Stilt Sandpiper, Maybe? – Weekend Highlights

When it’s the end of August, the temperature is 74F, the humidity is 90% at 5AM, and there is a chance of thunderstorms all day, you hope the birding isn’t going to slow. But if you have birded long enough to read the signs you know it is going to be slow. And it was. Almost eerily quiet. So not many highlights.

Franklin Township Community Park was the start of the day for a little owling which didn’t pan out but I had my first encounter of the year with mosquitoes. It was just a matter of time before all the rain started to produce good number of them.  The reason I picked Franklin Township Community Park was because it’s adjacent to watered high school athletic fields and this is a good time of year to check them for shorebirds. They aren’t as productive as sod farms but you never know. Like the time I found the American Golden Plovers in Franklin.

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Taken right before sunrise this photo shows some of the 50 Killdeer on the athletic fields. One never knows when an American Golden-Plover or Buff-breasted Sandpiper might show. 8/27/16

On to the local shorebird spot and the morning departure of Canada Geese. It doesn’t take long for 500 geese to fly off even in smaller groups of 25.

A quick binocular scan didn’t produce many shorebirds besides Killdeer and a few peeps. And one Lesser Yellowlegs. Or not?

STSA (2) Stilt Sandpiper
My first impression was a Lesser Yellowlegs. But it wasn’t feeding in a frenzied manner.
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The legs seemed a little too short and the bill not needle enough.
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It then came into view a little better and the bright supercilium started pointing to a Stilt Sandpiper.
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Here is a cropped and enlarged photo. Bill doesn’t look long enough for a Stilt Sandpiper but it might be the angle.
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Even in this blurry distant photo you can tell the size compared to the Killdeer. Even feeding a Lesser Yellowlegs legs should appear longer than the Killdeer’s legs whereas a Stilt Sandpiper’s would be about the same. And in this pose the bill appears fairly thick.

Am I 100% sure it is a Stilt Sandpiper? No. In the field it didn’t appear or act to be a Lesser Yellowlegs. And everyone is encouraged to chime in if they have an opinion.

No birding Sunday as the day was spent painting the daughter’s bedroom. Luckily she has no more rooms to paint!

Hairy Woodpecker – Common?

Let’s say you got the following request:  “I’m from out of your area and will be in town next week. And I really want to see a Hairy Woodpecker. Could you help?”

I don’t know about you but my reply would be “How much time do you have?”

As I alluded at the end of the last post – birds listed as common sometimes aren’t.

I prided myself in LaSalle County Illinois and now Johnson County Indiana of knowing where to find the abundant, common, and scarce birds.

But on any given day is anything abundant to common? Some are “usually” abundant – like Red-bellied and Downy Woodpeckers, others common – like a Northern Flicker, and scarcer like Pileated and Red-headed Woodpeckers.

So where does the Hairy Woodworker fall? 

Supposedly Fairly Common per National Geographic and Dunne. At least Sibley lists it as uncommon.

But I can’t tell you with certainty where to find one in Johnson County. And that bothers me.

HAWO Hairy Woodpecker
How uncommon is a Hairy Woodpecker? I had to use a photo from the Internet since I couldn’t find one of my own. Granted, I didn’t start tagging photos until I started the blog, but that was 3 years ago. DickDaniels (http://carolinabirds.org/) – Own work  http://CC BY-SA 3.0

All I know is when we have a count – Christmas, Big May Day – there is a sigh of relieve when someone says they saw a Hairy Woodpecker.

Maybe people are seeing them at their feeders but I’m not a feeder type guy.

There are several other birds listed as common such as Belted Kingfisher, Carolina Wren, and Song Sparrow which seem to be scarce on count days. There are more but you get the idea.

The point is to demonstrate the only sure way to know your local bird distribution is to bird the different habitats regularly.

