Birding Paraphernalia – My 5

I’ve recently upgraded the Birding Paraphernalia I carry in the field. Not anything different or special from what others use, but new to me.

Ideally I’d like everything to be in one piece of equipment. Something like a pair of binoculars with a camera, voice recorder, LOUD speaker, phone, and field guide. But since it isn’t here yet I’ll do what I can.


BinocsI still use and carry the 10×42 Eagle Optics binoculars I purchased when I started birding. I’ve seen other people who only carry a camera but to me a photo is only secondary to getting good looks at birds.

Bridge Camera

Coolpix Birding Paraphernalia
Nikon Coolpix P900

I purchased a bridge camera years ago to document any rarities or things I find interesting. For a definition of a bridge camera check here. I have recently upgraded to the Nikon Coolpix P900 with 83X zoom. I carry it side-saddle and don’t have a problem with its weight.




Yes, I carry a cell phone. An iPhone 5 company issued if you need to know. I use it for playing bird calls, a portable field guide (book form is in the car), eBird app, and voice recordings.

Aud Mini and iPhone 5



I recently purchased an Aud Mini by iLuv (Ultra Slim Pocket-Sized Portable Bluetooth Speaker) to replace my aging Speaker and Nano 3 combo. On the occasion I want to play a bird call the phone just isn’t loud enough. The $13 speaker is the same size as the phone and has good volume. And at $13 when I lose it, and I will, I won’t feel so bad.

Small Notebook

I still carry a pocket-size notebook to record species, take notes, or sketch something interesting. A Piccadilly 3″ x 5″ lined notebook from Half Price Books. After birding a location I use The Phone to record the data from the notebook on the eBird app. I don’t use the eBird app in the field since I find it distracts from birding. The same can be said for cameras since people seem spend more time looking at the photo they just took than birds.

Extra – Spotting Scope in Car

Now I don’t carry a spotting scope with me very often, especially since I have the High Zoom bridge camera. But it is never far away in the car.

So there you have the 5 pieces of paraphernalia I carry while birding. Not counting the backpack which is a different story altogether. But it usually stays in the car.

So what do you carry?

Black Vultures – You Just Never Know

I hadn’t expected anything exceptional to happen this past weekend given it’s late July and the heat index was headed to 110F. But I was sitting at 98 species for Johnson County in the IAS Summer Count and wanted to get to 100.

Not living in the county means I lose the opportunity to see several of the neighborhood species. Like COOPER’S HAWKS or RUBY-THROATED HUMMINGBIRDS. Birds I see daily on my neighborhood walk in Marion County and I used to see daily when we lived in Johnson County.

But birders know you don’t what’s out there unless you look.

So off I went.

With the recent rainfall I thought my best bet to reach 100 was going to be shorebirds. I made a quick first stop at the Marion County site to see how the conditions looked. Good.

The Combs Road wet area was turning into a good shorebird spot. Marion County 7/23/16
GREG (1)
There were numerous Great Egrets and Great Blue Herons at the location. Marion County 7/23/16
LESA (2)
Two Least Sandpipers appeared obvious in the field but looking at the photos I thought maybe they were Semipalmated. Until I saw the yellowish legs. Marion County 7/24/16
One Spotted Sandpiper that wouldn’t stand still. Marion County 7/24/16

So I was hopeful for shorebirds in Johnson County.

But it was not to be. The shorebird sites had water and had either corn or beans or weeds also. This didn’t make for good shorebirding. Oh well. I would have to hope for other species for 100.

Do you know you can still see birds using the strategy of walking from one shade tree to the next? I used the strategy successfully all day starting at Driftwood following the disappointment at the shorebird sites.

It was still early enough in the day that I saw several species.

EAPH (3)
An Eastern Towhee on territory before the heat of the day. Driftwood SFA 7/23/16
YEWA (1)
A Yellow Warbler who will probably be heading south soon. Driftwood SFA 7/23/16
WIFL (2)
A Willow Flycatcher who called the whole time I was present. Driftwood SFA 7/23/16
RTHU (2)
And most importantly, a Ruby-throated Hummingbird fluttering around. #99 for the Summer Count. Driftwood SFA 7/23/16

Leaving Driftwood I saw three TURKEY VULTURES flying lazily to the north. I didn’t think much about them until I turned onto US31. Thier number was now seven and two immediately looked different.


Driving north a half mile I finally found a pull off and confirmed the ID. They drifted my way giving good views and a few photos.

