Ruby-crowned Kinglet Distribution – A Surprise

Prior to heading to Grand Junction last December I checked the status and distribution of species. As I explained in my 6% rule post, eBird bar charts come in handy for getting a feel for likely species. The post points out I’ve found the odds drop quickly for species with a number under .06. Ruby-crowned Kinglet distribution in Western Colorado came in at .04 and Wood Duck .03. Without actual chasing I probably wouldn’t see them. So I made a mental note they might be there and moved on to learn species with higher numbers.

Ruby-crowned Kinglet Distribution - A Surprise
Ruby-crowned Kinglets were very active in several locations and habitats.

Boy was I surprised when I saw Ruby-crowned Kinglets at not one but four locations with seven seen at Connected Lake State Park. I didn’t think Ruby-crowned Kinglets are hardy enough to spend winter in Colorado. I based that fact on Midwesterners only having a slight chance of seeing one locally in winter. And since we basically see them only during migration I thought they migrated farther south.

The bright yellow color of the kinglets also came as a surprise. I’m guessing it’s because I usually see them in spring before they molt. But they still seemed bright…

The same can be said of the Wood Duck. In the Midwest they are usually gone by late November and start reappearing in early spring. I didn’t think they were on the same level as the Blue-winged Teal for early/late migration but earlier than most ducks. So when I encountered Wood Ducks at Connected Lakes that also caught me off guard.

A group of Wood Ducks with American Coots and Mallards. Early December seemed like a late date for their presence.

So what gives?

Range maps provided surprising answers for each species.

Ruby-crowned Kinglet on the left, Wood Duck on the right. From Audubon Guide to North American Birds – www.audubon.org/field-guide/bird/

Both winter just south of the Midwest and are year around residents in Western Colorado, something I hadn’t previously noticed. The Ruby-crowned Kinglet distribution shows it’s a year-round resident of the whole Great Basin. And the small circle in Western Colorado is where Wood Ducks are year-round residents.

These encounters once again prove I need to spend more time studying local birds beyond our area. What else I’m I missing about these species?

Northern Flicker Drumming – Colorado Day 3

The plan was to wrap up the December Colorado trip with one more blog. But after reviewing the photos from the final days I came up with several more posts. A couple travelogue type posts and a couple about things that caught my interest. Day 3’s morning was an enjoyable one in the field with a long walk at a state park. Strictly a travelogue day which means not any one highlight but many good views and observations. I’ll go with a Northern Flicker drumming to show my improving video talent. Ha!

Another cool day began at the James M. Robb part of the Colorado River State Park. Once again I had a park to myself.
The park appears to be a series of reclaimed gravel pits. A cold Great Blue Heron kept guard on the lake.
Even though I’m only a mile from Grand Junction the lone noise was a freight train. Plus, the view was great.
The park’s staff had left several dead trees, this one by a pond where an American Kestrel kept lookout. I think he was hunting sparrows in the brush alongside the pond.
Ruby-crowned Kinglets were prevalent on the trip, something I wasn’t expecting. (The Ruby is barely seen in the photo) I’m going to have a separate blog post concerning Ruby-crowned Kinglets in a few weeks.
Wood Ducks were at the park, also not expected. They’ll be featured in the Ruby-crowned Kinglet post.

There were numerous Dark-eyed Juncos but they too are getting a separate blog.

The call of the Spotted Towhee was perplexing until he popped out of the shadows. The call was much louder and grating than I remembered. Or was it the still morning’s air?

A White-crowned Sparrow Tree.
I’ve learned Song Sparrow’s coloring can vary greatly in the Midwest. This Colorado bird seems to be even redder than I remember at home.
Northern Flicker Drumming
As noted above the park’s staff had left many dead trees for birds, like this Northern Flicker.

Now the following isn’t a good video. I was playing around with the video and thought I had a focused video of a Northern Flicker drumming. Turns out there was a small branch in the way. But I had fun in the field watching and recording.

