August Birding 2017 Week 2

Wednesday morning found me at Southeastway Park hoping to find local birds I missed the first weekend of August. With only a half hour I thought I could make a small loop and pick up a few calling species. And the plan worked with a Northern Parula doing its alternate call which threw me off for a minute. A pair of Wood Thrushes were next along with the local group of Chipping Sparrows. Yellow-throated Warblers are usually present but not this day. A decent start to August Birding 2017 Week 2 I knew would have limited time for birding.

I met up with Mike early Saturday at the local flooded field.  Along with hundreds of Canada Geese and Mallards there were the usual Killdeer, Pectoral, and Least Sandpipers. But nice addictions to the August list were Semipalmated Plover and Short-billed Dowitcher.

I think we had seen most of the shorebird species before a balloon came drifting over the water putting up all the birds. Waterfowl and herons included. After it passed only a few Killdeer returned.

Since I had to leave mid-morning for a four-day out-of-town family trip we decided on the nearby Southeastway Park. Even though it was quiet Mike and I eventually saw most of the expected species. But nothing new for the month.

After leaving Southeastway I still had a little time. I knew some of the needed August species could be found in the small pond behind our residence. So I headed there.

It took a little time but eventually a single Wood Duck popped up on a log.
And eventually a concealed Green Heron flew out from the tangled shoreline.
August Birding 2017 Week 2
This Great Blue Heron seems to be  constantly standing guard over the small pond.

After the short week my Marion County August total was in the high 70’s. And there probably won’t be much movement for another 10 days. Hurry up migration.

Atterbury Big May Day

I don’t remember the last time I spent the entire day birding. I’m aware others do it weekly. As I have stated the constant running and searching feels good in the moment but I never seem to remember what happened on those days. Not as enjoyable as birding one location for hours and living in the moment. But Saturday for the fifth year I did an Atterbury Big May Day for Johnson County portion for the Indiana Audubon Society Big May Day.

The day started well with all the expected owls – Eastern Screech-Owl, Barred Owl, and Great Horned Owl – calling on cue. I even had a bonus Common Nighthawk fly in front the car as I was leaving the Barred Owl area.

After owling the day started with haze coming off the wet fields.
One of the first daylight birds was a lone Green Heron watching from the mist.

This year I tried something different. With Turkey Season closing the interior of Atterbury until 1PM I planned stops along the roads and tried to bird those areas for a certain time. This is in the hope I can more or less repeat the run every year.

Dickcissels were out in force in the small grassland area on my route.

Uncommon findings were Red-breasted Nuthatch and Black Vulture.

If the Red-breasted Nuthatch hadn’t been singing its toy trumpet call I would have missed it. This is the latest date I’ve seen one in the Midwest.
The Black Vulture was on the east side of Atterbury where I have seen one previously. I assume they have moved this far north and aren’t enough people looking to note the increase.
This American Coot was the only one the group saw on the day. I don’t think he’ll be here much longer.

At lunch the group tallied up the species and we were in the 120’s with no shorebirds except for Killdeer. My afternoon plan was to hike into Atterbury for rails and on to shorebirds.

The rail search was a bust, probably the high water. I started meandering home crisscrossing the county checking fields I knew held water after heavy rains. The plan proved fruitful as I added 8 additional species on the day.

A  female Mallard was sharing a flooded field with a Solitary Sandpiper.
One of the fields which can only be viewed in late afternoon but more importantly when the big dog isn’t around, had a Semipalmated Plover and Least Sandpipers.
The field that last year produced a Bonaparte’s Gull had a Pied-billed Grebe along with Spotted Sandpiper and Lesser Yellowlegs. The shorebirds aren’t in the photo.
Atterbury Big May Day
And a lone Northern Shoveler was swimming among the Mallards.

I failed while trying to flush snipe at a local marsh but flushed an American Woodcock as a bonus prize.

Reaching the county line around 7:30 I decided to call it a day. After 14 hours I once again proved by putting in the time will usually produce a good count.

Some Points from Observing a Great Crested Flycatcher

I went on a bird walk at Fort Harrison State Park last Sunday morning which is led by Don Gorney. It is always an enjoyable outing, even if the birds aren’t numerous. Which was the case last Sunday.  Here’s Don’s report from IN-Bird.

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One of the few birds that did come out for a good view was an Eastern Wood-Pewee. Fort Harrison SP 9/6/15

I would like to discuss some points that came up from observing a Great Crested Flycatcher. The bird didn’t call and only showed it’s back at first.  Don pointed out that the bird looked “off” for a Great Crested and could it be Indiana’s first Ash-throated Flycatcher? It flew to another tree and really didn’t look as yellow below as a Great Crested usually does. After some thought it was decided the bird was probably a young Great Crested Flycatcher.

We initially only saw the bird from behind with it only giving looks at its back.  In my mind I knew there was something about the pattern of the tertials on a Great Crested (GCFL) versus an Ash-throated (ATFL).  But I couldn’t pull that info from my brain, so I didn’t say anything. And I was too busy watching the bird to ask if anyone had a field guide. OK, I really didn’t think to ask.

GCFL Arrow
The next day I had the same scenario – a bird with it’s back to me. But this time I knew it was a Great Crested Flycatcher after reading up the day before. Notice how the tertials have broad white edges. Franklin Township Park 9/7/15
ATFL Arrow
For comparison this Ash-throated Flycatcher’s tertials aren’t as sharply contrasting. Rabbit Valley CO 6/23/15

The following are some notes to myself.  Use them yourself as you deem necessary.

Point 1 – Always carry a field guide and I don’t care how hot it is.

I usually carry a field guide in my man purse but it was going to be 90 degrees that day and it was already hot and humid.  And carrying the man purse is hot. And don’t remind me I carried one everyday in Colorado in 100 degree weather. So get a nylon one if the canvas one is going to stop you from carrying a field guide.

