Virginia Rail Grunting – Weekend Highlight

In my last post I ended by stating I’d use Wilson’s Snipe as an example of something I think is a bigger problem. That post isn’t ready yet but it will address the lack of fresh water marshes. Since I love marshes and I had Friday off, I headed to one of two I know locally. And I was rewarded with both a Sora calling and a Virginia Rail grunting.

Friday morning’s birding at Atterbury FWA was broken into two habitats, heavy woods and open grasslands walking to the marsh. Both areas are close together so in total I didn’t cover more than a mile in the whole morning.

The Woods

The woods produced several FOY species but little in the way of photos. Though I heard numerous Yellow-throated Warblers none where ever out in the open. The surprise of the day was a Nashville Warbler in the brush as I was viewing a White-throated Sparrow.

Blue-gray Gnatcatchers seemed to be every in the woods.
And Northern Parulas were calling all along the river road.

Has happens every year I forget the call of the Ruby-crowned Kinglet. Luckily more than one was calling so I got to hear it often.


To access the marsh one must walk along woods and through a grassland area.

The marsh is out there beyond the tall Sycamore.

After exiting the woods I was momentarily stymied by a call. A simple loud call from the grass. It took a minute but it finally dawned it was a Henslow’s Sparrow. On the day I would hear six in the area.

A usually secretive Henslow’s Sparrow was out calling on territory.

The Wetland – Virginia Rail Grunting

I needed to check the rails since the next few weekends will have early Turkey Season and the off road areas are closed until after 1PM. I have only heard a couple Virginia Rails at this marsh so I wasn’t hopeful.

The area I listen for rails is down and to the left, a couple hundred yards away.
Swamp Sparrows were great company while waiting to hear any rails call.

I arrived at the listening spot and played one Sora recording. Immediately a Sora replied with its descending call. And then it was time to wait. I have learned if a Virginia Rail is going to call it will take a few minutes after the recording. I learned this last year when they called as was leaving. Since then I wait 5-10 minutes and see what happens.

To capture the call I turned on the camera’s video/audio and waited. The following came at minute 6 of the recording, which shows how long it takes the Virginia Rail to respond. I was preparing to leave when I finally heard the call. So the static in the first few seconds are me preparing to walk.

Turn up your volume and listen. The Virginia Rail grunting starts at 8 seconds.

VIRA Atterbury

After lunch the temperature was approaching 80F and the birds were quieting down. A leisurely walk at Johnson County Park produced a couple of FOY birds.

virginia rail grunting
An Eastern Kingbird was a surprise. I thought they were still a week or so away from arriving.
Not a FOY but I liked the color on this American Kestrel.

Northern Flicker Drumming – Colorado Day 3

The plan was to wrap up the December Colorado trip with one more blog. But after reviewing the photos from the final days I came up with several more posts. A couple travelogue type posts and a couple about things that caught my interest. Day 3’s morning was an enjoyable one in the field with a long walk at a state park. Strictly a travelogue day which means not any one highlight but many good views and observations. I’ll go with a Northern Flicker drumming to show my improving video talent. Ha!

Another cool day began at the James M. Robb part of the Colorado River State Park. Once again I had a park to myself.
The park appears to be a series of reclaimed gravel pits. A cold Great Blue Heron kept guard on the lake.
Even though I’m only a mile from Grand Junction the lone noise was a freight train. Plus, the view was great.
The park’s staff had left several dead trees, this one by a pond where an American Kestrel kept lookout. I think he was hunting sparrows in the brush alongside the pond.
Ruby-crowned Kinglets were prevalent on the trip, something I wasn’t expecting. (The Ruby is barely seen in the photo) I’m going to have a separate blog post concerning Ruby-crowned Kinglets in a few weeks.
Wood Ducks were at the park, also not expected. They’ll be featured in the Ruby-crowned Kinglet post.

There were numerous Dark-eyed Juncos but they too are getting a separate blog.

The call of the Spotted Towhee was perplexing until he popped out of the shadows. The call was much louder and grating than I remembered. Or was it the still morning’s air?

A White-crowned Sparrow Tree.
I’ve learned Song Sparrow’s coloring can vary greatly in the Midwest. This Colorado bird seems to be even redder than I remember at home.
Northern Flicker Drumming
As noted above the park’s staff had left many dead trees for birds, like this Northern Flicker.

Now the following isn’t a good video. I was playing around with the video and thought I had a focused video of a Northern Flicker drumming. Turns out there was a small branch in the way. But I had fun in the field watching and recording.

