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.

Migrating Turkey Vultures – Weekend Highlight

The last birds viewed on the weekend were also the highlight.

A group of 12 migrating Turkey Vultures.

Now most people might say a group of migrating Turkey Vultures aren’t exciting. But like a lot of things in birding migrating Turkey Vultures aren’t something you see away from a specialty site. Like a Hawk Watch. Or more importantly it’s not something I get to see every weekend.

And if caught low enough on the horizon it is a thrill to watch them come and go.

As I was heading back to the car I caught the glimmer of a white airplane to the north. Seemed odd since all the other planes Sunday morning had been high in that direction. Taken a glance towards the plane revealed a group of Turkey Vultures swirling on the horizon. They were too far for a photo so I watched them as they swirled/drifted up.

After reaching a certain height they all started drifting down and to the south at a rapid rate.

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At this point the Turkey Vultures had already drifted up and were now gliding down gaining distance heading south. Franklin Township Community Park 10/30/16

After gliding/drifting down for 4-5 miles (?) they started to swirl up again, this time much closer.

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Once again they were swirling going up higher and closer. It reminded me of last year at Eagle Creek and a couple of years ago in Costa Rica. FTCP 10/30/16
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After swirling almost right overhead they once again turned south and drifted/glided away. FTCP 10/30/16
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Now they were over head and drifting/gliding south at a rapid rate. FTCP 10/30/16

It didn’t take long before they were all behind the tree line and moving away.

What did I learn from that experience?

  1. If I had left a minute earlier I would have missed the show. Looking at the times of the photos the whole event lasted 4 minutes. How far did they come in those 4 minutes? From the horizon to straight overhead. 4-5 miles?
  2. If Broad-winged Hawks kettles travel in the same manner it shows you have to be at the right place at the right time or the odds are high you will miss them.

Other photos on the weekend.

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Terrible photo of 30 Cedar Waxwings that flew in all at once. Southwestway Park 10/29/16
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A nice flock of Chipping Sparrows. I never could turn one into a Clay-colored Sparrow. Southwestway Park 10/29/16
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Funny how in a flock of 10+ White-throated Sparrows only one will pop out for a photo. Southwestway Park 10/29/16
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FOS Northern Shovelers showed up over the weekend. Greenwood Retaining Ponds 10/29/16
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I just liked this photo of a Mourning Dove. One of 30 or so at the park. FTCP 10/30/16
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An Eastern Phoebe showing nicely before the wind picked up and made finding birds in the bush tough. FTCP 10/30/16
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Easy Photo Quiz. The colors on the crown give it away. I didn’t know they had this much olive-green in the tail. FTCP 10/30/16

The First Wave

If you have spent any length of time birding then you know spring migrants come through the Midwest in Waves. The First Wave are heartier migrants that winter just south of the winter freeze line, which in a normal winter is usually just south of the Midwest. These First Wavers usually start showing up in early to mid-March and in milder years small numbers of these birds are present all winter.

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This map from IUCN Red List shows the range of the First Waver Eastern Phoebe. Note they winter just south of the Midwest.

The next wave are birds that winter in Florida or the Gulf Coast. Birds like Greater Yellowlegs. They usually show up later in March.

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And this map shows the Second Waver Greater Yellowlegs that winters on the Gulf of Mexico coast (and all the way to the tip of South America if the map was extended) From IUCN Red List.

As I posted last week, Mike and I spent the first weekend in March looking for early migrants. And we struck out. But this past Saturday I ran into five of the First Wave migrants.

But before I went looking for First Wavers I checked a couple of flooded fields that regular hold shorebirds. No luck but one of them did have a few NORTHERN SHOVELERS feeding in the field.

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Brrr, that’s cold! A Northern Shoveler appears to be testing out the water before getting in. Flooded Field – Johnson County 3/12/16

There is a country road bridge north of Atterbury FWA that usually has an early EASTERN PHOEBE.  Before I reached the bridge I heard one calling from the backyard of a house in the woods. Never did see it and there wasn’t one at the bridge. But it was good to know they were back.

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I noticed that the American Robin pre-dawn chorus began in earnest early last week with the warmer temperatures. This one was at Driftwood SWA. 3/12/16

Then on to Driftwood SWA which usually has several of the First Wavers breeding there in summer. And it looks like this year will be no exception.

My first target were the FIELD SPARROWS that usually occupy Driftwood in large numbers. Walking east of the boat unloading area I heard and then saw 2 chasing each other. They did this for the whole time, never landing long enough for a photo.  There were other distant Field Sparrows calling out their “pin-pong ball on a table” call but they were not to be seen either.

Moving to the other side of the lake and immediately getting out of the car I heard a BROWN THRASHER.  He was at the top of a tree and I assume staking out his territory.

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The first Brown Thrasher of the year singing at Driftwood SWA. 3/12/16
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Same individual getting ready to sing.

And within a few seconds I heard another thrasher calling a couple hundred yards to the west.

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I thought the thrashers might not be present or be little less vocal, but in true form they called the entire time I was present.

Walking down to the lake I heard a TREE SWALLOW, another of the First Wavers, calling and then flying away. A few minutes later one landed in a tree for a photo.

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The first Tree Swallow of the year acted like it wasn’t sure where it wanted to go, so it sat for a few minutes. Driftwood SWA 3/12/16

With 4 First Wavers seen I headed to Johnson County Park to pick up one more First Waver – FOX SPARROW. Last week Mike found one but I never really got on it. So back to the sparrow spot for another try. It took some pishing but eventually after numerous Song Sparrows and Juncos, a Fox Sparrow popped up. Same one as last week? In the poor light I never did get a good photo but I did get good looks.

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Not a First Waver but definitely the most numerous species on the day. Song Sparrows were out singing in large numbers at every stop. Driftwood SFA 3/ 12/16

With The Doldrums over its time to get back catching more Waves.