Windblown Eastern Phoebe – Weekend Highlight

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

windblown eastern phoebe
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.

Bobolink Update

I was going to title this post “To the Mall” but that didn’t pan out, so I stuck with Bobolink Update.

And let me reiterate my position, even in the so-called “slow times”, there is always something going on if you get out the door.

I actually slept in until 4:30 this Saturday so I could be to the mall at 5:30. The first thing I noticed was the dawn chorus of robins was gone. I thought it was less last week but this week it was gone.

I picked the mall in hopes a COMMON NIGHTHAWK might have used its flat roof for nesting. Wikipedia states the mall was built in 1966 so I was hopeful the roof was still gravel as opposed to the modern rubber roof. The mall went in for a major change in 2003 so maybe it has a rubber roof. But it didn’t have any nighthawks around I could hear.

On to Franklin High School in hopes of photographing the continuing WILSON’S SNIPE. I was doing good on sneaking up to the spot I encountered one last week when a bee went down my shirt. It must have been comical watching me strip off layers in shoulder-high wet weeds. So much for getting a photo. Walking back to the car I flushed a snipe in a completely different part of the marsh. Did it move from the recent rains and ensuing high water?

On to a known VESPER SPARROW spot that was still needed for the IAS Summer Count. The spot is by a low spot which sometimes holds shorebirds. Upon arriving there was water, 55 MALLARDS, and a LESSER YELLOWLEGS. All flushed when I opened the car door and I wasn’t even close. A Spotted Sandpiper also flushed in the mass exit. The yellowlegs is the earliest fall shorebird I have ever had in the county. But it helps to have water in July for shorebirds. And I did hear two Vesper Sparrows calling in the distance.

Still no photos on the day.

On to Atterbury FWA were I saw a distant RINGED-NECKED PHEASANT heading to the brush.

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Ring-necked Pheasant

A few photos of other locals from Atterbury.

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Indigo Bunting
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Orchard Orioles – there were three but I could never get them in the same photo.
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Willow Flycatcher

Down at Pisgah Lake were I watched swallows harassing a Red-shouldered Hawk.

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Tree Swallow(?) attacking a Red-shouldered Hawk.

Bobolink Update

The Bobolink are still at the now partially mowed field at Atterbury. I saw two on the day and heard Grasshopper Sparrows calling. What we could have if man wouldn’t intervene?

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The mowing must have pushed the Bobolink closer allowing me to finally get some decent photos.

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Finally, a decent Bobolink photo!

On the way home I noticed the field in Greenwood that still has Bobolinks was getting mowed. It will be seen if they stay.

On the day I added three species for the IAS Summer Count – Vesper Sparrow, Lesser Yellowlegs, and Ring-necked Pheasant.

Plus, I saw three raptors getting assailed. The fore mentioned Red-shoulder Hawk, an American Kestrel stirred up 50 Barn Swallows when it attacked a barn, and an Eastern Kingbird pecking away while riding the back of a Red-tailed Hawk.

Eventually I’m going to remember I have a video function on the camera.

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.

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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.

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I had to try a waterfowl shot with my new camera, this American Coot was the subject. Celery Bog, W. Lafayette 3/17/16
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Tree Swallows were numerous in the dead trees along the water’s edge. Celery Bog, W. Lafayette 3/17/16
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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
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Yellow-rumped Warbler
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Yellow-rumped Warbler

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

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A distant shot of a Great Egret to show the zoom capabilities. Celery Bog, W. Lafayette 3/17/16
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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.

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

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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.

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RSHA (12)
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RSHA (15)
3
RSHA (18)
4
RSHA (19) Celery Bog
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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.

 

The Finish of the Solid Saturday

I need to catch up on a few things.

First the rest of the Solid Saturday that I posted about earlier in March. The day never cleared up until after I got home. So it was another day of taking photos with a cloudy background. Maybe next time it will be clear.

After leaving Franklin HS I headed to Atterbury. First I stopped by the GREAT BLUE HERON Rookery just west of the High School on Young’s Creek. I bring it up because soon I’m going to blog on the Johnson County’s Rookeries I know.

