Horned Grebe Molting

One of my favorite times of the year is the last of March and first of April. That’s the time Common Loon and Horned Grebe in Johnson County. And if really lucky Bonaparte’s Gull and Red-breasted Merganser. Outside of Lamb Lake in the far SW of the county the large lake at Driftwood SFA is the only spot deep enough for those species. After a couple of attempts I eventually found those species, especially some Horned Grebe molting, but not in Johnson County.

I had looked for the above species at Driftwood the last weekend in March without any luck. So I was hopeful for this past weekend.

Mike and I met up early Saturday and in the cold proceeded to check out several locations in Johnson County. Mike was hopeful for Rusty Blackbirds and I was just glad to be outdoors away from work. I saw several FOY birds and Mike added Wild Turkey at Johnson County Park.

Late morning Mike had to take off so I checked Driftwood. Lots of Tree Swallows, but no loons or grebes.

The lone bird singing at Driftwood was a lone Brown Thrasher.

So with the weather a little warmer Sunday I made a run up to Marion County’s Geist Reservoir. Upon exiting the car I could hear the roar of BIG boat engines. I hadn’t thought about fisherman being out. But as chance would have it I arrived before the boaters were out in full force and could scan the lake.

The view from the dam at Geist Reservoir.
Common Loons were staying on the far side of the reservoir.
As noted above the Common Loons weren’t near until this one popped up right in front. It then immediately dove and I never saw it again.
The boaters were periodically flushing the waterfowl. With their white wing patches and body pattern these Red-breasted Merganser were easy to ID. Even at a distance.
Just to confirm the ID I took a photo at the max zoom of the P900. Even at this zoom and in bad sunlight it’s at least a confirming photo of the Red-breasted Mergansers. With the zoom it allows me to leave the spotting scope in the car.
Now for the feature species. A non-breeding plumage Horned Grebe.
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A Horned Grebe going into breeding plumage.

And now a photo that will go into my personal Top 10.

I’m not sure I have ever seen Horned Grebes in both breeding and non-breeding plumage this close together. Let alone photographed them. I wish the lighting would have been brighter.

2015 – A Short Recap

First – one of the main reasons why I blog – I like to review the past weekend – month – year.

Lots of birding, and life for that fact, seems to be on the run.  Birding sometimes seems like run, check, and move on to the next spot. And for me the jury is still out on using eBird apps to list from the field. I still like to sit down at the end of the day and go over the birds I have seen. I think I”ll eventually work the apps into that routine but still not sure yet.

Favorite New Bird

Looking back my favorite new bird of 2015 was the BURROWING OWL outside Denver.  Who doesn’t love a small owl?

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With the back drop of the Rocky Mountains, a Burrowing Owl checks out the area before going and joining the rest of the group. East of Denver, CO – 6/20/15

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But the colors of GAMBEL’S QUAIL makes it a close second.

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I was amazed how close the Gambel’s Quail would come by me. Colorado National Monument- 6/21/15

And for the umpteenth year in a row CAROLINA WREN comes in as my favorite Midwest bird.

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This shot pretty well sums up my thoughts about the feisty Carolina Wren. Never sitting still and always looking about. Northwest Park – Greenwood, IN 5/2/15

Favorite Birding Adventure

I had many good adventures (really every birding outing is a good adventure) so it was hard to pick one out.

I’m going to go with chasing the CLARK’S NUTCRACKER through the alpine forest in Colorado as my best adventure on the Colorado trip and 2015. Sorry no photo of the Clark’s but here is the Alpine Forest that I would be running out of later.

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After hearing a strange call I went chasing the bird through this forest at 10,000 feet. Maybe not my best call. Uncompahgre National Forest, CO – 6/22/15

And chasing the PINYON JAY through the semi-arid landscape of Rabbit Valley and finally catching up to it was also a fun time.

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After chasing Pinyon Jays I knew they didn’t get out in the open for long. But only one decent photo? Colorado National Monument – 6/24/15

And without a doubt my best local adventure was seeing both RED-BREASTED MERGANSERS and BONAPARTE’S GULLS, two new Johnson County Life birds, in one day at the same place.

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A bird I never suspected I would see in Johnson County – Bonaparte’s Gull. Driftwood SFA – 3/28/15

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And on the same day another county bird – Red-breasted Merganser. But in its case I figured I would eventually see one in the county. Driftwood SFA – 3/28/15

And 2016 has already started off with 3, count’em 3, towhees in Indiana.  What will the rest of the year bring?

A December Three Species Shorebird Day

A couple of things.  First, not one of the shorebirds was a Killdeer. And second, as you might have guessed, I wasn’t in Indiana.

Over the holidays we usually spend a few days with relatives in Connecticut. And as is my usual practice I spent the 26th walking along the Atlantic Ocean.  I don’t really care where, I just want to be birding the ocean for a day. It’s a good chance to see several species that I don’t usually get to see.  And it was even more important this year since, like the rest of the northern US, the reservoir that my relatives live on was devoid of waterfowl. Most years I get to spend time studying loons and gulls on their reservoir, but not this year. So to the beach.

