Low Grade Past Weekend Birding

Let’s get right to it. I gave myself the low grade of D for birding this past weekend. I would have received a F except for taking good notes.

Saturday’s goal was to observe species that will be leaving soon. Birds like ORCHARD ORIOLE, YELLOW WARBLER, HENSLOW’S SPARROW, and YELLOW-BREASTED CHAT. I knew it wouldn’t be easy since they wouldn’t be singing. The plan was to walk Driftwood and Johnson County Park looking for these species.

The walk through Driftwood produced a Yellow Warbler but no Orchard Oriole. Odds are slim I’ll see one the rest of the year…

YEWA (2)
Most of the summer Yellow Warblers are thick at Driftwood SFA. By mid-August they are hard to come by as this was the only one seen last Saturday. Driftwood SFA 8/13/16

After waiting out the strong thunderstorm, checking out the shorebirds that had put down, I finally got around to walking Johnson County Park. Most of the birds were still wet.

WIFL (4)
A Willow Flycatcher and a House Finch were out after the rain subsided. Johnson County Park 6/13/16
NOMO
A soggy Northern Mockingbird wasn’t interested in flying very far. As I approached it moved a little farther up the fence. Johnson County Park 6/13/16

 

NOFL (2) low grade
This damp Northern Flicker showing the name sake yellow-shafted variety. Johnson County Park 6/13/16

The Low Grade

As I walked the fence row following the NORTHERN MOCKINGBIRD a yellow bird popped out of the vegetation and onto the fence farther up the road.

  1. The bird was Green above and Yellowish below. Maybe one of the Willow Flycatchers I had just seen?
  2. The bird flew a little farther up the fence and landed. A better look showed it had Olive Green above and Brighter Yellowish below. No wing bars or other marks could be determined. From the habitat a female/young Common Yellowthroat was now the thought.
  3. It flew a little farther up, landed again on the fence, and flashed bright white outer tail feathers, like a Dark-eyed Junco. This was definitely not a Common Yellowthroat BUT WHAT WAS IT? Of course it flew away without a further look or photo.

I should have known, but I had no clue. I wrote down everything I could remember and proceeded to continue birding. Back at the car an hour and half later I looked through Sibley’s Eastern Birds. First I looked at the vireos and next warblers.

Then I read the following:

HOODED WARBLERS – “with tail often raised and fanned” and “mostly white tail distinctive”.

So was it a young Hooded Warbler? By process of elimination it probably was but I’m not sure enough to call it one and log into eBird. In my defense – what was it doing at Johnson County Park on a fence instead of the deep woods? Was it migrating and the heavy rains knock it down like the shorebirds? Probably.

The point is I should have known Hooded Warblers flash their white outer tail feathers. And I didn’t.

Thus the low grade.

Black Vultures – You Just Never Know

I hadn’t expected anything exceptional to happen this past weekend given it’s late July and the heat index was headed to 110F. But I was sitting at 98 species for Johnson County in the IAS Summer Count and wanted to get to 100.

Not living in the county means I lose the opportunity to see several of the neighborhood species. Like COOPER’S HAWKS or RUBY-THROATED HUMMINGBIRDS. Birds I see daily on my neighborhood walk in Marion County and I used to see daily when we lived in Johnson County.

But birders know you don’t what’s out there unless you look.

So off I went.

With the recent rainfall I thought my best bet to reach 100 was going to be shorebirds. I made a quick first stop at the Marion County site to see how the conditions looked. Good.

COOMBS LAKE (2)
The Combs Road wet area was turning into a good shorebird spot. Marion County 7/23/16
GREG (1)
There were numerous Great Egrets and Great Blue Herons at the location. Marion County 7/23/16
LESA (2)
Two Least Sandpipers appeared obvious in the field but looking at the photos I thought maybe they were Semipalmated. Until I saw the yellowish legs. Marion County 7/24/16
SPSA
One Spotted Sandpiper that wouldn’t stand still. Marion County 7/24/16

So I was hopeful for shorebirds in Johnson County.

But it was not to be. The shorebird sites had water and had either corn or beans or weeds also. This didn’t make for good shorebirding. Oh well. I would have to hope for other species for 100.

Do you know you can still see birds using the strategy of walking from one shade tree to the next? I used the strategy successfully all day starting at Driftwood following the disappointment at the shorebird sites.

It was still early enough in the day that I saw several species.

