Black Vultures – You Just Never Know

I hadn’t expected anything exceptional to happen this past weekend given it’s late July and the heat index was headed to 110F. But I was sitting at 98 species for Johnson County in the IAS Summer Count and wanted to get to 100.

Not living in the county means I lose the opportunity to see several of the neighborhood species. Like COOPER’S HAWKS or RUBY-THROATED HUMMINGBIRDS. Birds I see daily on my neighborhood walk in Marion County and I used to see daily when we lived in Johnson County.

But birders know you don’t what’s out there unless you look.

So off I went.

With the recent rainfall I thought my best bet to reach 100 was going to be shorebirds. I made a quick first stop at the Marion County site to see how the conditions looked. Good.

COOMBS LAKE (2)
The Combs Road wet area was turning into a good shorebird spot. Marion County 7/23/16
GREG (1)
There were numerous Great Egrets and Great Blue Herons at the location. Marion County 7/23/16
LESA (2)
Two Least Sandpipers appeared obvious in the field but looking at the photos I thought maybe they were Semipalmated. Until I saw the yellowish legs. Marion County 7/24/16
SPSA
One Spotted Sandpiper that wouldn’t stand still. Marion County 7/24/16

So I was hopeful for shorebirds in Johnson County.

But it was not to be. The shorebird sites had water and had either corn or beans or weeds also. This didn’t make for good shorebirding. Oh well. I would have to hope for other species for 100.

Do you know you can still see birds using the strategy of walking from one shade tree to the next? I used the strategy successfully all day starting at Driftwood following the disappointment at the shorebird sites.

It was still early enough in the day that I saw several species.

EAPH (3)
An Eastern Towhee on territory before the heat of the day. Driftwood SFA 7/23/16
YEWA (1)
A Yellow Warbler who will probably be heading south soon. Driftwood SFA 7/23/16
WIFL (2)
A Willow Flycatcher who called the whole time I was present. Driftwood SFA 7/23/16
RTHU (2)
And most importantly, a Ruby-throated Hummingbird fluttering around. #99 for the Summer Count. Driftwood SFA 7/23/16

Leaving Driftwood I saw three TURKEY VULTURES flying lazily to the north. I didn’t think much about them until I turned onto US31. Thier number was now seven and two immediately looked different.

BLACK VULTURES

Driving north a half mile I finally found a pull off and confirmed the ID. They drifted my way giving good views and a few photos.

BLVU (10)
Two Black Vultures looping lazily over the Big Blue River. 7/23/16
BLVU (5) Black Vultures
One eventually drifted overhead. 7/23/16

This is only my third sighting of Black Vultures in the county. Probably the 1st for the Johnson County Summer Count, and more importantly, #100 for this year’s count.

Like I said, you never know what’s out there unless you look. Even on a hot summer’s day.

Whip-poor-will/Bell’s Vireo – Y or N

After Saturday’s hike which turned up White-crowned Sparrows I set out Sunday to see once and for all if Atterbury FWA had EASTERN WHIP-POOR-WILL.  Plus check for NORTHERN BOBWHITE and the returning BELL’S VIREO.

Whip-Poor-Will

This would be the second time in two years I was going to make sure there were no EASTERN WHIP-POOR-WILLS at Atterbury FWA. Sunday’s forecast was perfect for checking – Full Moon, Clear, and Calm Winds.

MOON (2) Looking for Whip-poor-will.
The early morning was perfect for checking for Eastern Whip-poor-wills.

When I arrived it was perfect conditions. I listened at 6 places between 4:50 – 5:40 AM.

The result is I’m pretty confident there are NO Eastern Whip-poor-wills at Atterbury FWA.

It took several years to find a whip-poor-will spot in my home county in Illinois, so I’m not done yet looking in Johnson County.

But I did hear numerous BARRED OWLS with one actually landing by the car for a good view. And of course the chats were chatting in the dark.

Northern Bobwhite

I proceeded to the NW part of Atterbury to listen for Northern Bobwhite. The area has been off-limits for the past several weekends for Spring Turkey Season.  I walked for a couple of miles – no luck there either as the area has had a controlled burn.

EATO (3)
Eastern Towhees were quite numerous singing in the morning daylight.

I did see a RED-HEADED WOODPECKER, several WILLOW FLYCATCHERS, and EASTERN TOWHEES on the walk.

I remembered the park manager saying she had seen a Northern Bobwhite by her office. So I headed the mile east to sit and eat breakfast by a large field north of her office. In a couple of minutes I heard bobwhite calling. Another specifies tied down for the IAS Summer Count.

Bell’s Vireo

The last species I was checking was to see if the Bell’s Vireo had returned to the same area of Johnson County Park. I no sooner got out of the car and one was singing in the same bush as last year, giving great views. Then another came along and they flew off. But one kept singing hidden in a nearby bush.

