Central Section JC CBC Recap

With some of the usual participants having prior commitments and with the additions of some new members, we slightly shifted areas on the Johnson County Christmas Bird Count. This meant I birded about 2/3 of my usual territory. And with the weather I really don’t think it mattered much. As a group we ended up with 64 species, slightly above our average of 62. The difference this year was lack of waterfowl. So here is my Central Section JC CBC Recap.

As usual I was out listening for owls. I don’t have any problems hearing Great Horned or Eastern Screech-Owls but Barred Owls are problematic. And I missed them again this year. Luckily Mike heard one on the military base side of the count.

About an hour before sunrise I’m out listening for owls. The first time I exited the car I heard a pair of Great Horned Owls calling. And if that was all I heard or saw all day, it would have been enough.

Upon sunrise I saw the small ponds throughout Atterbury FWA had a layer of ice. So no waterfowl. I changed plans and decided to start at Driftwood since it had open water.

The daylight portion started with a Cooper’s Hawk about 15 feet from the car.
Driftwood SFA did have open water but very little waterfowl. A couple of Mallards and Pied-billed Grebes were it.
Several Dark-eyed Juncos perched up high in the early morning light. Trying to warm up?
For the second straight year I found a Field Sparrow mixed in with the Dark-eyed Juncos and American Tree Sparrows. Remember to always look through flocks of sparrows!

After spending the allocated time at Driftwood I headed to Atterbury to check the deeper woods. And yes, I donned my orange vest with the hunters around.

After the Field Sparrow my next best find was a Yellow-bellied Sapsucker. Not a great photo but you can see the yellow on the belly.
The lunch recap showed we were missing Belted Kingfisher. So back to the river where I spotted one on my first stop. I would say I’m good but really just dumb luck.

I did notice on the day the numbers of the more numerous resident winter species like Carolina Chickadee, Tufted Titmouse, and Carolina Wren were higher. And I counted one or two Pileated Woodpecker at every stop.  Which was unusual.

I ended the day with 42 species in my territory which is about normal without the country roads of the 1/3 part I didn’t cover this year. My goal is always 40 which is a little less than the 85-90 I average on the May count for the same territory!

Central Section JC CBC Recap
The daylight potion of the count ended the way it started. With a hawk. This time a Red-shouldered Hawk, which flew in about 50 feet for good looks.

Feisty Winter Wren – Weekend Highlight

After checking the local retention ponds Saturday morning and finding a light layer of ice I wasn’t sure I’d have a weekend highlight. But not getting in a hurry and spending time in the field will almost always produce a highlight. And again this weekend I had several to choose from but the definite highlight was a feisty Winter Wren.

Before we get to Saturday I need to say how good it is to see an old friend.  I haven’t seen the local Great Horned Owl for a couple of months but Friday night at dusk it made an appearance.

At any distance a Great Horned Owl’s silhouette is unmistakable.

Saturday started slow with the temperatures in the low teens. The first hour of the park walk had most of the winter regulars calling. Then one of the local Red-tailed Hawks came gliding into a tree on the wood’s edge. It was joined by another hawk I assumed was its mate. After sitting for a minute they both proceeded to a tall tree with a fork. Are they going to nest there? Stayed tuned for updates.

You can see the Red-tailed Hawk in the fork-portion of the photo’s center. Looks like a good spot for a nest.

Sharp-shinned Hawk – Weekend Runner-Up

Not too long later the local Blue Jays started to go crazy. This meant either a hawk or owl! Before I saw what they were harassing I heard a loud call. A Hawk! And not to long later I see it’s a small hawk. A Sharp-shinned Hawk, a bird I don’t see often.

It’s always fascinating to watch a bird the same size as a Blue Jay harass them right back.

The Sharp-shinned wasn’t having any of the Blue Jay crap. Every time a Blue Jay got close the hawk would go right after it. This went on for at least 15 minutes with the chasing encompassing the entire woods. Most times I watch these encounters the hawk or owl will give up and fly away with the jays in tow. But in this case the hawk kept after them. Finally the group went to the far side of the woods which I couldn’t observe. Eventually the noise lessened up so I assume the hawk moved on.

With the Blue Jays after it the Sharp-shinned Hawk never sat longer enough for a decent photo.

Sunday I checked out the water on Geist Reservoir and then moved on to the trail. Both had highlight candidates.

First was a distant Cackling Goose mixed with Canada Geese. At 600 meters this photo shows the full distance of the P900 camera.
Next I was trying to align the Ring-billed Gull with the moon but also captured a distant plane which I didn’t notice until I got home.
A Belted Kingfisher was patrolling the creek but favored this branch.

