Prelude to a County Big Day

It’s 4PM on a beautiful April Sunday afternoon. What am I doing? Cussing a poor, innocent COOPER’S HAWK flying by. And what has it done to receive my wrath? It’s because I’m a mile from the Marion County Line, I’ve been birding since 5:15AM, and I want to go home. But the Cooper’s Hawk is #98 and as soon as I lift my binoculars I will see the ROCK PIGEONS that live at the intersection of I65 and Main in Greenwood. One of those unlucky souls is #99 and I can’t quit on #99. Only a mile from the county line means I really don’t have much of an option for #100 except for a long drive across teh county to an eagle’s nest. I’d rather quit at #99 than drive. So what to do?

Prelude – 10 Days Ago

About 10 days ago I started thinking about a Big Day for Johnson County. Living here for 3+ years I pretty well know the bird’s locations. I used to run Big Days periodically when I lived in Illinois. I thought then and I still do that planning for Big Days make one a better birder.

Having to plan for a Big Day makes you:

  1. On a regular basis bird different spots to know exactly where the birds are located, which is good for long-term trend analysis. If you eBird.
  2. Get out of a rut by birding those areas instead of visiting the same old “productive” spots.
  3. Search for new areas. I’m still looking for a marsh in Johnson County with rails. Or an owl/hawk nest to cut down on the chance of missing them on a Big Day. Also for more shorebirds sites in this rural agriculture county.

With the IAS Big May Day on May 14 that left the weekend of May 7-8 or later. When I lived in Illinois I used to go to Southern Illinois and participate in a fund-raising Big Day the last weekend of April. So I decided I’d run a Big Day the last weekend in April to compare the totals.

Prelude – 29 Hours Previous

Having decided to run a Big Day on May 1 I headed out at 7AM on Saturday, April 30, to do some scouting with Mike. The weather was not very cooperative but we had a good morning with several species seen for the first time this year. Right off the bat we had a late staying NORTHERN SHOVELER at Franklin HS pond where we also flushed a WILSON’S SNIPE. Then a PIED-BILLED GREBE at the Walmart/Lowes Pond which isn’t easy to find this time of year. Later we saw a DOUBLE-CRESTED CORMORANT at Driftwood, which is a tough county bird.

We located areas that if the birds continued overnight would be good spots on Sunday.

Like the regular flooded area which held BLUE-WINGED TEAL along with GREATER YELLOWLEGS.

BWTE

The “Purple Martin” road had numerous warblers plus this ROSE-BREASTED GROSBEAK.

RBGR (2)

The “River Road” in Atterbury had one spot with a calling SCARLET TANAGER and YELLOW-BILLED CUCKOO.

SCTA

YBCU (2)
I’m showing the back-end of the cuckoo to show how much water the feathers repel.

Mike heard a BLUE-WINGED WARBLER calling as we drove through Atterbury. It posed for photos in the rain.

108

BWWA (1)

Not an uncommon bird but a photo of a singing EASTERN MEADOWLARK during a break in the rain.

115

Would these birds be there the next day? Would I find #100.

I’ll finish the story soon.

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.

VESP (4)
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.

PINE CREEK (3)
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.

Shorebirds (3)
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.

ATSP
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.

BWTE
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.

RTHA (7)
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.

PINE CREEK (2)
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.

NOHA (1)
It all happened so fast this is the best I could do for the Northern Harrier looking for lunch. Pine Creek 3/9/16
WISN (4)
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.

WISN (2)
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.

Right on Time

I know I said in the last post I would continue last week’s story, but I thought I’d report on yesterday’s birds first.

Living here three years I have learned there is basically a two week window to see COMMON LOONS, HORNED GREBES, and BONAPARTE’S GULLS in Johnson County. So I thought I had better take advantage of a day off Friday to check the local water. I wasn’t disappointed.

The shorebird spot was still devoid of shorebirds. Maybe tomorrow.

BWTE (2)
But there was a Blue-winged Teal showing nicely by the road. Rural Johnson County 3/25/16

I then headed to Driftwood SWA to check on loons and grebes. NOTHING but a distant PIED-BILLED GREBE. Once again no waterfowl. Or no fisherman for that fact.

But for the second year in a row at Driftwood I had an early BARN SWALLOW mixed in with the TREE SWALLOWS.

BARS (8)
An early season Barn Swallow with one of the hundred+ Tree Swallows. Driftwood SWA 3/25/16
BARS (20)
Looking a little colder here. And it was cold, only in the 30’s. Driftwood SWA 3/25/16

I wasn’t surprised but both the Barn Swallow and the count on the Tree Swallows – 110 – were flagged by eBird. The Barn Swallow was 3 days earlier than the one I wrote about last year.  And the number of Tree Swallows wasn’t unusual for this time of year.

TRES (3)
The Tree Swallows kept coming in off the lake to preen in this tree. Driftwood SWA 3/25/16
TRES FLYING (8)
If you look close you can see 10 or more Tree Swallows feeding over the lake. Driftwood SWA 3/25/16

But no loons was troublesome since I’m not sure I’ll have an opportunity to check for them in the next 2 weeks and Driftwood is the only location I have seen them in Johnson County.

