Desktop Explorer #2: The Most Unique Birds in Each State

<nerdalert>

The making of American Bison as the official national animal had me revisiting Nick Lund’s post on what each state bird should be. Subsequently seeing one of those infographics about the most unique search terms in every state made the light bulb go off in my head. What are the most uniquely seen birds in each state?

First, let’s look at what the official state birds are:

State Birds.PNG
The Birdist is definitely on to something, as fully two thirds of all states share their official bird with at least one other state. In the case of the states that went with Northern Cardinal, the choice is egregiously bad. Fun fact: I have lived in five different states, but the only state bird I have ever known is the ubiquitous cardinal.

If the official birds are not unique enough for each state, perhaps some other way of looking at things will yield better results. How about the most frequently observed (or most frequently reported in eBird) species in each state?
Frequent Birds.PNG
Okay, so this is even worse than the official birds. Northern Cardinal triples its domain and blows up the Midwest, Southeast, and Mid-Atlantic, with only West Virginia and DC as islands of respite. Only seven states have unique birds as their most frequently seen. Although It is interesting to note that the official state birds of Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Massachusetts, North Carolina, Ohio, Texas, and Virginia are also those states’ most frequently seen birds.

This is clearly not what we are after. So I figured out each state’s most “unique” bird.

I took the average frequency of sighting for all species in each state, and then took an average across all states. This provides the frequency that each species is seen in the “average” state. Then, I compared the frequency of a species in a particular state against this national average (note: not the ABA area average) to arrive at its very unscientific “uniqueness score.” The higher the score, the more unique to that state the bird is. A bird with a score of 10.00 for any given state would be seen 10 times more frequently in that state than in the average state. A bird with a score of 51.00 (50 states plus DC) represents a species that has been observed only in that state.

After coming up with a score for each species in each state, I then removed introduced and extinct species and anything with an observation rate below 0.5%, which effectively eliminates accidental vagrants and other super-rare birds. In the case where two birds have the same score in one state, the one with a higher frequency of observation is declared to be the most unique. In the case where multiple states share the same bird, the state where the bird has the highest score gets the bird, and the other state moves to its second (or third) highest scoring bird.

So, here are each state’s most unique birds:

State Unique Bird Score
Alabama Whooping Crane 12.13
Alaska Crested Auklet 51.00
Arizona Rufous-winged Sparrow 50.88
Arkansas Scissor-tailed Flycatcher 8.43
California California Thrasher 51.00
Colorado Brown-capped Rosy-Finch 26.51
Connecticut Saltmarsh Sparrow 4.17
Delaware Seaside Sparrow 12.95
District of Columbia Fish Crow 5.00
Florida Florida Scrub-Jay 50.88
Georgia Brown-headed Nuthatch 12.52
Hawaii Apapane 51.00
Idaho California Quail 12.31
Illinois Golden-winged Warbler 4.05
Indiana Henslow’s Sparrow 8.94
Iowa Dickcissel 4.04
Kansas Lesser Prairie-Chicken 33.31
Kentucky Yellow-throated Warbler 4.34
Louisiana Fulvous Whistling-Duck 17.72
Maine Atlantic Puffin 46.73
Maryland Acadian Flycatcher 3.70
Massachusetts Manx Shearwater 15.80
Michigan Kirtland’s Warbler 34.76
Minnesota Great Gray Owl 13.56
Mississippi Purple Gallinule 12.93
Missouri Kentucky Warbler 5.13
Montana Dusky Grouse 11.97
Nebraska Greater Prairie-Chicken 18.71
Nevada Sagebrush Sparrow 20.85
New Hampshire Bicknell’s Thrush 25.24
New Jersey Brant 8.95
New Mexico Chihuahuan Raven 31.22
New York Great Black-backed Gull 3.41
North Carolina Audubon’s Shearwater 24.83
North Dakota Baird’s Sparrow 26.94
Ohio Bay-breasted Warbler 4.09
Oklahoma Black-capped Vireo 38.59
Oregon Hermit Warbler 22.83
Pennsylvania Wood Thrush 2.94
Rhode Island Great Cormorant 17.32
South Carolina Wood Stork 11.13
South Dakota Sharp-tailed Grouse 12.49
Tennessee Eastern Towhee 3.88
Texas Green Jay 51.00
Utah California Gull 10.53
Vermont Alder Flycatcher 7.48
Virginia Carolina Chickadee 2.90
Washington Rhinoceros Auklet 32.26
West Virginia Cerulean Warbler 7.94
Wisconsin Sandhill Crane 6.47
Wyoming Greater Sage-Grouse 18.33

Unique Birds.PNG

Some of these are pretty intuitive, but others not so much. It would be pretty easy to guess that Maine’s bird seen at the greatest rate compared to the national average is Atlantic Puffin. But what about Acadian Flycatchers in Maryland?

