A Johnson County Big Day

I left you last time at 4PM Sunday sitting a mile from the Johnson County line with 99 species and not a good alternative for #100. But before I discuss the limited options for #100, let me share a few highlights of the day.

5:30 AM – Owling

First let me say I run a modified Big Day. No use getting up at midnight for a county Big Day when I’m not going to hear rails or bitterns. So I’m out at 5AM. Since you usually find 80% of the birds by 10-11AM I’m up at a “reasonable” hour and home mid-afternoon.

It’s 5:30AM and the Boy Scouts have decided to camp at the EASTERN SCREECH-OWL spot. I’m not going to play a recorder and wake them up to answer lot’s questions. So it’s back to an alternative spot, which I hadn’t planned on.

At spot #2 immediately upon turning on the recorder an owl swoops in over my head. Great! Except it’s too big for a screech-owl. I put the recorder on top of the car and watch with my flashlight as a BARRED OWL tries to pick the recorder off the car! We watch each other for a minute and I decide to move on.

Because in a Big Day there are many rules but here is one of the main ones:

Keep moving if it doesn’t look like the bird will appear.

I had the Barred Owl, two in fact with a distant one calling, and no hope for a screech-owl.

I’m heading back to the AMERICAN WOODCOCK field and thinking, “the field is on the north end of the original screech-owl area. Maybe…”

I get out of the car, hear the woodcock overhead, turn the recorder on, and almost immediately a screech-owl lands in the closet tree. I’m a little ahead on time so I give the little guy a good look. Then on to the Great Horned Owl spot.

Another first. The GREAT HORNED OWL is sitting on a telephone pole as I pull up. He flies away and I hear it and another one calling in the dawn light. A good start to the day.

From that point I start moving, trying to keep to my schedule. I struck out at the bobwhite spot but still see several other species.

COYE
Like a Common Yellowthroat in the dawn light. Atterbury FWA 5/1/16
EATO
And an Eastern Towhee. Atterbury FWA 5/1/16

I might have done better but Atterbury FWA is closed for Spring Turkey Season. This is OK since it forces me to follow another rule:

Don’t get far from your car.

Walking for a bird or two can kill a Big Day. Get out of the car. See/hear the bird. Move on.

Get Em Time

As usual from 7 to 11 AM I get the bulk of the day’s total. I start at Laura Hare picking up FOS WORM-EATING WARBLER and OVENBIRD. Back towards Atterbury. No BOBOLINKS at the Bobolink field. But the HENSLOW’S SPARROWS are calling at the usual spot. On to the east side of Atterbury where in short order I pick up several species.

YEWA
Yellow Warbler. Atterbury FWA 5/1/16
RCKI
A Ruby-crowned Kinglet. Atterbury FWA 5/1/16
YBCU (3)
A Yellow-billed Cuckoo was posing nicely. Check out those tail spots! Atterbury FWA 5/1/16

YBCU (2) YBCU (1)

Next is the Purple Martin Road were I pick up a few warblers. A few miles further north I see shorebirds. To a local park for a PROTHONOTARY WARBLER. And to Driftwood for Orioles and the staying cormorant.

PROW
Prothonotary Warbler Irwin park 5/1/16
DCCO
At least the Double-crested Cormorant stayed around. Driftwood 5/1/16
BAOR
As usual Driftwood was thick with Baltimore Orioles. Driftwood 5/1/16

Now it’s One at a Time

It’s 11AM and I’m at 84 species. The plan is to start picking off species one or two at a time at selected locations. I’m thinking if all goes well I can easily get 100 and be home by 3PM.

But it doesn’t go quite that easily.

I miss on BELL’S VIREO (too early?) and Saturday’s BLUE GROSBEAK at Johnson County Park. Back to the bobwhite area but no NORTHERN BOBWHITE. The Centerline wetspot has shorebirds but not PECTORALS SANDPIPERS which have been there all year. But the BLUE-WINGED TEAL remain from Saturday. To Franklin HS where Saturday’s NORTHERN SHOVELER is gone. I flush a WILSON’S SNIPE and cutting across I also unexpectedly flush a SORA which ends up being the surprise of the day. Have you ever seen a Sora fly? Lowe’s Pond doesn’t have the PIED-BILLED GREBE from Saturday and the EURASIAN COLLARED DOVE isn’t at its usual spot. East of Franklin the wetspot have no shorebirds or the usual VESPER SPARROW.

