Bushwhacking Birder Quick 2016 Recap

Since it appears to be a tradition for bloggers to pick their annual favorites, here is my 2016 recap on a few of my favorites.

2016 Recap – My 3 Favorite Photos

This might be the only White-eyed Vireos photo I ever get since they never sit up for photos. Johnson County Park 4/24/16
Mountain Bluebird – Fruita section of the Colorado River State Park – 12/7/16
Probably my new favorite species since I can never seem to see Carolina Wrens. Northern Flicker – Driftwood SFA – 7/25/16

2016 Recap – My 3 Favorite Adventures

London in April with my wife. What else to say?
An adventure I haven’t had time to post. American Dipper – Veltus Park, Glenwood Springs, CO 12/7/16
Far and away the best thing I did in 2016, two USGS North American Breeding Bird Surveys. Shelby County, IN 6/12/16

2016 Recap – My 3 Highest Viewed Blog Posts

In July I wrote a short post on The World’s Smallest Dove that continues to be viewed.
One of the first posts I wrote back in December 2013 which keeps getting viewed – The Laura Hare Preserve at Blossom Hollow.
2016 Recap
The winner by far this year was the October post on the Red-tailed Vulture I initially thought was a Red-tailed Hawk but was a Red-shouldered. Just proves people like the macabre.

2016 Recap – Best Blog Posts – Other Bloggers

I got this from a link in a blog post. Not the pretty side of birding – Rare Siberian Accentor attracts hundreds to Easington car park. Not noted here but I think this is the twitch where the crowd got ugly when they only got 10 minutes to view the bird.

A post by the Wanstead Birder was the funniest blog post I read all year – Rocking. I just kept laughing.

The last paragraph of the Birding dude ‘s post on the Tough Going For Birds Sharing The Beach At Cupsogue County Park sums up my feelings about the state of birds and birders. Enough said.

Brant Flight – Weekend Highlight

Before I continue with posts from my recent Colorado trip I’ll have to inject a post or two from birding Connecticut this past weekend. The weather was a little cooler than last year’s 70F temperatures but was still pleasant with the highs in the upper 40’s. I birded the local reservoir a couple of days and made my usual holiday trip to the Long Island Sound. There were several personal highlights but I’ll go with the Brant Flight as the main highlight.

We did enjoy a White Christmas. The area had received 8″ of snow the previous week.

As with all of the Northeast the continuing drought lowered the water level at the local reservoir. I’m not sure this had an effect on birding but I didn’t see any loons as in past years. Since most of the species I saw there are the same as the Midwest I’ll jump to the ocean.

The red lines are the normal waterline. I’m guessing the reservoir has dropped a good 8-10 feet.

I overdressed both days birding the reservoir. Unlike the Midwest I think it has to do with the hills and trees blocking the wind. So of course I under-dressed at the ocean where the winds were coming off the water dropping the temperature 10-20 degrees. I managed to layer up with some old clothes in my nephew’s trunk and made a day of it.

A view to the east where the strong SE winds were originating.

As usual I spent most of the day at Sherwood Island State Park since it has a pond, marshes, wooded area, and an ocean each. One of those spots I could see birding every day. The woods held the usual suspects and the pond had Mute Swans, Gadwall, and American Black Ducks.

brant flock
I’ll throw in a photo of American Black Duck since it’s a species we don’t see in large numbers in the Midwest.
The surprise of the day was a Greater Yellowlegs that made its presence known by giving its tu-tu-tu call. Checking a range map, it winters as far north as New England.
Common Goldeneye had the largest count on the water with several flocks flying by and landing. Red-breasted Mergansers were the other main species.
Not as many Long-tailed Ducks as in past years.
A distant photo that appear to be Scaup from the white wingbar. I’m leaning towards Greater since they are the expected species.

Brant Flight

After walking the park for almost three hours I was about ready to leave. I was going to climb over the break-wall, take a quick scan, and make the short walk back to the car.

brant flight
The last hurdle, the main break-wall in the park. Up and over and out of the cold!

As I get to the top the break wall I’m jolted by an eruption of birds with a strange call taking flight.

Brant!

BRANT Flight flikr

They had been on the other side of the break wall.

I have never experienced a Brant Flight. The sudden flight and calling was like the Great Horned Owl experience from last week. A captivating scene that keeps one birding.

The quicker wing beats and more agile flight show the difference between Canada Geese and the smaller goose’s flight. More of a duck type flight than a goose’s.  I watched them until they were out of sight far to the east.

