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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 GreaterYellowlegs and Solitary Sandpipers down by Edinburgh.
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.
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.
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.
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?