Though others make numerous trips to Goose Pond readers know I prefer to bird closer to home. So I look forward to Mike and I’s Goose Pond annual July 4th visit. It’s usually my only chance to see or hear species like Least Bittern, Marsh Wren, Least Tern, Black-necked Stilts, and Common Gallinule. Except this year due to scheduling conflicts we couldn’t go until Saturday July 8.
Photos of the trip will be sparse since my Nikon P900 is out for repair and I had to revert back to my old Panasonic DZ35.
Friday night the National Weather Service issued a Dense Fog Advisory until 9AM Saturday. Two years ago the fog was so bad we didn’t see any birds until almost 10AM. But driving down the fog was spotty so I was feeling better about it.
Our first stop was the Yellow-crowned Night-Heron spot where the fog wasn’t bad. Two herons were feeding out in the fields which made photos tough. But seeing this species was a treat since I don’t see it annually.
We moved on to Main Pool East in search of shorebirds before the sun’s angle made observing them a problem. Water levels were just right at the end of the old road and we observed Lesser Yellowlegs, Least Sandpipers, Killdeer, and Black-necked Stilts. Since I’m not around them often I kept thinking I was hearing a Common Gallinule’s whiny call in the reeds. And eventually one appeared.
On to Main Pool West South Bridge where we saw three distant Least Terns flying. Not much else at this location due the water being high at Goose Pond.
In fact I thought the water levels made it the least favorable of my five July trips.
We ran into the Timmons brothers who said GP4 had Least Bitterns, one of Mike’s target birds. Upon arriving we heard numerous Common Gallinules and ended up seeing several young.
But to see a Least Bittern one has to be patient. While waiting we heard a couple of Marsh Wren calling but of course we didn’t see this nearly impossible visual species. Eventually I saw a Least Bittern flying from reed bed to reed bed being chased by a Red-winged Blackbird.
Things were slowing down and Mike had to be back early afternoon. So we headed back to Indy after successfully seeing the sought out species.
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.
And enough habitat around to make the day enjoyable.
The highlight of the day was finding other shorebirds besides the Black-necked Stilts and Killdeer.
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.
This past weekend as part of the IAS Big May Day I saw several shorebirds – LESSER AND GREATER YELLOWLEGS, SOLITARY SANDPIPERS, and WILSON’S SNIPE. Plus a couple of plovers -KILLDEER and SEMIPALMATED PLOVER. I also saw several SPOTTED SANDPIPERS.
One of the Spotted Sandpipers was by a small pond at Atterbury FWA. When I got close it did its “peet weet” call while flying to the far shore.
And it got me thinking my favorite part of the birding year is coming up. If you have follower this blog you know I love the slow summer months.
Others may look forward to the rush of migration, but I look forward to the slow summer, and winter months for that fact, when you can enjoy our birds. During migration I seem rushed to get a glimpse of a migrant which might only be around for a few weeks.
After the rush of migration you can take your time and enjoy the birds. Take notes. Watch birds in their habitat.
One of several birds which exemplifies that feeling are Spotted Sandpipers – our only real non-migrating shorebird. The Killdeer is a plover and the BLACK-NECKED STILT, for the lucky ones that have them on territory, is, well a stilt.
There is nothing better on a warm, humid, summer morning than to hear the “peet” break the silence and watch the little sandpiper fly across the pond. Then observe it “working” the far shore looking for food and watch it decide to fly elsewhere “peet weeting” the whole way.
The Indiana Audubon Society (IAS) will hold its annual Big May Day Bird Count on May 14. As seen on its webpage the “objective of the BMDBC is to count the number of birds of each species occurring in a participating county area from midnight to midnight on the second Saturday in May. This data snapshot provides a valuable scientific record of the bird populations occurring each year in Indiana.”