I wished they would have turned back but when they didn’t I headed to the car and on to my next stop.

Canada Geese and Airport Equal Trouble?

In my last post from my recent Colorado trip I ended by asking about the Canada Geese I’d seen circling the airport area?

Well they were there. Hundreds congregating in a field.

I put the total at 8,000 but it was probably higher.

There are thousands of Canada Geese spread through the area. Many can’t even be seen.
The geese are moving left and look like PACMAN eating their way across the field.
Of course you can usually find something mixed in with this large of flock. Like Snow Geese.
Or a “Blue morph” Snow Goose. As seen on the right.

Now remember I’m only a few miles from the airport.

I’d just seen the movie Sully and my first thought was “doesn’t that many geese close to an airport equal trouble?”

On my previous trip I had been searching for Burrowing Owls which inhabit the surrounding plains. They were present with the large population of Prairie Dogs. Talking to one of the local photographers he said the Burrowing Owls are no longer present and had moved west. And he was amazed there were still so many raptors present.

The reason was because the local Prairie Dogs had been removed to another area.  And their colonies had been destroyed by the Wildlife Hazard Management Program at Denver International Airport to reduce the food for large raptors. If you read the “Other Wildlife” section in the link you’ll see Prairie Dogs don’t impose a threat but do attract larger wildlife which do pose a threat.

airport equal trouble
It still seemed no matter which direction I looked there was a raptor in view. Like this distant young Bald Eagle scouring the landscape.

So how to manage the large numbers of Canada Geese without turning the surrounding fields into a desert? This time of year the large fields of harvested corn are going to attract geese.  And I assume be a nuisance to planes.

It’ll be something I think about on my flight next June.

SE Corner 2016 JC CBC Recap

I enjoy reading well written CBC recaps. You know the kind where the compiler takes the time to give an overview of the weather conditions, compare totals to other years, gives high or lows for each species, and misses and gains. Why are there so few written when there are so many CBC’s? Then again why are most reports a picture and few words on FB? Another topic to lament.

Mike will be compiling the total recap for the 2016 JC CBC but the numbers should be above average for the complete count. The groups saw several species we usually miss or see every few years. Plus there was waterfowl on Lamb Lake for the first time in several years.

Now for the SE Corner of the 2016 JC CBC which Megan and I have covered this territory the last several years. The area entrails Johnson County Park, the public side of Atterbury FWA, Driftwood SFA, and Irwin Park in Edinburgh.

We weren’t sure there was even going to be a count because the weather was predicted to be cold, which wasn’t the problem. But a slight coating of ice was also expected. Which we did get. But the main roads were heavily salted and weren’t a problem.

I was out by 6AM and owling by 6:45. I no sooner turned the Eastern-screech Owl recording on and one was within 10 feet. Probably the easiest one I ever called in.  Then on to the Great Horned Owl area and it was apparent the side roads were going to be a problem.

I stopped and let hunters drive by and debated if I really wanted to try for Great Horned or not. Seeing as I still had an hour to sunrise and it was Sunday morning, I figured if I took my time I could manage the two miles on ice. Going 15mph the roads were manageable.

This proved to be one of the best birding choices I ever made.

Finally arriving at the location I stood outside the car for 25 minutes listening for the Great Horned Owls to call. I don’t know if it was the wind or weather but I never heard them calling. First time in 5 years I have missed them.

Ten minutes from the listed sunrise of 8AM I decided to get my bagel out of the lunchbox in the back seat. I get the bagel and turn to get into the driver seat.

Not 50 yards away I see a Great Horned Owl fly into a group of pines.

I have listened to this Great Horned Owl many times over the years and have even seen it a couple of times on telephone pole, but now I’m pretty sure I know where it roosts.

And those few seconds of seeing the owl fly into the pines is what keeps me getting up and going birding every chance I get.

We got started late since Megan had issues since her area had even worse roads. We finally started in Johnson County Park where we saw the strangest bird of the day.

2016 JC CBC
The strangest encounter of the day was a Ring-billed Gull at Johnson County Park. We don’t see gulls in this area let alone on a frigid day??

At the park’s compost site we saw all the expected sparrows plus a little bit uncommon Field Sparrow.

The American Tree Sparrow were staying low out of the wind to feed. But what else was with them?
We kept thinking there was a Field Sparrow mixed in the flock. “You looking for me?”
Yep, Field Sparrow.

We continued on over the frozen roads picking up a few species here and there. There was zero on the water at Driftwood SFA.

