Black-billed Magpie Mobbing

While doing a “hawk watch” along the Colorado River on December’s trip I had the opportunity to watch another group of corvids harassing a larger bird. In this case it was a group of Black-billed Magpie mobbing a Red-tailed Hawk.

Before I relate the story it seems I keep running into this kind of action. Back in February I posted the story about a Great Horned Owl being mobbed by a flock of American Crows at Johnson County Park. And in early January I saw a group of Blue Jays harassing and chasing a Red-Shoulder Hawk in Geist Reservoir in Marion County.

Now I haven’t been out in the field much lately. So am I just stumbling upon corvids acting like this or does it happen more than I know? I really can’t answer the question but it appears to happen frequently.

Colorado Black-billed Magpie Mobbing

While scanning for raptors along the Colorado River north of Grand Junction I noticed one, then two, then several Black-billed Magpies flying to a distant tree line. Now this seemed odd since I had only seen and heard one or two in the previous hour. In fact I had noted earlier in the trip I heard many more magpies than I saw. Which struck me as acting like a Blue Jay. Not wanting to be seen unless the need arose.

It didn’t take long to figure out what was happening. The magpies were gathering in one tree. Which meant there was something present they could harass.

How many Black-billed Magpies can you spot in this photo? And the Red-tailed Hawk?
Circled in red are the ten magpies I counted though I know there are at least 5-10 more. The hawk is circled in green.
Black-billed Magpie Mobbing
The Red-tailed Hawk finally had enough and flew off.
But only a little further down the tree line before it stopped and the process started again.

Eventually the dark morph Red-tailed Hawk I had seen earlier appeared and the two flew off together. And the magpies must have lost interest since they did not pursue.

Red-tailed Hawk Nest – Weekend Highlight

This will be a short post which probably won’t hold any interest to anyone else. But there are certain things I like to keep track of through the blog. Like the Red-tailed Hawk nest I’ve been watching.

Once again work and family obligations limited my time birding over the weekend. For once though it’s during the holding game waiting for migration instead of early May. So I didn’t feel as much disappointment only getting out for a few hours.

I previously mentioned the Red-tailed Hawk nest when I happened to see a couple of hawks in the local park. It appeared they were either building a new nest or occupying a previously used nest.  On subsequent trips I didn’t see any activity.

Until this weekend when a hawk was sitting on the nest.

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The initial view from a distance. The nest is in the center of the photo.
A zoomed view of the nest showing one of the Red-tailed Hawk parents on the nest.

I’m glad to see it’s occupied so I can continue to monitor it though the spring.

Over the years I have seen several Red-tailed Hawk nests and I have to say this looks small. Or is it my memory?

Must be my memory. Hal Harrison in Eastern Bird Nests lists the outside diameter at 28-30″, and the inside diameter at 14″-15″ with a depth of 4-6″. Looking at the photo again I would definitely say this nest is within that range.

I often wonder with all the Red-tailed Hawks I see why I don’t come across more nests. The following photo answers that question.

Any idea where the Red-tailed Hawk nest is located? This points out why I don’t see more nests when I’m out in the field.
The other bird of note this weekend was my FOY Fox Sparrow seen hanging out with a group of White-throated Sparrows.

Windblown Eastern Phoebe – Weekend Highlight

So how windy was last Saturday? Check out this photo of a windblown Eastern Phoebe!

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Luckily this Eastern Phoebe could still see with its feathers almost over its eyes!
Or this Red-tailed Hawk kiting in a strong SE wind?
Or even a Tree Swallow hanging in the wind.

Along with Mike Saturday’s plan was to search for the expected early migrants. But before I met up with Mike I did a bit of owling.

The Eastern-screech Owls weren’t the usual spots but a Barred Owl was calling nearby at one. I finally found one screech-owl.

Can you see the Eastern Screech-Owl in the photo? This is my first attempt using the flash on my camera. Looks like one of those TV supernatural show videos.
And now a zoomed shot. OK, next time I’ll have a better photo.

I met up with Mike at the Great Horned Owl spot where we eventually heard one calling right before sunrise. We visited a couple of lakes and saw a good variety of waterfowl and the first of the migrants, three distant Tree Swallow flying over the Pisgah Lake.

The next stop was the known Eastern Phoebe Bridge and one was heard “chipping” immediately exiting the car.