It’s also interesting to note that Utah is the only state in which its most unique bid is also its official state bird. But, it’s a bird named after a different state. You can do better, Utah.

</nerdalert>

Bicycle Blitz

My office closed early on Friday because we were having the carpets cleaned. So instead of working until noon, I took the morning off too and did what any normal person would do with all of that free time: go on an 8.5 hour, 45-mile bike ride around the county hitting all of the major birding spots along the way.

I left home before sunrise to make it to Eagle Marsh by 6:30am to meet up with Rodger, one of Fort Wayne’s wisest birding sages. I had a bunch of summer marsh birds to pick up, but my real goal of the morning was rails.

SORA.JPG

Sora

We hit on my biggest target bird in Sora. This is actually a life bird for me (I don’t count heard-only birds), and one individual actually showed itself for about a minute or two for me to fire off some photos despite the poor morning light. It is also my 200th Indiana species.

MARW.JPG

Marsh Wren

A Marsh Wren popped up directly in front of me to gather some cattail fluff for an assumed nest.

RWBL.JPG

Red-winged Blackbird

Female Red-winged Blackbirds are pretty in a different way than their men.

GBHE.JPG

Great Blue Heron

More love for common birds.

BAEA.JPG

Bald Eagle

A visit to Eagle Marsh wouldn’t be complete without a sighting of its namesake species, in this case getting its tower buzzed.

I finished at the marsh and made my way alone to Fox Island for some woodland birds.

Fox Island.JPG

Fox Island

There were disappointingly few migrants around, but the scenery was gorgeous. On other days, Fox Island also serves as the gates to Mosquito Hell, but they were almost non-existent when I showed up.

INBU.JPG

Indigo Bunting

The most numerous bird of the day had to be Indigo Bunting.

ACFL.JPG

Acadian Flycatcher

Despite the (lack of) lighting, I like the way this Acadian Flycatcher turned out. Without hearing their song, this picture shows about everything you need to identify one, anyway.

Baby Raccoon.JPG

Baby Raccoon

I thought that the movement inside of this hollow snag was an owl at first. It turned out to be a nest of a different kind.

I ate my lunch on the deck of the nature center and refilled my water before trekking out on the last third of my day. Rather than having a specific destination, the afternoon was reserved for traveling country roads in search of grassland and shore birds.

Woodpecker Habitat.JPG

A productive field

I rode past a field that is famous for attracting all manner of shorebirds, but found nothing there except for one single species feeding in the mud.

RHWO.JPG

Red-headed Woodpecker

Yes, it was a Red-headed Woodpecker, because that makes sense, right? When I approached, it flew up to the lone utility pole stuck in the middle of the field. But trust me, this thing was acting like a damn sandpiper. Birding is weird. Red-headed Woodpecker is a county bird for me. They are regular in Allen County year-round but not very common, so it’s kind of a crap shoot to see one. Dumb luck paid off.

Farm Fresh.JPG

Farm Fresh

Just up the road from the woodpecker I put on the brakes for a flock of turkeys that I thought were eating under a bird feeder in a yard. On second look, just kidding, not wild. Oh well.

The day ended up being incredibly great (and tiring). I ended with 70 species, 17 of which were new green year birds for a list-to-date of 123. This is about four months ahead of my pace from last year without any rarities supplementing the list. Plus I slew my two heard-only nemeses from 2015: Eastern Towhee and Wood Thrush. I expect that the count will slow down considerably from here, but I missed several target birds that I will go back for. I also still haven’t seen a hummingbird yet this year. Again, birding is weird. But good!

Birds with Kids

Birding has come in short bursts recently, usually in the morning for an hour or so before everyone else is up. With cold temperatures all weekend, this actually proved advantageous for seeing migrants close-up. Bugs aren’t flying when it’s frosty out, so everyone was close to the ground. I got over the century mark and then some on my green list, something that didn’t happen until July last year.