Point 2 – I’m not so smart that I don’t need to carry a field guide.

I rarely use a field guide in the field anymore.  I usually take good notes and then look things up when I get back to the car.  But it seems the time I usually need it is way out in the field. Like the discrepancy on the tertial feathers of the GCFL.

Back in Illinois the group I birded with had several members that had been birding for over 30 years.  One November we had walked out to a point on a lake to observe loons and grebes, not common birds in north-central Illinois. We ended up seeing both a Red-necked Grebe and Red-throated Loon along with Common Loons.  Luckily someone had the forethought to bring along a field guide or we would never have positively ID the birds. So sometimes it doesn’t matter how long you have birded.

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I didn’t need a field guide to ID this guy. A Green Heron hunting around a pond. Fort Harrison SP 9/6/15

Point 3 – I need to keep reviewing my field guide for the birds I might see this time of year.

If I had been reviewing flycatchers in the last month I would have known the wing feathers and the differences of the adult and juvenile birds.

Point 4 – Keep taking field notes.

Luckily I had used my voice recorder to get a good description of the bird so when we got back I could use them to review. This let me confirm the differences on the flycatchers.

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Swainson’s Thrush were numerous over the weekend. But for me they are hard to photograph since they don’t come out in the open very often. And I had been reviewing them the previous week. Fort Harrison SP 9/6/15

Point 5 – Stay on the bird until I’m sure I have all the info I can get.

The group finally moved on to other birds but I stayed on the GCFL until it finally moved to another tree and then out of sight.  When it flew the second time through the sunlight I could see how bright yellow it was on the underside clinching the GCFL ID.

Point 6 – Keep birding other areas of the United States on a regular basis.

I knew from Colorado the ATFL were a lighter yellow than GCFL. Now would I have remembered if I had taken the trip several years ago instead of last June?

High Water and Forest Damage – The Last Saturday of the IAS Summer Bird Count

My plan for the last Saturday in July, which was the last Saturday for the Indiana Audubon Summer Bird Count, was like the first weekend in June – visit as many habitats as possible. The difference as opposed to the first weekend in June was that the few birds that would be calling would probably be done by 10AM. And they were. So I was hoping for shorebirds to observe after 10.

I was out by 5AM in search of Eastern Screech-Owls but only found a pickup with a boat in the parking lot about 50 yards from my best spot at Atterbury FWA. With its motor running and lights on.  Why would someone be in a parking lot an hour and half before sunrise with a big boat by a pond that I wouldn’t even bother to canoe?  Who knows.

Anyway after missing the screech-owl I headed to the Great Horned Owl location and they began calling on cue about a half hour before sunrise.  But I missed Barred Owl again. I have only heard one this year as opposed to six by this time the last two years. Maybe I just need to get out more?

The next hour and half around Atterbury/Johnson County Park was productive. I observed not one but four Belted Kingfishers, a bird I had missed on the count so far.  It was also cool to watch Tree Swallows chase them around, a behavior I had never witnessed.

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One of two female Belted Kingfishers that was being chased by Tree Swallows. But I’m not sure who started the chase.
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A Common Grackle watching the chase around the trees.
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I’ll let you guess on the top bird way across the lake. Use the process of elimination of the tagged species at the end of the article for the answer.
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A female Rose-breasted Grosbeak that was in the same area as 3 males that kept flying around.
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One of the males landed long enough for a quick photo.

As others have noted swallows were gathering with a large group of Purple Martins at one of the small lakes at Atterbury. I was also glad to see a Spotted Sandpiper fly over since I had missed them because of the high water in the county.  And today the water was even higher. Driftwood SFA was the highest I have ever seen it, with no boats on the water when I checked.  The Big Blue River was also very high. And all the usual shorebirds spots were either flooded or so full of weeds that no shorebirds would land there.

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Purple Martins were numerous on the day, as were most swallows.
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A tree full of Purple Martins. They must be moving since I had never seen them in this location before.
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An Eastern Phoebe doing a 180 look. Not sure but I didn’t see anything in that direction.

Atterbury also showed the effects of the recent storms with trees down in many places. You could see were the DNR had cut many trees that had falling across the road. After Atterbury I headed to Laura Hare Preserve and the situation was even worse. If I hadn’t been to the preserve previously I’m not sure I could have picked up the trail in several spots. Trees were down everywhere and the trail was washed out in a couple of spots.  And the birding was slow as it approached the 10AM hour.

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Some of the damage at Laura Hare Preserve. You can’t even tell the trail veers to the left.
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One of the smaller trees that was laying across the path.
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And part of the trail was washed out by the lake.

I stopped by the south side of Atterbury and Johnson County Park on my way back from Laura Hare. While there I had all three raptors on the day – Red-tailed Hawk, American Kestrel, and Turkey Vulture – while sitting on a picnic table getting a drink and watching meadowlarks.  The JCP Bell’s Vireo was still calling and a Yellow-breasted Chat came out to see who was around.

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A Yellow-breasted Chat popped out to see who was in this far corner of the park.

So I ended the summer count with 88 species, the first time I hadn’t broke 100 in the three years I have participated. But I didn’t get to Laura Hare in early June and that is needed for 5 or so breeding warblers. Plus no shorebirds this year. Which usually is another 5 or so. And I missed a week going to Colorado and another week to cataract surgery. Cataract Surgery is something I should blog about but I’m waiting to see how it improves my birding. So far it has been great.

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The local Red-tailed Hawk sitting in the tree behind our condo. Its mate is usually there but not on this day.
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And the local Northern Mockingbird. Recently I have heard it calling as late as midnight and as early as 5AM. Does it ever sleep? Does it call in its sleep? Does it ever stop?