What would a blog be without the Top 5 2017 highlights for the year? Actually these will be highlights from the first 8 months since I didn’t get out much after Labor Day.
#5 Western Tanager
There is something about finally seeing a bird I should have encountered years ago. Seeing the Western Tanager in Colorado wasn’t like seeing the Golden Eagle. I expected the Golden Eagle would be hit or miss. But I have made numerous trips out west and should have seen Western Tanagers previously.
#4 Yellow-billed Cuckoo at Johnson County Park
Over the years I have seen numerous Yellow-billed Cuckoos but never one that stayed out in the open like the one at Johnson County Park last July. As Mike suggested it might have been a young bird or a hungry one.
#3 My First Butterfly ID – Eastern Tiger Swallowtail
Once I started on my Nature Adventure I wondered what would be the first butterfly I’d ID. Appropriate enough it turned out to be an Eastern Tiger Swallowtail. I came across it last May at the end of birding at Laura Hare Nature Preserve. And for a newbie it wasn’t an easy ID. If I hadn’t taken numerous photos I wouldn’t have been able to make the call.
#2 Long-billed Curlew
I can’t emphasis enough the surprise in coming across a shorebird in an arid environment. It just floored me. And especially a large shorebird. Seeing the pair in Western Colorado last June was easily the visual highlight of the year.
#1 Breeding Bird Survey (BBS) Routes
Nothing else I do can compare to the long-term good the BBS routes do for birding. I only wish I was in a position to run a couple more. This was the second year I ran them in Central Indiana and the first year in Western Colorado. My only question is why I didn’t start running them sooner??
After running the Western Colorado Douglas Pass BBS route, I headed over to scout the Baxter Pass BBS I planned to run later in the week. The road to the starting point was bad and would be impassable with rain. In May, I had noticed the Uncompahgre Plateau route was vacant so I immediately notified the national and state coordinators saying I would like to run it instead. It all worked out and two days later I found myself up on the Uncompahgre for the second time in four days. Which lead to the second biggest surprise of the trip, a 10000 Foot Turkey Vulture.
The decision to run the Uncompahgre BBS route was a good move since I was familiar with the road and no scouting would be necessary. Plus the great scenery.
The last birds viewed on the weekend were also the highlight.
A group of 12 migrating Turkey Vultures.
Now most people might say a group of migrating Turkey Vultures aren’t exciting. But like a lot of things in birding migrating Turkey Vultures aren’t something you see away from a specialty site. Like a Hawk Watch. Or more importantly it’s not something I get to see every weekend.
And if caught low enough on the horizon it is a thrill to watch them come and go.
As I was heading back to the car I caught the glimmer of a white airplane to the north. Seemed odd since all the other planes Sunday morning had been high in that direction. Taken a glance towards the plane revealed a group of Turkey Vultures swirling on the horizon. They were too far for a photo so I watched them as they swirled/drifted up.
After reaching a certain height they all started drifting down and to the south at a rapid rate.
After gliding/drifting down for 4-5 miles (?) they started to swirl up again, this time much closer.
It didn’t take long before they were all behind the tree line and moving away.
What did I learn from that experience?
If I had left a minute earlier I would have missed the show. Looking at the times of the photos the whole event lasted 4 minutes. How far did they come in those 4 minutes? From the horizon to straight overhead. 4-5 miles?
If Broad-winged Hawks kettles travel in the same manner it shows you have to be at the right place at the right time or the odds are high you will miss them.
I spent most of Saturday birding the usual spots in Johnson County. I met Mike at Northwest Park in Greenwood first thing in the morning and spent the rest of the day heading south. I didn’t see anything out of the ordinary unless you count my second county sighting of BLACK VULTURES and the large number of shorebirds at a flooded field south of Franklin. Otherwise it was just a pleasant day birding seeing 15 or so new migrants. I checked my records and all of them arrived pretty much on schedule. And not much bushwhacking either. Just the usual spots checking for new migrants.
This post will display more attempts with my new camera. It doesn’t matter what camera you use when birds don’t cooperate and won’t get out of the bushes!
And that was about it for this pleasant Saturday to be out.
Back on November 7 I stopped at Honker Haven, one of the smallish ponds at Atterbury FWA. I really hadn’t expected to see much for a couple of reasons.