BLVU (10)
Two Black Vultures looping lazily over the Big Blue River. 7/23/16
BLVU (5) Black Vultures
One eventually drifted overhead. 7/23/16

This is only my third sighting of Black Vultures in the county. Probably the 1st for the Johnson County Summer Count, and more importantly, #100 for this year’s count.

Like I said, you never know what’s out there unless you look. Even on a hot summer’s day.

Planes – Last London Post?

This is probably the last post on our London trip since I think I have exhausted my thoughts on subject. But probably not.

I have enjoyed extending them because I think we take trips and they fade into our memories. The continued blogging has helped to keep the memories alive longer

But there is one aspect I never did bring up in the other posts.


And not small planes.

I’m somewhat use to mid-sized Boeing 737’s flying over occasionally while birding in the Indianapolis area.

In London it was Boeing 747’s or 777’s every 60 seconds. Not small planes and low on their approach to Heathrow.

At O’Hare I took a photo for my daughter to show the size difference of the Boeing 777 we flew to London (on left) versus the Boeing 737 (on right) we usually fly in the States.

It was bad at Hyde Park but with the London Wetlands Centre farther west and closer to Heathrow it was annoying.

Other birders didn’t notice and when I mentioned it they said you get used to it.

Since I haven’t got used to the sporadic flyover of the smaller 737 in Indiana I don’t think this is something I would ever get used to.

In Illinois we lived on the approach to O’Hare but we were still 100 miles out. Which meant the planes were high but not 35,000 feet high. You could still hear them and they would distract from hearing bird calls.

321 planes
A Boeing 777 (I think) flying over the London Wetland Centre. At that altitude it was loud. And the next one was 60 seconds behind it. And the next one 60 seconds behind it… All day long.

That is why I bird Atterbury and Johnson County Park. The occasional train or military helicopter is all you hear.

Atterbury and Johnson County Park are not as quiet as Western Colorado but quieter than urban Indianapolis. And much quieter than London.

World’s Smallest Dove?

One of the blogs I follow is Jem Babbington’s The Birds of Saudi Arabia. Periodically he has a picture of a Namaqua Dove, one of the world’s smallest doves. I play along at home so I looked up the dove in The Birds of Europe, which covers the Western Palearctic, an area that encompasses Europe and Northern Africa.

The description of the Namaqua Dove had photos comparing it to other species to show its small size. And I was intrigued. Was it the world’s smallest dove?

Namaqua Dove A
The description of the Namaqua Dove in The Birds of Europe comparing it to a Budgerigar and a House Sparrow!

So if it’s that small, is it the world’s smallest dove?

First some perspective.

The most numerous dove in the Eastern US is the MOURNING DOVE.

Mourning Dove: length = 12″ Wingspan = 18″ weight = 4.2 oz.

Mourning Dove

The introduced EURASIAN COLLARED-DOVE is a little larger than the Mourning Dove and is also seen in the Eastern US.

Eurasian Collared-Dove: length = 13″ Wingspan = 22″ weight = 7 oz.

Eurasian Collared-Dove

Now the COMMON WOOD-PIGEON I saw in London is much larger.

Common Wood-Pigeon: length = 16″ Wingspan = 28″ weight = 17 oz.

Common Wood-Pigeon

Now before I researched the smallest dove and after encountering it in Texas and Florida, I knew the COMMON GROUND-DOVE native to North America was pretty small.

Common Ground-Dove: length = 6.5″ Wingspan = 10.5″ weight = 1.1 oz.

Common Ground-Dove

Which makes it even smaller than the NAMAQUA DOVE.

Namaqua Dove: length = 8.5″ Wingspan = 12″ weight = 1.4 oz.

By Charlesjsharp (Own work, from Sharp Photography, sharpphotography) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons
Namaqua Dove By Charlesjsharp (Own work, from Sharp Photography, sharpphotography) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

So what is the World’s Smallest Dove?

As with most things it all depends. By mass the PLAIN-BREASTED GROUND DOVE native to the New World is the smallest at .9 oz.

Plain-breasted Ground Dove: length = 5.8″ Wingspan = ?” weight = .9 oz.

By Leoadec (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 ( or GFDL (], via Wikimedia Commons - world's smallest dove
Plain-breasted Ground Dove By Leoadec (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 ( or GFDL (], via Wikimedia Commons
At 5.5″ the DWARF FRUIT-DOVE native to New Guinea is the smallest by actual length but is a stockier bird.

Dwarf Fruit-dove: length = 5.5″ Wingspan = ?” weight = 1.7 oz.

I couldn’t find a photo that wasn’t copyright protected. Here is a link to a photo on The Internet Bird Collection.

So there you have it. Once again curiosity leads down many paths.

