The Start to A Solid Saturday

The weather turned out to be better than expected last Saturday with just slight drizzle and overcast skies versus the rain for both Saturday and Sunday that was predicted.  But even with that and being on the road all week I wasn’t moving too fast Saturday morning. This meant I didn’t get out of the house until 10:30. Which just might be a record for the latest time getting out on a Saturday. But my wife was out-of-town so I wasn’t in any hurry to get home early. I spent the day hitting the usual haunts in Johnson County. Nothing fancy, just a solid day. One of those enjoyable days that’s good to be out.

First stop was the grasslands just over the Marion – Johnson county line which I blogged about back in December. This is an area off Interstate 65 that is going to be turned into a shopping area. The only thing hinting the project is still on was a sign stating Retail Space for Rent.  So we’ll see if and when it gets going.

The area held the usual grassland birds plus a FOX SPARROW in the hedge row. I only bring it up since, once again, I didn’t have my camera out of the car yet and the sparrow was right out in a photographic pose.  Just like last week. I now only have a couple more weekends for a Fox Sparrow photo since they are gone by mid-April.

The only bird allowing a photo was a KILLDEER.

KILL 031916 (1)
This Killdeer was trying to lead me away from what I assume was its future nesting area. Greenwood Retaining Ponds 3/19/16

The species with the biggest number on Lowes Pond in Franklin was AMERICAN COOT and there were only 22 of them. But there were 5 BUFFLEHEAD that are always nice to see.

BUFF 031916
A Bufflehead pair that took off about .1 second AFTER this photo. Which is unusual since they usually take off .1 second BEFORE the photo. Lowe’s Pond 3/19/16

There were also a HOUSE FINCH pair which came in close for a photo-op. Come to think of it there were House Finches at most stops.

HOFI 031619 (2)
This male House Finch really didn’t mind me being close. Getting tame?? Lowe’s Pond 3/19/16
HOFI 031619 (1)
And his equally tame female friend. You can sure tell it was a dark day. Lowe’s Pond 3/19/16

At Franklin HS I once again flushed a WILSON’S SNIPE. Maybe I’ll still get a photo of one since they usually stay to early May.

In one of the little trees on the perimeter road were 3 SAVANNAH SPARROWS. And all 3 looked like they were freezing even though it was 45F.

SASP 031619
One of the apparently freezing Savannah Sparrows. Being my first of the year maybe they had just migrated from Florida? Franklin HS 3/19/16
EAME 031619
The numbers of Eastern Meadowlarks in the area is starting to pick up. Franklin HS 3/19/16
COGR 031916
And what I think is one of the least photographed local birds – Common Grackle. I just liked the way this one was sitting and calling in the tree. Note the large bill. Franklin HS 3/19/16

From there I headed to the country and then on to Atterbury.

But what happened on the way will be the topic of the next post.

A Shelby County Run

I was originally going to post, and in fact already had completed, about how birding a rural, agriculture county with no public parks wasn’t very productive. But the more I thought the more I realized this wasn’t correct and in fact the fun and challenge of finding birds in that type of environment was what got me excited about birding in the first place.

The original intent of this blog was there are common and uncommon birds in every area, you just need to take the time to find them. And Shelby County is no different.

So now with a positive bent, instead of a negative one, I have redone this post.

First, let me say Shelby County isn’t a lot different from the counties I birded in Illinois or have encountered in Indiana. It seems typical of sparsely populated, rural, agriculture counties.

The problem with these rural counties, including Shelby County, is the lack of public parks. (in other words lack of public birding areas)

Which isn’t a surprise if you have tried to bird those areas.

As I have stated before one of the things I miss from Illinois is having a good birding spot between work and home.  Especially a spot like I had in Illinois where I could stop and scan gulls for an hour.

