Though I encountered several surprises during my Marion County August 2017 List, one bird stands out as August 2017 Highlight.
But first a few of the surprises.
August 2017 Highlight – Red-shouldered Hawk Bathing
But the biggest surprise was watching a Red-shouldered Hawk bathing at Eagle Creek.
I encountered the hawk on the trail north of the Handicapped Road. I just happened to catch a glimpse when it moved on a sunlit perch by a creek. At first I thought it was hunting but it jumped into the water and proceeded to take a bath. Then it flew back up on the sunlit perch and dried off. Then it jumped back in the water. I watched this behavior for 15 minutes while it repeated the cycle three times during the time I watched.
Checking a couple of sources on-line this seems to be the typical bathing habits of hawks. Deep in the woods, shallow stream, and low perch to dry. The reason I don’t think I have encountered this behavior before is hawk’s preference of bathing in a deep glade.
Eventually I moved on and made the loop around the trail. I checked on my way back but the hawk had moved on. But another one of those rare nature encounters which keeps you going out week after week.
Since I have now completed my BBS routes and finished helping on a couple other local breeding surveys I took the opportunity to work on my Johnson County IAS Summer Bird Count. The last few years I have been around the 100 species mark and since I was already at 90, I knew it would be tough to add species. With work being demanding the last few weeks I decided to go after EASY additions Saturday.
With sunrise at 6:15 that meant one more Saturday up by 4AM and out by 4:30AM. That put me at Atterbury FWA a little after 5AM. But even before I got there I had a GREAT HORNED OWL fly in front of my car while driving though Franklin. Right time. Right Place.
The first stop which is iffy anyway didn’t produce any owls. But the more reliable spot had 3 EASTERN SCREECH-OWLS flying around for over 10 minutes. In case you’re wondering I usually play a recording for about 1 minute and that’s it. This time it was about 30 seconds when the first one started calling.
Not even 6AM and I had added two species to the count.
Before heading to Driftwood I checked the pond in Johnson County Park. Again right place and time. No sooner than I stopped than a KILLDEER started hassling a SPOTTED SANDPIPER. Plus another easy addition was a RED-HEADED WOODPECKER calling in the distance. Two more easy species for the count.
On to Driftwood, no Double-crested Cormorant but a fly by Red-headed Woodpecker was nice.
To the Dark Road of Atterbury. No Black-billed Cuckoo calling as hoped but a young AMERICAN REDSTART was interested in me.
I then decided to walk back and take a long shot check to see if any rails were in the marshy area. By now the sun was up and it was getting hot. As expected no rails or much else of anything.
So with the heat rising and nothing calling I headed home. But first a stop by the PURPLE MARTIN house for a list easy species.
I’ll take the 5 easy additions since the birds were done calling by mid-morning. It’ll now by one species at a time until the last week of July when I can hope for an influx of shorebirds.
My plan for the last Saturday in July, which was the last Saturday for the Indiana Audubon Summer Bird Count, was like the first weekend in June – visit as many habitats as possible. The difference as opposed to the first weekend in June was that the few birds that would be calling would probably be done by 10AM. And they were. So I was hoping for shorebirds to observe after 10.
I was out by 5AM in search of Eastern Screech-Owls but only found a pickup with a boat in the parking lot about 50 yards from my best spot at Atterbury FWA. With its motor running and lights on. Why would someone be in a parking lot an hour and half before sunrise with a big boat by a pond that I wouldn’t even bother to canoe? Who knows.
Anyway after missing the screech-owl I headed to the Great Horned Owl location and they began calling on cue about a half hour before sunrise. But I missed Barred Owl again. I have only heard one this year as opposed to six by this time the last two years. Maybe I just need to get out more?
The next hour and half around Atterbury/Johnson County Park was productive. I observed not one but four Belted Kingfishers, a bird I had missed on the count so far. It was also cool to watch Tree Swallows chase them around, a behavior I had never witnessed.
As others have noted swallows were gathering with a large group of Purple Martins at one of the small lakes at Atterbury. I was also glad to see a Spotted Sandpiper fly over since I had missed them because of the high water in the county. And today the water was even higher. Driftwood SFA was the highest I have ever seen it, with no boats on the water when I checked. The Big Blue River was also very high. And all the usual shorebirds spots were either flooded or so full of weeds that no shorebirds would land there.
Atterbury also showed the effects of the recent storms with trees down in many places. You could see were the DNR had cut many trees that had falling across the road. After Atterbury I headed to Laura Hare Preserve and the situation was even worse. If I hadn’t been to the preserve previously I’m not sure I could have picked up the trail in several spots. Trees were down everywhere and the trail was washed out in a couple of spots. And the birding was slow as it approached the 10AM hour.
I stopped by the south side of Atterbury and Johnson County Park on my way back from Laura Hare. While there I had all three raptors on the day – Red-tailed Hawk, American Kestrel, and Turkey Vulture – while sitting on a picnic table getting a drink and watching meadowlarks. The JCP Bell’s Vireo was still calling and a Yellow-breasted Chat came out to see who was around.
So I ended the summer count with 88 species, the first time I hadn’t broke 100 in the three years I have participated. But I didn’t get to Laura Hare in early June and that is needed for 5 or so breeding warblers. Plus no shorebirds this year. Which usually is another 5 or so. And I missed a week going to Colorado and another week to cataract surgery. Cataract Surgery is something I should blog about but I’m waiting to see how it improves my birding. So far it has been great.