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Summer Ambitions

5/30/2023


What a weekend. As I mentioned in my last post, I have moved on from warblers. All those warblers I missed shots of (looking at you, skulkers!) this spring - maybe next year. Grassland species and other summer birds are on tap for a little bit. That really just means it is a different flavor of sparrow season. Grasshopper and Henslow's mostly. I plan to get out to look for Lark and Vesper this season, too, and I am sure I can find some Field, Savannah, and Song that would love to have their pictures taken. I am still missing Prairie Warbler from my warbler list; so, I hope to track one down soon. With the holiday, I had three days of birding planned. As usual, things did not quite go to plan. My ambitions tend to outstretch my ability to get up at 4:30 AM. But, let's not get ahead of ourselves.


Day 1 -

Saturday started at 5:00 AM. After some general stumbling and bumbling about, I was out the door by 5:30 and on my way to Camp Atterbury. The plan was to photograph Bobolink. There would also be some of those beautiful, big-beaked Ammodramus species (Grasshopper and Henslow's Sparrow) there, as well. When I visited Atterbury last year, I was surprised to find the field had been scraped and seed of some sort planted. Most of the vegetation had been cut. There were still some birds around. A couple of signs about habitat restoration gave me some hope for the place. It would be a shame to lose such a great location for Bobolinks. When I arrived this time, the signs were still there and so was the vegetation. It looks like I was worried about nothing. I did not see or hear any Bobolink, though. The only thing I knew to do was to walk out and check. It did not take long to locate one. In the end, there were 5 or so males in the area and at least one female. The males had just been quiet when I first arrived. The sun still needed a few minutes to clear the trees that border the field, and I waited it out a bit; listening to a Norther Bobwhite whistle out his name. Once the sun hit the field, I started working on finding birds to photograph. Bobolinks are a bit of a pain. They will let you get somewhat close, and then they will fly. Usually, they fly far away. Sometimes, they fly just far enough that you think you can try a second approach. Nope, it flew again, but not far. Third time is the cha... nope. Before you know it, you have been lead to the back of the field by one or more birds and then have to walk back to the front. In between laps, I looked for sparrows to shoot. There were a good number of Eastern Meadowlark around. There were also a couple of Dickcissel singing. Neither of these even tolerated a glance in their direction before flying off. In the end, the best luck I had with Bobolink was waiting them out. They definitely had preferred territories, and when one flew from his territory, I stayed there. Eventually, the bird came gliding back in, doing its flight display and robot-like flight calls. It landed, and I was able to adjust a few steps to get on the right angle with the light. Success! Heading back to the car, I was surprised to find a Great Crested Flycatcher down low. I grabbed some shots of it before it moved off higher into the trees. Such a magnificent flycatcher. On the way out, I checked a few areas for Prairie Warbler. No joy. I am not sure why I am having such a hard time locating one this year. I did have a somewhat cooperative Indigo Bunting that was singing in a field and let me shoot him through a small gap in the vegetation. With these guys, you take what you can get. Just as I was leaving, having hit the outskirts of Johnson County Park, I picked up the distant call of a Prairie Warbler. Seeing one would have to wait for another day.


Day 2 -

I really had Prairie Warbler on my mind. I was also thinking that something close to home would be nice. I would not have to get up super early, and I had to be home for plans by 2:00 anyway. In the end, I am not sure I even got up early; let alone super early. I was in the field by 8:30. That particular field was located at Eagle Creek Park. I was checking the fields there for Prairie Warbler. In years past, the fields were filled with honeysuckle and successional trees. Not exactly ideal, I understand. These fields hummed with the ascending buzz of Prairie Warblers and the bouncing trill of Field Sparrow, though. Now, everything has been cleaned out, trees have been planted, and the far fields have been fenced off. The sparrows are still there. The warblers are not. Last year, I had one. This year, obviously, none. I have heard the plan is to convert the area to forest - in a park that is already filled with forest. I guess prairies and fields are overrated. I did not have much Saturday morning. The bluebirds were feeding their speckled young, who were far too energetic and flighty to get a shot of. Common Yellowthroat, Field Sparrow, and Song Sparrow sang from the rows of planted trees. At the back of the field, a single Yellow-breasted Chat called and laughed at me from the trees. I walked back to the car, made a quick check of the skating pond, and decided I needed to bird elsewhere.


