Virginia Rail Grunting – Weekend Highlight

In my last post I ended by stating I’d use Wilson’s Snipe as an example of something I think is a bigger problem. That post isn’t ready yet but it will address the lack of fresh water marshes. Since I love marshes and I had Friday off, I headed to one of two I know locally. And I was rewarded with both a Sora calling and a Virginia Rail grunting.

Friday morning’s birding at Atterbury FWA was broken into two habitats, heavy woods and open grasslands walking to the marsh. Both areas are close together so in total I didn’t cover more than a mile in the whole morning.

The Woods

The woods produced several FOY species but little in the way of photos. Though I heard numerous Yellow-throated Warblers none where ever out in the open. The surprise of the day was a Nashville Warbler in the brush as I was viewing a White-throated Sparrow.

Blue-gray Gnatcatchers seemed to be every in the woods.
And Northern Parulas were calling all along the river road.

Has happens every year I forget the call of the Ruby-crowned Kinglet. Luckily more than one was calling so I got to hear it often.

Grassland 

To access the marsh one must walk along woods and through a grassland area.

The marsh is out there beyond the tall Sycamore.

After exiting the woods I was momentarily stymied by a call. A simple loud call from the grass. It took a minute but it finally dawned it was a Henslow’s Sparrow. On the day I would hear six in the area.

A usually secretive Henslow’s Sparrow was out calling on territory.

The Wetland – Virginia Rail Grunting

I needed to check the rails since the next few weekends will have early Turkey Season and the off road areas are closed until after 1PM. I have only heard a couple Virginia Rails at this marsh so I wasn’t hopeful.

The area I listen for rails is down and to the left, a couple hundred yards away.
Swamp Sparrows were great company while waiting to hear any rails call.

I arrived at the listening spot and played one Sora recording. Immediately a Sora replied with its descending call. And then it was time to wait. I have learned if a Virginia Rail is going to call it will take a few minutes after the recording. I learned this last year when they called as was leaving. Since then I wait 5-10 minutes and see what happens.

To capture the call I turned on the camera’s video/audio and waited. The following came at minute 6 of the recording, which shows how long it takes the Virginia Rail to respond. I was preparing to leave when I finally heard the call. So the static in the first few seconds are me preparing to walk.

Turn up your volume and listen. The Virginia Rail grunting starts at 8 seconds.

VIRA Atterbury

After lunch the temperature was approaching 80F and the birds were quieting down. A leisurely walk at Johnson County Park produced a couple of FOY birds.

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An Eastern Kingbird was a surprise. I thought they were still a week or so away from arriving.
Not a FOY but I liked the color on this American Kestrel.

White-crowned Sparrow – 12 Days Late

The past weekend had one main and a couple of smaller goals. The main goal was to see once and for all if Atterbury FWA had EASTERN WHIP-POOR-WILLS. The weather forecast for Saturday called for rain but Sunday was clear with a full moon. So I opted to check for whips and a couple of the minor goals on Sunday. That report will be in the next blog.

On Saturday I did one of the minor goals, check for forest species at Atterbury.

A Different Area in Atterbury

Believe it or not there are a couple of areas I have never explored at Atterbury. From Google Maps they appear similar to other areas so I haven’t explored them. But just in case they had something new I thought I had better check.

I got a late start Saturday because of the rain and I didn’t feel like bushwhacking a new area in the rain. Especially one with the potential for high grass. And as expected, it had most of the forest species which included a KENTUCKY WARBLER on territory.

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The path through the wet woods. Perfect for Bushwhacking.

I ended up at the marsh but no rails were calling. Cutting back through the grasslands there were numerous WILLOW FLYCATCHERS and YELLOW-BREASTED CHATS on territory, as there would be throughout the weekend.

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A Willow Flycatcher calling on the edge of the marsh.
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A Yellow-breasted Chat checking me out from a small bush.

I found a pair of RED-HEADED WOODPECKERS which is a good since they are on the local endangered watch list.

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One of the two Red-headed Woodpeckers on a fallen dead tree. Thanks to the DNR for leaving it.

I came across a group of EASTERN KINGBIRDS out either feeding or playing, I couldn’t tell which. At one time I had 6 in my binocular’s field of view.

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Can you see 4 Eastern Kingbirds? There was a Red-headed Woodpecker in the bush straight back but I don’t see it now.

Another numerous species were SWAINSON’S THRUSH calling from the brush.

