Migrating Turkey Vultures – Weekend Highlight

The last birds viewed on the weekend were also the highlight.

A group of 12 migrating Turkey Vultures.

Now most people might say a group of migrating Turkey Vultures aren’t exciting. But like a lot of things in birding migrating Turkey Vultures aren’t something you see away from a specialty site. Like a Hawk Watch. Or more importantly it’s not something I get to see every weekend.

And if caught low enough on the horizon it is a thrill to watch them come and go.

As I was heading back to the car I caught the glimmer of a white airplane to the north. Seemed odd since all the other planes Sunday morning had been high in that direction. Taken a glance towards the plane revealed a group of Turkey Vultures swirling on the horizon. They were too far for a photo so I watched them as they swirled/drifted up.

After reaching a certain height they all started drifting down and to the south at a rapid rate.

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At this point the Turkey Vultures had already drifted up and were now gliding down gaining distance heading south. Franklin Township Community Park 10/30/16

After gliding/drifting down for 4-5 miles (?) they started to swirl up again, this time much closer.

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Once again they were swirling going up higher and closer. It reminded me of last year at Eagle Creek and a couple of years ago in Costa Rica. FTCP 10/30/16
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After swirling almost right overhead they once again turned south and drifted/glided away. FTCP 10/30/16
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Now they were over head and drifting/gliding south at a rapid rate. FTCP 10/30/16

It didn’t take long before they were all behind the tree line and moving away.

What did I learn from that experience?

  1. If I had left a minute earlier I would have missed the show. Looking at the times of the photos the whole event lasted 4 minutes. How far did they come in those 4 minutes? From the horizon to straight overhead. 4-5 miles?
  2. If Broad-winged Hawks kettles travel in the same manner it shows you have to be at the right place at the right time or the odds are high you will miss them.

Other photos on the weekend.

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Terrible photo of 30 Cedar Waxwings that flew in all at once. Southwestway Park 10/29/16
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A nice flock of Chipping Sparrows. I never could turn one into a Clay-colored Sparrow. Southwestway Park 10/29/16
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Funny how in a flock of 10+ White-throated Sparrows only one will pop out for a photo. Southwestway Park 10/29/16
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FOS Northern Shovelers showed up over the weekend. Greenwood Retaining Ponds 10/29/16
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I just liked this photo of a Mourning Dove. One of 30 or so at the park. FTCP 10/30/16
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An Eastern Phoebe showing nicely before the wind picked up and made finding birds in the bush tough. FTCP 10/30/16
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Easy Photo Quiz. The colors on the crown give it away. I didn’t know they had this much olive-green in the tail. FTCP 10/30/16

Black-bellied Plover – Weekend Highlights

I have struggled since I started this blog on getting out timely reports, mainly from the weekend, and creating a decent post. A post usually takes 2 hours with the sorting of photos, initial draft, proofreading, tags, etc. Going forward I’m going to try to post on Monday AM the weekend photos without creating “a story” which sets a blog apart from Facebook. This will be the initial test with BLACK-BELLIED PLOVER being the lead.

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The local wet field is perfect for shorebirds. Without rain it will probably be dry by next weekend. Last year it didn’t dry up until late October. Southern Marion County 8/6/16
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Most of the usual shorebirds were present with KILLDEER being around 100 in number. The highlight was a molting BLACK-BELLIED PLOVER. Southern Marion County 8/6/16
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It never lifted its wings but after watching it for a long time it just didn’t look like an American Golden Plover. Southern Marion County 8/7/16
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The bill seems too big for an American Golden and the vent area showed no signs of black. Southern Marion County 8/7/16
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I ran into Cary Floyd who pulled out a distant RUDDY DUCK from the mass of Mallards. Far and away my earliest Ruddy Duck for the area. Southern Marion County 8/6/16
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A CEDAR WAXWING posed nicely for a photo. Westside Park, Greenwood 8/6/16
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Grassland birds were extremely quiet this weekend. I happened to notice this DICKCISSEL with a meal. County Line Road, 8/6/16
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This long shot photo shows an EASTERN MEADOWLARK, lower left, in the field by Franklin HS. I flushed 10 walking the grass but never heard one calling in the hour I was there. 8/7/16
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Three SAVANNAH SPARROWS, which appear young, were on a fence at Franklin HS. 8/7/16
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How often does someone post a photo of a crow? I picked up my life Indiana list Fish Crow at Eagle Creek but this AMERICAN CROW was at Westside Park in Greenwood. 8/6/16

Big May Day 2016 Highlights

My portion of the Johnson County Christmas Bird Count IAS Big May Day Count (felt like a Christmas Bird Count) started out and ended well with several surprises in the middle. I’ll stick to the highlights with some follow-up posts over the next few weeks covering a few other things on the day.

