Central Section JC CBC Recap

With some of the usual participants having prior commitments and with the additions of some new members, we slightly shifted areas on the Johnson County Christmas Bird Count. This meant I birded about 2/3 of my usual territory. And with the weather I really don’t think it mattered much. As a group we ended up with 64 species, slightly above our average of 62. The difference this year was lack of waterfowl. So here is my Central Section JC CBC Recap.

As usual I was out listening for owls. I don’t have any problems hearing Great Horned or Eastern Screech-Owls but Barred Owls are problematic. And I missed them again this year. Luckily Mike heard one on the military base side of the count.

About an hour before sunrise I’m out listening for owls. The first time I exited the car I heard a pair of Great Horned Owls calling. And if that was all I heard or saw all day, it would have been enough.

Upon sunrise I saw the small ponds throughout Atterbury FWA had a layer of ice. So no waterfowl. I changed plans and decided to start at Driftwood since it had open water.

The daylight portion started with a Cooper’s Hawk about 15 feet from the car.
Driftwood SFA did have open water but very little waterfowl. A couple of Mallards and Pied-billed Grebes were it.
Several Dark-eyed Juncos perched up high in the early morning light. Trying to warm up?
For the second straight year I found a Field Sparrow mixed in with the Dark-eyed Juncos and American Tree Sparrows. Remember to always look through flocks of sparrows!

After spending the allocated time at Driftwood I headed to Atterbury to check the deeper woods. And yes, I donned my orange vest with the hunters around.

After the Field Sparrow my next best find was a Yellow-bellied Sapsucker. Not a great photo but you can see the yellow on the belly.
The lunch recap showed we were missing Belted Kingfisher. So back to the river where I spotted one on my first stop. I would say I’m good but really just dumb luck.

I did notice on the day the numbers of the more numerous resident winter species like Carolina Chickadee, Tufted Titmouse, and Carolina Wren were higher. And I counted one or two Pileated Woodpecker at every stop.  Which was unusual.

I ended the day with 42 species in my territory which is about normal without the country roads of the 1/3 part I didn’t cover this year. My goal is always 40 which is a little less than the 85-90 I average on the May count for the same territory!

Central Section JC CBC Recap
The daylight potion of the count ended the way it started. With a hawk. This time a Red-shouldered Hawk, which flew in about 50 feet for good looks.

What the heck?

With work and the holiday I still haven’t put in any time birding. But I have gone out and taken non-birding walks at the local parks. And I have checked my “backyard” pond off and on to see if Mr. Beaver has everything backed up. Which he has and now there is a nice little pond. But Saturday when I checked all I could say was “What the heck?”

There have been Mallards and Wood Ducks and Canada Geese back on the small pond. And I often thought other waterfowl might show up but the pond freezes very early in the winter. So I never counted on it.

When I checked Saturday there was a smaller bird on the water. My first thought was a Hooded Merganser. But it didn’t take long to see it was a Pied-billed Grebe. On this little pond?

What the heck
There wasn’t a break in the shrubs to take a photo without walking down and disturbing the Pied-billed Grebe.

Now maybe I’ve always had this wrong but I thought grebes needed a decent length of water to take off and land.  From Cornell’s All About Birds “Pied-billed Grebes need a long running-flapping start to take off from water.” But they don’t say how long. Maybe the alterations Mr. Beaver made have lengthened the little pond enough for takeoff. But the grebe would still have to maneuver through all the dead trees to have a long runway.

The grebe didn’t appear to be in a hurry to leave. It was preening on both Saturday and Sunday.

It’ll be interesting to see how long it sticks around. With the mild week it probably won’t be in a hurry to take off.

And even though I never expected it I’ll take it for the “yard” list.

I don’t think I ever had a stare down with a grebe before. (FYI – The grebe won.)

The Paradox of Hot Spot

In the past few weeks I have seen more birders than any time since we moved to Indiana. And this includes Big May Days and Christmas Bird Counts. The reason is I encountered the Eagle Creek Sunday Group one weekend and went on Don Gorney’s Fort Harrison State Park Sunday morning walk the next weekend. And it was fun to be among all the birders. So much so I’ll continue to go occasionally. But seeing the birders at those locations once again brings up The Paradox of Hot Spot.

Does a “Hot Spot” that theoretically increases ones odds of seeing more species outweigh birding lesser birded areas to increase bird data? Because the way we are headed is getting repeated data from certain “Hot Spots” like Eagle Creek.

But as most things the truth probably is in the middle.

Mike and I visited Eagle Creek’s Marina for the second time this month in hopes of seeing warblers. And we did along, with several other birders. This is still strange since I rarely encounter birders at my usual spots.