So with great success on Saturday, I took a more relaxed approach to the birds today and did so with company.

Binoculars.JPG

“I want to see a starling, Dad.”

Walter and I took a ride around Foster Park with the explicitly stated purpose of seeing birds, and he was pretty cool with it. At less than three years old, he can identify crows by sight and usually points them out before I can get to them. He will also tell you that his favorite bird is the Rested-bread Nuthatch.

Birder.JPG

“There is an alligator. It’s crawling around up there.”

He would excitedly ask “where?” every time I tried to point out a bird. He also asked me to launch him into the river (his idea, not tried). Needless to say, our list was small but the outing was a lot of fun.

DSCN9702.JPG

Our Setup

I will take this time to plug the Burley Honeybee, which is an awesome trailer if you also have small people that you want to take out some time.

AMRE.JPG

American Redstart

We did actually see some birds, too. American Redstarts are bountiful this year.

NOFL.JPG

Northern Flicker

A loud group of guys teed off behind this flicker, which was foraging on the golf course and not caring.

REVI.JPG

Red-eyed Vireo

The footbridge at Foster came up big again, with a Red-eyed Vireo at eye level and arm’s length. I played around with the flash on my camera and thought this shot came out interestingly.

RBGR.JPG

Rose-breasted Grosbeak

There were other kids around this weekend, too. A super awkward-looking first spring Rose-breasted Grosbeak was hanging out in our yard. Just look at this picture. From the hideous molt to the old-man eyebrows to the electric line and vinyl siding behind, this is a disgusting photo, and I like it.

Bunneh.JPG

Bunneh

Another kid of sorts. This bunny lives in the hostas by our garage and comes out two or three times daily, which is just enough to make one go “squeeee!”

Combo.JPG

Combo

Squirrel for scale.

EACH.JPG

Eastern Chipmunk

And while we’re talking about tiny mammals. It seems like any time chipmunks are mentioned or observed, someone will talk about the best and most novel way to murder them. A few missing strawberries are not that big of a deal in my opinion. Even Walter agrees.

New Feature! Desktop Explorer #1

My love of birds and my professional life don’t intersect much except in the lucky instances where work travel permits me to see a few cool species. However, they do share one big similarity: maps.

When I am looking for new birding spots with tree cover and water nearby, perusing eBird to see where a desired species can be found, or trying to find out who owns a property to ask permission to bird on it, I am checking out maps. Likewise, my job in the real estate development world has me frequently digging up as much information as I can on a locality before I visit it in person by way of maps provided by Google, county assessors, various federal agencies, and others.

To break up the sometimes monotonous “I went here, I saw this” format of my blog, I present to you the first of what I hope becomes an ongoing feature: Desktop Explorer! Yes, it is as nerdy as it sounds: looking at maps on a computer to gain new insights on places. Maps can tell you a lot of things about land use trends, environmental factors, local culture, and why certain decisions were made for the way things are laid out. I think all of these things are interesting in general, but also relevant to my hobby.

In the first installment, I will offer a neighborhood that I frequently pass by in Fort Wayne known as Lincoln Park. From above, it is a pretty typical neighborhood with some commercial and industrial areas bordering it, but also a large undeveloped tract of woods:

FW Lincoln Park Aerial

Wondering what was going on, I pulled up the city’s GIS (Geographic Information System) which is an incredibly useful tool.

FW Lincoln Park Parcels

This revealed the underlying plat and parcels beneath the trees. The original shape of the subdivision is evident here, but it was never developed. This is an older neighborhood surrounded by other development, so the lack of anything going on here is strange. Most of the unbuilt lots are also owned by the city. One more quick look at a FEMA map just to check my suspicion confirmed it:

FW Lincoln Park Flood Map

Flood zone city. Bingo. It’s kind of strange that the developer here would have gone to the trouble of buying land and platting lots in a 100-year floodplain (1% chance of catastrophic flood annually), but that is exactly where those ghost parcels are. Someone was sloppy, or something crazy happened soon after everything was planned.

Sometimes, though, you don’t need the Federal Emergency Management Agency to tell you where it floods.

Foster Flood

This an aerial of Foster Park taken some time last summer that shows the extent of the flooding from consecutive heavy storms. The brown encroaching into the golf course and ball fields is mud that washed in when they were submerged for several weeks.

If you have stayed with me this long, thank you. To make it up to you, I will tell you why knowing about flood trends and their effects on property might be of interest.

