With work and the holiday I still haven’t put in any time birding. But I have gone out and taken non-birding walks at the local parks. And I have checked my “backyard” pond off and on to see if Mr. Beaver has everything backed up. Which he has and now there is a nice little pond. But Saturday when I checked all I could say was “What the heck?”
There have been Mallards and Wood Ducks and Canada Geese back on the small pond. And I often thought other waterfowl might show up but the pond freezes very early in the winter. So I never counted on it.
When I checked Saturday there was a smaller bird on the water. My first thought was a Hooded Merganser. But it didn’t take long to see it was a Pied-billed Grebe. On this little pond?
Now maybe I’ve always had this wrong but I thought grebes needed a decent length of water to take off and land. From Cornell’s All About Birds “Pied-billed Grebes need a long running-flapping start to take off from water.” But they don’t say how long. Maybe the alterations Mr. Beaver made have lengthened the little pond enough for takeoff. But the grebe would still have to maneuver through all the dead trees to have a long runway.
It’ll be interesting to see how long it sticks around. With the mild week it probably won’t be in a hurry to take off.
And even though I never expected it I’ll take it for the “yard” list.
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.
I left you last time at 4PM Sunday sitting a mile from the Johnson County line with 99 species and not a good alternative for #100. But before I discuss the limited options for #100, let me share a few highlights of the day.
5:30 AM – Owling
First let me say I run a modified Big Day. No use getting up at midnight for a county Big Day when I’m not going to hear rails or bitterns. So I’m out at 5AM. Since you usually find 80% of the birds by 10-11AM I’m up at a “reasonable” hour and home mid-afternoon.
It’s 5:30AM and the Boy Scouts have decided to camp at the EASTERN SCREECH-OWL spot. I’m not going to play a recorder and wake them up to answer lot’s questions. So it’s back to an alternative spot, which I hadn’t planned on.
At spot #2 immediately upon turning on the recorder an owl swoops in over my head. Great! Except it’s too big for a screech-owl. I put the recorder on top of the car and watch with my flashlight as a BARRED OWL tries to pick the recorder off the car! We watch each other for a minute and I decide to move on.
Because in a Big Day there are many rules but here is one of the main ones:
Keep moving if it doesn’t look like the bird will appear.
I had the Barred Owl, two in fact with a distant one calling, and no hope for a screech-owl.
I’m heading back to the AMERICAN WOODCOCK field and thinking, “the field is on the north end of the original screech-owl area. Maybe…”
I get out of the car, hear the woodcock overhead, turn the recorder on, and almost immediately a screech-owl lands in the closet tree. I’m a little ahead on time so I give the little guy a good look. Then on to the Great Horned Owl spot.
Another first. The GREAT HORNED OWL is sitting on a telephone pole as I pull up. He flies away and I hear it and another one calling in the dawn light. A good start to the day.
From that point I start moving, trying to keep to my schedule. I struck out at the bobwhite spot but still see several other species.
I might have done better but Atterbury FWA is closed for Spring Turkey Season. This is OK since it forces me to follow another rule:
Don’t get far from your car.
Walking for a bird or two can kill a Big Day. Get out of the car. See/hear the bird. Move on.
Get Em Time
As usual from 7 to 11 AM I get the bulk of the day’s total. I start at Laura Hare picking up FOS WORM-EATING WARBLER and OVENBIRD. Back towards Atterbury. No BOBOLINKS at the Bobolink field. But the HENSLOW’S SPARROWS are calling at the usual spot. On to the east side of Atterbury where in short order I pick up several species.
Next is the Purple Martin Road were I pick up a few warblers. A few miles further north I see shorebirds. To a local park for a PROTHONOTARY WARBLER. And to Driftwood for Orioles and the staying cormorant.
Now it’s One at a Time
It’s 11AM and I’m at 84 species. The plan is to start picking off species one or two at a time at selected locations. I’m thinking if all goes well I can easily get 100 and be home by 3PM.
But it doesn’t go quite that easily.
I miss on BELL’S VIREO (too early?) and Saturday’s BLUE GROSBEAK at Johnson County Park. Back to the bobwhite area but no NORTHERN BOBWHITE. The Centerline wetspot has shorebirds but not PECTORALS SANDPIPERS which have been there all year. But the BLUE-WINGED TEAL remain from Saturday. To Franklin HS where Saturday’s NORTHERN SHOVELER is gone. I flush a WILSON’S SNIPE and cutting across I also unexpectedly flush a SORA which ends up being the surprise of the day. Have you ever seen a Sora fly? Lowe’s Pond doesn’t have the PIED-BILLED GREBE from Saturday and the EURASIAN COLLARED DOVE isn’t at its usual spot. East of Franklin the wetspot have no shorebirds or the usual VESPER SPARROW.
But I have picked up 12 of the expected species including an unexpected Red-headed Woodpecker.
Back at 4PM
So I go from thinking 100 is going to be easy to resigning myself to 98. Then I see the COOPER’S HAWK.
What were my options for #100?
Drive 25 minutes across county to the BALD EAGLE’S nest. I don’t need #100 that bad.
Drive 15 minutes through mall traffic to a local park and hope for warblers I might have missed. Too much work at this point for a “maybe” bird.
I finally decide to check the 3 remaining retention ponds between the county line and myself. Maybe an AMERICAN COOT or some other late waterfowl.
The first pond is empty.
The second pond is empty.
The part of the third pond I can see is empty. I walk around the pond for a better look and lo and behold in a far corner –
So 100 species and 28 stops later I’m finished. That means home by 5PM. Still not my highest count in Johnson County. I had 101 on the IAS Big May Day a couple of years ago. It has been a fun day of birding even if it went a little longer than planned.
First the rest of the Solid Saturday that I posted about earlier in March. The day never cleared up until after I got home. So it was another day of taking photos with a cloudy background. Maybe next time it will be clear.
After leaving Franklin HS I headed to Atterbury. First I stopped by the GREAT BLUE HERON Rookery just west of the High School on Young’s Creek. I bring it up because soon I’m going to blog on the Johnson County’s Rookeries I know.
I then spent the rest of the day in the greater Atterbury FWA area. The bulk of the afternoon was spent walking the north end of Atterbury. Where I saw the SWAMP SPARROW.
First though was a stop at Driftwood were there wasn’t much happening except TREE SWALLOWS feeding.
Then on to the hike at Atterbury. The area always holds large numbers of EASTERN TOWHEES with over 20 seen or heard on the day.
I ended the day by watching a lone PIED-BILLED GREBE on the pond that my hike had circled.
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.
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.
And this is supposed to be birdwatching, not birdglimpsing.
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.
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.
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.
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.
So I’m looking forward to getting back to large raptors and large waterfowl and even winter sparrows. Birds I can see and ID.