EAPH (3)
An Eastern Towhee on territory before the heat of the day. Driftwood SFA 7/23/16
YEWA (1)
A Yellow Warbler who will probably be heading south soon. Driftwood SFA 7/23/16
WIFL (2)
A Willow Flycatcher who called the whole time I was present. Driftwood SFA 7/23/16
RTHU (2)
And most importantly, a Ruby-throated Hummingbird fluttering around. #99 for the Summer Count. Driftwood SFA 7/23/16

Leaving Driftwood I saw three TURKEY VULTURES flying lazily to the north. I didn’t think much about them until I turned onto US31. Thier number was now seven and two immediately looked different.

BLACK VULTURES

Driving north a half mile I finally found a pull off and confirmed the ID. They drifted my way giving good views and a few photos.

BLVU (10)
Two Black Vultures looping lazily over the Big Blue River. 7/23/16
BLVU (5) Black Vultures
One eventually drifted overhead. 7/23/16

This is only my third sighting of Black Vultures in the county. Probably the 1st for the Johnson County Summer Count, and more importantly, #100 for this year’s count.

Like I said, you never know what’s out there unless you look. Even on a hot summer’s day.

A Johnson County Big Day

I left you last time at 4PM Sunday sitting a mile from the Johnson County line with 99 species and not a good alternative for #100. But before I discuss the limited options for #100, let me share a few highlights of the day.

5:30 AM – Owling

First let me say I run a modified Big Day. No use getting up at midnight for a county Big Day when I’m not going to hear rails or bitterns. So I’m out at 5AM. Since you usually find 80% of the birds by 10-11AM I’m up at a “reasonable” hour and home mid-afternoon.

It’s 5:30AM and the Boy Scouts have decided to camp at the EASTERN SCREECH-OWL spot. I’m not going to play a recorder and wake them up to answer lot’s questions. So it’s back to an alternative spot, which I hadn’t planned on.

At spot #2 immediately upon turning on the recorder an owl swoops in over my head. Great! Except it’s too big for a screech-owl. I put the recorder on top of the car and watch with my flashlight as a BARRED OWL tries to pick the recorder off the car! We watch each other for a minute and I decide to move on.

Because in a Big Day there are many rules but here is one of the main ones:

Keep moving if it doesn’t look like the bird will appear.

I had the Barred Owl, two in fact with a distant one calling, and no hope for a screech-owl.

I’m heading back to the AMERICAN WOODCOCK field and thinking, “the field is on the north end of the original screech-owl area. Maybe…”

I get out of the car, hear the woodcock overhead, turn the recorder on, and almost immediately a screech-owl lands in the closet tree. I’m a little ahead on time so I give the little guy a good look. Then on to the Great Horned Owl spot.

Another first. The GREAT HORNED OWL is sitting on a telephone pole as I pull up. He flies away and I hear it and another one calling in the dawn light. A good start to the day.

From that point I start moving, trying to keep to my schedule. I struck out at the bobwhite spot but still see several other species.

COYE
Like a Common Yellowthroat in the dawn light. Atterbury FWA 5/1/16
EATO
And an Eastern Towhee. Atterbury FWA 5/1/16

I might have done better but Atterbury FWA is closed for Spring Turkey Season. This is OK since it forces me to follow another rule:

Don’t get far from your car.

Walking for a bird or two can kill a Big Day. Get out of the car. See/hear the bird. Move on.

Get Em Time

As usual from 7 to 11 AM I get the bulk of the day’s total. I start at Laura Hare picking up FOS WORM-EATING WARBLER and OVENBIRD. Back towards Atterbury. No BOBOLINKS at the Bobolink field. But the HENSLOW’S SPARROWS are calling at the usual spot. On to the east side of Atterbury where in short order I pick up several species.

YEWA
Yellow Warbler. Atterbury FWA 5/1/16
RCKI
A Ruby-crowned Kinglet. Atterbury FWA 5/1/16
YBCU (3)
A Yellow-billed Cuckoo was posing nicely. Check out those tail spots! Atterbury FWA 5/1/16

YBCU (2) YBCU (1)

Next is the Purple Martin Road were I pick up a few warblers. A few miles further north I see shorebirds. To a local park for a PROTHONOTARY WARBLER. And to Driftwood for Orioles and the staying cormorant.

PROW
Prothonotary Warbler Irwin park 5/1/16
DCCO
At least the Double-crested Cormorant stayed around. Driftwood 5/1/16
BAOR
As usual Driftwood was thick with Baltimore Orioles. Driftwood 5/1/16

Now it’s One at a Time

It’s 11AM and I’m at 84 species. The plan is to start picking off species one or two at a time at selected locations. I’m thinking if all goes well I can easily get 100 and be home by 3PM.

But it doesn’t go quite that easily.