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Not much happening on the local reservoir. Canton CT 12/24/15

With less birds moving south I decided to visit closer beaches in southern Connecticut instead of driving north of Boston as I have done a couple of times. Which means less chance for something uncommon but always a good day to be out.

To the beach.

I spent most of the day at Sherwood Island State Park outside Westport, CT.  From there you can easily Long Island across the sound.

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A power station on the New York side of Long Island Sound. About 12 miles across. Sherwood Island State Park CT – 12/26/15

The first birds encountered were gulls, of course, but I immediately saw some shorebirds on an old pier.  First thought was the expected DUNLIN but a closer look and they were RUDDY TURNSTONES. They weren’t moving much. They seemed cold even in the unusual warm 50 degree weather?

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From the distance I initially thought these were the expected Dunlin. Sherwood Island State Park CT – 12/26/15
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A closer view shows they were Ruddy Turnstones. Even in bad light the bright, orange legs stand out. Not an uncommon species in CT in winter. Sherwood Island State Park CT – 12/26/15

And the expected Gulls

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A Great Black-backed Gull leisurely flies past. Sherwood Island State Park CT – 12/26/15
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And a Herring Gull kept giving the long call about something, though I never figured out what. Sherwood Island State Park CT – 12/26/15
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Not many birds on the land portion of the park but I did have a Song Sparrow jump out. Sherwood Island State Park CT – 12/26/15

On these jaunts I rarely see people since the temperature is usually in the 10’s to – 20’s. But this year it was in the a fore-mentioned 50’s so there were numerous people out walking dogs or kids trying out new bikes.  So I headed to the other end of the beach. Not much happening there except a large raft of RED-BREASTED MERGANSERS and the occasional LONG-TAILED DUCK flying by in the distance.

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The center part of the long raft of Red-breasted Mergansers strung out along the shore. Sherwood Island State Park CT – 12/26/15
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Several came close enough for a good view. Sherwood Island State Park CT – 12/26/15
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And sometimes you just wonder. What would a piece of watermelon be doing on a beach in winter? Sherwood Island State Park CT – 12/26/15

Time to head to the other 2 beaches I frequent on my trips to Connecticut.

First was South Beach in Stratford. With the wind out of the east and blowing right into the beach, not much there.  I have been there before during calm seas and have seen numerous waterfowl that I usually don’t get a chance to see.

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The waves wind and waves were coming straight into South Beach. Stratford CT – 12/26/15
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But across the channel were numerous gulls – Great Black-backed, Herring, and Ring-billed. Too bad I didn’t have my spotting scope. South Beach, Stratford CT – 12/26/15

I checked out the gulls and on to the other beach in Stratford – Long Beach.

It was now getting late in the afternoon and with cloudy skies it was getting dark. I walked the beach checking the gulls and waterfowl flying by. On the second breakwall there were a flock of shorebirds.  The expected DUNLIN!  And mixed in were several SANDERLING.

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Mainly Dunlin, but the obviously whitish, grayer Sanderling mixed in on the breakwall. Long Beach, Stratford CT – 12/26/15
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The gulls don’t seem to bother the shorebirds. Long Beach, Stratford CT – 12/26/15

 

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One of the Dunlins decided to give a good view of its wing pattern. Long Beach, Stratford CT – 12/26/15

The DUNLIN were as inactive as the RUDDY TURNSTONES had been but the SANDERLING in their normal behavior couldn’t sit still.  It was fun to watch them run along the beach picking at things.

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A few photos of one of the Sanderlings picking and running along the beach. Long Beach, Stratford CT – 12/26/15

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When I turned to head back I saw a flock of small birds land in the grass along the beach. It had to be SNOW BUNTINGS. And they were really tough to see in the grass. No wonder Mike and I couldn’t see them along the shore of Lake Michigan.  They are tough to see.

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Snow Buntings being super camouflaged. Long Beach, Stratford CT – 12/26/15
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Where’s Waldo?
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Finally one of the Snow Buntings came out in the open. Still darn tough to see. Long Beach, Stratford CT – 12/26/15

And with a slight rain beginning to fall I called the end to another winter Connecticut Beach walk.

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Ring-billed Gull thought it would pose for a photo right before I got in the car. Long Beach, Stratford CT – 12/26/15

 

 

What I learned the Week of 3/30 – The Internet and Audio Files

I didn’t learn a lot this week except Charlotte’s traffic is worse than Indianapolis. Enough said.

1. I was in North Carolina the week for work.  Picked up the rental car in Charlotte and drove two hours to the country town where we have a plant.  Immediately getting out of the car I heard a Fish Crow.

There is no mistaken the call of a Fish Crow.

I have thought this before when I birded in southern Illinois. To me it isn’t even close to an American Crow‘s call.  I have read how people have confused the two calls, something I just don’t understand.  About 5 minutes later an American Crow flew by and it was completely different.