BEVI (3)
Except for a short period last year I don’t think I have ever seen a Bell’s Vireo out in the open for this long.
BEVI (4)
Later a second bird which looked like a Bell’s Vireo chased this one off its perch. Maybe that’s why it was singing so long in one spot? Staking out his territory?
CHSP
This Chipping Sparrow landed down the road when I was watching the Bell’s Vireo.
AMKE
The resident American Kestrel watching the events at the Johnson County Horse Park.

And that was a very good end to the weekend or so I thought until I came across the COMMON GALLINULE.

A Johnson County Big Day

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.

COYE
Like a Common Yellowthroat in the dawn light. Atterbury FWA 5/1/16
EATO
And an Eastern Towhee. Atterbury FWA 5/1/16

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.

YEWA
Yellow Warbler. Atterbury FWA 5/1/16
RCKI
A Ruby-crowned Kinglet. Atterbury FWA 5/1/16
YBCU (3)
A Yellow-billed Cuckoo was posing nicely. Check out those tail spots! Atterbury FWA 5/1/16

YBCU (2) YBCU (1)

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.

PROW
Prothonotary Warbler Irwin park 5/1/16
DCCO
At least the Double-crested Cormorant stayed around. Driftwood 5/1/16
BAOR
As usual Driftwood was thick with Baltimore Orioles. Driftwood 5/1/16

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 –

PBGR
A PIED-BILLED GREBE!

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.

The Finish of the Solid Saturday

I need to catch up on a few things.

First the rest of the Solid Saturday that I posted about earlier in March. The day never cleared up until after I got home. So it was another day of taking photos with a cloudy background. Maybe next time it will be clear.

After leaving Franklin HS I headed to Atterbury. First I stopped by the GREAT BLUE HERON Rookery just west of the High School on Young’s Creek. I bring it up because soon I’m going to blog on the Johnson County’s Rookeries I know.

Heron Rookery JC
The Great Blue Heron Rookery just west of Franklin. This one is a little closer to the road than the one south of town. 12 nests? 3/19/16

I then spent the rest of the day in the greater Atterbury FWA area. The bulk of the afternoon was spent walking the north end of Atterbury. Where I saw the SWAMP SPARROW.

First though was a stop at Driftwood were there wasn’t much happening except TREE SWALLOWS feeding.

TRES 031916 (1)
I liked the reflection on the water from the Tree Swallow in this photo. Driftwood SFA 3/19/16

Then on to the hike at Atterbury. The area always holds large numbers of EASTERN TOWHEES with over 20 seen or heard on the day.

EATO 031619
Though the area holds many Eastern Towhees, they weren’t coming out for photos.  I’m still hoping to get a photo of a towhee in the sun. Atterbury FWA 3/19/16
FISP 031619 (2)
Even though there were numerous species, they were all hunkered down in the bushes in the cold 30’sF temperatures and cold north wind. This Field Sparrow was a perfect example of how the birds jumped up , checked me out, and then right back down to the brush. Atterbury FWA 3/19/16
NOFL 031619 (1)
But this Northern Flicker didn’t let the weather bother him. I’m thinking the Carolina Wren might want to watch out. The Flicker is quickly becoming my “new” favorite local bird. Atterbury FWA 3/19/16

I ended the day by watching a lone PIED-BILLED GREBE on the pond that my hike had circled.

PBGR 031619 (1)
A good profile view showing the much thicker bill of the Pied-billed Grebe versus other smaller billed grebes. And the distinctive white rump. Atterbury FWA 3/19/16
PBGR 031619 (2)
As can be seen by the lack of ripples on the water, the wind finally died down when I was getting ready to leave. And the grebe was left to itself on this peaceful day. Atterbury FWA 3/19/16

Almost Time For This Year’s Adventure

Wish I had more to write about, but I don’t.  Between sitting in a training class last week or driving to the training class, the creative juices weren’t flowing.

Plus what free time I have is going to learning the birds of Colorado. The western slope of the Rockies to be exact.  I fly out next weekend for 6 days around the Grand Junction area. I plan on trying to make a daily post but that might be a little to ambitious. At that time I’ll go into more detail how I picked that area to see birds of the U.S. “Great Basin”.

NO photos from this weekend.  Along with Mike and Karl we did the annual breeding census on the military side of Camp Atterbury. No cameras allowed on the military base, so no photos.  Karl had done the east side on Friday which is mostly grasslands and had a good count of 35 Henslow’s Sparrows. We did the forested west side and some how came up with the same number of Hooded Warblers, Ovenbirds, and American Redstarts – 17.  The count on the Hooded is the highest ever for this count. With the high temperatures the birds stopped calling early so we didn’t have as good of day as past years.  Oh well.