Turn up the volume to catch the Northern Flicker Drumming.

NOFL Drilling

I wrapped up the morning’s walk with a good mix of species – waterfowl, raptors, and songbirds. I encountered three separate Bewick’s Wrens but like any wren they didn’t come out long enough for a photo.

Eastern Screech-Owl – Weekend Highlight

First of all does anyone know why the ABA uses a hyphen between Screech and Owl in Eastern Screech-Owl and other lists like Clement’s don’t? Have you tried doing a comparison between the two lists using lookup software? Doesn’t work so easy. Why can’t we be consistent in the naming of species?

Anyway, the goal for the weekend was to find an Eastern Screech-Owl closer to home than sites I know in the Atterbury- Johnson County Park Area. On my weekend birding I have been keeping an eye out for the right habitat and think I know of 3-4 places that might have them.

After the wind and rain of Saturday, Sunday morning was a perfect day to check. The air was crisp and cold with no wind. I don’t go out real early since I have discovered Eastern Screech-Owls will respond to a recording about an hour before sunrise.

Arriving around 7AM and making the 5 minute walk I was right on time. It didn’t take but a minute before one and then two showed up. At first I thought I had called in a Barred Owl because the wing span seemed too wide for a screech-owl. Sibley’s lists the wingspan of an Eastern Screech-Owl at 20″, half of a Barred Owl’s. It must have been the dark and the fact the wing goes from the back of the head to almost the end of the tail.

One of the owls must have infringed on the other’s territory because I watched them harass each other off and on for the next 20 minutes. Several times one would fly straight at the other and the receding one would do the screech call flying away.

Finally it was getting light and they flew their separate ways.

I’ll be checking the other sites for Eastern Screech-Owls and also Northern Saw-whet Owls over the course of the winter.

Otherwise my time was reviewing the local species.

Eastern Screech-Owl
I took one photo of the Eastern Screech-Owl with my flash. The red-eye has been removed and the photo has been lightened. 1/1/17
An American Kestrel showing the diagnostic 3 “sideburns” and looking intensely at prey. 1/1/17
Like most of the birds on Sunday American Tree Sparrows were hunkered down in the brush. Franklin Township Community Park 1/1/17
Brown Creepers must not worry about the cold, at least not when the sun came out. Franklin Township Community Park 1/1/17
This Mourning Dove didn’t move on close approach. It was early and it appeared cold. Franklin Township Community Park 1/1/17
The retaining ponds in Greenwood were half-open. Canada Geese, Mallards, and a couple of American Coots were the only species present. Most flew out to the fields right after sunrise. 1/1/17

The 34th Annual JC CBC

This post is basically a repeat of the same one I do about this time of year. This will be the fourth time I have posted about the 34th Annual JC CBC since we moved here in 2013.

The 34th annual Johnson County Christmas Bird Count will be on Sunday, December 18, 2016. The center of the 7.5 mile radius circle is centered south of Indiana 252 and county road 200E.  The circle includes portions of a Johnson, Bartholomew, and Brown counties. It appears at one time the count was called the Atterbury count and changed its name to Johnson County. Maybe a change in the circle’s center?

If you are interested in joining the compiler is Mike Clay and he can be reached at:

mpclay at

If you live in the count circle all feeder reports are welcome.

Mike assigns teams that bird in the morning and then we meet at noon to recap the morning’s count.  After lunch some people continue searching for species missed in the morning.

Approximate Johnson County Christmas Bird Count Circle
The area the Johnson County CBC covers – from Franklin on the north to Sweetwater Lake on the south and west of Trafalgar to east of Edinburgh.

Now for data. The JC CBC count has averaged in the high 60’s for the number of species per count in the 29 years of data I could find on the National Audubon Society site. But the last few years it has averaged around 60 with only a few species of waterfowl seen. My guess is it hasn’t frozen up north and waterfowl hasn’t headed south. If the weather doesn’t change I’m guessing we’ll be around the same total again this year.

Some photos from 2013.

34th annual jc cbc
Our group came across an American Kestrel that had caught a House Sparrow at the Kokomo Elevator. 12/15/16
Eastern Phoebe - Driftwood SFA 121513
A lingering Eastern Phoebe by a natural seep at Driftwood SFA. 12/15/13

Red-tailed Hawk Kiting – Weekend Highlight

After a week of traveling for work I stayed close to home birding. This is rather miss-leading since I would stay close to home for birding anyway. I saw a few migrants but the highlight was watching a Red-tailed Hawk kiting into a southerly wind.

