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Heading to the Grasslands

Updated: Jun 1, 2022

Weekends of 5/22/2021 and 5/29/2021

In spite of what I said, I did make another warbler hunt the weekend of 5/22. I did go look for grassland birds first, though. By Memorial Day weekend, I was fully into grassland birding.

The first weekend, I headed to Atterbury FWA to track down Bobolinks. It is nice to have a place where they are accessible, and I wanted to get into the field for a few shots. When I arrived, it was quite obvious that most of the field had been burned earlier this year. Grasses were short and sparse. The Grasshopper Sparrows and Bobolink do not seem to mind. Controlled burns always mean less Henslow's, and I only found one bird there that morning. There were no Blue Grosbeak yet, and I only heard one Dickcissel. The Bobolink were my main focus; unfortunately there was only one that seemed interested in being photographed. This bird had a really odd molt pattern to his tail. The females were also very stubborn.

The number of Grasshopper Sparrows there was a decent trade-off for Henslow's. Henslow's will always be my favorite. There is just something about that bird that I like. One little Grasshopper was very intent on singing that morning and did not mind having his picture taken. Others were a bit more standoffish - meaning they remembered they were sparrows and refused to be anywhere close.

Walking out of the field, I wandered up the road a bit and found an Indigo Bunting and Field Sparrow that were happier hanging out near the thicker brush at the edged of the field.

As I was driving off, I thought that some of the habitat looked great for Prairie Warbler and was a little shocked I had not heard one. and that is when I heard two. Pulling off the road, I split time between trying to get a photo of one of the warblers and a calling White-eyed Vireo. The vireo would not be pished out. I did manage a couple Prairie Warbler shots. Not my best, but they area beautiful birds, and I am always happy to see one.

The following day, I headed over to Fort Ben to see if I could find some migrants. The only true migrant I found was a heard-only Black-throated Green Warbler. I did manage to find both Scarlet and Summer Tanagers. I am always happy to see a Summer Tanager. The highlight of the morning was a very cooperative Acadian Flycatcher calling on territory. I was up on the crest of a trail, and the bird was flitting from tree to tree somewhat below me; giving its explosive squeaky toy call at each stop. I spent close to an hour watching and attempting to photograph this bird. The day was overcast, and the bird was deep in the woods. Since I hand-hold, it made photos pretty tricky.

Memorial Day weekend, I had grand plans. Then I slept in on Saturday morning. It has been a bit of a rough year, and I really needed some sleep. Saturday became the day to get the oil changed in my car and to get a new phone. Both things really were way overdue, and it was about time they got prioritized. With newly minted plans for Sunday, I went to bed with idea of getting up at 3 AM to head down to Goose Pond. I wanted to do some pre-dawn birding and take a shot at finding Chuck-Will's-Widow in nearby Greene-Sullivan State Forest. The graduation house party down the road that lasted until 1 AM had other plans for me. Low on sleep, again, I shut off the alarm and finally peeled out of bed in time to make it to Goose Pond a little before 8 AM. That wasted a lot of daylight. With it being a bright, sunny day, my time there was going to be limited. I hit my favorite roads and had limited success. I found most of the usual suspects: Bell's Vireo, Common Yellowthroat, Blue Grosbeak, Willlow Flycatcher, Dickcissel, and Yellow-breasted Chat. I just did not get many pictures of any of them. You just cannot get there late and hope for good photo opportunities. It was nice to find some Yellow-billed Cuckoos perched in open trees in the grassy areas. They flew, of course, as soon as the camera was pointed their way. I did not hear any Henslow's Sparrow in my time there.

I pretty much finished the day with a trip to go watch Least Tern, where I ran into Mark Welter. We watched the terns for a bit. A few Black-necked Stilt flew up off the island as well. With the sun moving higher and the heat stirring up, we decided we had better get a move on to squeeze out a little more birding before we were forced to call it a day. I ran across a pair of Blue Grosbeak on my last trip through the area. Even though I knew better, I still stopped to try for photos. The lighting was pretty bad by that point. They are beautiful birds; if only the photo did them justice.

That night, I got to bed early and actually made it up to get to Prophetstown by sunrise. I assume it was sunrise. It was cloudy. Now, if you know me, you know I love a good overcast day. You can shoot all day long. I do not really care for overcast mornings, though. I was looking forward to shooting some prairie birds in some nice golden light. Instead, I got dim, flat light that morning. I met my brother up there, and we made the best of it. Like Atterbury, the fields here have been burned this year. It looks like they are still managing a lot of it for hay, too. So, it will be harvested in another month or so. Also like Atterbury, there are many more Grasshopper Sparrow in the fields. We had one Henslow's in an unburned area. It seems like it is going to be a bad year for that state-endangered species. There were a lot less Dickcissel than I expected. We also only saw one Sedge Wren. I would have expected more, but I am guessing the burning has forced them elsewhere, too. Eastern Meadowlark were participating in (what I assume was) courtship flights around the area; generally being a lot more visible than I usually expect. Oddly, Ring-necked Pheasant were out in the open more than I have ever seen them. We walked down by the newly opened prairie, but it was already getting a bit late. We had been there for 5-6 hours by that point and were winding down. We finished up with a cooperative Eastern Kingbird near the pond.

The interesting find of the day was a pair of Vesper Sparrow just outside the park. If only they were not perched on a fence....

As we were packing out, we were both a bit disappointed that we did not get a chance to photograph Blue Grosbeak. We had a pair outside the park and one in the park, but they were all very shy. This is not how things usually go here for me. Normally, while photographing something else, I will turn around and a grosbeak is suddenly there; watching me look surprised. With this in mind, I see Jeff suddenly pull off the road in front of me, and then the magic came back. Feeding along the edge of the road was a beautiful male Blue Grosbeak. The day had brightened, but it was still heavily overcast. The lighting was perfect, and the bird was too busy to pay us much attention. We photographed it until a DNR truck came speeding by and spooked it.

Happier, we headed home; eager to see what our final photos of the day looked like.

I am not sure what plans look like for next weekend. The kites have returned to Lafayette. It has been years since I have headed down to Evansville do look for the Western Kingbirds down there. On the other hand, my girlfriend gets back from vacation late Friday night, and I plan to surprise here by picking her up at the airport. So, I will probably be opting for something close to home. We will have to see!

Thanks for reading,






Flo Mowrey
Flo Mowrey
Jun 26, 2021

Beautiful birds!!

Flo Mowrey

Mike Timmons
Mike Timmons
Jun 26, 2021
Replying to

Thank you!

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