Wilson’s Snipe Photos – Finally

Don’t be fooled by the title. I have many Wilson’s Snipe photos. Just not Wilson’s Snipe photos from the local only marshy area. Snipe have been present for the last couple of years at the marsh. But never out in the open long enough for a photo. Until Sunday.

Saturday started out with Mike and me heading to Laura Hare Preserve at Blossom Hollow. With Mike’s help I spent much of the time learning to ID several trees from their bark. The birding was typical for the habitat and time of year, meaning it was quiet at times. We did hear two Louisiana Waterthrush and I saw my yearly Yellow-bellied Sapsucker.

Sunday morning I went to the marsh area with express purpose of checking on the Wilson’s Snipe and any other shorebirds/waterfowl present.

Within the first minute of walking upon the marsh a Wilson’s Snipe flew in and landed in an opening. If I would have been prepared I would have had a photo right off the bat. But it proceeded to walk into the thick grass and when I moved it flushed to the far side. So I began the process of checking all the open areas for snipe.

The cat and mouse game would proceed over the next couple hours with snipe flying in and out but never where I could photograph one.

In between hoping to see the snipe, an Eastern Meadowlark landed nearby.
A pair of Savannah Sparrows were buzzing around chasing each other with one eventually landing.

Finally Wilson’s Snipe Photos 

I kept watch on the far shore hoping a snipe would walk out in to the open. After a couple of hours one finally appeared.

First I was watching a Solitary Sandpiper move along the edge.
Then a movement in the tall grass. Could it be? Yes, a Wilson’s Snipe.
By luck they both ended up in the same photo.
Not the best of photos but it shows it’s definitely a Wilson’s Snipe.
Wilson's Snipe Photos
Probably the best photo on the day. It at least captures some of the snipe’s bright barring.

I’ll follow-up this post up using Wilson’s Snipe as an example of something I think is a bigger problem.

Northern Harrier – Weekend Highlight

After a couple of weekends of lousy photo weather I finally have a few photos to pick a highlight. Not saying there are any good photos but at least I have photos to build a story. Especially one about a Northern Harrier.

One of Bob’s Birding Rules (I need to post them) is to turn around and go home when it’s foggy. I should’ve listened to myself and waited until the fog lifted. But I don’t know if it was the crappy weather we’ve been having or traveling for work, but as soon as it was light I was out the door Saturday morning. I knew traveling to the retention ponds the odds of seeing wasn’t good.

Arriving a little before sunrise there wasn’t much fog. But as the day brightened the fog started to build. This really didn’t matter since there wasn’t any waterfowl on the ponds except for a couple of distant Northern Shovelers.

With the warm weather I think the birds thought it was spring. Species I usually don’t hear until March, like meadowlarks, were calling. So I walked the near side of the tree line and listened.

Here’s a photo of an American Tree Sparrow to show how foggy it was a little after sunrise.

The other side of the tree line where the meadowlarks were calling is the large grass area. I decided to make a quick stop and get a meadowlark count (a minimum of 10 counted) or a photo.

Several of the Eastern Meadowlarks were close to the road allowing foggy photos.

There are two Eastern Meadowlarks in this photo taken from no more than 50 feet.
The more vocal of the two who sang constantly while I was there.
The other one didn’t like I was so close and flew. I’m posting this photo to show the density of the fog.

Then out of the fog came a raptor.

This is the view to the north in the general direction of the meadowlark photos. The visibility has to be less than 100 feet.
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At first I thought it was the local Red-tailed Hawk. But it didn’t take long from its hunting motion to know it was a Northern Harrier. My first for the local area.
And just like that the Northern Harrier was gone into the fog. Did I really see it? Was it a ghost?

I don’t like getting glimpses of birds. Especially ones I don’t see so often. Luckily I saw several Northern Harriers in Colorado so I didn’t feel so bad.

The other odd thing for a January day was a flock of Sandhill Cranes landing near the local park. Odd it’s January and they landed locally. All the rain?

A distant photo of the Sandhill Cranes circling to land (I think) in a nearby field.

 

I’m trying to enlarge a portion of the photo to show the cranes but it didn’t work so well.