No waterfowl but a Yellow-rumped Warbler showed nicely at Driftwood SWA.

Mike had seen a Winter Wren at Irwin Park earlier in the week and sure enough it was there Sunday. But it didn’t stay still long enough for any photos for Mike or us. Canada Geese were seen which were the only waterfowl on the day.

After lunch I stopped by the Wilson Snipe area where I flushed three.

This is what snipe habitat looks like in the cold of winter. I would be heading south if I was a snipe…
The snipe area also had a Killdeer hidden in the weeds.

Megan and I ended up with 38 species which is just below the territory’s 4-year average of 39. The Field Sparrow was the only new species added. We saw another lone Ring-billed Gull a few years ago so this year was not the first. Frozen ponds led to notable misses of Mallard and Great Blue Heron. Otherwise we saw the expected species in the expected numbers.

Denver Airport Road – Colorado 1st Stop

The plan was pretty basic. Early flight into Denver, bird Denver Airport Road, and then check out a few areas close to I-70 on the four-hour drive to Grand Junction. Most of these stops would be to see birds I probably wouldn’t see in Western Colorado.

The day’s first would be Airport Rd. at Denver International Airport. Number 1 on the map. Map “Courtesy of the University of Texas Libraries, The University of Texas at Austin.”

The adventure started uneventfully out of Indianapolis. But 30 minutes in the plane took a big dip.

The kind similar to where your car hits a big bump and your stomach ends up in your chest.

Nothing flew to the ceiling but the seat belt sign came on quick and the flight attendants sat right down. And this was the way it was for an hour. Up and down and left and right. The pilot came on and regretfully reported all west bound flights were scrambling to find a smooth altitude. First time in a long time I saw flight attendants handing out barf bags. I kept my mind off of it by listening to bird calls!

Finally about a half hour out it leveled off and we made a smooth landing in the fog.

Fog?? What the @x$#??

You can see the fog behind the plane with the bluebird. I think I see orange on the throat so will list it as an Eastern Bluebird.

Fog had not been forecast and could put a damper on the beginning of the trip. So I took my time in the terminal and eventually headed out hoping as the sun rose it would burn off the fog. And the fog did slowly lift and by the time I arrived at the first stop it was pretty well gone.

The first stop like my last trip was the Airport Road around Denver International Airport. The target last time was Burrowing Owl and this time it was Ferruginous Hawk. I had spent quite a bit of time the last couple of months watching our local Red-tailed Hawks so I would hopefully be able to quickly tell the difference. From what I read this habitat, arid treeless grassland, would be good for Ferruginous Hawks. A quick check of eBird showed a few had been seen in the area.

On the way to Airport Road I kept seeing huge flocks of Canada Geese circling over. I didn’t pay much attention to them since hawks were my goal.

Luckily the main road was detoured a mile west and north. After making the jog west, then north, I was headed back east when I saw a hawk sitting on a piece of irrigation equipment. My first thought was Red-tailed Hawk since I had already seen one a little further back.

At this point the studying paid off.

I could tell the hawk was “larger” than a Red-tailed and the way it was sitting on the antenna was “different”. Pulling off the road and getting a better look, be it slightly into the sun, and I could see it was a Ferruginous Hawk.

A little bit larger, no belly band, and a white tail – Ferruginous Hawk. Denver Airport Rd.

The hawk let me look for a minute and flew back to additional equipment. The upper wing was a different shade of brown and when it swooped up the whitish tail was prominent. Definitely not a Red-tailed Hawk.

I might be imagining this but the Ferruginous Hawk seems “bigger”. Denver Airport Rd.

Getting back to the car I noticed the hawk had flown off. I proceed to get off the detour and on to the less traveled country roads slowly scouring the landscape. It wasn’t long before I see a large bird sitting in a field, another trait of Ferruginous Hawks.

Not the sharpest photo but I had read where unlike other hawks Ferruginous Hawks hunt by sitting in fields. I was glad to spot one. Denver Airport Rd.

I watched it preen for several minutes. It didn’t appear to be hunting, just preening. But it probably didn’t pick that spot at random and I just didn’t see it go after breakfast.

By watching it preen I could see the difference in the brown compared to a Red-tailed Hawk. And the tail was white. Denver Airport Rd.

A further down the road I spot Northern Harrier, Bald Eagle, Red-tailed Hawk, and American Kestrel all hunting the area, with most too far away for photos.

