Thursday, April 29, 2010

Le Conte's Sparrow

After spending a lot of Wednesday birding with Rob and Ted in Monroe and Brown Counties, Rob and I headed to the end of Friendship Road. I had first seen this Le Conte's (or a different one) on April 21. I wasn't able to get a photo on the 21st but luckily it flushed up and allowed Rob to get a few photos.

Le Conte's Sparrow-Unlike its normal habit of diving deep into vegetation this Le Conte's perched up for about 30 seconds.

A head on shot of the LeConte's.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Kentucky Warbler Song

Through the continuing storms across most of the eastern United States the warblers have been making their way north. Luckily in southern Indiana we have not had the devastating storms that have passed through the southeast. Over the past three days I have birded the forests around Bloomington, looking for warblers as well as other early arriving migrants.

Over the past few days I have seen 20 species of warblers along with many other migrants. One of the highlights was the return of the Kentucky Warbler. After chasing it's song for 10 minutes and finally giving up, I came across one as I was hiking back to my car. It was a very cooperative bird and sat in the same tree for about 10 minutes, with an occasional foraging foray.

A singing Kentucky Warbler.

Kentucky Warbler-He sang from this perch a few times too.

A group of 5 Black Vultures-This is the largest group of Black Vultures I have had in Indiana this year.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

A New County Record!

Early on Wednesday morning I got an email that someone had found a rare bird at a local park that is rarely birded. I quickly got ready, grabbed my binoculars and camera and headed out the door. I checked the area where the bird was originally seen with no luck so I headed on to another area of the park. As I rounded a corner, there it was. A Black-bellied Whistling-Duck was actively feeding. I snapped off several shots for documentation and then watched it for another 30 minutes. I called a few other birders and a couple of them headed over to see the bird.

This is the first time that this species has ever been seen in Hamilton County. It is really an unlikely place for it to show up based on the number of people that visit the park. The bird was somewhat skittish but I do think that it will hang around for at least a few more days!

Below are a couple of the pictures that I took:

Tomorrow I am off to Florida for a few days. Hopefully I will have lots of awesome pictures to share when I get back on Tuesday!

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

300th Species of the Year

With spring migration well under way in southern Indiana and the warblers moving through, I found my 300th species of the year. I couldn't ask for a much better bird at 300 than a singing Nashville Warbler. Right after the Nashville I found an Eared Grebe in transitional plumage a few hundred yards off the shore of Paynetown SRA. Eared Grebes are a fairly rare bird in Indiana so it was a great way to start off the day.

Black Vulture-There have been 2 Black Vultures soaring about Paynetown lately.

I hadn't taken much of a hike in Paynetown SRA this spring so I headed that way. I was hoping for warblers but the best birds turned out to be vireos. I was able to see my first Red-eyed and Yellow-throated Vireos of the year. I then drove across the causeway to Cutright SRA. There weren't too many birds but I was able to watch my first Eastern Kingbird of the year.

Northern Flicker-A common Indiana woodpecker, most are much more skittish than this.

I decided to go looking for rails at this point. The best area for rails in the area are two large wetlands at the end of Friendship Road. I had no luck on the rails but I was able to find a LeConte's Sparrow. I had never had one of these sparrows in Indiana during spring migration and it was my first ever for Monroe County.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Goose Pond Birding

Tic-tic, tic-tic-tic, tic-tic, tic-tic-tic. Unfortunately when Rob, Mary Lou, Betty, and I walked out into the marsh to listen for Yellow Rails on Sunday night the only birds we heard were Henslow's Sparrows.

After arriving at Goose Pond at about 6 on Sunday night, Rob and I drove into Greene Sullivan State Forest to set up camp. As we quickly set up camp we heard our first Warbling Vireo of the year singing in the campground. We were also promptly asked, by another camper, if we wanted any beers but we figured we should hold off until after our birding for the night.

We arrived at the biggest body of water on the property of Goose Pond and were quickly rewarded with a small group of Cattle Egrets. After watching many yellowlegs flying into the marsh to roost for the night, we spotted a Marbled Godwit flying towards our position. It flew over allowing great but brief views.

Marbled Godwit

As the sun set we started hearing the familiar "peent" of the American Woodcock. After about 5 minutes they started performing their aerial display. Since we wanted to try for Yellow Rail we moved into some fields/marshes that have good habitat. While listening for Yellow Rail we were able to hear many Henslow's Sparrows along with one Virginia Rail. Unfortunately the Yellow Rail was not meant to be.