Red-tailed Hawk Kiting – Weekend Highlight

After a week of traveling for work I stayed close to home birding. This is rather miss-leading since I would stay close to home for birding anyway. I saw a few migrants but the highlight was watching a Red-tailed Hawk kiting into a southerly wind.

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But first, a Swamp Sparrow that was to be the highlight last week but traveling kept me from getting the blog out. Franklin Township Community Park 10/9/16
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Mike and I started at the local wet spot which is drying up quickly. Hopefully Sunday’s rain will make a difference. Urban Marion County 10/15/16

On to the local retaining ponds that still don’t have any new waterfowl. We did see a few sparrows – mainly Song but a Lincoln’s and Savannah were mixed in.

Mike headed out and I continued on to the local park for an afternoon of birding.

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Before the park I stopped by the new semi-rural area. Not many sparrows but the local American Kestrel was present again. Semi-rural Marion County 10/15/16
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The new spot looks like a consistent spot for Eastern Meadowlarks. Next week Horned Larks? Semi-rural Marion County 10/15/16

The park held several migrants including my FOS Golden-crowned Kinglet and Brown Creeper. A getting kind of late Black-throated Green Warbler was in a moving mixed flock.

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Ruby-crowned Kinglets were present with this one showing a little of the Ruby. Franklin Township Community Park 10/15/16
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Once again Yellow-rumped Warblers were everywhere in the park. Franklin Township Community Park 10/15/16
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Nothing special but I liked the way this Mourning Dove was low to the ground hiding by the fence. Franklin Township Community Park 10/15/16

The highlight of the day was watching a Red-tailed Hawk kiting motionless into a 20mph wind. It was amazing how long it stayed hanging in one spot!

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The Red-tailed Hawk stayed in this one position long enough for me to take several photos without it ever leaving the field of view. Meaning it never moved. Franklin Township Community Park 10/15/16
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I watched it for quite a while but it never did dive into the high grass for a meal. Franklin Township Community Park 10/15/16

Black-bellied Plover – Weekend Highlights

I have struggled since I started this blog on getting out timely reports, mainly from the weekend, and creating a decent post. A post usually takes 2 hours with the sorting of photos, initial draft, proofreading, tags, etc. Going forward I’m going to try to post on Monday AM the weekend photos without creating “a story” which sets a blog apart from Facebook. This will be the initial test with BLACK-BELLIED PLOVER being the lead.

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The local wet field is perfect for shorebirds. Without rain it will probably be dry by next weekend. Last year it didn’t dry up until late October. Southern Marion County 8/6/16
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Most of the usual shorebirds were present with KILLDEER being around 100 in number. The highlight was a molting BLACK-BELLIED PLOVER. Southern Marion County 8/6/16
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It never lifted its wings but after watching it for a long time it just didn’t look like an American Golden Plover. Southern Marion County 8/7/16
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The bill seems too big for an American Golden and the vent area showed no signs of black. Southern Marion County 8/7/16
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I ran into Cary Floyd who pulled out a distant RUDDY DUCK from the mass of Mallards. Far and away my earliest Ruddy Duck for the area. Southern Marion County 8/6/16
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A CEDAR WAXWING posed nicely for a photo. Westside Park, Greenwood 8/6/16
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Grassland birds were extremely quiet this weekend. I happened to notice this DICKCISSEL with a meal. County Line Road, 8/6/16
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This long shot photo shows an EASTERN MEADOWLARK, lower left, in the field by Franklin HS. I flushed 10 walking the grass but never heard one calling in the hour I was there. 8/7/16
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Three SAVANNAH SPARROWS, which appear young, were on a fence at Franklin HS. 8/7/16
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How often does someone post a photo of a crow? I picked up my life Indiana list Fish Crow at Eagle Creek but this AMERICAN CROW was at Westside Park in Greenwood. 8/6/16

Bobolink Update

I was going to title this post “To the Mall” but that didn’t pan out, so I stuck with Bobolink Update.

And let me reiterate my position, even in the so-called “slow times”, there is always something going on if you get out the door.

I actually slept in until 4:30 this Saturday so I could be to the mall at 5:30. The first thing I noticed was the dawn chorus of robins was gone. I thought it was less last week but this week it was gone.