But first, a Swamp Sparrow that was to be the highlight last week but traveling kept me from getting the blog out. Franklin Township Community Park 10/9/16
Mike and I started at the local wet spot which is drying up quickly. Hopefully Sunday’s rain will make a difference. Urban Marion County 10/15/16

On to the local retaining ponds that still don’t have any new waterfowl. We did see a few sparrows – mainly Song but a Lincoln’s and Savannah were mixed in.

Mike headed out and I continued on to the local park for an afternoon of birding.

Before the park I stopped by the new semi-rural area. Not many sparrows but the local American Kestrel was present again. Semi-rural Marion County 10/15/16
The new spot looks like a consistent spot for Eastern Meadowlarks. Next week Horned Larks? Semi-rural Marion County 10/15/16

The park held several migrants including my FOS Golden-crowned Kinglet and Brown Creeper. A getting kind of late Black-throated Green Warbler was in a moving mixed flock.

Ruby-crowned Kinglets were present with this one showing a little of the Ruby. Franklin Township Community Park 10/15/16
Once again Yellow-rumped Warblers were everywhere in the park. Franklin Township Community Park 10/15/16
Nothing special but I liked the way this Mourning Dove was low to the ground hiding by the fence. Franklin Township Community Park 10/15/16

The highlight of the day was watching a Red-tailed Hawk kiting motionless into a 20mph wind. It was amazing how long it stayed hanging in one spot!

rtha-4 red-tailed hawk kiting
The Red-tailed Hawk stayed in this one position long enough for me to take several photos without it ever leaving the field of view. Meaning it never moved. Franklin Township Community Park 10/15/16
I watched it for quite a while but it never did dive into the high grass for a meal. Franklin Township Community Park 10/15/16

Missing Canada Geese

Since the last couple of weekends were warm and hazy which didn’t allow for photos it was good the weather changed to cold, clear, and windy. Maybe a little too cool since I wore long underwear Saturday but at least I could take photos without wondering if they would be too dark.

Saturday started out by checking if any Great Egrets were still at the local wet area. Sure enough there are still seven there, along with Blue-winged Teal and shorebirds, but missing Canada Geese? I was there long before sunrise and they weren’t flying away as I approached. Past weekends there have been up to 500 geese present before sunrise waiting to fly off to feed. Like in early September when I posted about their early morning flight. Where can that many geese go?

combs-2 missing Canada Geese
The local wet area has no Canada Geese where previously there had been hundreds. Where did they go? But the remaining Great Egrets were still present. Urban Marion County 10/8/16

After an hour of counting Killdeer and seeing if the local Cooper’s Hawk would make a second pass for breakfast, I headed to the retaining ponds to see if any new waterfowl had moved in with the passing front.

And that answered where the missing Canada Geese had gone!

I’m guessing the Canada Geese have decided to roost in the local retention pond since the wet area has become too shallow. The count was the same as the wet area has been on previous weekends – 500. Urban Johnson County 10/8/16
It wasn’t long before most of the geese headed to the fields. The noise didn’t seem to bother this Belted Kingfisher. Urban Johnson County 10/8/16


After the Canada Geese left I stayed to see what else might be around the ponds. I could see the geese in the fields feeding in the recently harvested corn fields.

After a half hour all of the Canada Geese went up in a panic. What would cause them to take flight? I never laid eyes on the cause but I know there are Bald Eagles that fly through. Urban Johnson County 10/8/16

The rest of the morning was searching for migrants. The new semi-rural site produced several raptures plus Vesper and Lincoln Sparrows.

How come I’m never on the right side of the wind to capture American Kestrels hovering? Semi-rural Marion County 10/8/16

I noticed a definite drop in Blue Jays flying through with only one flock of 15.

Ruby-crowned Kinglets were on the move both Saturday and Sunday. Franklin Township Community Park 10/9/16
As were Yellow-rumped Warblers with 25 seen in a concentrated area. Franklin Township Community Park 10/9/16
Showing off its signature ID. Franklin Township Community Park 10/9/16
This Tennessee Warbler was the only warbler I stumbled across Sunday. Franklin Township Community Park 10/9/16

I’ll be back in the next post with photos of the Weekend Highlight.

Philadelphia Vireos – Weekend Highlights

Saturday was spent helping with the Indy Urban BioBlitz. The rain wasn’t cooperating but it eventually stopped and some birding was done. I couldn’t attend the wrap up though I later heard the group had over 50 species. My most unusual sighting was an Osprey lazily flying over the south side of Garfield Park.

