Northern Harrier – Weekend Highlight

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.

Here’s a photo of an American Tree Sparrow to show how foggy it was a little after sunrise.

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.

There are two Eastern Meadowlarks in this photo taken from no more than 50 feet.
The more vocal of the two who sang constantly while I was there.
The other one didn’t like I was so close and flew. I’m posting this photo to show the density of the fog.

Then out of the fog came a raptor.

This is the view to the north in the general direction of the meadowlark photos. The visibility has to be less than 100 feet.
Northern Harrier
At first I thought it was the local Red-tailed Hawk. But it didn’t take long from its hunting motion to know it was a Northern Harrier. My first for the local area.
And just like that the Northern Harrier was gone into the fog. Did I really see it? Was it a ghost?

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?

A distant photo of the Sandhill Cranes circling to land (I think) in a nearby field.

 

I’m trying to enlarge a portion of the photo to show the cranes but it didn’t work so well.

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

SE Corner 2016 JC CBC Recap

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.

2016 JC CBC
The strangest encounter of the day was a Ring-billed Gull at Johnson County Park. We don’t see gulls in this area let alone on a frigid day??

At the park’s compost site we saw all the expected sparrows plus a little bit uncommon Field Sparrow.

The American Tree Sparrow were staying low out of the wind to feed. But what else was with them?
We kept thinking there was a Field Sparrow mixed in the flock. “You looking for me?”
Yep, 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.

No waterfowl but a Yellow-rumped Warbler showed nicely at Driftwood SWA.

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.

This is what snipe habitat looks like in the cold of winter. I would be heading south if I was a snipe…
The snipe area also had a Killdeer hidden in the weeds.

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.

Orange-Crowned Warbler?-Weekend Highlight

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.

honker-haven Orange-crowned Warbler?
Only the regulars were at Honker Haven in Atterbury – Canada Geese, Mallards, and Gadwalls. Plus one new addition – Lesser Scaup. Atterbury FWA 11/26/16

Johnson County Park had the previously mentioned sparrows with all of the anticipated ones there in good numbers.

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First a White-crowned Sparrow. Johnson County Park 11/26/16
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Then an American Tree Sparrow. Johnson County Park 11/26/16
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Now both an American Tree Sparrow and White-crowned Sparrow together. I find it fascinating when different species mix together. Johnson County Park 11/26/16
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I’ll let the reader decide the number of Northern Cardinals and White-crowned Sparrows are hiding in the bush. Johnson County Park 11/26/16

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.

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After flushing the Wilson’s Snipe I watched as two flew a big lap before landing in a neighboring field.
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Perfect Wilson’s Snipe habitat – damp, high, marshy grass.

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.

A few photos from the weekend.

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Another billboard going up along I-65?
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Didn’t take long for the local Red-tailed Hawk to use for a hunting spot.
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Watching me – watching you.
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I came across a flock of Dark-eyed Juncos. They didn’t seem to be mixing with the other sparrows in the park??

A Benton County Saturday

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.

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A Vesper Sparrow eating grit in the road close to the car. Rural Benton County 3/9/16

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.

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Number 3 parking area is at the top of the bluff to the right (south) of the road. Walking across the road one can view the water looking to the north. Pine Creek 3/9/16

There were numerous GREATER AND LESSER YELLOWLEGS, plus a few PECTORAL SANDPIPERS. And with the water frozen that was the extent of the birds.

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Greater and Lesser Yellowlegs working along the edge of the frozen water. Pine Creek 3/9/16

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.

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An American Tree Sparrow  that was part of a flock I initially thought were Field Sparrows. Pine Creek 3/9/16

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.

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The closest of the one hundred Blue-winged Teal, but still a distance away. Pine Creek 3/9/16

A RED-TAIL HAWK, AMERICAN KESTREL, and TURKEY VULTURES flew by. It was a very enjoyable walk.

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The local Red-tailed Hawk kept circling overhead, sometimes coming quite close. Pine Creek 3/9/16

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.

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The shorebirds landed at the far left of the photo by the bushes. I slowly started in that direction. Pine Creek 3/9/16

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.

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It all happened so fast this is the best I could do for the Northern Harrier looking for lunch. Pine Creek 3/9/16
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I did catch the Wilson’s Snipe flying away, which helped to definitely ID them. Pine Creek 3/9/16

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.

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One of the Wilson’s Snipe landed a little closer to me. Still not a good photo but enough to ID it. Pine Creek 3/9/16

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.

The Start of the Year – Owling and Swans

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.

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These Trumpeter Swans were about a quarter-mile from the road. But they still stood out easily size-wise compared to the Canada Geese. Johnson County 1/1/16
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I can’t believe that I was disturbing them at this distance but they do appear to be looking right at me. Johnson County 1/1/16
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There were a total of seven adults and this one youngster. Johnson County 1/1/16
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I was thinking of calling a few people about the swans but it wasn’t long until they were heading south. Driftwood SWA 1/1/16

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.

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A sign of the high water. The normal water level is left of the submerged tree line. And this is usually a large sandy beach that I use to scan the lake. Driftwood SWA 1/1/16
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An American Tree Sparrow was obliging on letting me take photos. Driftwood SWA 1/1/16

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.

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A flock of the continuing migration of Sandhill Cranes flew over while I walked Johnson County Park. 1/1/16

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.

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A Red-shouldered Hawk was somewhat of a surprise in the Meijer parking lot. South Indianapolis – 1/1/16

Same Water, Same Birds, Same eBird Report

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.

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A pair of American Kestrels at the local grassland. Greenwood – 11/22/15
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A Savanna Sparrow checking to see who was out in the cold weather. Greenwood – 11/22/15

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.

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The American Tree Sparrows were too distant to get a photo or to show their large numbers. Franklin TCP 11/22/15
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A Red-tailed Hawk taken through the car window. I only post this photo because I’m sure it is the closest I have ever been to a Red-tailed Hawk. Kind of like being in a rehab facility where they are close in a cage. It flew in and landed by the car. I watched it for a few minutes and then it moved on. Greenwood – 11/22/15

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.

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A Northern Mockingbird enjoying the sun. Just like me. Franklin TCP 11/22/15