3 Years Old

The blog turns 3 this month.

birthday-3 3 years old

 

I know the way to accomplish something and to make it succeed is to be in sync with your audience. Which I’m not to a degree. I could probably have a larger audience if I chased and reported on the latest rare bird. Or spent more time getting good photos instead of enjoying birds. But that isn’t me.

 

We had just moved to Indiana when I started this blog. I had originally planned to start while we lived in Illinois but the decision to move delayed the start.

The timing worked out well as the intent of the blog then and still is to demonstrate that you can find most regional birds in a small radius of your home. If you just look.

So I had the chance to explore a new area and report on it.

Along those lines I rarely see change. Though I do occasionally see people like Greg of gregandbirds looking for shorebirds at a local athletic fields. But what I mostly see are people still birding the major spots in their areas or travel to other “good” spots. Maybe they are birding lesser known areas but it doesn’t show up on listservs or eBird. For a perspective I think is spot on check out Ven Remsen’s comment about eBird Hotspots in response to this ABA blog post.

I still wonder how many birds are out there but since people don’t seem to want to bushwhack (explore) their local territories we’ll probably never know. Most times it appears birders all congregate at the same area.

In 3 years of repeatedly birding the Atterbury FWA – Johnson County Park area I have seen 196 species. Throw in the rare visit to Eagle Creek and the number is closer to 205. The first three years of birding the Starved Rock area of Illinois I saw 218 species. The numbers are probably comparable since I saw 10 species of gulls plus all the regular terns and herons at Starved Rock. It can be done.

I understand people want to see birds. They go where birds are being reported. But the point is that you can see the vast majority of those same birds in your immediate area without much travel. I’m talking within 10-15 miles of most homes. If you just look.

Take the occasional trip to a different habitat in your state, country, the world. They’re fun and add to your understanding of birds. But for regional birds that much travel isn’t needed.

Sooner than later I’m going to have to address what I see as the shortcomings of eBird, Facebook, ABA, and other birding media. I think they have done more good than bad but all have a self-interest in perpetuating the idea you must drive and travel to see that elusive rare bird or work on building up a huge life list. Which I think in the long run does more harm than good.

Do you know the closest spot to see find the different regional species?

American Crows – Weekend Highlights

I told myself sometime ago I was going to post weekend highlights to make life a little easier. Having a regimented blog post concerning the weekend and one more later in the week about whatever I want fits my schedule. But I hadn’t thought of what would happen if the weather was so dark (fog and haze) that there wouldn’t be a highlight?

At least not in photos. Because every time I go birding it is an adventure and there are always highlights. The problem is I don’t get photos of everything to share.

So like the man once said, go with what you have got.

Mike and I birded Combs Wet Area and Southeastway Park in the fog and haze Saturday morning. When we arrived at dawn, Combs was packed with geese and ducks but like I previously reported was void of geese within a half hour. The odd thing is that I haven’t seen any Blue-winged Teal there yet this fall. I have seen them there each of the last couple of September’s. The only shorebirds were a couple of Pectoral Sandpipers and a few Least Sandpipers. Of course there were a lot of Killdeer.

Southeastway was slow in the fog. We might have been better off to come back later in morning. We did hear a Broad-winged Hawk calling in the trees but after a half hour search never located it.

Sunday morning was spent at Franklin Township Community Park. Not much in the way of warbler migrants but I watched a steady flow of Blue Jays fly from the north tree line and keep moving south. I figure they were migrating since I probably under counted at 50, which is many more than the normal 10 in the park.

amcr American Crows
I spent Sunday morning with these dudes constantly flying around the Franklin Township Community Park (FTCP). I think they had found scrapings left over from Saturday’s soccer games. 9/25/16
amcr-2
The main group of American Crows moved back and forth from the goalpost to the scoreboard on a regular basis. FTCP 9/25/16
amcr-8
These two photos show the difference how birds appears at a distance. The larger of the American Crows is much closer than the smaller one. Without knowing that and looking only at the photo, I would think we had a rare, smaller crow. FTCP 9/25/16

amcr-7

dcco-3
The photographic highlight of the weekend was capturing migrating Double-crested Cormorants. You can sort of tell they are in a V heading south. FTCP 9/25/16
dscn5842
Back home the Northern Flicker family was out together. If I had been a second sooner a fourth one would be in the photo. Indianapolis 9/25/16
rtha
Couldn’t pass up the chance for a photo of one of the Red-tailed Hawks that live in the woods by our place. Indianapolis 9/25/16

Blackbirds and GMO Corn

As I mentioned in my last post I was surprised to see Red-winged Blackbirds last Sunday. That was because I have noticed the lack of blackbirds in Late-August and Early-September. Not just Red-winged Blackbirds but also Brown-headed Cowbirds and Common Grackles.

rwbl-1 Blackbirds
Not a bird to usually catch my attention but this was my first Red-winged Blackbird of the fall. Franklin Township Community Park 9/18/16

 

rwbl-indiana
From eBird the seasonal distribution of Red-winged Blackbird in Indiana. Note the big drop off in August.

