What I Learned the Week of 4/6 – Do Your Homework

1. Do your homework

I’m always preaching to do more reading and studying in case an uncommon bird shows up in your local area.  And make sure to travel to an area with “your” uncommon birds so you can learn its field marks, songs, and habitats.  I should follow my own advice.

Sunday while observing shorebirds, yes we finally got shorebirds (that’s next), I kept hearing a warble song in the distance. The area I was observing shorebirds is distant from any trees but there was no wind so I figured it was distant House Finches. I heard the sound off and on for about an hour. I also heard the rattle of Horned Larks calling and moving about the corn stubble plus a rattle call that I was attributing to distant Red-winged Blackbirds.

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The flooded cornfield where I was observing shorebirds. The calls were coming from just across the water. Johnson County 04/12/15

I’m guessing you know where I’m going with this.  Still not catching on I see a group of birds fly up and out of the corn/grass stubble across the water.  And they sure aren’t acting like Horned Larks.  So were they Smith’s Longspurs?  If I had done more study up front, I would have known their calls better and if they sing their warble song during migration.  If I would have traveled to Western Indiana I would have been familiar with their calls and habitat.

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Were there Smith Longspurs over in the short grass? I will never know. Johnson County 04/12/15

But I hadn’t done my homework so I will never know for sure if they were or not.

2. As noted above we finally had shorebirds

We also had a lot of rain, which means a lot of water in the fields.  I think I have noted this before, but don’t waste a lot of time checking every field with water.  Do a quick check and keep moving.

Because shorebirds tend to use the same flooded fields.

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This field has been a regular field for observing shorebirds while other fields never have any. Johnson County 04/12/15

Since I am still relatively new to the area I give a quick check to every flooded field.  But just like back in Illinois the shorebirds use the same flooded fields, not any new ones.  So just like an area good for migrants, I basically just check the same flooded fields.

I have seen it hypothesized that fields that retain water, usually because of damaged drainage tiles, give off that “ozone” or dying vegetation smell that birds can detect. Or they just remember which ones retain water like they do other locations. Who knows for sure?

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Luckily I saw the Pectoral Sandpipers fly into the stubble or I would probably missed them. Johnson County 04/12/15
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Pectoral Sandpiper blending into the stubble. Johnson County 04/12/15
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A better shot showing their dark bib. Johnson County 04/12/15
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A distant Greater Yellowlegs. There were also Lesser Yellowlegs present. Johnson County 04/12/15

3. Sitting and Waiting versus Getting Up and Going

The case of Smith’s Longspurs in #1 above got me thinking about birding by sitting and waiting or moving from spot to spot. Since we don’t get that many shorebirds in Johnson County I was taking my time and watching the shorebirds. I didn’t go to the other 2 areas  I know might have shorebirds.

If I had moved on I would have missed out on the maybe Smith’s Longspurs. But maybe there would have been other shorebirds at other locations? So is it better to sit and wait?

I knew a birder that during migration would find a good area with warblers moving through.  He would find a break in a tree line, open up his folding chair, and sit and wait. The rest of the group would make the usual walk and come back and compare.  He often would have just as many species, and often something we missed.

So is it better to sit and wait or keep moving.  Probably depends.  But as humans I think we are driven to the latter – a need to keep moving.

A few more photos from the weekend.

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Laura Hare Preserve was pretty quite Saturday Morning. 04/11/15
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Except for three Hermit Thrushes flying around. This was the only one that was out of the brush long enough for a photo. 04/11/15
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Mike first spotted three Purple Finches feeding – 2 males and a female. A bird we rarely see in our area. Atterbury FWA 04/11/15
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And one of several Red-winged Blackbirds calling as I walked the perimeter of a pond seeing if Wilson’s Snipe would flush. One did! Franklin HS 04/11/15

 

 

 

 

 

2 Replies to “What I Learned the Week of 4/6 – Do Your Homework”

  1. Nice post! Our shorebird spots in Wisconsin look very familiar with the corn stubble, flooded fields, and distant looks!

    Sit & wait vs. moving – that’s a dilemma us birders face on a regular basis, and one with no right answer.

    1. We also have one small town that has a retaining pond that fills up and drains slowly. It can be productive but is along a busy road, has NO TRESSPASSING signs, etc. But I usually park down the road in a pulloff, walk back, and observe from just off the road. No time to study the birds but at least see what is passing through. Otherwise corn and beans…

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