top of page

At First, I Was Disappointed


Social commitments limited me to one day of birding this weekend. I knew I was not going to make it up at 4 AM to head up to Kankakee Sands; so, I headed to Atterbury.

I got to Atterbury right at sunrise. That is actually about 20 minutes too early. It takes about that long for the sun to clear the trees in the East and light the field. Honestly, that was not my first concern. Looking at the field, I wondered if I would have anything to shoot. To say it looked ugly would be an understatement. I immediately thought of last year when it had been mowed for a festival of some sort. What would normally be waist-high grasses was not even ankle deep. What there was was mostly brown and dead. You could see large tractor tire tracks throughout the place. Stands of milkeweed and a few other plants were sprinkled about. In short, it looked a bit sad.

I listened, tentatively, as I drove along the road. Happily, I could hear some Grasshopper Sparrows. I love those crazy little guys. So dramatic. My main target was not to be heard, though. I pulled onto the rock (not gravel - rocks... who does that?) road and drove slowly; not that you have much choice. About halfway down the road, I heard my target. Bobolink, but only one. I parked and got out. I immediately found the Bobolink. Well, maybe he found me. He was not shy, and he moved around me a bit. He would perch for a little bit, watch me, and then move to another perch. Unfortunately, the light was not good.

The sun was just starting to hit the far side of the field; so, I headed over there. Along the way, I found the reason the field looked so awful. The field had not been mowed. It might have been sprayed. It had definitely been disced in certain areas. It also looked like it had been planted with something in places. Whatever was done, it will take a little bit, but maybe it will not get mowed during breeding season for another festival. Here was my first clue. You could call it a sign.

On the far side, I found about 5 more Bobolink. Among them was a single female. They were definitely feeding young somewhere. They were not keen on staying put for long and were quite skittish. Instead of chasing them all over the field, I stayed in one spot and let them get acquainted with me. Once they figured out I was not hunting them, they relaxed a bit and went about business. They would perch up and sing a bit. They would hop down onto the ground and feed. The female and a couple of males were taking food to a location that I assume was the nest. I did not check it out. They do not need my help. While there was only the one female, I do have hope that the usual numbers return next year to a much nicer and more natural grassland.

Female Bobolink with food

There was even a Northern Bobwhite calling from the field. I do not recall them being here in the past, and I wonder if this is what the are is going to be managed for.

I did mention sparrows, right? Well, there were two species out in the field. Grasshopper and Henslow's were calling from various little islands of plants scattered about the field. The Grasshopper are easy to find. They can even be somewhat approachable. I will generally walk slowly towards one that is perched up. When the bird shifts on its perch, I stop and take a few photos. Once it gets comfortable with me, I will shift position or even shuffle forward on my knees. I am generally trying to photograph from the bird's height and shoot while kneeling. The Henslow's were not as easy. As I approached, they would hop down onto the ground and scurry away like mice. With the practically barren ground, they were easy to spot. I would follow them to the next island and try again. Some loud pishing finally got one to perch up. Naturally, on my way out of the field, I found a second who did not mind posing for photos.

I walked back to my car and drove the rest of the rock road until I hit the loop at the end and doubled-back. Norther Parula, Yellow-breasted Chat, Northern Cardinal, Common Yellowthroat, Indigo Bunting, Field Sparrow, and White-eyed Vireo could be heard calling from along the edge of the trees. Some pishing brought out an Indigo Bunting and a White-eyed Vireo at different points. Most things easily ignored me. The big miss here is Blue Grosbeak. After asking around a bit, it appears they may be in short supply this year. That would be pretty sad. They are an amazing bird.

I left the field and drove the length of the road. I was hoping to find Prairie Warbler. Shockingly, I heard none. At the pond, I thought I was going to score some great Eastern Kingbird shots at the boat ramp. I waited patiently for the bird to fly out of the cover it flew into when I first parked the car. It finally flew out and landed about 10 foot outside my car window. I slowly pointed the camera at it, it flew off across the water. I ended up with a consolation American Goldfinch shot.

American Goldfinch
American Goldfinch

I drove around a bit more, but it was getting a bit late in the morning. It was also getting warmer, and the AC is out of my car. Hopefully, that is repaired soon. Time to head home. Happy to have found my targets but a bit concerned about the lack of Blue Grosbeaks and Prairie Warblers, I drove off to my social commitments for the weekend.

Thanks for reading,






bottom of page