So where do Blackbirds Go in Late Summer?

As I have previously mentioned I try to pick and choose what I read about birding so I don’t spend my life on the internet. H. David Bohlen reports around the 5th of each month his sightings from Sangamon County Illinois on the Illinois Listserv. One of the things I noticed is his report of “inexplicably low numbers of Blackbirds” and wonders if it is sterile or GMO corn.

From what I can gather from the internet it’s not that blackbirds don’t eat the GMO corn but there are none of the normal “weeds” for them to eat. If I understand correctly the GMO corn has been modified to withstand the use of pesticides. When farmers use pesticides it doesn’t effect the corn. But the “weeds” have not been modified so it will kill them. Leaving nothing for the blackbirds (and birds in general) to eat.

Probably Molting

Having said that the Red-winged Blackbirds are probably just molting during this time. As Arthur Cleveland Bent states in Life Histories of Familiar North American Birds “early in August, all the redwings seem to disappear, during the molting period, and are not much in evidence until the middle of September or later”.

So molting is probably what the blackbirds are doing in August and September and not directly effected in August by GMO corn.

But I can’t think in the long run GMO corn will have an effect on blackbird population as their main food are weed seeds and insects.

It will be interesting to watch the population trends of the Red-winged Blackbird as it is usually the most numerous species on our spring counts. Hopefully over time we won’t see their numbers drop but I’m not hopeful.

Philadelphia Vireos – Weekend Highlights

Saturday was spent helping with the Indy Urban BioBlitz. The rain wasn’t cooperating but it eventually stopped and some birding was done. I couldn’t attend the wrap up though I later heard the group had over 50 species. My most unusual sighting was an Osprey lazily flying over the south side of Garfield Park.

amke-1
The only photograph I took at the Indy-Urban-BioBlitz was of an American Kestrel being harassed by the local Blue Jays. Garfield Park, 9/17/16

I wasn’t in any hurry to start Sunday morning and thought I’d bird the local park for an hour or so. I walked the perimeter of the park and ended up hitting a few waves so the hour turned into three hours. The morning was hot and muggy at times since the park was still damp from rain. That meant wearing the hot rubber boots. 🙁

The best time was spent watching two Philadelphia Vireos feeding along the edge of the south side. They would feed in and out of the Walnut trees which allowed good looks.

phvi-3 Philadelphia Vireos
I first caught sight of the two Philadelphia Vireos feeding out in the open along the tree line. Franklin Community Township Park 9/18/16
phvi-14
They were often out in the open but always seemed to have a twig between us. Franklin Community Township Park 9/18/16
phvi-11
Notice the bright yellow breast which differentiates it from other vireos. Franklin Community Township Park 9/18/16

Other highlights were a Sharp-shinned Hawk that I first thought was the local Cooper’s Hawk until I realized it was a miniature version. I heard three Yellow-billed Cuckoos on different sides of the park, saw and heard numerous Swainson’s Thrushes, and my first Red-winged Blackbirds in weeks. Also several warblers including a Golden-winged and my annual fall Bay-breasted.

rwbl-5
Not even close to a good photo but my first Red-winged Blackbirds in weeks. This will be the topic of a blog in the near future. Franklin Community Township Park 9/18/16
cswa-1
One of the unique colors of Midwest birding is the green of a Chestnut-sided Warbler. We call it lime green but to my eye it isn’t quite that color. Franklin Community Township Park 9/18/16
gcfl-2
A Great Crested Flycatcher came out during one of the waves to see what was happening. Franklin Community Township Park 9/18/16
brth
Brown Thrashers are starting to appear after lying low in August. I had a group of three moving together. Franklin Community Township Park 9/18/16
chsw-1
My feeble attempt to photograph a Chimney Swift. This guy was close so I gave it a try. Franklin Community Township Park 9/18/16

It was an enjoyable outing with over 40 species, many of them actually showing on the edge of the woods.

