Eastern Time Zone Birding

Far and away the biggest gripe I have moving from Illinois to Indiana is the time zone change. One would not think moving east 140 miles longitudinal would make such a big difference. But moving from the eastern edge of the Central Time Zone to the western edge of the Eastern Time Zone has made a big difference in my birding.

The move pushes sunrise in June from 5:22AM in North-Central Illinois to 6:16AM in Central Indiana. Not such a big deal except in Illinois during spring migration I could get an hour of birding in before work. Up at 4:30, out at 5:15, and birding by 5:45 at a local state park. Back to the car at 6:45 and arrive at work around 7:00 AM. That is how I saw my first Yellow-crowned Night-Heron, Red-shouldered Hawk, and Pileated Woodpecker. All in the same magical morning. And a Barred Owl was watching the whole time. And no, I did not feel like going to work after that. On other mornings I would explore grassland areas and if I got lucky I would see something special for North-Central Illinois like a Blue Grosbeak.

BLGR MSP 080812
Blue Grosbeak – Matthiessen State Park
August 8, 2012

In Indiana, it’s up at 4:45, looking out the window in the dark at 5:15, still dark at 5:45, and saying the heck with it and going to work at 6:15, still in the dark.

Now some might say, “Bob, that means you have more time to go owling on the weekends.” True. But for a guy who gets up at 4:30-4:45 anyway, getting up for owling wasn’t a big deal in Illinois.

So somehow I need to figure out how to go birding in the morning before migration starts next April.

OK, I feel a little better now that I have got that off my chest.

On finding Buff-breasted Sandpipers and American-Golden Plovers away from Shorebirding Sites

The best places to find Buff-breasted Sandpipers and American-Golden Plovers away from the usual shorebirding sites is as the literature states on short grass fields, airport runways, golf courses, etc. The problem with golf courses is that people golf them so the birds don’t hang around long. And the problem with grass airport runways is lack of access.

I find, as the literature states, that the best place to find these species away from shorebirding sites is sod farms. The key thing about sod farms is that they have very short grass and are well irrigated. When you come to a sod farm the first thing you should notice is that there are a lot of Killdeer, Horned Larks, and European Starlings. If you have this combination you should have a good chance to find Buff-breasted Sandpipers and American-Golden Plovers. I have also noticed if you don’t have the combo of Killdeer, larks, and starlings, your chances diminish. So if you don’t live anywhere near a sod farm, and there have been a lot of sod farms close since the recession started, you need to look for another alternative.

Last Sunday, the 8th, there still weren’t many migrant species passing through my area so I decided to switch gears and go looking for plovers and sandpipers at the local athletic fields. The key is not in the athletic fields themselves but well irrigated athletic fields near the country. My experience is that if the fields aren’t near the country they don’t draw birds as well. So I went to the local athletic fields and first noticed a lot of Killdeer on the dry playing fields. And then I noticed Horned Larks which I haven’t been seeing for the last month or so. There were also a lot of European Starlings flying about. As stated earlier from past experience I know having those 3 species is key for finding Buff-breasted Sandpipers and American-Golden Plovers. While scanning the slightly greener, practice soccer field I noticed three American-Golden Plovers fly in and land. Something then flushed all the birds and they flew over a wind fence to the main baseball field.

Walking a hundred yards or so down a path let me scope the field. And on the main baseball field, which is well irrigated, there were 15 American-Golden Plovers. But after searching for 45 minutes no Buff-breasted Sandpipers were found. Darn. I also checked out the main football field but I don’t if it is the bleachers or the painting on the field but for whatever reason there was nothing but a few Killdeer. So if you’re searching for Buff-breasted Sandpipers and American-Golden Plovers this time of year, the key is to check local athletic fields that are well irrigated and near the country.

Franklin HS Athletic Fields
Franklin HS Athletic Fields

Note the contrast between the well irrigated baseball field and the rest of the grass.


Update 9/15. The American-Golden Plovers were there on the 12th and 15th. Still no Buff-breasted Sandpipers and time has pretty well run out for this year.


What Labor Day Means to My Birding

Since I started birding five years ago Labor Day has taken on a new meaning.

Labor Day means the loss of some prime birding habitat to hunters. On September 1, dove season marks the start of hunting season that goes through late January. Or five months of the year. When I lived in Illinois that meant the loss of most of Starved Rock and Matthiessen State Parks, where I did most of my birding. This led to a switch to Illini State Park and Hennepin and Hopper Lakes, both non-hunting areas. Illini State Park isn’t all bad as warblers seem to prefer it in the fall (food source?). But Hennepin and Hopper Lakes was a 40 minute drive as opposed to the 20 minute drive to the other areas. Also Hennepin and Hopper Lakes aren’t in LaSalle County.

In Indiana I’m going to have to switch from Atterbury FWA to, well I’m not sure where yet. The odds are it will be Johnson County Park or Driftwood State Fishing Area or even a local park. But until I get through migration, I’m not sure. I could go to Eagle Creek Park west of Indianapolis, but it is a 40 minute drive and it’s not in Johnson County. Sounds like the previous paragraph doesn’t it?

I know I could dress in orange and stick to the roads in the areas that are being hunted. But that isn’t a smart option.

So Labor Day means it is time to go BushWhacking and find new (non-hunting) birding spots in my local area.

Why the BushWhacking Birder?

The title could have easily been the adventurous birder or the exploring birder or the local birder. And following is why any of those titles would have worked.

My birding is based on one principle – all birds that should appear in an area do appear in that area. They just haven’t been discovered yet.

So I spend most of my birding time exploring areas close to home looking for birds that are usually listed as uncommon or rare on status and distribution charts. I know I could drive to birding spots farther away and see these species. And I occasionally do.  But I would rather use the time spent driving exploring my local area searching for uncommon birds.

And much of that time spent exploring consists of going through thickets, walking through muck, walking in wet sedge fields up to my chest, etc. BushWhacking if you will. There isn’t a Monday I go to work without scratches on my face or arms or itching from a multitude of bites. I have had to go to the hospital from such a bad case of poison ivy that my calf was bigger than my thigh. (looking for shorebirds but that is another story)

Do I find something uncommon on all of those adventures? Sometimes, but usually not. But the satisfaction from the sometimes far outweigh the usually nots.

So this blog will focus on how I ended up birding for local uncommon or difficult to find birds and help fill in some of the gaps I perceive in the literature for the newer or maybe even experienced birder. Plus I will include a few of my birding adventures and thoughts on everything bird related.

And oh, my wife thought BushWhacking Birder sounded better than the other options.

Download Your eBird Data

This first blog is going to be about something I haven’t seen posted.  Quite simply, download your eBird data.

Here’s why.  Back in my running days (mid-2000’s) I kept track of my miles in a notebook and then on a spreadsheet which I backed up weekly.  One of my running buddies kept track of his mileage on a running website similar to eBird.   And I know of several other runners that did also.  One day the website closed without warning and no one could get their data off the site.  My friend lost over two years of data.

I know things have changed drastically in the computer world in the last 8-10 years, and eBird’s data is secure, but it would probably be a good idea to backup your eBird data and your computer every couple of weeks.  I saw that eBird’s main page was hacked on July 4, 2013.  The data servers weren’t hacked but you never know.  It could happen.

I have been backing up my eBird data every couple of weeks for the last 4-1/2 years.  And it doesn’t take long. Simply go to the  “My eBird” tab and click on “Download My Data”.  From there click the submit button and your data will be emailed to you.  What to do with that data is another topic.