Central Section JC CBC Recap

With some of the usual participants having prior commitments and with the additions of some new members, we slightly shifted areas on the Johnson County Christmas Bird Count. This meant I birded about 2/3 of my usual territory. And with the weather I really don’t think it mattered much. As a group we ended up with 64 species, slightly above our average of 62. The difference this year was lack of waterfowl. So here is my Central Section JC CBC Recap.

As usual I was out listening for owls. I don’t have any problems hearing Great Horned or Eastern Screech-Owls but Barred Owls are problematic. And I missed them again this year. Luckily Mike heard one on the military base side of the count.

About an hour before sunrise I’m out listening for owls. The first time I exited the car I heard a pair of Great Horned Owls calling. And if that was all I heard or saw all day, it would have been enough.

Upon sunrise I saw the small ponds throughout Atterbury FWA had a layer of ice. So no waterfowl. I changed plans and decided to start at Driftwood since it had open water.

The daylight portion started with a Cooper’s Hawk about 15 feet from the car.
Driftwood SFA did have open water but very little waterfowl. A couple of Mallards and Pied-billed Grebes were it.
Several Dark-eyed Juncos perched up high in the early morning light. Trying to warm up?
For the second straight year I found a Field Sparrow mixed in with the Dark-eyed Juncos and American Tree Sparrows. Remember to always look through flocks of sparrows!

After spending the allocated time at Driftwood I headed to Atterbury to check the deeper woods. And yes, I donned my orange vest with the hunters around.

After the Field Sparrow my next best find was a Yellow-bellied Sapsucker. Not a great photo but you can see the yellow on the belly.
The lunch recap showed we were missing Belted Kingfisher. So back to the river where I spotted one on my first stop. I would say I’m good but really just dumb luck.

I did notice on the day the numbers of the more numerous resident winter species like Carolina Chickadee, Tufted Titmouse, and Carolina Wren were higher. And I counted one or two Pileated Woodpecker at every stop.  Which was unusual.

I ended the day with 42 species in my territory which is about normal without the country roads of the 1/3 part I didn’t cover this year. My goal is always 40 which is a little less than the 85-90 I average on the May count for the same territory!

Central Section JC CBC Recap
The daylight potion of the count ended the way it started. With a hawk. This time a Red-shouldered Hawk, which flew in about 50 feet for good looks.

August Birding 2017 Week 1

Last week I blogged about hoping to see as many Marion County August species as possible.  Over half  of the expected species were seen in August Birding 2017 Week 1.

The local flooded field had a small spot on the far side suitable for shorebirds. With the cold front passing on Friday I visited it late Thursday. The glare from the west was heavy but luckily periodic clouds helped with the seeing. With the help of the cloud cover I was able to ID the expected Least, Pectoral, Solitary, and Spotted Sandpipers.

August Birding 2017 Week 1
Early Saturday morning the local flooded field was packed with Canada Geese and Mallards. But no Wood Ducks??

The local park was the starting point Saturday searching for owls. Success was had with both Eastern Screech and Barred Owls. The Barred Owl was seen as it flew away from the area of the screech owls. It must have come in to check out the tape.

The flooded field was the next stop. As I have discovered if I don’t arrive at least 15-20 minutes before sunrise the Great Egrets will be gone. Arriving 15 minutes before sunrise the lone Great Egret there flew away a minute later. Mike then arrived but our scan only produced a few shorebirds.

We decided on Southwestway Park for the local and hopefully a long shot species. And we ended up with a couple of birds I didn’t expect to see in August – Blue Grosbeak and Yellow-breasted Chat.

On the edge of the park a Blue Grosbeak was singing from a tree line .
One of several Eastern Phoebes on the day.

Otherwise it was a battle to avoid mosquitoes while seeing the expected species.

The south end of Eagle Creek Reservoir for a short lake watch was the day’s last stop. An Osprey on the water’s far side was one of the few birds seen.

Sunday I visited the SE corner of the county for a few rural birds. The resident American Kestrel was present at its usual spot as were Eastern Meadowlarks.

The fun though was watching a Cooper’s Hawk turn the tables on American Crows.

This Cooper’s Hawk must have had enough of the local American Crows.
In a reversal of roles the hawk stayed above the crows and would periodically dive at them.
Here comes the hawk after the crows. They crows would disperse and then return. And the process would start over. Instead of the hawk having to fly away the crows eventually flew away from the hawk.