I picked the mall in hopes a COMMON NIGHTHAWK might have used its flat roof for nesting. Wikipedia states the mall was built in 1966 so I was hopeful the roof was still gravel as opposed to the modern rubber roof. The mall went in for a major change in 2003 so maybe it has a rubber roof. But it didn’t have any nighthawks around I could hear.

On to Franklin High School in hopes of photographing the continuing WILSON’S SNIPE. I was doing good on sneaking up to the spot I encountered one last week when a bee went down my shirt. It must have been comical watching me strip off layers in shoulder-high wet weeds. So much for getting a photo. Walking back to the car I flushed a snipe in a completely different part of the marsh. Did it move from the recent rains and ensuing high water?

On to a known VESPER SPARROW spot that was still needed for the IAS Summer Count. The spot is by a low spot which sometimes holds shorebirds. Upon arriving there was water, 55 MALLARDS, and a LESSER YELLOWLEGS. All flushed when I opened the car door and I wasn’t even close. A Spotted Sandpiper also flushed in the mass exit. The yellowlegs is the earliest fall shorebird I have ever had in the county. But it helps to have water in July for shorebirds. And I did hear two Vesper Sparrows calling in the distance.

Still no photos on the day.

On to Atterbury FWA were I saw a distant RINGED-NECKED PHEASANT heading to the brush.

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Ring-necked Pheasant

A few photos of other locals from Atterbury.

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Indigo Bunting
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Orchard Orioles – there were three but I could never get them in the same photo.
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Willow Flycatcher

Down at Pisgah Lake were I watched swallows harassing a Red-shouldered Hawk.

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Tree Swallow(?) attacking a Red-shouldered Hawk.

Bobolink Update

The Bobolink are still at the now partially mowed field at Atterbury. I saw two on the day and heard Grasshopper Sparrows calling. What we could have if man wouldn’t intervene?

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The mowing must have pushed the Bobolink closer allowing me to finally get some decent photos.

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Finally, a decent Bobolink photo!

On the way home I noticed the field in Greenwood that still has Bobolinks was getting mowed. It will be seen if they stay.

On the day I added three species for the IAS Summer Count – Vesper Sparrow, Lesser Yellowlegs, and Ring-necked Pheasant.

Plus, I saw three raptors getting assailed. The fore mentioned Red-shoulder Hawk, an American Kestrel stirred up 50 Barn Swallows when it attacked a barn, and an Eastern Kingbird pecking away while riding the back of a Red-tailed Hawk.

Eventually I’m going to remember I have a video function on the camera.

Prelude to a County Big Day

It’s 4PM on a beautiful April Sunday afternoon. What am I doing? Cussing a poor, innocent COOPER’S HAWK flying by. And what has it done to receive my wrath? It’s because I’m a mile from the Marion County Line, I’ve been birding since 5:15AM, and I want to go home. But the Cooper’s Hawk is #98 and as soon as I lift my binoculars I will see the ROCK PIGEONS that live at the intersection of I65 and Main in Greenwood. One of those unlucky souls is #99 and I can’t quit on #99. Only a mile from the county line means I really don’t have much of an option for #100 except for a long drive across teh county to an eagle’s nest. I’d rather quit at #99 than drive. So what to do?

Prelude – 10 Days Ago

About 10 days ago I started thinking about a Big Day for Johnson County. Living here for 3+ years I pretty well know the bird’s locations. I used to run Big Days periodically when I lived in Illinois. I thought then and I still do that planning for Big Days make one a better birder.

Having to plan for a Big Day makes you:

  1. On a regular basis bird different spots to know exactly where the birds are located, which is good for long-term trend analysis. If you eBird.
  2. Get out of a rut by birding those areas instead of visiting the same old “productive” spots.
  3. Search for new areas. I’m still looking for a marsh in Johnson County with rails. Or an owl/hawk nest to cut down on the chance of missing them on a Big Day. Also for more shorebirds sites in this rural agriculture county.

With the IAS Big May Day on May 14 that left the weekend of May 7-8 or later. When I lived in Illinois I used to go to Southern Illinois and participate in a fund-raising Big Day the last weekend of April. So I decided I’d run a Big Day the last weekend in April to compare the totals.