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One of the better views I’ve had lately of Swainson’s Thrush.

What Was to be the Weekend Highlight

Up to finding the COMMON GALLINULE the bird that was going to be the highlight of the weekend was a common species – a WHITE-CROWNED SPARROW.

That’s right, a White-crowned Sparrow.

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Almost the star of the weekend, a White-crowned Sparrow.

Why you may ask? Because it is 12 days later than my average departure date, including my data from Northern Illinois.

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As noted on this eBird chart White-crowned Sparrows are virtually gone from Indiana after 5/22 and non-existent June – August.

I was walking along the road after watching the woodpeckers and kingbirds when it flew out on the road. It took me a minute to realize it was a White-crowned Sparrow since I thought they would have gone north by now. A second appeared but I didn’t get it in the photo.

A mid-afternoon discovery of a wooded area that had several warblers including a Cerulean Warbler concluded the day.

Migrants are Here!

I spent most of Saturday birding the usual spots in Johnson County. I met Mike at Northwest Park in Greenwood first thing in the morning and spent the rest of the day heading south. I didn’t see anything out of the ordinary unless you count my second county sighting of BLACK VULTURES and the large number of shorebirds at a flooded field south of Franklin. Otherwise it was just a pleasant day birding seeing 15 or so new migrants. I checked my records and all of them arrived pretty much on schedule. And not much bushwhacking either.  Just the usual spots checking for new migrants.

This post will display more attempts with my new camera. It doesn’t matter what camera you use when birds don’t cooperate and won’t get out of the bushes!

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I’ll start with what I think is the best photo of the day. A White-eyed Vireo came out to check me out and stayed out posing for photos. Johnson County Park 4/23/16
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A Brown Thrasher showing as much eye-ring as the previous White-eyed Vireo. Driftwood SFA 4/23/16
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Prairie Warblers were numerous Saturday though they wouldn’t come out for a photo, as noted here. Johnson County Park 4/23/16
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It took me a minute or two to recognize the call of the Gray Catbird coming from the bushes. That happened on several of the “new” birds Saturday. Driftwood SFA 4/23/16
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Yellow Warblers were out in force at Driftwood. It was good to see them back in good numbers. Driftwood SFA 4/23/16
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I think subconsciously I knew how feisty Blue-gray Gnatcatchers are but until I tried to get a photo it wasn’t an issue. They never sit still and I felt lucky to get this shot. Driftwood SFA 4/23/16
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A Turkey Vulture I think going into adulthood as shown with more black than red on its head. Johnson County Park 4/23/16
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An Eastern Kingbird looked like it was checking out a spot to set up a nest. Johnson County Park 4/23/16
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Purple Martins were back at the reliable spot just north of Atterbury FWA. Rural Johnson County 4/23/16
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I know it is hard to see the shorebirds in this photo. I counted 100 at this location and probably missed some in the corn stubble. Most were Lesser Yellowlegs and Solitary Sandpipers with a few Greater Yellowlegs and Spotted Sandpipers. Rural Johnson County 4/23/16
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My second sighting of a Black Vulture in Johnson County. The first was last November. Note the short tail. Rural Johnson County 4/23/16

And that was about it for this pleasant Saturday to be out.

An August Dickcissel

Now a Dickcissel in August doesn’t sound that exciting for someone living in Central Indiana. But in North Central Illinois in August it can be hard to find.

As I recalled in a November 2013 post that in late July 2012 I decided to bird everyday in August 2012 and to see how many more birds I would see than my normal August birding. I knew from past experience that I would probably need to see Sedge Wren and Dickcissel the first week.

I started the month by birding the places that both species had been in July. Sedge Wrens were still holding on at the same spot at Matthiessen SP, but Dickcissel were notably silent at Matthiessen, a spot they were usually reliable year after year and had been in July.  So I checked a couple of other reliable spots. Same thing, quiet.  And it was like that for the rest of the month.  The Sedge Wrens though hung on until mid-August.

I am not sure what was different that year.  I was out every day in prime habitat.  And in previous years they would hang on until mid-August. Another one of those bird mysteries.

So now anytime I see a Dickcissel in August I always think back to the summer of 2012.

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A distant photo of a local Dickcissel this August. Greenwood Loop 8/9/15
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A much better photo of a female Dickcissel from Matthiessen SP IL. 6/19/10
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And a singing male – McCune Sand Prairie, Bureau County, IL 6/24/12

And a few more photos from Driftwood SWA a week ago.

