Shorebird Saturday and a Cuckoo

Regular readers will notice I haven’t been as proficient blogging the last few weeks. I’ve been traveling for work and honestly the little time I’ve been in the field hasn’t been productive for blogging. Last Saturday I had family matters to take care of early and didn’t get a chance to head out until late morning.

My plan was to meander towards Johnson County Park checking for shorebirds. Since I’ve been in the car too much the last three weeks, once at the park I was going to take a long walk looking for butterflies.

The score on the flooded fields wasn’t bad. Of the sites I know in the eastern part of Johnson County there were 5 with water and shorebirds and 4 overgrown with weeds.

There wasn’t anything unusual in the way of shorebirds but I had close views of Pectoral and Least Sandpipers.

A distant flooded field just south of Indianapolis. Last week I had a flyover Upland Sandpiper that landed in the tall grass south of the water. I tried to digiscope but failed miserably. And my P900 camera came back from the shop later that day. Figures…
I can’t ever remember being this close to Pectoral and Least Sandpipers without flushing them.
The Pec continued to feed ignoring me. There were 22 additional Pecs farther out in the field .
This photos shows why field guides often say Least Sandpipers look like small Pectoral Sandpipers.
A Solitary Sandpiper was the lone bird in this flooded field. Not even a Killdeer.

On the day I only ended up with 5 species of shorebirds with Pectorals numerous at most stops. Hopefully the water will stay with us for a while.

Finally arriving at Johnson County Park I took the long walk to enjoy the nice weather. Butterflies were sparse except for around the small man-made pond.

Tawny Emperor
Tawny-edged Skipper
Common Buckeye

Yellow-billed Cuckoo – Star of the Day

I initially caught a glimpse of it flying across the path and its size made me think of a light-colored Brown Thrasher. It proceeded to jump out giving great looks. And it didn’t seem to mind my presence.

cuckoo
One of those rare occasions when a Yellow-billed Cuckoo wasn’t lurking in the trees.
I know I’ve stated I don’t like close-up photos, but with the cuckoo this close I couldn’t resist.

My newest favorite photo showing both the bill and the tail of the Yellow-billed Cuckoo.

Belted Kingfisher – Weekend Highlight

In my last post I reported I’d be staying closer to home for birding. So what can one see closer to home in late October? Belted Kingfisher for one.

With a limited time Saturday to go birding I was glad I decided to bird closer to home. I went out Sunday but the windy weather wasn’t as conducive to birding.

combs
I checked the wet area first. No herons or egrets or waterfowl for that matter. Since Great Egrets leave early in the day I checked a half hour before sunrise Sunday. Still no luck. Urban Marion County 10/22/16
lesa-2
There were still a few Least Sandpipers to go with the Killdeer. Still hoping for Dunlin.
beki
The ever-present male Belted Kingfisher was the first of two Kingfishers on the day. Greenwood Retaining Ponds 10/22/16
beki-gbhe
Still no waterfowl moving in but the Belted Kingfisher (upper left), Great Blue Heron (lower right), and American Coots (center back) are usually present.

After checking out the local water areas I headed home to bird my home area.

dowo
A Downy Woodpecker was working a tree when I arrived. Urban Indianapolis 10/22/16
eaph-1
Eastern Phoebes have been present all summer with two being seen Saturday. Urban Indianapolis 10/22/16
beki-2 Belted Kingfisher
The picture of the weekend. This female Belted Kingfisher didn’t like me in the area and rattled at me constantly. I think she looks like she is laughing here. Urban Indianapolis 10/22/16
hawks-1
If one keeps an eye to the sky you’ll never know what you might see. Two Red-shouldered Hawks were soaring quite high. A few seconds earlier a Red-tailed Hawk was also soaring with them and the smaller size of the Red-shouldered was apparent. Plus the coloring and fight shape helped to ID them. Urban Indianapolis 10/22/16

Sunday afternoon I spent a few hours at the local park. The wind kept the birds down but on the north side of the tree line the kinglets came out in a fair numbers.

gcki-1
At one point I had both kinglets in the field of view. The Ruby-crowned moved right before I took the photo leaving the Golden-crowned Kinglet. Franklin Township Community Park 10/23/16
rcki-3
The Ruby-crowned Kinglet came in very close and was quite inquisitive when I was pishing. Franklin Township Community Park 10/23/16

Always a good weekend when I can see a few migrants and the local Kingfishers.