The first Eastern Phoebe of the year, looking rather cold. Which it was for most of the day.

Now watch the tail. Wait for it. Classic Phoebe!

At Driftwood SFA we found both migrants. The before mentioned windblown Eastern Phoebe and a small group of Tree Swallows.

Probably feels good in the sun with a break in the wind.
Looks like I’ve been spotted. Time to move on.
Now you see why it’s called Driftwood. A different Eastern Phoebe warming in the sun.

A third one flew in from behind and almost landed on me.
I couldn’t get the angle of the Tree Swallows in a tree, so I’ll have to settle for a line shot.

This is my fifth spring in Indiana, so I can start to have realistic personal early/late dates.

Earliest Eastern Phoebe by 6 days. But not sure I was always looking for an early one.

Tree Swallow was the second earliest. Earliest was 3/2/13.

Female Northern Harrier – Colorado Day 4 Afternoon

Luckily for once extra time at work coincides with the winter Birding Doldrums. I did get out for a few hours last weekend but not much was happening except there are now four Red-tailed Hawks in the neighborhood. So I’ll continue with my December Colorado trip discussing Day 4’s afternoon with the highlight being a female Northern Harrier.

After birding Connected Lakes State Park all morning, the goal was to drive the short distance to Walker State Wildlife Area and scan for Raptors. Probably not the ideal location to scan but I didn’t feel like driving. And there werer eBird reports of raptors flying along the nearby Colorado River.

From what I read it appears birders out west take Black-billed Magpies for granted like we take American Crows for granted in the Midwest. That’s a shame since the magpie is such a beautiful bird, especially in flight.
Sandhill Cranes winter in the Grand Valley so there were flocks overhead each day.
This group was a little lower flying south up the river.
I heard waterfowl to the north but had only seen a few groups of Canada Geese flying until something put all the waterfowl up. Then I realized the full extent of their numbers.

I never did see what made the waterfowl fly. But a few minutes later I got a glimpse of a distant bird flying up river. The bird was large and dark. Even at that distance it didn’t have the feel of a Bald Eagle. The wings weren’t “planky” enough. The elusive Golden Eagle?

Not one afraid to show a bad photo, this was my desperate attempt to capture a distant bird which might have been a Golden Eagle. Not the blob in the tree but way out there, somewhere.
Two bad photos back to back. This was my only photo of a Red-tailed Hawk Dark Morph circling the area during the afternoon.

Female Northern Harrier

The highlight of the afternoon was watching a female Northern Harrier who spent the afternoon slowly cruising the nearby corn field.
female Northern Harrier
She would go up one side of the corn field and down the other, occasionally dropping down hunting something.
Finally she caught her meal which I assume was a mouse.

Feisty Winter Wren – Weekend Highlight

After checking the local retention ponds Saturday morning and finding a light layer of ice I wasn’t sure I’d have a weekend highlight. But not getting in a hurry and spending time in the field will almost always produce a highlight. And again this weekend I had several to choose from but the definite highlight was a feisty Winter Wren.

Before we get to Saturday I need to say how good it is to see an old friend.  I haven’t seen the local Great Horned Owl for a couple of months but Friday night at dusk it made an appearance.

At any distance a Great Horned Owl’s silhouette is unmistakable.

Saturday started slow with the temperatures in the low teens. The first hour of the park walk had most of the winter regulars calling. Then one of the local Red-tailed Hawks came gliding into a tree on the wood’s edge. It was joined by another hawk I assumed was its mate. After sitting for a minute they both proceeded to a tall tree with a fork. Are they going to nest there? Stayed tuned for updates.

You can see the Red-tailed Hawk in the fork-portion of the photo’s center. Looks like a good spot for a nest.

Sharp-shinned Hawk – Weekend Runner-Up

Not too long later the local Blue Jays started to go crazy. This meant either a hawk or owl! Before I saw what they were harassing I heard a loud call. A Hawk! And not to long later I see it’s a small hawk. A Sharp-shinned Hawk, a bird I don’t see often.

It’s always fascinating to watch a bird the same size as a Blue Jay harass them right back.

The Sharp-shinned wasn’t having any of the Blue Jay crap. Every time a Blue Jay got close the hawk would go right after it. This went on for at least 15 minutes with the chasing encompassing the entire woods. Most times I watch these encounters the hawk or owl will give up and fly away with the jays in tow. But in this case the hawk kept after them. Finally the group went to the far side of the woods which I couldn’t observe. Eventually the noise lessened up so I assume the hawk moved on.

