Atterbury Big May Day

I don’t remember the last time I spent the entire day birding. I’m aware others do it weekly. As I have stated the constant running and searching feels good in the moment but I never seem to remember what happened on those days. Not as enjoyable as birding one location for hours and living in the moment. But Saturday for the fifth year I did an Atterbury Big May Day for Johnson County portion for the Indiana Audubon Society Big May Day.

The day started well with all the expected owls – Eastern Screech-Owl, Barred Owl, and Great Horned Owl – calling on cue. I even had a bonus Common Nighthawk fly in front the car as I was leaving the Barred Owl area.

After owling the day started with haze coming off the wet fields.
One of the first daylight birds was a lone Green Heron watching from the mist.

This year I tried something different. With Turkey Season closing the interior of Atterbury until 1PM I planned stops along the roads and tried to bird those areas for a certain time. This is in the hope I can more or less repeat the run every year.

Dickcissels were out in force in the small grassland area on my route.

Uncommon findings were Red-breasted Nuthatch and Black Vulture.

If the Red-breasted Nuthatch hadn’t been singing its toy trumpet call I would have missed it. This is the latest date I’ve seen one in the Midwest.
The Black Vulture was on the east side of Atterbury where I have seen one previously. I assume they have moved this far north and aren’t enough people looking to note the increase.
This American Coot was the only one the group saw on the day. I don’t think he’ll be here much longer.

At lunch the group tallied up the species and we were in the 120’s with no shorebirds except for Killdeer. My afternoon plan was to hike into Atterbury for rails and on to shorebirds.

The rail search was a bust, probably the high water. I started meandering home crisscrossing the county checking fields I knew held water after heavy rains. The plan proved fruitful as I added 8 additional species on the day.

A  female Mallard was sharing a flooded field with a Solitary Sandpiper.
One of the fields which can only be viewed in late afternoon but more importantly when the big dog isn’t around, had a Semipalmated Plover and Least Sandpipers.
The field that last year produced a Bonaparte’s Gull had a Pied-billed Grebe along with Spotted Sandpiper and Lesser Yellowlegs. The shorebirds aren’t in the photo.
Atterbury Big May Day
And a lone Northern Shoveler was swimming among the Mallards.

I failed while trying to flush snipe at a local marsh but flushed an American Woodcock as a bonus prize.

Reaching the county line around 7:30 I decided to call it a day. After 14 hours I once again proved by putting in the time will usually produce a good count.

Horned Grebe Molting

One of my favorite times of the year is the last of March and first of April. That’s the time Common Loon and Horned Grebe in Johnson County. And if really lucky Bonaparte’s Gull and Red-breasted Merganser. Outside of Lamb Lake in the far SW of the county the large lake at Driftwood SFA is the only spot deep enough for those species. After a couple of attempts I eventually found those species, especially some Horned Grebe molting, but not in Johnson County.

I had looked for the above species at Driftwood the last weekend in March without any luck. So I was hopeful for this past weekend.

Mike and I met up early Saturday and in the cold proceeded to check out several locations in Johnson County. Mike was hopeful for Rusty Blackbirds and I was just glad to be outdoors away from work. I saw several FOY birds and Mike added Wild Turkey at Johnson County Park.

Late morning Mike had to take off so I checked Driftwood. Lots of Tree Swallows, but no loons or grebes.

The lone bird singing at Driftwood was a lone Brown Thrasher.

So with the weather a little warmer Sunday I made a run up to Marion County’s Geist Reservoir. Upon exiting the car I could hear the roar of BIG boat engines. I hadn’t thought about fisherman being out. But as chance would have it I arrived before the boaters were out in full force and could scan the lake.

The view from the dam at Geist Reservoir.
Common Loons were staying on the far side of the reservoir.
As noted above the Common Loons weren’t near until this one popped up right in front. It then immediately dove and I never saw it again.
The boaters were periodically flushing the waterfowl. With their white wing patches and body pattern these Red-breasted Merganser were easy to ID. Even at a distance.
Just to confirm the ID I took a photo at the max zoom of the P900. Even at this zoom and in bad sunlight it’s at least a confirming photo of the Red-breasted Mergansers. With the zoom it allows me to leave the spotting scope in the car.
Now for the feature species. A non-breeding plumage Horned Grebe.
Horned Grebe Molting
A Horned Grebe going into breeding plumage.