The only photograph I took at the Indy-Urban-BioBlitz was of an American Kestrel being harassed by the local Blue Jays. Garfield Park, 9/17/16

I wasn’t in any hurry to start Sunday morning and thought I’d bird the local park for an hour or so. I walked the perimeter of the park and ended up hitting a few waves so the hour turned into three hours. The morning was hot and muggy at times since the park was still damp from rain. That meant wearing the hot rubber boots. 🙁

The best time was spent watching two Philadelphia Vireos feeding along the edge of the south side. They would feed in and out of the Walnut trees which allowed good looks.

phvi-3 Philadelphia Vireos
I first caught sight of the two Philadelphia Vireos feeding out in the open along the tree line. Franklin Community Township Park 9/18/16
They were often out in the open but always seemed to have a twig between us. Franklin Community Township Park 9/18/16
Notice the bright yellow breast which differentiates it from other vireos. Franklin Community Township Park 9/18/16

Other highlights were a Sharp-shinned Hawk that I first thought was the local Cooper’s Hawk until I realized it was a miniature version. I heard three Yellow-billed Cuckoos on different sides of the park, saw and heard numerous Swainson’s Thrushes, and my first Red-winged Blackbirds in weeks. Also several warblers including a Golden-winged and my annual fall Bay-breasted.

Not even close to a good photo but my first Red-winged Blackbirds in weeks. This will be the topic of a blog in the near future. Franklin Community Township Park 9/18/16
One of the unique colors of Midwest birding is the green of a Chestnut-sided Warbler. We call it lime green but to my eye it isn’t quite that color. Franklin Community Township Park 9/18/16
A Great Crested Flycatcher came out during one of the waves to see what was happening. Franklin Community Township Park 9/18/16
Brown Thrashers are starting to appear after lying low in August. I had a group of three moving together. Franklin Community Township Park 9/18/16
My feeble attempt to photograph a Chimney Swift. This guy was close so I gave it a try. Franklin Community Township Park 9/18/16

It was an enjoyable outing with over 40 species, many of them actually showing on the edge of the woods.

Whip-poor-will/Bell’s Vireo – Y or N

After Saturday’s hike which turned up White-crowned Sparrows I set out Sunday to see once and for all if Atterbury FWA had EASTERN WHIP-POOR-WILL.  Plus check for NORTHERN BOBWHITE and the returning BELL’S VIREO.


This would be the second time in two years I was going to make sure there were no EASTERN WHIP-POOR-WILLS at Atterbury FWA. Sunday’s forecast was perfect for checking – Full Moon, Clear, and Calm Winds.

MOON (2) Looking for Whip-poor-will.
The early morning was perfect for checking for Eastern Whip-poor-wills.

When I arrived it was perfect conditions. I listened at 6 places between 4:50 – 5:40 AM.

The result is I’m pretty confident there are NO Eastern Whip-poor-wills at Atterbury FWA.

It took several years to find a whip-poor-will spot in my home county in Illinois, so I’m not done yet looking in Johnson County.

But I did hear numerous BARRED OWLS with one actually landing by the car for a good view. And of course the chats were chatting in the dark.

Northern Bobwhite

I proceeded to the NW part of Atterbury to listen for Northern Bobwhite. The area has been off-limits for the past several weekends for Spring Turkey Season.  I walked for a couple of miles – no luck there either as the area has had a controlled burn.

EATO (3)
Eastern Towhees were quite numerous singing in the morning daylight.


I remembered the park manager saying she had seen a Northern Bobwhite by her office. So I headed the mile east to sit and eat breakfast by a large field north of her office. In a couple of minutes I heard bobwhite calling. Another specifies tied down for the IAS Summer Count.

Bell’s Vireo

The last species I was checking was to see if the Bell’s Vireo had returned to the same area of Johnson County Park. I no sooner got out of the car and one was singing in the same bush as last year, giving great views. Then another came along and they flew off. But one kept singing hidden in a nearby bush.

BEVI (3)
Except for a short period last year I don’t think I have ever seen a Bell’s Vireo out in the open for this long.
BEVI (4)
Later a second bird which looked like a Bell’s Vireo chased this one off its perch. Maybe that’s why it was singing so long in one spot? Staking out his territory?
This Chipping Sparrow landed down the road when I was watching the Bell’s Vireo.
The resident American Kestrel watching the events at the Johnson County Horse Park.