A Blackpoll Warbler sitting up nicely enjoying the view.
If not for the twig this would have been a good photo of a Cape May Warbler.

And later in the morning we birded the north end and saw a nice variety of shorebirds. Plus encountered several other birders.

This is an ID photo of a Baird’s Sandpiper.
And one of two Stilt Sandpipers working the mud flat.
Paradox of Hot Spot
Would this be the same young Laughing Gull I found a few weeks ago?

In the past I have birded areas where I go the entire day and not encountered birders. (Bushwhacking) And probably not as many species. But I always feel good at the end of the day finding my own birds and adding to the overall data.

But not many people do this type of birding. Most are lured by The Pull to a “Hot Spot” to see birds. So as much as eBird is expanding citizen science data, in my opinion it also promotes birding at certain “Hot Spots” only. Which to me is a paradox.

So how to overcome this? Not sure since it’s probably been happening since birding started. Data from repeatable surveys like the Breeding Bird Survey will still be used for future conservation efforts. Maybe eBird could include something like a repeatable, timed route. But like I have posted before people won’t do those since they are lured by The Pull to a Hot Spot.

Going forward I’ll hopefully be able to split my time between “Hot Spots”, since I need to do more Social Birding, and my less birded areas. We’ll see.

Eagle Creek Laughing Gull, American Avocets, Horned Grebe

As regular readers know I don’t rush to post the same day. I usually take my time and write the story. Then add a few photos. But after two uncommon and one early species I’ll make an exception. So on with Sunday’s morning Eagle Creek Laughing Gull, American Avocets, Horned Eared Grebe.

Update – Don Gorney and Aidan Rominger refound the Horned Grebe this afternoon and identified as a Eared Grebe. A closer look at my photos and I have to agree. Thanks for taking the time to double check.

Laughing Gull

The plan for Mike and I was to bird the Marina area of Eagle Creek Sunday morning. As usual we stopped by Rick’s Cafe Boatyard for a quick scan of the southern part of the reservoir. We saw the expected Osprey and Double-crested Cormorants and were about ready to leave when I noticed an odd gull not very far out. The bird’s bill seemed to dark and droopy for a Ring-billed. Spike S. was also present and thought the tail seemed long for a Ring-billed. Upon pulling out the scope it was definitely a young Laughing Gull.

Eagle Creek Laughing Gull, American Avocets, Horned Grebe
A cropped photo which I think shows the Laughing Gull’s drooped bill.
The best photo I could get in the morning light.

American Avocets

With warblers hopefully waiting we moved on to the Marina. The leaders of the Sunday morning walk were there early and we were looking for warblers when Becky, I think, first called out American Avocets flying over. A straightforward ID being black and white with long bills and legs.

We watched them go north looking for a place to land. Not finding anything they came back by us heading south. They did the same south to north pattern three times and never put down but allowing us great looks. The last view had them flying south.

American Avocets heading north up Eagle Creek Reservoir.
The Avocets came closer on their second pass by to the south.

Horned Grebe

A little later while scanning the water I found an early Horned Grebe. Now maybe the first two we can associate with Hurricane Harvey, but the Horned Grebe I don’t think so.

On first look I thought it was a Pied-billed Grebe but the throat was white. A run back to the car for the spotting scope and one look confirmed it as a Horned Grebe.

A cropped photo of the distant Horned Grebe.
The complete and cropped photo of the Horned Grebe.

And as seen on this eBird Date Range chart Horned Grebe’s aren’t expected until October.

So, all in all a good morning finding an uncommon gull and early grebe, plus seeing avocets. I even picked up a few new warblers for the year.

And hopefully I didn’t make too many errors in writing this quickly.

August 2017 Highlight

Though I encountered several surprises during my Marion County August 2017 List, one bird stands out as August 2017 Highlight.

But first a few of the surprises.

A Blue Grosbeak we encountered on both trips to Southwestway Park.
The Purple Martins flying over Eagle Creek Reservoir.
And the Summer Tanager at Southwestway Park.

August 2017 Highlight – Red-shouldered Hawk Bathing

But the biggest surprise was watching a Red-shouldered Hawk bathing at Eagle Creek.

I encountered the hawk on the trail north of the Handicapped Road. I just happened to catch a glimpse when it moved on a sunlit perch by a creek. At first I thought it was hunting but it jumped into the water and proceeded to take a bath. Then it flew back up on the sunlit perch and dried off. Then it jumped back in the water. I watched this behavior for 15 minutes while it repeated the cycle three times during the time I watched.

I first spotted the Red-shouldered Hawk sitting in the sun.
It wasn’t long before it headed down into the water. You can see it in the small pool of water in the photo’s center.
Then back onto the perch for sun.
And back down into the water.
August 2017 Highlight
And back up.

