The flight arrived late-morning, as opposed to the usual one into Denver and the day spent driving to Grand Junction. This forced the problem of where to bird in the afternoon heat? The choices were either the cooler higher elevations or water birds which didn’t care about the heat. Since I’d be going to higher elevations later in the week the water birds won out. But where? The state parks would be full of weekend visitors. This left Fruitgrowers Reservoir semi-arid water.
The advantage of Fruitgrowers Reservoir is no people. None. As I reported two years ago the lake is off-limits do to phosphorous pollution concerns. Plus this would probably be my only chance to see certain water species this year.
That left me to enjoy the water birds on the warm Sunday afternoon.
I enjoy reading well written CBC recaps. You know the kind where the compiler takes the time to give an overview of the weather conditions, compare totals to other years, gives high or lows for each species, and misses and gains. Why are there so few written when there are so many CBC’s? Then again why are most reports a picture and few words on FB? Another topic to lament.
Mike will be compiling the total recap for the 2016 JC CBC but the numbers should be above average for the complete count. The groups saw several species we usually miss or see every few years. Plus there was waterfowl on Lamb Lake for the first time in several years.
Now for the SE Corner of the 2016 JC CBC which Megan and I have covered this territory the last several years. The area entrails Johnson County Park, the public side of Atterbury FWA, Driftwood SFA, and Irwin Park in Edinburgh.
We weren’t sure there was even going to be a count because the weather was predicted to be cold, which wasn’t the problem. But a slight coating of ice was also expected. Which we did get. But the main roads were heavily salted and weren’t a problem.
I was out by 6AM and owling by 6:45. I no sooner turned the Eastern-screech Owl recording on and one was within 10 feet. Probably the easiest one I ever called in. Then on to the Great Horned Owl area and it was apparent the side roads were going to be a problem.
I stopped and let hunters drive by and debated if I really wanted to try for Great Horned or not. Seeing as I still had an hour to sunrise and it was Sunday morning, I figured if I took my time I could manage the two miles on ice. Going 15mph the roads were manageable.
This proved to be one of the best birding choices I ever made.
Finally arriving at the location I stood outside the car for 25 minutes listening for the Great Horned Owls to call. I don’t know if it was the wind or weather but I never heard them calling. First time in 5 years I have missed them.
Ten minutes from the listed sunrise of 8AM I decided to get my bagel out of the lunchbox in the back seat. I get the bagel and turn to get into the driver seat.
Not 50 yards away I see a Great Horned Owl fly into a group of pines.
I have listened to this Great Horned Owl many times over the years and have even seen it a couple of times on telephone pole, but now I’m pretty sure I know where it roosts.
And those few seconds of seeing the owl fly into the pines is what keeps me getting up and going birding every chance I get.
We got started late since Megan had issues since her area had even worse roads. We finally started in Johnson County Park where we saw the strangest bird of the day.
At the park’s compost site we saw all the expected sparrows plus a little bit uncommon Field Sparrow.
We continued on over the frozen roads picking up a few species here and there. There was zero on the water at Driftwood SFA.
Mike had seen a Winter Wren at Irwin Park earlier in the week and sure enough it was there Sunday. But it didn’t stay still long enough for any photos for Mike or us. Canada Geese were seen which were the only waterfowl on the day.
After lunch I stopped by the Wilson Snipe area where I flushed three.
Megan and I ended up with 38 species which is just below the territory’s 4-year average of 39. The Field Sparrow was the only new species added. We saw another lone Ring-billed Gull a few years ago so this year was not the first. Frozen ponds led to notable misses of Mallard and Great Blue Heron. Otherwise we saw the expected species in the expected numbers.
When it’s the end of August, the temperature is 74F, the humidity is 90% at 5AM, and there is a chance of thunderstorms all day, you hope the birding isn’t going to slow. But if you have birded long enough to read the signs you know it is going to be slow. And it was. Almost eerily quiet. So not many highlights.
Franklin Township Community Park was the start of the day for a little owling which didn’t pan out but I had my first encounter of the year with mosquitoes. It was just a matter of time before all the rain started to produce good number of them. The reason I picked Franklin Township Community Park was because it’s adjacent to watered high school athletic fields and this is a good time of year to check them for shorebirds. They aren’t as productive as sod farms but you never know. Like the time I found the American Golden Plovers in Franklin.
On to the local shorebird spot and the morning departure of Canada Geese. It doesn’t take long for 500 geese to fly off even in smaller groups of 25.