FISP (5)
A Field Sparrow calling right at noon. Telling me to eat lunch? Driftwood SWA 3/25/16
BRTH (3)
And a Brown Thrasher replying. (Not really) Driftwood SWA 3/25/16

On to Atterbury FWA to check for other waterfowl. Stopping at Honker Haven (you have to love the names the DNR has assigned to the small ponds) for waterfowl, I immediately see a COMMON LOON on the water.

COLO (28)
This Common Loon is still showing beautifully even in the bad lighting. Atterbury FWA 3/25/16
COLO (13)
And on the down low. Atterbury FWA 3/25/16

As stated above, a county first for me outside of Driftwood. It didn’t move around or dive which wasn’t unusual since this isn’t a very deep pond. In summer it doesn’t take long for it to develop into shorebird habitat. I also saw a GADWALL which I was missing off the county list.

GADW (2)
Finally a Gadwall for my 2016 county list.Would have hated to miss it. Atterbury FWA 3/25/16

My last stop was Lowe’s Pond in Franklin for a possible HORNED GREBE.

Walking down to the water and looking around the brush one pops up about 20 feet from me. What luck!

HOGR (18)
A Horned Grebe that actually stayed for a few minutes and didn’t dive away. Lowe’s Pond – Franklin – 3/25/16

And it didn’t get spooked for a minute actually giving some good photos. But it finally noticed me and took off to the far end to be with the LESSER SCAUP, BUFFLEHEAD, and RING-NECKED DUCKS.

HOGR (20)
Now swimming away. Lowe’s Pond – Franklin – 3/25/16

So all in all a good day. Missed the Bonaparte’s but I have only seen  them once in the county.

Annual July 4th Weekend Outing to Goose Pond

Ever since we moved to Indiana three years ago, I have made a trip to Goose Pond each July 4th weekend. And since I only get there a couple of times a year, I have started to look forward to the trip. So like a kid at Christmas anticipating it’s gifts, I was up 15 minutes earlier than the 4:15 alarm, on the road by4:45, and arrived a little after 6:30 to watch the dawn movement.

I was immediately struck by how quiet it was.  Outside of the Red-winged Blackbirds there weren’t many birds calling, though there were Marsh Wrens and even a couple of Least Bitterns calling from across IN59.  And one of the Least Bitterns even flew over the cattails, but not long enough for a photo. I’m not sure if it was because the air was “heavy” with the cloudy, humid conditions but it seemed “noisier” last year. I ended up seeing about the same number of species as last year, and the the quantity of each species was comparable, but it seemed quieter. Maybe because last year was sunny and warm. Anyway I didn’t let it spoil the day.

Also the water levels were lower.  I would have thought they would have been higher with all the rain, but the DNR must be controlling them. Even though I found some perfect shorebird habitat, I didn’t get lucky on any migrating shorebirds like I did last year.

All in all I got to see the native summer birds. Which is the reason I go every year.

Please enjoy the following photos from the day.

GREG Group1
A group of Great Egrets before they decided to disperse for the day.
COGA
Could it be a distant Common Moorhen? I mean, Common Gallinule?
COGA1
Yes, the red bill confirms it.
COGA2
Of course it eventually came much closer for a better photo.
AWPE
Heading to the bridge on 1200W I immediately saw the continuing American White Pelicans.
BAEA
I never did see the distant Bald Eagles fly. Nor for that fact did I see any raptors flying except a lone Turkey Vulture. I did speak with a couple that had seen a Northern Harrier on the day.
INBU
An Indigo Bunting was sitting by the road and really didn’t get excited about my presence.
WIFL
A Willow Flycatcher came in close while I was scanning the water.
WIFL1
He kept checking out something above. The local nesting Barn Swallows were flying all over so maybe that was drawing his attention.
ORORF
A female Orchard Oriole.
ORORM
A male Orchard Oriole.
OROR pAIR
The happy couple together. Too bad the lighting was bad.
Dickcissel - Goose Pond
A Dickcissel in the same tree that a Northern Bobwhitesat in last year. Link to last year’s post –  https://bushwhackingbirder.com/general/goose-pond-saturday-greater-yellowlegs/
LETE2
Occasionally one of the nesting Least Terns would fly over while I was scanning the water. This is a heavily cropped photo.  Since I don’t get to hear many terns, it was good to hear it call.
BWTE
So I come across a pair of Blue-winged Teal. I wondered if they are breeding here?
BWTE WODU
Who can tell from this distance with all the young Wood Ducks?
BWTE IMM
Looks like they have have at least two of their own.
GRCA
A Gray Catbird stopped by to see what I was watching.
BNST REFLECTION
And I will end with a Black-necked Stilt. I spent the last couple of hours watching them and scanning for shorebirds. I had so many photos of Black-necked Stilts that I will devout a whole post to them later.