And now a photo that will go into my personal Top 10.

I’m not sure I have ever seen Horned Grebes in both breeding and non-breeding plumage this close together. Let alone photographed them. I wish the lighting would have been brighter.

Mainly Celery Bog Sunday

I had to head back to Lafayette again this weekend. This time I had 4 hours to bird on Sunday. So just like last weekend I took the time to bird another spot that I hadn’t birded before, Celery Bog in West Lafayette.

But first a few words on Saturday. I tried for rails at a small wetland area in Shelby County just across the road from Johnson County. No luck. The habitat almost looks good for rails, but I’m thinking it is too overgrown. But I’ll try again.

I then checked the flooded fields south of Franklin. There were SOLITARY SANDPIPERS but not any other shorebirds.

SOSA (2)
This is one of 3 Solitary Sandpipers hanging out in a flooded field south of Franklin. 3/16/16

The bulk of Saturday morning was spent at Laura Hare Preserve. I was searching for HERMIT THRUSH, WINTER WREN, and LOUISIANA WATERTHRUSH. I ended up seeing one Hermit Thrush and 3 Louisiana Waterthrushes. But no photos.

And the reason for no photos was because I finally got a new camera. A Nikon Coolpix P900. Which I wasn’t having much luck with Saturday. So the time at Celery Bog was as much for birding as to take the time to learn the camera.

One could get use to birding Celery Bog on a regular basis. Nice habitat and access. I spent 2-1/2 hours walking the length of the area.

The most abundant bird after AMERICAN COOTS and TREE SWALLOWS were YELLOW-RUMPED WARBLERS. I had a minimum of 25.

AMCO (9)
I had to try a waterfowl shot with my new camera, this American Coot was the subject. Celery Bog, W. Lafayette 3/17/16
TRES (4)
Tree Swallows were numerous in the dead trees along the water’s edge. Celery Bog, W. Lafayette 3/17/16
YRWA (9)
A few photos of the numerous Yellow-rumped Warblers. I don’t remember ever hearing them call as much as they did Sunday. Celery Bog, W. Lafayette 3/17/16
YRWA (21)
Yellow-rumped Warbler
YRWA (24)
Yellow-rumped Warbler

There were also a fair assortment of waterfowl and my FOS GREAT EGRET.

GREG (2)
A distant shot of a Great Egret to show the zoom capabilities. Celery Bog, W. Lafayette 3/17/16
GREG (1)
A zoomed shot of the egret, nowhere near the max zoom. Celery Bog, W. Lafayette 3/17/16

I heard a BLACK-THROATED GREEN WARBLER calling in the woods which I hadn’t expected. It stuck to the tops of the trees but I did manage a few shots.

BTNW (3)
A Black-throated Green Warbler got my attention doing his zee zee zoo zee call. Celery Bog 3/17/16

BTNW (9)

BTNW (6)

The highlight of the day came at the end of the walk. There was a RED-SHOULDERED HAWK ahead on the path. I watched it eating something and then it seemed to carry it away. A mouse a maybe?

Here is the sequence of events.

RSHA (4)
1
RSHA (12)
2
RSHA (15)
3
RSHA (18)
4
RSHA (19) Celery Bog
5

And just so you know I wasn’t sold on the camera after Saturday. But the day at Celery Bog swayed my opinion. I think the improved photos show that.

I’ll blog about the new camera soon and keep reviewing it through migration.

 

And Now for Something Completely Different – Lake Birding in an Arid World

After wrapping up at Colorado National Monument I had the choice to either try for cooler (as in temperature) birds at elevation or spend the afternoon at the only large lake in the area. Since a breeze had picked up I figured it wouldn’t be so warm around the lake. I was kinda right.

It took about an hour to get to Fruitgrowers Reservoir outside Delta, CO.  I know I said I didn’t want to drive that much but not really many options if I was going to beat the heat. The lake tuned out to be good-sized with absolutely no people around.  None. Just like the morning it was quiet but in a different way.

Then I read a sign that explained why. There was to be no water contact by people – no swimming, no fishing, no boating.  The lake has a high level of phosphorous pollution and from reading on the internet it has for some time.  So why is safe for birds? I don’t know.

