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:

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Chipping Sparrow

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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

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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.

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Who gives an [expletive] about an Oxford Comma?

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

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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.

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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.

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Black-necked Stilt

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

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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!

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

Franke Park

Franke Park is a great birding spot on the north side of Fort Wayne. I only went one time last year to chase Black-bellied Whistling Duck, but I rode that way on Sunday even though other hot spots are closer to me. I need to remind myself to go more often this year.

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Natural Stairs

The park is crossed by numerous mountain biking trails, but it was quiet when I was there. A large creek running through the park provides some great forested stream habitat that attracts tons of migrants in the spring. The woods also open up onto more park-like lawns, creating a ton of edge habitat.

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Fox Sparrow

I managed two new birds for the green list, the first being a flock of Fox Sparrows being skulkariffic in the brush. I did not see this bird last year, so it was great to get.

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Field Sparrow

The second was a pair of Field Sparrows. I am used to seeing these birds in overgrown and weedy fields sharing space with Common Yellowthroats and Willow Flycatchers. But these two were working the edge of a brush/lawn transition that I have never seen them in before. It seemed like much more of a habitat for Chipping Sparrows, which are a bird I still haven’t seen yet in 2016. Quirk of migration?

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American Robin

Seriously. This is who was foraging next to the Field Sparrows. On that note, American Robin is a very underappreciated bird. Even though your aunt loves to post photos with captions about how they mean spring is finally here, they are voracious predators of a singular mind. How many other birds have you seen that literally rip their prey in half during the struggle, raptors included? That’s what I thought.

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March Cumulative Route

At the beginning of April, I am at 67 green species. I didn’t hit that number until early in May last year. The map above shows all the ground I have covered while birding on bike and foot, and including overlapping routes I have traveled 273 miles to date doing so.

Po-tee-weet?

In Slaughterhouse Five, Billy Pilgrim has this question posed to him by a bird. It is the only question that makes sense to him after an event that does not make sense.

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Po-tee-weet?

And so it was asked of me, too, this Easter in Morgantown, West Virginia. I was asked by this Eastern Towhee. It did not say, “drink your tea,” it said, “po-tee-weet.” That is the only thing that can be said to make sense of Morgantown, a town where hippies and hillbillies walk side-by-side. A place where pickup trucks and the Personal Rapid Transit system both traverse the mountainsides. This bird had a point. So my vendetta against the species is officially dropped. I spent some quality time with EATO.

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He was not imploring me to drink my tea.

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I officially motion to change the mnemonic for this bird.

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The orange, brown, and gold here are straight out of 1969.

There was more than one emberizid around.

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White-throated Sparrow

My grandparents’ deck made for a surprisingly great place to photograph sparrows.

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Mourning Cloak

I did get this one lifer out of the trip, too.

Weekend Update

I went birding this weekend, and now I’m going to blog about it. So if you thought you would be spared another post of me stretching my puny zoom to the limit across the expanse of the Fort Wayne water treatment ponds, then you are sorely mistaken.

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Horned Grebe

Despite my best efforts, this is not a Common Loon. HOGR had the honor of being my last 2015 motorless bird, so now I don’t have to sweat it out in November.

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Lesser Scaup

A raft of Lesser Scaup that actually aren’t Ring-necked Ducks! Even from this atrocious distance, the lack of a pointy white thing creeping up from the flank is absent. A bird not seen enough, and not at all last year.

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White-breasted Nuthatch

WBNU posed nicely.

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The Salmon of Capistrano

I tallied six new green species on Sunday, the scaup being the highlight. All of the early migrants are back, including Golden-crowned Kinglet, Eastern Phoebe, Wood Duck, and Tree Swallows doing what swallows do.

Eagle vs. Owl: Battle for the Marsh

The Indiana online birding world is reeling. The forces of good have apparently been undone by pure evil. Are any of us truly safe any more? High drama to be sure, and it’s all unfolding right here in my city.

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Immature Bald Eagle

Before I start, let me say that I have nothing against Bald Eagles. Bald Eagles are fine, kind of like how Red-tailed Hawks and Great Blue Herons are fine.