I have participated in the last 3 counts for Johnson County and previously for several years in the LaSalle County count in Illinois. I have always found these counts to be fun. Groups start at different times and go until 12:30PM. We then meet at Johnson County Park for lunch and to recap the morning. From there some people will go searching for species we missed in the morning.
The last 3 years in Johnson County we have seen 2015 – 122, 2014 – 134, and 2013 – 127 species.
Some other data recapping last year’s count taken from the Indiana Audubon Quarterly Vol. 93, No. 4 November, 2015: “Thirty two of the 92 counties (35%) participated and reported 244 individual species. (See Indiana Map below) According to the annual data since collected since 1991, the number of counties participating was down compared to the average of 40, but the number of individual species reported (244) is above the average of 238. Additionally, the total birds counted (116,729) by 376 observers is well below the average of 150,751.”
If you’re interested in helping on a count please contact a county compiler. The compilers are listed on the left side of the page on the link to the Indiana Audubon in the first paragraph.
If you are interested helping on the JOHNSON COUNTY count please contact Tom at annntom AT embarqmail.com. You can bird as much or as little as you want. Or even report from a feeder or your yard. All birds count!
I had to head back to Lafayette again this weekend. This time I had 4 hours to bird on Sunday. So just like last weekend I took the time to bird another spot that I hadn’t birded before, Celery Bog in West Lafayette.
But first a few words on Saturday. I tried for rails at a small wetland area in Shelby County just across the road from Johnson County. No luck. The habitat almost looks good for rails, but I’m thinking it is too overgrown. But I’ll try again.
I then checked the flooded fields south of Franklin. There were SOLITARY SANDPIPERS but not any other shorebirds.
The bulk of Saturday morning was spent at Laura Hare Preserve. I was searching for HERMIT THRUSH, WINTER WREN, and LOUISIANA WATERTHRUSH. I ended up seeing one Hermit Thrush and 3 Louisiana Waterthrushes. But no photos.
And the reason for no photos was because I finally got a new camera. A Nikon Coolpix P900. Which I wasn’t having much luck with Saturday. So the time at Celery Bog was as much for birding as to take the time to learn the camera.
One could get use to birding Celery Bog on a regular basis. Nice habitat and access. I spent 2-1/2 hours walking the length of the area.
The most abundant bird after AMERICAN COOTS and TREE SWALLOWS were YELLOW-RUMPED WARBLERS. I had a minimum of 25.
There were also a fair assortment of waterfowl and my FOS GREAT EGRET.
I heard a BLACK-THROATED GREEN WARBLER calling in the woods which I hadn’t expected. It stuck to the tops of the trees but I did manage a few shots.
The highlight of the day came at the end of the walk. There was a RED-SHOULDERED HAWK ahead on the path. I watched it eating something and then it seemed to carry it away. A mouse a maybe?
Here is the sequence of events.
And just so you know I wasn’t sold on the camera after Saturday. But the day at Celery Bog swayed my opinion. I think the improved photos show that.
I’ll blog about the new camera soon and keep reviewing it through migration.
After dropping my daughter in Lafayette Saturday morning I headed to my first birding location in Benton County.
But before I reached my first stop I saw one of the oddest things I have ever seen while birding.
A large bird flew across the road coming from a farm field heading to a wooded area. Now mind the time is 10AM. My first thought was a RED-TAILED HAWK but it was too “fat” for a hawk. My next thought was a BALD EAGLE. But it was too small for an eagle. The bird proceeded to land on a fence post and gazed back at me.
A GREAT HORNED OWL out in the open in broad daylight. A first.
I got the car stopped in the middle of the road and took a photo through the car window. By the time I re-positioned the car it had flown away.
So what was a Great Horned Owl doing flying across a corn field in broad daylight? I didn’t see any crows or jays around mobbing it. My daughter asked if it looked like it might be ill, but it appeared to be flying fine. I’m not sure what it was doing flying across the field??