A quick binocular scan didn’t produce many shorebirds besides Killdeer and a few peeps. And one Lesser Yellowlegs. Or not?
Am I 100% sure it is a Stilt Sandpiper? No. In the field it didn’t appear or act to be a Lesser Yellowlegs. And everyone is encouraged to chime in if they have an opinion.
No birding Sunday as the day was spent painting the daughter’s bedroom. Luckily she has no more rooms to paint!
Too many stories to tell from a day’s birding. So this post will be to prove to myself that my statements on migration and shorebird turnover are accurate.
To prove the point, I visited the local shorebird spot Friday PM, Saturday AM, again Saturday after the passing of the Cold Front, and Sunday morning.
Luckily I was mostly correct and there was turnover in shorebirds.
On the Friday Evening’s and on the early Saturday AM visits the BLACK-BELLIED PLOVER was still present from last weekend along with some SEMIPALMATED PLOVERS which had arrived earlier in the week.
But the number of KILLDEER from Friday to Saturday had dropped from 100 to around 10. Did they fly in front of the front or go somewhere else locally?
The Cold Front came through around noon Saturday and on the afternoon visit the Black-bellied Plover was gone. Killdeer numbers were still low but there were now LESSER YELLOWLEGS and PECTORAL SANDPIPERS present. This was still the case Sunday.
So a passing front does lead to shorebird turnover.
Even though the forecast was for heavy rain Saturday I headed out anyway. I follow the old axiom to “Bird in the worst weather”. And I’m glad I did.
After leaving the shorebird site I headed to Driftwood SFA and then on to Johnson County Park. My goal at those locations were birds that will be leaving soon. But that will be the next blog.
Just before I arrived at JCP it started to rain. I parked by the small pond and did a quick check for shorebirds. Nothing.
Fast forward to an hour later and I’m still sitting in the car at the same spot watching the strong thunderstorm end. Putting the window down I hear the “peek-peek” of a SPOTTED SANDPIPER.
Not only had the storm forced down the Spotted Sandpiper but a dozen SOLITARY SANDPIPERS.
I have experienced this a couple of times previously. During migration if there is a Cold Front coming through and there is a strong storm, immediately go out and check flooded fields, shorebird spots, etc. The odds are there will be grounded shorebirds that won’t be hanging around long.
I didn’t see anything uncommon but one never knows.
A late weekend addition. Sunday night I watched 4 COMMON NIGHTHAWKS feed in the neighborhood. These must be migrants following the Cold Front since the only one seen in the neighborhood this summer was in late July.
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.
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.
Since I have now completed my BBS routes and finished helping on a couple other local breeding surveys I took the opportunity to work on my Johnson County IAS Summer Bird Count. The last few years I have been around the 100 species mark and since I was already at 90, I knew it would be tough to add species. With work being demanding the last few weeks I decided to go after EASY additions Saturday.
With sunrise at 6:15 that meant one more Saturday up by 4AM and out by 4:30AM. That put me at Atterbury FWA a little after 5AM. But even before I got there I had a GREAT HORNED OWL fly in front of my car while driving though Franklin. Right time. Right Place.
The first stop which is iffy anyway didn’t produce any owls. But the more reliable spot had 3 EASTERN SCREECH-OWLS flying around for over 10 minutes. In case you’re wondering I usually play a recording for about 1 minute and that’s it. This time it was about 30 seconds when the first one started calling.
Not even 6AM and I had added two species to the count.
Before heading to Driftwood I checked the pond in Johnson County Park. Again right place and time. No sooner than I stopped than a KILLDEER started hassling a SPOTTED SANDPIPER. Plus another easy addition was a RED-HEADED WOODPECKER calling in the distance. Two more easy species for the count.
On to Driftwood, no Double-crested Cormorant but a fly by Red-headed Woodpecker was nice.
To the Dark Road of Atterbury. No Black-billed Cuckoo calling as hoped but a young AMERICAN REDSTART was interested in me.
I then decided to walk back and take a long shot check to see if any rails were in the marshy area. By now the sun was up and it was getting hot. As expected no rails or much else of anything.
So with the heat rising and nothing calling I headed home. But first a stop by the PURPLE MARTIN house for a list easy species.
I’ll take the 5 easy additions since the birds were done calling by mid-morning. It’ll now by one species at a time until the last week of July when I can hope for an influx of shorebirds.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.