With the Blue Jays after it the Sharp-shinned Hawk never sat longer enough for a decent photo.

Sunday I checked out the water on Geist Reservoir and then moved on to the trail. Both had highlight candidates.

First was a distant Cackling Goose mixed with Canada Geese. At 600 meters this photo shows the full distance of the P900 camera.
Next I was trying to align the Ring-billed Gull with the moon but also captured a distant plane which I didn’t notice until I got home.
A Belted Kingfisher was patrolling the creek but favored this branch.

Then the Feisty Winter Wren

While walking through the woods checking the Carolina Chickadees, Tufted Titmice, White-breasted Nuthatches, and even a Ruby Crowned Kinglet. I thought I heard a Winter Wren. Giving a little pish a Winter Wren jumped up and wouldn’t stop calling.

Feisty Winter Wren
The feisty Winter Wren seems to be asking “Who’s out there? I know I heard you”.
“Maybe you’re over there?”
“Answer me. I’ll keep calling until you do.” Check out the barring, especially on the tail.

I stood quiet while the Winter Wren proceeded to jump on every limb and branch surrounding me, constantly calling. The view of the activity was appreciated since they’re locally uncommon. The Winter Wren was even the species I used in one of my early posts about finding uncommon species.

A little later I came across a Carolina Wren preening on a sunlit log.

Carolina Wren’s colors are appreciated on a cold winter day. OK, so it was over 50F, I still appreciated the colors.
And not to be out done, check out its tail’s barring.

Orange-Crowned Warbler?-Weekend Highlight

Maybe an Orange-crowned Warbler? was the weekend highlight. Maybe not. I’m not 100% sure. More on that towards the end of the post.

I haven’t had much time to either bird or post the last couple of weeks. A week-long trip to Canada for work (no birding involved), catching up from the trip, and then the Thanksgiving Holiday. I could have been out more over Thanksgiving weekend but I spent the time finalizing and preparing for my next birding trip. So I don’t feel like it was wasted time.

I finally had some time over the weekend and knowing there would be sparrows I birded Johnson County Park. I made a stop at Honker Haven at Atterbury FWA and confirmed there still hasn’t been a major movement of waterfowl into the area.

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Only the regulars were at Honker Haven in Atterbury – Canada Geese, Mallards, and Gadwalls. Plus one new addition – Lesser Scaup. Atterbury FWA 11/26/16

Johnson County Park had the previously mentioned sparrows with all of the anticipated ones there in good numbers.

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First a White-crowned Sparrow. Johnson County Park 11/26/16
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Then an American Tree Sparrow. Johnson County Park 11/26/16
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Now both an American Tree Sparrow and White-crowned Sparrow together. I find it fascinating when different species mix together. Johnson County Park 11/26/16
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I’ll let the reader decide the number of Northern Cardinals and White-crowned Sparrows are hiding in the bush. Johnson County Park 11/26/16

On the way home I made a stop at the Wilson Snipe location. Taking a casual walk through the marsh flushed 8 snipe. Unless we have a major weather change they should be good for the upcoming Johnson County Christmas Count.

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After flushing the Wilson’s Snipe I watched as two flew a big lap before landing in a neighboring field.
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Perfect Wilson’s Snipe habitat – damp, high, marshy grass.

An Orange-crowned Warbler?

I spent a couple of hours Sunday at the local retention ponds watching, sketching, and documenting the movements of the local Red-tailed Hawks. I want to make sure I know them inside and out before an upcoming trip.

While watching one of the Red-tailed Hawks through the spotting scope I heard a loud CHIP in the Mocker Tree. (This is a small tree that has a Northern Mockingbird in it 90% of the time) The chip was loud and persistent. My first thought was a sparrow but I had never heard a sparrow chip this loud. There were nearby Song Sparrows chipping but they were much lower sounding. The chipping bird stayed in the bush and I wrote down it sounded like a repeated CHIK CHIK. I then thought it might be a really agitated Yellow-rumped Warbler, though it didn’t sound right.

The bird flew out of the bush onto the top limb. In the short naked eye glimpse from about 20 feet the bird was small and appeared all yellow. An even quicker look through the binoculars showed it had a slight eye ring (lower and upper crescents?) and was yellow.

