“On The Road” # 317

4 AM, Sunday morning. The only people with half a brain who should be up are birders and the guy who delivers your morning paper. The best part, waking up at 3 AM and not falling back to sleep. It was the anticipation and excitement of the day that was the primary motivator as I shuffled down our dark hallway to the kitchen to switch on the prepared coffee maker. After washing away the nights’ accumulation of cobwebs, it was a quick breakfast and double check of my gear. Then it was out the door by 5 AM to meet Jon in the parking lot where I work so we could drive together to Crawfordsville Indiana. This small town on the edge of the prairie is farm country. Mile after mile of flat, fertile land as far as the eye could see. Our job today is to find what the locals call “The Burnout” or “The Burns”.

Clint Murray, our contact person for the past couple of weeks, is the 75 year old owner of this 80 acre parcel of birding heaven. At a pit-stop 20 minutes out, Jon gives Clint a call and lets him know were about to arrive. He’ll meet us there, he tells us.. At this point Jon pulls out an envelope with directions written on it. Now, when directions include the phrase “turn right at the giant grain elevator”, and the names of the roads are a series of numbers followed by a letter, then I say welcome to rural America.

As we pulled onto a gravel road Clint passes us while Jon and myself gaze in wonder at the largest flock of American Golden Plovers we’ve ever seen. I estimated 125, and Jon thought more like 175. So I split the difference when I reported it later onto eBird. Clint is going to join us this morning and assist us in finding the Longspurs, which is like finding a needle in a haystack. With this strong Southwest flow, and strong winds, there are chances these birds might not be here, despite the fact that 11 were seen just yesterday.

Now Clint knows this land and what to look for, so Jon and myself put ourselves into his hands. Clint has put so much time and energy into making this piece of land as wildlife friendly as possible we know we have the right person for the job.

Don’t forget to click on the picture to enlarge it.

These are 2 pictures of the “Burns”. As you can tell there is not much here, and trying to find small birds the size of a Sparrow will prove difficult.

We pull off the gravel road and park behind Clint then begin to unload. Clint explains that we need to move slowly and be careful. Longspurs will feed with their heads down and sometimes they won’t flush till you’re right on top of them. We make slow progress across the field, stopping to scope around and to listen. Then we would repeat the same process about 10-20 yards further away. We did this several more times without any success, till I noticed 6-7 small birds fly in and land in a clump of taller, brown grass about 20 yards away. We all trained our spotting scopes on the spot for several minutes till Clint suggested we move to get a different angle. He was encouraged that we might have some Longspurs since they hadn’t flushed yet, which might mean they were feeding. Again we changed positions for a better angle on this clump of grass when Jon called out that he had one near a small, fuzzy type clump of grass near the edge of the taller grass.

Notice the field marks on this bird. The buffy breast, and black triangle on the face with the white cheek patch, with the white shoulder patch which is very noticeable on this bird.

Then we had 2 males in breeding plumage.

I couldn’t take pictures fast enough as the Longspurs foraged along the ground.

It was about this time that Jon and Clint decided to retrieve their camera gear from the vehicles since the birds were being so cooperative. My job was to stay behind and not lose them. Well I did my job, however when they returned with their cameras, they spooked and flew across the road never to be re-located again. However I was able to get a few pictures of both a male and female and one of a female alone.

If you’d like to see more pictures of these birds just click on the “More Pictures” caption under the 3 photos on the right side of the home page. This will take you to my Flickr Photostream page.

After the Smith’s Longspurs left we decided to check out more of the Clint’s property. We noticed a small sky pool nearby with a few wading birds, however further we came upon a larger pool which you couldn’t see from where were originally standing. The land sloped down ever so gently into this depression which held water. It’s here that we spotted more wading birds. Clint bragged about how many different wading bird species that has been found on his land. I don’t remember the total number (help me here Jon) but it was impressive.

Lesser Yellowleg

Solitary Sandpiper

Greater Yellowleg

After spending several hours there we decided to leave for the long drive home. As we were driving out we re-located the flock of American Golden Plovers.

Can you see any? Oh, they’re there alright.

Here is a bad shot of one of the many males in breeding plumage. At this point the wind is howling, and holding the tripod with the scope mounted on top and get a steady picture was proving to be impossible.

Female American Golden Plover. You can see how well they blend into the surrounding field.

We both left with new life birds. Life is good!

Notable birds for the day include:

  1. Smith’s Longspur
  2. Ring-necked Pheasant
  3. American Pipits
  4. American Golden Plover
  5. Song Sparrow
  6. White-throated Sparrow
  7. Chipping Sparrow
  8. Savannah Sparrow
  9. Mourning Dove
  10. American Robin
  11. Northern Cardinal
  12. Northern Parula
  13. Common Crow
  14. Wilson’s Snipe
  15. Northern Harrier
  16. Turkey Vulture
  17. Barn Swallow
  18. Tree Swallow
  19. Red-winged Blackbird
  20. Common Grackle
  21. Carolina Chickadee
  22. Pectoral Sandpiper
  23. Solitary Sandpiper
  24. Lesser Yellowleg
  25. Greater Yellowleg
  26. Rock Pigeon
  27. Killdeer
  28. Brown-headed Cowbird
  29. American Goldfinch
  30. Mallard
  31. Horned Lark
  32. Eastern Meadowlark
  33. Canada Goose
  34. Great Blue Heron
  35. Cooper’s Hawk
  36. Red-tailed Hawk
  37. Northern Shoveler
  38. Green-winged Teal
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One response to ““On The Road” # 317

  1. What an amazing day! I’m so glad that is was worth the drive.

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