Why Bird Surveys Need to be Annual

The Thought

After running the two BBS (Breeding Bird Surveys) through East-Central Indiana and analyzing the data, I had the thought WHY are bird surveys done on an annual basis? Trends in the Midwest do change but on a slower basis. And with the trouble of getting volunteers to run bird surveys why not run them for 4 or 5 years, take a 4 or 5 year break, and then repeat? That would catch the developing trends over 40-50 years and require fewer volunteers.

The Why

Then I listened to the June 6 Talking Naturally episode on BAER’S POCHARD – a Critically Endangered East Asian Duck where Charlie discusses the dramatic decline over the last 5 years of the Baer’s Pochard. The IUNC lists the Baer’s as Critically Endangered and states “It winters mainly in eastern and southern mainland China, India, Bangladesh (maximum winter total of 17 individuals in the last five years, down from 1,000–2,000 individuals [Chowdhury et al. 2012]).”

Let me state that again:

maximum winter total of 17 individuals in the last five years, down from 1,000–2,000 “.

Listening to the podcast there were 1000 recorded at two sites in 2010 and less than 300 in 2014 when there was an organized search.

Baer’s Pochard By Dick Daniels ( – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0,

Now it was discussed the Baer’s Pochard could have wintered elsewhere for the winter but even in under surveyed China someone would have reported them. So it’s one species that definitely needs tracked annually.

But a large decrease can’t happen in the Midwest, can it?

Then I woke up and remembered the West Nile Virus and AMERICAN CROWS. If we hadn’t been tracking them on an annual basis the steep decline at the turn of the century might have not been noticed.

The composite index for the American Crow for all BBS routes in the United States. North American Breeding Bird Survey Results and Analysis 1966-2013

Let’s say the survey was run every 5 years like I was thinking. From 1995 to 2000, a 5 year break, and again from 2005-2010. The impact of the West Nile Virus would have been missed. When the survey resumed in 2005 the numbers of crows would have been half. It would have probably been noticed but would there have been the data to help track the problem?

So yes, my thought was wrong. We definitely need to take annual bird surveys.

AMCR Bird Surveys
Luckily the American Crow survived and are now almost back to previous numbers.

Luckily the numbers of American Crows didn’t drop to the point a captive breeding program was needed like the Baer’s Pochard. But if the downward trend continued the data was there to guide conservationists to take action.

BBS Results – 5 Thoughts

Having completed and compiled the data on my first two BBS (Breeding Bird Survey) Routes I have come up with a few observations.  Not scientific or statistically proved. Just what seems to fit the BBS results.

But first to set the background a map of the approximate locations of the two BBS routes.

BBS Routes BBS Results

As you can see the routes are through rural agriculture land in east-central Indiana.


  1. The BBS Results seem to point to the total number of birds and species haven’t changed, just the mix.

    I really can’t see any difference in the total number of birds seen on either route. But some species have increased and others decreased, basically leaving a net zero sum.

    I was one short of the max number of species on both routes. That is probably due to the fact I have better hearing which helps on this type of count.

  2. Modern farming and the loss of livestock raising has led to less grassland birds than 50 years ago

    No surprise here. The impact from modern farming methods and lack of livestock raising has greatly impacted species like Northern Bobwhite, Savannah Sparrow, Field Sparrow, Grassland Sparrow, and Eastern Meadowlark. And the loss of hedgerows greatly decreased Great Crested Flycatchers and Northern Flickers.

  3. On the flip side modern farming has led to an increase in some species

    Certain species such as Killdeer, Horned Lark, and Common Grackle seem to prosper in fields with no hedgerows.

  4. The increase in new, rural houses with large sprawling yards have made an impact.

    Home ownership might be good for the economy but large rural houses with spiraling yards probably aren’t good for birds. Besides taking away from habitat, almost every new house had Chipping Sparrows and House Finches in their Bradford Pear Trees. The Chipping Sparrows  were barely represented and the House Finches weren’t even present on the surveys 50 years ago.  I have already made my thoughts on this topic here.

  5. Not sure why but the number of Wood Thrushes has increased the last few years on both counts.

    What woods that are left are small patches of woods, not hedgerows.  It seemed like there was a Wood Thrush in every small woods on each route. Maybe Wood Thrushes are a more adaptive species and make do with what is here? And this is surprising since Wood Thrush are on the IUCN Red List as Near Threatened.

So there are my observations from running the routes. My main take away is that as the landscape changes and evolves some species will adapt and survive, sometimes in increasing numbers, and others will decrease and potentially disappear.

Bobolink Update

I was going to title this post “To the Mall” but that didn’t pan out, so I stuck with Bobolink Update.

