Early on Saturday morning of Labor Day Weekend I read a post on IN-Bird by Joni Jones about seeing Great Egrets leaving their roost at 7AM. I had planned to go to the local wet area around sunrise at 7:17AM, but changed my plans after reading her post and instead arrived at 6:45AM. And I’m glad I did because those 15 minutes made a difference.
Here are counts at 7AM:
Canada Geese – 500
Mallard – 250
Green-winged Teal – 1
Great Blue Heron – 22
Great Egret – 16
The moral of the story is to get there even earlier then planned because if I would arrived at sunrise I would have seen 90% less birds.
On Labor Day morning I stopped by to check for shorebirds. There were a couple of shorebirds but more unusual was the presence of the resident Great Egrets and Great Blue Herons.
And they were sitting!
In case you’re wondering the heron’s “knee” is hidden up under their feathers. The part they are sitting on in the photos is more like our “ankle”.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Another Saturday and I’m up at 4AM so Mike and I can make our 4th Annual Goose Pond Fourth of July Trip looking for species not usually seen in the Johnson County area – MARSH WREN, LEAST BITTERN, LEAST TERNS, COMMON GALLINULE, and BLACK-NECKED STILTS.
The weather cooperated but the habitat, not so much. Unlike past years the water level was low providing limited habitat for Least Bitterns and Common Gallinules. And where there is water, vegetation has grown to the water’s edge giving limited shorebird access. Compare this year’s photos to last years, when the water level was higher.
And enough habitat around to make the day enjoyable.
The highlight of the day was finding other shorebirds besides the Black-necked Stilts and Killdeer.
All in all, our Annual Goose Pond Trip was good though it was quieter than years past. We missed on Least Bittern and Common Gallinule, plus no Bell’s Vireo or Sedge Wrens. Hopefully the heavy rain predicted for today will help bring some of the habitat back to life.
I had to head back to Lafayette again this weekend. This time I had 4 hours to bird on Sunday. So just like last weekend I took the time to bird another spot that I hadn’t birded before, Celery Bog in West Lafayette.
But first a few words on Saturday. I tried for rails at a small wetland area in Shelby County just across the road from Johnson County. No luck. The habitat almost looks good for rails, but I’m thinking it is too overgrown. But I’ll try again.
I then checked the flooded fields south of Franklin. There were SOLITARY SANDPIPERS but not any other shorebirds.
The bulk of Saturday morning was spent at Laura Hare Preserve. I was searching for HERMIT THRUSH, WINTER WREN, and LOUISIANA WATERTHRUSH. I ended up seeing one Hermit Thrush and 3 Louisiana Waterthrushes. But no photos.
And the reason for no photos was because I finally got a new camera. A Nikon Coolpix P900. Which I wasn’t having much luck with Saturday. So the time at Celery Bog was as much for birding as to take the time to learn the camera.
One could get use to birding Celery Bog on a regular basis. Nice habitat and access. I spent 2-1/2 hours walking the length of the area.
The most abundant bird after AMERICAN COOTS and TREE SWALLOWS were YELLOW-RUMPED WARBLERS. I had a minimum of 25.
There were also a fair assortment of waterfowl and my FOS GREAT EGRET.
I heard a BLACK-THROATED GREEN WARBLER calling in the woods which I hadn’t expected. It stuck to the tops of the trees but I did manage a few shots.
The highlight of the day came at the end of the walk. There was a RED-SHOULDERED HAWK ahead on the path. I watched it eating something and then it seemed to carry it away. A mouse a maybe?
Here is the sequence of events.
And just so you know I wasn’t sold on the camera after Saturday. But the day at Celery Bog swayed my opinion. I think the improved photos show that.
I’ll blog about the new camera soon and keep reviewing it through migration.
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.
Ever since we moved to Indiana three years ago, I have made a trip to Goose Pond each July 4th weekend. And since I only get there a couple of times a year, I have started to look forward to the trip. So like a kid at Christmas anticipating it’s gifts, I was up 15 minutes earlier than the 4:15 alarm, on the road by4:45, and arrived a little after 6:30 to watch the dawn movement.
I was immediately struck by how quiet it was. Outside of the Red-winged Blackbirds there weren’t many birds calling, though there were Marsh Wrens and even a couple of Least Bitterns calling from across IN59. And one of the Least Bitterns even flew over the cattails, but not long enough for a photo. I’m not sure if it was because the air was “heavy” with the cloudy, humid conditions but it seemed “noisier” last year. I ended up seeing about the same number of species as last year, and the the quantity of each species was comparable, but it seemed quieter. Maybe because last year was sunny and warm. Anyway I didn’t let it spoil the day.
Also the water levels were lower. I would have thought they would have been higher with all the rain, but the DNR must be controlling them. Even though I found some perfect shorebird habitat, I didn’t get lucky on any migrating shorebirds like I did last year.
All in all I got to see the native summer birds. Which is the reason I go every year.