Atterbury Big May Day

I don’t remember the last time I spent the entire day birding. I’m aware others do it weekly. As I have stated the constant running and searching feels good in the moment but I never seem to remember what happened on those days. Not as enjoyable as birding one location for hours and living in the moment. But Saturday for the fifth year I did an Atterbury Big May Day for Johnson County portion for the Indiana Audubon Society Big May Day.

The day started well with all the expected owls – Eastern Screech-Owl, Barred Owl, and Great Horned Owl – calling on cue. I even had a bonus Common Nighthawk fly in front the car as I was leaving the Barred Owl area.

After owling the day started with haze coming off the wet fields.
One of the first daylight birds was a lone Green Heron watching from the mist.

This year I tried something different. With Turkey Season closing the interior of Atterbury until 1PM I planned stops along the roads and tried to bird those areas for a certain time. This is in the hope I can more or less repeat the run every year.

Dickcissels were out in force in the small grassland area on my route.

Uncommon findings were Red-breasted Nuthatch and Black Vulture.

If the Red-breasted Nuthatch hadn’t been singing its toy trumpet call I would have missed it. This is the latest date I’ve seen one in the Midwest.
The Black Vulture was on the east side of Atterbury where I have seen one previously. I assume they have moved this far north and aren’t enough people looking to note the increase.
This American Coot was the only one the group saw on the day. I don’t think he’ll be here much longer.

At lunch the group tallied up the species and we were in the 120’s with no shorebirds except for Killdeer. My afternoon plan was to hike into Atterbury for rails and on to shorebirds.

The rail search was a bust, probably the high water. I started meandering home crisscrossing the county checking fields I knew held water after heavy rains. The plan proved fruitful as I added 8 additional species on the day.

A  female Mallard was sharing a flooded field with a Solitary Sandpiper.
One of the fields which can only be viewed in late afternoon but more importantly when the big dog isn’t around, had a Semipalmated Plover and Least Sandpipers.
The field that last year produced a Bonaparte’s Gull had a Pied-billed Grebe along with Spotted Sandpiper and Lesser Yellowlegs. The shorebirds aren’t in the photo.
Atterbury Big May Day
And a lone Northern Shoveler was swimming among the Mallards.

I failed while trying to flush snipe at a local marsh but flushed an American Woodcock as a bonus prize.

Reaching the county line around 7:30 I decided to call it a day. After 14 hours I once again proved by putting in the time will usually produce a good count.

Black Vultures – You Just Never Know

I hadn’t expected anything exceptional to happen this past weekend given it’s late July and the heat index was headed to 110F. But I was sitting at 98 species for Johnson County in the IAS Summer Count and wanted to get to 100.

Not living in the county means I lose the opportunity to see several of the neighborhood species. Like COOPER’S HAWKS or RUBY-THROATED HUMMINGBIRDS. Birds I see daily on my neighborhood walk in Marion County and I used to see daily when we lived in Johnson County.

But birders know you don’t what’s out there unless you look.

So off I went.

With the recent rainfall I thought my best bet to reach 100 was going to be shorebirds. I made a quick first stop at the Marion County site to see how the conditions looked. Good.

COOMBS LAKE (2)
The Combs Road wet area was turning into a good shorebird spot. Marion County 7/23/16
GREG (1)
There were numerous Great Egrets and Great Blue Herons at the location. Marion County 7/23/16
LESA (2)
Two Least Sandpipers appeared obvious in the field but looking at the photos I thought maybe they were Semipalmated. Until I saw the yellowish legs. Marion County 7/24/16
SPSA
One Spotted Sandpiper that wouldn’t stand still. Marion County 7/24/16

So I was hopeful for shorebirds in Johnson County.

But it was not to be. The shorebird sites had water and had either corn or beans or weeds also. This didn’t make for good shorebirding. Oh well. I would have to hope for other species for 100.

Do you know you can still see birds using the strategy of walking from one shade tree to the next? I used the strategy successfully all day starting at Driftwood following the disappointment at the shorebird sites.

It was still early enough in the day that I saw several species.

EAPH (3)
An Eastern Towhee on territory before the heat of the day. Driftwood SFA 7/23/16
YEWA (1)
A Yellow Warbler who will probably be heading south soon. Driftwood SFA 7/23/16
WIFL (2)
A Willow Flycatcher who called the whole time I was present. Driftwood SFA 7/23/16
RTHU (2)
And most importantly, a Ruby-throated Hummingbird fluttering around. #99 for the Summer Count. Driftwood SFA 7/23/16

Leaving Driftwood I saw three TURKEY VULTURES flying lazily to the north. I didn’t think much about them until I turned onto US31. Thier number was now seven and two immediately looked different.

