A Shrike, a Third Towhee, and Geese. Though Not So Many Geese.

If you would’ve told me that I’d seen three towhees in Indiana by the 16th of January I would have thought you had a problem.  But if you pay attention to the Indiana birding lists, you know that is very possible.

Saturday I accompanied Don and Becky on a trip to western Indiana.  There had been a SPOTTED TOWHEE for several days at DePauw Nature Park which was on the way west. Don had seen it a couple of days before, I’ve seen them numerous times out west, but Becky had never seen a Spotted, so we decided to stop. Even though it was still kind of dark, and kind of dreary, and kind of cold, Becky and I went looking for the towhee while Don birded the parking lot for a reported Brown Thrasher.  We didn’t have any luck and then others joined us in search of the towhee. After a while we still hadn’t seen it, and since the main point of the day was western Indiana,  we headed back.  Don had come looking for us and was about to the towhee site so he said he would help us look.

Sure enough Don worked his magic.  He wasn’t there a minute when the bird appeared.

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The Spotted Towhee hardly ever leaves the thicket. This was about as good as it got in the short time I saw the towhee. DePauw Nature Park, Greencastle IN 1/16/16

After seeing a Eastern Towhee at Johnson County Park on 1/1 and then seeing the lingering Green-tailed Towhee at Tern Bar Slough on 1/2, this was my third towhee in Indiana this year. Go figure.

We made stops at Chinook Mines looking for raptors and waterfowl.  The highlight for me was seeing a GREATER SCAUP and a flyover CACKLING GOOSE, which was obvious flying with a group of Canada’s.

And then on to the main part of the day at Universal Mines looking for waterfowl, raptors, and shrikes.  The variety of waterfowl was decent but nowhere near my trip last year.

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The view to the north this year. No ice and only distant waterfowl. “Grand Canyon” – Edgar County, IL 1/16/16
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This was last year looking north.
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The view to the south. “Grand Canyon” – Edgar County, IL 1/16/16
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And last year looking south.

The number of CANADA GEESE was down considerably but the number or GREATER WHITE-FRONTED was large.

We timed our arrival with the geese coming from the fields and watched them come in.

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One of the groups of Greater White-fronted Geese coming in to the water. “Grand Canyon” – Edgar County, IL 1/16/16
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If you look close enough you can see the thin lines of group after group of Greater White-fronted Geese way up in the air. “Grand Canyon” – Edgar County, IL 1/16/16

Last year there were numerous Trumpeter Swans on the big lake, but only one MUTE SWAN this year.  And it decided to fly right over us!

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A Mute Swan flying almost right over us and close! “Grand Canyon” – Edgar County, IL 1/16/16

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As I posted a couple of weeks ago, if you have never gone and seen large numbers of geese flying in and out, you need to.  I really can’t describe it.

And the experience of a swan or group of swans flying over is just as unbeliveable.  About the best way I can describe it is WHOOSH! WHOOSH! WHOOSH! I know a group of Canada Geese flying right over is loud but the noise from a swan is unbelievable.

We had pretty well scanned most of the area without any luck on a shrike when Becky spotted a distant bird on the top of a tree. NORTHERN SHRIKE?  A quick look and yes it was.  Don got out his spotting scope giving killer looks. None of us pocess a camera that would give the bird justice, but we did get a couple of “ID” photos.

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From my photo you aren’t sure if this just isn’t a Northern Mockingbird. No just the backside of a Northern Shrike. Universal Mines – Vigo County IN 1/16/16
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At least Becky got a photo that shows it is a Northern Shrike. I think I need to think about a new camera or digigscoping. Universal Mines – Vigo County IN 1/16/16

From there it was time to head home again. A good end to a cold, dreary day. Perfect for birding.

The Only Way to Describe It

Surreal.

From Dictionary.com – surreal – “having the disorienting, hallucinatory quality of dream; unreal; fantastic:”

And that is the only way I can describe the scene when 100,000+ SNOW GEESE are flying overhead honking. And that doesn’t do it justice. You must see it yourself to really comprehend the scene.

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No way to describe the scene that lasted off and on all morning. Thousands and thousands of Snow Geese. Gibson Lake – 1/2/16

And this was the way it went all morning when I accompanied Don Gorney last Saturday on my first trip to Gibson County. While looking for other various specialties there was always the awareness of the Snow Geese flying in the distance.

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That isn’t a cloud in the background but thousands of Snow Geese. Gibson County – 1/2/16

I hadn’t seen this many Snow Geese since I went on chase #3 for a Little Gull at Carlyle Lake in Southern Illinois. That day there was the same constant swirling of Snow Geese until they settled on the lake. It is too bad that there isn’t access to Gibson Lake so we could see the vast amount of waterfowl that must be present.

