Top 5 2017 Highlights

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

Top 5 2017 Highlights
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

Yellow-billed Cuckoo

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

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

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

Turkey Vulture – Western Colorado

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??

10000 Foot Turkey Vulture

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.

A 10000 Foot Turkey Vulture.
The Baxter Pass Road. I can’t even imagine what it would be like with rain.

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. 

A panoramic view looking west. Mostly Alpine meadows and glades.

As I’ve written in the past the plateau is a high, mountain plateau with an average elevation of 9500 feet. While the temperature in the Valley was 95F, on the plateau they were 75F.

Previously on the plateau the cell service had been spotty. But as I went further along Divide Road it improved, to the point I had no problems.

Halfway through the 25-mile run I found out why cell service was good.
There was just a hint of snow at this elevation.
On a BBS route you record the number of passing vehicles. I had 4 on the day. The same two construction trucks going out and coming back. Otherwise I was alone in the Aspen Glades.
Not exactly true, I had deer, cattle, and birds keeping me company.

So I’m not sure why Turkey Vultures at elevation were a surprise. I know there are Andean Condors at 15,000 feet. Maybe it was the lack of birds in general.

10000 foot Turkey Vulture.
Since I couldn’t linger running the BBS route, on the way back I took the time to watch the Turkey Vultures catching updrafts.

Migrating Turkey Vultures – Weekend Highlight

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.

tuvo-raft-6 migrating Turkey Vultures
At this point the Turkey Vultures had already drifted up and were now gliding down gaining distance heading south. Franklin Township Community Park 10/30/16

After gliding/drifting down for 4-5 miles (?) they started to swirl up again, this time much closer.

Once again they were swirling going up higher and closer. It reminded me of last year at Eagle Creek and a couple of years ago in Costa Rica. FTCP 10/30/16
After swirling almost right overhead they once again turned south and drifted/glided away. FTCP 10/30/16
Now they were over head and drifting/gliding south at a rapid rate. FTCP 10/30/16

It didn’t take long before they were all behind the tree line and moving away.

What did I learn from that experience?

  1. 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?
  2. 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.

Other photos on the weekend.

Terrible photo of 30 Cedar Waxwings that flew in all at once. Southwestway Park 10/29/16
A nice flock of Chipping Sparrows. I never could turn one into a Clay-colored Sparrow. Southwestway Park 10/29/16
Funny how in a flock of 10+ White-throated Sparrows only one will pop out for a photo. Southwestway Park 10/29/16
FOS Northern Shovelers showed up over the weekend. Greenwood Retaining Ponds 10/29/16
I just liked this photo of a Mourning Dove. One of 30 or so at the park. FTCP 10/30/16
An Eastern Phoebe showing nicely before the wind picked up and made finding birds in the bush tough. FTCP 10/30/16
Easy Photo Quiz. The colors on the crown give it away. I didn’t know they had this much olive-green in the tail. FTCP 10/30/16

Migrants are Here!

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!

WEVI (2)
I’ll start with what I think is the best photo of the day. A White-eyed Vireo came out to check me out and stayed out posing for photos. Johnson County Park 4/23/16
A Brown Thrasher showing as much eye-ring as the previous White-eyed Vireo. Driftwood SFA 4/23/16
PRWA (1)
Prairie Warblers were numerous Saturday though they wouldn’t come out for a photo, as noted here. Johnson County Park 4/23/16
It took me a minute or two to recognize the call of the Gray Catbird coming from the bushes. That happened on several of the “new” birds Saturday. Driftwood SFA 4/23/16
YEWA (1)
Yellow Warblers were out in force at Driftwood. It was good to see them back in good numbers. Driftwood SFA 4/23/16
BGGN (2)
I think subconsciously I knew how feisty Blue-gray Gnatcatchers are but until I tried to get a photo it wasn’t an issue. They never sit still and I felt lucky to get this shot. Driftwood SFA 4/23/16
TUVU (3)
A Turkey Vulture I think going into adulthood as shown with more black than red on its head. Johnson County Park 4/23/16
EAKI (2)
An Eastern Kingbird looked like it was checking out a spot to set up a nest. Johnson County Park 4/23/16
PUMA (3)
Purple Martins were back at the reliable spot just north of Atterbury FWA. Rural Johnson County 4/23/16
I know it is hard to see the shorebirds in this photo. I counted 100 at this location and probably missed some in the corn stubble. Most were Lesser Yellowlegs and Solitary Sandpipers with a few Greater Yellowlegs and Spotted Sandpipers. Rural Johnson County 4/23/16
BLVU (2)
My second sighting of a Black Vulture in Johnson County. The first was last November. Note the short tail. Rural Johnson County 4/23/16

And that was about it for this pleasant Saturday to be out.

