Thanksgiving Trip

During the week of Thanksgiving the GregAndBirds clan loaded up to go to North Carolina for a visit to my parents. We flew out of Detroit, which first necessitated a two-and-a-half hour drive through northwest Ohio and southeast Michigan. I have never been as acutely aware of every Turkey Vulture and Rock Pigeon along the road thanks to eBird profiles and their nifty color-shaded maps showing how many species you have seen in every county everywhere. But I did tick a few really good ones, like the Bald Eagle in Monroe, MI and the appropriate flock of Wild Turkeys in Paulding, OH. You shall know a birder by their trail of light orange in sparsely-visited counties (for the record, I did the same thing when we went to visit some of Jaime’s friends outside of Charlotte during the trip).

I did some serious birding too, though. Thanksgiving was bookended by trips to the William B. Umstead State Park right by my folks’ place.

umstead-copy

A pretty good park!

I am not much for hashtag campaigns, but #optoutside on the traditional shopping days was one I could get behind. Apparently everyone else had the same idea, because conditions were crowded. The birding was decent though, and crowds disappeared entirely when I left the trails (on the suggestion of a staff member) to hike the same power line cut I birded earlier in the summer.

wtsp-copy

White-throated Sparrow

There was nothing too out of the ordinary, but I did get to add some meat to my North Carolina state list.

PIWA.JPG

Pine Warbler

I contented myself with passerines since the waterfowl on Big Lake were mostly too far away to enjoy. Seeing any non-Yellow-rumped Warbler in the winter is exciting for this Midwesterner, so I appreciated this male Pine Warbler foraging on the ground in poor light. The mixed flock it was a part of was also pretty exceptional: Brown-headed Nuthatches, Eastern Bluebirds, Pine Warblers, and one Red-bellied Woodpecker.

Intermission.JPG

Intermission

In between my two outings, Thanksgiving occurred. But unfortunately for me so did a bout of food poisoning. I did manage to eat a piece of one of my sister’s famous ludicrously sweet, over-the-top, and delicious cakes, though. Yes, those are Nutter Butter acorns.

Cloudless Giant Sulphur.JPG

Cloudless Giant Sulphur

The yard surprisingly still had some butterflies in it, too, which made things better. The Cloudless Giant Sulphur is a life lep for me. They really are big!

GCKI.JPG

Golden-crowned Kinglet

The neighborhood was also awash with some quintessential fall birds.

HOME.JPG

Hooded Merganser

I wouldn’t have included this poor shot of a Hooded Merganser, but it counts as a yard bird from my parents’ vantage point, which is pretty solid.

CARW.JPG

Carolina Wren

The next day I felt a lot better, so I visited Umstead again. I retraced my footsteps, only in reverse. I was greeted by close to a dozen Carolina Wrens calling in the warm weather.

CARW2.JPG

A different Carolina Wren

For a brief second, two of them investigated the same knot in a tree, but I wasn’t fast enough with the camera shutter.

RUDU.JPG

Ruddy Duck

The ducks on the lake were more cooperative on that second day, including a very actively diving Ruddy Duck that I first thought was a grebe. This is the part where I mention Ruddy Duck was a life bird, and probably the single most embarrassing hole in my life list to that date. That title now goes to either White-eyed Vireo or American Wigeon. What is yours?

I hope everyone had a happy Thanksgiving, good birding, and maybe some obsessive highway-driving county listing, too!

City Sparrows

If you have never been, Indianapolis is a surprisingly cool city. There is plenty to see, eat, and buy downtown and in the surrounding neighborhoods. I was there on Monday for work, and I could probably be forgiven for stopping in one of its parks to enjoy the beautiful fall day.

Indy.JPG

Downtown Indianapolis

Of course, there were birds around, too.

CCSP.JPG

Clay-colored Sparrow

Specifically, this bird was around. Clay-colored Sparrow was a lifer. And yes, I did see it in the same place where the first photo was taken. The washed-out background of the sparrow photo is the limestone of the Indiana War Memorial just a few blocks from my old office.

FISP.JPG

Field Sparrow

Finding this single bird in a small urban park was made much more difficult by the presence of Field Sparrows. The Clay-colored was associating with a small flock of them, and the poor looks they were giving me didn’t allow me to differentiate between species. I spent an hour chasing them around the park as the group flew from tree to tree, when finally, right when my parking meter was about to expire, they all finally perched out in the open on tall decorative grass in a concrete planter. With the sun at my back, I found my target bird.