Elsewhere was Hazel Landing Park in Carmel. It is not overly far from where I live now, and I have been meaning to check out more local destinations. I have never really birded there. I think I may have visited once long ago, but I did not recall much about it. It did not take long to find a path leading into the park. The lot is bordered by trees. Behind them is an open area. This area is actually just a frisbee golf park. Not surprisingly, I did not see or hear a Prairie Warbler there. I am guessing it may be too much foot traffic for them. Maybe I just missed it? There were reports of one there earlier in the spring. Frisbee course aside, it is a nice park. There were Wood Thrush, Eastern Wood-Pewee, and Acadian Flycatcher (among the usual woodland suspects) calling from the trees. From the path along the gravel pit, there there Willow Flycatcher, Cedar Waxwing, Baltimore Oriole, Song Sparrow, and Yellow Warbler. Above and on the mudflats of the gravel pit, there were Spotted Sandpiper, Barn and Northern Rough-winged Swallow, and a Great Blue Heron. As for the open area... not much. I was pleasantly surprised to happen upon an Eastern Kingbird, who appeared to be gathering nesting material that he was taking high up into some cottonwoods. The sun was starting to peak out of the clouds, and the clock read 10:30. It was time to head home.


Day 3 -

If I really wanted to see a Prairie Warbler, I was going to have to head south. The original plan was to head north to Kankakee Sands. I did not want to get up and be out the door by 4:30 AM, though. So, I slept in a little and was out the door by 5:15.... I was heading to Muscatatuck. It is about a half hour closer to home. There was also a recent report of Least Bittern from there. So, you never know. Maybe I would get lucky? I had no idea where the bird had been seen, I was just going to go and bird the place for what I could find. That, unfortunately, did not include a Prairie Warbler. Being there reminded me of why I do not venture that way often. From a photography perspective (not really the main concern of the place, I understand), it is completely laid out wrong. Maybe late afternoon would be better, but the light angle for about every road and for the direction you would want to shoot in is wrong. The roads that cut through the wetland/pond areas all run mostly East-West, which puts your subjects pretty much at 90 degrees to the light. I found a few places to shoot, and I got out and walked a few others. I started the morning with a Bald Eagle sitting in a tree. I would not have thought much of it; except I was told by a local birder that the park was pitifully devoid of eagles and other raptors. Common Yellowthroat were everywhere. I pished in one location and had about eight little skulky bandits peering out at me from the surrounding vegetation. Great Blue and Green Herons were common. Yellow Warblers and Yellow-breasted Chats were plentiful, too. I had three chat pop out of a bush in one location - one breaking into its floppy flight display. It took a bit of work, but I also managed some shots of a Willow Flycatcher. What seems to be a very tolerant species at Goose Pond is very shy at Muscatatuck. What I did not have was a Least Bittern. No surprise and no big deal. The secretive little guys can be hard to find but are locally common enough. I had heard a Blue-winged Warbler on the way into the park. On the way out, I stopped and listened in a few spots. I had a Summer Tanager spitting pit-i-tucks from the trees in one spot, but I was not able to find it. A little further up the road, I heard American Redstart. While trying to pish it out, I had a White-eyed Vireo and a Kentucky Warbler pop out. I did not expect to find Kentucky Warbler there. It was 9:30 by this point, and the sun was getting harsh. I put the camera away and headed home to some yard work.


That is Mike - 0: Prairie Warbler - 3. Although, it is really hard to assign them the winning score when there seems to be so few of them around this year. I hope it is more that I am just having bad luck finding one.


While I have a lot of plans for this summer, things do tend to slow down from a photography perspective. I have a couple short trips coming up. Hopefully, they will help fill in the gaps here.


Thanks for reading,

Mike


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