Prelude – 29 Hours Previous

Having decided to run a Big Day on May 1 I headed out at 7AM on Saturday, April 30, to do some scouting with Mike. The weather was not very cooperative but we had a good morning with several species seen for the first time this year. Right off the bat we had a late staying NORTHERN SHOVELER at Franklin HS pond where we also flushed a WILSON’S SNIPE. Then a PIED-BILLED GREBE at the Walmart/Lowes Pond which isn’t easy to find this time of year. Later we saw a DOUBLE-CRESTED CORMORANT at Driftwood, which is a tough county bird.

We located areas that if the birds continued overnight would be good spots on Sunday.

Like the regular flooded area which held BLUE-WINGED TEAL along with GREATER YELLOWLEGS.

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The “Purple Martin” road had numerous warblers plus this ROSE-BREASTED GROSBEAK.

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The “River Road” in Atterbury had one spot with a calling SCARLET TANAGER and YELLOW-BILLED CUCKOO.

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I’m showing the back-end of the cuckoo to show how much water the feathers repel.

Mike heard a BLUE-WINGED WARBLER calling as we drove through Atterbury. It posed for photos in the rain.

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Not an uncommon bird but a photo of a singing EASTERN MEADOWLARK during a break in the rain.

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Would these birds be there the next day? Would I find #100.

I’ll finish the story soon.

Peek-a-Boo Meadowlark

(I wrote most of this blog the last week of March and now just getting a chance to post. I thought I’d better get it posted since most posts going forward will be about London and migration. The photos are with my old camera.)

One of the frustrating things about birding is hearing a bird and not being able to see it. Especially grassland birds when the grass isn’t high. You hear them calling constantly but never see them.

Where are they at?

One of the prime examples is the EASTERN MEADOWLARK.

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An Eastern Meadowlark showing its bright colors in the afternoon soon. Franklin HS – 3/26/16

You can hear meadowlarks calling. There might be 1, 2, or 10 birds out there but you don’t know for sure because you never see them.

Or yes you do when they pop up to sing on a bush or tree. Otherwise they are hidden.

How do they hide in such short grass?

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Photo of the same area as above taken in a burst of 5 photos, so there wasn’t much time between the photos. Where did it go? Franklin HS – 3/26/16

I spent some time with an Eastern Meadowlark on a recent Saturday afternoon trying to find out. (I started with a Wilson Snipe but it wasn’t cooperating.)  I heard the meadowlark but couldn’t see him. So I waited and watched and after some time he popped up again.

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The meadowlark is back out in the open. Franklin HS – 3/26/16
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And just as quickly he disappeared. If you look close you can see his head barely exposed in the center of the photo. Franklin HS – 3/23/16

He was hidden, popped up, sang for a while, and disappeared again.  Where did he go?

If you look closely at the following photo you will catch a glance of his head on the center of the photo to the far right. Now I know why I don’t see them. He sang in the above photos, ducked, and ran to the west.

He is walking in grass only about half his height, he’s walking low, and keeping his camouflaged non-yellow side towards me.

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The meadowlark is keeping low and heading west. Franklin HS – 3/23/16

And when he did sing he didn’t stand all the way up. He just kept low singing. No wonder I’m overlooking them. If I hadn’t caught any of the minimally exposed yellow color I’d miss him.

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A zoomed photo to show how little of the meadowlark is exposed.

I ended the session with the understanding how I miss seeing Eastern Meadowlarks.

Not sure I’ll find them any easier though I now have an understanding.

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The Start to A Solid Saturday

The weather turned out to be better than expected last Saturday with just slight drizzle and overcast skies versus the rain for both Saturday and Sunday that was predicted.  But even with that and being on the road all week I wasn’t moving too fast Saturday morning. This meant I didn’t get out of the house until 10:30. Which just might be a record for the latest time getting out on a Saturday. But my wife was out-of-town so I wasn’t in any hurry to get home early. I spent the day hitting the usual haunts in Johnson County. Nothing fancy, just a solid day. One of those enjoyable days that’s good to be out.

First stop was the grasslands just over the Marion – Johnson county line which I blogged about back in December. This is an area off Interstate 65 that is going to be turned into a shopping area. The only thing hinting the project is still on was a sign stating Retail Space for Rent.  So we’ll see if and when it gets going.