In all my years of birding I can’t recall seeing a Great Horned Owl flying in the open in daylight unless it was being harassed by crows or jays. And then they stuck to the tree line. Never across a field. I have seen a few Great Horned Owls flying at dawn or dusk but even then they were close to trees.
Have you ever seen owls flying out in the open during daylight hours? If so, I’d like to hear about it.
After returning from London I took my daughter to Lafayette Saturday morning and the nhad to pick her up in the afternoon. So I took the opportunity to bird a couple of spots in Benton County.
But first let me say it was COLD. According to National Weather Service the temperature at 10AM was 31F with winds out of the NW at 22mph with gusts of 28mph making the Wind Chill 18F. This wasn’t good since I had planned to search for shorebirds in the rain-soaked fields. But they were frozen.
The first stop was a quick one for WESTERN MEADOWLARKS. Immediately upon rolling down the car window I heard and then saw numerous VESPER SPARROWS on the road.
While watching the sparrows I heard a Western Meadowlark calling. Only a couple of meadowlarks flew in the cold, so I’m not sure if I saw an Eastern or Western. But I definitely heard a Western calling.
I then headed to Pine Creek Gamebird Habitat. I didn’t know what to expect with this being my first time there. And it didn’t take long to realize I would be facing the freezing wind to view the shorebirds. But that same cold weather helped by freezing the entire water area everywhere but the water closest to the road. Forcing the shorebirds closer.
There were numerous GREATER AND LESSER YELLOWLEGS, plus a few PECTORAL SANDPIPERS. And with the water frozen that was the extent of the birds.
I then walked the south trail into the sun to thaw my frozen face. A NORTHERN MOCKINGBIRD was flying about as where a flock of AMERICAN TREE SPARROWS.
I then headed to the west trail along the shallow bluff which would keep the wind out of my face. I could then walk back with the wind. The walk was productive since it was now afternoon and the water was beginning to melt.
Over a one hundred BLUE-WINGED TEAL flew in along with NORTHERN SHOVELERS, GREEN-WINGED TEAL, a lone HOODED MERGANSER, and MALLARDS.
A RED-TAIL HAWK, AMERICAN KESTREL, and TURKEY VULTURES flew by. It was a very enjoyable walk.
I then saw a group of shorebirds land in the grass a little further to the north. My first thought was WILSON’S SNIPE since they like moist, grassy areas but I couldn’t be sure. So I took my time heading that way to see if I could get a glimpse.
I noticed a hawk flying low behind the tree line heading straight for the presumed snipe. It came in unexpectedly and almost got them. They immediately flew giving me the chance to ID them.
I’m glad I waited around trying to ID the snipe since I got to see the harrier attack plus more waterfowl kept flying in.
My thoughts from my first visit to the area? Good area for shorebirds and waterfowl with easy viewing and trails for walking. Right up my alley.
If someone knew of a good passerine site in the county, you could probably build a very good county list just visiting those two areas.
I was originally going to post, and in fact already had completed, about how birding a rural, agriculture county with no public parks wasn’t very productive. But the more I thought the more I realized this wasn’t correct and in fact the fun and challenge of finding birds in that type of environment was what got me excited about birding in the first place.
The original intent of this blog was there are common and uncommon birds in every area, you just need to take the time to find them. And Shelby County is no different.
So now with a positive bent, instead of a negative one, I have redone this post.
First, let me say Shelby County isn’t a lot different from the counties I birded in Illinois or have encountered in Indiana. It seems typical of sparsely populated, rural, agriculture counties.
The problem with these rural counties, including Shelby County, is the lack of public parks. (in other words lack of public birding areas)
Which isn’t a surprise if you have tried to bird those areas.
As I have stated before one of the things I miss from Illinois is having a good birding spot between work and home. Especially a spot like I had in Illinois where I could stop and scan gulls for an hour.