BAOR

Baltimore Oriole

In the case of Foster Park, it is some great riparian habitat where birds like this Baltimore Oriole thrive. But more interestingly…

BNST.JPG

Black-necked Stilt

Flooded areas, like this agricultural field, are some of the best places to find the unexpected. I had my county Black-necked Stilts in a place just like that today. I didn’t have enough time to bike out to see them, but I managed to squeeze them in on a trip to the grocery store. And I wouldn’t have found them without the aide of a map, either.

Trailbirds: Hiking and Biking

A new event hosted by Fort Wayne Trails is the Early Bird Nature Walk and Bike Ride. It is geared toward amateurs of both birding and biking, and I participated in the second event yesterday. Despite the damp and cool conditions, about ten hardy souls met at the Wells Street bridge to use the city’s trail system in pursuit of birds.

DSCN9496.JPG

Urban Birders

The beginning part of the event was an urban hike along the St. Mary’s River downtown, which turned up many good birds including several first-of-the-years. The second part was a bike ride that traversed much better habitat and produced some pretty great results.

BHVI

Blue-headed Vireo

The route took us about four miles downriver to Foster Park, where we were treated to some incredible looks by a radioactive male Scarlet Tanager, which is probably one of the best birds possible to get first-timers interested. In a small mixed flock including said tanager, I also managed to pull out my lifer Blue-headed Vireo. This is the first motorless lifer I have had this year, and I am pretty sure it’s my first lifer at Foster Park as well. It is also Indiana bird 199.

YRWA.JPG

Yellow-rumped Warbler

Much of the group also had their first warbler experience. Specifically, they learned how difficult they can be to actually see and identify. Fortunately we were treated to point-blank looks at a few Yellow-rumps.

YRWA2.JPG

Eponymous Butterbutt

The field mark of this bird was readily evident.

AMGO.JPG

American Goldfinch

We only get one flavor of goldfinch in the Midwest, but the group was very appreciative of a bird I often overlook.

SWTH.JPG

Swainson’s Thrush

After the ride had ended and a friend and I had some requisite Pint and Slice for lunch, I rode back through Foster on my way home. I picked up a few more annuals that the group had missed, including this Swainson’s Thrush and a stunning singing male Blackburnian Warbler, which was a county bird for me.

The Clearing.JPG

Foster Park

I ended my afternoon with 43 species, with 13 new green year birds including one lifer which brings my list to 94. Most of these were seen in a disused corner of the park that includes a rotting picnic pavilion. Apparently the trails through Foster used to be paved roads that attracted cruisers and teenagers. Luckily for me and the birds, it is foot traffic only now and quiet enough that we stumbled upon two Cooper’s Hawks actively tending a nest close by.

NOM.JPG

Nom.

Not bird related but still worth mentioning is the raccoon that was raiding our feeder before I left for the ride. I didn’t mind too much because he was finishing off some old stale seed.

The Lookout.JPG

The Lookout

He employed a friend to make sure the coast was clear. Teamwork, because there is no ‘I’ in ‘raccoon’ or ‘bunny.’

WITU.JPG

Wild Turkey

To bring things back around to birds, and because I have nowhere else to put it, I will end with this Wild Turkey. I encountered this fellow at work last week and had to decelerate more rapidly than I would have liked to avoid hitting him. I usually only see turkeys from the interstate where stopping is more frowned upon, so this time I seized the opportunity to fire off a couple shots while he crossed the road in front of me. He was also only about 200 yards from the county line, so this was another county bird this week, although I wish I could add it to my green list.

Foster & Fox

That would make a great name for a British-style pub, no?

Over the last two weeks my primary birding destinations were Foster Park and Fox Island. Some of the highlights:

CHSP.JPG

Chipping Sparrow

Chipping Sparrows are incredibly common early spring migrants, but I am loving my new camera.

YTWA.JPG

Yellow-throated Warbler

This Yellow-throated Warbler at Foster Park was foraging in the same tree as a Brown Creeper. Disorienting, to say the least. The juncos and creepers hung around into last week, but an outing today netted none of the strictly winter birds.

EAPH.JPG

Eastern Phoebe

I turned my bike toward Fox Island today and came up with a pleasing three dozen species. One of them was the above Eastern Phoebe imploring you to tread lightly. Earth Day vibes all over this one.