But here are a few photos from a week ago.

BLPH ATTERBURY FWA 060615
Eastern Phoebe calling insistently above a creek and of course close to a bridge. Atterbury FWA 6/06/15
GCKI OUTLINE
One and only one guess as to this species. Getting a good look so I can compare it to an Ash-throated Flycatcher next week. Atterbury FWA 6/06/15 (Great Crested Flycatcher)
EATO ATTERBURY FWA 060615
Same thing here. Taking a long look at an Eastern Towhee so I can compare to a Spotted Towhee next week in Colorado. Atterbury FWA 6/06/15
YBCH ATTERBURY FWA 060615
I heard numerous Yellow-breasted Chats on the day. Most were up and singing on territory. If you can call what they do singing. Atterbury FWA 6/06/15
YBCH ATTERBURY FWA 060615A
Same guy as above.
HOSP  FHS 060715A
I always find House Sparrows away from man interesting. But of course they really aren’t away from man because she is standing on a man-made bluebird house. FHS 6/06/15
HOSP  FHS 060715B
And the male house Sparrow wasn’t too far away. FHS 6/06/15
SASP FHS 060615A
There were several male Savannah Sparrows giving me their chip note to keep away. And I wasn’t even that close. I did learn their chip note though, which is a softer one than a Song Sparrow. FHS 6/06/15
SASP FHS 060615
Same bird as above.
YEWA JCP 060615
A Yellow Warbler flew in and decided to take a quick bath. Johnson County Park 6/06/15
NRWS JC 060715
And is there any doubt that the Northern Rough-winged Swallow was the prototype for every movie alien? Look at those eyes. East of Franklin – Johnson County
MIKI 061910
Maybe movie producers used Mississippi Kites instead? Ferne Clyffe SP IL 6/19/10

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

What I Learned the Week of 5/25

Following are several things I learned (or had known, forgot, and learned again) the week of May 25. Hopefully you will learn a few things also.

1. Early Saturday morning I saw a female Rose-breasted Grosbeak.  I couldn’t tell if she was carrying anything like nesting material. It seemed late in the season to see a Grosbeak, especially a female.  Then later on the day I saw three males.  So did I really know S&D (status and distribution) on Rose-breasted Grosbeaks?  My recollection was that I might see one or two during the summer. But was I mixing up all the years I lived in Illinois?

RBGR Range
The black square are the borders of Johnson County. More or less. Source: xeno-canto

So I checked.  Johnson County is on the southern edge of Rose-breasted Grosbeak’s breeding range which means they will be seen by a few people in Central and Southern Indiana during the breeding season. I have seem a few the last couple of years but the sightings were early June and late July.  So I will keep frequenting the area to see if I can get proof of breeding.

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Male Rose-breasted Grosbeak singing at Atterbury FWA. 5/30/15
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Same bird as above photo.

2.  I came across two male Willow Flycatchers calling.  I wondered if I could use them to track back to a nest?

Nope. According to The Birds of North America Online and I quote “Female selects site, collects nest material, and builds nest while male perches nearby.”

I’m sure there is a joke there describing female-male human relations but I will let it pass.  I will look for a nest the old fashioned way.  Get lucky.

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Male Willow Flycatcher. Atterbury FWA 5/30/15

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3. Keeping on the nesting topic I learned that both Eastern Towhees and Field Sparrows start the breeding season building their nests on the ground.  The later in the breeding season it gets they tend to build nests higher and higher in bushes.  First starting in lower bush branches and then lastly slightly higher branches.

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I watched this Field Sparrow for a length of time but it never did heard back to a nest area. Atterbury FWA 5/30/15

4. Put a pair of dry socks and shoes in the trunk if you are going to walk in high wet grass all morning.

5. I learned that Wood Thrushes do sing out in the open. I don’t think I have ever seen a Wood Thrush singing in the open for any length of time.  Let alone at the top of a taller tree. This guy was singing for at least 20 minutes.  But he never did get out in the sun for a better picture.

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Wood Thrush singing from the top of a dead tree. Atterbury FWA 5/30/15

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6. In the really “too much information”, The Birds of North America Online has a small section devoted to preening which I have always passed over. But Saturday I had the opportunity to watch a Common Yellowthroat preening and wanted to know what they had to say.

“Preens at all times of day. Normally scratches head with foot over wing, but may (rarely) scratch under wing.”

And I was glad to see that this Common Yellowthroat was normal on his scratching.

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If you click on the photo and enlarge, you can see the Common Yellowthroat is using over the foot over wing movement to scratch. Atterbury FWA 5/30/15

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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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067

072

075

078

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