Shorebird Saturday and a Cuckoo

Regular readers will notice I haven’t been as proficient blogging the last few weeks. I’ve been traveling for work and honestly the little time I’ve been in the field hasn’t been productive for blogging. Last Saturday I had family matters to take care of early and didn’t get a chance to head out until late morning.

My plan was to meander towards Johnson County Park checking for shorebirds. Since I’ve been in the car too much the last three weeks, once at the park I was going to take a long walk looking for butterflies.

The score on the flooded fields wasn’t bad. Of the sites I know in the eastern part of Johnson County there were 5 with water and shorebirds and 4 overgrown with weeds.

There wasn’t anything unusual in the way of shorebirds but I had close views of Pectoral and Least Sandpipers.

A distant flooded field just south of Indianapolis. Last week I had a flyover Upland Sandpiper that landed in the tall grass south of the water. I tried to digiscope but failed miserably. And my P900 camera came back from the shop later that day. Figures…
I can’t ever remember being this close to Pectoral and Least Sandpipers without flushing them.
The Pec continued to feed ignoring me. There were 22 additional Pecs farther out in the field .
This photos shows why field guides often say Least Sandpipers look like small Pectoral Sandpipers.
A Solitary Sandpiper was the lone bird in this flooded field. Not even a Killdeer.

On the day I only ended up with 5 species of shorebirds with Pectorals numerous at most stops. Hopefully the water will stay with us for a while.

Finally arriving at Johnson County Park I took the long walk to enjoy the nice weather. Butterflies were sparse except for around the small man-made pond.

Tawny Emperor
Tawny-edged Skipper
Common Buckeye

Yellow-billed Cuckoo – Star of the Day

I initially caught a glimpse of it flying across the path and its size made me think of a light-colored Brown Thrasher. It proceeded to jump out giving great looks. And it didn’t seem to mind my presence.

cuckoo
One of those rare occasions when a Yellow-billed Cuckoo wasn’t lurking in the trees.
I know I’ve stated I don’t like close-up photos, but with the cuckoo this close I couldn’t resist.

My newest favorite photo showing both the bill and the tail of the Yellow-billed Cuckoo.

Atterbury Big May Day

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.

After owling the day started with haze coming off the wet fields.
One of the first daylight birds was a lone Green Heron watching from the mist.

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.

Dickcissels were out in force in the small grassland area on my route.

Uncommon findings were Red-breasted Nuthatch and Black Vulture.

If the Red-breasted Nuthatch hadn’t been singing its toy trumpet call I would have missed it. This is the latest date I’ve seen one in the Midwest.
The Black Vulture was on the east side of Atterbury where I have seen one previously. I assume they have moved this far north and aren’t enough people looking to note the increase.
This American Coot was the only one the group saw on the day. I don’t think he’ll be here much longer.

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.

A  female Mallard was sharing a flooded field with a Solitary Sandpiper.
One of the fields which can only be viewed in late afternoon but more importantly when the big dog isn’t around, had a Semipalmated Plover and Least Sandpipers.
The field that last year produced a Bonaparte’s Gull had a Pied-billed Grebe along with Spotted Sandpiper and Lesser Yellowlegs. The shorebirds aren’t in the photo.
Atterbury Big May Day
And a lone Northern Shoveler was swimming among the Mallards.

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.

Wilson’s Snipe Photos – Finally

Don’t be fooled by the title. I have many Wilson’s Snipe photos. Just not Wilson’s Snipe photos from the local only marshy area. Snipe have been present for the last couple of years at the marsh. But never out in the open long enough for a photo. Until Sunday.

Saturday started out with Mike and me heading to Laura Hare Preserve at Blossom Hollow. With Mike’s help I spent much of the time learning to ID several trees from their bark. The birding was typical for the habitat and time of year, meaning it was quiet at times. We did hear two Louisiana Waterthrush and I saw my yearly Yellow-bellied Sapsucker.

Sunday morning I went to the marsh area with express purpose of checking on the Wilson’s Snipe and any other shorebirds/waterfowl present.