And that was a very good end to the weekend or so I thought until I came across the COMMON GALLINULE.

Just Waiting Around…

The Doldrums are still present.  But I can start to see a slight movement in the migratory sails which means we should slowly start moving toward full migration. But basically I’m still just waiting around…

I got an offer from Don G. to head to Goose Pond Saturday but after picking up a cold from basically being on the road for the past 2 weeks, I had to pass. So Mike and I hit some spots in Johnson County with the hope of seeing some early migrants plus add to our paltry 2016 Johnson County Lists.

Looking at the following cut from chart from eBird’s Indiana Bar Chart, you can see which species start migrating in early to mid-March.

Indiana March Migrants
March migrants to Indiana boxed in yellow. – eBird Bar Charts

Our main targets were Eastern Phoebe and Tree Swallow, but the day turned out to be cloudy and cold and with the passing of a cold front, the winds turned to the W and then NW. So not a great day for migrating birds. Or photos for that part.

So birding turned out to be like any other winter’s day. Looking for waterfowl and sparrows and waiting for spring and migrants to arrive.

And outside of one stop most of the birds were either single or in a pair.

You know it’s slow when a photo of a pair of Mallards is about as good as it gets. Franklin HS 3/5/16
Or a Canada Goose at Irwin park in Edinburgh. Then again I can’t say I have ever posted a photo of a lone Canada Goose. 3/5/16
There was one, and only one, bird at Driftwood. A distant and a lone Ruddy Duck. 3/5/16

So we saw a pair of MALLARDS at Franklin High School, a pair of CANADA GEESE at Irwin Park, a lone RUDDY DUCK at Driftwood, and a lone WOOD DUCK with a pair of RING-NECKED DUCKS at Atterbury.  Like I said, all singles or pairs and that was it.

Except for Lowe’s Pond in Franklin. Which was good to see since the pond has been hit and miss this winter.

There was a good mixture of Lesser Scaup, Redheads, American Coots, Mallards, and Canada Geese at Lowe’s Pond in Franklin. 3/5/16

Mike took a few shots with his camera.

IMG_4202_Redheads_Franklin IN
Some of the 40+ Redheads that were at Lowe’s pond. 3/5/16
IMG_4200 redhead male_Franklin walmart
A good flight shot of one of the Redheads that took off flying when it thought we were getting close. The others disagreed and just kept swimming. 3/5/16

We concluded the day at Johnson County Park coming across a large flock of sparrows at the usual spot. We ended up with over 10 each of SONG, WHITE-THROATED, and WHITE-CROWNED SPARROWS. Plus a few EASTERN TOWHEE, AMERICAN TREE, and a lone FOX SPARROW which Mike spotted and I really didn’t get a good look at. So not on 2016 list yet.

IMG_4204 kestrel male JC Park
The male American Kestrel that was hunting at Johnson County Park. The female was just a little higher up in the tree. 3/5/16

Hopefully the south winds and warmer temperatures forecast for this week will change things around. The Doldrums are getting old.

Using a Photo for the ID

While driving out of Atterbury FWA last Saturday I noticed an AMERICAN KESTREL on a wire. Not that unusual at that location.

An American Kestrel checking out dinner in the adjacent field. Atterbury FWA 11/7/15

I pulled over for a photo and then noticed another smaller bird this side of the kestrel. The smaller bird was to far away to make out a positive ID through my binoculars. So I took a few longer distance photos.

What I could make out through my binoculars.

  1. The bird looked yellowish. Kind of like a winter American Goldfinch.  But the shape was wrong. Not plump like a goldfinch.
  2. From the way it was sitting on the wire maybe a Vesper Sparrow? But that didn’t seem correct either.  Something about the face was wrong.
  3. The bird then flew and even hearing the song as it flew away didn’t help. Once again it sounded kind of like an American Goldfinch.

So hopefully one of the photos would be good enough to make a call on the ID.

And one was!

Something I hadn’t seen before, an American Pipit on a wire. I think that through me off the ID in the field. Atterbury FWA 11/7/15

And one quick glance showed it was an AMERICAN PIPIT. Note the long, narrow bill and how its slim appearance.

It’s not that unusual for me to use a photo to confirm an ID away from the Midwest, but I can honestly say this is the first time in a long time that I used a photo to ID a bird locally. I think it has to do with the fact I know the local birds fairly well. And this is one of the few times I have seen an American Pipit. And never seen one up on a wire.

Once again it shows to keep reviewing birds that might be coming through your area. Something I have been neglecting…