Horned Grebe Molting

One of my favorite times of the year is the last of March and first of April. That’s the time Common Loon and Horned Grebe in Johnson County. And if really lucky Bonaparte’s Gull and Red-breasted Merganser. Outside of Lamb Lake in the far SW of the county the large lake at Driftwood SFA is the only spot deep enough for those species. After a couple of attempts I eventually found those species, especially some Horned Grebe molting, but not in Johnson County.

I had looked for the above species at Driftwood the last weekend in March without any luck. So I was hopeful for this past weekend.

Mike and I met up early Saturday and in the cold proceeded to check out several locations in Johnson County. Mike was hopeful for Rusty Blackbirds and I was just glad to be outdoors away from work. I saw several FOY birds and Mike added Wild Turkey at Johnson County Park.

Late morning Mike had to take off so I checked Driftwood. Lots of Tree Swallows, but no loons or grebes.

The lone bird singing at Driftwood was a lone Brown Thrasher.

So with the weather a little warmer Sunday I made a run up to Marion County’s Geist Reservoir. Upon exiting the car I could hear the roar of BIG boat engines. I hadn’t thought about fisherman being out. But as chance would have it I arrived before the boaters were out in full force and could scan the lake.

The view from the dam at Geist Reservoir.
Common Loons were staying on the far side of the reservoir.
As noted above the Common Loons weren’t near until this one popped up right in front. It then immediately dove and I never saw it again.
The boaters were periodically flushing the waterfowl. With their white wing patches and body pattern these Red-breasted Merganser were easy to ID. Even at a distance.
Just to confirm the ID I took a photo at the max zoom of the P900. Even at this zoom and in bad sunlight it’s at least a confirming photo of the Red-breasted Mergansers. With the zoom it allows me to leave the spotting scope in the car.
Now for the feature species. A non-breeding plumage Horned Grebe.
Horned Grebe Molting
A Horned Grebe going into breeding plumage.

And now a photo that will go into my personal Top 10.

I’m not sure I have ever seen Horned Grebes in both breeding and non-breeding plumage this close together. Let alone photographed them. I wish the lighting would have been brighter.

Trees are Gone, Now Observation Stand?

This post is directed to birders in Johnson County who might have observed birds from the observation stand at Honker Haven in Atterbury FWA. If you aren’t around Johnson County maybe it relates to something that’s happened in your local area.

Back in November I thanked the DNR for taking down the trees at Honker Haven in Atterbury FWA. It was a good thing since it opened up the pond to viewing from the observation platform.

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The wooden observation stand with a clear view overlooking Honker Haven at Atterbury FWA.

The stand was helpful in seeing and photographing birds in the pond, especially the far NW corner.

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A photo of a Common Loon Taken from the top of the observation deck. 3/25/16

Most Saturdays I would try to time it so I was at the observation deck around noon to scan for soaring raptors. That extra bit of elevation made a real difference.

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A Red-shouldered Hawk soaring over the observation deck on a clear Saturday. 8/22/15

It was extremely helpful in the fall when the water level dropped and shorebirds would be on the small islands that formed on the pond.

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A pair of Dunlin in the center of Honker Haven. 11/2/13

But after successfully removing the trees the stand has also been removed.

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The Observing Stand is no more. From this angle you can see there is slight rise around the pond which should help from startling the birds.

Granted, the stand was getting a bit up in the years. I have seen people take one step on it and turn around. My guess is it was removed for safety reasons.

ATTEBURY DECK
I can always observe from the top of my car which I have resorted to at other locations in the past.

But honestly most of the time I didn’t go up on the deck because it seemed to spook the birds. What I did like about the stand was using the bottom posts for a “blind”. The birds never seemed to fly when I used that strategy.

I guess I’ll have to use the adjacent trees as a “blind” now.

Right on Time

I know I said in the last post I would continue last week’s story, but I thought I’d report on yesterday’s birds first.

Living here three years I have learned there is basically a two week window to see COMMON LOONS, HORNED GREBES, and BONAPARTE’S GULLS in Johnson County. So I thought I had better take advantage of a day off Friday to check the local water. I wasn’t disappointed.

The shorebird spot was still devoid of shorebirds. Maybe tomorrow.

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But there was a Blue-winged Teal showing nicely by the road. Rural Johnson County 3/25/16

I then headed to Driftwood SWA to check on loons and grebes. NOTHING but a distant PIED-BILLED GREBE. Once again no waterfowl. Or no fisherman for that fact.

But for the second year in a row at Driftwood I had an early BARN SWALLOW mixed in with the TREE SWALLOWS.

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An early season Barn Swallow with one of the hundred+ Tree Swallows. Driftwood SWA 3/25/16
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Looking a little colder here. And it was cold, only in the 30’s. Driftwood SWA 3/25/16

I wasn’t surprised but both the Barn Swallow and the count on the Tree Swallows – 110 – were flagged by eBird. The Barn Swallow was 3 days earlier than the one I wrote about last year.  And the number of Tree Swallows wasn’t unusual for this time of year.