SOSP.JPG

Song Sparrow

The most numerous sparrow was Song Sparrow, kind of like the most numerous person around was the conspicuous Pokémon Go player. For a moment I thought about approaching one of them and waxing philosophical about how they were looking for virtual animals and I was looking for a real one right in the same place. But it didn’t happen. Instead, I went up to two other guys with cameras to ask them if they saw the sparrow. They turned out to be German tourists who were taking pictures of the buildings, and, shockingly, the phrase “Clay-colored” does not translate very well from English.

Shout out to the guy with the long lens who I hollered at out of my car window, though. He actually was a birder and let me know that CCSP was still hanging around before I began my search.

RBNU1.JPG

Red-breasted Nuthatch

In other news, I spent some time last weekend trying to get decent shots of my Red-breasted Nuthatch flock. I have had at least two birds at the feeder for the past month, and they have gotten used to me to the point of not caring. Walter and I even tried to hold seed out in the hopes they would land on our hands, but I guess they aren’t stupid despite their confidence.

RBNU2.JPG

Red-breasted Seed Stasher

I am not a huge fan of feeder shots, so I used a binder clip to attach a spruce branch to the feeder hoping that the birds would land on it prior to getting a morsel. No dice. But I did find a branch in my Japanese maple tree where they were cramming seeds under the bark, so I sat for a while with camera fixed on that spot and got something pretty serviceable. Bonus points for nuthatch tongue!

Overtime

The concept of overtime has been very relevant to me lately. I have been working some pretty nutso hours, and my football team of choice needed an extra period to steal a win over the weekend. As the birding goes, I also got an extra chance to make up for some missed points this fall. Jaime wrangled the kids on top of making me a pie and doing all of the million other things she does every day so that I could go out birding a couple of times over my birthday weekend. Thanks, Feeb!

Fall in Foster Park.JPG

My favorite view of Foster Park

I started off Friday afternoon walking to Foster Park. There weren’t many target birds left for me to get on the year there, and what few were possible (Orange-crowned Warbler, Gray-cheeked Thrush, Philadelphia Vireo) did not show up. I did have a nice hike, though. And the pleasant toot-toot-tooting of a Red-breasted Nuthatch was a new bird for me at the park, and tipped Foster’s eBird hotspot meter into the triple digits. It now has a green pin on the map instead of blue. That felt good!

Brown Creeper.JPG

Brown Creeper

A few of the regular winter birds were around, so I enjoyed them, like this Brown Creeper and its ace camouflage.

RCKI.JPG

Ruby-crowned Kinglet

I dare you to name a bird that is more receptive to pishing and less wary of people than Ruby-crowned Kinglets. Go ahead. I’ll wait. Not possible, right?

Groundhog.JPG

Groundhog

This plump fellow was watching me with great disdain. I suspect he will disappear into his burrow for the winter pretty soon.

Clouded Sulphur.JPG

Clouded Sulphur

Leps will also become scarce soon. Better enjoy them while they’re still around.

American Red Squirrel.JPG

American Red Squirrel

A surprising entry from Team Mammal was this American Red Squirrel. I heard a weird alarm call that I didn’t recognize, and thinking it could be some unexpected bird or an infrequently-used cry to betray the presence of a raptor, I spent some time looking for it. This tiny rodent was the culprit. I was not disappointed, though, since I have only seen one in the park one or two other times. These squirrels are not nearly as common as the utterly abundant Fox Squirrel or even the less often encountered Eastern Gray Squirrel, and this one was pretty far away from the evergreens I thought they preferred.

The next afternoon I rode out in beautiful sunshine but nasty headwind to make it to Eagle Marsh. I failed spectacularly at getting all of the regular shorebirds earlier in the spring and fall, so I had quite a bit of lost time to make up. The overtime period was much needed.

Dowitcher 1.JPG

Long-billed Dowitcher

Hoping for an easy pick-up of Semipalmated Sandpiper (which I missed and will probably end the year without. Ugh. Really?), I instead bumbled into a much less expected sight: Long-billed Dowitcher. I managed a distant, blurry photo for the split second it actually had its bill out of the water so that its ridiculous length is evident. Further examination of my photos show that there were actually two birds, which I missed entirely in the field. This is a life bird for me, and green bird #140 this year. Greater Yellowlegs was also around for #141 and it saved me from another embarrassing shorebird miss.