Checking a couple of sources on-line this seems to be the typical bathing habits of hawks. Deep in the woods, shallow stream, and low perch to dry. The reason I don’t think I have encountered this behavior before is hawk’s preference of bathing in a deep glade.

Eventually I moved on and made the loop around the trail. I checked on my way back but the hawk had moved on. But another one of those rare nature encounters which keeps you going out week after week.

August Birding 2017 Week 4

August Birding 2017 Week 4 can be summed up in one word, robins. And goldfinches. OK, two words. But mainly robins. Not many additions to the August list but there were a couple of surprises.

At both Southwestway Park Saturday and the local park Sunday American Robins were out in force. It seemed every movement I checked on was a robin. And if it wasn’t a robin it was an American Goldfinch doing a different call.

The star of the weekend – vast numbers of American Robins.
Brown Thrashers made a return last week after being quiet for the summer. Each day I heard 3 or 4 SMACKING in the bush.
And Indigo Buntings made a return doing their loud CHIP call.
Red-winged Blackbirds made their return from their summer molt.

Otherwise it was relatively quit. Mike and I had hoped for warblers but a lone Blackburnian Warbler was it for Saturday. I even checked the flooded field and Soccer field without much action.

Without rain the local flooded field is going to be gone by Labor Day.

Weekend Star

Since not much else was happening a male Summer Tanager was a welcome surprise. While watching the before mentioned robins the tanager appeared out of nowhere. Though he wasn’t close his colors still stood out.

The Summer Tanager kept to the early morning shadows.
Once he jumped up a little higher the yellow on his belly became apparent.
We finally got a chance to see his bright colors in the morning sun.
August Birding 2017 Week 4
A few butterflies were out including several Monarchs.

With the addition of three species I’m in the low 90’s for the month. I might get a chance to go out early Wednesday or Thursday but that darn work keeps interfering!

So I’m guessing 100 isn’t a possibility unless I luck into a wave of warblers.

August Birding 2017 Week 3

Last week consisted of traveling for work. So only the weekend for birding. But Mike had been out during the week to the local flooded field and nothing new. Only the usual species. But Saturday of August Birding 2017 Week 3 proved to be fruitful.

Saturday started on a good note as two Common Nighthawks were flying over as I walked to the car. At first I thought they were early then I remembered it was the third week of August.

The plan for the day was a tour from Mike of Eagle Creek Park since I had only been there a couple of times in the 4.5 years we have been in Indiana.

We started with a quick check of the south part of the reservoir from Rick’s Boatyard.  In the early light we picked up first of season Blue-winged Teal and Pied-billed Grebe.

As seen from Rick’s Boatyard the local Osprey was hunting in the early morning twilight.

We moved on to Eagle Creek Park. With a triathlon in progress we decided to park out a distance and walk to the Ice Skating Ponds. The walk there and the later walk to the Marina were both quiet.

Around the ponds there was a lot of activity with Red-eyed, White-eyed, and Warbling Vireos all seen. Plus the usual flycatchers were present. And have you noticed Baltimore Orioles are singing again?

Here is one of a pair of young Warbling Vireos moving through the trees.
Since they hardly come out of the brush this Wood Thrush was a welcome sight.

At the Marina Purple Martins were putting on a display chasing Spotted Sandpipers and even a Double-crested Cormorant.

Mike had to take off so I headed to the Handicapped Road late morning. Though it was quiet I did pick up a couple of new birds for the August total.

A scan of the gulls showed one was smaller – a Forster’s Tern. These images are pushing the limit of my camera.

A walk on the north trail proved productive adding a couple more to the month total.

At first I wasn’t sure what this blob of white was flying across the water. It appears this Caspian Tern has something in its mouth. A fish?
August Birding 2017 Week 3
This adult Bald Eagle was chasing the Caspian Tern for its food. They flew out of sight so I wasn’t sure if it caught the Tern.

I ended the day well north of 50 species and in the high 80’s for the month. Don’t know if I’ll get to 115 but I should break 100 for the month.

August Birding 2017 Week 2

Wednesday morning found me at Southeastway Park hoping to find local birds I missed the first weekend of August. With only a half hour I thought I could make a small loop and pick up a few calling species. And the plan worked with a Northern Parula doing its alternate call which threw me off for a minute. A pair of Wood Thrushes were next along with the local group of Chipping Sparrows. Yellow-throated Warblers are usually present but not this day. A decent start to August Birding 2017 Week 2 I knew would have limited time for birding.

I met up with Mike early Saturday at the local flooded field.  Along with hundreds of Canada Geese and Mallards there were the usual Killdeer, Pectoral, and Least Sandpipers. But nice addictions to the August list were Semipalmated Plover and Short-billed Dowitcher.

