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.

Week Early on Migrants – Weekend Highlights

The real weekend highlight was Saturday helping my daughter paint the living room of her new apartment. Turned out quite well if I say so myself. But that still leaves the bedroom…

Mike and I knew we were probably a week early but ventured out Sunday morning looking for migrant passerines at the local park. We were hoping the passing of the strong cold front Saturday might have pulled some though. No migrants were found but with the cooler weather the birds were more vocal and active. For instance we both commented on hearing Red-eyed Vireos, Baltimore Orioles, and Blue-gray Gnatcatchers for the first time in weeks.

CARW (2)
I did get to watch this Carolina Wren for a few minutes before Mike arrived. Northwest Park – Greenwood – 8/21/16

 

CARW (1)
Until another Carolina Wren came by and it had to go check it out. Northwest Park – Greenwood – 8/21/16
RTHU week early
As I have seen on social media Ruby-throated Hummingbirds are moving in good numbers. We saw several Sunday. Northwest Park – Greenwood – 8/21/16
GCFL
A flycatcher showed well from behind but never turned around. I’ll let you use your ID skills to figure out which species. I’ll give the answer at the bottom of the post. Northwest Park – Greenwood – 8/21/16
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A young Cooper’s Hawk posed for a nice photo. Northwest Park – Greenwood – 8/21/16
COHA (2)
Another photo of the Cooper’s Hawk for fun.

It was on to the local shorebird spot. Expectations weren’t high with the passing of the cold front on Saturday, and our assumptions were correct. A couple of Semipalmated Plovers, Killdeer, Least Sandpipers, and Spotted Sandpipers was all she wrote. But it was a beautiful day.

COMBS 082116
Not much activity at the local shorebirds spot. A few distant shorebirds to go with 3 Great Egrets and a Red-tailed Hawk in a distant tree. The setting moon added a nice touch to the scene. Urban Marion County 8/21/16

Mike headed out and after watching the end of the Olympic Marathon I went looking for a Hairy Woodpecker at another local park. No luck. Someday I’m going to write about the supposedly common birds I can never find. Like a Hairy Woodpecker.

ID answer – Great Crested Flycatcher – brownish outer tail feathers diagnostic. 

2015 – A Short Recap

First – one of the main reasons why I blog – I like to review the past weekend – month – year.

Lots of birding, and life for that fact, seems to be on the run.  Birding sometimes seems like run, check, and move on to the next spot. And for me the jury is still out on using eBird apps to list from the field. I still like to sit down at the end of the day and go over the birds I have seen. I think I”ll eventually work the apps into that routine but still not sure yet.

Favorite New Bird

Looking back my favorite new bird of 2015 was the BURROWING OWL outside Denver.  Who doesn’t love a small owl?

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With the back drop of the Rocky Mountains, a Burrowing Owl checks out the area before going and joining the rest of the group. East of Denver, CO – 6/20/15

BUOW 062015 (1)

But the colors of GAMBEL’S QUAIL makes it a close second.

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I was amazed how close the Gambel’s Quail would come by me. Colorado National Monument- 6/21/15

And for the umpteenth year in a row CAROLINA WREN comes in as my favorite Midwest bird.

CARW 050715
This shot pretty well sums up my thoughts about the feisty Carolina Wren. Never sitting still and always looking about. Northwest Park – Greenwood, IN 5/2/15

Favorite Birding Adventure

I had many good adventures (really every birding outing is a good adventure) so it was hard to pick one out.

I’m going to go with chasing the CLARK’S NUTCRACKER through the alpine forest in Colorado as my best adventure on the Colorado trip and 2015. Sorry no photo of the Clark’s but here is the Alpine Forest that I would be running out of later.

Alpine Forest
After hearing a strange call I went chasing the bird through this forest at 10,000 feet. Maybe not my best call. Uncompahgre National Forest, CO – 6/22/15

And chasing the PINYON JAY through the semi-arid landscape of Rabbit Valley and finally catching up to it was also a fun time.

PIJA
After chasing Pinyon Jays I knew they didn’t get out in the open for long. But only one decent photo? Colorado National Monument – 6/24/15

And without a doubt my best local adventure was seeing both RED-BREASTED MERGANSERS and BONAPARTE’S GULLS, two new Johnson County Life birds, in one day at the same place.

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A bird I never suspected I would see in Johnson County – Bonaparte’s Gull. Driftwood SFA – 3/28/15

BOGU 44

RBME
And on the same day another county bird – Red-breasted Merganser. But in its case I figured I would eventually see one in the county. Driftwood SFA – 3/28/15

And 2016 has already started off with 3, count’em 3, towhees in Indiana.  What will the rest of the year bring?

An Owl to Help the Waiting

It seems it has been at least a month that I have been WAITING for the seasons to change the scenery from late summer birds to early winter birds.  And with the weather in the 70 degree range this past week, I don’t think it is going to happen quite yet.