Week Early on Migrants – Weekend Highlights

The real weekend highlight was Saturday helping my daughter paint the living room of her new apartment. Turned out quite well if I say so myself. But that still leaves the bedroom…

Mike and I knew we were probably a week early but ventured out Sunday morning looking for migrant passerines at the local park. We were hoping the passing of the strong cold front Saturday might have pulled some though. No migrants were found but with the cooler weather the birds were more vocal and active. For instance we both commented on hearing Red-eyed Vireos, Baltimore Orioles, and Blue-gray Gnatcatchers for the first time in weeks.

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I did get to watch this Carolina Wren for a few minutes before Mike arrived. Northwest Park – Greenwood – 8/21/16

 

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Until another Carolina Wren came by and it had to go check it out. Northwest Park – Greenwood – 8/21/16
RTHU week early
As I have seen on social media Ruby-throated Hummingbirds are moving in good numbers. We saw several Sunday. Northwest Park – Greenwood – 8/21/16
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A flycatcher showed well from behind but never turned around. I’ll let you use your ID skills to figure out which species. I’ll give the answer at the bottom of the post. Northwest Park – Greenwood – 8/21/16
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A young Cooper’s Hawk posed for a nice photo. Northwest Park – Greenwood – 8/21/16
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Another photo of the Cooper’s Hawk for fun.

It was on to the local shorebird spot. Expectations weren’t high with the passing of the cold front on Saturday, and our assumptions were correct. A couple of Semipalmated Plovers, Killdeer, Least Sandpipers, and Spotted Sandpipers was all she wrote. But it was a beautiful day.

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Not much activity at the local shorebirds spot. A few distant shorebirds to go with 3 Great Egrets and a Red-tailed Hawk in a distant tree. The setting moon added a nice touch to the scene. Urban Marion County 8/21/16

Mike headed out and after watching the end of the Olympic Marathon I went looking for a Hairy Woodpecker at another local park. No luck. Someday I’m going to write about the supposedly common birds I can never find. Like a Hairy Woodpecker.

ID answer – Great Crested Flycatcher – brownish outer tail feathers diagnostic. 

Low Grade Past Weekend Birding

Let’s get right to it. I gave myself the low grade of D for birding this past weekend. I would have received a F except for taking good notes.

Saturday’s goal was to observe species that will be leaving soon. Birds like ORCHARD ORIOLE, YELLOW WARBLER, HENSLOW’S SPARROW, and YELLOW-BREASTED CHAT. I knew it wouldn’t be easy since they wouldn’t be singing. The plan was to walk Driftwood and Johnson County Park looking for these species.

The walk through Driftwood produced a Yellow Warbler but no Orchard Oriole. Odds are slim I’ll see one the rest of the year…

YEWA (2)
Most of the summer Yellow Warblers are thick at Driftwood SFA. By mid-August they are hard to come by as this was the only one seen last Saturday. Driftwood SFA 8/13/16

After waiting out the strong thunderstorm, checking out the shorebirds that had put down, I finally got around to walking Johnson County Park. Most of the birds were still wet.

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A Willow Flycatcher and a House Finch were out after the rain subsided. Johnson County Park 6/13/16
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A soggy Northern Mockingbird wasn’t interested in flying very far. As I approached it moved a little farther up the fence. Johnson County Park 6/13/16

 

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This damp Northern Flicker showing the name sake yellow-shafted variety. Johnson County Park 6/13/16

The Low Grade

As I walked the fence row following the NORTHERN MOCKINGBIRD a yellow bird popped out of the vegetation and onto the fence farther up the road.

  1. The bird was Green above and Yellowish below. Maybe one of the Willow Flycatchers I had just seen?
  2. The bird flew a little farther up the fence and landed. A better look showed it had Olive Green above and Brighter Yellowish below. No wing bars or other marks could be determined. From the habitat a female/young Common Yellowthroat was now the thought.
  3. It flew a little farther up, landed again on the fence, and flashed bright white outer tail feathers, like a Dark-eyed Junco. This was definitely not a Common Yellowthroat BUT WHAT WAS IT? Of course it flew away without a further look or photo.