And let me reiterate my position, even in the so-called “slow times”, there is always something going on if you get out the door.

I actually slept in until 4:30 this Saturday so I could be to the mall at 5:30. The first thing I noticed was the dawn chorus of robins was gone. I thought it was less last week but this week it was gone.

I picked the mall in hopes a COMMON NIGHTHAWK might have used its flat roof for nesting. Wikipedia states the mall was built in 1966 so I was hopeful the roof was still gravel as opposed to the modern rubber roof. The mall went in for a major change in 2003 so maybe it has a rubber roof. But it didn’t have any nighthawks around I could hear.

On to Franklin High School in hopes of photographing the continuing WILSON’S SNIPE. I was doing good on sneaking up to the spot I encountered one last week when a bee went down my shirt. It must have been comical watching me strip off layers in shoulder-high wet weeds. So much for getting a photo. Walking back to the car I flushed a snipe in a completely different part of the marsh. Did it move from the recent rains and ensuing high water?

On to a known VESPER SPARROW spot that was still needed for the IAS Summer Count. The spot is by a low spot which sometimes holds shorebirds. Upon arriving there was water, 55 MALLARDS, and a LESSER YELLOWLEGS. All flushed when I opened the car door and I wasn’t even close. A Spotted Sandpiper also flushed in the mass exit. The yellowlegs is the earliest fall shorebird I have ever had in the county. But it helps to have water in July for shorebirds. And I did hear two Vesper Sparrows calling in the distance.

Still no photos on the day.

On to Atterbury FWA were I saw a distant RINGED-NECKED PHEASANT heading to the brush.

Ring-necked Pheasant

A few photos of other locals from Atterbury.

Indigo Bunting
Orchard Orioles – there were three but I could never get them in the same photo.
Willow Flycatcher

Down at Pisgah Lake were I watched swallows harassing a Red-shouldered Hawk.

Tree Swallow(?) attacking a Red-shouldered Hawk.

Bobolink Update

The Bobolink are still at the now partially mowed field at Atterbury. I saw two on the day and heard Grasshopper Sparrows calling. What we could have if man wouldn’t intervene?

The mowing must have pushed the Bobolink closer allowing me to finally get some decent photos.

BOBO (3)

BOBO (4)

BOBO (7)

BOBO (1) Bobolink Update
Finally, a decent Bobolink photo!

On the way home I noticed the field in Greenwood that still has Bobolinks was getting mowed. It will be seen if they stay.

On the day I added three species for the IAS Summer Count – Vesper Sparrow, Lesser Yellowlegs, and Ring-necked Pheasant.

Plus, I saw three raptors getting assailed. The fore mentioned Red-shoulder Hawk, an American Kestrel stirred up 50 Barn Swallows when it attacked a barn, and an Eastern Kingbird pecking away while riding the back of a Red-tailed Hawk.

Eventually I’m going to remember I have a video function on the camera.

Jackdaw – Opportunistic Corvid

I have been looking at the following JACKDAW photos off and on for the three months since we got back from London. I kept thinking they reminded me of something but I couldn’t put my finger on it. Then it dawned on me.

It probably doesn’t matter where you go in the world, if the bird belongs to the corvid family it is opportunistic.

Before I said my goodbyes to the two British birders at the London Wetland Centre they said to make sure to check out the concession stand area. There had been Jackdaw (official name Western Jackdaw) hanging around the roof earlier in the day.

Hanging around the concession stand should have been my first hint on the bird.

Since the only one I had seen on the trip was in the shadows at Hyde Park I made sure to stop to look.

This was the best view I had of a Jackdaw at Hyde Park. In the bad light I honestly thought it was an Eurasian Jay until I downloaded the photo. 4/5/16

There were several Jackdaws on the concession stand’s roof but the one that caught my eye 5 feet away on a table. And since I had seen most of the birds at the Centre I wasn’t in the “hurry up” mode. Like any bird use to humans he was slightly weary but still kept one eye on me. I watched him for a minute before he flew away with his treat.

I have included this dark photo to show the sequence of events. The Jackdaw is eyeing what appears to be a crouton.
491 Jackdaw
He snags it.
And then gives me the typical defiant corvid “What you looking at”?

As you can see the Jackdaw is a member of the corvid family. Just a smaller “crow” than our AMERICAN CROW or the European CARRION CROW. More of a Blue Jay size. The photos aren’t the most “natural” since they take place in a human habitat. But they show the two-tone gray and black color and gray eye of the Jackdaw. Also the smaller bill than what we are used to with a crow.