Within the first minute of walking upon the marsh a Wilson’s Snipe flew in and landed in an opening. If I would have been prepared I would have had a photo right off the bat. But it proceeded to walk into the thick grass and when I moved it flushed to the far side. So I began the process of checking all the open areas for snipe.

The cat and mouse game would proceed over the next couple hours with snipe flying in and out but never where I could photograph one.

In between hoping to see the snipe, an Eastern Meadowlark landed nearby.
A pair of Savannah Sparrows were buzzing around chasing each other with one eventually landing.

Finally Wilson’s Snipe Photos 

I kept watch on the far shore hoping a snipe would walk out in to the open. After a couple of hours one finally appeared.

First I was watching a Solitary Sandpiper move along the edge.
Then a movement in the tall grass. Could it be? Yes, a Wilson’s Snipe.
By luck they both ended up in the same photo.
Not the best of photos but it shows it’s definitely a Wilson’s Snipe.
Wilson's Snipe Photos
Probably the best photo on the day. It at least captures some of the snipe’s bright barring.

I’ll follow-up this post up using Wilson’s Snipe as an example of something I think is a bigger problem.

Shorebird Turnover – Weekend Highlights

Too many stories to tell from a day’s birding. So this post will be to prove to myself that my statements on migration and shorebird turnover are accurate.

Story 1

To prove the point, I visited the local shorebird spot Friday PM, Saturday AM, again Saturday after the passing of the Cold Front, and Sunday morning.

Luckily I was mostly correct and there was turnover in shorebirds.

On the Friday Evening’s and on the early Saturday AM visits the BLACK-BELLIED PLOVER was still present from last weekend along with some SEMIPALMATED PLOVERS which had arrived earlier in the week.

DSCN4479
Molting Black-bellied Plover

But the number of KILLDEER from Friday to Saturday had dropped from 100 to around 10. Did they fly in front of the front or go somewhere else locally?

DSCN4441
Numerous Killdeer with Black-Bellied Plover
DSCN4559
Semipalmated Plovers with Least Sandpiper

The Cold Front came through around noon Saturday and on the afternoon visit the Black-bellied Plover was gone. Killdeer numbers were still low but there were now LESSER YELLOWLEGS and PECTORAL SANDPIPERS present. This was still the case Sunday.

So a passing front does lead to shorebird turnover.

Story 2

Even though the forecast was for heavy rain Saturday I headed out anyway. I follow the old axiom to “Bird in the worst weather”. And I’m glad I did.

After leaving the shorebird site I headed to Driftwood SFA and then on to Johnson County Park. My goal at those locations were birds that will be leaving soon. But that will be the next blog.

Just before I arrived at JCP it started to rain. I parked by the small pond and did a quick check for shorebirds. Nothing.

Fast forward to an hour later and I’m still sitting in the car at the same spot watching the strong thunderstorm end. Putting the window down I hear the “peek-peek” of a SPOTTED SANDPIPER.

DSCN4658
Spotted Sandpiper with friend.

Not only had the storm forced down the Spotted Sandpiper but a dozen SOLITARY SANDPIPERS.

SOSA Shorebird Turnover
A few of the dozen Solitary Sandpipers forced down by the storm.
SOSA (8)
Solitary Sandpipers with Semipalmated Sandpiper. Note the Solitary’s needle like bill.

I have experienced this a couple of times previously.  During migration if there is a Cold Front coming through and there is a strong storm, immediately go out and check flooded fields, shorebird spots, etc. The odds are there will be grounded shorebirds that won’t be hanging around long.

I didn’t see anything uncommon but one never knows.

Story 3

A late weekend addition. Sunday night I watched 4 COMMON NIGHTHAWKS feed in the neighborhood. These must be migrants following the Cold Front since the only one seen in the neighborhood this summer was in late July.

CONI (14)
Common Nighthawk

CONI (17) CONI (19) CONI (20) CONI (22)

 

Big May Day 2016 Highlights

My portion of the Johnson County Christmas Bird Count IAS Big May Day Count (felt like a Christmas Bird Count) started out and ended well with several surprises in the middle. I’ll stick to the highlights with some follow-up posts over the next few weeks covering a few other things on the day.