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I know I have used this photo before but it still just amazes me. Those are rafts of Snow Geese. The photo is taken from a mile away so how many geese are there? A million? Carlyle Lake IL 1/28/12

And Snow Geese weren’t the only birds in large flocks. Though I didn’t get a picture (how can you get one that does the scene justice?)  on the day we saw huge flocks of blackbirds – mainly COMMON GRACKLES. It would probably take someone with a video camera to record the long line of blackbirds and then try to get a count. I swear one of the flocks was a couple of miles long.

Early in the day we stopped by the town of Francisco to see if there were EURASIAN COLLARED-DOVES next to the grain elevator like every small town.  And of course there were.

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One of 15 Eurasian Collared-Doves that were present. Of course sometimes the sun isn’t cooperative when trying to take a photo. Francisco, IN 1/2/16

On the day we saw several impressive birds starting with the lingering GREEN-TAILED TOWHEE. Don had already spent time with it in December and I had spent considerable time with them last summer in Colorado, so we didn’t linger at the sight.

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Green-tailed Towhee on the ground. I didn’t grab my camera when getting out of the car.  So the photo credit is goes to Don Gorney. Gibson Lake Area 1/2/16
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Another photo showing the bright rufous cap in the morning sun. Don’s main goal is to get a good photo ID and not an award-winning photo. But  I think they are still good photos. Photo by Don Gorney. Gibson Lake Area 1/2/16

Hoping for waterfowl we moved on to Tern Bar Slough. There was little variety and numbers are still low. Hopefully the current cold snap will send some south. Moving on we encountered both endangered RUSTY BLACKBIRDS and RED-HEADED WOODPECKERS in the same woods. Which was good to see.

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Since it is close to the road a Bald Eagle’s nest that I have seen on several web sites. Gibson Lake area – 1/2/16

We then spent a considerable amount of time watching the Snow Geese while Don picked a few ROSS’S GEESE out of the swirling flock. A few groups of GREATER WHITE-FRONTED GEESE also flew by at a higher elevation.

In the afternoon we headed to Somerville Mine in the eastern part of the county to search for raptors.  They were numerous with many RED-TAILED HAWKS, NORTHERN HARRIERS, and more limited numbers of ROUGH-LEGGED HAWKS and AMERICAN KESTRELS.

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One of several Northern Harriers we saw on the day. None of the raptors really came close to our area. Somerville Mine – 1/2/16

We also went into Warrick County in search of Northern Shrikes and MERLINS.  We missed on the Shrikes but found a few Merlins.

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I always expect Merlins to be larger. They aren’t hard to spot but they just aren’t a big bird. Warrick County – 1/2/16

We extended the day a little and went back to Somerville Mine area to catch the initial flights of SHORT-EARED OWLS at dusk.

From my first trip to the area I can see why Gibson County always does well on counts. The varied habitat is great for a wide variety of species.

 

 

 

 

 

 

#4

Mike called at 10:30 Sunday morning saying that Eric Ripma had reported on FaceBook  a PACIFIC LOON and EARED GREBE at 10:05 from Rick’s Cafe on Eagle Creek Reservoir.  I had planned on going out later that morning locally but figured I’d go along for the search.  So for the 4th time in my years of birding I was going to chase a bird(s).

Mike picked me up and we were off to Rick’s.  On the way we discussed the pertinent field marks of both species and how they differed from COMMON LOONS and HORNED GREBES.  Both which should be present in good numbers.

My only encounter with an Eared Grebe was one in Illinois that was in almost breeding plumage.  But I was almost certain I hadn’t seen a Pacific Loon. There was a question in my mind about our trip to Oregon a few years ago and trouble ID’ing a loon. And checking it appears I decided it was a Common Loon. So no Pacific Loon on my list.

We arrived around 11:30 and were told by Mike, Sarah, and Nick that others reported the loon had flown north. We all scanned the lake to the north and had a couple of possible candidates but the distance was too great.  But way out in front of a raft of LESSER SCAUP was a grebe that matched all the field marks of a non-breeding Eared Grebe. So we were 1 for 2.

We scanned a little longer and decided to go to the only other spots on the south end of the lake that has public access.  We scanned for 15-20 minutes with no luck. We then headed back to the public boat launch just north of Rick’s. We looked for another half hour when I found a loon on the far side of the lake that appeared to be smaller than a Common Loon. Too me it just didn’t “feel” right for a Common Loon.  It appeared overall smaller, darker, and with a smaller bill than a Common Loon. I was pretty certain it was the Pacific Loon but at that distance I wasn’t 100% sure.

By this time we had spent an hour and half scanning and it was getting cold, so we called it a day.