Big May Day – The Start

The weather at 5AM was 50F and windy, with light rain. The only thing that changed during the day was the rain stopped. Otherwise the temperature and wind held steady all day. I noticed the temperature on the local bank said 51F when I went by early in the day and said 50F late in the afternoon. I have participated in several Christmas Counts that were warmer.

So I didn’t start optimistic.

But the first bird, a GREAT HORNED OWL, flew off its usual telephone pole as soon as I drove up. There was hope.

I called in an EASTERN SCREECH-OWL and missed on Barred Owl. While waiting in the dark for a Barred Owl a bird flew in with white wing marks like a nighthawk. I didn’t remember those on a Barred Owl?? A couple of minutes it swooped back in – it was a COMMON NIGHTHAWK. Which was reassuring since I didn’t remember a Barred Owl acting that way.

The morning continued on with several FOY. Like CEDAR WAXWINGS.

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I saw a flock of birds in a tight group fly into a distant tree. I was sure they were Cedar Waxwings but couldn’t tell at this distance. 5/14/16
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So out comes the new camera for a distant photo showing they were Cedar Waxwings. 5/14/16

Next was one of those county lister things when I found 1 CLIFF SWALLOW mixed in a feeding flock. No photo. Have you ever tried to take a photo of a swallow? A few BANK SWALLOWS were also mixed in for good measure.

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Mike and I came across the resident Blue Grosbeak at Johnson County Park. 5/14/16

Big May Day – The Middle

After lunch we went out searching for species we’d missed. First we hit one of the local shorebirds sites.

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Another FOY was a Semipalmated Plover. 5/14/16
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The plover was hanging out with Least and Solitary Sandpipers. 5/14/16
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Did you ever notice you hear Solitary Sandpipers before you see them? They always seem to be calling. 5/14/16

Then I visited a spot which previously had a SORA calling and at that time I thought I had heard a portion of a calling VIRGINIA RAIL. Yesterday no Sora but 2 Virginia Rails called. Johnson County #214.

I added a few more species we had missed in the morning like GRASSHOPPER SPARROW, WILSON’S SNIPE, and PIED-BILLED GREBE. Not the same grebe from my previous story. But I was still glad to see one late in the day.

Big May Day – The End

When the Worthsville Road exit on I65 was recently added it opened up observation to a flooded field I thought might be good for shorebirds. Well it hasn’t panned out for shorebirds. But I still made it my last stop of the day yesterday.

Once again there were no shorebirds however there was a distant piece of white trash.

No, looking again the trash looked like a gull.

Assuming it was a Ring-billed I got out the scope to confirm. The bird was walking away but I could still see the small black bill, gray ear patch, and yellowish legs. A Bonaparte’s Gull in Johnson County in May. Who would have thought? (Yes, eBird flagged it if you were wondering)

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Testing the zoom of my new camera this photo of a Bonaparte’s Gull is taken at 450 meters in windy conditions. 5/14/16
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Note the small black bill and grayish ear mark, field marks for a Bonaparte’s Gull. 5/14/16

And for fun a departing photo, to make up for the lack of photos from another dark Saturday.

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Not sure I have ever seen a Great Blue Heron on a guard rail. 5/14/16

Mainly the Same but Not Quite

I have admittedly been doing too much easy birding.  Getting started later and later on Saturday mornings and not staying out as long. And as my last post suggested, I was blaming the consistent weather for the SAMENESS of the birds. Maybe the amount of traveling I did for work in October contributed, but I was in a rut.

Time for a change.  So I decided I needed a day of birding like I used to do every Saturday to break the rut. Make a plan, up early, and get out the door. See what’s out there. So that is what I did.

Pre-Sunrise – Great Horned Owl

I started an hour before sunrise and drove the road south of Franklin to see if the GREAT HORNED OWL was on its usual telephone poll.  And sure enough silhouetted in the glow of the town lights it sat. I drove by and stopped a little further down the road to look back. We watched each other for a bit before the owl decided I might be trouble and flew off to the woods to the east.

And with one exception that was how the day would go. Many of the expected birds were on their “spots”.

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I’ve used this photo before but it is one of the few Great Horned Owl photos I have and I feel I should post a photo since I’m talking about it. A sleeping Great Horned Owl from Middleton, WI. 10/11/09

Sunrise/Early Morning – Ring-billed Gull 

The first few hours of the day were spent at Driftwood SFA. And as usual it had birds in the trees plus birds in the air. The first bird I saw on the morning was a RING-BILLED GULL.  Not that unusual elsewhere but uncommon in basically waterless Johnson County as seen by this being only my second sighting this year. I assume it had been following the adjacent Flatrock River.