But even though it was polluted and it was quiet, there were birds. The lakes’ north end had a road that cut off the lake from a low area that was a large cattail marsh.  So I walked the road observing grebes, pelicans, and gulls to one side and blackbirds, coots, and herons on the other side.

The road had very little traffic and it made for a wonderful afternoon. Even in 100F temperature!

And it reminded me of when we lived in Illinois.  I have written how I would go to LaSalle Lake almost every summer afternoon and watch the gulls. Often in 90F or higher heat. So this brought back pleasant memories and reminded me how much I like the heat.

Seriously.

And just like those Sunday afternoons of searching through all the Ring-billed Gulls for Laughing Gulls or searching the Caspian Terns for a Royal and usually coming up short, I never could turn a Western Grebe into a Clark’s.

P1230278
Fruitgrowers Reservoir looking from the road over the lake.
P1230277
Looking SE at a group of American White Pelicans in the distance.
P1230280
The view to the north over the marsh area adjacent to the road.
P1230260
Western Grebe and family. How do they choose which young one gets to ride on Mom? First come? First serve?
P1230254
So I guess I did get a closer photo of a Black-chinned Hummingbird.
P1230284
I initially thought the 5 gulls hanging around were Ring-billed Gulls but after a closer I’m pretty sure they are California Gulls. I did not spend a lot of time studying them with all the other species around.
P1230263
I had the best views of my life of Yellow-headed Blackbirds. There were numerous male and females flying around. The males did not appreciated me and kept giving their strange call.
P1230291
Definitely the best looks of female Yellow-headed Blackbirds.
P1230289
More babies. There were a couple of American Coots around and this one came out with her red-headed young.
P1230287
And at the end of the road the American White Pelicans were feeding in a small pool surrounded by Great Blue Herons. I never did see any shorebirds even though there was good habitat.

And reaching the end of the road and being out for more than several hours in the heat it was time to head back.

Four Things I learned this Past Weekend 3/14/15

1. An American Woodcock has decided to call the woods behind our condo home.  Maybe he does every year but this is our first spring here.  I heard him “penting” both Saturday and Sunday. Along with 2 Great Horned Owls.  But I already knew they were there.

2. Why it’s called a Ring-necked Duck. You think after birding for several years now I would know that answer.  But I guess I never gave it a thought. I spent an hour sketching a male and female Ring-necked Saturday afternoon.  When I get home I always check my Sibley’s and National Geo to see what I missed.  The faint spur on the female was the only thing I hadn’t notice.  And the following in NG’s description of the male – “narrow cinnamon collar is often hard to see in the field.”  What cinnamon collar?  I’ve never noticed one.

036
The cinnamon collar should be at the base of the neck. Not here. Meijer’s Pond, Marion County 3/14/15
039
OK, I can see a faint hint of cinnamon on the front of the neck. Barely. I’ll keep looking.

3. If you live in the Midwest, you need to find yourself either a cornfield by a river that floods or better yet, a cornfield that never drains.  I can’t tell you how many times I have found waterfowl or shorebirds in a field that retains its water.  My local one contained Canada Geese, Mallards, Blue-winged Teal, Green-winged Teal, Northern Shovelers, American Wigeon, Lesser Scaup, and American Coots.  I looked for shorebirds but only Killdeer.  The only problem with a flooded field is that the waterfowl is usually on the side away from you and the shim makes it hard to see.

001
The local flooded field.

I also had Canvasback, Redheads, Ring-necked Ducks, and Hooded Mergansers at the local retaining ponds.

P1210101
Lesser Scaup
P1210112
Hooded Mergansers
P1210142
Sleeping Redheads
P1210093
Confused American Coots. Not sure which way to go.
1213
Canvasback

4. Sandhill Cranes like to stop and regroup. A lot.  I had 4 flocks totaling 600 birds fly over and only one group kept to the V pattern and kept moving.  The other three looped several times before making a rough V and flying on.

1272
Circling and circling.
1258
Starting to make a V.
1285
Finally half of the flock broke off and made a V. I mean a A.

And a few other photos.

P1210154
Mourning Dove
1204
Nice Day Sunday to be out in the sun.