A Benton County Saturday

After returning from London I took my daughter to Lafayette Saturday morning and the nhad to pick her up in the afternoon. So I took the opportunity to bird a couple of spots in Benton County.

But first let me say it was COLD. According to National Weather Service the temperature at 10AM was 31F with winds out of the NW at 22mph with gusts of 28mph making the Wind Chill 18F. This wasn’t good since I had planned to search for shorebirds in the rain-soaked fields. But they were frozen.

The first stop was a quick one for WESTERN MEADOWLARKS. Immediately upon rolling down the car window I heard and then saw numerous VESPER SPARROWS on the road.

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A Vesper Sparrow eating grit in the road close to the car. Rural Benton County 3/9/16

While watching the sparrows I heard a Western Meadowlark calling. Only a couple of meadowlarks flew in the cold, so I’m not sure if I saw an Eastern or Western. But I definitely heard a Western calling.

I then headed to Pine Creek Gamebird Habitat. I didn’t know what to expect with this being my first time there. And it didn’t take long to realize I would be facing the freezing wind to view the shorebirds. But that same cold weather helped by freezing the entire water area everywhere but the water closest to the road. Forcing the shorebirds closer.

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Number 3 parking area is at the top of the bluff to the right (south) of the road. Walking across the road one can view the water looking to the north. Pine Creek 3/9/16

There were numerous GREATER AND LESSER YELLOWLEGS, plus a few PECTORAL SANDPIPERS. And with the water frozen that was the extent of the birds.

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Greater and Lesser Yellowlegs working along the edge of the frozen water. Pine Creek 3/9/16

I then walked the south trail into the sun to thaw my frozen face. A NORTHERN MOCKINGBIRD was flying about as where a flock of AMERICAN TREE SPARROWS.

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An American Tree Sparrow  that was part of a flock I initially thought were Field Sparrows. Pine Creek 3/9/16

I then headed to the west trail along the shallow bluff which would keep the wind out of my face. I could then walk back with the wind.  The walk was productive since it was now afternoon and the water was beginning to melt.

Over a one hundred BLUE-WINGED TEAL flew in along with NORTHERN SHOVELERS, GREEN-WINGED TEAL, a lone HOODED MERGANSER, and MALLARDS.

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The closest of the one hundred Blue-winged Teal, but still a distance away. Pine Creek 3/9/16

A RED-TAIL HAWK, AMERICAN KESTREL, and TURKEY VULTURES flew by. It was a very enjoyable walk.

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The local Red-tailed Hawk kept circling overhead, sometimes coming quite close. Pine Creek 3/9/16

I then saw a group of shorebirds land in the grass a little further to the north. My first thought was WILSON’S SNIPE since they like moist, grassy areas but I couldn’t be sure. So I took my time heading that way to see if I could get a glimpse.

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The shorebirds landed at the far left of the photo by the bushes. I slowly started in that direction. Pine Creek 3/9/16

I noticed a hawk flying low behind the tree line heading straight for the presumed snipe. It came in unexpectedly and almost got them. They immediately flew giving me the chance to ID them.

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It all happened so fast this is the best I could do for the Northern Harrier looking for lunch. Pine Creek 3/9/16
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I did catch the Wilson’s Snipe flying away, which helped to definitely ID them. Pine Creek 3/9/16

I’m glad I waited around trying to ID the snipe since I got to see the harrier attack plus more waterfowl kept flying in.

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One of the Wilson’s Snipe landed a little closer to me. Still not a good photo but enough to ID it. Pine Creek 3/9/16

My thoughts from my first visit to the area? Good area for shorebirds and waterfowl with easy viewing and trails for walking. Right up my alley.

If someone knew of a good passerine site in the county, you could probably build a very good county list just visiting those two areas.

I’m Glad the Birdglimpsing Season is Over

This might seem sacrilegious on a birding blog, but I’m glad fall migration is about over. I’ll miss viewing the vireos, thrushes, and shorebirds as they move through.

But not warblers.

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So is it a warbler? Maybe a vireo? Who knows. The half-second glimpse proved futile. Southwestway Park – 9/26/15

It’s not that I can’t ID warblers. That’s not the problem.  It’s just that they never seem to give a good look. Just a quick view and they move on. Even sparrows cooperate better.

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One of the many Field Sparrows that came over to check me out. Most of them were sitting out in the open giving easy ID. Southwestway Park – 9/26/15

And this is supposed to be birdwatching, not birdglimpsing.

 

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Even a Turkey Vulture scrounging a meal can be more satisfying than a glimpse at a fast-moving warbler. South Indianapolis – 9/26/15

I have never developed the love of the bright warblers that others have.  Yes, most are usually stunning when you can get a glimpse of one.  But the time and effort and brief look is usually not worth the half-second glance.

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The leisurely pace of this Pied-billed Grebe gave me the time to sit and watch. Rick’s – Eagle Creek Reservoir – 9/26/15

I have decided over the years that taking a few hours on a Saturday morning in the vain attempt to see warblers is just not as satisfying as viewing larger birds. I see why people specialize in gulls or hawks. They usually give a good long, look. And with gulls there are usually numerous ones sitting out in the open to check out.