The majority of my current drive home from work is through Shelby County. And I have tried to find a birding spot along the way home but with no luck. Checking maps hasn’t turned up anything but a couple of city parks in Shelbyville plus a few rural cemeteries. It appears birding has to be done in town or along rural roads, which usually leads to problems with the natives and is thus best avoided. So until last weekend I hadn’t bothered birding Shelby County except for the retaining ponds at work.

But when a co-worker told me she had seen cranes in a field near her house, I thought I’d check them out and spend the rest of the day searching for other birding areas in Shelby County.

And for me that is the fun of birding. Finding birds, common or not, in under birded areas. The birds are usually there. Maybe not in great numbers. But can be found if you take time to look.

So I wasn’t sure what to expect on this first Shelby County outing.

I headed out Saturday morning expecting I would at least see Sandhill Cranes. But the fog was heavy and I should have stayed home for a couple of hours. But since I was already out I changed plans and headed to the Shelbyville city parks and cemeteries. It was quiet in the fog but I heard/saw the local resident birds plus BROWN CREEPERS along the river at Sunset Park.

Once the fog lifted I checked the retaining ponds around the north, industrial side of town. Nothing out of the ordinary there.

On to the casino ponds north of Shelbyville. Many of you will remember this area if you came to see last year’s Snowy Owl. Parking east of the casino turned up RED-WINGED BLACKBIRDS and KILLDEER that were out in full force for the first time this year.

RWBL 022016 (2)
I know spring isn’t far away when Red-winged Blackbirds all of a sudden appear everywhere. Shelby County – 2/20/16
RWBL 022016 (1)
I think he is saying “We’re back for the summer so get over it”. Shelby County – 2/20/16

And the day’s most unusual find, a lone RING-BILLED GULL, flew lazily past heading east.

I then made my way to the SANDHILL CRANE area. While observing the cranes I noted a mixed flock of blackbirds slowly making its way my direction. The majority of the 1,000 birds were EUROPEAN STARLINGS but there were also a good number of BROWN-HEADED COWBIRDS and RED-WINGED BLACKBIRDS. Plus to a lesser extent COMMON GRACKLES.

MIXED BLACKBIRD FLOCK 022016 (1)
The Sandhill Cranes seem to be watching the flock of blackbirds as close as I am. Shelby County – 2/20/16

I haven’t seen a good, mixed flock locally in a couple of years. So I had a good time watching the flock with the hope of a Yellow-headed Blackbird popping out. Wishful thinking. And with their constant movement I didn’t even try to pick out a Brewer’s Blackbird.

MIXED BLACKBIRD FLOCK 022016 (2)
Mainly European Starlings but also some Brown-headed Cowbirds, Red-winged Blackbirds, and Common Grackles. Shelby County – 2/20/16
MIXED BLACKBIRD FLOCK 022016 (4)
It really wouldn’t be so hard to see a Yellow-headed Blackbird since the red and yellow of the Red-winged Blackbirds stood out. If I did spot one locating it again might be a problem though. Shelby County – 2/20/16

I then drove through a portion of the southern part of the county checking for and not finding any good spots.

I ended the day at wetlands area on the west side of the county. It’s an area I discovered when we lived in Franklin and I would occasionally drive the back roads home. There wasn’t much happening but a pair of AMERICAN KESTRELS hunting along the road and SONG, SWAMP, and AMERICAN TREE SPARROWS in the cattails. The area is overgrown but might have some decent birds in the spring.

Without too much trying I ended up with 31 species. Which was about what I expected on a winter’s day.

So what do I think about birding this type of rural county? It just proves if you live in a rural, parkless county you can still see the majority of birds native to or migrate through the state. In one day I found on the north side of the county numerous waterfowl sites, a shorebird site, a deep woods site, a couple of edges for passerines, and a grasslands site.  By birding those 5 areas plus checking for new sites one could have a decent year’s list without much travel.

I’m not sure time will allow me to bird those areas but at least I know they’re there.