Big May Day – The Start

The weather at 5AM was 50F and windy, with light rain. The only thing that changed during the day was the rain stopped. Otherwise the temperature and wind held steady all day. I noticed the temperature on the local bank said 51F when I went by early in the day and said 50F late in the afternoon. I have participated in several Christmas Counts that were warmer.

So I didn’t start optimistic.

But the first bird, a GREAT HORNED OWL, flew off its usual telephone pole as soon as I drove up. There was hope.

I called in an EASTERN SCREECH-OWL and missed on Barred Owl. While waiting in the dark for a Barred Owl a bird flew in with white wing marks like a nighthawk. I didn’t remember those on a Barred Owl?? A couple of minutes it swooped back in – it was a COMMON NIGHTHAWK. Which was reassuring since I didn’t remember a Barred Owl acting that way.

The morning continued on with several FOY. Like CEDAR WAXWINGS.

CEDW (2)
I saw a flock of birds in a tight group fly into a distant tree. I was sure they were Cedar Waxwings but couldn’t tell at this distance. 5/14/16
CEDW (1)
So out comes the new camera for a distant photo showing they were Cedar Waxwings. 5/14/16

Next was one of those county lister things when I found 1 CLIFF SWALLOW mixed in a feeding flock. No photo. Have you ever tried to take a photo of a swallow? A few BANK SWALLOWS were also mixed in for good measure.

BLGR (3)
Mike and I came across the resident Blue Grosbeak at Johnson County Park. 5/14/16

Big May Day – The Middle

After lunch we went out searching for species we’d missed. First we hit one of the local shorebirds sites.

SEPL (2)
Another FOY was a Semipalmated Plover. 5/14/16
SEPL (1)
The plover was hanging out with Least and Solitary Sandpipers. 5/14/16
SOSA (1)
Did you ever notice you hear Solitary Sandpipers before you see them? They always seem to be calling. 5/14/16

Then I visited a spot which previously had a SORA calling and at that time I thought I had heard a portion of a calling VIRGINIA RAIL. Yesterday no Sora but 2 Virginia Rails called. Johnson County #214.

I added a few more species we had missed in the morning like GRASSHOPPER SPARROW, WILSON’S SNIPE, and PIED-BILLED GREBE. Not the same grebe from my previous story. But I was still glad to see one late in the day.

Big May Day – The End

When the Worthsville Road exit on I65 was recently added it opened up observation to a flooded field I thought might be good for shorebirds. Well it hasn’t panned out for shorebirds. But I still made it my last stop of the day yesterday.

Once again there were no shorebirds however there was a distant piece of white trash.

No, looking again the trash looked like a gull.

Assuming it was a Ring-billed I got out the scope to confirm. The bird was walking away but I could still see the small black bill, gray ear patch, and yellowish legs. A Bonaparte’s Gull in Johnson County in May. Who would have thought? (Yes, eBird flagged it if you were wondering)

BOGU (19)
Testing the zoom of my new camera this photo of a Bonaparte’s Gull is taken at 450 meters in windy conditions. 5/14/16
BOGU (2)
Note the small black bill and grayish ear mark, field marks for a Bonaparte’s Gull. 5/14/16

And for fun a departing photo, to make up for the lack of photos from another dark Saturday.

GBHE - Big May Day
Not sure I have ever seen a Great Blue Heron on a guard rail. 5/14/16

Mainly Celery Bog Sunday

I had to head back to Lafayette again this weekend. This time I had 4 hours to bird on Sunday. So just like last weekend I took the time to bird another spot that I hadn’t birded before, Celery Bog in West Lafayette.

But first a few words on Saturday. I tried for rails at a small wetland area in Shelby County just across the road from Johnson County. No luck. The habitat almost looks good for rails, but I’m thinking it is too overgrown. But I’ll try again.

I then checked the flooded fields south of Franklin. There were SOLITARY SANDPIPERS but not any other shorebirds.

SOSA (2)
This is one of 3 Solitary Sandpipers hanging out in a flooded field south of Franklin. 3/16/16

The bulk of Saturday morning was spent at Laura Hare Preserve. I was searching for HERMIT THRUSH, WINTER WREN, and LOUISIANA WATERTHRUSH. I ended up seeing one Hermit Thrush and 3 Louisiana Waterthrushes. But no photos.