The majority of my current drive home from work is through Shelby County. And I have tried to find a birding spot along the way home but with no luck. Checking maps hasn’t turned up anything but a couple of city parks in Shelbyville plus a few rural cemeteries. It appears birding has to be done in town or along rural roads, which usually leads to problems with the natives and is thus best avoided. So until last weekend I hadn’t bothered birding Shelby County except for the retaining ponds at work.
But when a co-worker told me she had seen cranes in a field near her house, I thought I’d check them out and spend the rest of the day searching for other birding areas in Shelby County.
And for me that is the fun of birding. Finding birds, common or not, in under birded areas. The birds are usually there. Maybe not in great numbers. But can be found if you take time to look.
So I wasn’t sure what to expect on this first Shelby County outing.
I headed out Saturday morning expecting I would at least see Sandhill Cranes. But the fog was heavy and I should have stayed home for a couple of hours. But since I was already out I changed plans and headed to the Shelbyville city parks and cemeteries. It was quiet in the fog but I heard/saw the local resident birds plus BROWN CREEPERS along the river at Sunset Park.
Once the fog lifted I checked the retaining ponds around the north, industrial side of town. Nothing out of the ordinary there.
On to the casino ponds north of Shelbyville. Many of you will remember this area if you came to see last year’s Snowy Owl. Parking east of the casino turned up RED-WINGED BLACKBIRDS and KILLDEER that were out in full force for the first time this year.
And the day’s most unusual find, a lone RING-BILLED GULL, flew lazily past heading east.
I then made my way to the SANDHILL CRANE area. While observing the cranes I noted a mixed flock of blackbirds slowly making its way my direction. The majority of the 1,000 birds were EUROPEAN STARLINGS but there were also a good number of BROWN-HEADED COWBIRDS and RED-WINGED BLACKBIRDS. Plus to a lesser extent COMMON GRACKLES.
I haven’t seen a good, mixed flock locally in a couple of years. So I had a good time watching the flock with the hope of a Yellow-headed Blackbird popping out. Wishful thinking. And with their constant movement I didn’t even try to pick out a Brewer’s Blackbird.
I then drove through a portion of the southern part of the county checking for and not finding any good spots.
I ended the day at wetlands area on the west side of the county. It’s an area I discovered when we lived in Franklin and I would occasionally drive the back roads home. There wasn’t much happening but a pair of AMERICAN KESTRELS hunting along the road and SONG, SWAMP, and AMERICAN TREE SPARROWS in the cattails. The area is overgrown but might have some decent birds in the spring.
Without too much trying I ended up with 31 species. Which was about what I expected on a winter’s day.
So what do I think about birding this type of rural county? It just proves if you live in a rural, parkless county you can still see the majority of birds native to or migrate through the state. In one day I found on the north side of the county numerous waterfowl sites, a shorebird site, a deep woods site, a couple of edges for passerines, and a grasslands site. By birding those 5 areas plus checking for new sites one could have a decent year’s list without much travel.
I’m not sure time will allow me to bird those areas but at least I know they’re there.
And I still need to find that spot between work and home…
Towards the end of last week I still wasn’t sure where I wanted to bird Saturday. Migrants haven’t arrived and I had commitments that kept me from heading to the Lakefront. So when a co-worker told me she had SANDHILL CRANES in a field near her house for the past month, my decision was made.
I know it isn’t unusual to see Sandhill Cranes in Indiana. Especially large flocks flying overhead. But my location living in Illinois was too far west of the Sandhill Cranes migration route from Wisconsin to Florida. So I never really encountered them until we moved here. And never where I could watch them interact on the ground.
I did have one previous encounter though. My father-in-law lived on a wetland area outside Madison, WI, for a number of years. Every time we visited the cranes would be quite vocal but always well hidden in the vegetation. Finally one year they decided to walk out in the open water giving a good view. But of course they didn’t stay long that day before they decided to fly off to feed in the fields. And even though I searched I didn’t find their feeding field. So my sighting was short-lived.