And I still need to find that spot between work and home…

High Water and Forest Damage – The Last Saturday of the IAS Summer Bird Count

My plan for the last Saturday in July, which was the last Saturday for the Indiana Audubon Summer Bird Count, was like the first weekend in June – visit as many habitats as possible. The difference as opposed to the first weekend in June was that the few birds that would be calling would probably be done by 10AM. And they were. So I was hoping for shorebirds to observe after 10.

I was out by 5AM in search of Eastern Screech-Owls but only found a pickup with a boat in the parking lot about 50 yards from my best spot at Atterbury FWA. With its motor running and lights on.  Why would someone be in a parking lot an hour and half before sunrise with a big boat by a pond that I wouldn’t even bother to canoe?  Who knows.

Anyway after missing the screech-owl I headed to the Great Horned Owl location and they began calling on cue about a half hour before sunrise.  But I missed Barred Owl again. I have only heard one this year as opposed to six by this time the last two years. Maybe I just need to get out more?

The next hour and half around Atterbury/Johnson County Park was productive. I observed not one but four Belted Kingfishers, a bird I had missed on the count so far.  It was also cool to watch Tree Swallows chase them around, a behavior I had never witnessed.

079
One of two female Belted Kingfishers that was being chased by Tree Swallows. But I’m not sure who started the chase.
083
A Common Grackle watching the chase around the trees.
073
I’ll let you guess on the top bird way across the lake. Use the process of elimination of the tagged species at the end of the article for the answer.
064
A female Rose-breasted Grosbeak that was in the same area as 3 males that kept flying around.
060
One of the males landed long enough for a quick photo.

As others have noted swallows were gathering with a large group of Purple Martins at one of the small lakes at Atterbury. I was also glad to see a Spotted Sandpiper fly over since I had missed them because of the high water in the county.  And today the water was even higher. Driftwood SFA was the highest I have ever seen it, with no boats on the water when I checked.  The Big Blue River was also very high. And all the usual shorebirds spots were either flooded or so full of weeds that no shorebirds would land there.

068
Purple Martins were numerous on the day, as were most swallows.
072
A tree full of Purple Martins. They must be moving since I had never seen them in this location before.
103
An Eastern Phoebe doing a 180 look. Not sure but I didn’t see anything in that direction.

Atterbury also showed the effects of the recent storms with trees down in many places. You could see were the DNR had cut many trees that had falling across the road. After Atterbury I headed to Laura Hare Preserve and the situation was even worse. If I hadn’t been to the preserve previously I’m not sure I could have picked up the trail in several spots. Trees were down everywhere and the trail was washed out in a couple of spots.  And the birding was slow as it approached the 10AM hour.

092
Some of the damage at Laura Hare Preserve. You can’t even tell the trail veers to the left.
090
One of the smaller trees that was laying across the path.
088
And part of the trail was washed out by the lake.

I stopped by the south side of Atterbury and Johnson County Park on my way back from Laura Hare. While there I had all three raptors on the day – Red-tailed Hawk, American Kestrel, and Turkey Vulture – while sitting on a picnic table getting a drink and watching meadowlarks.  The JCP Bell’s Vireo was still calling and a Yellow-breasted Chat came out to see who was around.

108
A Yellow-breasted Chat popped out to see who was in this far corner of the park.

So I ended the summer count with 88 species, the first time I hadn’t broke 100 in the three years I have participated. But I didn’t get to Laura Hare in early June and that is needed for 5 or so breeding warblers. Plus no shorebirds this year. Which usually is another 5 or so. And I missed a week going to Colorado and another week to cataract surgery. Cataract Surgery is something I should blog about but I’m waiting to see how it improves my birding. So far it has been great.

044
The local Red-tailed Hawk sitting in the tree behind our condo. Its mate is usually there but not on this day.
100
And the local Northern Mockingbird. Recently I have heard it calling as late as midnight and as early as 5AM. Does it ever sleep? Does it call in its sleep? Does it ever stop?