And of course the opportunistic “I’ll take a free meal”.

Annual Goose Pond Fourth Of July Trip

Another Saturday and I’m up at 4AM so Mike and I can make our 4th Annual Goose Pond Fourth of July Trip looking for species not usually seen in the Johnson County area – MARSH WREN, LEAST BITTERN, LEAST TERNS, COMMON GALLINULE,  and BLACK-NECKED STILTS.

The weather cooperated but the habitat, not so much. Unlike past years the water level was low providing limited habitat for Least Bitterns and Common Gallinules. And where there is water, vegetation has grown to the water’s edge giving limited shorebird access. Compare this year’s photos to last years, when the water level was higher.

The water levels are low as seen on GP5N.
GREG (2)
There is still enough water in MPE2 for the Great Egrets and Great Blue Herons to thrive. We counted 75 Great Egrets in this group alone.

And enough habitat around to make the day enjoyable.

LETE (3)
The Least Terns were feeding around Tern Island.
NOBO (7)
A Northern Bobwhite ran across the road. I initially thought it was one of the several small rabbits that kept zigzagging on the road.
MINK (14)
We also saw a coyote and a mink family, this being one of the three.
BNST (18)
And of course the Black-necked Stilts kept a close eye on our every move.

BNST (36) BNST (37)

The highlight of the day was finding other shorebirds besides the Black-necked Stilts and Killdeer.

On the first stop of the day at MPE2 I saw three large shorebirds in this small pool with the Great Egrets. Through the scope we could make out they were Greater Yellowlegs.
GRYE (2)
We moved on to other areas but in late morning I bushwhacked out to the pool for a closer look.
GRYE (4)
Showing the range of the Nikon Coolpix P900 I’m still a distance away from the Greater Yellowlegs and Killdeer.
SBDO (1)
Then out of nowhere 4 Short-billed Dowitchers appeared. Beautiful in their breeding plumage.
SBDO (2)
Not sure if they were in the high grass??
GRYE (6) Annual Goose Pond Trip
A group photo but like school children they wouldn’t all stand next together for the photo – Killdeer, Greater Yellowlegs, Short-billed Dowitcher, and Black-necked Stilt.

All in all, our Annual Goose Pond Trip was good though it was quieter than years past. We missed on Least Bittern and Common Gallinule, plus no Bell’s Vireo or Sedge Wrens. Hopefully the heavy rain predicted for today will help bring some of the habitat back to life.

Dickcissel Increasing?

Recently I was helping on a bird survey with Karl and Mike when Karl brought up the thought that Dickcissel are increasing in the area. And I had to agree. No facts to back it up but it seems like there are more than a few years ago.

DICK (4)
The Dickcissel were out in force last Sunday morning when I was checking on Bobolinks. Urban Johnson County 6/26/16

The Facts

  1. I first checked Brock’s Birds of Indiana to see what he saw as a long-term trend in Indiana. As seen below a slight increase but not significant.Brock - Dickcissel
  2. Next I checked the results of the USGS Breeding Bird Survey. As seen on the left chart below for the entire US there was an initial decrease at the start of the survey but has basically leveled off. The right chart shows Indiana and to my eye shows a slight increase since 1980.
DickCissel BBS
Breeding Bird Survey – The graph on the left is the long-term US results and on the right Indiana. Sauer, J. R., J. E. Hines, J. E. Fallon, K. L. Pardieck, D. J. Ziolkowski, Jr., and W. A. Link. 2014. The North American Breeding Bird Survey, Results and Analysis 1966 – 2013. Version 01.30.2015 USGS Patuxent Wildlife Research Center, Laurel, MD
DICK (3)
Urban Johnson County 6/26/16

My Personal Thought

My own personal thought is Dickcissel are increasing slightly in this area but only in selected spots.

Karl brought up the fact he sees Dickcissel in a scrubby area that didn’t use to hold birds. That is my same take. When we moved to Franklin from Illinois I started seeing them in numerous deserted scrubby lots. And that has been where I continue to see them.

These lots look like they had started development during the construction boom and when things crashed the lots become deserted scrub fields. With just the vegetation a Dickcissel likes. So over the last 7-8 years we have provided the perfect habitat for them.

DICK (1)
Urban Johnson County 6/26/16

On my BBS routes in the rural Indiana landscape, my numbers didn’t suggest an increase, similar to the BBS national trends. And I haven’t seen more or less at Atterbury either.

It will be interesting to see what happens as the lots disappear since they are starting to be developed.

DICK (2) Dickcissel Increasing
Urban Johnson County 6/26/16

Any thoughts?