A Northern Harrier came close to the road hunting along a ditch. Denver Airport Road

I spoke to a couple of photographers that pointed out some additional distant raptors. One said there was a dead Rough-legged Hawk up the road though I didn’t go check it out.

While talking to the photographers a Ferruginous Hawk flew past. By the time I got the camera up it is almost past. The difference from a Red-tailed Hawk is becoming more noticeable.

The white tail and primary wing panel are distinctive even at this distance. Denver Airport Road
Same field marks can be seen on this long distance photo. Denver Airport Road

 

 

 

 

 

 

After spending much longer than my allotted hour it’s time to move on.

Denver Airport Road
Even this close to a major city and airport the landscape is forlorn. Denver Airport Road

But what of the Canada Geese?

More on that in my next post.

Local Birds – Weekend Highlight

My local birding this past weekend wasn’t too intense since returning from the week birding Western Colorado. I spent my time watching and listening to the local birds. I think I have previously stated I don’t like the term “common” species. Nothing common about any of them. So I like to use “local birds”.

I know at times we all take local species for granted. They are always present and at times the only birds we see or here. But after birding Western Colorado last week I’ll try not to take them for granted anymore.

Because several times I would have welcomed the chip or peep from one of our local birds.

Several days I walked the trails in Western Colorado and I’d go for long periods of time without the hint of a bird. But to be fair a couple of mornings were the same as birding here on a cold winter’s morning.

At a couple of locations I would here the calls of Black-capped Chickadees, Ruby-crowned Kinglets, White-crowned Sparrows, or even Song Sparrows. But all-in-all it was basically quiet.

Walking last Saturday back home in the same weather conditions it was good to hear our local birds – Carolina Chickadees, Tufted Titmice, Northern Cardinals, and White-breasted Nuthatches.

local birds
The constant chip note of the Northern Cardinal was missed in Western Colorado. Some type of seed must have fallen overnight because all the birds were on the ground eating. Southeastway Park 12/10/16
In Colorado I would occasionally encounter flocks of 10-12 Dark-eyed Juncos. I’ll have more to report on the color variations in a later post.
One of the few birds I did hear in Colorado was the flick of the Northern Flicker. Southeastway Park 12/10/16
On this trip I didn’t encounter the Tufted Titmouse counterpart the Juniper Titmouse. Southeastway Park 12/10/16
Probably the most vocal of the small songbirds in Colorado was the Black-capped Chickadee. Just like this Carolina Chickadee is here. Southeastway Park 12/10/16
The Yack call of the White-breasted Nuthatch was missed in Colorado. Southeastway Park 12/10/16
One of the odd feelings in Colorado was the lack of calling woodpeckers. The occasional Northern Flicker but never anything like our Red-bellied Woodpecker. Southeastway Park 12/10/16
The only local bird with a similar species was the Blue Jay. It seems at every stop be it birding or the gas station, I heard a Black-billed Magpie calling in the distance. Southeastway Park 12/10/16
Saturday morning I was being watched under the careful eye of a coyote. He didn’t get too excited by my presence but kept a watchful eye on me. Southeastway Park 12/10/16

Western Colorado Again

I have been thinking of a birding trip ever since we got back from London. The options are endless if you go with a birding tour. But as I have previously stated I like to bird one smaller area more intensely and find my own birds. Tours basically keep moving around needing to add to the “list” and they have guides to point out birds. So tours are out for now.

After eliminating a tour company and thinking where I want to bird I realized travel for travel’s sake isn’t me.

I would like my travels to somehow help birds for the long-term.

And I mean more than financially aiding them as tours do by giving back to the local economy.

I thought about going somewhere warm to help on a CBC. Maybe Panama or Costa Rica. But that wouldn’t be fair to the people running the count since I would be a burden due to my lack of local knowledge.

Then maybe helping on CBC in a new U.S. location. New Mexico had several dates which worked and there are direct flights from Indy to Albuquerque. I could fly out on a Saturday, be back late week, and still help on the Johnson County CBC. But then I started having mixed feelings about CBC’s.

Since I like to bird local I started thinking how I could use that concept and help out birds. I’m not into seeing a bird one time and moving on. By repeated birding of the same area I could “learn” the local birds. And provide variety.

As shown on the map in the intro of The Sibley Guide to Birds there are three main birding areas in the U.S. I think by birding locally in those three areas I can see 400+ species annually. And learn those birds to boot. The areas would be Indiana for Eastern species, Western Colorado for Interior West species, and Southern California on my annual work trip to cover Pacific and Southwestern species.

