After a couple of weekends of lousy photo weather I finally have a few photos to pick a highlight. Not saying there are any good photos but at least I have photos to build a story. Especially one about a Northern Harrier.
One of Bob’s Birding Rules (I need to post them) is to turn around and go home when it’s foggy. I should’ve listened to myself and waited until the fog lifted. But I don’t know if it was the crappy weather we’ve been having or traveling for work, but as soon as it was light I was out the door Saturday morning. I knew traveling to the retention ponds the odds of seeing wasn’t good.
Arriving a little before sunrise there wasn’t much fog. But as the day brightened the fog started to build. This really didn’t matter since there wasn’t any waterfowl on the ponds except for a couple of distant Northern Shovelers.
With the warm weather I think the birds thought it was spring. Species I usually don’t hear until March, like meadowlarks, were calling. So I walked the near side of the tree line and listened.
The other side of the tree line where the meadowlarks were calling is the large grass area. I decided to make a quick stop and get a meadowlark count (a minimum of 10 counted) or a photo.
Several of the Eastern Meadowlarks were close to the road allowing foggy photos.
Then out of the fog came a raptor.
I don’t like getting glimpses of birds. Especially ones I don’t see so often. Luckily I saw several Northern Harriers in Colorado so I didn’t feel so bad.
The other odd thing for a January day was a flock of Sandhill Cranes landing near the local park. Odd it’s January and they landed locally. All the rain?
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.
I enjoy reading well written CBC recaps. You know the kind where the compiler takes the time to give an overview of the weather conditions, compare totals to other years, gives high or lows for each species, and misses and gains. Why are there so few written when there are so many CBC’s? Then again why are most reports a picture and few words on FB? Another topic to lament.
Mike will be compiling the total recap for the 2016 JC CBC but the numbers should be above average for the complete count. The groups saw several species we usually miss or see every few years. Plus there was waterfowl on Lamb Lake for the first time in several years.
Now for the SE Corner of the 2016 JC CBC which Megan and I have covered this territory the last several years. The area entrails Johnson County Park, the public side of Atterbury FWA, Driftwood SFA, and Irwin Park in Edinburgh.
We weren’t sure there was even going to be a count because the weather was predicted to be cold, which wasn’t the problem. But a slight coating of ice was also expected. Which we did get. But the main roads were heavily salted and weren’t a problem.
I was out by 6AM and owling by 6:45. I no sooner turned the Eastern-screech Owl recording on and one was within 10 feet. Probably the easiest one I ever called in. Then on to the Great Horned Owl area and it was apparent the side roads were going to be a problem.
I stopped and let hunters drive by and debated if I really wanted to try for Great Horned or not. Seeing as I still had an hour to sunrise and it was Sunday morning, I figured if I took my time I could manage the two miles on ice. Going 15mph the roads were manageable.
This proved to be one of the best birding choices I ever made.
Finally arriving at the location I stood outside the car for 25 minutes listening for the Great Horned Owls to call. I don’t know if it was the wind or weather but I never heard them calling. First time in 5 years I have missed them.
Ten minutes from the listed sunrise of 8AM I decided to get my bagel out of the lunchbox in the back seat. I get the bagel and turn to get into the driver seat.
Not 50 yards away I see a Great Horned Owl fly into a group of pines.
I have listened to this Great Horned Owl many times over the years and have even seen it a couple of times on telephone pole, but now I’m pretty sure I know where it roosts.
And those few seconds of seeing the owl fly into the pines is what keeps me getting up and going birding every chance I get.
We got started late since Megan had issues since her area had even worse roads. We finally started in Johnson County Park where we saw the strangest bird of the day.
At the park’s compost site we saw all the expected sparrows plus a little bit uncommon Field Sparrow.
We continued on over the frozen roads picking up a few species here and there. There was zero on the water at Driftwood SFA.
Mike had seen a Winter Wren at Irwin Park earlier in the week and sure enough it was there Sunday. But it didn’t stay still long enough for any photos for Mike or us. Canada Geese were seen which were the only waterfowl on the day.
After lunch I stopped by the Wilson Snipe area where I flushed three.
Megan and I ended up with 38 species which is just below the territory’s 4-year average of 39. The Field Sparrow was the only new species added. We saw another lone Ring-billed Gull a few years ago so this year was not the first. Frozen ponds led to notable misses of Mallard and Great Blue Heron. Otherwise we saw the expected species in the expected numbers.
Maybe an Orange-crowned Warbler? was the weekend highlight. Maybe not. I’m not 100% sure. More on that towards the end of the post.