I figure there are an additional 10-15 species that should easily be seen until migration starts later this month. It’s the harder ones which will now be the challenge.

Week Early on Migrants – Weekend Highlights

The real weekend highlight was Saturday helping my daughter paint the living room of her new apartment. Turned out quite well if I say so myself. But that still leaves the bedroom…

Mike and I knew we were probably a week early but ventured out Sunday morning looking for migrant passerines at the local park. We were hoping the passing of the strong cold front Saturday might have pulled some though. No migrants were found but with the cooler weather the birds were more vocal and active. For instance we both commented on hearing Red-eyed Vireos, Baltimore Orioles, and Blue-gray Gnatcatchers for the first time in weeks.

CARW (2)
I did get to watch this Carolina Wren for a few minutes before Mike arrived. Northwest Park – Greenwood – 8/21/16


CARW (1)
Until another Carolina Wren came by and it had to go check it out. Northwest Park – Greenwood – 8/21/16
RTHU week early
As I have seen on social media Ruby-throated Hummingbirds are moving in good numbers. We saw several Sunday. Northwest Park – Greenwood – 8/21/16
A flycatcher showed well from behind but never turned around. I’ll let you use your ID skills to figure out which species. I’ll give the answer at the bottom of the post. Northwest Park – Greenwood – 8/21/16
COHA (3)
A young Cooper’s Hawk posed for a nice photo. Northwest Park – Greenwood – 8/21/16
COHA (2)
Another photo of the Cooper’s Hawk for fun.

It was on to the local shorebird spot. Expectations weren’t high with the passing of the cold front on Saturday, and our assumptions were correct. A couple of Semipalmated Plovers, Killdeer, Least Sandpipers, and Spotted Sandpipers was all she wrote. But it was a beautiful day.

COMBS 082116
Not much activity at the local shorebirds spot. A few distant shorebirds to go with 3 Great Egrets and a Red-tailed Hawk in a distant tree. The setting moon added a nice touch to the scene. Urban Marion County 8/21/16

Mike headed out and after watching the end of the Olympic Marathon I went looking for a Hairy Woodpecker at another local park. No luck. Someday I’m going to write about the supposedly common birds I can never find. Like a Hairy Woodpecker.

ID answer – Great Crested Flycatcher – brownish outer tail feathers diagnostic. 

Rules are Only So Good if You Follow Them

The Cooper’s Hawk that is always at Northwest Park. 9/12/15

In the previous post I set down 4 steps I use to ID large raptors. 

I’ll get back to the rules in a minute but first let’s back up a bit to earlier in the previous post BEFORE I saw the Osprey.

Mike and I were once again spending a Saturday morning at Northwest Park in Greenwood looking for migrants. We saw a few but all in all it was pretty slow. Slow enough that after an hour Mike opted to go get his tires rotated instead of looking at empty tree branches.  But I thought I’d give it a few more minutes before heading to the local shorebird site.

After a few minutes I heard the call of a raptor.  My urban mindset is such that in town hawks are either Cooper’s or occasionally Red-taileds. Now bear in mind that I have seen a Cooper’s Hawk every time I bird Northwest Park.  So I go a few minutes chasing some Red-eyed Vireos when it dawns on me it is a Red-shouldered Hawk calling. Not a Cooper’s Hawk.

I have now been birding in Indianapolis area for about a year.  In all that time I have yet to see a Red-shouldered Hawk within the city limits.  I assumed they’re here but I have never seen one. So I’m predisposed not to think about Red-shouldered Hawks in town.

The Blue Jays mobbing the Red-shouldered Hawk were doing a good job of stirring up songbirds giving good looks at warblers flying about.

Since no one was with me I could chalk up the experience to learning without having have a little egg on my face.

And don’t ask me how someone birding for more than a couple of years could mistake the call of the Red-shouldered Hawk from a Cooper’s Hawk.

First, the Cooper’s Hawk (Paul Marvin, XC177264. Accessible at www.xeno-canto.org/1772640).

Next the Red-shouldered Hawk (Steve Pelikan, XC44321. Accessible at www.xeno-canto.org/44321)

Then I proceeded to the shorebird spot and saw the Osprey.

Now let’s jump ahead to the next morning.