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The Tree Swallows kept coming in off the lake to preen in this tree. Driftwood SWA 3/25/16
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If you look close you can see 10 or more Tree Swallows feeding over the lake. Driftwood SWA 3/25/16

But no loons was troublesome since I’m not sure I’ll have an opportunity to check for them in the next 2 weeks and Driftwood is the only location I have seen them in Johnson County.

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A Field Sparrow calling right at noon. Telling me to eat lunch? Driftwood SWA 3/25/16
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And a Brown Thrasher replying. (Not really) Driftwood SWA 3/25/16

On to Atterbury FWA to check for other waterfowl. Stopping at Honker Haven (you have to love the names the DNR has assigned to the small ponds) for waterfowl, I immediately see a COMMON LOON on the water.

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This Common Loon is still showing beautifully even in the bad lighting. Atterbury FWA 3/25/16
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And on the down low. Atterbury FWA 3/25/16

As stated above, a county first for me outside of Driftwood. It didn’t move around or dive which wasn’t unusual since this isn’t a very deep pond. In summer it doesn’t take long for it to develop into shorebird habitat. I also saw a GADWALL which I was missing off the county list.

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Finally a Gadwall for my 2016 county list.Would have hated to miss it. Atterbury FWA 3/25/16

My last stop was Lowe’s Pond in Franklin for a possible HORNED GREBE.

Walking down to the water and looking around the brush one pops up about 20 feet from me. What luck!

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A Horned Grebe that actually stayed for a few minutes and didn’t dive away. Lowe’s Pond – Franklin – 3/25/16

And it didn’t get spooked for a minute actually giving some good photos. But it finally noticed me and took off to the far end to be with the LESSER SCAUP, BUFFLEHEAD, and RING-NECKED DUCKS.

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Now swimming away. Lowe’s Pond – Franklin – 3/25/16

So all in all a good day. Missed the Bonaparte’s but I have only seen  them once in the county.

#4

Mike called at 10:30 Sunday morning saying that Eric Ripma had reported on FaceBook  a PACIFIC LOON and EARED GREBE at 10:05 from Rick’s Cafe on Eagle Creek Reservoir.  I had planned on going out later that morning locally but figured I’d go along for the search.  So for the 4th time in my years of birding I was going to chase a bird(s).

Mike picked me up and we were off to Rick’s.  On the way we discussed the pertinent field marks of both species and how they differed from COMMON LOONS and HORNED GREBES.  Both which should be present in good numbers.

My only encounter with an Eared Grebe was one in Illinois that was in almost breeding plumage.  But I was almost certain I hadn’t seen a Pacific Loon. There was a question in my mind about our trip to Oregon a few years ago and trouble ID’ing a loon. And checking it appears I decided it was a Common Loon. So no Pacific Loon on my list.

We arrived around 11:30 and were told by Mike, Sarah, and Nick that others reported the loon had flown north. We all scanned the lake to the north and had a couple of possible candidates but the distance was too great.  But way out in front of a raft of LESSER SCAUP was a grebe that matched all the field marks of a non-breeding Eared Grebe. So we were 1 for 2.

We scanned a little longer and decided to go to the only other spots on the south end of the lake that has public access.  We scanned for 15-20 minutes with no luck. We then headed back to the public boat launch just north of Rick’s. We looked for another half hour when I found a loon on the far side of the lake that appeared to be smaller than a Common Loon. Too me it just didn’t “feel” right for a Common Loon.  It appeared overall smaller, darker, and with a smaller bill than a Common Loon. I was pretty certain it was the Pacific Loon but at that distance I wasn’t 100% sure.

By this time we had spent an hour and half scanning and it was getting cold, so we called it a day.

I’m not going to bore you with details but at home I saw on Facebook that Ryan Sanderson had posted a photo of the Pacific Loon in roughly the same area we had seen our candidate. (Check Facebook’s Indiana Rare Bird Alert page) And below are two “looong” distance photos that compare the Pacific Loon to a Common Loon.

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Check this photo of what I think is the Pacific Loon and of a Common Loon below. Both photos are at about the same distance. Notice the rounded head and thin bill of this loon compared to the flat head and bigger bill of the Common Loon. Would I have known this wasn’t a Common Loon if someone hadn’t reported it? Probably not. Eagle Creek 11/29/15

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So what did I think about chase #4?  Let’s just say I didn’t get time to check out the RED-SHOULDERED HAWK in the photo below.  And chase #5 won’t be anytime soon.

And I’ll let it go at that.

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A nearby Red-shouldered Hawk I didn’t have time to check out. Eagle Creek 11/29/15