A Shrike, a Third Towhee, and Geese. Though Not So Many Geese.

If you would’ve told me that I’d seen three towhees in Indiana by the 16th of January I would have thought you had a problem.  But if you pay attention to the Indiana birding lists, you know that is very possible.

Saturday I accompanied Don and Becky on a trip to western Indiana.  There had been a SPOTTED TOWHEE for several days at DePauw Nature Park which was on the way west. Don had seen it a couple of days before, I’ve seen them numerous times out west, but Becky had never seen a Spotted, so we decided to stop. Even though it was still kind of dark, and kind of dreary, and kind of cold, Becky and I went looking for the towhee while Don birded the parking lot for a reported Brown Thrasher.  We didn’t have any luck and then others joined us in search of the towhee. After a while we still hadn’t seen it, and since the main point of the day was western Indiana,  we headed back.  Don had come looking for us and was about to the towhee site so he said he would help us look.

Sure enough Don worked his magic.  He wasn’t there a minute when the bird appeared.

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The Spotted Towhee hardly ever leaves the thicket. This was about as good as it got in the short time I saw the towhee. DePauw Nature Park, Greencastle IN 1/16/16

After seeing a Eastern Towhee at Johnson County Park on 1/1 and then seeing the lingering Green-tailed Towhee at Tern Bar Slough on 1/2, this was my third towhee in Indiana this year. Go figure.

We made stops at Chinook Mines looking for raptors and waterfowl.  The highlight for me was seeing a GREATER SCAUP and a flyover CACKLING GOOSE, which was obvious flying with a group of Canada’s.

And then on to the main part of the day at Universal Mines looking for waterfowl, raptors, and shrikes.  The variety of waterfowl was decent but nowhere near my trip last year.

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The view to the north this year. No ice and only distant waterfowl. “Grand Canyon” – Edgar County, IL 1/16/16
This was last year looking north.
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The view to the south. “Grand Canyon” – Edgar County, IL 1/16/16
And last year looking south.

The number of CANADA GEESE was down considerably but the number or GREATER WHITE-FRONTED was large.

We timed our arrival with the geese coming from the fields and watched them come in.

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One of the groups of Greater White-fronted Geese coming in to the water. “Grand Canyon” – Edgar County, IL 1/16/16
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If you look close enough you can see the thin lines of group after group of Greater White-fronted Geese way up in the air. “Grand Canyon” – Edgar County, IL 1/16/16

Last year there were numerous Trumpeter Swans on the big lake, but only one MUTE SWAN this year.  And it decided to fly right over us!

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A Mute Swan flying almost right over us and close! “Grand Canyon” – Edgar County, IL 1/16/16

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As I posted a couple of weeks ago, if you have never gone and seen large numbers of geese flying in and out, you need to.  I really can’t describe it.

And the experience of a swan or group of swans flying over is just as unbeliveable.  About the best way I can describe it is WHOOSH! WHOOSH! WHOOSH! I know a group of Canada Geese flying right over is loud but the noise from a swan is unbelievable.

We had pretty well scanned most of the area without any luck on a shrike when Becky spotted a distant bird on the top of a tree. NORTHERN SHRIKE?  A quick look and yes it was.  Don got out his spotting scope giving killer looks. None of us pocess a camera that would give the bird justice, but we did get a couple of “ID” photos.

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From my photo you aren’t sure if this just isn’t a Northern Mockingbird. No just the backside of a Northern Shrike. Universal Mines – Vigo County IN 1/16/16
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At least Becky got a photo that shows it is a Northern Shrike. I think I need to think about a new camera or digigscoping. Universal Mines – Vigo County IN 1/16/16

From there it was time to head home again. A good end to a cold, dreary day. Perfect for birding.

Two More: Rough-legged Hawk and Short-eared Owls – Sullivan County Saturday

In pursuit of adding species that should already be on my Indiana Life list, Mike Clay and I headed to Sullivan and Greene Counties on Saturday. Our main objectives were Northern Shrike, Rough-legged Hawk, and Short-eared Owl. And if time permitted a quick side trip to Turtle Creek for the Little Gull, if still present.

The day’s plan was to drive around searching for our objectives.  Which meant my least favorite type of birding – car birding.  But there isn’t any other way to find the target species. With the temperature in the high teens and a south wind around 12 MPH, the short bouts outside of the car were cold. Jumping back into the car was a relief, so I will stop whining about car birding. At least for now.

We started by checking for Northern Shrike and Rough-legged Hawk in NE Sullivan County. We hadn’t been at it long when a large dark bird put up the Canada Geese and Mallards. At first we thought it was a Rough-legged Hawk, but pretty quickly we figured out it was a young Bald Eagle.

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A good picture that Mike took as the eagle flew past us. Sullivan County 01/10/15

Within a couple of minutes we spotted a Rough-legged Hawk, one of six we would see on the day. I enjoy watching Red-tailed Hawks soar but it was nice to see something different.

After an hour and half we decided the shrike was a no-show and moved on.  We headed to the Dugger Unit where there were more Bald Eagles and a good variety of waterfowl on the only open water we saw.

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American Coot, Redhead, Lesser Scaup. Not sure what else is in the photo with the Canada Geese and Mallards. Dugger Unit, Sullivan County 01/10/15
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Maybe some Ring-necked Ducks in this one? Dugger Unit, Sullivan County 01/10/15

Now getting later in the day a decision had to be made, go to Turtle Creek or not? We decided to pass after checking IN-Bird and reading that the Little Gull hadn’t been seen.

So off to Goose Pond for a quick drive around.  We had numerous Northern Harriers and even a couple of Eastern Meadowlarks.  Also more Rough-legged Hawks.

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I have always been amazed how a bird as big as a Rough-legged Hawk can sit on a twig on the top of a tree. Goose Pond 01/10/15
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A closer shot showing the feathered legs. Goose Pond 01/10/15

Not seeing anything unusual we headed back to Sullivan County for Short-eared Owls.  After watching Northern Harriers fly the area for 15 minutes the first Short-eared Owl appeared at 5:31, fourteen minutes before sundown.

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I included this photo to show the stub face and broad wings at a distance. Short-eared Owl – Sullivan County 01/10/15
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One posed for us nicely. Anytime another owl would come close it would turn and “bark” at it, something I have never witnessed. Short-eared Owl – Sullivan County 01/10/15

It wasn’t long before other Short-eared Owls appeared.  Over the next 25 minutes we watched them fly, chase, and even “bark” at one another.  It was one of those things I had never encountered before but will always remember. With daylight gone and a 2 hour drive home, we called it a day, adding 2 more species to my Indiana Life list.

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Short-eared Owl silhouetted against the evening sky. The start of their day, the end of ours. Sullivan County 01/10/15