The field Saturday was in rural Shelby County, an area I hadn’t birded except for the retaining ponds at work. So the Sandhill Cranes gave me the opportunity to bird Shelby County, which is a topic onto itself and I’ll blog about in my next post.
But now onto the Sandhill Cranes.
She was right, there were Sandhill Cranes, and these weren’t the ones reported flying north Saturday in large flocks. I saw several flocks Saturday flying at a high altitude but the flock I was watching had been around for several weeks and didn’t appear to be in a hurry to move on.
There were two groups. The main group had approximately 350 cranes and was in a field just beyond a wetland area. The other group was in a smaller pasture on the other side of the road and had 25 or so spread out in the grass and trees.
The smaller group stayed put but the larger group had constant groups of 5-10 flying in and out. And every time they flew they would “yodle”. Or whatever you want to describe their call.
I know Sandhill Cranes aren’t unusual this time of year and numerous photos have been shown on the internet, but unless you travel to a couple of their known wintering or migration stops, you usually don’t get to see them fairly close-up on the ground. Normally you just see them flying overhead. So it was fun to take time and watch them come and go and interact with each other.
Like the Eared Grebe in January it was good to spend time with birds I usually don’t get the opportunity to view.
In my last post I lamented about how slow birding had become – The Doldrums. So I had mentally prepared myself for the next 6 weeks to be rather slow. And in that last post I almost included, but didn’t, about the only way I knew to breakout of the Doldrums was a trip south to Florida or Texas or even farther south.
A Road Trip if you will.
But last Thursday Don asked if I wanted to go with Aidan and him on a different sort of road trip. A trip to the Indiana’s Lake Michigan Lakefront. The Lakefront in winter is the only place and season I had left where I could make some big gains on my Indiana list. The 3 hour drive one way didn’t appeal to me but the birds and the predicted mild weather did. So I was in.
And how did the day turnout?
13-8 and 1
13 new year birds that took me well over 100 species for the month of January. Something I had never done before.
8 new state birds. I told you I had never been to the Lakefront in winter and to get those species in Johnson County would probably take a long time. If ever.
1 new life bird – Monk Parakeet.
Basically, without going into all the logistic details, we birded the west end of the Lakefront. From Calumet Park in Chicago to Jeorse Park in East Chicago. And one stop further east at the Port of Indiana. So we spent time birding at the active sites and moving on from the slow ones. We also kept in touch with other birders in the area that let us know what was showing up, which lead to a few course adjustments.
We basically got all the birds we came to see but not all were cooperative. The first time we waited 45 minutes at the Hammond Bird Sanctuary for Common Redpolls without them showing. Even when we got a call that they were showing and we headed back, it took another 15-20 minutes for the only one to show. We later spoke to someone who saw 12-15 first thing in the morning.
We saw good numbers of the expected Herring Gull plus several Great Black-backed Gulls, plus a Lesser Black-backed that I didn’t expect.
We missed the Monk Parakeet early in the day but doubled back to a different, reliable location late in the day. All Parakeets are loud. We heard this guy long before we saw him.
And the Story of the Day
We had gone to Calumet Park in Chicago to scan back into Indiana waters. Don had scanned the water pretty thoroughly and asked Aidan to take a follow-up look through his scope. It took about 5 seconds when Aidan somewhat casually announced, “There is a Western Grebe out there”. It didn’t take long for Don and me to find the bird. When first spotted it was diving for long periods of time. So it was probably under when Don made his passes of the water. It was too distant for photos but I noticed there were a few long distance photos embedded on eBird lists.
Another Indiana bird I didn’t expect on the day.
And this may sound like a business meeting but one of the main takeaways I had from the day, I need to “keep in touch” with all probable local species. I hadn’t looked at my field guide for gulls and scoters for a while. I’ll chalk it up to complacency of living in an agriculture area. Luckily I still retained enough from my days in Illinois.
But a local walk on Sunday produced few birds. It appears The Doldrums aren’t ever far away in the winter…