Yellow-billed Cuckoo – Weekend Highlight

I’ve been traveling for work so I didn’t have time to post earlier this week. The rain last Saturday made photography tough and since I didn’t see many birds on Sunday, not many photos.  The highlight was a cooperative Yellow-billed Cuckoo that showed nicely at Southwestway Park.

ybcu-2 Yellow-billed Cuckoo
After moving from branch to branch, the Yellow-billed Cuckoo decided to sit for a minute. Almost out in the open. Southwestway Park 9/10/16

ybcu-3

inbu-1
There were a couple of young Indigo Buntings moving along the edge. The bird’s odd colors and lack of a tail was enough to throw me off for a minute. Southwestway Park 9/10/16
piwo-22
I’ll swear anytime a woodpecker lands on a pole it will always be on the opposite side. Whom am I kidding? Woodpeckers like this Pileated Woodpecker now exactly where you are located. Northwest Park Greenwood 9/11/16

Other seen but not photographed highlights. An Osprey was carrying a fish over Southwestway Park, which seemed odd. After seeing numerous Swainson’s Thrush my annual Gray-cheeked Thrush popped up on a limb along the trail. With a good look the plain face and lack of color sets it off from the Swainson’s. And Mike and I heard a Hairy Woodpecker. Still haven’t seen one in months…

15 Minutes Can Make a Difference

Early on Saturday morning of Labor Day Weekend I read a post on IN-Bird by Joni Jones about seeing Great Egrets leaving their roost at 7AM. I had planned to go to the local wet area around sunrise at 7:17AM, but changed my plans after reading her post and instead arrived at 6:45AM. And I’m glad I did because those 15 minutes made a difference.

COMBS (1)
As seen on the first photo of the day, the local wet area is packed with geese, ducks, and herons.  6:59AM

Here are counts at 7AM:

  1. Canada Geese – 500
  2. Mallard – 250
  3. Green-winged Teal – 1
  4. Great Blue Heron – 22
  5. Great Egret – 16
CANG FLIGHT (1)
Immediately after the count the Canada Geese started flying east to feed elsewhere for the day.  7:07AM
CANG FLIGHT (7)
In group after group of approximately 25 birds they kept coming off the water.  7:07AM
COMBS (7)
Within 10 minutes the numbers had dropped drastically.  7:09 AM
combs-9 15 minutes
It only took another 4 minutes for the numbers to drop another 50% leaving maybe 10% of the birds which had been present 15 minutes earlier.  7:13AM
COMBS (10)
I stopped by later in the day and there wasn’t a bird present. – 3:06PM

The moral of the story is to get there even earlier then planned because if I would arrived at sunrise I would have seen 90% less birds.

 

——————————————————————————————————————

 

On Labor Day morning I stopped by to check for shorebirds. There were a couple of shorebirds but more unusual was the presence of the resident Great Egrets and Great Blue Herons

And they were sitting!

greg-gbhe-33
When I first pulled up to the wet area there were egrets and herons present, but something didn’t look quite right??
greg-gbhe-23
What made it look unusual was that the Great Egrets were sitting on the ground and on their “ankles”.
greg-gbhe-14
I honestly don’t recall ever seeing egrets and herons sitting on their “ankles”.
greg-gbhe-7
Maybe it was a good way to keep cool and take a nap in the mid-day heat?

In case you’re wondering the heron’s “knee” is hidden up under their feathers. The part they are sitting on in the photos is more like our “ankle”.

Yellow-bellied Flycatcher – Weekend Highlights

With great weather over the weekend I spent a lot of time in the field looking for migrants. Besides spending several hours watching the Buff-breasted Sandpipers, I visited several other local sites. It will be easier to show the photos and give a dialog about each one.

YBFL (1) Yellow-bellied Flycatcher
After getting up and out early both Saturday and Sunday, I didn’t get out until 10 AM Labor Day. I still came across one wave of migrants at Franklin Township Community Park which included 3 warbler species and this Yellow-bellied Flycatcher. The photo doesn’t do it justice as it was the yellowest one I have ever seen. 9/5/16
YBFL (1)
I have tried to crop and enlarge but it still doesn’t bring out its colors.
OSPR (6)
Even at this distance and with the poor photo quality, the size and droopy wing shape of an Osprey is distinct. Look right and up from the boat’s mast. Rick’s Cafe Boatyard 9/3/16
OSPR (12)
One of the two Osprey flies on the far side of Eagle Creek Reservoir.
RTHA (4)
The local Red-tailed Hawk circles overhead at Franklin Township Community Park. 9/5/16
TEWA (2)
Friday afternoon I walked the perimeter of Southeastway Park hoping I would come across a group of migrants. This Tennessee Warbler was the only one. 9/2/16
WOTH (1)
Saturday morning at Southwestway Park I heard a popping in the bush. A Wood Thrush was working its way along the ground and hopping up on twigs. 9/3/16
WOTH (6)
It finally got up a little higher to give me a look.
CHSP (24)
A young Chipping Sparrow with its breast striping through me off for a moment. Not use to Chipping Sparrows with stripes… Southeastway Park 9/2/16
BEKI (2)
A Belted Kingfisher was working the pond looking for lunch. It flew back and forth with its rattling call. Greenwood Retaining Ponds 9/3/16
BLIMP (1)
I couldn’t find this species in my field guides. It flew real slow and was heading south. Franklin Township Community Park 9/5/16

Buff-breasted Sandpipers – Athletic Fields

My next post was going to cover making sure the last of August and beginning of September to check your local athletic fields for American-Golden Plovers and Buff-breasted Sandpipers. But since I found some of each I thought I had better do a “special” post. The rest of the weekend I’ll cover later this week.