So Mike and I headed out last Saturday morning to check a few spots before the rain hit. After the rain last week we were hoping that the local shorebird spot might be have some birds.  As my last post showed not only was it dried up, but plowed under. So we headed to the local ponds hoping some waterfowl had moved in. No waterfowl exept for a large number of Canada Geese. And the wind had now moved to the east at 15mph and a light rain was starting to fall. Enough of that. We discussed plans for the next few weekends, weather cooperating, and I headed home early.

The weather had improved by mid-afternoon and I had cabin fever, so I headed to the local park.  Really not expecting anything different while we WAIT for the seasons to change. But a good walk in fall weather is always good.

Franklin TP Sign
The intro sign to my local park. I really hadn’t paid much attention to it before. I’ll have to check the webpage listed at the bottom of the sign.
AMRO FTP (4)
The bird of the day, in terms of numbers, was easily the American Robin. They were everywhere giving the false hope they might be something else. Franklin TCP 10/31/15

And as expected there really wasn’t much happening outside the local species and large numbers of American Robins, Northern Flickers, and Yellow-rumped Warblers. And I saw a Lincoln’s Sparrow that had more markings on the breast than I have seen before.  So that was fun trying to figure out.  Not even one raptor flying.

CARW FTP
A Carolina Wren getting close to scold me for pishing for sparrows. Franklin TCP 10/31/15
WTSP FTP
Two White-throated Sparrows discussing if they should drop down in the brush. And of course they did. Franklin TCP 10/31/15

But while walking through the park’s small forested area I saw a raptor fly from high up in one tree down and then back up to sit on a high branch.  First thought since it was daytime was a hawk but something told me it was an owl.  And sure enough it was a totally unexpected Barred Owl.

BADO FTP
It’s amazing to me how well Barred Owls blend into their landscape. If I hadn’t watch it land I would have never picked up it’s location. Franklin TCP 10/31/15

Having seen them in daylight off and on over the years in Illinois I knew that I had to follow it to exactly were it landed.  Or it would blend in so well I would never find it in the trees.  And I couldn’t move. Loosing the angle of sight and the same thing would happen.

So I stood in the same spot and watched the owl watching me.

BADO 2 FTP
I never could get a line of sight on the owl through the underbrush. Don’t you wonder how many owls go unnoticed? Franklin TCP 10/31/15

Of course the line of sight did not give me a clear photo line. And past experience told me that it would flush if I tried to move towards it.  So I moved 2 feet left, no better view. Then 2 feet right.  Still no good. And the path was too narrow to go much further left or right.

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Since I didn’t get a good photo Saturday I’ll add this obliging Barred Owl sitting in the sun at Starved Rock State Park in Illinois. It hung around for a few weeks at this spot. 12/29/09

So I gazed at the owl for many minutes and then decided to try to get a better line of sight by moving forward. And as expected after about 3 steps it flushed, not to be seen again.

But anytime I see an owl in the daytime it’s a treat.

 

How Do You Like Your Photos? Big or Small?

When looking at photos of birds on the internet, especially blogs, they are usually full screen, large photos that encompass the whole bird. You know what I am talking about.  They are great photos by some great birders/photographers. And are really cool to look at.

But it isn’t how we see birds in the field 99% of the time.  

When we are lucky enough for a bird to sit long enough for a photo it is usually a long shot and not one that would win any awards.  How often in the field do we see birds in award winning views?  Rarely.  So I like to see photos of birds that show them basically how we see them from the field.

Or just a notch better.

By showing them just a notch better I can study just a little more detail than usually seen in the field.  Too far away and there isn’t enough detail for study.  Too close and there is detail we will never see in the field, so why get to that level?

That is one of several reasons I like the “The Cornell Lab of Ornithology All About Birds” website. As seen in this screen shot of Carolina Wren, I estimate their photos take up about an 1/8 of the screen, not 1/2 or more. Maybe a little closer than we see them, but not overwhelming.

All About Birds

So what got me thinking on this topic were two photos I took this past Saturday of a Carolina Wren.  I first took a few preliminary photos and then zoomed in. These were taken from across a creek 30-40 feet from the wren.

001
This photo shows how we usually see a Carolina Wren when they do decide to pop out of the brush. Greenwood, Johnson County 05/02/15
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A zoomed in photo of the same wren showing more detail – clearer supercilium especially. Greenwood, Johnson County 05/02/15
CAWR
The previous photo cropped and magnified. Showing detail we hardly ever see in the field. Greenwood, Johnson County 05/02/15

So what size do you like your photos? Me? Somewhere before the first and second photos of the Carolina Wren.

My 5 Best Birds of the Year – 2014

As with the tradition of bird bloggers, one must pick out their best birds for the previous year.  Not sure I like the term best bird, since all birds are in some way the best bird. But I like going through the exercise because it makes me reflect on the previous year.

Since I birded outside the Midwest on 3 occasions this year- South Texas, Southern California, and Costa Rica – picking a Best Bird of the Year is a little more difficult this year. But keeping with societies hangup for lists, I now present my top 5 birds of 2014.