I’m not going to bore you with details but at home I saw on Facebook that Ryan Sanderson had posted a photo of the Pacific Loon in roughly the same area we had seen our candidate. (Check Facebook’s Indiana Rare Bird Alert page) And below are two “looong” distance photos that compare the Pacific Loon to a Common Loon.

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Check this photo of what I think is the Pacific Loon and of a Common Loon below. Both photos are at about the same distance. Notice the rounded head and thin bill of this loon compared to the flat head and bigger bill of the Common Loon. Would I have known this wasn’t a Common Loon if someone hadn’t reported it? Probably not. Eagle Creek 11/29/15

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So what did I think about chase #4?  Let’s just say I didn’t get time to check out the RED-SHOULDERED HAWK in the photo below.  And chase #5 won’t be anytime soon.

And I’ll let it go at that.

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A nearby Red-shouldered Hawk I didn’t have time to check out. Eagle Creek 11/29/15

 

Beach Bunting

Mike and I headed to the Lake Michigan last Saturday in hopes of a good lake movement with plenty of loons and gulls and who knows what else.  It didn’t happen. The winds were too calm. But when you work you can’t pick and choose what day you get to take birding adventures.

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Pretty much how the day went. What birds we saw were distant. A flock of ? against the Chicago skyline. Miller Beach – 11/7/15

At every stop though we heard a group of small birds flying over giving a distinct call that we were not familiar. But ID’ing the birds in flight as Snow Buntings was relatively easy from their unique colors. Here is the flight call of the Snow Bunting we were having a hard time identifying.

Sibley points out that when Snow Buntings are in flock they give out a short, nasal zrrt. That is the call that is heard in the recording and we heard on the beach.

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Mike got a photo of the only Snow Bunting that we saw on the ground. The rest were always noisily flying about. Michigan City, IN 11/14/15

 

 

 

Annual July 4th Weekend Outing to Goose Pond

Ever since we moved to Indiana three years ago, I have made a trip to Goose Pond each July 4th weekend. And since I only get there a couple of times a year, I have started to look forward to the trip. So like a kid at Christmas anticipating it’s gifts, I was up 15 minutes earlier than the 4:15 alarm, on the road by4:45, and arrived a little after 6:30 to watch the dawn movement.

I was immediately struck by how quiet it was.  Outside of the Red-winged Blackbirds there weren’t many birds calling, though there were Marsh Wrens and even a couple of Least Bitterns calling from across IN59.  And one of the Least Bitterns even flew over the cattails, but not long enough for a photo. I’m not sure if it was because the air was “heavy” with the cloudy, humid conditions but it seemed “noisier” last year. I ended up seeing about the same number of species as last year, and the the quantity of each species was comparable, but it seemed quieter. Maybe because last year was sunny and warm. Anyway I didn’t let it spoil the day.

Also the water levels were lower.  I would have thought they would have been higher with all the rain, but the DNR must be controlling them. Even though I found some perfect shorebird habitat, I didn’t get lucky on any migrating shorebirds like I did last year.

All in all I got to see the native summer birds. Which is the reason I go every year.

Please enjoy the following photos from the day.

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A group of Great Egrets before they decided to disperse for the day.
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Could it be a distant Common Moorhen? I mean, Common Gallinule?
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Yes, the red bill confirms it.
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Of course it eventually came much closer for a better photo.
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Heading to the bridge on 1200W I immediately saw the continuing American White Pelicans.
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I never did see the distant Bald Eagles fly. Nor for that fact did I see any raptors flying except a lone Turkey Vulture. I did speak with a couple that had seen a Northern Harrier on the day.
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An Indigo Bunting was sitting by the road and really didn’t get excited about my presence.
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A Willow Flycatcher came in close while I was scanning the water.
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He kept checking out something above. The local nesting Barn Swallows were flying all over so maybe that was drawing his attention.
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A female Orchard Oriole.
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A male Orchard Oriole.
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The happy couple together. Too bad the lighting was bad.
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A Dickcissel in the same tree that a Northern Bobwhitesat in last year. Link to last year’s post –  https://bushwhackingbirder.com/general/goose-pond-saturday-greater-yellowlegs/
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Occasionally one of the nesting Least Terns would fly over while I was scanning the water. This is a heavily cropped photo.  Since I don’t get to hear many terns, it was good to hear it call.
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So I come across a pair of Blue-winged Teal. I wondered if they are breeding here?
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Who can tell from this distance with all the young Wood Ducks?
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Looks like they have have at least two of their own.
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A Gray Catbird stopped by to see what I was watching.
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And I will end with a Black-necked Stilt. I spent the last couple of hours watching them and scanning for shorebirds. I had so many photos of Black-necked Stilts that I will devout a whole post to them later.