I should have known, but I had no clue. I wrote down everything I could remember and proceeded to continue birding. Back at the car an hour and half later I looked through Sibley’s Eastern Birds. First I looked at the vireos and next warblers.

Then I read the following:

HOODED WARBLERS – “with tail often raised and fanned” and “mostly white tail distinctive”.

So was it a young Hooded Warbler? By process of elimination it probably was but I’m not sure enough to call it one and log into eBird. In my defense – what was it doing at Johnson County Park on a fence instead of the deep woods? Was it migrating and the heavy rains knock it down like the shorebirds? Probably.

The point is I should have known Hooded Warblers flash their white outer tail feathers. And I didn’t.

Thus the low grade.

Shorebird Turnover – Weekend Highlights

Too many stories to tell from a day’s birding. So this post will be to prove to myself that my statements on migration and shorebird turnover are accurate.

Story 1

To prove the point, I visited the local shorebird spot Friday PM, Saturday AM, again Saturday after the passing of the Cold Front, and Sunday morning.

Luckily I was mostly correct and there was turnover in shorebirds.

On the Friday Evening’s and on the early Saturday AM visits the BLACK-BELLIED PLOVER was still present from last weekend along with some SEMIPALMATED PLOVERS which had arrived earlier in the week.

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Molting Black-bellied Plover

But the number of KILLDEER from Friday to Saturday had dropped from 100 to around 10. Did they fly in front of the front or go somewhere else locally?

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Numerous Killdeer with Black-Bellied Plover
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Semipalmated Plovers with Least Sandpiper

The Cold Front came through around noon Saturday and on the afternoon visit the Black-bellied Plover was gone. Killdeer numbers were still low but there were now LESSER YELLOWLEGS and PECTORAL SANDPIPERS present. This was still the case Sunday.

So a passing front does lead to shorebird turnover.

Story 2

Even though the forecast was for heavy rain Saturday I headed out anyway. I follow the old axiom to “Bird in the worst weather”. And I’m glad I did.

After leaving the shorebird site I headed to Driftwood SFA and then on to Johnson County Park. My goal at those locations were birds that will be leaving soon. But that will be the next blog.

Just before I arrived at JCP it started to rain. I parked by the small pond and did a quick check for shorebirds. Nothing.

Fast forward to an hour later and I’m still sitting in the car at the same spot watching the strong thunderstorm end. Putting the window down I hear the “peek-peek” of a SPOTTED SANDPIPER.

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Spotted Sandpiper with friend.

Not only had the storm forced down the Spotted Sandpiper but a dozen SOLITARY SANDPIPERS.

SOSA Shorebird Turnover
A few of the dozen Solitary Sandpipers forced down by the storm.
SOSA (8)
Solitary Sandpipers with Semipalmated Sandpiper. Note the Solitary’s needle like bill.

I have experienced this a couple of times previously.  During migration if there is a Cold Front coming through and there is a strong storm, immediately go out and check flooded fields, shorebird spots, etc. The odds are there will be grounded shorebirds that won’t be hanging around long.

I didn’t see anything uncommon but one never knows.

Story 3

A late weekend addition. Sunday night I watched 4 COMMON NIGHTHAWKS feed in the neighborhood. These must be migrants following the Cold Front since the only one seen in the neighborhood this summer was in late July.

CONI (14)
Common Nighthawk

CONI (17) CONI (19) CONI (20) CONI (22)

 

Laughing Gulls Feeding Frenzy

While observing LAUGHING GULLS in Gulf Shores, AL earlier this month I realized once again I miss gulls. I have stated before when we lived in Illinois there were numerous gulls along the Illinois River Flyway. Mainly RING-BILLED GULLS, but occasionally others in season. Searching through a flock of gulls always seemed to round out a day of birding.

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Laughing Gull – Gulf Shores AL 8/1/16

I spent a little time watching Laughing Gulls while they were most active in the early morning. They were already on the beach when I when I arrived before sunrise. Do they roost there?

