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.
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.
Uncommon findings were Red-breasted Nuthatch and Black Vulture.
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.
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.
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.
After gliding/drifting down for 4-5 miles (?) they started to swirl up again, this time much closer.
It didn’t take long before they were all behind the tree line and moving away.
What did I learn from that experience?
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?
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.
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.
The next wave are birds that winter in Florida or the Gulf Coast. Birds like Greater Yellowlegs. They usually show up later in March.
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.
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.
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.
And within a few seconds I heard another thrasher calling a couple hundred yards to the west.
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.
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.
With The Doldrums over its time to get back catching more Waves.