepared for a nuthatch. The EURASIAN NUTHATCH isn’t seen often in Hyde Park so it came out under 6% on my spreadsheet. And since it resembles our WHITE-BREASTED NUTHATCH I figured I’d recognize it easily. So I didn’t spend a lot of time on it.
I should have spent more time studying it. Especially its habits. When was the last time, or anytime, you saw a White-breasted Nuthatch calling for the top of a tree? Me neither. But this Eurasian species sure liked doing it.
I should have listened to the call one more time. It’s nothing like a White-breasted Nuthatch.
I still hadn’t figured out what the bird was and it kept calling and I kept watching. (Regular readers will know I don’t carry a field guide. Not even in a new place. I take notes and figure it out when I get back. Which I did for this nuthatch.)
From the coloring the only bird I could think of was a Northern Wheatear but they are ground birds.
Finally I had to get back to the hotel and I’m heading out of the park when it dawns on me. A Nuthatch! I think the process of elimination finally nailed it.
So the moral of the story is to make sure you spend a little time on those 2-5 percenters.
My portion of the Johnson County Christmas Bird Count IAS Big May Day Count (felt like a Christmas Bird Count) started out and ended well with several surprises in the middle. I’ll stick to the highlights with some follow-up posts over the next few weeks covering a few other things on the day.
Big May Day – The Start
The weather at 5AM was 50F and windy, with light rain. The only thing that changed during the day was the rain stopped. Otherwise the temperature and wind held steady all day. I noticed the temperature on the local bank said 51F when I went by early in the day and said 50F late in the afternoon. I have participated in several Christmas Counts that were warmer.
So I didn’t start optimistic.
But the first bird, a GREAT HORNED OWL, flew off its usual telephone pole as soon as I drove up. There was hope.
I called in an EASTERN SCREECH-OWL and missed on Barred Owl. While waiting in the dark for a Barred Owl a bird flew in with white wing marks like a nighthawk. I didn’t remember those on a Barred Owl?? A couple of minutes it swooped back in – it was a COMMON NIGHTHAWK. Which was reassuring since I didn’t remember a Barred Owl acting that way.
The morning continued on with several FOY. Like CEDAR WAXWINGS.
Next was one of those county lister things when I found 1 CLIFF SWALLOW mixed in a feeding flock. No photo. Have you ever tried to take a photo of a swallow? A few BANK SWALLOWS were also mixed in for good measure.
Big May Day – The Middle
After lunch we went out searching for species we’d missed. First we hit one of the local shorebirds sites.
Then I visited a spot which previously had a SORA calling and at that time I thought I had heard a portion of a calling VIRGINIA RAIL. Yesterday no Sora but 2 Virginia Rails called. Johnson County #214.
I added a few more species we had missed in the morning like GRASSHOPPER SPARROW, WILSON’S SNIPE, and PIED-BILLED GREBE. Not the same grebe from my previous story. But I was still glad to see one late in the day.
Big May Day – The End
When the Worthsville Road exit on I65 was recently added it opened up observation to a flooded field I thought might be good for shorebirds. Well it hasn’t panned out for shorebirds. But I still made it my last stop of the day yesterday.
Once again there were no shorebirds however there was a distant piece of white trash.
No, looking again the trash looked like a gull.
Assuming it was a Ring-billed I got out the scope to confirm. The bird was walking away but I could still see the small black bill, gray ear patch, and yellowish legs. A Bonaparte’s Gull in Johnson County in May. Who would have thought? (Yes, eBird flagged it if you were wondering)
And for fun a departing photo, to make up for the lack of photos from another dark Saturday.
This post is directed to birders in Johnson County who might have observed birds from the observation stand at Honker Haven in Atterbury FWA. If you aren’t around Johnson County maybe it relates to something that’s happened in your local area.
Back in November I thanked the DNR for taking down the trees at Honker Haven in Atterbury FWA. It was a good thing since it opened up the pond to viewing from the observation platform.
The stand was helpful in seeing and photographing birds in the pond, especially the far NW corner.
Most Saturdays I would try to time it so I was at the observation deck around noon to scan for soaring raptors. That extra bit of elevation made a real difference.
It was extremely helpful in the fall when the water level dropped and shorebirds would be on the small islands that formed on the pond.
But after successfully removing the trees the stand has also been removed.
Granted, the stand was getting a bit up in the years. I have seen people take one step on it and turn around. My guess is it was removed for safety reasons.
But honestly most of the time I didn’t go up on the deck because it seemed to spook the birds. What I did like about the stand was using the bottom posts for a “blind”. The birds never seemed to fly when I used that strategy.
I guess I’ll have to use the adjacent trees as a “blind” now.
I’m hoping for redemption today with a few photos from Sunday. Saturday the wind gusts were blowing at greater than 25MPH in the open areas which meant taking photos of grasslands birds tough. I still tried to take photos of distant birds though. And the photos from the woods weren’t any better with the overcast skies and light rains.
Sunday afternoon I went to the central part of Atterbury FWA. That part of Atterbury is closed daily until 1PM for Spring Turkey Season. So to see if it will be worth birding next Saturday on the IAS Big May Day Count I went bushwhacking after 1PM. I did come across several species that might be needed if not found in the morning Saturday. The lighting wasn’t much better with overcast skies but they weren’t the heavy clouds. I got a few photos which hopefully will redeem myself.