And the reason for no photos was because I finally got a new camera. A Nikon Coolpix P900. Which I wasn’t having much luck with Saturday. So the time at Celery Bog was as much for birding as to take the time to learn the camera.

One could get use to birding Celery Bog on a regular basis. Nice habitat and access. I spent 2-1/2 hours walking the length of the area.

The most abundant bird after AMERICAN COOTS and TREE SWALLOWS were YELLOW-RUMPED WARBLERS. I had a minimum of 25.

AMCO (9)
I had to try a waterfowl shot with my new camera, this American Coot was the subject. Celery Bog, W. Lafayette 3/17/16
TRES (4)
Tree Swallows were numerous in the dead trees along the water’s edge. Celery Bog, W. Lafayette 3/17/16
YRWA (9)
A few photos of the numerous Yellow-rumped Warblers. I don’t remember ever hearing them call as much as they did Sunday. Celery Bog, W. Lafayette 3/17/16
YRWA (21)
Yellow-rumped Warbler
YRWA (24)
Yellow-rumped Warbler

There were also a fair assortment of waterfowl and my FOS GREAT EGRET.

GREG (2)
A distant shot of a Great Egret to show the zoom capabilities. Celery Bog, W. Lafayette 3/17/16
GREG (1)
A zoomed shot of the egret, nowhere near the max zoom. Celery Bog, W. Lafayette 3/17/16

I heard a BLACK-THROATED GREEN WARBLER calling in the woods which I hadn’t expected. It stuck to the tops of the trees but I did manage a few shots.

BTNW (3)
A Black-throated Green Warbler got my attention doing his zee zee zoo zee call. Celery Bog 3/17/16

BTNW (9)

BTNW (6)

The highlight of the day came at the end of the walk. There was a RED-SHOULDERED HAWK ahead on the path. I watched it eating something and then it seemed to carry it away. A mouse a maybe?

Here is the sequence of events.

RSHA (4)
1
RSHA (12)
2
RSHA (15)
3
RSHA (18)
4
RSHA (19) Celery Bog
5

And just so you know I wasn’t sold on the camera after Saturday. But the day at Celery Bog swayed my opinion. I think the improved photos show that.

I’ll blog about the new camera soon and keep reviewing it through migration.

 

An Oasis in the Bean Fields

Before I get to the Oasis, I’d like to ask you a few questions.

1. What is the ratio to finding decent shorebird habitat and the proximity of the nearest road or parking spot?

An extremely unofficial poll of 1 puts it at 92.3%.  And if I read IN-Bird correctly it appears that the best shorebird habitat at Goose Pond is always a one mile walk. No more. No less. Doesn’t matter which pond or season, it’s always a mile in and out. Through vegetation thick vegetation of course.

2. Why are the best looking shorebird spots always along the Interstate so that you don’t dare stop for fear of being rundown? 

You know of what I speak. You are traveling down Interstate XX (you fill in the Interstate numbers, 65 for me) and see this great looking flooded field and even at 70MPH+ you see a couple of hundred shorebirds but you don’t dare stop.  So you get off the next exit but there is never any access from the country roads.

3. So now you finally find a decent flooded field along a two-lane road. But there is no shoulder or parking spot. 

And the only turn-off is a mile away. In either direction.  And of course the road is so busy you don’t stop for even two seconds or you will get rear ended.

075
See the water just left of the road a few hundred yards ahead? The road has no shoulders or anywhere to park? Yes, I identified some Solitary and Spotted Sandpipers in my 10 seconds of stopping on the road. East of Franklin 8/1/15

And that pretty well sums up my experience on shorebirding habitat in the Midwest.

But even with that being my track record I haven’t given up.  After all the rain in June and July I have spent most of my bird outings criss-crossing the rural landscape in hopes of finding a new shorebird spot.

So it was with great joy and excitement that I found an Oasis east of Whiteland. I could almost hear the music in my ears when I drove by, kind of like the movies where the heroes are lost in the desert and they only have enough energy left to climb one more sand dune and when they reach the top there is the Oasis.