I miss on BELL’S VIREO (too early?) and Saturday’s BLUE GROSBEAK at Johnson County Park. Back to the bobwhite area but no NORTHERN BOBWHITE. The Centerline wetspot has shorebirds but not PECTORALS SANDPIPERS which have been there all year. But the BLUE-WINGED TEAL remain from Saturday. To Franklin HS where Saturday’s NORTHERN SHOVELER is gone. I flush a WILSON’S SNIPE and cutting across I also unexpectedly flush a SORA which ends up being the surprise of the day. Have you ever seen a Sora fly? Lowe’s Pond doesn’t have the PIED-BILLED GREBE from Saturday and the EURASIAN COLLARED DOVE isn’t at its usual spot. East of Franklin the wetspot have no shorebirds or the usual VESPER SPARROW.

But I have picked up 12 of the expected species including an unexpected Red-headed Woodpecker.

Back at 4PM

So I go from thinking 100 is going to be easy to resigning myself to 98. Then I see the COOPER’S HAWK.

What were my options for #100?

Drive 25 minutes across county to the BALD EAGLE’S nest. I don’t need #100 that bad.

Drive 15 minutes through mall traffic to a local park and hope for warblers I might have missed. Too much work at this point for a “maybe” bird.

I finally decide to check the 3 remaining retention ponds between the county line and myself. Maybe an AMERICAN COOT or some other late waterfowl.

The first pond is empty.

The second pond is empty.

The part of the third pond I can see is empty. I walk around the pond for a better look and lo and behold in a far corner –

PBGR
A PIED-BILLED GREBE!

So 100 species and 28 stops later I’m finished. That means home by 5PM. Still not my highest count in Johnson County. I had 101 on the IAS Big May Day a couple of years ago. It has been a fun day of birding even if it went a little longer than planned.

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
BRTH
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
GRCA
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
SHOREBIRDS (2)
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.

Almost Time For This Year’s Adventure

Wish I had more to write about, but I don’t.  Between sitting in a training class last week or driving to the training class, the creative juices weren’t flowing.

Plus what free time I have is going to learning the birds of Colorado. The western slope of the Rockies to be exact.  I fly out next weekend for 6 days around the Grand Junction area. I plan on trying to make a daily post but that might be a little to ambitious. At that time I’ll go into more detail how I picked that area to see birds of the U.S. “Great Basin”.

NO photos from this weekend.  Along with Mike and Karl we did the annual breeding census on the military side of Camp Atterbury. No cameras allowed on the military base, so no photos.  Karl had done the east side on Friday which is mostly grasslands and had a good count of 35 Henslow’s Sparrows. We did the forested west side and some how came up with the same number of Hooded Warblers, Ovenbirds, and American Redstarts – 17.  The count on the Hooded is the highest ever for this count. With the high temperatures the birds stopped calling early so we didn’t have as good of day as past years.  Oh well.

But here are a few photos from a week ago.

BLPH ATTERBURY FWA 060615
Eastern Phoebe calling insistently above a creek and of course close to a bridge. Atterbury FWA 6/06/15
GCKI OUTLINE
One and only one guess as to this species. Getting a good look so I can compare it to an Ash-throated Flycatcher next week. Atterbury FWA 6/06/15 (Great Crested Flycatcher)
EATO ATTERBURY FWA 060615
Same thing here. Taking a long look at an Eastern Towhee so I can compare to a Spotted Towhee next week in Colorado. Atterbury FWA 6/06/15
YBCH ATTERBURY FWA 060615
I heard numerous Yellow-breasted Chats on the day. Most were up and singing on territory. If you can call what they do singing. Atterbury FWA 6/06/15
YBCH ATTERBURY FWA 060615A
Same guy as above.
HOSP  FHS 060715A
I always find House Sparrows away from man interesting. But of course they really aren’t away from man because she is standing on a man-made bluebird house. FHS 6/06/15
HOSP  FHS 060715B
And the male house Sparrow wasn’t too far away. FHS 6/06/15
SASP FHS 060615A
There were several male Savannah Sparrows giving me their chip note to keep away. And I wasn’t even that close. I did learn their chip note though, which is a softer one than a Song Sparrow. FHS 6/06/15
SASP FHS 060615
Same bird as above.
YEWA JCP 060615
A Yellow Warbler flew in and decided to take a quick bath. Johnson County Park 6/06/15
NRWS JC 060715
And is there any doubt that the Northern Rough-winged Swallow was the prototype for every movie alien? Look at those eyes. East of Franklin – Johnson County
MIKI 061910
Maybe movie producers used Mississippi Kites instead? Ferne Clyffe SP IL 6/19/10