White-crowned Sparrow – 12 Days Late

The past weekend had one main and a couple of smaller goals. The main goal was to see once and for all if Atterbury FWA had EASTERN WHIP-POOR-WILLS. The weather forecast for Saturday called for rain but Sunday was clear with a full moon. So I opted to check for whips and a couple of the minor goals on Sunday. That report will be in the next blog.

On Saturday I did one of the minor goals, check for forest species at Atterbury.

A Different Area in Atterbury

Believe it or not there are a couple of areas I have never explored at Atterbury. From Google Maps they appear similar to other areas so I haven’t explored them. But just in case they had something new I thought I had better check.

I got a late start Saturday because of the rain and I didn’t feel like bushwhacking a new area in the rain. Especially one with the potential for high grass. And as expected, it had most of the forest species which included a KENTUCKY WARBLER on territory.

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The path through the wet woods. Perfect for Bushwhacking.

I ended up at the marsh but no rails were calling. Cutting back through the grasslands there were numerous WILLOW FLYCATCHERS and YELLOW-BREASTED CHATS on territory, as there would be throughout the weekend.

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A Willow Flycatcher calling on the edge of the marsh.
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A Yellow-breasted Chat checking me out from a small bush.

I found a pair of RED-HEADED WOODPECKERS which is a good since they are on the local endangered watch list.

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One of the two Red-headed Woodpeckers on a fallen dead tree. Thanks to the DNR for leaving it.

I came across a group of EASTERN KINGBIRDS out either feeding or playing, I couldn’t tell which. At one time I had 6 in my binocular’s field of view.

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Can you see 4 Eastern Kingbirds? There was a Red-headed Woodpecker in the bush straight back but I don’t see it now.

Another numerous species were SWAINSON’S THRUSH calling from the brush.

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One of the better views I’ve had lately of Swainson’s Thrush.

What Was to be the Weekend Highlight

Up to finding the COMMON GALLINULE the bird that was going to be the highlight of the weekend was a common species – a WHITE-CROWNED SPARROW.

That’s right, a White-crowned Sparrow.

WCSP (1) White-crowned Sparrow
Almost the star of the weekend, a White-crowned Sparrow.

Why you may ask? Because it is 12 days later than my average departure date, including my data from Northern Illinois.

WCSP eBird
As noted on this eBird chart White-crowned Sparrows are virtually gone from Indiana after 5/22 and non-existent June – August.

I was walking along the road after watching the woodpeckers and kingbirds when it flew out on the road. It took me a minute to realize it was a White-crowned Sparrow since I thought they would have gone north by now. A second appeared but I didn’t get it in the photo.

A mid-afternoon discovery of a wooded area that had several warblers including a Cerulean Warbler concluded the day.

Cuckoo Day Two – Black-billed

Let’s get right to it. Last Sunday during my Big Day I had some of my all-time best looks and photos of a YELLOW-BILLED CUCKOO. Yesterday was no different with a BLACK-BILLED CUCKOO with one seen and two others heard on the day. Even in the poor light the one I watched sat like cuckoos will. So I stood and watched back.

Black-billed Cuckoo
I’m at almost the same spot as last week when I saw the Yellow-billed Cuckoo except this Black-billed Cuckoo is on the other side of the road. It’s hard to see but the buff color under the chin is visible. Atterbury FWA 5/7/16
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I don’t think I disturbed it but it tried to get small and “hide” after a bit. Atterbury FWA 5/7/16
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I cranked up the ISO to get a better photo in the rainy conditions. Notice the lack of spots on the tail. Atterbury FWA 5/7/16

One of the Black-billed Cuckoo called a couple of times, once doing the low “cuckle” call as I call it. Cool times.

And for fun here is last week’s Yellow-billed on the left and this week’s Black-billed on the right.

YBCUBBCU A

The day started off well with Mike and I at Northwest Park in Greenwood. The first bird on the day was a GOLDEN-WINGED WARBLER that would never stop long enough for a photo.

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This Black-and-White Warbler is demonstrating the nuthatch behavior for which they are known. Northwest Park 5/7/16
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I have lightened this early morning photo to show the buff around the eye of this Swainson’s Thrush. Northwest Park 5/7/16

At Atterbury we picked up some FOS species.