BLACK VULTURES

Driving north a half mile I finally found a pull off and confirmed the ID. They drifted my way giving good views and a few photos.

BLVU (10)
Two Black Vultures looping lazily over the Big Blue River. 7/23/16
BLVU (5) Black Vultures
One eventually drifted overhead. 7/23/16

This is only my third sighting of Black Vultures in the county. Probably the 1st for the Johnson County Summer Count, and more importantly, #100 for this year’s count.

Like I said, you never know what’s out there unless you look. Even on a hot summer’s day.

Migrants are Here!

I spent most of Saturday birding the usual spots in Johnson County. I met Mike at Northwest Park in Greenwood first thing in the morning and spent the rest of the day heading south. I didn’t see anything out of the ordinary unless you count my second county sighting of BLACK VULTURES and the large number of shorebirds at a flooded field south of Franklin. Otherwise it was just a pleasant day birding seeing 15 or so new migrants. I checked my records and all of them arrived pretty much on schedule. And not much bushwhacking either.  Just the usual spots checking for new migrants.

This post will display more attempts with my new camera. It doesn’t matter what camera you use when birds don’t cooperate and won’t get out of the bushes!

WEVI (2)
I’ll start with what I think is the best photo of the day. A White-eyed Vireo came out to check me out and stayed out posing for photos. Johnson County Park 4/23/16
BRTH
A Brown Thrasher showing as much eye-ring as the previous White-eyed Vireo. Driftwood SFA 4/23/16
PRWA (1)
Prairie Warblers were numerous Saturday though they wouldn’t come out for a photo, as noted here. Johnson County Park 4/23/16
GRCA
It took me a minute or two to recognize the call of the Gray Catbird coming from the bushes. That happened on several of the “new” birds Saturday. Driftwood SFA 4/23/16
YEWA (1)
Yellow Warblers were out in force at Driftwood. It was good to see them back in good numbers. Driftwood SFA 4/23/16
BGGN (2)
I think subconsciously I knew how feisty Blue-gray Gnatcatchers are but until I tried to get a photo it wasn’t an issue. They never sit still and I felt lucky to get this shot. Driftwood SFA 4/23/16
TUVU (3)
A Turkey Vulture I think going into adulthood as shown with more black than red on its head. Johnson County Park 4/23/16
EAKI (2)
An Eastern Kingbird looked like it was checking out a spot to set up a nest. Johnson County Park 4/23/16
PUMA (3)
Purple Martins were back at the reliable spot just north of Atterbury FWA. Rural Johnson County 4/23/16
SHOREBIRDS (2)
I know it is hard to see the shorebirds in this photo. I counted 100 at this location and probably missed some in the corn stubble. Most were Lesser Yellowlegs and Solitary Sandpipers with a few Greater Yellowlegs and Spotted Sandpipers. Rural Johnson County 4/23/16
BLVU (2)
My second sighting of a Black Vulture in Johnson County. The first was last November. Note the short tail. Rural Johnson County 4/23/16

And that was about it for this pleasant Saturday to be out.

A Not Totally Unexpected Black Vulture

I’ve noticed that many blogs post what they think will be the next 10 birds they’ll find in a certain area.  And they usually rank them in the order they might be seen.

I wish I had made a ranking for Johnson County.  I’ve been telling Mike for sometime the next species I’ll see in Johnson County will be a Black Vulture. I have seen sporadic reports on eBird of Black Vultures but we all know those must be taken with a grain of salt. But after Don Gorney told me he had seen one in Southern Shelby County I knew it was just a matter of time.

But it wasn’t easy. Since moving to the area in late 2012 I have counted 620 Turkey Vultures in Johnson County.  And I bet I have looked at almost every one knowing that eventually one would be a Black Vulture.

And Wednesday it finally happened. We were supposed to go back to Illinois for the holiday but our plans fell through.  Since I had already taken the day off I decided to head to Johnson County. And as luck had it I caught one in the distance flying with a Turkey Vulture west of Johnson County Park.  It was distant but I did get some ID photos.