Then the Feisty Winter Wren

While walking through the woods checking the Carolina Chickadees, Tufted Titmice, White-breasted Nuthatches, and even a Ruby Crowned Kinglet. I thought I heard a Winter Wren. Giving a little pish a Winter Wren jumped up and wouldn’t stop calling.

Feisty Winter Wren
The feisty Winter Wren seems to be asking “Who’s out there? I know I heard you”.
“Maybe you’re over there?”
“Answer me. I’ll keep calling until you do.” Check out the barring, especially on the tail.

I stood quiet while the Winter Wren proceeded to jump on every limb and branch surrounding me, constantly calling. The view of the activity was appreciated since they’re locally uncommon. The Winter Wren was even the species I used in one of my early posts about finding uncommon species.

A little later I came across a Carolina Wren preening on a sunlit log.

Carolina Wren’s colors are appreciated on a cold winter day. OK, so it was over 50F, I still appreciated the colors.
And not to be out done, check out its tail’s barring.

Belted Kingfisher – Weekend Highlight

In my last post I reported I’d be staying closer to home for birding. So what can one see closer to home in late October? Belted Kingfisher for one.

With a limited time Saturday to go birding I was glad I decided to bird closer to home. I went out Sunday but the windy weather wasn’t as conducive to birding.

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I checked the wet area first. No herons or egrets or waterfowl for that matter. Since Great Egrets leave early in the day I checked a half hour before sunrise Sunday. Still no luck. Urban Marion County 10/22/16
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There were still a few Least Sandpipers to go with the Killdeer. Still hoping for Dunlin.
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The ever-present male Belted Kingfisher was the first of two Kingfishers on the day. Greenwood Retaining Ponds 10/22/16
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Still no waterfowl moving in but the Belted Kingfisher (upper left), Great Blue Heron (lower right), and American Coots (center back) are usually present.

After checking out the local water areas I headed home to bird my home area.

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A Downy Woodpecker was working a tree when I arrived. Urban Indianapolis 10/22/16
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Eastern Phoebes have been present all summer with two being seen Saturday. Urban Indianapolis 10/22/16
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The picture of the weekend. This female Belted Kingfisher didn’t like me in the area and rattled at me constantly. I think she looks like she is laughing here. Urban Indianapolis 10/22/16
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If one keeps an eye to the sky you’ll never know what you might see. Two Red-shouldered Hawks were soaring quite high. A few seconds earlier a Red-tailed Hawk was also soaring with them and the smaller size of the Red-shouldered was apparent. Plus the coloring and fight shape helped to ID them. Urban Indianapolis 10/22/16

Sunday afternoon I spent a few hours at the local park. The wind kept the birds down but on the north side of the tree line the kinglets came out in a fair numbers.

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At one point I had both kinglets in the field of view. The Ruby-crowned moved right before I took the photo leaving the Golden-crowned Kinglet. Franklin Township Community Park 10/23/16
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The Ruby-crowned Kinglet came in very close and was quite inquisitive when I was pishing. Franklin Township Community Park 10/23/16

Always a good weekend when I can see a few migrants and the local Kingfishers.

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?

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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!

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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
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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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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

Yellow-bellied Flycatcher – Weekend Highlights

With great weather over the weekend I spent a lot of time in the field looking for migrants. Besides spending several hours watching the Buff-breasted Sandpipers, I visited several other local sites. It will be easier to show the photos and give a dialog about each one.

YBFL (1) Yellow-bellied Flycatcher
After getting up and out early both Saturday and Sunday, I didn’t get out until 10 AM Labor Day. I still came across one wave of migrants at Franklin Township Community Park which included 3 warbler species and this Yellow-bellied Flycatcher. The photo doesn’t do it justice as it was the yellowest one I have ever seen. 9/5/16
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I have tried to crop and enlarge but it still doesn’t bring out its colors.
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Even at this distance and with the poor photo quality, the size and droopy wing shape of an Osprey is distinct. Look right and up from the boat’s mast. Rick’s Cafe Boatyard 9/3/16
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One of the two Osprey flies on the far side of Eagle Creek Reservoir.
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The local Red-tailed Hawk circles overhead at Franklin Township Community Park. 9/5/16
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Friday afternoon I walked the perimeter of Southeastway Park hoping I would come across a group of migrants. This Tennessee Warbler was the only one. 9/2/16
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Saturday morning at Southwestway Park I heard a popping in the bush. A Wood Thrush was working its way along the ground and hopping up on twigs. 9/3/16
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It finally got up a little higher to give me a look.
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A young Chipping Sparrow with its breast striping through me off for a moment. Not use to Chipping Sparrows with stripes… Southeastway Park 9/2/16
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A Belted Kingfisher was working the pond looking for lunch. It flew back and forth with its rattling call. Greenwood Retaining Ponds 9/3/16
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I couldn’t find this species in my field guides. It flew real slow and was heading south. Franklin Township Community Park 9/5/16