Heron Rookery JC
The Great Blue Heron Rookery just west of Franklin. This one is a little closer to the road than the one south of town. 12 nests? 3/19/16

I then spent the rest of the day in the greater Atterbury FWA area. The bulk of the afternoon was spent walking the north end of Atterbury. Where I saw the SWAMP SPARROW.

First though was a stop at Driftwood were there wasn’t much happening except TREE SWALLOWS feeding.

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I liked the reflection on the water from the Tree Swallow in this photo. Driftwood SFA 3/19/16

Then on to the hike at Atterbury. The area always holds large numbers of EASTERN TOWHEES with over 20 seen or heard on the day.

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Though the area holds many Eastern Towhees, they weren’t coming out for photos.  I’m still hoping to get a photo of a towhee in the sun. Atterbury FWA 3/19/16
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Even though there were numerous species, they were all hunkered down in the bushes in the cold 30’sF temperatures and cold north wind. This Field Sparrow was a perfect example of how the birds jumped up , checked me out, and then right back down to the brush. Atterbury FWA 3/19/16
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But this Northern Flicker didn’t let the weather bother him. I’m thinking the Carolina Wren might want to watch out. The Flicker is quickly becoming my “new” favorite local bird. Atterbury FWA 3/19/16

I ended the day by watching a lone PIED-BILLED GREBE on the pond that my hike had circled.

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A good profile view showing the much thicker bill of the Pied-billed Grebe versus other smaller billed grebes. And the distinctive white rump. Atterbury FWA 3/19/16
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As can be seen by the lack of ripples on the water, the wind finally died down when I was getting ready to leave. And the grebe was left to itself on this peaceful day. Atterbury FWA 3/19/16

Right on Time

I know I said in the last post I would continue last week’s story, but I thought I’d report on yesterday’s birds first.

Living here three years I have learned there is basically a two week window to see COMMON LOONS, HORNED GREBES, and BONAPARTE’S GULLS in Johnson County. So I thought I had better take advantage of a day off Friday to check the local water. I wasn’t disappointed.

The shorebird spot was still devoid of shorebirds. Maybe tomorrow.

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But there was a Blue-winged Teal showing nicely by the road. Rural Johnson County 3/25/16

I then headed to Driftwood SWA to check on loons and grebes. NOTHING but a distant PIED-BILLED GREBE. Once again no waterfowl. Or no fisherman for that fact.

But for the second year in a row at Driftwood I had an early BARN SWALLOW mixed in with the TREE SWALLOWS.

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An early season Barn Swallow with one of the hundred+ Tree Swallows. Driftwood SWA 3/25/16
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Looking a little colder here. And it was cold, only in the 30’s. Driftwood SWA 3/25/16

I wasn’t surprised but both the Barn Swallow and the count on the Tree Swallows – 110 – were flagged by eBird. The Barn Swallow was 3 days earlier than the one I wrote about last year.  And the number of Tree Swallows wasn’t unusual for this time of year.

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The Tree Swallows kept coming in off the lake to preen in this tree. Driftwood SWA 3/25/16
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If you look close you can see 10 or more Tree Swallows feeding over the lake. Driftwood SWA 3/25/16

But no loons was troublesome since I’m not sure I’ll have an opportunity to check for them in the next 2 weeks and Driftwood is the only location I have seen them in Johnson County.

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A Field Sparrow calling right at noon. Telling me to eat lunch? Driftwood SWA 3/25/16
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And a Brown Thrasher replying. (Not really) Driftwood SWA 3/25/16

On to Atterbury FWA to check for other waterfowl. Stopping at Honker Haven (you have to love the names the DNR has assigned to the small ponds) for waterfowl, I immediately see a COMMON LOON on the water.

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This Common Loon is still showing beautifully even in the bad lighting. Atterbury FWA 3/25/16
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And on the down low. Atterbury FWA 3/25/16

As stated above, a county first for me outside of Driftwood. It didn’t move around or dive which wasn’t unusual since this isn’t a very deep pond. In summer it doesn’t take long for it to develop into shorebird habitat. I also saw a GADWALL which I was missing off the county list.

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Finally a Gadwall for my 2016 county list.Would have hated to miss it. Atterbury FWA 3/25/16

My last stop was Lowe’s Pond in Franklin for a possible HORNED GREBE.