AMPI

American Pipit

It was great to have about half a dozen warblers plus a few more new migrants, but the most surprising birds of the day came before I even got to the park. A tractor was plowing a field along the road, and some Killdeer and robins were gorging on the bugs that were getting kicked up. I somehow managed to catch sight of two smaller dirt-colored birds way out in the field with them, and they turned out to be American Pipits. This is only the second time I have seen this species, and it was not on my radar at all as a possible green bird! This one plus the others I got today bumped my list up to 80 on the year.

GASN.JPG

Garter Snake

I happened across an expert local birder at Fox Island who I hiked with for about an hour. He thankfully put me on to a ton of things I would have missed otherwise (hello, Pine Warbler!) He also managed to identify this snake for me as a Garter Snake. I probably should have known that. Thanks, Rodger!

EACO1.JPG

Eastern Comma

While birds were numerous, they were less than cooperative for photos. Thank goodness for butterflies. I was actually able to call this Eastern Comma in the field thanks to the reading up on them I did last summer.

EACO2.JPG

Who gives an [expletive] about an Oxford Comma?

It also helped that the namesake punctuation mark was easily visible on the underwing.

SPAZ

Spring Azure (?)

Not as easy was this supposed Spring Azure. I will take corrections on this one. Final thought: if you use birder banding code on butterflies, this one becomes SPAZ, which is very fitting.

Southwestward, to Goose Pond!

I write this entry from a Red Roof Inn on the outskirts of Evansville, Indiana. Work has me making numerous stops all over the state over the course of three days. Today, I found myself pointed southwest, which is pretty easy to do considering Fort Wayne is about as northeast as you can go.

ECDO.JPG

Eurasian Collared Dove

This is not a birding trip. I swear. But at one of my very first stops in the city of Delphi, I found a new state bird in Eurasian Collared Dove foraging in the maple seeds directly above my appointment destination. A good omen!

Two of my next stops were Shelburn and Winslow, small towns serendipitously placed on either end of Goose Pond Fish and Wildlife Area. Goose Pond is the real deal. I have been there once before, but that was in February a few years back. Today the sun was shining and the migrants were migrating, so I got out for about an hour to stretch my legs after driving for so long.

Goose Pond is 9,000+ acres of restored wetland habitat in western Greene County that packs such a big ecological punch that it attracts some insane rarities (Spotted Redshank, anyone?) and has actually altered the migration routes for many species that historically didn’t push very far into Indiana.

BNST

Black-necked Stilt

The absurdly cool, ludicrously proportioned Black-necked Stilt is one of those birds.

BNST Pair.JPG

Black-necked Stilt pair

Goose Pond has made these gangly birds common in the southwest corner of the state, and they even breed here, which may be something this pair is getting ready to do. Stilts were my biggest target in visiting Goose Pond, and they did not disappoint as life birds!

GRYE

Greater Yellowlegs

I was fortunate that this Greater Yellowlegs was around, because the stilts were much more interested in it than in me. They kept chasing it away when it foraged too close to them. They absolutely dwarfed it, too.

GWTE

Green-winged Teal

While shorebird watching, I had a close encounter of the teal kind. This handsome drake landed right in front of me and gave me the best look at the species that I have ever had.

SWSP.JPG

Swamp Sparrow

All birds at Goose Pond are beautiful, including the little brown jobs. I admit guilt in having sup-par sparrow watching skills. I usually assume every non-Zonitrichia sparrow is a Song Sparrow, but now I am wondering how many Swamp Sparrows I have missed in my life.

NOHA.JPG

Northern Harrier

The weather was perfect for birding today, as evidenced by the blue sky behind this Northern Harrier. It flew right in front of the moon at one point, but my camera would not focus fast enough for a photo.

AMWP.JPG

American White Pelican

I don’t think I will ever get tired of the reaction people give me when I tell them that there are pelicans in Indiana.

Snake.JPG

Snake

Some other animals were around, too. I don’t know anything about snakes, but Wikipedia tells me this snake butt might belong to a Northern Water Snake. Can anyone corroborate? It was big.

Goose Pond.JPG

Goose Pond – Unit 10

Goose Pond is broken up into segments divided by (unpaved (sometimes flooded)) county roads. The one that I tromped around in and that seems to be the place to go for the best diversity of birds is Unit 10. The place is so huge you could easily spend a weekend there and still not see it all, so I will be back again the next chance I get.