A Benton County Saturday

After returning from London I took my daughter to Lafayette Saturday morning and the nhad to pick her up in the afternoon. So I took the opportunity to bird a couple of spots in Benton County.

But first let me say it was COLD. According to National Weather Service the temperature at 10AM was 31F with winds out of the NW at 22mph with gusts of 28mph making the Wind Chill 18F. This wasn’t good since I had planned to search for shorebirds in the rain-soaked fields. But they were frozen.

The first stop was a quick one for WESTERN MEADOWLARKS. Immediately upon rolling down the car window I heard and then saw numerous VESPER SPARROWS on the road.

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A Vesper Sparrow eating grit in the road close to the car. Rural Benton County 3/9/16

While watching the sparrows I heard a Western Meadowlark calling. Only a couple of meadowlarks flew in the cold, so I’m not sure if I saw an Eastern or Western. But I definitely heard a Western calling.

I then headed to Pine Creek Gamebird Habitat. I didn’t know what to expect with this being my first time there. And it didn’t take long to realize I would be facing the freezing wind to view the shorebirds. But that same cold weather helped by freezing the entire water area everywhere but the water closest to the road. Forcing the shorebirds closer.

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Number 3 parking area is at the top of the bluff to the right (south) of the road. Walking across the road one can view the water looking to the north. Pine Creek 3/9/16

There were numerous GREATER AND LESSER YELLOWLEGS, plus a few PECTORAL SANDPIPERS. And with the water frozen that was the extent of the birds.

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Greater and Lesser Yellowlegs working along the edge of the frozen water. Pine Creek 3/9/16

I then walked the south trail into the sun to thaw my frozen face. A NORTHERN MOCKINGBIRD was flying about as where a flock of AMERICAN TREE SPARROWS.

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An American Tree Sparrow  that was part of a flock I initially thought were Field Sparrows. Pine Creek 3/9/16

I then headed to the west trail along the shallow bluff which would keep the wind out of my face. I could then walk back with the wind.  The walk was productive since it was now afternoon and the water was beginning to melt.

Over a one hundred BLUE-WINGED TEAL flew in along with NORTHERN SHOVELERS, GREEN-WINGED TEAL, a lone HOODED MERGANSER, and MALLARDS.

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The closest of the one hundred Blue-winged Teal, but still a distance away. Pine Creek 3/9/16

A RED-TAIL HAWK, AMERICAN KESTREL, and TURKEY VULTURES flew by. It was a very enjoyable walk.

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The local Red-tailed Hawk kept circling overhead, sometimes coming quite close. Pine Creek 3/9/16

I then saw a group of shorebirds land in the grass a little further to the north. My first thought was WILSON’S SNIPE since they like moist, grassy areas but I couldn’t be sure. So I took my time heading that way to see if I could get a glimpse.

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The shorebirds landed at the far left of the photo by the bushes. I slowly started in that direction. Pine Creek 3/9/16

I noticed a hawk flying low behind the tree line heading straight for the presumed snipe. It came in unexpectedly and almost got them. They immediately flew giving me the chance to ID them.

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It all happened so fast this is the best I could do for the Northern Harrier looking for lunch. Pine Creek 3/9/16
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I did catch the Wilson’s Snipe flying away, which helped to definitely ID them. Pine Creek 3/9/16

I’m glad I waited around trying to ID the snipe since I got to see the harrier attack plus more waterfowl kept flying in.

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One of the Wilson’s Snipe landed a little closer to me. Still not a good photo but enough to ID it. Pine Creek 3/9/16

My thoughts from my first visit to the area? Good area for shorebirds and waterfowl with easy viewing and trails for walking. Right up my alley.

If someone knew of a good passerine site in the county, you could probably build a very good county list just visiting those two areas.

Loss of Habitat – Vesper Sparrow

I ran the following photo as the front page photo to this blog a few weeks ago.  It is of a Vesper Sparrow that isn’t uncommon but not the easiest species to find in Johnson County.

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Vesper Sparrow – Johnson County. 5/8/15

A couple of summers ago on the way to Atterbury FWA I heard it singing.  It was at this location for the rest of the summer. And it came back last year.  And then again earlier this year it was back.  I even went out of my way to count it on the IAS Big May Day Count.

So image my surprise when in late May I saw a sign advertising “2 Acre Lots for Sale” at the very spot the Vesper Sparrow calls home.

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A Vesper Sparrow has been reliably found on these wires. I have blocked out the info on the signs but what it said was “2 Acre Lots for Sale”. Johnson County

It’s common for the fields of Indiana to be turned into large residential lots.  But in Illinois I never saw farm land turned into these large single home lots like I see all around Indianapolis and Johnson County.  In Illinois subdivisions of large homes were built but not one house per large tract of land like here. Just seems like a waste of a limited resource.

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Another view of the field that is going to be homes to people instead of Vesper Sparrows in the near future. Johnson County

Someday man is going to have to deal with land usage. But for now I guess land is seen like oil, an unlimited commodity.

Hopefully next year the Vesper Sparrow will find somewhere near by to nest. Maybe even the same area.  But one has to wonder.