But I have picked up 12 of the expected species including an unexpected Red-headed Woodpecker.

Back at 4PM

So I go from thinking 100 is going to be easy to resigning myself to 98. Then I see the COOPER’S HAWK.

What were my options for #100?

Drive 25 minutes across county to the BALD EAGLE’S nest. I don’t need #100 that bad.

Drive 15 minutes through mall traffic to a local park and hope for warblers I might have missed. Too much work at this point for a “maybe” bird.

I finally decide to check the 3 remaining retention ponds between the county line and myself. Maybe an AMERICAN COOT or some other late waterfowl.

The first pond is empty.

The second pond is empty.

The part of the third pond I can see is empty. I walk around the pond for a better look and lo and behold in a far corner –

PBGR
A PIED-BILLED GREBE!

So 100 species and 28 stops later I’m finished. That means home by 5PM. Still not my highest count in Johnson County. I had 101 on the IAS Big May Day a couple of years ago. It has been a fun day of birding even if it went a little longer than planned.

What I Learned the Week of 5/25

Following are several things I learned (or had known, forgot, and learned again) the week of May 25. Hopefully you will learn a few things also.

1. Early Saturday morning I saw a female Rose-breasted Grosbeak.  I couldn’t tell if she was carrying anything like nesting material. It seemed late in the season to see a Grosbeak, especially a female.  Then later on the day I saw three males.  So did I really know S&D (status and distribution) on Rose-breasted Grosbeaks?  My recollection was that I might see one or two during the summer. But was I mixing up all the years I lived in Illinois?

RBGR Range
The black square are the borders of Johnson County. More or less. Source: xeno-canto

So I checked.  Johnson County is on the southern edge of Rose-breasted Grosbeak’s breeding range which means they will be seen by a few people in Central and Southern Indiana during the breeding season. I have seem a few the last couple of years but the sightings were early June and late July.  So I will keep frequenting the area to see if I can get proof of breeding.

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Male Rose-breasted Grosbeak singing at Atterbury FWA. 5/30/15
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Same bird as above photo.

2.  I came across two male Willow Flycatchers calling.  I wondered if I could use them to track back to a nest?

Nope. According to The Birds of North America Online and I quote “Female selects site, collects nest material, and builds nest while male perches nearby.”

I’m sure there is a joke there describing female-male human relations but I will let it pass.  I will look for a nest the old fashioned way.  Get lucky.

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Male Willow Flycatcher. Atterbury FWA 5/30/15

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3. Keeping on the nesting topic I learned that both Eastern Towhees and Field Sparrows start the breeding season building their nests on the ground.  The later in the breeding season it gets they tend to build nests higher and higher in bushes.  First starting in lower bush branches and then lastly slightly higher branches.

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I watched this Field Sparrow for a length of time but it never did heard back to a nest area. Atterbury FWA 5/30/15

4. Put a pair of dry socks and shoes in the trunk if you are going to walk in high wet grass all morning.

5. I learned that Wood Thrushes do sing out in the open. I don’t think I have ever seen a Wood Thrush singing in the open for any length of time.  Let alone at the top of a taller tree. This guy was singing for at least 20 minutes.  But he never did get out in the sun for a better picture.

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Wood Thrush singing from the top of a dead tree. Atterbury FWA 5/30/15

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6. In the really “too much information”, The Birds of North America Online has a small section devoted to preening which I have always passed over. But Saturday I had the opportunity to watch a Common Yellowthroat preening and wanted to know what they had to say.

“Preens at all times of day. Normally scratches head with foot over wing, but may (rarely) scratch under wing.”

And I was glad to see that this Common Yellowthroat was normal on his scratching.

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If you click on the photo and enlarge, you can see the Common Yellowthroat is using over the foot over wing movement to scratch. Atterbury FWA 5/30/15

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