So now it’s the next day, Sunday morning, and I start at the shorebird spot before the shimmer of the water comes makes viewing the far side difficult.

Immediately after setting up a hawk flies across from one grove of trees to the other.  Maybe a 100 meters. Maybe 10 seconds.

It’s obviously not as big as a Red-tailed Hawk and I’m in town so it’s got to be a Cooper’s Hawk. Correct?

I put the binoculars on it to confirm the Cooper’s Hawk ID and I see the bright “windows” on the primaries.  A Red-shouldered Hawk. And the day after learning to add Red-shouldered Hawks to my thought process in town. 

The experience shows just how hard wired brains are. A Red-shouldered didn’t even cross my mind.

I know from field guides and personal observation that Red-shoulder Hawks show the bright primaries in flight in all lighting conditions.  And the “windows” were prominent. And it perched for a few minutes in the tree to confirm the ID.

RSHA Atterbury B
A Red-shouldered Hawk showing the bright “windows” on the primaries.


RSHA Atterbury A


Like all rules they are only good if you follow them.

Especially your own.

So I guess it will take a few more encounters before I change my bias of Red-shoulders in town. So EXPAND your mind and think through all the possibilities.


On Walking a Good Birding Loop

Labor Day means it’s that time of year when I make the switch from birding state parks that allow hunting to city or state parks that do not allow hunting. Looking back I have always done this in one form or another. Not sure if my birding suffers in the fall but I don’t have to worry about getting shot.

So I birded Southeastway Regional Park, Ft. Harrison State Park, and Franklin Township Park over the Labor Day weekend.  All are located within the city limits of Indianapolis, which means no hunting.

AMRE Southeastway
An American Redstart – middle of photo – at Southeastway Park Saturday. Swainson’s Thrushes and American Redstarts were on the move with many of each being seen. 9/6/15

Franklin Township Park isn’t the most birdy spot I visit but on a Sunday or holiday when there aren’t any school activities or soccer games the birding can be OK.

I realized Monday that I like it because it has a good 1.25 mile loop that takes about an hour and a half to walk.

And I have noticed over the years that I like nothing better than a birding loop that takes about 60-90 minutes.

FCHS Field
One of the main reasons I bird Franklin Township Park is the athletic fields. When it is dry and they get watered, there is always a chance for shorebirds. 9/7/15
FCHS Field A
But on this day there were only 40+ Killdeer. Franklin Township Park 9/7/15

I have tried out-and-back birding trails – like abandoned rail lines that are now trails – but they always seem to be boring on the way back. Even if I leave a bicycle at one end to ride back.  When I used to run my favorites were loops, not out-and-back runs. My favorite loop took 75 minutes over a mixture of varying hills and flats. There is just something I don’t like about seeing the same territory twice. I guess it goes with wanting to see something new.

I wasn’t the only one looking for birds. The local Cooper’s Hawk was also giving them a look over. Franklin Township Park 9/7/15
But an American Kestrel (on light pole) didn’t like the Cooper’s (in tree – lower left of photo) being in his area. He dived bombed him a few times making him move on. You never know what kind of action you will get out in the field. Franklin Township Park 9/7/15

One good thing about an hour loop is that I feel I can take my time and see the birds.  There is no hurry because the loop isn’t large. Unlike large loops or out-and-back trails that you aren’t ever sure where to stop.

I think the best thing about loops that take approximately 60-90 minutes is that you can get it done and call it a day. Usually with some good birding.

Or if you desire you can move on to another loop of equal length or your favorite spot to stop and scan gulls or shorebirds. And it still won’t take up your whole day.

A Red-tailed Hawk was also prowling the area. Franklin Township Park 9/7/15

A loop that is shorter than 60 minutes usually leaves me wanting for more. And when I bird all day I never seem to remember much about the birds or even where I saw them. On those long days all the birds just seem like a tick on a list. It takes an effort to remember each bird unlike the hour loop were I can usually remember and enjoy the birds as I enter them into eBird.

A Least Flycatcher was the only migrant besides an earlier seen Canada Warbler on the day. Besides the big eye-ring and head, it called a few times to confirm the ID. Franklin Township Park 9/7/15

So there’s my case for doing loops a little over a mile in about 60-90 minutes.  They just seem to fit.

What’s your favorite birding loop?