The three yellow rectangles are the areas I plan on birding annually. From The Sibley Guide to Birds.

I have birded Western CO, specifically the Grand Junction area, and enjoyed it. I have previously stated my positive thoughts on the North American Breeding Bird Survey (NA BBS). A quick look on the Birding Bird Survey page and I saw two BBS routes open in the Grand Junction area. By running those routes I could take a trip each June, do the BBS routes, and still get in personal birding. Plus help on the main U.S. birding survey.

Western Colorado
As seen from the NA BBS open routes page there are two routes open in Western Colorado.

I don’t know if the Colorado/U.S. BBS coordinators will sign me up since I’m from out-of-state but the least I can do is try.

Now the last piece of the puzzle is to tie down something in the tropics that would help monitor our Midwest endangered species on their winter grounds. Still haven’t figured that out yet.

And if I feel I’m missing something by only birding certain areas I’ll have family vacations to places far and wide to see more “exotic” species.

So it was back to Western Colorado last week to check out the potential BBS routes north of Grand Junction. Plus get in local winter birding.

Which all lead to good birding stories which I’ll be sharing over the next few weeks.

Mountain Bluebird – Weekend Highlight

As I stated last week I was going to take an out-of-state trip. The destination was again Western Colorado. The reasons for going to Western Colorado are somewhat long and will make up the topic of the next blog. I got home late last night early this morning after a long day getting through the snow at Vail Pass. I’ll stay with Mountain Bluebird as the Weekend Highlight since I already had this 90% done but I did encounter a contender on my one stop across Colorado yesterday.

mtbl Mountain Bluebird
I had several photos of Mountain Bluebirds I enjoyed with this being my favorite. Colorado River State Park-Fruita Section 12/4/16

While birding the Colorado River State Park-Fruita Section Sunday afternoon I encountered a small group of Mountain Bluebirds that turned out to be a larger group of 50 individuals. Along with American Robins, European Starlings, and House Finches they were feeding on berries adjacent to the Colorado River. They would fly back and forth from the berry trees to nearby trees or even to trees across the river.

mtbl7724
I first noticed a small group sitting in a nearby tree.
mtbl7740
They would often stop on one of the park signs before flying on to the berry tree.
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And here is the berry tree though you can’t see them inside eating away. Can someone confirm this is a Russian Olive?
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Sometimes they would fly back to a fence and eat them in the afternoon sun.
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When finished eating they would fly to a nearby lake for a drink to wash it down.
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Then back to a nearby tree to digest their food before starting the routine over.
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But all the while one or two would locate to a high limb scanning for local hawks. Something I learned was the darkness of the Mountain Bluebird’s primaries.
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With the mountains to the west blocking the sun and losing daylight fast, it was time to end another mild, sunny day.

The 34th Annual JC CBC

This post is basically a repeat of the same one I do about this time of year. This will be the fourth time I have posted about the 34th Annual JC CBC since we moved here in 2013.

The 34th annual Johnson County Christmas Bird Count will be on Sunday, December 18, 2016. The center of the 7.5 mile radius circle is centered south of Indiana 252 and county road 200E.  The circle includes portions of a Johnson, Bartholomew, and Brown counties. It appears at one time the count was called the Atterbury count and changed its name to Johnson County. Maybe a change in the circle’s center?

If you are interested in joining the compiler is Mike Clay and he can be reached at:

mpclay at comcast.net.

If you live in the count circle all feeder reports are welcome.

Mike assigns teams that bird in the morning and then we meet at noon to recap the morning’s count.  After lunch some people continue searching for species missed in the morning.

Approximate Johnson County Christmas Bird Count Circle
The area the Johnson County CBC covers – from Franklin on the north to Sweetwater Lake on the south and west of Trafalgar to east of Edinburgh.

Now for data. The JC CBC count has averaged in the high 60’s for the number of species per count in the 29 years of data I could find on the National Audubon Society site. But the last few years it has averaged around 60 with only a few species of waterfowl seen. My guess is it hasn’t frozen up north and waterfowl hasn’t headed south. If the weather doesn’t change I’m guessing we’ll be around the same total again this year.

Some photos from 2013.

34th annual jc cbc
Our group came across an American Kestrel that had caught a House Sparrow at the Kokomo Elevator. 12/15/16
Eastern Phoebe - Driftwood SFA 121513
A lingering Eastern Phoebe by a natural seep at Driftwood SFA. 12/15/13