A comparison on the 2 calls from Xeno-canto.

2. Non-birding but relevant to this post.  Different web browsers support different audio formats. Which makes it a real pain when I want to post some audio I recorded. So unless  I want to pay a royalty for patents I will have to post 2 different audio files.

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Listed are the different types of audio files used on which browsers. It is a couple years old but is still correct. You can see that there isn’t one audio type used on all browsers. Unless you want to pay big money. From Scirra website.

3. Following is a recording I made of Common Loons calling at Driftwood last week.  I hadn’t heard them calling since I was young and we went to Northern Minnesota in the summers.  They called every few minutes for the 3+ hours I was at Driftwood.

One of the two following should work. You will probably have to turn up your volume.

4. Speaking of Driftwood, after the Bonaparte’s Gulls were there the previous weekend, I played the odds that more gulls would be there last weekend. And as luck would have it, 2 Ring-billed Gulls spent the afternoon flying.  Not a rare bird but uncommon for Johnson County.

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Funny how “common” birds are a treat to watch when you don’t see them often. Ring-billed Gulls and a Red-breasted Merganser. Driftwood SFA 04/04/15
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A little closer view.
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And keeping with the recent theme of showing birds with a fish, here is one of the gulls getting ready to eat.

And a few more pictures from the weekend.

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A Red-breasted Merganser leading a group of Ruddy Ducks. Driftwood SFA 04/04/15
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This Field Sparrow was singing well into the afternoon. Driftwood SFA 04/04/15
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Just a photo to show how numerous Pied-billed Grebes were last Saturday. On every small pond there were several of them with at least eight on this one. Who is hiding in the shadows? Atterbury FWA 04/04/15
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Not sure I have ever seen a Great Blue Heron this well hid in the brush. Must have been enjoying the afternoon sun. Greenwood Retention Pond 04/05/15

 

 

 

Photoless Saturday

Some days I get lucky with photography, most days I don’t.  Saturday I didn’t. But I had a good day birding none the less.  This also means I get to show some pictures I have taken over the years.

With Mike unavailable I stayed close to home. But I still picked up the last of the easy winter birds to add to my Indiana Life list without going to Lake Michigan.

The day started well before dawn trying for an Eastern Screech-Owl I have been hearing at my residence.  But of course they won’t call when you want them too.  Driving to Southeastway Park I checked every telephone pole for a Great Horned Owl. Not really paying attention at that early hour I about ran through a stop sign with a police car behind me.  I had better refine that practice.

Further down the road on a pole I often see a local Red-tailed Hawk, a Great Horned was standing night guard.  We watched each other for a few minutes and then I headed to the park for other owls.  I took a leisurely stroll around the park but never did hear a Barred Owl.

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I caught this Great Horned Owl sleeping one morning in Middleton, WI. 10/11/09

I then headed to Geist Reservoir.  On arriving there were two Red-shoulder Hawks being harassed by American Crows at the parking lot.  They were sitting close for a great photo-op.  But by the time I jump out of the car they were flying away calling. And that was how the day went for photos.

It wouldn't turn it's head my direction.  To intent on watching something. Red-shouldered Hawk - Atterbury FWA 02/02/14
Yes, I have used this photo before. I better get a new Red-shouldered Hawk photo. Atterbury FWA, IN 02/02/14

Observing the reservoir there was a little open water with Canada Geese and Mallards. But flying over the frozen lake was a flock of 25 geese with one of them white.  It was just a little smaller than a Canada – a Snow Goose.  But to far away for a photo.

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These are rafts of Snow Geese at Carlyle Lake in Illinois. Estimates were anywhere to 500,000 on up to a 1,000,000 birds. I really don’t know if that is true but when one group flew it was amazing. Carlyle Lake, IL 01/22/12

Walking up the creek I observed a Great Blue Heron flying up the creek and over the spillway to the lake. Then another. And another.  I counted twenty-one herons flying in a ten minute period. The creek is open so they must had a feeding spot up the creek.  Not sure what disturbed them except there had been people with several dogs around.

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This is one of the few photos I did not mark a date or location. Don’t even have a good guess. Great Blue Heron – United States – 21st Century

In the afternoon I headed to Eagle Creek and observed from Rick’s. The only open water was about a half-mile north.  It contained a large assortment of Canada Geese, White-fronted Geese, Mallards, and a few Common Goldeneye, Common Mergansers, and Northern Pintail.

But the stars, at least for me, were two Red-breasted Mergansers. They continued the weekly string I have of adding Indiana Life birds.  They gave good views in the spotting scope but were too far a way for a photo. Of course.

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First the female, and then a male Red-breasted Mergansers. They were in a group of 8 that went slowly by the bank. Illinois River, LaSalle County, IL 03/30/11
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Male Red-Breasted Merganser – details above photo.

After an hour in the cold wind I called it a day. Photoless.