First, it has as an observing deck that used to allow you to see the waterfowl that gather in the NW part of the pond. But the small trees growing up along the edge of the pond had all but blocked the view to the NW part of the pond.
Secondly this time of year there are warning signs not to enter since this is a “Waterfowl Resting Area, Restricted Use, Authorized Personnel Only”. And since you can’t go to the edge of the water to look NW you still won’t see any waterfowl on the usually empty southern part.
So imagine my surprise when I get to the top of the deck and the trees blocking the view to the NW are gone! I usually don’t like trees being cut down but these were small trees that should never have been allowed to grow. This is a pretty big deal for basically waterless Johnson County. One more place to view a lake where waterfowl congregate.
So with the trees down I could actually scope the waterfowl and came up with GADWALL, RING-NECKED DUCKS, GREEN-WINGED TEALS, and of course MALLARDS on the water.
One other thing I have noticed is that the slight elevation is good for raptors. The small elevation is just enough to almost see over the tops of the trees in the basically flat surrounding land. I usually try to be there around noon when the thermals are rising and have seen most of the expected species flying over at one time or another. And sometimes really close when they come gliding over the tops of the trees and catch you off guard.
I’ve noticed that many blogs post what they think will be the next 10 birds they’ll find in a certain area. And they usually rank them in the order they might be seen.
I wish I had made a ranking for Johnson County. I’ve been telling Mike for sometime the next species I’ll see in Johnson County will be a Black Vulture. I have seen sporadic reports on eBird of Black Vultures but we all know those must be taken with a grain of salt. But after Don Gorney told me he had seen one in Southern Shelby County I knew it was just a matter of time.
But it wasn’t easy. Since moving to the area in late 2012 I have counted 620 Turkey Vultures in Johnson County. And I bet I have looked at almost every one knowing that eventually one would be a Black Vulture.
And Wednesday it finally happened. We were supposed to go back to Illinois for the holiday but our plans fell through. Since I had already taken the day off I decided to head to Johnson County. And as luck had it I caught one in the distance flying with a Turkey Vulture west of Johnson County Park. It was distant but I did get some ID photos.
That makes just the 5th new species I’ve seen in Johnson County this year. It’s always good to add a new species to your main list. But we all know after a couple of years new species are hard to come by on your regular patch. I still have some species I should see even for a mainly water-less area.
This might seem sacrilegious on a birding blog, but I’m glad fall migration is about over. I’ll miss viewing the vireos, thrushes, and shorebirds as they move through.
But not warblers.
It’s not that I can’t ID warblers. That’s not the problem. It’s just that they never seem to give a good look. Just a quick view and they move on. Even sparrows cooperate better.
And this is supposed to be birdwatching, not birdglimpsing.
I have never developed the love of the bright warblers that others have. Yes, most are usually stunning when you can get a glimpse of one. But the time and effort and brief look is usually not worth the half-second glance.
I have decided over the years that taking a few hours on a Saturday morning in the vain attempt to see warblers is just not as satisfying as viewing larger birds. I see why people specialize in gulls or hawks. They usually give a good long, look. And with gulls there are usually numerous ones sitting out in the open to check out.
Even American Robins or Eastern Bluebirds are more welcome as they sit for a few minutes in a tree, well exposed. Or most woodpeckers, a bird that usually sits out in the open.
But not the singular warbler darting through the undergrowth. Just not that fun.
Maybe if I was more of a lister this would be important. Taking the time to make sure I get a warbler for a list might make the time spent looking worth it.
So I’m looking forward to getting back to large raptors and large waterfowl and even winter sparrows. Birds I can see and ID.
This wasn’t the first time I had encountered large numbers of Turkey Vultures in Edinburgh, but it was the highest count. And this was my personal high count ever for one group of Turkey Vultures.
Over the last two years I have seen 20 – 25 Turkey Vultures in the dead tree west of Casey’s. But this time there was at least 3 times that many. And yes, I did look at every one of them in hopes of a Black Vulture, which I didn’t spot.
Otherwise the day was quiet except for a Blue-headed Vireo at Irwin Park. Still no waterfowl.
I count 70 in the attached photos, which is what I counted in the field. And I am sure I missed some.