Walking down to the water and looking around the brush one pops up about 20 feet from me. What luck!

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A Horned Grebe that actually stayed for a few minutes and didn’t dive away. Lowe’s Pond – Franklin – 3/25/16

And it didn’t get spooked for a minute actually giving some good photos. But it finally noticed me and took off to the far end to be with the LESSER SCAUP, BUFFLEHEAD, and RING-NECKED DUCKS.

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Now swimming away. Lowe’s Pond – Franklin – 3/25/16

So all in all a good day. Missed the Bonaparte’s but I have only seen  them once in the county.

The First Wave

If you have spent any length of time birding then you know spring migrants come through the Midwest in Waves. The First Wave are heartier migrants that winter just south of the winter freeze line, which in a normal winter is usually just south of the Midwest. These First Wavers usually start showing up in early to mid-March and in milder years small numbers of these birds are present all winter.

EAPH
This map from IUCN Red List shows the range of the First Waver Eastern Phoebe. Note they winter just south of the Midwest.

The next wave are birds that winter in Florida or the Gulf Coast. Birds like Greater Yellowlegs. They usually show up later in March.

GRYE
And this map shows the Second Waver Greater Yellowlegs that winters on the Gulf of Mexico coast (and all the way to the tip of South America if the map was extended) From IUCN Red List.

As I posted last week, Mike and I spent the first weekend in March looking for early migrants. And we struck out. But this past Saturday I ran into five of the First Wave migrants.

But before I went looking for First Wavers I checked a couple of flooded fields that regular hold shorebirds. No luck but one of them did have a few NORTHERN SHOVELERS feeding in the field.

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Brrr, that’s cold! A Northern Shoveler appears to be testing out the water before getting in. Flooded Field – Johnson County 3/12/16

There is a country road bridge north of Atterbury FWA that usually has an early EASTERN PHOEBE.  Before I reached the bridge I heard one calling from the backyard of a house in the woods. Never did see it and there wasn’t one at the bridge. But it was good to know they were back.

AMRO
I noticed that the American Robin pre-dawn chorus began in earnest early last week with the warmer temperatures. This one was at Driftwood SWA. 3/12/16

Then on to Driftwood SWA which usually has several of the First Wavers breeding there in summer. And it looks like this year will be no exception.

My first target were the FIELD SPARROWS that usually occupy Driftwood in large numbers. Walking east of the boat unloading area I heard and then saw 2 chasing each other. They did this for the whole time, never landing long enough for a photo.  There were other distant Field Sparrows calling out their “pin-pong ball on a table” call but they were not to be seen either.

Moving to the other side of the lake and immediately getting out of the car I heard a BROWN THRASHER.  He was at the top of a tree and I assume staking out his territory.

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The first Brown Thrasher of the year singing at Driftwood SWA. 3/12/16
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Same individual getting ready to sing.

And within a few seconds I heard another thrasher calling a couple hundred yards to the west.

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I thought the thrashers might not be present or be little less vocal, but in true form they called the entire time I was present.

Walking down to the lake I heard a TREE SWALLOW, another of the First Wavers, calling and then flying away. A few minutes later one landed in a tree for a photo.

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The first Tree Swallow of the year acted like it wasn’t sure where it wanted to go, so it sat for a few minutes. Driftwood SWA 3/12/16

With 4 First Wavers seen I headed to Johnson County Park to pick up one more First Waver – FOX SPARROW. Last week Mike found one but I never really got on it. So back to the sparrow spot for another try. It took some pishing but eventually after numerous Song Sparrows and Juncos, a Fox Sparrow popped up. Same one as last week? In the poor light I never did get a good photo but I did get good looks.

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Not a First Waver but definitely the most numerous species on the day. Song Sparrows were out singing in large numbers at every stop. Driftwood SFA 3/ 12/16

With The Doldrums over its time to get back catching more Waves.

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.

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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.

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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.

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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
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I’m not sure that these Killdeer know which way they want to go. East of Whiteland – 8/15/15
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One of 30 or so Least Sandpipers at the Oasis. East of Whiteland 8/15/15
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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
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A closer photo of the Semipalmated Plover showing it’s orange and black bill. Across from Franklin Township Park. 8/15/15
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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
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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
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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
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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.