The only difference is that I didn’t weep like our heroes always do.  Now if it ended up not containing shorebirds I might have wept. But luckily for you it did.

020
The Oasis.

What I didn’t say and you can’t see is that there is a two-lane road between the Oasis and me. Big Trucks like to drive down it.  Even on Sunday morning. That is a negative. But this Oasis has a farm lane directly across which makes scoping easy. A bigger positive.

I haven’t seen anything rare at the Oasis but most of the usual shorebirds have been seen.  Just good to have another option.

078
A Solitary Sandpiper trying to hide in the foliage. This wasn’t from the Oasis but from one of the my other wet spots before it dried up. Greenwood Retaining Ponds – 8/1/15
007
I’m not sure that these Killdeer know which way they want to go. East of Whiteland – 8/15/15
009
One of 30 or so Least Sandpipers at the Oasis. East of Whiteland 8/15/15
025
If you look close you can see a Semipalmated Plover in the center of the photo that I missed on my first scan of the area. A different wet area – across from Franklin Township Park. 8/15/15
033
A closer photo of the Semipalmated Plover showing it’s orange and black bill. Across from Franklin Township Park. 8/15/15
016
Somewhat of a surprise, a Sora. I don’t usually see them in Johnson County and especially in August. Another wet area that I check regularly – Franklin High School 8/22/15
003
The Oasis also had other species – Tree Swallows for one. It was odd to see them there unless they were migrating. I usually find them around ponds with snags. East of Whiteland 8/15/15
004
A rare sight in Johnson County – a Great Egret. I guess I know a few more wet areas than I let on. Yet another wet area that dried up the first week of the month. South of Franklin – 8/1/15
023
And Double-crested Cormorants are hard to come by in Johnson County away from the very small area that the White River cuts across the NW corner of the county. Atterbury FWA – 8/22/15

And I still need to tell the story about the how shorebirding can end you up in the hospital.

Big May Day Count – Lack of Shorebirds

During the Indiana Audubon Big May Day Bird Count there is historically a lack of shorebirds in Johnson County. That is not surprising since the county is basically an urban area with some farmland. Not much habitat for shorebirds.

But I know a few spots that might have water and can usually turn up a few shorebirds. Last year on the count I found Greater Yellowlegs and Solitary Sandpipers down by Edinburgh.

071
From a few days before the Big May Day count last year, and they hung around for count day. Greater Yellowlegs and Solitary Sandpiper. Edinburgh Retaining Pond 5/03/14

But this year there was a lack of rain leading up to the count.  Mike and I had found some shorebirds in April but those spots were in farm fields and had dried up by the day of the count.

017
A Greater Yellowlegs in a flooded farm field.  4/18/15  Johnson County.
025
A Solitary Sandpiper in the same field as above.  4/18/15  Johnson County.

So when the group met at lunch it was no surprise that the only shorebirds found in the morning were Killdeer and Spotted Sandpiper. And only a couple of each. I had struck out on the two main productive sites since they were dry. So I decided to work my way home stopping by about ten spots that I knew could hold shorebirds.  If they were holding water.

Of the ten spots four were dry. Six of the spots had small amounts of water and all had shorebirds, either Spotted Sandpiper or Killdeer.  So I was still no further ahead except for a good count on the Spotties.

037
A Spotted Sandpiper feeding in marshy area by Franklin HS. Franklin 5/9/15
050
This photo shows why they are called Spotted Sandpipers. Franklin HS 5/9/15

The last place I stopped was a spot I had discovered a few weeks previously. It was by a new building site and eventually it would be a retaining pond but for now it held a small amount of water. And in this case no Spotted Sandpipers but Killdeer and four Least Sandpipers.

073
A Killdeer at the spot were I finally found some shorebirds. Greenwood 5/9/15
075
Two of the four Least Sandpipers running around the construction site. Greenwood 5/9/15
079
Not sure what this Least Sandpiper found to eat in this barren construction site. Greenwood 5/9/15

At first I thought they were Pectoral Sandpipers.  But they were much smaller next to the Killdeer.

So I am glad I found them since I had run out of places to search. But it makes one ask, how much habitat has been lost for migrating shorebirds?