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

Yellow-bellied Flycatcher – Weekend Highlights

With great weather over the weekend I spent a lot of time in the field looking for migrants. Besides spending several hours watching the Buff-breasted Sandpipers, I visited several other local sites. It will be easier to show the photos and give a dialog about each one.

YBFL (1) Yellow-bellied Flycatcher
After getting up and out early both Saturday and Sunday, I didn’t get out until 10 AM Labor Day. I still came across one wave of migrants at Franklin Township Community Park which included 3 warbler species and this Yellow-bellied Flycatcher. The photo doesn’t do it justice as it was the yellowest one I have ever seen. 9/5/16
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I have tried to crop and enlarge but it still doesn’t bring out its colors.
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Even at this distance and with the poor photo quality, the size and droopy wing shape of an Osprey is distinct. Look right and up from the boat’s mast. Rick’s Cafe Boatyard 9/3/16
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One of the two Osprey flies on the far side of Eagle Creek Reservoir.
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The local Red-tailed Hawk circles overhead at Franklin Township Community Park. 9/5/16
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Friday afternoon I walked the perimeter of Southeastway Park hoping I would come across a group of migrants. This Tennessee Warbler was the only one. 9/2/16
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Saturday morning at Southwestway Park I heard a popping in the bush. A Wood Thrush was working its way along the ground and hopping up on twigs. 9/3/16
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It finally got up a little higher to give me a look.
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A young Chipping Sparrow with its breast striping through me off for a moment. Not use to Chipping Sparrows with stripes… Southeastway Park 9/2/16
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A Belted Kingfisher was working the pond looking for lunch. It flew back and forth with its rattling call. Greenwood Retaining Ponds 9/3/16
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I couldn’t find this species in my field guides. It flew real slow and was heading south. Franklin Township Community Park 9/5/16

Whip-poor-will/Bell’s Vireo – Y or N

After Saturday’s hike which turned up White-crowned Sparrows I set out Sunday to see once and for all if Atterbury FWA had EASTERN WHIP-POOR-WILL.  Plus check for NORTHERN BOBWHITE and the returning BELL’S VIREO.

Whip-Poor-Will

This would be the second time in two years I was going to make sure there were no EASTERN WHIP-POOR-WILLS at Atterbury FWA. Sunday’s forecast was perfect for checking – Full Moon, Clear, and Calm Winds.

MOON (2) Looking for Whip-poor-will.
The early morning was perfect for checking for Eastern Whip-poor-wills.

When I arrived it was perfect conditions. I listened at 6 places between 4:50 – 5:40 AM.

The result is I’m pretty confident there are NO Eastern Whip-poor-wills at Atterbury FWA.

It took several years to find a whip-poor-will spot in my home county in Illinois, so I’m not done yet looking in Johnson County.

But I did hear numerous BARRED OWLS with one actually landing by the car for a good view. And of course the chats were chatting in the dark.

Northern Bobwhite

I proceeded to the NW part of Atterbury to listen for Northern Bobwhite. The area has been off-limits for the past several weekends for Spring Turkey Season.  I walked for a couple of miles – no luck there either as the area has had a controlled burn.

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Eastern Towhees were quite numerous singing in the morning daylight.

I did see a RED-HEADED WOODPECKER, several WILLOW FLYCATCHERS, and EASTERN TOWHEES on the walk.

I remembered the park manager saying she had seen a Northern Bobwhite by her office. So I headed the mile east to sit and eat breakfast by a large field north of her office. In a couple of minutes I heard bobwhite calling. Another specifies tied down for the IAS Summer Count.

Bell’s Vireo

The last species I was checking was to see if the Bell’s Vireo had returned to the same area of Johnson County Park. I no sooner got out of the car and one was singing in the same bush as last year, giving great views. Then another came along and they flew off. But one kept singing hidden in a nearby bush.

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Except for a short period last year I don’t think I have ever seen a Bell’s Vireo out in the open for this long.
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Later a second bird which looked like a Bell’s Vireo chased this one off its perch. Maybe that’s why it was singing so long in one spot? Staking out his territory?
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This Chipping Sparrow landed down the road when I was watching the Bell’s Vireo.
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The resident American Kestrel watching the events at the Johnson County Horse Park.

And that was a very good end to the weekend or so I thought until I came across the COMMON GALLINULE.

Riding the High Country – Uncompahgre Plateau

As with many things in life the best things turn out much better than you think they will. After reading about the Uncompahgre (Un-com-pah-gray) Plateau in the Colorado County Birding Guide, I was a little apprehensive about going up on the plateau by myself. Especially in a car. Reading the guide made it sound like unless you were well prepared, you might not come back down off the plateau.  But far and away this turned out to be the best day of the trip.