I am now beyond my total from last year’s motorless challenge, and only 9 birds away from a nice, round 150. Opportunities to add anything more to this list will be few and far between, but with some strategy I think it is still attainable. My most likely options that are still on the table are: Dunlin, Wilson’s Snipe, Purple Finch, Northern Pintail, American Black Duck, White-crowned Sparrow, Black-capped Chickadee, Herring Gull, Common Loon, and Lapland Longspur. But I will take anything that the birding gods throw at me, especially since this is supposed to be a good year for some of the less common winter finches…

Feederwatching

Steady rain all weekend made it so that the birding was effectively feederwatching. First, the highlight:

RBNU.JPG

Red-breasted Nuthatch

For the second year in a row, my feeder has hosted a Red-breasted Nuthatch. Or in this case, three Red-breasted Nuthatches, which is a pretty neat trick.

RBNU 2.JPG

Red-breasted Nuthatch

Helping more than my one meager feeder filled with sunflower seeds to attract these stellar irruptive visitors is the row of 50 foot spruce trees along the edge of our backyard. I do what I can.

Combo.JPG

Combo!

Feederwatchig is a technique I am not ashamed of, especially when it is the only way to get two species of nuthatch in the same shot. It also provides some interesting drama as you observe the power struggles between the same individual birds over the course of a couple of days.

Full.JPG

A not atypical situation

 

Each bird has its own unique way of using the food source, and species seem to dominate and yield to others in not quite truly hierarchical fashion. To start, there are three main styles of bird feedering:

The Traditionalists fly in, eat some seeds for a while, then fly away to go do other bird things. Adherents to this style include Northern Cardinal, House Sparrow, and Blue Jay.

The Gluttons fly in and stay put eating as much as they can until they are forced off. American Goldfinch, House Finch, and Mourning Dove are Gluttons.

The Dart-and-Runners fly in, take a single bite, and fly away to finish or stash it somewhere else. Time on the feeder is minimized to the greatest extent possible, and practitioners include Carolina Chickadee, Tufted Titmouse, and both White- and Red-breasted Nuthatches.

This is only part of the story, though. Each species also seems to have an unspoken relationship with all of the others.

house-battle

The struggle is real

We will start at the top of the food chain.

Blue Jays have a bad reputation, but in my yard they have only shown aggression to raptors. They don’t get pushed around by anybody, but they also don’t push others around. They also aren’t very frequent visitors to the feeder, so that may be why.

Northern Cardinals, on the other hand, are the usual owners of the joint. They will not be moved by anyone, plus they show extreme aggression toward House Sparrows. They will tolerate other birds only until they get too close, and then anything is fair.

House Sparrows are despised by all, and for good reason. They will swarm in numbers making their presence impossible to oust from the feeders, plus they are aggressive to most other manner of bird. When I was observing, the most frequent target was House Finch.

House Finches didn’t take it lying down, though. These birds will not start a fight, but they will fight back if pushed.

Tufted Titmice for the most part seemed to attack each other.

Meanwhile, Carolina Chickadees were the most peaceful species. In addition to showing no aggression, they also were infrequently if ever targets of bullying themselves.

White-breasted Nuthatches don’t pick on anyone, and they also don’t stick around long enough to get picked on themselves. Their strategy is to fly in, perch on the pole or baffle, and wait for an opening. Then they seize the opportunity.

Red-breasted Nuthatches operate largely in the same way, but instead of hanging around close by, they will fly in from literally out of nowhere to grab an empty seat at the table. They are also ridiculously tolerant of close approaches by humans. At one point I stood a foot away from the feeder and they still came and went as usual.

And finally, American Goldfinches come in big groups, hang upside-down, eat forever, and generally have a good time. All species seem to like them except House Sparrows.

Of course, birds are not the only ones using the feeders.

Dare to Dream.JPG

Dare to dream

My set-up is largely mammal-proof (see: raccoons), but the furry ones have lofty goals.

Some Thoughts on Fall

I have been to much (although admittedly not all) of this country, and I have very strong feelings about fall in the Midwest being one of the greatest season/location combinations possible.

0 Foster.JPG

Foster Park

Things are still green here, but once September 22nd hit, fall was official. Football season returns. You don’t have to feel weird about eating soup. And all manner of farm-related family activities beckon you to the countryside. These are not the trappings of high-brow culture. But, man, are they fun.