The area held the usual grassland birds plus a FOX SPARROW in the hedge row. I only bring it up since, once again, I didn’t have my camera out of the car yet and the sparrow was right out in a photographic pose.  Just like last week. I now only have a couple more weekends for a Fox Sparrow photo since they are gone by mid-April.

The only bird allowing a photo was a KILLDEER.

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This Killdeer was trying to lead me away from what I assume was its future nesting area. Greenwood Retaining Ponds 3/19/16

The species with the biggest number on Lowes Pond in Franklin was AMERICAN COOT and there were only 22 of them. But there were 5 BUFFLEHEAD that are always nice to see.

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A Bufflehead pair that took off about .1 second AFTER this photo. Which is unusual since they usually take off .1 second BEFORE the photo. Lowe’s Pond 3/19/16

There were also a HOUSE FINCH pair which came in close for a photo-op. Come to think of it there were House Finches at most stops.

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This male House Finch really didn’t mind me being close. Getting tame?? Lowe’s Pond 3/19/16
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And his equally tame female friend. You can sure tell it was a dark day. Lowe’s Pond 3/19/16

At Franklin HS I once again flushed a WILSON’S SNIPE. Maybe I’ll still get a photo of one since they usually stay to early May.

In one of the little trees on the perimeter road were 3 SAVANNAH SPARROWS. And all 3 looked like they were freezing even though it was 45F.

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One of the apparently freezing Savannah Sparrows. Being my first of the year maybe they had just migrated from Florida? Franklin HS 3/19/16
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The numbers of Eastern Meadowlarks in the area is starting to pick up. Franklin HS 3/19/16
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And what I think is one of the least photographed local birds – Common Grackle. I just liked the way this one was sitting and calling in the tree. Note the large bill. Franklin HS 3/19/16

From there I headed to the country and then on to Atterbury.

But what happened on the way will be the topic of the next post.

A Great Blue Heron Eating a Big Fish – Plus What I Saw and Learned this Past Week – 3/22/15

Not in any particular order, some things I saw or learned this past week. Sources listed as noted.

1. Many of you witnessed this. Or have seen it in video.  Or maybe on another blog. But until you see it, you don’t realize how big of fish a Great Blue Heron can swallow.

I pulled up to a local retaining pond, got out of the car, and heard a noise on the bank below.  A Great Blue had a fish in its mouth.  The fish looked rather large from my angle.  I had grabbed my camera and was fighting to turn it on and focus.  The Great Blue flew directly across the pond and stood in the shallow water with the fish.  I figured it couldn’t fly very far without losing the large fish.  It then proceeded to swallow it whole. Amazing.

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Needless to say, or maybe not considering what it just ate, it didn’t fly away the remaining time I was there.

2. An article in the ABA’s Birding Magazine March 2014 issue entitled A Review of World Birding Strategies by Jason Leifester got me thinking. All of the following numbers are probably off by a few but will serve to get the idea across.

There are 238 bird families in the world of which 88 (37%) are listed in the birds of North America.  I figure if you bird the entire US outside of Alaska you could probably see 77 of the 88 families (87%) without too much trouble. In other words no chasing. There are 2225 bird genera in the world which 319 (14%)  are listed on the ABA list. There are 10000 bird species in the world.  There are 650 (6.5%) birds listed as a 1 or 2 on the ABA list.

At the end of my birding days I would like to say I saw 2500 (25%) of the bird species. Not going to happen. Cost prohibitive.

So maybe I see 1200 genera (50%).  Maybe. But still probably cost prohibitive.

Or lets say I could tell my grand-kids I saw 180 families (75%).  Could happen.

Something to think about when planning trips…

3.  The Black-Crested Titmouse was a separate species until 1982 when it was grouped as a subspecies of the Tufted Titmouse.  Twenty years later in 2002 it was split off again as a separate species. ( Pete Dunne on Bird Watching, page 279) I can’t wait until 2022 to see what happens.

4. I don’t remember in years past seeing Horned Grebes in breeding plumage in the spring.  Then again I didn’t see very many in the area we lived in Illinois.

