Totally Unsuspected Long-billed Curlew

Let me set the scene. Wrapping up birding Rabbit Valley I now had the challenge of where to bird in the late-morning 90 degree heat. I’d decided to check Brewster’s Ridge on the Utah border where Scott’s Oriole, a more southwestern species, had been reported. But instead I encountered a totally unsuspected Long-billed Curlew.

Brewster’s Ridge as seen from Rabbit Valley.
The view of the arid plateau goes on and on…

Brewster’s Ridge is a high, very dry plateau which I’d visited on a previous trip. Even though I knew early morning would’ve been better for finding singing orioles, I thought I might get lucky anyway. So I drove slowly through the arid land listening for birds in the sparse Pinyon-Juniper woodlands. With very little wind the trailing dust from the gravel roads hung behind the car. But the windows were open as I continued to listen for singing birds.

And I did encounter a few.

Loggerhead Shrikes were plentiful in this environment.
My daughter liked the “do” on this Ash-throated Flycatcher.

But not much else was happening on the plateau in the noonday heat. After a half hour I spotted a large bird in a small tree. I figured it was the Red-tailed Hawk I’d seen circling a few minutes earlier.

A Red-tailed Hawk kept me company on the plateau seeing as there wasn’t anything else moving.

But the bird was the wrong shade of brown for a Red-tailed Hawk. Since it was a large bird the thought of a Golden Eagle did cross my mind.

Then suddenly the bird turned into two birds. One went to the ground and the other flew into a nearby tree.

Totally Unsuspected Long-billed Curlew
An out of focus photo I took in my haste to catch the Long-billed Curlewgliding.

From the bill and call the species was obvious.

A Totally Unsuspected Long-billed Curlew!

I was in complete amazement that a shorebird, especially a large shorebird, might be nesting and breeding in such an arid environment. And unless I was completely missing it there was no water for miles.

The presumed male landed in a nearby tree and kept me entertained with his constant calling.

The male, I assume, stayed in the tree calling while the female continued on the ground feeding. I’m thinking they were a pair so I didn’t linger around long in case they were nesting in the area. But in the short time I watched I got good looks and video of the both birds.

The presumed female feeding in the tall grass.

Now I often beat myself up for not reading my field guides in enough detail. But in this case I didn’t feel so bad. I at least knew Long-billed Curlew were in the area. And I assumed they’d be around the few bodies of waters or small man-made reservoirs. And reading my field guide after the encounter it states to look around the prairie potholes. There were no potholes or water anywhere.

So yes, they were totally unexpected Long-billed Curlew and another case of “you never know what you’ll find unless you look.”

At a later date I’ll post more photos and videos of the curlews.

And yes I whiffed on the Scott’s Orioles.

Redemption Wednesday

I’m hoping for redemption today with a few photos from Sunday. Saturday the wind gusts were blowing at greater than 25MPH in the open areas which meant taking photos of grasslands birds tough. I still tried to take photos of distant birds though. And the photos from the woods weren’t any better with the overcast skies and light rains.

Sunday afternoon I went to the central part of Atterbury FWA. That part of Atterbury is closed daily until 1PM for Spring Turkey Season. So to see if it will be worth birding next Saturday on the IAS Big May Day Count I went bushwhacking after 1PM. I did come across several species that might be needed if not found in the morning Saturday. The lighting wasn’t much better with overcast skies but they weren’t the heavy clouds. I got a few photos which hopefully will redeem myself.

Henslow's Sparrow - redemption from Saturdays's so-so photo.
Confirmed a Henslow’s Sparrow was still present at the same location as last year. A much better photo than the one on Saturday.
LISP (6)
I stumbled across a Lincoln’s Sparrow which wasn’t in any hurry to jump back in the undergrowth.
LISP (1)
Same Lincoln Sparrow looking around. Note the buffy color.
LISP (9)
Easily my best photos of a Lincoln’s Sparrow.
GCKI (1)
I think the Great Crested Flycatchers are setting up a nest. Its partner wasn’t too far away.
ATFL
To show the contrast in Myiarchus flycatchers, an Ash-throated Flycatcher from Rabbit Valley CO. Note how its plain colors blend in to the habitat and the previous Great Crested blends in to our brighter environment.
BAOR (1)
Always a crowd pleaser when they are out in the open, a colorful Baltimore Oriole.
BAOR (2)
Same Baltimore Oriole in a different tree. I think I must have been close to the nest as it kept moving from tree to tree.
WAVI (2)
And to contrast the colorful oriole here is a drab Warbling Vireo.

