Once again I am struck by the fact that unless you bird often, no matter what your birding goals are, the odds of seeing uncommon birds is greatly reduced. I know that sounds kind of self-evident, but the more time you spend in the field the greater the odds of fulfilling you birding goals.
A good case in point has been the last two weekends. Atterbury FWA currently has the Spring Turkey Season going and people are not allowed out in the field until after 1PM. So I have been hitting other places on the weekend mornings and going to Atterbury on the afternoons. I know the odds of finding warblers and other song birds are less in the heat and wind of the afternoon, but I go anyway because it is migration and birds can be found anywhere.
There is one stretch of road that parallels the river that is good for Cerulean Warblers. So a week ago Sunday I decided to walk the road and possibly see the Cerulean Warbler. It was a nice day, kind of windy, and the habitat is typical river bottom land. I read on I-Bird the previous day that a couple of people had seen their first of the year Red-breasted Nuthatch. This bird should probably be one of my nemesis birds but I really hadn’t made a concerted effort like I had for the Winter Wren. And I really hadn’t found the right kind of coniferous woods in Johnson County. So I figure if next year was an irruption year I would see one.
So while I am watching 2, then 3, male Cerulean Warblers fight for territory, with me hoping to get a picture of the encounter, out of the clear blue I hear the “yank yank yank” of a Red-breasted Nuthatch. I am nowhere near conifers but in river bottom land, so this took me by surprise. At first I thought maybe it was a Blue Jay doing a great imitation, since two had been flying around. But the bird continues to call so I know it isn’t a Blue Jay. So I am scrambling around some bushes to get an angle on the bird and it keeps calling. It now goes up river and is still calling. I finally get the angle and it stops calling. There was no mistaking it was a Red-breasted Nuthatch but I will have to chalk it up as a heard only bird.
The same thing happened in Illinois one early May day when I was on a field trip with the local Audubon club. We were on the forest edge looking for warblers, nowhere near conifers, when one of the members says “look, there is a Red-breasted Nuthatch on the oak tree.” And it was a FOY for many members. So my recent encounter struck me as odd but not unusual. Johnson County #205
A week later, same day, about the same time, almost the same location. I am walking along looking for orioles and tanagers, when I see a flutter up ahead. The bird moves again and it is a Least Flycatcher. Small, big-headed, bold eye ring, perfect habitat – brushy under story. No mistake. On the Big May Day Count last year Karl Werner saw one along the same road when I was getting the car. I knew I would come across one again in due time. Johnson County #206
So to reiterate my opening words – it is always good to be out in the field, especially during migration, since you never know when, where, and for how long birds will turn up.
Since I don’t have pictures of either a Red-breasted Nuthatch or Least Flycatcher, and Mike says I need to have pictures, here are a couple from Minnesota in February 2010. These pictures were taken just minutes apart and represent one of the great birding decisions of my life. I guess I need to tell that story sometime.