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A very distant Bobolink testing the limits of my new camera. Atterbury FWA 5/7/16
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Photobomb! What do you think, an Eastern Meadowlark? Atterbury FWA 5/7/16
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Another distant photo this time of a Henslow’s Sparrow. The wind was gusting at 25mph making photos tough. Atterbury FWA 5/7/16

And in the afternoon after Mike had departed I saw a few more FOY including the before mentioned Black-billed Cuckoo.

SCTA (1)
I can’t get enough of the bright red of a Scarlet Tanager. Atterbury FWA 5/7/16
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The ISO is up to capture this Least Flycatcher in the undergrowth. Atterbury FWA 5/7/16
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How does it turn its head around 360deg? Atterbury FWA 5/7/16

You can tell it’s that time of year as I continue to see 10 or so FOY species each weekend.

Some Points from Observing a Great Crested Flycatcher

I went on a bird walk at Fort Harrison State Park last Sunday morning which is led by Don Gorney. It is always an enjoyable outing, even if the birds aren’t numerous. Which was the case last Sunday.  Here’s Don’s report from IN-Bird.

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One of the few birds that did come out for a good view was an Eastern Wood-Pewee. Fort Harrison SP 9/6/15

I would like to discuss some points that came up from observing a Great Crested Flycatcher. The bird didn’t call and only showed it’s back at first.  Don pointed out that the bird looked “off” for a Great Crested and could it be Indiana’s first Ash-throated Flycatcher? It flew to another tree and really didn’t look as yellow below as a Great Crested usually does. After some thought it was decided the bird was probably a young Great Crested Flycatcher.

We initially only saw the bird from behind with it only giving looks at its back.  In my mind I knew there was something about the pattern of the tertials on a Great Crested (GCFL) versus an Ash-throated (ATFL).  But I couldn’t pull that info from my brain, so I didn’t say anything. And I was too busy watching the bird to ask if anyone had a field guide. OK, I really didn’t think to ask.

GCFL Arrow
The next day I had the same scenario – a bird with it’s back to me. But this time I knew it was a Great Crested Flycatcher after reading up the day before. Notice how the tertials have broad white edges. Franklin Township Park 9/7/15
ATFL Arrow
For comparison this Ash-throated Flycatcher’s tertials aren’t as sharply contrasting. Rabbit Valley CO 6/23/15

The following are some notes to myself.  Use them yourself as you deem necessary.

Point 1 – Always carry a field guide and I don’t care how hot it is.

I usually carry a field guide in my man purse but it was going to be 90 degrees that day and it was already hot and humid.  And carrying the man purse is hot. And don’t remind me I carried one everyday in Colorado in 100 degree weather. So get a nylon one if the canvas one is going to stop you from carrying a field guide.

Point 2 – I’m not so smart that I don’t need to carry a field guide.

I rarely use a field guide in the field anymore.  I usually take good notes and then look things up when I get back to the car.  But it seems the time I usually need it is way out in the field. Like the discrepancy on the tertial feathers of the GCFL.

Back in Illinois the group I birded with had several members that had been birding for over 30 years.  One November we had walked out to a point on a lake to observe loons and grebes, not common birds in north-central Illinois. We ended up seeing both a Red-necked Grebe and Red-throated Loon along with Common Loons.  Luckily someone had the forethought to bring along a field guide or we would never have positively ID the birds. So sometimes it doesn’t matter how long you have birded.

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I didn’t need a field guide to ID this guy. A Green Heron hunting around a pond. Fort Harrison SP 9/6/15

Point 3 – I need to keep reviewing my field guide for the birds I might see this time of year.

If I had been reviewing flycatchers in the last month I would have known the wing feathers and the differences of the adult and juvenile birds.

Point 4 – Keep taking field notes.

Luckily I had used my voice recorder to get a good description of the bird so when we got back I could use them to review. This let me confirm the differences on the flycatchers.

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Swainson’s Thrush were numerous over the weekend. But for me they are hard to photograph since they don’t come out in the open very often. And I had been reviewing them the previous week. Fort Harrison SP 9/6/15

Point 5 – Stay on the bird until I’m sure I have all the info I can get.

The group finally moved on to other birds but I stayed on the GCFL until it finally moved to another tree and then out of sight.  When it flew the second time through the sunlight I could see how bright yellow it was on the underside clinching the GCFL ID.

Point 6 – Keep birding other areas of the United States on a regular basis.

I knew from Colorado the ATFL were a lighter yellow than GCFL. Now would I have remembered if I had taken the trip several years ago instead of last June?