And then it flew. My first and last impression was Orange-crowned Warbler. But I’m not confident enough with the short look to confirm. I haven’t heard one chipping in a few years but it sounded like one after listening to its chip on an app immediately after the sighting. Oh well.

A few photos from the weekend.

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Another billboard going up along I-65?
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Didn’t take long for the local Red-tailed Hawk to use for a hunting spot.
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Watching me – watching you.
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I came across a flock of Dark-eyed Juncos. They didn’t seem to be mixing with the other sparrows in the park??

Red-tailed Hawk Kiting – Weekend Highlight

After a week of traveling for work I stayed close to home birding. This is rather miss-leading since I would stay close to home for birding anyway. I saw a few migrants but the highlight was watching a Red-tailed Hawk kiting into a southerly wind.

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But first, a Swamp Sparrow that was to be the highlight last week but traveling kept me from getting the blog out. Franklin Township Community Park 10/9/16
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Mike and I started at the local wet spot which is drying up quickly. Hopefully Sunday’s rain will make a difference. Urban Marion County 10/15/16

On to the local retaining ponds that still don’t have any new waterfowl. We did see a few sparrows – mainly Song but a Lincoln’s and Savannah were mixed in.

Mike headed out and I continued on to the local park for an afternoon of birding.

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Before the park I stopped by the new semi-rural area. Not many sparrows but the local American Kestrel was present again. Semi-rural Marion County 10/15/16
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The new spot looks like a consistent spot for Eastern Meadowlarks. Next week Horned Larks? Semi-rural Marion County 10/15/16

The park held several migrants including my FOS Golden-crowned Kinglet and Brown Creeper. A getting kind of late Black-throated Green Warbler was in a moving mixed flock.

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Ruby-crowned Kinglets were present with this one showing a little of the Ruby. Franklin Township Community Park 10/15/16
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Once again Yellow-rumped Warblers were everywhere in the park. Franklin Township Community Park 10/15/16
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Nothing special but I liked the way this Mourning Dove was low to the ground hiding by the fence. Franklin Township Community Park 10/15/16

The highlight of the day was watching a Red-tailed Hawk kiting motionless into a 20mph wind. It was amazing how long it stayed hanging in one spot!

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The Red-tailed Hawk stayed in this one position long enough for me to take several photos without it ever leaving the field of view. Meaning it never moved. Franklin Township Community Park 10/15/16
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I watched it for quite a while but it never did dive into the high grass for a meal. Franklin Township Community Park 10/15/16

Red-tailed Vulture

Last Sunday I decided to try a new spot for sparrows. Didn’t find any “yellow” sparrows but it was loaded with Song and Swamp Sparrows. Plus my FOS White-crowned Sparrow was singing nearby and a few Eastern Meadowlarks thrown in for a bonus.

That’s all well and good but what caught my eye was a hawk in a nearby tree. When I first arrived there were crows hanging around. Every so often a couple would make a bee-line to a nearby tree.

It took a few minutes to finally spot the hawk they were harassing. Or was it a vulture? I wasn’t sure.

I wasn’t that far away and for someone who didn’t start birding yesterday, the call should have been instantaneous. But it wasn’t. So I walked closer hoping it wouldn’t fly.

rtha-head-2 Red-tailed Vulture
First look from a distance. The body says hawk but the head said vulture. Semi-rural Marion County 10/2/16

As I moved closer it became clear that it was a hawk without any head feathers. Something I’ve never seen before. I was pretty certain it was a Red-tailed but still not 100%.

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What would cause the head on this Red-tailed Hawk not to have feathers? Molting? Disease? I didn’t know. Semi-rural Marion County 10/2/16

Otherwise the bird appeared healthy. After being harassed long enough it flew over to a nearby roof not showing any signs of illness. Its flight and landing both looked normal.

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If I’d just seen the head in this photo I would have called this a vulture. Semi-rural Marion County 10/2/16

For fun I looked at other vultures around the world seeing if this guy looked like any of them. Thinks to Wikipedia I discovered there are 23 species in the world – 16 Old World and 7 New World. I looked at all 23 and none really have the brown of Red-tailed Hawk with a gray head. To my eye the closet one in appearance to the odd hawk is the Old World Cinereous Vulture also known as Eurasian Black Vulture or Monk Vulture.

cinereous-vultures
This Cinereous Vulture is about as close as I could find to matching the odd-looking Red-tailed Hawk.