In my case, and with apologies to Sam Peckinpah, Randolph Scott and Joel McCrea, I spent the day Driving the High Country.

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The view from just outside Grand Junction. Up there, somewhere, is the plateau.

But the guide wasn’t entirely incorrect.  You can get by easily on a nice, dry day.  But you had better come prepared because there are no stores or facilities.  The drive is 50 miles of gravel road on government owned land.  On the day I saw zero other cars. None.  My rental was the only car on the plateau. Everyone else was in pickup trucks or SUV’s. And I bet I could count on three hands (less than 15) the total number of other vehicles I saw on the whole day.  So the plateau was mine to bird.

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This is a typical scene on top of the plateau. Just the gravel road and nature.

The plateau is situated SW of Grand Junction.  To get to the top you have to make several switchbacks up a gravel road going from 5000 to around 9500 feet.  Learning from my stop at Loveland Pass I stopped 3 times and birded each stop for 10-15 minutes on the way up. Each time I was a little dizzy but it soon faded.  I would walk slowly and bird and it seemed to work out.

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Looking back on the switchbacks from a higher point.
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The view back to the road I took to get plateau. And I’m not even half way up yet.

At one of the stops I saw a Black-throated Gray Warbler along the side of the road. My only other previous encounter was a fleeting glance several years ago in Oregon. So this was treat.

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A Black-throated Gray Warbler in the pines at the first stop up.
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There were numerous Chipping Sparrows at the mid-altitudes.

I also had my only encounter with Mountain Chickadees on the way up. I could immediately tell they weren’t Black-capped from their raspier call.  I also had a bird that I thought was a Western Tanager calling but never got a look.  So it will stay off the personal list.

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The Mountain Chickadees never were visible from the non-sun side of the road, hence the lousy photo.

And just like that I was at the top of the plateau and I could tell I was somewhere different. It was like going from Indiana to Northern Michigan or Minnesota.  The sun just didn’t seem right and the air felt different. The temperature was at least 20 degrees F less than the Grand Valley below (which still meant it was 80F in the afternoon). And it felt great.

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The entrance to the Uncompahgre Plateau had the usual warnings and maps.
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The view of the grasslands at the lower level of the plateau. I would continue to climb the rest of the day reaching 9500′.
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It must have been Mountain Bluebirds day to greet visitors at the entrance.

The Divide Road runs the center of the plateau and goes 40 miles before you can take a side road and descend back to the valley.  Here is a link to a short video on YouTube that a motorcycle rider made “A ride atop the Uncompahgre Plateau“.  So the plan was to bird the road for the day and get home late afternoon. With the great habitats I only made it 13 miles. I then had to turn around and come back the way I came.  But it was a great 13 miles of varied habitat.  From Alpine Meadows to Ponderosa Pines to Aspen Forests and everything in between.

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Another typical scene looking at the Divide Road.

So I spent the day traveling a little bit at a time, parking along side the road, and birding an area for a while. All the while trying to make sure I stopped at the different habitats.

Once I stopped to view the only map posted along the road.  While viewing the map my phone chimed I had a message.  That startled me in the quiet of the plateau. I had checked earlier and didn’t have service in this remote spot. But I had it there and 4 bars to boot! I never did figure out how I had service out there. I guess you can never get truly away.

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At a certain altitude Green-tailed Towhees were the most numerous bird. They could be heard calling all along the road.
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An American Kestrel hunting a mountain meadow.
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The snow capped mountains were always preset to the west.

Probably the best part of the day was the last stop. I parked the car by an Aspen Grove and hard a distant “caw caw”.  I knew I had heard it on the tapes I had listened too so I went into the grove to check it out. I saw a distant gray bird that kept moving. I figured it was the bird that was calling.  As I got further and further into the glade I saw a flycatcher  who actually stopped long enough for photos.

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A blurry photo of a Dusky Flycatcher sitting in an Aspen Glade.

And the other bird kept calling.  And then something rose up out of the tall grass and scarred the ##?? !! out of me. As I was walking quickly the other way it dawned on me that it was a fawn.  And then I about stepped on its sibling. I should have got a photo but I figured Mom was around and I didn’t want to meet her. And of course then the Caw Caw bird came out in the open. A Clark’s Nutcracker!  And the battery in the camera then went dead and the backup battery was in the car a few hundred feet away.  Oh well.

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The view of a distant Grand Junction on the way back down at the end of the day.