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Like the other mornings I had to keep an eye on the weather. This storm spent the day over the beach about 6 miles away.
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There were already large numbers of Laughing Gulls when I went out in the morning. I counted 500 along our stretch of the beach.

I used to spend hours watching and aging the Ring-billed, bordering on a gull geek. But not quite. I didn’t spend much time aging the Laughing Gulls but differences were obvious.

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This was one of the few with reddish legs. Not sure what else it has on its leg.
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This guy looks good for a juvenile.
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As does this one.
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A Second Year?

I enjoyed watching them fly back and forth up the coast and out to sea to feed. Their slow, efficient wing beats in unison.

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These are photos of the same gull. Talk about the consistency of the wing beat. They look like the same photos repeated over and over.

The best part was when the gulls found a pool of little fish and went crazy feeding on them. All ages partook as did the nearby Great Blue Herons.

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Here are the gulls going crazy feeding in a tidal pool.
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Here are the small fish they were feeding on.

Following is an attempt at a video of the gulls feeding. Please forgive the first few seconds as I learn to use the video on the camera.

I use to periodically see this feeding action on the Illinois River involving hundreds of gulls, but never this close.

It was fun to watch.

I miss gulls.

Short Primer on Fall Migration

Every year I forget that late summer birding is composed of long periods of quiet interrupted by short periods of activity. Like this past weekend for example when the birds weren’t singing much, even in the early morning,  Then it dawned on me during Fall Migration the best time to bird is the day before and a couple of days after a cold front. And that doesn’t even guarantee birds will be active since last Saturday was the day after a front passed through.

Weather Map 080616
A passing cold front like last Saturday still doesn’t guarantee the birds will be out in numbers.

The bad thing about Fall cold fronts as opposed to ones in Spring is they don’t come through on a regular basis. Sometimes they will causally drift through every 5-6 days. Other times longer. And the birding can be slow in-between. So a short primer on fall migration.

Very Short Primer on Fall Migration

  1. Shorebirds move the day or two before cold fronts.

  2. Passerines move the day or two after cold fronts.

That’s it in a nutshell.

No use in making it any more complicated. Of course birds move all the time and can be seen on any day.

In 2012 I birded every day in August and on the two days around the passing of the 5 cold fronts I saw 95% of the birds for the month. So in essence I could have birded the best 10 days and would have seen almost all the birds that month.

References

For weather reference I  use a couple of sources to check the passing of fronts.

First I check the 1-3 and 3-7 day forecast maps at NOAA.

1-3 day forecast

3-7 day forecast

Forecast 081516 Short Primer
Doesn’t look like we have another front moving though until next Monday, 8/15.

Next I read the discussion on the local National Weather Service weather page.

Forecast Discusion
I’ve highlighted the Forecast Discussion in yellow on the lower right.
Local Forecast
I read the entire discussion and it’s usually accurate on the passing of fronts.

And that’s it. Now I wait for the next front.

Of course even if there isn’t a front passing you’ll see me out birding!

Black-bellied Plover – Weekend Highlights

I have struggled since I started this blog on getting out timely reports, mainly from the weekend, and creating a decent post. A post usually takes 2 hours with the sorting of photos, initial draft, proofreading, tags, etc. Going forward I’m going to try to post on Monday AM the weekend photos without creating “a story” which sets a blog apart from Facebook. This will be the initial test with BLACK-BELLIED PLOVER being the lead.