As its name implies, Eagle Marsh is the best place to see them in Fort Wayne. But I have also seen them at the water treatment plant, Foster Park, while driving along the highway, and soaring over the middle of downtown. Not to mention in close to a dozen other places around the state. They are common and widespread here. I understand that this was not always the case, but it has been decades since they were really in any existential danger, so maybe my age plays into my attitude about them.

With that said, Bald Eagles have a huge fandom around here. The most commonly list-served bird? Bald Eagle. The bird with the most photos on the Birding Indiana Facebook group? Bald Eagle. The bird anyone wants to talk about when they find out you are into birds? Bald Eagle.

So imagine the drama that has been unfolding this week when this was spotted:

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Nest

This is a nest built by Bald Eagles at the aforementioned Eagle Marsh. It has been productive for years, and it is incredibly easy to see from the main road going by the preserve. The days are rare that I don’t see at least one car pulled off to the side with camera pointed at this nest. And even I am guilty of stopping to look when an adult is perched on it or in the trees close by. But look carefully at the photo above.

That is not an eagle head sticking up out of the nest. Those are the ear tufts of a Great Horned Owl, which has apparently evicted the resident pair of eagles and usurped the nest. My first reaction to hearing this news was one of elation. GHOW was a nemesis for me in the state, and the bird above is my state bird, not to mention a solid green bird #58 for the year. I am super pumped about this owl, and I hope it succeeds in raising a brood.

To everyone else, this news is a tragedy. It kind of makes me feel like I am rooting for the bad guy. But when you can see eagles easily almost anywhere where there is water, why aren’t more people happy to have this owl? Am I in the wrong here, or what?

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Eastern Bluebird

Having been exhausted by so much drama, I spent the rest of my outing playing with my new camera. A warm winter has made for poor waterfowl viewing this year, so I had to resort to shooting more common and resident birds, like this hot mess of an Eastern Bluebird.

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Red-winged Blackbird

Similar to the eagle vs. owl debate, there seems to be a raging fight over which bird truly means that spring is finally here: American Robin or Red-winged Blackbird? Having seen both birds by early January, my vote goes to Hermit Thrush.

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Muskrat

Mammals had a good showing, too. This muskrat sat dumbly chomping on a cattail as I stood ten feet away. On the other side of the trail, I heard some rustling in the reeds and saw some movement out of the corner of my eye. Hoping it was an interesting sparrow, I turned to face the noise and pished to draw it out…

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American Mink

Instead of a bird head popping up, I got a surprise mink giving me the stink eye. These mustelids seem to be thriving here, but it was great to be so close to one.

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Beaver Work

The other charismatic mammal of the marsh didn’t make an appearance, but they were obviously around.

The last interesting thing to note: I saw one of the marsh’s Bald Eagles (the one in the first photo above) nastily bullying a Red-tailed Hawk around. It almost seemed like it was taking out the frustration from its second-place finish on the hawk. Crazy times we live in when a Red-tailed hawk is only the third most dominant raptor around.

Birds Not Birds

This week was light on photos, so I will be brief. Biggest news is that I added three green birds, the best being Northern Harrier which I didn’t see last year.

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Dam Seagulls

The Maumee River Dam sports some impressive looking machinery. I am not sure if it actually does anything any more, but it sure makes a nice setting for gulls. A huge swarm was circling the area on Sunday, but I couldn’t pick out anything besides Ring-billeds.

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Fox Squirrel

While I still don’t have any Fox Sparrows this year, Fox Squirrels are plentiful. I stopped to take a portrait of this guy at Foster Park.

With a lack of anything else bird-related to talk about, I was going to post a photo of the meth lab I found while scouting a building this week and some associated political and social commentary to go along with it. But I deleted it. Instead, I will talk about how if politicians were birds, I would be voting for the Bohemian Waxwing running for president this year. He’s the one who can be found in a northern state, makes sure everyone in the flock gets a chance to eat, and in all honesty is a little bit flighty and eccentric and is something nobody expects to see. Discuss among yourselves.