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There were several Baltimore Orioles out early at Driftwood SWA. 8/8/15
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A Cedar Waxwing checking things out. I stood by this tree for a while and had several birds fly in to get their picture. One of them must have passed the word around. Driftwood SWA 8/8/15
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Eastern Kingbird. Same tree. Driftwood SWA 8/8/15
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Gray Catbird. Ditto.
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Probably the bird of the day. I first heard and then saw 3 Red-headed Woodpeckers including 2 juveniles. Including this one. This is only the second time I have seen Red-headed Woodpeckers at Driftwood. 8/8/15
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A Blue-gray Gnatcatcher playing peek-a-boo. Driftwood SWA 8/8/15
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And here is more typical view. Driftwood SWA 8/8/15
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A Brown Thrasher watching me but I don’t think he knows I see him. Driftwood SWA 8/8/15
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And one of those surreal moments when I’m just standing watching things and a Great Blue Heron lands in a tree about 20 feet away. I slowly walked away after a while and it didn’t fly away. Driftwood SWA 8/8/15

 

First, Birding Colorado East of the Rockies

The plan for the week wasn’t unique – bird the main habitats of the area.  But before I headed to Grand Junction I had a day to spend east of Denver.

I had taken a 5:30 AM flight out of Indianapolis that had me birding by 7:30 AM Mounain Time Saturday. The plan for the day was to bird the perimeter road of the airport looking for owls and hawks, then drive east of out into the country for hawks, and then back to a state park reservoir.  Wrap it up by 1 PM and then the 4-5 hour drive to Grand Junction.

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I turned onto Airport Rd. and immediately encountered a wet spot with an American Avocet. What a great way to start the trip!
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It know it has to do with the habitats I picked, but this is the first of what seemed to be the most encountered bird of the trip –  Western Meadowlark.
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After seeing numerous roadkill and thinking they were rabbits, I encountered a Prairie Dog colony. I guess they weren’t rabbits on the road after all…
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Knowing there were Prairie Dogs in the area, I scanned for Burrowing Owls. I found this little guy gazing at the Rockies in the distance.
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This group was watching me from just across the road. I would probably have missed them if the previous one hadn’t been up where I could see him. It is hard to realize just how small they are until you see them.
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A closer photo of the group. They didn’t move much the whole time I was there. Nor did I hear any calls. But the Prairie Dogs were vocal the whole time. I am not sure what they are watching to my left? Or would they just not return my gaze?
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Here is the view from the opposite side of the Burrowing Owl area. Pretty desolate.
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The first of many Western Kingbirds. On several previous trips they had been a possibility but I had never seen one. So it was good to finally get to watch them. Very similar acting to Eastern Kingbirds.
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Not a good photo but something I hadn’t thought I would encounter on the High Plains. While scanning for hawks a Bald Eagle came flying over. I am no where near water so I am not sure where it is coming or going.
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Now this is what I was looking for when I saw the eagle. My one and only Swainson’s Hawk of the trip. I got good looks at it before I remembered to take this photo, which is cropped.
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A little farther down the road I encountered this Northern Harrier hunting over an irrigated field. Now I don’t know if I hadn’t paid that close of attention to the status and distribution charts, but I wasn’t expecting a harrier in this location. Checking later, they are a year-round species in Colorado.
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The area 40 miles east of Denver where I was looking for hawks and Lark Buntings. This went on for miles. I did get good looks at a Grasshopper Sparrow and Loggerhead Shrike, but not much else.
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After the desolate area, I headed to Barr State Park NE of Denver. There were numerous Western Grebes on the reservoir water, often coming right up to the edge. There were also American White Pelicans in the distance.
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In several areas I birded Eurasian Collared-Doves were as numerous as Mourning Doves.
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Not a western specialty, but I couldn’t resist adding this photo.  An Eastern Kingbird had built a nest that wasn’t more than 3 feet off the trail around the lake.
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And now one of the birds I probably most wanted to see on the trip, a Bullock’s Oriole. This first year male gave the best views while he constantly flew around. The adult males wouldn’t come out for photos. I was struck with how much more orange the Bullock’s have then the Baltimore Oriole.
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Another obliging Western Kingbird, though he wouldn’t come out of the shadows.
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And with that I headed west. Next installment – a stop at the highest point traveling west on I-70.