Most people believe that the rooster is supposed to act as an alarm clock but for us it was a pair of Barred Owls. At about 6am they started calling from right above our tents. Soon after we pulled ourselves away from our warm sleeping bags to drive to our starting location. While driving down the road we heard our first King Rail of the year. After only a short wait we were able to get scope views of an adult King Rail that was interacting with a Sora. Both of these species came out into the open for about five minutes. Unfortunately this was before the three birders we were meeting (Mary Lou, Betty, and Ted) arrived.

Both Black-bellied and Fulvous Whistling Ducks had been found in one unit the day before so we headed that way. When we arrived many ducks were in view. After sorting through them we found a pair of Ring-necked Ducks and a single Ruddy Duck. But after 30 minutes we still hadn't seen any Whistling-Ducks. We also walked into the backside of the unit without any luck. However we were able to get good looks at Wilson's Snipe. After walking across the road to another unit of Goose Pond, we quickly refound the Marbled Godwit from the day before. We were also able to watch six Black-necked Stilts along with a mixture of about 50 Greater and Lesser Yellowlegs. And after a few minutes a flock of 14 White Pelicans drifted over.

Ruddy Duck

We needed to pack up our camp so we headed into the state forest. We were treated to singing Warbling Vireo, Northern Parula, and Prothonotary, Yellow-throated, and Prairie Warblers. And a Red-headed Woodpecker went by right next to our tents.


Savannah Sparrows

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Willow Slough and Pine Creek

On Monday, a couple of birding friends, Ted, Mary Lou and Brenda, and I headed up to northwestern Indiana to visit Willow Slough FWA and Pine Creek Game Bird Habitat. We arrived nice and early but didn't find anything along the first road we tried. We proceeded on to the headquarters but the windy conditions made it very difficult to scan the lake through the waves. There were some ducks on the lake including Ring-necked Ducks, Lesser Scaup, and Mallard as well as Coots and a Pied-billed Grebe.

The next stop was a marsh on the northern end of the lake. Here we were finally rewarded for our efforts. immediately as we got out of the car a raptor flew over. While it was only a short look, I was able to identify it as a Broad-winged Hawk. A Sora started calling shortly after we arrived and a Virginia Railed called one time while we were there. As we started to hike back to the car, I heard a Sora call. As I looked back I noticed a group of 9 American White Pelicans soaring over the trees. Everyone was very excited and we could even see the bump on the bill that they have during the breeding season!

After a quick drive through Kankakee Sands with little to note, we headed to a site that had recently been reported to have a Western Meadowlark. After driving through many cornfields and making a few wrong turns, we finally got to the area. While we were scanning one field for meadowlarks, I heard the Western singing behind me. It took us over 10 minutes to find the individual but we finally did! It was a lifer for Mary Lou and a great year bird for me (#153 for the year).

We had a great lunch at a local restaurant in Kentland and then headed down to Benton County to visit Pine Creek. Unfortunately, we had very little in the area other than a very large number of Blue-winged Teal. We ended the day with 61 species. We all had a great time and enjoyed the beautiful but windy weather!

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Salineno to Falcon - March 18

As you drive north from the tropical forests along the Rio Grande at McAllen to the deserts around Falcon Reservoir the bird life changes drastically. Birds you were watching just an hour ago disappear while a whole new suite of birds including Ash-throated Flycatcher, Pyrrhuloxia, and Cassin's Sparrow appear.

Rio Grande
The Rio Grande at Salineno.

We started the day off at Salineno, a small town with good views of the Rio Grande, to look for a couple specialty species that occur along this part of the river. For the best chance to see Muscovy Duck and Red-billed Pigeon you have to arrive before sunrise. Both of these species tend to fly along the river early in the morning and the Red-billed Pigeon even perches on an island that is visible from this point of access. After about 30 minutes we spotted a Red-billed Pigeon perched on the island and we were all able to have short views of the bird before it flew off. After another 5 minutes we spotted a bird flying towards us. There aren't too many completely black duck-like birds other than the Muscovy and cormorants. As it became more than a speck down the river, it was apparent that this was a Muscovy. Eventually it flew directly over our heads, allowing great looks.