I think we had seen most of the shorebird species before a balloon came drifting over the water putting up all the birds. Waterfowl and herons included. After it passed only a few Killdeer returned.

Since I had to leave mid-morning for a four-day out-of-town family trip we decided on the nearby Southeastway Park. Even though it was quiet Mike and I eventually saw most of the expected species. But nothing new for the month.

After leaving Southeastway I still had a little time. I knew some of the needed August species could be found in the small pond behind our residence. So I headed there.

It took a little time but eventually a single Wood Duck popped up on a log.
And eventually a concealed Green Heron flew out from the tangled shoreline.
August Birding 2017 Week 2
This Great Blue Heron seems to be  constantly standing guard over the small pond.

After the short week my Marion County August total was in the high 70’s. And there probably won’t be much movement for another 10 days. Hurry up migration.

August Birding 2017 Week 1

Last week I blogged about hoping to see as many Marion County August species as possible.  Over half  of the expected species were seen in August Birding 2017 Week 1.

The local flooded field had a small spot on the far side suitable for shorebirds. With the cold front passing on Friday I visited it late Thursday. The glare from the west was heavy but luckily periodic clouds helped with the seeing. With the help of the cloud cover I was able to ID the expected Least, Pectoral, Solitary, and Spotted Sandpipers.

August Birding 2017 Week 1
Early Saturday morning the local flooded field was packed with Canada Geese and Mallards. But no Wood Ducks??

The local park was the starting point Saturday searching for owls. Success was had with both Eastern Screech and Barred Owls. The Barred Owl was seen as it flew away from the area of the screech owls. It must have come in to check out the tape.

The flooded field was the next stop. As I have discovered if I don’t arrive at least 15-20 minutes before sunrise the Great Egrets will be gone. Arriving 15 minutes before sunrise the lone Great Egret there flew away a minute later. Mike then arrived but our scan only produced a few shorebirds.

We decided on Southwestway Park for the local and hopefully a long shot species. And we ended up with a couple of birds I didn’t expect to see in August – Blue Grosbeak and Yellow-breasted Chat.

On the edge of the park a Blue Grosbeak was singing from a tree line .
One of several Eastern Phoebes on the day.

Otherwise it was a battle to avoid mosquitoes while seeing the expected species.

The south end of Eagle Creek Reservoir for a short lake watch was the day’s last stop. An Osprey on the water’s far side was one of the few birds seen.

Sunday I visited the SE corner of the county for a few rural birds. The resident American Kestrel was present at its usual spot as were Eastern Meadowlarks.

The fun though was watching a Cooper’s Hawk turn the tables on American Crows.

This Cooper’s Hawk must have had enough of the local American Crows.
In a reversal of roles the hawk stayed above the crows and would periodically dive at them.
Here comes the hawk after the crows. They crows would disperse and then return. And the process would start over. Instead of the hawk having to fly away the crows eventually flew away from the hawk.

I figure there are an additional 10-15 species that should easily be seen until migration starts later this month. It’s the harder ones which will now be the challenge.

August Leading to Fall Birding

In many ways I look forward to fall migration more than spring migration. There seems to be less going on personally which gives more time bird. Fewer birds calling helps on ID’ing them. And I just plain enjoy the warmer, dryer temperatures of fall. And it begins with August Leading to Fall Birding.

August Leading to Fall Birding
We aren’t anywhere near this date but late October isn’t far off.

I previously blogged about my August 2012 experiment. That month I birded Southern LaSalle County Illinois all 31 days of August and saw 129 species, 20% more than a typical August. Going back and analyzing the data I figured I would have seen 116 species if I had birded the days before and after cold fronts. If memory is correct that would have been 10-11 days or 5 fronts. So birding only 1/3 of the days I could have seen 90% percent of the species. Pareto would have been proud.

The area I birded in Southern LaSalle County Illinois was south of I80 and approximately 390 square miles. About the size of Marion County. So my plan for August 2017 is to bird Marion County and only on the days preceding and following cold fronts. Plus weekends. Hopefully with work and travel I can bird those days.

Yesterday began August birding. I checked the local flooded field for shorebirds since a Cold Front would be passing today.

Using eBird as a guide the expected number of species for Marion County in August is approximately 115. My August high for Johnson County is 96. Which is about right since there isn’t a large body of water.

The catch in this plan is finding a good shorebird spot in Marion County. If it keeps raining the local spot will be full of water all month. But if it stops now it should be good towards the middle of the month.

The local flooded field is still full but has a small spot on the far side for shorebirds. This photo is from last August.

And hopefully this will lead to more hours in the field. Something I’ve been truly lacking.