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.
After gliding/drifting down for 4-5 miles (?) they started to swirl up again, this time much closer.
It didn’t take long before they were all behind the tree line and moving away.
What did I learn from that experience?
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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)
And for fun a departing photo, to make up for the lack of photos from another dark Saturday.
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”.
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.
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.
So not really all that close in size but puffed up in the early morning chill they can appear similar from a distance.
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.
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 atMatthiessen 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.
And a few more photos from Driftwood SWA a week ago.