I haven’t had much time to either bird or post the last couple of weeks. A week-long trip to Canada for work (no birding involved), catching up from the trip, and then the Thanksgiving Holiday. I could have been out more over Thanksgiving weekend but I spent the time finalizing and preparing for my next birding trip. So I don’t feel like it was wasted time.
I finally had some time over the weekend and knowing there would be sparrows I birded Johnson County Park. I made a stop at Honker Haven at Atterbury FWA and confirmed there still hasn’t been a major movement of waterfowl into the area.
Johnson County Park had the previously mentioned sparrows with all of the anticipated ones there in good numbers.
On the way home I made a stop at the Wilson Snipe location. Taking a casual walk through the marsh flushed 8 snipe. Unless we have a major weather change they should be good for the upcoming Johnson County Christmas Count.
An Orange-crowned Warbler?
I spent a couple of hours Sunday at the local retention ponds watching, sketching, and documenting the movements of the local Red-tailed Hawks. I want to make sure I know them inside and out before an upcoming trip.
While watching one of the Red-tailed Hawks through the spotting scope I heard a loud CHIP in the Mocker Tree. (This is a small tree that has a Northern Mockingbird in it 90% of the time) The chip was loud and persistent. My first thought was a sparrow but I had never heard a sparrow chip this loud. There were nearby Song Sparrows chipping but they were much lower sounding. The chipping bird stayed in the bush and I wrote down it sounded like a repeated CHIK CHIK. I then thought it might be a really agitated Yellow-rumped Warbler, though it didn’t sound right.
The bird flew out of the bush onto the top limb. In the short naked eye glimpse from about 20 feet the bird was small and appeared all yellow. An even quicker look through the binoculars showed it had a slight eye ring (lower and upper crescents?) and was yellow.
And then it flew. My first and last impression was Orange-crowned Warbler. But I’m not confident enough with the short look to confirm. I haven’t heard one chipping in a few years but it sounded like one after listening to its chip on an app immediately after the sighting. Oh well.
After returning from London I took my daughter to Lafayette Saturday morning and the nhad to pick her up in the afternoon. So I took the opportunity to bird a couple of spots in Benton County.
But first let me say it was COLD. According to National Weather Service the temperature at 10AM was 31F with winds out of the NW at 22mph with gusts of 28mph making the Wind Chill 18F. This wasn’t good since I had planned to search for shorebirds in the rain-soaked fields. But they were frozen.
The first stop was a quick one for WESTERN MEADOWLARKS. Immediately upon rolling down the car window I heard and then saw numerous VESPER SPARROWS on the road.
While watching the sparrows I heard a Western Meadowlark calling. Only a couple of meadowlarks flew in the cold, so I’m not sure if I saw an Eastern or Western. But I definitely heard a Western calling.
I then headed to Pine Creek Gamebird Habitat. I didn’t know what to expect with this being my first time there. And it didn’t take long to realize I would be facing the freezing wind to view the shorebirds. But that same cold weather helped by freezing the entire water area everywhere but the water closest to the road. Forcing the shorebirds closer.
There were numerous GREATER AND LESSER YELLOWLEGS, plus a few PECTORAL SANDPIPERS. And with the water frozen that was the extent of the birds.
I then walked the south trail into the sun to thaw my frozen face. A NORTHERN MOCKINGBIRD was flying about as where a flock of AMERICAN TREE SPARROWS.
I then headed to the west trail along the shallow bluff which would keep the wind out of my face. I could then walk back with the wind. The walk was productive since it was now afternoon and the water was beginning to melt.
Over a one hundred BLUE-WINGED TEAL flew in along with NORTHERN SHOVELERS, GREEN-WINGED TEAL, a lone HOODED MERGANSER, and MALLARDS.
A RED-TAIL HAWK, AMERICAN KESTREL, and TURKEY VULTURES flew by. It was a very enjoyable walk.
I then saw a group of shorebirds land in the grass a little further to the north. My first thought was WILSON’S SNIPE since they like moist, grassy areas but I couldn’t be sure. So I took my time heading that way to see if I could get a glimpse.
I noticed a hawk flying low behind the tree line heading straight for the presumed snipe. It came in unexpectedly and almost got them. They immediately flew giving me the chance to ID them.
I’m glad I waited around trying to ID the snipe since I got to see the harrier attack plus more waterfowl kept flying in.
My thoughts from my first visit to the area? Good area for shorebirds and waterfowl with easy viewing and trails for walking. Right up my alley.
If someone knew of a good passerine site in the county, you could probably build a very good county list just visiting those two areas.