Turn up the volume to catch the Northern Flicker Drumming.

NOFL Drilling

I wrapped up the morning’s walk with a good mix of species – waterfowl, raptors, and songbirds. I encountered three separate Bewick’s Wrens but like any wren they didn’t come out long enough for a photo.

Western Grebe – No Magic

After my last post on birders trying to turn Common Goldeneye to Barrow’s Goldeneye, you thought I would have learned. Nope. My first day in the Grand Junction area was spent wasting too much time trying to turn a Western Grebe into a Clark’s Grebe.

My first photo from the Grand Junction area. Looking west after the obligatory Starbucks stop. 12/4/16

The day started out exactly like I hoped. Clear and cold (17F). I was at Highline Lake State Park in under a half hour. It was as quiet as birding in winter in Midwest. The difference though was no backdrop noise of cars or machinery like you hear in the Midwest.

The real reason I go to Grand Junction. The wide open scenery. The view north from the south end of Highline Lake.

I was one of the few people at the park besides the rangers. And the birding was slow but I didn’t mind as I walked the trails for a few hours.

What would a stocked lake be without a Bald Eagle? 12/4/16
Of course there were deer. They must be less numerous since the Park Ranger made a point of telling me where the deer were located. 12/4/16
Ruby-crowned Kinglet were numerous on the trip, which surprised me. I’m going to do a separate post on them at a later date. 12/4/16
I stumbled upon a Say’s Phoebe at the south end of the lake. From a distance I initially took it to be an American Robin. 12/4/16
And yes it wagged its tail like all good phoebes. 12/4/16
A group of eight Wilson’s Snipe were on the runoff stream below the dam. A hearty bunch in the cold. 12/4/16

And now about Clark’s, I mean, Western Grebe.

Western Grebe
I first encountered the Western Grebe when they were in the middle of the lake. With the crown looking like it might be above the eye, the one on the right looked possible for Clark’s Grebe. 12/4/16
So I spent more time than I should waiting for them to get closer. 12/4/16
I didn’t mind waiting because I could enjoy the western skyline. 12/4/16
Even at a distance this cropped photo shows the dark surrounding the eye on the first grebe. Obviously a Western Grebe. 12/4/16
I can’t work any magic on the other grebe. The dark area surrounds the eye, though it’s faint.  Western Grebe. It was fun waiting and watching though. 12/4/16

Next on to the real reason for the trip.

Belted Kingfisher – Weekend Highlight

In my last post I reported I’d be staying closer to home for birding. So what can one see closer to home in late October? Belted Kingfisher for one.

With a limited time Saturday to go birding I was glad I decided to bird closer to home. I went out Sunday but the windy weather wasn’t as conducive to birding.

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I checked the wet area first. No herons or egrets or waterfowl for that matter. Since Great Egrets leave early in the day I checked a half hour before sunrise Sunday. Still no luck. Urban Marion County 10/22/16
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There were still a few Least Sandpipers to go with the Killdeer. Still hoping for Dunlin.
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The ever-present male Belted Kingfisher was the first of two Kingfishers on the day. Greenwood Retaining Ponds 10/22/16
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Still no waterfowl moving in but the Belted Kingfisher (upper left), Great Blue Heron (lower right), and American Coots (center back) are usually present.

After checking out the local water areas I headed home to bird my home area.

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A Downy Woodpecker was working a tree when I arrived. Urban Indianapolis 10/22/16
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Eastern Phoebes have been present all summer with two being seen Saturday. Urban Indianapolis 10/22/16
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The picture of the weekend. This female Belted Kingfisher didn’t like me in the area and rattled at me constantly. I think she looks like she is laughing here. Urban Indianapolis 10/22/16
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If one keeps an eye to the sky you’ll never know what you might see. Two Red-shouldered Hawks were soaring quite high. A few seconds earlier a Red-tailed Hawk was also soaring with them and the smaller size of the Red-shouldered was apparent. Plus the coloring and fight shape helped to ID them. Urban Indianapolis 10/22/16

Sunday afternoon I spent a few hours at the local park. The wind kept the birds down but on the north side of the tree line the kinglets came out in a fair numbers.

