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.

Dark-eyed Junco Frustrating Subspecies

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.

  1. Slate-colored – All NA – Indiana’s
  2. Oregon – Western NA
  3. Pink-Sided – Central NA
  4. Gray-headed – Great Basin
  5. Red-backed – AZ and NM
  6. 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.

Dark-eyed Junco Frustrating Subspecies
Now here’s something I hate to admit. I can’t find a decent Slate-colored Junco in my photo collection. This means I haven’t spent enough time studying Dark-eyed Juncos. This is the only photo I could find in my collection, from 2009. I think I need to take some time with them.

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.

Once I noticed the gray in the junco didn’t continue in its “normal” pattern I knew I wasn’t seeing my usual juncos.
The dark hood with contrasting white underside is standard for an Oregon.

The Difference

The biggest difference between the Slate-colored and the other subspecies is the bottom of The Bib. On the Slate-colored the bib is slightly convex, on the others a larger concave bottom. (Now if I had a different Slate-colored photo I wouldn’t have to go to Wikipedia – Slate-colored – Ken Thomas – KenThomas.us (personal website of photographer) A Dark-eyed Junco subspecies – the Slate-colored Junco (Junco hyemalis hyemalis)

Pink-sided – Probably Not 

I originally thought this was a Pink-sided but now think it is a female Oregon. The ID indicators for Pink-sided are dull brown back, mid-gray hood, and bright pinkish-cinnamon sides. But those are also ID marks of a female Oregon.

Gray-headed – No 

Since I don’t have a photo I took this off the internet.

By Peter Wallack (Own work) CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons

Now for an Indiana Bonus

While searching for a photo of the nominate Slate-Colored Junco I came across the following photo.

Everything about this is saying female Oregon Dark-eyed Junco. What do you think? Johnson County Park, 11/26/16

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.

Local Birds – Weekend Highlight

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.

local birds
The constant chip note of the Northern Cardinal was missed in Western Colorado. Some type of seed must have fallen overnight because all the birds were on the ground eating. Southeastway Park 12/10/16
In Colorado I would occasionally encounter flocks of 10-12 Dark-eyed Juncos. I’ll have more to report on the color variations in a later post.
One of the few birds I did hear in Colorado was the flick of the Northern Flicker. Southeastway Park 12/10/16
On this trip I didn’t encounter the Tufted Titmouse counterpart the Juniper Titmouse. Southeastway Park 12/10/16
Probably the most vocal of the small songbirds in Colorado was the Black-capped Chickadee. Just like this Carolina Chickadee is here. Southeastway Park 12/10/16
The Yack call of the White-breasted Nuthatch was missed in Colorado. Southeastway Park 12/10/16
One of the odd feelings in Colorado was the lack of calling woodpeckers. The occasional Northern Flicker but never anything like our Red-bellied Woodpecker. Southeastway Park 12/10/16
The only local bird with a similar species was the Blue Jay. It seems at every stop be it birding or the gas station, I heard a Black-billed Magpie calling in the distance. Southeastway Park 12/10/16
Saturday morning I was being watched under the careful eye of a coyote. He didn’t get too excited by my presence but kept a watchful eye on me. Southeastway Park 12/10/16

Orange-Crowned Warbler?-Weekend Highlight

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.

honker-haven Orange-crowned Warbler?
Only the regulars were at Honker Haven in Atterbury – Canada Geese, Mallards, and Gadwalls. Plus one new addition – Lesser Scaup. Atterbury FWA 11/26/16

Johnson County Park had the previously mentioned sparrows with all of the anticipated ones there in good numbers.

First a White-crowned Sparrow. Johnson County Park 11/26/16
Then an American Tree Sparrow. Johnson County Park 11/26/16
Now both an American Tree Sparrow and White-crowned Sparrow together. I find it fascinating when different species mix together. Johnson County Park 11/26/16
I’ll let the reader decide the number of Northern Cardinals and White-crowned Sparrows are hiding in the bush. Johnson County Park 11/26/16

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.

After flushing the Wilson’s Snipe I watched as two flew a big lap before landing in a neighboring field.
Perfect Wilson’s Snipe habitat – damp, high, marshy grass.

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.

A few photos from the weekend.

Another billboard going up along I-65?
Didn’t take long for the local Red-tailed Hawk to use for a hunting spot.
Watching me – watching you.
I came across a flock of Dark-eyed Juncos. They didn’t seem to be mixing with the other sparrows in the park??

Mainly the Same but Not Quite

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”.

GHOW 101109
I’ve used this photo before but it is one of the few Great Horned Owl photos I have and I feel I should post a photo since I’m talking about it. A sleeping Great Horned Owl from Middleton, WI. 10/11/09

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.

Various Driftwood SFA
I like this photo because it shows how similar in size different species can appear in the field. Cedar Waxwing (upper right), Eastern Bluebirds (center), and Yellow-rumped Warbler (lower-left). Lower center bird is another Cedar Waxwing. I really had never noticed that these different species seem similar in size. Driftwood SFA 11/07/15
And a comparison of Eastern Bluebird and Dark-eyed Junco. Driftwood SWA 11/07/15

Sibley lists the following sizes:

Eastern Bluebird – 7″

Cedar Waxwing – 7.25″

Yellow-rumped Warbler – 5.5″ (seems bigger, plump shape?)

Dark-eyed Junco – 6.25″

So not really all that close in size but puffed up in the early morning chill they can appear similar from a distance.

Other Species

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.

Other Photos

Beaver Driftwood SFA
Two beavers were working the north portion of the lake. I forget how big these guys are. Driftwood SWA 11/07/15
EABL Driftwood SFA
Two Eastern Bluebirds showing their color. Driftwood SWA 11/07/15
GBHE Driftwood SFA
A Great Blue Heron basking in the morning sunlight. Driftwood SWA 11/07/15
PBGR Driftwood SFA
A group of Grebes (say that 3 time fast) swimming away. Pied-billed Grebes at Driftwood SWA 11/07/15
A beautiful fall morning to bird. Driftwood SWA 11/07/15