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Horned Grebe – Greenwood Retaining Pond – 03/22/15
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Different bird – Horned Grebe – Greenwood Retaining Pond – 03/22/15

5. Grebes sleep with their bills facing forward, nestled in the side of their neck. (The Sibley Guide to Birds, page 26)

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Horned Grebe – Greenwood Retaining Pond – 03/22/15

And a few more pictures from the week.

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Eastern Meadowlark – Johnson County Park – 03/21/15
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I guess I didn’t realize that the tail of the Eastern Towhees was this long. Atterbury FWA – 03/21/15
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Blue Jay – Atterbury FWA – 03/21/15
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Peaceful – Atterbury FWA – 03/21/15

 

 

Geese, Geese, Geese – and a Few Swans. Universal Mines Saturday

In the attempt to add a few more birds to my Indiana Life list, Mike and I (and probably a large percentage of Central Indiana birders) headed to Universal Mines NW of Terre Haute Saturday morning to view the numerous swans and geese that had been reported.  This would be my first visit to the area.

The high temperature for the day was supposed to reach 50F with winds gusting to 45 MPH in the afternoon. So it was either leave early, fight the cold, and avoid the winds.  Or go later, be warm, and fight the wind. We choose the former.

We left early so we could arrive a little before sunrise to watch the morning flight. When we arrived there were still thousands of geese and hundreds of swans still on the only open water in the area – an old strip mine known as the “Grand Canyon”.

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The south end of the “Grand Canyon” at sunrise. 10,000 Geese?? 01/17/15

 

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A closer view showing more individual geese. 01/17/15

Now here is the rub for Indiana Birders.  The water is on the Illinois side of the border with Indiana.

Map of Grand Canyon Area
A satellite view showing the distance from the “Grand Canyon” to the Illinois-Indiana border.

I already knew the lake was in Illinois but assumed it was closer.  When reporting birds people usually report an Illinois count and then have an Indiana count for the birds that “fly” over the border.  The problem is that unless you actually park on the border, which is 400 meters away, it is hard to tell what birds actually fly over. But as I have previously stated my belief on listing, it is your bird list and unless it is a very rare bird, you can do what you want on your list. So Mike and I made our best guess on birds that flew towards the border.  Enough on that topic.

On the morning we saw great numbers, and I mean GREAT NUMBERS, of Canada Geese, Greater White-fronted Geese, and Trumpeter Swans. Plus 5 Tundra Swans (my goal bird) that we didn’t see fly over the border. I don’t think I have ever seen that many geese at once though I have seen large numbers at Hennepin-Hopper Lake in Illinois.

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Geese becoming air born at sunrise on the north side of the “Grand Canyon”. Another 10,000? 20,000? More? 01/17/15
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Trumpeter Swans flying over the road. 01/17/15

 

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A long distance shot of Greater White-fronted Geese. 01/17/15

And here is my first attempt at video.  Something (an eagle? gun shots?) put all the birds on the north side in the air at once. A sight to behold.

CANG Flight

At this point I’m not going to estimate the number of geese.  I think I will take a closer look at the photos and see if I can come up with a guess.  I’ll post about that at a later date.

On the way home we stopped at Chinook Mines for a quick pass.  Nothing to report but I did get a nice photo of a calling Eastern Meadowlark and a Rough-legged Hawk in flight.

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An Eastern Meadowlark that was calling at Chinook Mines. 01/17/15
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And a Rough-legged Hawk flying over. (I lightened the photo) Chinook Mines 01/17/15

 

Now for the bird that I did add to my list today.  Carl Huffman has been reporting Black Vultures regularly on eBird at DePauw Nature Park in Greencastle. Since it wasn’t far out-of-the-way and since I needed the bird for the list, we stopped by. This is north of the usual range for Black Vultures (see map below) but there are other sites north of the range where they appear.  Hopefully this will be another consistent site.

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I put a red X on Greencastle to show how far north the Black Vultures are from their normal range.

After seeing 6 Turkey Vultures we ended seeing 2 Black Vultures at a distance which didn’t allow photos.  I did get one photo of a Turkey Vulture though.

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A really lightened photo of a Turkey Vulture. DePauw Nature Park 01/17/15

Even if the Tundra Swans stayed on the Illinois side and couldn’t be added to the list, I got to add Black Vulture.