Funny how your birding perspective changes on January 1. Birds people haven’t really been interested in except on a superficial level are now important. Need to get them checked off the list so you won’t need to worry about them later in the year. I’d like to say I’m immune to that feeling but I’m not. I think keeping a list and targeting certain birds keeps one going out in the field on a regular basis.
So with that I was up early in the cold on January 1 listening for owls at Johnson County Park. And in pretty quick succession I heard an EASTERN SCREECH-OWL and a BARRED OWL at their usual locations. I started to worry about the GREAT HORNED OWLS but they finally start calling, albeit a little later than usual. With a little extra time I tried for NORTHERN SAW-WHET OWL but to no avail. Since I have heard the 3 normally occurring owls for our area I will continue to try for a Northern Saw-whet.
I took a quick look at one of the local ponds before continuing on and mixed in the 400+ Mallards were 3 NORTHERN PINTAILS and 4 AMERICAN BLACK DUCKS. Those were the first Northern Pintails that I have seen in Johnson County in over a year. Otherwise it continues to be species sparse.
Driving on I noticed large white birds in a flooded field just north of Driftwood SWA. Luckily it was early and a holiday since this was a busy road. How often do you get a break like that? Still thinking they were Snow Geese when I got out of the car I heard the call of a Swan. Not an expert at all but it sounded like the WHOOP of a TRUMPETER SWAN instead of the barking of the Tundra’s. I watched them with cars buzzing by and then headed to Driftwood. And while at Driftwood they went flying by headed south. So I was at the right place at the right time for once.
I can’t find any other records of Trumpeter’s in Johnson County so these could be the first recorded. And as always if I have these ID’d wrong let me know.
On to Driftwood which wasn’t birdy but the water level was very high from all the recent rains. AMERICAN TREE SPARROWS were the highlight with several flocks.
The rest of the day in southern Johnson County was uneventful except for a TURKEY VULTURE that was still present and the continuing migration of SANDHILL CRANES.
In the slightly unusual sightings department I saw a RED-SHOULDERED HAWK fly into a tree at the local Meijer’s store on the way home. I would say it’s an odd location but I have seen both Cooper’s and Red-tailed Hawks in the same area.
The first snow of the year turned out to be a little heavier than anticipated. I should have headed out earlier Saturday morning but the forecast said that first rain and then snow would be here early morning. It never got here until around noon. So by then I thought I would go out and check the local area but then it finally started to snow. And it snowed big, heavy flakes limiting visibility to a few yards. So I waited.
With cabin fever setting in I finally went out around 3:30. The highlight in the freezing wind and cold was adding BALD EAGLE to one of my local patch totals. It explained why the few GADWALL on the pond took off.
Sunday was sunny but cold, so I waited to noon to head out. I was going to head to Johnson County Park but Mike called and said he was already there and not much happening except for 7 RUSTY BLACKBIRDS.
And Mike saw the exact same waterfowl I saw 2 weeks ago at Honker Haven – MALLARD, GADWALL, GREEN-WINGED TEAL. And in almost the same quantities. Otherwise the lakes were clear.
So I decided to stay local.
So I headed to my local ponds.
And just like Mike I saw the same waterfowl on the same ponds that I did 2 weeks ago. MALLARD, GADWALL, NORTHERN SHOVELER, AND PIED-BILLED GREBE. The same species on the same ponds in about the same numbers. I should have just copied my eBird report from 2 weeks ago. And like Mike the other ponds were clear.
Really kind of creepy.
In the years I have been birding I can remember things not changing much in November. But I don’t remember things remaining this static like this for a few weeks.
Maybe the cold will make things move. I hope so since we are getting close to the Christmas Bird Counts.
But there were a few changes this week. One was the lack of TURKEY VULTURES. I think this was the first weekend I hadn’t seen Turkey Vultures since last winter. And AMERICAN ROBINS numbers went from flocks of 100+ to a couple of birds.
And there was one addition. I saw a flock of birds across the field that I assumed was the local European Starling flock. They would fly up and land like distant starlings do. When I eventually made my way to that area the flock flew up out of the grass. Not starlings but my first AMERICAN TREE SPARROWS of the winter and a largish flock at that. My estimate was 55 birds. It was too bad they were distant and the sun was the wrong angle to see of they had any other species mixed in with them.
I spent the rest of the afternoon walking the local park. It was good to be out in the sunshine since I can’t stand the dark, depressing, shorter days of November. Not much outside of the expected species at the park although YELLOW-RUMPED WARBLERS still remain albeit in smaller numbers.