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At one point I had both kinglets in the field of view. The Ruby-crowned moved right before I took the photo leaving the Golden-crowned Kinglet. Franklin Township Community Park 10/23/16
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The Ruby-crowned Kinglet came in very close and was quite inquisitive when I was pishing. Franklin Township Community Park 10/23/16

Always a good weekend when I can see a few migrants and the local Kingfishers.

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!

rtha-4 red-tailed hawk kiting
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

Missing Canada Geese

Since the last couple of weekends were warm and hazy which didn’t allow for photos it was good the weather changed to cold, clear, and windy. Maybe a little too cool since I wore long underwear Saturday but at least I could take photos without wondering if they would be too dark.

Saturday started out by checking if any Great Egrets were still at the local wet area. Sure enough there are still seven there, along with Blue-winged Teal and shorebirds, but missing Canada Geese? I was there long before sunrise and they weren’t flying away as I approached. Past weekends there have been up to 500 geese present before sunrise waiting to fly off to feed. Like in early September when I posted about their early morning flight. Where can that many geese go?

combs-2 missing Canada Geese
The local wet area has no Canada Geese where previously there had been hundreds. Where did they go? But the remaining Great Egrets were still present. Urban Marion County 10/8/16

After an hour of counting Killdeer and seeing if the local Cooper’s Hawk would make a second pass for breakfast, I headed to the retaining ponds to see if any new waterfowl had moved in with the passing front.

And that answered where the missing Canada Geese had gone!

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I’m guessing the Canada Geese have decided to roost in the local retention pond since the wet area has become too shallow. The count was the same as the wet area has been on previous weekends – 500. Urban Johnson County 10/8/16
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It wasn’t long before most of the geese headed to the fields. The noise didn’t seem to bother this Belted Kingfisher. Urban Johnson County 10/8/16

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After the Canada Geese left I stayed to see what else might be around the ponds. I could see the geese in the fields feeding in the recently harvested corn fields.

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After a half hour all of the Canada Geese went up in a panic. What would cause them to take flight? I never laid eyes on the cause but I know there are Bald Eagles that fly through. Urban Johnson County 10/8/16

The rest of the morning was searching for migrants. The new semi-rural site produced several raptures plus Vesper and Lincoln Sparrows.

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How come I’m never on the right side of the wind to capture American Kestrels hovering? Semi-rural Marion County 10/8/16

I noticed a definite drop in Blue Jays flying through with only one flock of 15.

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Ruby-crowned Kinglets were on the move both Saturday and Sunday. Franklin Township Community Park 10/9/16
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As were Yellow-rumped Warblers with 25 seen in a concentrated area. Franklin Township Community Park 10/9/16
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Showing off its signature ID. Franklin Township Community Park 10/9/16
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This Tennessee Warbler was the only warbler I stumbled across Sunday. Franklin Township Community Park 10/9/16

I’ll be back in the next post with photos of the Weekend Highlight.

A Johnson County Big Day

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.

COYE
Like a Common Yellowthroat in the dawn light. Atterbury FWA 5/1/16
EATO
And an Eastern Towhee. Atterbury FWA 5/1/16

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.

YEWA
Yellow Warbler. Atterbury FWA 5/1/16
RCKI
A Ruby-crowned Kinglet. Atterbury FWA 5/1/16
YBCU (3)
A Yellow-billed Cuckoo was posing nicely. Check out those tail spots! Atterbury FWA 5/1/16

YBCU (2) YBCU (1)

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.

PROW
Prothonotary Warbler Irwin park 5/1/16
DCCO
At least the Double-crested Cormorant stayed around. Driftwood 5/1/16
BAOR
As usual Driftwood was thick with Baltimore Orioles. Driftwood 5/1/16

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 –

PBGR
A PIED-BILLED GREBE!

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.