If anyone has any idea what is wrong with the hawk please leave a comment.

European Starlings – Weekend Favorite

If you don’t count the early morning fog and mist the weather cooperated to some extent this past weekend. I had several favorites but I don’t know if I can call any of them highlights. So I’ll go with my favorite being the flock of European Starlings I watched Sunday.

I know, how can I call the starling a favorite? Most people, and even most birders including myself, take a look at starlings and move on. But I got caught up watching them Sunday which extended my stay at the local park by almost an hour.

A few starlings had been calling off and on for the first two hours I birded the park. Then all of a sudden there were hundreds calling on the other side of the tree line which made listening for passerines tough.

I took one more walk to the other side of the tree line still not paying attention to the starlings when all of a sudden they all went up at once. 

I had no idea that there were this many starlings a few hundred feet away!

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The European Starlings make their way to the nearby trees. Franklin Township Community Park 10/2/16
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All of the starlings made it successful to the trees. Franklin Township Community Park 10/2/16

How do I know the starlings made it successfully to the trees. Because the instigator came up empty.

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I never saw the Red-tailed Hawk until all of a sudden it was on a nearby backstop. It must have come in low and fast avoiding detection. Franklin Township Community Park 10/2/16

I watched this scenario play out several times. The starlings would leave the trees, go back to feed, and the hawk would try again.

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Up we go again. The hawk would try for a starling, they would go up and land and the whole scene would repeat. Franklin Township Community Park 10/2/16

Now there were a couple of things that made this the weekend favorite.

  1. I have seen large flocks of starlings go up and down many times in my life. But I don’t ever remember being right in the middle of the action. I stood in the middle of the path from the trees and their feeding area.
  2. Watching a hundred European Starlings bath at the same time. (Sorry about the fence) Since all browsers don’t support the same video this might not work on Internet Explorer.

The amount of spray they put up was amazing. Even more than the Laughing Gull feeding frenzy in Alabama.

That’s was why I picked the European Starlings. There is always an adventure or story out there if you don’t get in a hurry. It usually comes to you.

American Crows – Weekend Highlights

I told myself sometime ago I was going to post weekend highlights to make life a little easier. Having a regimented blog post concerning the weekend and one more later in the week about whatever I want fits my schedule. But I hadn’t thought of what would happen if the weather was so dark (fog and haze) that there wouldn’t be a highlight?

At least not in photos. Because every time I go birding it is an adventure and there are always highlights. The problem is I don’t get photos of everything to share.

So like the man once said, go with what you have got.

Mike and I birded Combs Wet Area and Southeastway Park in the fog and haze Saturday morning. When we arrived at dawn, Combs was packed with geese and ducks but like I previously reported was void of geese within a half hour. The odd thing is that I haven’t seen any Blue-winged Teal there yet this fall. I have seen them there each of the last couple of September’s. The only shorebirds were a couple of Pectoral Sandpipers and a few Least Sandpipers. Of course there were a lot of Killdeer.

Southeastway was slow in the fog. We might have been better off to come back later in morning. We did hear a Broad-winged Hawk calling in the trees but after a half hour search never located it.

Sunday morning was spent at Franklin Township Community Park. Not much in the way of warbler migrants but I watched a steady flow of Blue Jays fly from the north tree line and keep moving south. I figure they were migrating since I probably under counted at 50, which is many more than the normal 10 in the park.

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I spent Sunday morning with these dudes constantly flying around the Franklin Township Community Park (FTCP). I think they had found scrapings left over from Saturday’s soccer games. 9/25/16
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The main group of American Crows moved back and forth from the goalpost to the scoreboard on a regular basis. FTCP 9/25/16
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These two photos show the difference how birds appears at a distance. The larger of the American Crows is much closer than the smaller one. Without knowing that and looking only at the photo, I would think we had a rare, smaller crow. FTCP 9/25/16

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The photographic highlight of the weekend was capturing migrating Double-crested Cormorants. You can sort of tell they are in a V heading south. FTCP 9/25/16
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Back home the Northern Flicker family was out together. If I had been a second sooner a fourth one would be in the photo. Indianapolis 9/25/16
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Couldn’t pass up the chance for a photo of one of the Red-tailed Hawks that live in the woods by our place. Indianapolis 9/25/16