Thanks DNR

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.

A view of the observing deck and the south end of the pond. Atterbury FWA

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.

Waterfowl Resting
You can’t access the pond to view waterfowl this time of year. Atterbury FWA

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.

You can still see some of the trees in the foreground that used to block the view to the NW. Atterbury FWA
And the waterfowl to the NW. The distance isn’t so great that you can’t ID most everything with a scope. Atterbury FWA

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.

Pushing my camera to its max, a photo of a distant Mallard and Gadwall. Atterbury FWA 11/7/15

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.

A photo of a Turkey Vulture to show how close raptors some time come in to the top of the observing platform. Atterbury FWA 11/7/15
A good photo to show how a raptor can catch you off guard. This Red-tailed Hawk came sailing in right over the tree tops and I never saw it coming. Just sailing away. Atterbury FWA 11/7/15

Thanks DNR!

A Not Totally Unexpected Black Vulture

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.

First look, something didn’t appear right. The tail was too short for a Turkey Vulture. Upper right-hand bird. Johnson County Park 11/25/15
It turned a little and the white outer primaries jumped out. Johnson County Park 11/25/15
A little closer and I was pretty certain now it was a Black Vulture from shape and color. I just needed it to turn. Johnson County Park 11/25/15
And that did it. White primaries and short-tailed! Even the dark head is noticeable here. Johnson County Park 11/25/15
Flying to the west not to be seen again. Johnson County Park 11/25/15
For comparison, a Turkey Vulture later in the day showing the longer tail and silvery flight feathers. Johnson County Park 11/25/15
Even banking a Turkey Vulture shows the silvery flight feathers. Johnson County Park 11/25/15

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.

I think I will make one of those next 10 lists!

Extra Photos on day:

Even though I’m pretty sure it’s a released bird, it’s still good-looking. Ring-necked Pheasant – Atterbury FWA 11/25/15
And here doing the 2-step. Atterbury FWA 11/25/15



I’m Glad the Birdglimpsing Season is Over

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.

So is it a warbler? Maybe a vireo? Who knows. The half-second glimpse proved futile. Southwestway Park – 9/26/15

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.

One of the many Field Sparrows that came over to check me out. Most of them were sitting out in the open giving easy ID. Southwestway Park – 9/26/15

And this is supposed to be birdwatching, not birdglimpsing.


Even a Turkey Vulture scrounging a meal can be more satisfying than a glimpse at a fast-moving warbler. South Indianapolis – 9/26/15

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.

The leisurely pace of this Pied-billed Grebe gave me the time to sit and watch. Rick’s – Eagle Creek Reservoir – 9/26/15

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.

As I have often lamented I miss gull watching at the Illinois River Widewaters in LaSalle County, IL. Most of the gulls were usually Ring-billed Gulls like this guy but I would usually see 6 or 7 different gull species over the course of a year. Rick’s – Eagle Creek Reservoir 9/26/15

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.

Even American Goldfinches slow down long enough for me to see them, unlike warblers. Southeastway Park – 9/26/15

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.

Unless a predator flies in shorebirds usually give you ample time to ID them, even at a distance. Lesser and Greater Yellowlegs at the local flooded field. South Indianapolis – 9/26/15

So I’m looking forward to getting back to large raptors and large waterfowl and even winter sparrows. Birds I can see and ID.




October 25, 2014 – Turkey Vulture Saturday

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.

This was a few of the Turkey Vultures starting to soar. As seen from Irwin Park about 10AM.
This is the typical few of the dead tree west of Casey’s, 20 or so Turkey Vultures. But today there were more…
They were also in the tree just to the south of the dead tree.
And on the Christmas Lights on the water tower just south of the trees.
Plus one on the cross of the church by the trees. There has got to be a proverb or saying with this caption but it eludes me.

I  count 70 in the attached photos, which is what I counted in the field. And I am sure I missed some.

How many do you count?