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As I have often lamented I miss gull watching at the Illinois River Widewaters in LaSalle County, IL. Most of the gulls were usually Ring-billed Gulls like this guy but I would usually see 6 or 7 different gull species over the course of a year. Rick’s – Eagle Creek Reservoir 9/26/15

Even American Robins or Eastern Bluebirds are more welcome as they sit for a few minutes in a tree, well exposed.  Or most woodpeckers, a bird that usually sits out in the open.

But not the singular warbler darting through the undergrowth. Just not that fun.

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Even American Goldfinches slow down long enough for me to see them, unlike warblers. Southeastway Park – 9/26/15

Maybe if I was more of a lister this would be important. Taking the time to make sure I get a warbler for a list might make the time spent looking worth it.

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Unless a predator flies in shorebirds usually give you ample time to ID them, even at a distance. Lesser and Greater Yellowlegs at the local flooded field. South Indianapolis – 9/26/15

So I’m looking forward to getting back to large raptors and large waterfowl and even winter sparrows. Birds I can see and ID.

 

 

 

What I Learned the Week of 4/6 – Do Your Homework

1. Do your homework

I’m always preaching to do more reading and studying in case an uncommon bird shows up in your local area.  And make sure to travel to an area with “your” uncommon birds so you can learn its field marks, songs, and habitats.  I should follow my own advice.

Sunday while observing shorebirds, yes we finally got shorebirds (that’s next), I kept hearing a warble song in the distance. The area I was observing shorebirds is distant from any trees but there was no wind so I figured it was distant House Finches. I heard the sound off and on for about an hour. I also heard the rattle of Horned Larks calling and moving about the corn stubble plus a rattle call that I was attributing to distant Red-winged Blackbirds.

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The flooded cornfield where I was observing shorebirds. The calls were coming from just across the water. Johnson County 04/12/15

I’m guessing you know where I’m going with this.  Still not catching on I see a group of birds fly up and out of the corn/grass stubble across the water.  And they sure aren’t acting like Horned Larks.  So were they Smith’s Longspurs?  If I had done more study up front, I would have known their calls better and if they sing their warble song during migration.  If I would have traveled to Western Indiana I would have been familiar with their calls and habitat.

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Were there Smith Longspurs over in the short grass? I will never know. Johnson County 04/12/15

But I hadn’t done my homework so I will never know for sure if they were or not.

2. As noted above we finally had shorebirds

We also had a lot of rain, which means a lot of water in the fields.  I think I have noted this before, but don’t waste a lot of time checking every field with water.  Do a quick check and keep moving.

Because shorebirds tend to use the same flooded fields.

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This field has been a regular field for observing shorebirds while other fields never have any. Johnson County 04/12/15

Since I am still relatively new to the area I give a quick check to every flooded field.  But just like back in Illinois the shorebirds use the same flooded fields, not any new ones.  So just like an area good for migrants, I basically just check the same flooded fields.

I have seen it hypothesized that fields that retain water, usually because of damaged drainage tiles, give off that “ozone” or dying vegetation smell that birds can detect. Or they just remember which ones retain water like they do other locations. Who knows for sure?

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Luckily I saw the Pectoral Sandpipers fly into the stubble or I would probably missed them. Johnson County 04/12/15
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Pectoral Sandpiper blending into the stubble. Johnson County 04/12/15
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A better shot showing their dark bib. Johnson County 04/12/15
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A distant Greater Yellowlegs. There were also Lesser Yellowlegs present. Johnson County 04/12/15

3. Sitting and Waiting versus Getting Up and Going

The case of Smith’s Longspurs in #1 above got me thinking about birding by sitting and waiting or moving from spot to spot. Since we don’t get that many shorebirds in Johnson County I was taking my time and watching the shorebirds. I didn’t go to the other 2 areas  I know might have shorebirds.

If I had moved on I would have missed out on the maybe Smith’s Longspurs. But maybe there would have been other shorebirds at other locations? So is it better to sit and wait?

I knew a birder that during migration would find a good area with warblers moving through.  He would find a break in a tree line, open up his folding chair, and sit and wait. The rest of the group would make the usual walk and come back and compare.  He often would have just as many species, and often something we missed.

So is it better to sit and wait or keep moving.  Probably depends.  But as humans I think we are driven to the latter – a need to keep moving.

A few more photos from the weekend.

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Laura Hare Preserve was pretty quite Saturday Morning. 04/11/15
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Except for three Hermit Thrushes flying around. This was the only one that was out of the brush long enough for a photo. 04/11/15
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Mike first spotted three Purple Finches feeding – 2 males and a female. A bird we rarely see in our area. Atterbury FWA 04/11/15
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And one of several Red-winged Blackbirds calling as I walked the perimeter of a pond seeing if Wilson’s Snipe would flush. One did! Franklin HS 04/11/15