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.

An Oasis in the Bean Fields

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.

075
See the water just left of the road a few hundred yards ahead? The road has no shoulders or anywhere to park? Yes, I identified some Solitary and Spotted Sandpipers in my 10 seconds of stopping on the road. East of Franklin 8/1/15

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.

020
The Oasis.

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.

078
A Solitary Sandpiper trying to hide in the foliage. This wasn’t from the Oasis but from one of the my other wet spots before it dried up. Greenwood Retaining Ponds – 8/1/15
007
I’m not sure that these Killdeer know which way they want to go. East of Whiteland – 8/15/15
009
One of 30 or so Least Sandpipers at the Oasis. East of Whiteland 8/15/15
025
If you look close you can see a Semipalmated Plover in the center of the photo that I missed on my first scan of the area. A different wet area – across from Franklin Township Park. 8/15/15
033
A closer photo of the Semipalmated Plover showing it’s orange and black bill. Across from Franklin Township Park. 8/15/15
016
Somewhat of a surprise, a Sora. I don’t usually see them in Johnson County and especially in August. Another wet area that I check regularly – Franklin High School 8/22/15
003
The Oasis also had other species – Tree Swallows for one. It was odd to see them there unless they were migrating. I usually find them around ponds with snags. East of Whiteland 8/15/15
004
A rare sight in Johnson County – a Great Egret. I guess I know a few more wet areas than I let on. Yet another wet area that dried up the first week of the month. South of Franklin – 8/1/15
023
And Double-crested Cormorants are hard to come by in Johnson County away from the very small area that the White River cuts across the NW corner of the county. Atterbury FWA – 8/22/15

And I still need to tell the story about the how shorebirding can end you up in the hospital.

Big May Day Count – Lack of Shorebirds

During the Indiana Audubon Big May Day Bird Count there is historically a lack of shorebirds in Johnson County. That is not surprising since the county is basically an urban area with some farmland. Not much habitat for shorebirds.

But I know a few spots that might have water and can usually turn up a few shorebirds. Last year on the count I found Greater Yellowlegs and Solitary Sandpipers down by Edinburgh.

071
From a few days before the Big May Day count last year, and they hung around for count day. Greater Yellowlegs and Solitary Sandpiper. Edinburgh Retaining Pond 5/03/14

But this year there was a lack of rain leading up to the count.  Mike and I had found some shorebirds in April but those spots were in farm fields and had dried up by the day of the count.

017
A Greater Yellowlegs in a flooded farm field.  4/18/15  Johnson County.
025
A Solitary Sandpiper in the same field as above.  4/18/15  Johnson County.

So when the group met at lunch it was no surprise that the only shorebirds found in the morning were Killdeer and Spotted Sandpiper. And only a couple of each. I had struck out on the two main productive sites since they were dry. So I decided to work my way home stopping by about ten spots that I knew could hold shorebirds.  If they were holding water.

Of the ten spots four were dry. Six of the spots had small amounts of water and all had shorebirds, either Spotted Sandpiper or Killdeer.  So I was still no further ahead except for a good count on the Spotties.

037
A Spotted Sandpiper feeding in marshy area by Franklin HS. Franklin 5/9/15
050
This photo shows why they are called Spotted Sandpipers. Franklin HS 5/9/15

The last place I stopped was a spot I had discovered a few weeks previously. It was by a new building site and eventually it would be a retaining pond but for now it held a small amount of water. And in this case no Spotted Sandpipers but Killdeer and four Least Sandpipers.

073
A Killdeer at the spot were I finally found some shorebirds. Greenwood 5/9/15
075
Two of the four Least Sandpipers running around the construction site. Greenwood 5/9/15
079
Not sure what this Least Sandpiper found to eat in this barren construction site. Greenwood 5/9/15

At first I thought they were Pectoral Sandpipers.  But they were much smaller next to the Killdeer.

So I am glad I found them since I had run out of places to search. But it makes one ask, how much habitat has been lost for migrating shorebirds?