Some Points from Observing a Great Crested Flycatcher

I went on a bird walk at Fort Harrison State Park last Sunday morning which is led by Don Gorney. It is always an enjoyable outing, even if the birds aren’t numerous. Which was the case last Sunday.  Here’s Don’s report from IN-Bird.

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One of the few birds that did come out for a good view was an Eastern Wood-Pewee. Fort Harrison SP 9/6/15

I would like to discuss some points that came up from observing a Great Crested Flycatcher. The bird didn’t call and only showed it’s back at first.  Don pointed out that the bird looked “off” for a Great Crested and could it be Indiana’s first Ash-throated Flycatcher? It flew to another tree and really didn’t look as yellow below as a Great Crested usually does. After some thought it was decided the bird was probably a young Great Crested Flycatcher.

We initially only saw the bird from behind with it only giving looks at its back.  In my mind I knew there was something about the pattern of the tertials on a Great Crested (GCFL) versus an Ash-throated (ATFL).  But I couldn’t pull that info from my brain, so I didn’t say anything. And I was too busy watching the bird to ask if anyone had a field guide. OK, I really didn’t think to ask.

GCFL Arrow
The next day I had the same scenario – a bird with it’s back to me. But this time I knew it was a Great Crested Flycatcher after reading up the day before. Notice how the tertials have broad white edges. Franklin Township Park 9/7/15
ATFL Arrow
For comparison this Ash-throated Flycatcher’s tertials aren’t as sharply contrasting. Rabbit Valley CO 6/23/15

The following are some notes to myself.  Use them yourself as you deem necessary.

Point 1 – Always carry a field guide and I don’t care how hot it is.

I usually carry a field guide in my man purse but it was going to be 90 degrees that day and it was already hot and humid.  And carrying the man purse is hot. And don’t remind me I carried one everyday in Colorado in 100 degree weather. So get a nylon one if the canvas one is going to stop you from carrying a field guide.

Point 2 – I’m not so smart that I don’t need to carry a field guide.

I rarely use a field guide in the field anymore.  I usually take good notes and then look things up when I get back to the car.  But it seems the time I usually need it is way out in the field. Like the discrepancy on the tertial feathers of the GCFL.

Back in Illinois the group I birded with had several members that had been birding for over 30 years.  One November we had walked out to a point on a lake to observe loons and grebes, not common birds in north-central Illinois. We ended up seeing both a Red-necked Grebe and Red-throated Loon along with Common Loons.  Luckily someone had the forethought to bring along a field guide or we would never have positively ID the birds. So sometimes it doesn’t matter how long you have birded.

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I didn’t need a field guide to ID this guy. A Green Heron hunting around a pond. Fort Harrison SP 9/6/15

Point 3 – I need to keep reviewing my field guide for the birds I might see this time of year.

If I had been reviewing flycatchers in the last month I would have known the wing feathers and the differences of the adult and juvenile birds.

Point 4 – Keep taking field notes.

Luckily I had used my voice recorder to get a good description of the bird so when we got back I could use them to review. This let me confirm the differences on the flycatchers.

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Swainson’s Thrush were numerous over the weekend. But for me they are hard to photograph since they don’t come out in the open very often. And I had been reviewing them the previous week. Fort Harrison SP 9/6/15

Point 5 – Stay on the bird until I’m sure I have all the info I can get.

The group finally moved on to other birds but I stayed on the GCFL until it finally moved to another tree and then out of sight.  When it flew the second time through the sunlight I could see how bright yellow it was on the underside clinching the GCFL ID.

Point 6 – Keep birding other areas of the United States on a regular basis.

I knew from Colorado the ATFL were a lighter yellow than GCFL. Now would I have remembered if I had taken the trip several years ago instead of last June?

Rabbit Valley CO should be named Lark Sparrow Valley CO

Birding Rabbit Valley was exciting in a different way than the previous Western Colorado habitats. I had never birded a strictly semi-arid environment so the birding would be different than the other days.

