A Shelby County Run

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.

RWBL 022016 (2)

I know spring isn’t far away when Red-winged Blackbirds all of a sudden appear everywhere. Shelby County – 2/20/16

RWBL 022016 (1)

I think he is saying “We’re back for the summer so get over it”. Shelby County – 2/20/16

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.

MIXED BLACKBIRD FLOCK 022016 (1)

The Sandhill Cranes seem to be watching the flock of blackbirds as close as I am. Shelby County – 2/20/16

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.

MIXED BLACKBIRD FLOCK 022016 (2)

Mainly European Starlings but also some Brown-headed Cowbirds, Red-winged Blackbirds, and Common Grackles. Shelby County – 2/20/16

MIXED BLACKBIRD FLOCK 022016 (4)

It really wouldn’t be so hard to see a Yellow-headed Blackbird since the red and yellow of the Red-winged Blackbirds stood out. If I did spot one locating it again might be a problem though. Shelby County – 2/20/16

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…

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