Muscovey Duck

After seeing both of our target birds we headed just up the road to an awesome bird feeding station that is run by volunteers. As soon as we got close to the feeders we were able to pick out our first Hooded Oriole of the trip. During the winter a couple of people live in a camper next to the feeding station to run the extensive feeder set up. They were very helpful and helped pass the time as we waited for an Audubon's Oriole to come in. After about 30 minutes our first adult male Hooded Oriole came in which was quickly followed by our first Audubon's Oriole. This is definitely one of the most beautiful birds in the States. After getting our fill of the oriole we decided it was time to head north to the desert.

Audubon's and Hooded Orioles

As soon as we arrived at the entrance road to Falcon State Park we were able to see a few new trip birds. Within minutes we had seen Pyrrhuloxia, Cactus Wren, Ash-throated Flycatcher, and Cassin's Sparrow. The rest of the day we enjoyed hiking around the desert trails and watching the many feeders throughout the park. We were able to have great views of Black-throated and Cassin's Sparrows. The Cassin's Sparrows would even come into the feeders and we were able to get great views of one that enjoyed the shade under one of the RVs. During the heat of the day we drove to Zapata for lunch. On our drive on the back roads we were able to see our only Lark Buntings of the trip.

Male and Female Pyrrhuloxia

We finished the day up back at Falcon State Park, where we were able to add our only Scaled Quail of the trip.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Birding Lake Monroe

Yesterday a couple of my birding friends and I decided to drive down to Bloomington and check out some early migrants. As we were driving down form Indianapolis, Eric called to let me know that he had a Black Vulture soaring over Paynetown SRA. This would be a lifer for one person in the group, a state bird for another, and an awesome year bird for me. We were still about 30 minutes away when he called so we speed up a little and hoped that it would still be there when we arrived.

When we finally got there, Eric had two Black Vultures in his scope and everyone was able to see the birds. After scanning the lake for a few minutes, we headed up the road to where a Louisiana Waterthrush had been heard singing earlier in the day. It was still singing away and had been joined by a second individual. Unfortunately, it was so far back along the creek that we were unable to find it but it's beautiful song was good enough for all of us.

We headed across the causeway and stopped at the first pull-off at Cutright SRA to check for Cliff Swallows that always nest under the bridge on the causeway. There were already about 20 birds there hurriedly building their nests for the upcoming breeding season. As we were about to head farther into the park, Eric and I heard the unmistakable song of the first Northern Parula of the year!

While birding in the park, we heard our first Yellow-throated Warbler of the year. Eric had to head to class at this point but the rest of the group continued to bird around Bloomington for the next few hours. We added very few birds to our list for the day, most likely due to the temperatures raising into the mid 80's by noon.

It was a great day to be out! I added 6 species to my Indiana year list which brings my total to 140 and also added 2 species to my ABA area year list bringing my total to 284.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Texas Day 5: Santa Ana NWR

We started our day very early since we had to make a 45 minute drive to Santa Ana NWR. We got to the park before the Visitor Center was open but the gate was open and we were able to start hiking around. One of the first birds that we found was Bronzed Cowbird. A second bird flew in and started displaying. It was quite an amazing sight.

Bronzed Cowbird

We spent the next few hours hiking around the park. We found and photographed many of the commonly occurring species. Here are a couple of my favorites.

Least Grebe

Great Kiskadee

Golden-fronted Woodpecker

After finishing up our hike, we decided to conduct a short hawk watch from the observation tower. After only 30 minutes, we noticed two large raptors flying along the horizon. They flew closer and then landed in a tree quite a ways from the tower. Luckily, we were able to get a scope on one of the perched birds and identify it as a Hook-billed Kite, a lifer for both Eric and I. After finding one of our key species for the trip, we decided to head out of the park for lunch and check out Quinta Mazatlan.

After a completely unsuccessful trip to Quinta Mazatlan, we returned to Santa Ana for the afternoon and evening. We were able to find a Clay-colored Thrush shortly after arriving, which was another lifer for both of us.

After hiking around for awhile, we talked to a couple that had heard that one Fulvous Whistling-Duck at a pond a little bit down the path. Since this was our only chance to add one to our trip list, we hurried down the path and quickly found it in the next pond.

Fulvous Whistling-Duck

We then decided to conduct another hawk watch from the tower. After about an hour, we spotted a Gray Hawk flying around several hundred yards away. It was a great end to the days. We quickly walked back to our car to avoid getting eaten alive by mosquitoes.