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The local wet field is perfect for shorebirds. Without rain it will probably be dry by next weekend. Last year it didn’t dry up until late October. Southern Marion County 8/6/16
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Most of the usual shorebirds were present with KILLDEER being around 100 in number. The highlight was a molting BLACK-BELLIED PLOVER. Southern Marion County 8/6/16
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It never lifted its wings but after watching it for a long time it just didn’t look like an American Golden Plover. Southern Marion County 8/7/16
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The bill seems too big for an American Golden and the vent area showed no signs of black. Southern Marion County 8/7/16
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I ran into Cary Floyd who pulled out a distant RUDDY DUCK from the mass of Mallards. Far and away my earliest Ruddy Duck for the area. Southern Marion County 8/6/16
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A CEDAR WAXWING posed nicely for a photo. Westside Park, Greenwood 8/6/16
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Grassland birds were extremely quiet this weekend. I happened to notice this DICKCISSEL with a meal. County Line Road, 8/6/16
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This long shot photo shows an EASTERN MEADOWLARK, lower left, in the field by Franklin HS. I flushed 10 walking the grass but never heard one calling in the hour I was there. 8/7/16
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Three SAVANNAH SPARROWS, which appear young, were on a fence at Franklin HS. 8/7/16
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How often does someone post a photo of a crow? I picked up my life Indiana list Fish Crow at Eagle Creek but this AMERICAN CROW was at Westside Park in Greenwood. 8/6/16

Snowy Plover – That Leaves One

The family took a few days and made a road trip to Gulf Shores, AL.  Most of the time was spent lounging on the beach, but for the first couple of hours each day I went birding. You gotta love the Central Time Zone for birding in the morning.

I birded a local preserve, a National Wildlife Refuge, and the beach outside the condo. Each has its own story and I’ll be relating them over the next few weeks.

I think I’ve related previously I’m at that stage of birding where I won’t be seeing many new life birds East of the Rockies. This trip had three possibilities – BROWN-HEADED NUTHATCH was possible, SNOWY PLOVER would be a long shot, and SWALLOW-TAILED KITE that would have taken work. And since this was a family vacation I wasn’t going to work hard for birds.

I did see a SNOWY PLOVER – For all of 30 seconds.

The Snowy Plover was seen on the shoreline at the Bon Secour National Refugee. I had planned to bird around Fort Morgan State Historic Site but nowhere in their webpage did I noticed they didn’t open until 8AM. And I checked.

So I went back to Bon Secour where I was going to stop anyway.

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I had to keep an eye out for an approaching storm which would have driven me from Fort Morgan anyway. Bon Secour Wildlife Refuge 7/31/16

With the approaching storm I decided to walk the shoreline looking for shorebirds, particular SANDERLINGS.

Mainly though there were gulls and terns flying along the edge of the Gulf.

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Typical view of the flying terns. White forehead, dark primaries, dark bill. Offbeat Royal Tern call. I’ll call it a Sandwich Tern. Bon Secour Wildlife Refuge 7/31/16

Walking along the beach I came across a WILLET. I was up in the sand away from the water as it walked along the water’s edge.

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A lone Willet feeding along the water’s edge. Bon Secour Wildlife Refuge 7/31/16
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The Willet ran around me and continued to feed up the shore. Bon Secour Wildlife Refuge 7/31/16

While watching the Willet a jogger flushed a small bird that flew in about 20 feet away. At first it didn’t notice me which gave me a few seconds to positively ID it and take a few photos.

At first I thought it was going to be a lone Sanderling but I immediately knew it was a Snowy Plover. Dark Bill, half chest band, dark legs, and most importantly it blended in with the sand. If I hadn’t seen it fly in I don’t think I would have noticed it.

SNPL 073116 Snowy Plover
As good of photo of the Snowy Plover as I could get in our brief encounter. As you can see it noticed me quickly upon landing. Bon Secour Wildlife Refuge 7/31/16

It didn’t take long for it to notice me standing close. After 20-30 seconds it did and flew away. I watched it fly up the beach but the distance and the approaching storm put off a chase.

And that leaves one.

The Mountain Plover is the only regularly occurring plover in the lower US that I haven’t seen.

For comparison of features following are photos of other small plovers I’ve seen over the years.

SEPL Franklin Township Park 2
Semipalmated Plover – Marion County IN 8/14/15
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Wilson’s Plover – Laguna Atascosa National Wildlife Refuge TX 6/22/14
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Piping Plover – Very similar to Snowy Plover – Cape Cod MA 7/21/10