BLVU JCP A
First look, something didn’t appear right. The tail was too short for a Turkey Vulture. Upper right-hand bird. Johnson County Park 11/25/15
BLVU JCP AA
It turned a little and the white outer primaries jumped out. Johnson County Park 11/25/15
BLVU JCP B
A little closer and I was pretty certain now it was a Black Vulture from shape and color. I just needed it to turn. Johnson County Park 11/25/15
BLVU JCP BB
And that did it. White primaries and short-tailed! Even the dark head is noticeable here. Johnson County Park 11/25/15
BLVU JCP E
Flying to the west not to be seen again. Johnson County Park 11/25/15
TUVU JCP C
For comparison, a Turkey Vulture later in the day showing the longer tail and silvery flight feathers. Johnson County Park 11/25/15
TUVU JCP
Even banking a Turkey Vulture shows the silvery flight feathers. Johnson County Park 11/25/15

That makes just the 5th new species I’ve seen in Johnson County this year. It’s always good to add a new species to your main list. But we all know after a couple of years new species are hard to come by on your regular patch. I still have some species I should see even for a mainly water-less area.

I think I will make one of those next 10 lists!

Extra Photos on day:

RNEP ATTERBURY
Even though I’m pretty sure it’s a released bird, it’s still good-looking. Ring-necked Pheasant – Atterbury FWA 11/25/15
RNEP STEP ATTERBURY
And here doing the 2-step. Atterbury FWA 11/25/15

 

 

Geese, Geese, Geese – and a Few Swans. Universal Mines Saturday

In the attempt to add a few more birds to my Indiana Life list, Mike and I (and probably a large percentage of Central Indiana birders) headed to Universal Mines NW of Terre Haute Saturday morning to view the numerous swans and geese that had been reported.  This would be my first visit to the area.

The high temperature for the day was supposed to reach 50F with winds gusting to 45 MPH in the afternoon. So it was either leave early, fight the cold, and avoid the winds.  Or go later, be warm, and fight the wind. We choose the former.

We left early so we could arrive a little before sunrise to watch the morning flight. When we arrived there were still thousands of geese and hundreds of swans still on the only open water in the area – an old strip mine known as the “Grand Canyon”.

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The south end of the “Grand Canyon” at sunrise. 10,000 Geese?? 01/17/15

 

017
A closer view showing more individual geese. 01/17/15

Now here is the rub for Indiana Birders.  The water is on the Illinois side of the border with Indiana.

Map of Grand Canyon Area
A satellite view showing the distance from the “Grand Canyon” to the Illinois-Indiana border.

I already knew the lake was in Illinois but assumed it was closer.  When reporting birds people usually report an Illinois count and then have an Indiana count for the birds that “fly” over the border.  The problem is that unless you actually park on the border, which is 400 meters away, it is hard to tell what birds actually fly over. But as I have previously stated my belief on listing, it is your bird list and unless it is a very rare bird, you can do what you want on your list. So Mike and I made our best guess on birds that flew towards the border.  Enough on that topic.

On the morning we saw great numbers, and I mean GREAT NUMBERS, of Canada Geese, Greater White-fronted Geese, and Trumpeter Swans. Plus 5 Tundra Swans (my goal bird) that we didn’t see fly over the border. I don’t think I have ever seen that many geese at once though I have seen large numbers at Hennepin-Hopper Lake in Illinois.

033
Geese becoming air born at sunrise on the north side of the “Grand Canyon”. Another 10,000? 20,000? More? 01/17/15
052
Trumpeter Swans flying over the road. 01/17/15

 

045
A long distance shot of Greater White-fronted Geese. 01/17/15

And here is my first attempt at video.  Something (an eagle? gun shots?) put all the birds on the north side in the air at once. A sight to behold.

CANG Flight

At this point I’m not going to estimate the number of geese.  I think I will take a closer look at the photos and see if I can come up with a guess.  I’ll post about that at a later date.

On the way home we stopped at Chinook Mines for a quick pass.  Nothing to report but I did get a nice photo of a calling Eastern Meadowlark and a Rough-legged Hawk in flight.

069
An Eastern Meadowlark that was calling at Chinook Mines. 01/17/15
RLHA Chinook Mines
And a Rough-legged Hawk flying over. (I lightened the photo) Chinook Mines 01/17/15

 

Now for the bird that I did add to my list today.  Carl Huffman has been reporting Black Vultures regularly on eBird at DePauw Nature Park in Greencastle. Since it wasn’t far out-of-the-way and since I needed the bird for the list, we stopped by. This is north of the usual range for Black Vultures (see map below) but there are other sites north of the range where they appear.  Hopefully this will be another consistent site.

BLVU Range Map
I put a red X on Greencastle to show how far north the Black Vultures are from their normal range.

After seeing 6 Turkey Vultures we ended seeing 2 Black Vultures at a distance which didn’t allow photos.  I did get one photo of a Turkey Vulture though.

TUVU Depauw Nature
A really lightened photo of a Turkey Vulture. DePauw Nature Park 01/17/15

Even if the Tundra Swans stayed on the Illinois side and couldn’t be added to the list, I got to add Black Vulture.