I left the motel at 5AM to be at Rabbit Valley by 5:30, a 25 minute drive almost to the Utah border, to listen for Common Poorwill and Common Nighthawk.  The area is a typical sagebrush area with sparse pinyon and junipers mixed in with the sagebrush. It was as quiet as previous days so I should have heard either species if they had been calling.  But no luck. The noise from I-70 could easily be heard, making the day a little different from other days with the constant backdrop of semis.  But it felt good being out early.

Rabbit Valley Sunrise
A view to the east from the entrance of Rabbit Valley.
Rabbit Valley Sunrise 2
Right after sunrise, the view to the Southwest. Not many birds calling.

At dawn around the north entrance there wasn’t much happening except Rock Wrens, Lark Sparrows, and Black-throated Sparrows. So I drove several miles along the north boundary road. Nothing. So I decided to tun around and head back.

ROWR
One of the few birds calling at dawn, a distant Rock Wren. Not on a rock though.

I finally saw a red finch that I hoped might be a Cassin’s Finch. I stopped to check it out and it turned out to be a House Finch and it’s flock.  But the stop proved very productive as I then heard several other birds.  I’m not sure if it was the geographic location, or that the day was finally getting into full swing, or my presence, but the few birds that were there started calling.   So I stayed and birded the area for several hours with good results.

LASP 2
The valley should be called Lark Valley instead of Rabbit Valley. The Lark Sparrows greatly outnumbered the rabbits.
BTSP LASP
I guess when there are few objects to perch on, you had better share with other species. Black-throated and Lark Sparrows.

The area had more Rock Wren and Black-throated Sparrows plus many more Lark Sparrows.  While watching these species I heard a raucous “caw” down the road.  Took me a minute but it dawned on me that it was Pinyon Jays heading my way.  One of the few birds I really wanted to see on the trip.  So I then proceeded to spend probably an hour chasing them around the dry, arid, sagebrush area.  They would fly from bush to bush, never giving good looks, and never coming out in the open except to fly.  But I did get a few looks and in the chase saw several other species.

PIJA
This is about as good of looks as I got of Pinyon Jays. Luckily that would change the next day.
CORA
A Common Raven came to check out all the noise that the Pinyon Jays were making.

A Gray Vireo started calling from the top of a bush giving good looks.  Then Sagebrush Sparrow, Sage Thrasher, Say’s Phoebe, and an Ash-throated Flycatcher all appeared at one time or another. And the Lark Sparrows were still thick.

ATFL 2
Probably my favorite photo from the trip. This Ash-throated Flycatcher was perched nearby while I chased the jays.
Rabbit Valley Landscape
A few from one of the small hills I was going up and over following the Pinyon Jays.
LASP 3
Another Lark Sparrow. I told you they were abundant.
WEME 1
A Western Meadowlark was checking me out as I left the park.

Unlike the previous days I wasn’t at altitude and the day started to warm up quickly. And there was no wind.  Hindsight says I should have walked to Rabbit Canyon and spent the day birding in the shade of the canyon. But it would have been a good walk in the hot sun to get to the canyon since it wasn’t accessible by car, 4WD only.

Rabbit Valley Rough Road
Here is a typical route back to Rabbit Valley. I don’t think the rental car would traverse it very well.

So I headed across to the Interstate to Brewster Ridge were Scott’s Orioles sometimes nest.

Rabbit Valley Sparse Vegetation
This is the view from Rabbit Valley looking up at Brewster’s Ridge to the Northwest. You can see the road cut into the side of the hill on the right side of the photo.

The day was not “officially” hot and there wasn’t anything on Brewster’s Ridge except Black-throated Sparrows.  I got out and walked for a half hour and didn’t hear anything else.

Brester's Ridge
Now on top of Brewster’s Ridge. Not much here…
Brester's Ridge 2
If the reports of Scott’s Orioles nesting in these Junipers were true, which I doubted at the time, they would have to wait until another time.

I then stopped by a local lake that might have birds.  Nothing there. And lastly went by a local wetland that had Prairie Dogs.

Prairie Dog
This guy really didn’t like me be there. He “barked” the whole time I was around.

I then called it an early day at 2PM to go back and catch up on my notes.