High Water and Forest Damage – The Last Saturday of the IAS Summer Bird Count

My plan for the last Saturday in July, which was the last Saturday for the Indiana Audubon Summer Bird Count, was like the first weekend in June – visit as many habitats as possible. The difference as opposed to the first weekend in June was that the few birds that would be calling would probably be done by 10AM. And they were. So I was hoping for shorebirds to observe after 10.

I was out by 5AM in search of Eastern Screech-Owls but only found a pickup with a boat in the parking lot about 50 yards from my best spot at Atterbury FWA. With its motor running and lights on.  Why would someone be in a parking lot an hour and half before sunrise with a big boat by a pond that I wouldn’t even bother to canoe?  Who knows.

Anyway after missing the screech-owl I headed to the Great Horned Owl location and they began calling on cue about a half hour before sunrise.  But I missed Barred Owl again. I have only heard one this year as opposed to six by this time the last two years. Maybe I just need to get out more?

The next hour and half around Atterbury/Johnson County Park was productive. I observed not one but four Belted Kingfishers, a bird I had missed on the count so far.  It was also cool to watch Tree Swallows chase them around, a behavior I had never witnessed.

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One of two female Belted Kingfishers that was being chased by Tree Swallows. But I’m not sure who started the chase.
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A Common Grackle watching the chase around the trees.
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I’ll let you guess on the top bird way across the lake. Use the process of elimination of the tagged species at the end of the article for the answer.
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A female Rose-breasted Grosbeak that was in the same area as 3 males that kept flying around.
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One of the males landed long enough for a quick photo.

As others have noted swallows were gathering with a large group of Purple Martins at one of the small lakes at Atterbury. I was also glad to see a Spotted Sandpiper fly over since I had missed them because of the high water in the county.  And today the water was even higher. Driftwood SFA was the highest I have ever seen it, with no boats on the water when I checked.  The Big Blue River was also very high. And all the usual shorebirds spots were either flooded or so full of weeds that no shorebirds would land there.

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Purple Martins were numerous on the day, as were most swallows.
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A tree full of Purple Martins. They must be moving since I had never seen them in this location before.
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An Eastern Phoebe doing a 180 look. Not sure but I didn’t see anything in that direction.

Atterbury also showed the effects of the recent storms with trees down in many places. You could see were the DNR had cut many trees that had falling across the road. After Atterbury I headed to Laura Hare Preserve and the situation was even worse. If I hadn’t been to the preserve previously I’m not sure I could have picked up the trail in several spots. Trees were down everywhere and the trail was washed out in a couple of spots.  And the birding was slow as it approached the 10AM hour.

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Some of the damage at Laura Hare Preserve. You can’t even tell the trail veers to the left.
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One of the smaller trees that was laying across the path.
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And part of the trail was washed out by the lake.

I stopped by the south side of Atterbury and Johnson County Park on my way back from Laura Hare. While there I had all three raptors on the day – Red-tailed Hawk, American Kestrel, and Turkey Vulture – while sitting on a picnic table getting a drink and watching meadowlarks.  The JCP Bell’s Vireo was still calling and a Yellow-breasted Chat came out to see who was around.

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A Yellow-breasted Chat popped out to see who was in this far corner of the park.

So I ended the summer count with 88 species, the first time I hadn’t broke 100 in the three years I have participated. But I didn’t get to Laura Hare in early June and that is needed for 5 or so breeding warblers. Plus no shorebirds this year. Which usually is another 5 or so. And I missed a week going to Colorado and another week to cataract surgery. Cataract Surgery is something I should blog about but I’m waiting to see how it improves my birding. So far it has been great.

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The local Red-tailed Hawk sitting in the tree behind our condo. Its mate is usually there but not on this day.
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And the local Northern Mockingbird. Recently I have heard it calling as late as midnight and as early as 5AM. Does it ever sleep? Does it call in its sleep? Does it ever stop?