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.
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.
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.
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!
This started out like the post on winter Ruby-crowned Kinglets and Wood Ducks in Western Colorado. That post highlighted the fact I had overlooked the possibility of seeing either species on my trip. So, along those same lines I was going to discuss four subspecies of Dark-eyed Junco which are possible in Western Colorado. That will still be the theme. But I’ll also share some thoughts after researching the Dark-eyed Junco frustrating subspecies.
I knew Dark-eyed Juncos were possible in Western Colorado since they had a .06 possibility. I expected to see the usual Slate-colored subspecies until seeing a “different” junco at Connected Lakes State Park.
Once I realized it was a different subspecies I started taking as many photos of juncos as possible. I finally got around to reviewing them last week.
Using Sibley’s Field Guide to Birds of Western NA – pg. 424-426 I found there are 6 subspecies of Dark-eyed Juncos. The first four listed below are possible in the Grand Junction area in winter.
Slate-colored – All NA – Indiana’s
Oregon – Western NA
Pink-Sided – Central NA
Gray-headed – Great Basin
Red-backed – AZ and NM
White-winged – small strip of area from Montana to CO
Slate-colored – No
The nominate subspecies in most of the US is the Slate-colored. It is the one we know in the Midwest – dark gray above and white below. The female is a more gray-brown above. And looking through my photos I didn’t see one on the trip.
Oregon – Yes
What finally made it dawn on me that I wasn’t seeing the usual Slated-Colored was the different colored juncos at Connected Lake State Park. The junco had hoods.
Pink-sided – Probably Not
Gray-headed – No
Since I don’t have a photo I took this off the internet.
Now for an Indiana Bonus
While searching for a photo of the nominate Slate-Colored Junco I came across the following photo.
This post exemplifies why I got into blogging and birding. It “forces” you to look closer and do more research on a topic you might otherwise blow over. And eventually the frustrating part turns into knowledge. This will make my future encounters with any subspecies of Dark-eyed Junco very rewarding.
My local birding this past weekend wasn’t too intense since returning from the week birding Western Colorado. I spent my time watching and listening to the local birds. I think I have previously stated I don’t like the term “common” species. Nothing common about any of them. So I like to use “local birds”.
I know at times we all take local species for granted. They are always present and at times the only birds we see or here. But after birding Western Colorado last week I’ll try not to take them for granted anymore.
Because several times I would have welcomed the chip or peep from one of our local birds.
Several days I walked the trails in Western Colorado and I’d go for long periods of time without the hint of a bird. But to be fair a couple of mornings were the same as birding here on a cold winter’s morning.
At a couple of locations I would here the calls of Black-capped Chickadees, Ruby-crowned Kinglets, White-crowned Sparrows, or even Song Sparrows. But all-in-all it was basically quiet.
Walking last Saturday back home in the same weather conditions it was good to hear our local birds – Carolina Chickadees, Tufted Titmice, Northern Cardinals, and White-breasted Nuthatches.
Maybe an Orange-crowned Warbler? was the weekend highlight. Maybe not. I’m not 100% sure. More on that towards the end of the post.
I haven’t had much time to either bird or post the last couple of weeks. A week-long trip to Canada for work (no birding involved), catching up from the trip, and then the Thanksgiving Holiday. I could have been out more over Thanksgiving weekend but I spent the time finalizing and preparing for my next birding trip. So I don’t feel like it was wasted time.
I finally had some time over the weekend and knowing there would be sparrows I birded Johnson County Park. I made a stop at Honker Haven at Atterbury FWA and confirmed there still hasn’t been a major movement of waterfowl into the area.
Johnson County Park had the previously mentioned sparrows with all of the anticipated ones there in good numbers.
On the way home I made a stop at the Wilson Snipe location. Taking a casual walk through the marsh flushed 8 snipe. Unless we have a major weather change they should be good for the upcoming Johnson County Christmas Count.
An Orange-crowned Warbler?
I spent a couple of hours Sunday at the local retention ponds watching, sketching, and documenting the movements of the local Red-tailed Hawks. I want to make sure I know them inside and out before an upcoming trip.
While watching one of the Red-tailed Hawks through the spotting scope I heard a loud CHIP in the Mocker Tree. (This is a small tree that has a Northern Mockingbird in it 90% of the time) The chip was loud and persistent. My first thought was a sparrow but I had never heard a sparrow chip this loud. There were nearby Song Sparrows chipping but they were much lower sounding. The chipping bird stayed in the bush and I wrote down it sounded like a repeated CHIK CHIK. I then thought it might be a really agitated Yellow-rumped Warbler, though it didn’t sound right.
The bird flew out of the bush onto the top limb. In the short naked eye glimpse from about 20 feet the bird was small and appeared all yellow. An even quicker look through the binoculars showed it had a slight eye ring (lower and upper crescents?) and was yellow.
And then it flew. My first and last impression was Orange-crowned Warbler. But I’m not confident enough with the short look to confirm. I haven’t heard one chipping in a few years but it sounded like one after listening to its chip on an app immediately after the sighting. Oh well.
I have admittedly been doing too much easy birding. Getting started later and later on Saturday mornings and not staying out as long. And as my last post suggested, I was blaming the consistent weather for the SAMENESS of the birds. Maybe the amount of traveling I did for work in October contributed, but I was in a rut.
Time for a change. So I decided I needed a day of birding like I used to do every Saturday to break the rut. Make a plan, up early, and get out the door. See what’s out there. So that is what I did.
Pre-Sunrise – Great Horned Owl
I started an hour before sunrise and drove the road south of Franklin to see if the GREAT HORNED OWL was on its usual telephone poll. And sure enough silhouetted in the glow of the town lights it sat. I drove by and stopped a little further down the road to look back. We watched each other for a bit before the owl decided I might be trouble and flew off to the woods to the east.
And with one exception that was how the day would go. Many of the expected birds were on their “spots”.
Sunrise/Early Morning – Ring-billed Gull
The first few hours of the day were spent at Driftwood SFA. And as usual it had birds in the trees plus birds in the air. The first bird I saw on the morning was a RING-BILLED GULL. Not that unusual elsewhere but uncommon in basically waterless Johnson County as seen by this being only my second sighting this year. I assume it had been following the adjacent Flatrock River.
A little later I saw a juvenile BALD EAGLE which was definetly following the river’s course.
Not any unexpected passerines at Driftwood. The day startled at sunrise with EASTERN BLUEBIRDS, CEDAR WAXWINGS, YELLOW-RUMPED WARBLERS, and DARK-EYED JUNCOS in the same tree.
So not really all that close in size but puffed up in the early morning chill they can appear similar from a distance.
Over the next couple of hours I would see my first non-Mallard/Wood Duck waterfowl of the fall – RING-NECKED DUCKS. And I ended up with a slightly uncommon YELLOW-BELLIED SAPSUCKER, my first in Johnson County for the year.
I ended up having a productive two hours at Driftwood which says something about getting up and out the door.
In a couple of days I’ll post about my late morning and early afternoon adventures. And some changes at Laura Hare Nature Preserve.