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.

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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?

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Numerous Killdeer with Black-Bellied Plover
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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.

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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.
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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.

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Common Nighthawk

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

 

Black Vultures – You Just Never Know

I hadn’t expected anything exceptional to happen this past weekend given it’s late July and the heat index was headed to 110F. But I was sitting at 98 species for Johnson County in the IAS Summer Count and wanted to get to 100.

Not living in the county means I lose the opportunity to see several of the neighborhood species. Like COOPER’S HAWKS or RUBY-THROATED HUMMINGBIRDS. Birds I see daily on my neighborhood walk in Marion County and I used to see daily when we lived in Johnson County.

But birders know you don’t what’s out there unless you look.

So off I went.

With the recent rainfall I thought my best bet to reach 100 was going to be shorebirds. I made a quick first stop at the Marion County site to see how the conditions looked. Good.

COOMBS LAKE (2)
The Combs Road wet area was turning into a good shorebird spot. Marion County 7/23/16
GREG (1)
There were numerous Great Egrets and Great Blue Herons at the location. Marion County 7/23/16
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Two Least Sandpipers appeared obvious in the field but looking at the photos I thought maybe they were Semipalmated. Until I saw the yellowish legs. Marion County 7/24/16
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One Spotted Sandpiper that wouldn’t stand still. Marion County 7/24/16

So I was hopeful for shorebirds in Johnson County.

But it was not to be. The shorebird sites had water and had either corn or beans or weeds also. This didn’t make for good shorebirding. Oh well. I would have to hope for other species for 100.

Do you know you can still see birds using the strategy of walking from one shade tree to the next? I used the strategy successfully all day starting at Driftwood following the disappointment at the shorebird sites.

It was still early enough in the day that I saw several species.

EAPH (3)
An Eastern Towhee on territory before the heat of the day. Driftwood SFA 7/23/16
YEWA (1)
A Yellow Warbler who will probably be heading south soon. Driftwood SFA 7/23/16
WIFL (2)
A Willow Flycatcher who called the whole time I was present. Driftwood SFA 7/23/16
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And most importantly, a Ruby-throated Hummingbird fluttering around. #99 for the Summer Count. Driftwood SFA 7/23/16

Leaving Driftwood I saw three TURKEY VULTURES flying lazily to the north. I didn’t think much about them until I turned onto US31. Thier number was now seven and two immediately looked different.

BLACK VULTURES

Driving north a half mile I finally found a pull off and confirmed the ID. They drifted my way giving good views and a few photos.

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Two Black Vultures looping lazily over the Big Blue River. 7/23/16
BLVU (5) Black Vultures
One eventually drifted overhead. 7/23/16

This is only my third sighting of Black Vultures in the county. Probably the 1st for the Johnson County Summer Count, and more importantly, #100 for this year’s count.

Like I said, you never know what’s out there unless you look. Even on a hot summer’s day.

Easy Additions Saturday

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.

MOON (2) Easy additions
The Moon was due South as I started my day owling. Atterbury FWA 6/25/16

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.

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Even though it was harassing the Spotted Sandpiper I want to think this Killdeer otherwise I might not have seen the spotted. Didn’t notice the garbage by the Killdeer until I looked at the photo. Johnson County Park – 6/25/16
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Another of the easy additions was a Spotted Sandpiper on the right bobbing its tail. And the Mallard family is growing, compare to the header photo from 2 weeks ago. Johnson County Park – 6/25/16

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.

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An American Redstart was interested in my walk along the road by constantly flying overhead. Atterbury FWA – 6/25/16
AMRE (1)
I included this photo since it reminded me of all the bird quizzes where you are only given so much to see. Atterbury FWA – 6/25/16
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I don’t ever remember pishing in a Scarlet Tanager, but he came in overhead as I was trying to get a bird to come out of the bush. Atterbury FWA – 6/25/16

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.

ATTERBURY FIELD (2)
It’s hard to tell here but the weeds on the path to the marshy area are shoulder-high. And thorny. Atterbury FWA – 6/25/16
FISP
The only bird on the walk through the rough was this Field Sparrow asking me if I was nuts walking in the heat. Atterbury FWA – 6/25/16

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.

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The Purple Martins were the last of Saturday’s easy additions. Rural Johnson County – 6/25/16

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.

Spotted Sandpipers – Our Shorebird

This past weekend as part of the IAS Big May Day I saw several shorebirds – LESSER AND GREATER YELLOWLEGS, SOLITARY SANDPIPERS, and WILSON’S SNIPE. Plus a couple of plovers -KILLDEER and SEMIPALMATED PLOVER. I also saw several SPOTTED SANDPIPERS.

One of the Spotted Sandpipers was by a small pond at Atterbury FWA. When I got close it did its “peet weet” call while flying to the far shore.

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A Spotted Sandpiper showing off its spots. Franklin HS 5/14/16

And it got me thinking my favorite part of the birding year is coming up. If you have follower this blog you know I love the slow summer months.

Others may look forward to the rush of migration, but I look forward to the slow summer, and winter months for that fact, when you can enjoy our birds. During migration I seem rushed to get a glimpse of a migrant which might only be around for a few weeks.

After the rush of migration you can take your time and enjoy the birds. Take notes. Watch birds in their habitat.

One of several birds which exemplifies that feeling are Spotted Sandpipers – our only real non-migrating shorebird. The Killdeer is a plover and the BLACK-NECKED STILT, for the lucky ones that have them on territory, is, well a stilt.

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As seen on this range map from Birdlife via xeno-canto, the Spotted Sandpipers summer range starts just south of here.

There is nothing better on a warm, humid, summer morning than to hear the “peet” break the silence and watch the little sandpiper fly across the pond. Then observe it “working” the far shore looking for food and watch it decide to fly elsewhere “peet weeting” the whole way.

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A Spotted Sandpiper flying away after it flushed from a hidden spot on the rocky edge of the pond. Atterbury FWA 45/14/16

SPSA 5 SPSA 4 SPSA 3 SPSA 2

To me that is the best part of birding.

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.

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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.

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A Greater Yellowlegs in a flooded farm field.  4/18/15  Johnson County.
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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.

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A Spotted Sandpiper feeding in marshy area by Franklin HS. Franklin 5/9/15
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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.

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A Killdeer at the spot were I finally found some shorebirds. Greenwood 5/9/15
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Two of the four Least Sandpipers running around the construction site. Greenwood 5/9/15
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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?