The flight arrived late-morning, as opposed to the usual one into Denver and the day spent driving to Grand Junction. This forced the problem of where to bird in the afternoon heat? The choices were either the cooler higher elevations or water birds which didn’t care about the heat. Since I’d be going to higher elevations later in the week the water birds won out. But where? The state parks would be full of weekend visitors. This left Fruitgrowers Reservoir semi-arid water.
The advantage of Fruitgrowers Reservoir is no people. None. As I reported two years ago the lake is off-limits do to phosphorous pollution concerns. Plus this would probably be my only chance to see certain water species this year.
That left me to enjoy the water birds on the warm Sunday afternoon.
I told myself sometime ago I was going to post weekend highlights to make life a little easier. Having a regimented blog post concerning the weekend and one more later in the week about whatever I want fits my schedule. But I hadn’t thought of what would happen if the weather was so dark (fog and haze) that there wouldn’t be a highlight?
At least not in photos. Because every time I go birding it is an adventure and there are always highlights. The problem is I don’t get photos of everything to share.
So like the man once said, go with what you have got.
Mike and I birded Combs Wet Area and Southeastway Park in the fog and haze Saturday morning. When we arrived at dawn, Combs was packed with geese and ducks but like I previously reported was void of geese within a half hour. The odd thing is that I haven’t seen any Blue-winged Teal there yet this fall. I have seen them there each of the last couple of September’s. The only shorebirds were a couple of Pectoral Sandpipers and a few Least Sandpipers. Of course there were a lot of Killdeer.
Southeastway was slow in the fog. We might have been better off to come back later in morning. We did hear a Broad-winged Hawk calling in the trees but after a half hour search never located it.
Sunday morning was spent at Franklin Township Community Park. Not much in the way of warbler migrants but I watched a steady flow of Blue Jays fly from the north tree line and keep moving south. I figure they were migrating since I probably under counted at 50, which is many more than the normal 10 in the park.
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.
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.
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.
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 –
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.
Before I get to the Oasis, I’d like to ask you a few questions.
1. What is the ratio to finding decent shorebird habitat and the proximity of the nearest road or parking spot?
An extremely unofficial poll of 1 puts it at 92.3%. And if I read IN-Bird correctly it appears that the best shorebird habitat at Goose Pond is always a one mile walk. No more. No less. Doesn’t matter which pond or season, it’s always a mile in and out. Through vegetation thick vegetation of course.
2. Why are the best looking shorebird spots always along the Interstate so that you don’t dare stop for fear of being rundown?
You know of what I speak. You are traveling down Interstate XX (you fill in the Interstate numbers, 65 for me) and see this great looking flooded field and even at 70MPH+ you see a couple of hundred shorebirds but you don’t dare stop. So you get off the next exit but there is never any access from the country roads.
3. So now you finally find a decent flooded field along a two-lane road. But there is no shoulder or parking spot.
And the only turn-off is a mile away. In either direction. And of course the road is so busy you don’t stop for even two seconds or you will get rear ended.
And that pretty well sums up my experience on shorebirding habitat in the Midwest.
But even with that being my track record I haven’t given up. After all the rain in June and July I have spent most of my bird outings criss-crossing the rural landscape in hopes of finding a new shorebird spot.
So it was with great joy and excitement that I found an Oasis east of Whiteland. I could almost hear the music in my ears when I drove by, kind of like the movies where the heroes are lost in the desert and they only have enough energy left to climb one more sand dune and when they reach the top there is the Oasis.
The only difference is that I didn’t weep like our heroes always do. Now if it ended up not containing shorebirds I might have wept. But luckily for you it did.
What I didn’t say and you can’t see is that there is a two-lane road between the Oasis and me. Big Trucks like to drive down it. Even on Sunday morning. That is a negative. But this Oasis has a farm lane directly across which makes scoping easy. A bigger positive.
I haven’t seen anything rare at the Oasis but most of the usual shorebirds have been seen. Just good to have another option.
And I still need to tell the story about the how shorebirding can end you up in the hospital.