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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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 walk on the north trail proved productive adding a couple more to the month total.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
From time to time I think of something I should write down as a Birding Rule. I started a list and told myself when I got 10 I would blog about them. But what happened a couple of weeks ago lead me to do them individually. And I’ll start a new list on the home page keeping track of them there. So without further ado, Bob’s Birding Rules #1.
Bob’s Birding Rules #1 – WHEN BIRDING ALWAYS CARRY A CAMERA
Not once in a while. Not when it’s convenient. Always.
That means it’s available when driving in the car. When you go to the bathroom in the woods. When eating lunch. Always.
Over the years I’ve had a few instances where I have missed great photo opportunities of both local and uncommon birds because I didn’t want to carry a camera. And I kicked myself later it.
And it happened again a couple of weeks ago.
The Upland Sandpiper Story
A few weeks ago my Nikon P900 stopped extending. Luckily I had purchased the extended warranty. All that was required was to send it in for repair. In the mean time I carried my old Panasonic DMZ35 which doesn’t have anywhere near the reach of the P900.
Saturday morning July 22 I visited one of the local shorebird sites. The water was viewable with my spotting scope which means it would have been in reach of the P900. But as stated above it was in the shop. I left my DMZ35 in the car since the birds would be too far away.
Through the spotting scope I could see Pectoral Sandpipers and Lesser Yellowlegs, along with smaller shorebirds. While looking through the spotting scope I heard a strange bird call coming from the west and flying over my location. With the naked eye I could tell the bird was defiantly a larger shorebird.
Though my binoculars I immediately recognized it as an Upland Sandpiper.
I watched it fly towards the water and land in the tall grass away from the water. If it hadn’t flown over I would have never spotted it in the tall grass.
I tried and failed to take digiscope photos and then lost sight of the bird. I searched several minutes and later in the day to no avail.
Now if I would have had even the DMZ35 out of the car I could have easily taken flight photos since it went right over my location.
So when birding, always carry a camera, even if it is your older model. And even if they aren’t great photos, you’d at least have documentation photos.
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.
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.
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.
And hopefully this will lead to more hours in the field. Something I’ve been truly lacking.
Regular readers will notice I haven’t been as proficient blogging the last few weeks. I’ve been traveling for work and honestly the little time I’ve been in the field hasn’t been productive for blogging. Last Saturday I had family matters to take care of early and didn’t get a chance to head out until late morning.
My plan was to meander towards Johnson County Park checking for shorebirds. Since I’ve been in the car too much the last three weeks, once at the park I was going to take a long walk looking for butterflies.
The score on the flooded fields wasn’t bad. Of the sites I know in the eastern part of Johnson County there were 5 with water and shorebirds and 4 overgrown with weeds.
There wasn’t anything unusual in the way of shorebirds but I had close views of Pectoral and Least Sandpipers.
On the day I only ended up with 5 species of shorebirds with Pectorals numerous at most stops. Hopefully the water will stay with us for a while.
Finally arriving at Johnson County Park I took the long walk to enjoy the nice weather. Butterflies were sparse except for around the small man-made pond.
Yellow-billed Cuckoo – Star of the Day
I initially caught a glimpse of it flying across the path and its size made me think of a light-colored Brown Thrasher. It proceeded to jump out giving great looks. And it didn’t seem to mind my presence.
After running the Western Colorado Douglas Pass BBS route, I headed over to scout the Baxter Pass BBS I planned to run later in the week. The road to the starting point was bad and would be impassable with rain. In May, I had noticed the Uncompahgre Plateau route was vacant so I immediately notified the national and state coordinators saying I would like to run it instead. It all worked out and two days later I found myself up on the Uncompahgre for the second time in four days. Which lead to the second biggest surprise of the trip, a 10000 Foot Turkey Vulture.
The decision to run the Uncompahgre BBS route was a good move since I was familiar with the road and no scouting would be necessary. Plus the great scenery.
What determine a nemesis bird is probably different for different birders. Most commonly it’s a bird that has been chased several times and missed. In my case though the term nemesis bird means putting myself in the right habitat at the right time and not seeing the bird. And that’s the case with Golden Eagle still nemesis.
I have put myself in the right habitat for different species several times and have had good luck seeing those birds. But not so for the Golden Eagle.
And my recent trip Colorado is no exception. Sort of.
Running the Douglas Pass BBS route north of Grand Junction looked perfect for seeing a Golden Eagle. Even the old BBS route map from the 1980s had Golden Eagle lair written at one stop. So I was quite hopeful I’d finally see one.
Just below Douglas Pass I saw a distant, large raptor flying up onto the mountainside. The bird landed on the wrong side of a tree which restricted visibility. At that distance and vantage point I wasn’t sure if it was an immature Red-tailed Hawk or a larger bird. I wrote down hawk sp.
The route continued to switch back up the mountain and I got close to where I’d seen the bird. And soon I started hearing the call of a Golden Eagle. But the call was coming from an area outside my visibility.
The BBS route demanded I keep moving. I decided after completing the route I’d stop in the vicinity of the calling eagle and scan the skies.
Upon completing the Douglas Pass BBS route I went back to a pull-off not far below the pass’s summit. This road makes a sharp turn making it a blind turn from both directions.
From my vantage point I noticed a gas truck coming up and another gas truck coming down the pass. I’m thinking it would be interesting if they’d meet right at the turn where I was located. I assumed the drivers made this turn every day so there shouldn’t be a problem.
Watching the skies but also keeping an eye on the gasoline trucks, I see they are going to meet at almost the same time at the turn. And I mean at the same time.
So of course right when the trucks meet at the turn the battery in my camera dies, and a Golden Eagle flies over with its wings positioned for a steep dive.
I got a glimpse of the brown and tan on the bird since it isn’t 50 feet away. By the time I get my binoculars on the bird and change the camera battery, the Golden Eagles is now probably a mile out over the valley and moving away fast. The only photos are of the Golden Eagle flying away.
I sat and scanned for another hour without a hint of the bird. With the poor look the Golden Eagle will remain my nemesis bird.
And if you’re wondering, the truck drivers were pros and didn’t even come close to each other. They knew exactly when to slow down to make the turn.