5. Rufous-crowned Sparrow

Seen at Mission Hills Regional Park in San Diego in November.  I had not expected to see it since it was low on the status and distribution list. A very nice surprise.

121
A completely unexpected bird that sat up for great looks. Mission Hills – San Diego, CA – Nov. 2014

 

4. Montezuma Oropendola

This was one of the birds I had definitely wanted to see in Costa Rica.  A large blackbird but with a chestnut back, yellow tipped tail, and white under eye.  What else to say.

MORO Corrected
I lightened the photo to try to show the coloring a little better. Taken photos is tough during the rainy season since it is always dark and rainy. Hence the term “Rain Forest” – La Fortuna area – Costa Rica – Dec. 2014

3. Green Jay

As I have stated previously, why can’t the Midwest have a blue headed, green body jay?  I probably wouldn’t even travel much if I could see one of these in my neighborhood.

GRJA
Not the clearest of pictures, but the best one I had to show the contrasting blue head, black face and throat, and green body. Laguna Atascosa National Wildlife Refuge – Texas – June 2014

 

2. Carolina Wren

Still my favorite Midwest bird.  If not my favorite bird. What’s not to like about an always chattering, feisty, brown above, buff below fireball?

Carolina Wren - Common in Indiana - Not so common in North-Central Illinois
Carolina Wren – Illinois

1. Golden-olive Woodpecker

Of all the new birds I saw this year this one probably made me gasp the loudest when I first saw it. It almost looked fake with the colors seeming to be painted on. I looked and looked and still couldn’t believe the coloring.

GOWO
I still can’t believe that the colors aren’t painted on it’s body. La Fortuna area – Costa Rica – Dec. 2014

So there you have my top 5 for 2014.  Hopefully you have had as good of time reflecting  on the birds you saw in 2014.

Birding Goals 2014 – Finalized

So what did you think the birding goal would be for a blog whose main point is to help birders find uncommon birds in their local area?  To recap the point, I believe all birds that should be in an area, are in that area. They just haven’t been found yet. And the list of birds that I’m pretty sure that are in  Johnson County, Indiana – my local area – that haven’t been found, or found rarely, is a good list that can keep me busy for some time. So for 2014 my goal is finding as many species in Johnson County, Indiana, with a target of 200.

Broad-winged Hawk - A bird that can easily be missed unless you are out consistently at the right time of year. LaSalle County - April 2011
Broad-winged Hawk – A bird that can easily be missed unless you are out consistently at the right time of year.  So it’s on my “B” list – birds that take some effort to see.
LaSalle County, IL – April 2011

My list of possible birds in Johnson County contains 161 species that should be found with normal, consistent birding. An “A “group if you will.  The list also contains 42 species, the “B” group,  that my experience shows a person has a 75-25 chance of finding by more intense, directed searching. And the bulk of my time and effort will go to finding those 42 species because they are the ones that will dictate if I make my goal.  And there are an additional 53 species, the “C” group, I’m sure pass through or live in the county, just not every year. My personal experience says I will run into about 10% of those species per year by being out in the field consistently. I could see more of group “C” but I don’t have unlimited time and the time versus success ratio on those birds is very high as compared to the B group.  I will do some directed searching for birds in this group but mainly I will just come across them.

Greater White-fronted Goose with Canada Goose.  A species I thought would be easier to see in Central Indiana but migrates farther west than I originally thought.  I will scan all geese flocks just in case but since it will be difficult in Johnson County, it is on my "C" list. LaSalle County, IL - November 2011
Greater White-fronted Goose with Canada Goose. A species I thought would be easier to see in Central Indiana but migrates farther west than I originally thought. I will scan all geese flocks just in case but since it will be difficult in Johnson County, it is on my “C” list.
LaSalle County, IL – November 2011

Adding up the three groups works out to a little shy of 200 species that I have a chance of seeing in Johnson County if I bird wisely.

161 + (42 X 75%) + (53 x 10%) = 198

So that list includes the easiest to find birds like chickadees and jays to the hard to find birds like Long-eared Owls and Black Vultures. Both birds I’m sure pass through Johnson County if I’m out at the right time and right place.

Carolina Wren - Common in Indiana - Not so common in North-Central Illinois
Carolina Wren – Common in Central Indiana – Not so common in North-Central Illinois.  It is on my “A” list since I should easily see it, probably every trip out.  LaSalle County, IL – December 2011

So the plan for 2014 is to do the bulk of my birding in the 11 mile radius circle that surrounds my residence.  Doesn’t seem like such a large area when put like that, does it?  But it’s basically all of Johnson County. Which sounds much larger when stated like that.

The only change I can see is that I might include Eagle Creek west of Indianapolis in my “local” area so I can see gulls and terns.  These were easily seen when I lived in Illinois but species that are very uncommon in Johnson County.  And I miss watching them.  Other goals are to bird more often and take a birding trip out of the Midwest. Plus fill in the eBird bar chart for Johnson County. But that last one is a topic for another post.