A little later I saw a juvenile BALD EAGLE which was definetly following the river’s course.

Passerines

Not any unexpected passerines at Driftwood.  The day startled at sunrise  with EASTERN BLUEBIRDS, CEDAR WAXWINGS, YELLOW-RUMPED WARBLERS, and DARK-EYED JUNCOS in the same tree.

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I like this photo because it shows how similar in size different species can appear in the field. Cedar Waxwing (upper right), Eastern Bluebirds (center), and Yellow-rumped Warbler (lower-left). Lower center bird is another Cedar Waxwing. I really had never noticed that these different species seem similar in size. Driftwood SFA 11/07/15
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And a comparison of Eastern Bluebird and Dark-eyed Junco. Driftwood SWA 11/07/15

Sibley lists the following sizes:

Eastern Bluebird – 7″

Cedar Waxwing – 7.25″

Yellow-rumped Warbler – 5.5″ (seems bigger, plump shape?)

Dark-eyed Junco – 6.25″

So not really all that close in size but puffed up in the early morning chill they can appear similar from a distance.

Other Species

Over the next couple of hours I would see my first non-Mallard/Wood Duck waterfowl of the fall – RING-NECKED DUCKS. And I ended up with a slightly uncommon YELLOW-BELLIED SAPSUCKER, my first in Johnson County for the year.

I ended up having a productive two hours at Driftwood which says something about getting up and out the door.

In a couple of days I’ll post about my late morning and early afternoon adventures.  And some changes at Laura Hare Nature Preserve.

Other Photos

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Two beavers were working the north portion of the lake. I forget how big these guys are. Driftwood SWA 11/07/15
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Two Eastern Bluebirds showing their color. Driftwood SWA 11/07/15
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A Great Blue Heron basking in the morning sunlight. Driftwood SWA 11/07/15
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A group of Grebes (say that 3 time fast) swimming away. Pied-billed Grebes at Driftwood SWA 11/07/15
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A beautiful fall morning to bird. Driftwood SWA 11/07/15

 

 

An August Dickcissel

Now a Dickcissel in August doesn’t sound that exciting for someone living in Central Indiana. But in North Central Illinois in August it can be hard to find.

As I recalled in a November 2013 post that in late July 2012 I decided to bird everyday in August 2012 and to see how many more birds I would see than my normal August birding. I knew from past experience that I would probably need to see Sedge Wren and Dickcissel the first week.

I started the month by birding the places that both species had been in July. Sedge Wrens were still holding on at the same spot at Matthiessen SP, but Dickcissel were notably silent at Matthiessen, a spot they were usually reliable year after year and had been in July.  So I checked a couple of other reliable spots. Same thing, quiet.  And it was like that for the rest of the month.  The Sedge Wrens though hung on until mid-August.

I am not sure what was different that year.  I was out every day in prime habitat.  And in previous years they would hang on until mid-August. Another one of those bird mysteries.

So now anytime I see a Dickcissel in August I always think back to the summer of 2012.

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A distant photo of a local Dickcissel this August. Greenwood Loop 8/9/15
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A much better photo of a female Dickcissel from Matthiessen SP IL. 6/19/10
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And a singing male – McCune Sand Prairie, Bureau County, IL 6/24/12

And a few more photos from Driftwood SWA a week ago.

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There were several Baltimore Orioles out early at Driftwood SWA. 8/8/15
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A Cedar Waxwing checking things out. I stood by this tree for a while and had several birds fly in to get their picture. One of them must have passed the word around. Driftwood SWA 8/8/15
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Eastern Kingbird. Same tree. Driftwood SWA 8/8/15
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Gray Catbird. Ditto.
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Probably the bird of the day. I first heard and then saw 3 Red-headed Woodpeckers including 2 juveniles. Including this one. This is only the second time I have seen Red-headed Woodpeckers at Driftwood. 8/8/15
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A Blue-gray Gnatcatcher playing peek-a-boo. Driftwood SWA 8/8/15
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And here is more typical view. Driftwood SWA 8/8/15
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A Brown Thrasher watching me but I don’t think he knows I see him. Driftwood SWA 8/8/15
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And one of those surreal moments when I’m just standing watching things and a Great Blue Heron lands in a tree about 20 feet away. I slowly walked away after a while and it didn’t fly away. Driftwood SWA 8/8/15