Saturday afternoon after my usually birding I stopped by St. Francis Soccer Fields (7702 S Arlington Ave, Indianapolis, IN 46237) to check for shorebirds. There are 16 fields stretching over a half mile located behind a locked fenced. I scanned from the small rise along the street.

Of course there was too much air shimmer from the sun but on a far field I thought I made out an American Golden-Plover and possible two Buff-breasted Sandpipers. But maybe they were Pectoral Sandpipers.

Sunday morning I was there at sunrise to beat the air shimmer and to have the sun to my back. And the plan seemed to work with even distant birds showing clearly in the scope.

St. Francis Soccer
St. Francis Soccer Fields at 7:30AM – it’s a half mile to the far side.

It didn’t take long scanning through the 350 Killdeer to find the American Golden-Plover. It was close to the road but flushed and still landed on a middle field.

AGPL
The day started well with the American Golden-Plover near the road.
AGPL (2)
It flushed a little later but still only to one of the middle fields.

Then the scan for the Buff-Breasted Sandpipers commenced. The far fields must have some undulations because the birds, including the Canada Geese, would disappear out of view and reappear. So I figured I might be in for a long morning.

After 45 minutes a possible Buff-breasted Sandpiper came into view on a FAR field. Then another. I watched them for a few minutes and from the Buff color, small size, not a distinctive breast, and their feeding habit was sure of the ID. But at that distance a photo was going to be poor. I called Mike since I knew he wanted to see them and to confirm the ID.

BBSA (1)
The difficulty in getting a photo at 600+ meters. At least you can see the general shape and color of the Buff-breasted Sandpiper right of the goal.

After an hour off and on seeing them he finally confirmed the ID. The problem was until the sun was high enough and they moved back into a better position the bird’s color and shape weren’t obvious.  Mike then proceeded to find a third one.

BBSA (3)
By seeing only half of the trash can you get an idea on the depth of the ground’s undulation. Buff-Breasted to the far right.
BBSA (6)
Two of the Buff-breasted feeding right of the goal.

BBSA (2)

BBSA (4) Buff-breasted Sandpipers
And this is as good as it gets. The blurry photo gives the general size, shape, and color of the Buff-breasted Sandpiper. It’s just right of the can.

I left at 9:45 when the ground had started to heat up and the air shimmer from the sun had made scoping the far fields difficult.

If you decide to try for the birds odds are you won’t get close views. My advice is to go in early morning and you’ll need a scope.

Undertail Patterns – Useful for ID

I’m basically a generalist. There are few things which I want to become an “expert”. When it comes to birding I want to know the key points, including status and distribution, to be able to positively ID a species. But I don’t spend hours going over molt and plumage. One of the things I do periodically review to help ID species is undertail patterns, especially on Warblers.

Last Saturday I met up with Mike and we basically caught up on the week because there weren’t any migrants moving at the local park. Just quiet. As were my next couple of stops. I made a final quick stop at Atterbury before the rains of the afternoon hit. The last two weeks Mike and I had commented on not hearing Indigo Buntings for some time.

INBU
My first sighting of an Indigo Bunting in over 3 weeks. Even in the rain the ID is pretty straightforward. Unlike the next species. Atterbury FWA 8/27/16

As the rain started in earnest I was getting back in the car when a small yellow bird went flying into a nearby tree.

I initially thought from the size and coloring it was a Yellow Warbler since they breed in good numbers in this area. But the eye seemed a little too big. Could it be a Wilson’s Warbler?

This is where Undertail Patterns come into play

WIWA (1)
From this view I’m still not sure of the species. Atterbury FWA 8/27/16

I first came across the importance of Undertail Patterns in Jon Dunn and Kimball Garrett’s Warblers field guide. The drawings show how a warbler would look from beneath a warbler.

Undertail Patterns A
Note the Undertail Patterns of the Yellow Warbler, upper left block, and the Wilson’s Warbler, lower right block. Plates 31 and 32 from Warblers.

Since I didn’t get a definite view in flight or initially on the limb, if I could get a good view of the Undertail Patterns of the bird I could probably confirm the species.

WIWA (4)

WIWA Undertail Patterns
The original and cropped/enlarged photo showing the dark undertail pattern of Wilson’s Warbler. And if you look close you might see a smudge of dark on the crown.

So knowing your Undertail Patterns can be useful in ID’ing certain species.

Note: If you look immediately left of the Wilson’s Warbler Undertail pattern in the plates above you will see Hooded Warblers have an all white pattern. I still don’t know why I didn’t know that