1 BAOW Portrait.JPG

Portrait of a Barred Owl

I feel the same way about my recent September birds. I haven’t gone anywhere extravagant, and I didn’t see anything at all rare. But I enjoyed the run-of-the-mill immensely, even though the blogosphere might make you think you are not living life if you aren’t seeing a Juan Fernandez Petrel.

2 BAOW2.JPG

I know this guy well.

I would much rather spend some quality time with some good friends, the common birds in my neighborhood. I hear this Barred Owl every once in a while, and occasionally he even makes a roost in the spruces in my back yard. It isn’t that big of a surprise to see him along the southern part of the woods at Foster Park, either. And that is exactly where I found him on Friday, but this was one of the best encounters with any bird I have ever had.

As I was following a trail, he flew up from ground level just a few yards ahead of me. He perched in a low branch very close, and watched me for a minute as I tried hard not to move or make any noise. Then, he turned his attention to an acorn falling through the foliage, and watched for the Blue Jays calling in the area. He wasn’t concerned with me. For a bird to ignore you, is that respect? It felt like it. It was an incredible sighting.

3 NOFL.JPG

Northern Flicker

As I continued my walk, I came upon a big mixed flock of birds. Notable in it were some Black-throated Green and Blackpoll Warblers, both green year birds. I didn’t get great photos, but that doesn’t matter when the young Northern Flicker they were with was quite willing to fill in.

5 COHA.JPG

Cooper’s Hawk

6 RTHA.JPG

Red-tailed Hawk

Next, a Cooper’s Hawk successfully chased away a young Red-tailed. The much larger buteo was undoubtedly making its first go of it alone in the world.

10EAPH.JPG

Eastern Phoebe

This Eastern Phoebe was hanging on to summer for as long as it could. Rather than joining the mixed flocks and starting an adventure south, this bird perched in a tree and called “phoebe” the whole time while it sallied for bugs like it was still the early stages of June.

BWHA Kettle.JPG

Broad-winged Hawks

The next morning, I woke up and went for a walk with the family. As we neared the park again, we saw a huge cloud of hawks swirling around in the morning sunlight. At least 100 Broad-winged Hawks were all tailgating together, with some of them eventually making their way right above our house. A pretty incredible sight for a yard bird.

BWHA.JPG

Broad-winged Hawk

A lone bird landed in the spruces behind my house, chasing away a Mourning Dove. Not only was this group representative of a new species in the yard, but they were a state bird as well.

BLJA.JPG

Blue Jay

Few hawks are game to stand up to a determined Blue Jay, however. This fellow and his posse were successful in running off the guy above who could have otherwise ruined everyone’s day.

7 Monarch.JPG

Monarch

Hawks weren’t the only migrants making impressively large southward flights. Nearly two dozen Monarchs were also there this weekend, making their annual march to the hills of Mexico.

9-eatb

Eastern Tailed Blue

Other smaller leps have also made a last push recently. Eastern Tailed Blues were all over my yard for a few days, and then all of a sudden were gone.

8 GISW.jpg

Giant Swallowtail

Others, like this Giant Swallowtail at my in-laws’ house, decided to go it alone as the days shortened.

It is very easy to enjoy all of these species, no matter how common. I like to make metaphors in the things I see, which I guess is pretty cheesy, but makes the common things more relatable and more enjoyable. Cheesy yet enjoyable. Kind of like pumpkin spice everything, corn mazes, and homecoming. Fall in the Midwest is great. Bring it on.

Manicured Lawn (but not yard) Birds

There is not much for a birder to do in the early part of late summer in Indiana. Sure, we could all play around with that new eBird feature and make a birder profile (Friend me! Wait, what do you mean you can’t do that?). But there are some birds to be found. So, following cues from fellow Hoosier the Bushwhacking Birder, I have recently been checking out the soccer fields that I pass by every day on my way to and from work in the hope for some good grasspipers.

KILL 2.JPG

Killdeer

“Good” in this case is subjective. But Killdeer sure are interesting to look at in the pre-migration September heat when there is little else around. If they weren’t so common and so obnoxious, I think I could really get to like the Northern Screaming Plover.

HOLA.JPG

Horned Lark

Mixed in with my plover friends have been some birds that I might have expected but am still getting used to seeing outside of winter. Horned Larks are easy to come by in the Midwest just about anywhere where there are empty fields. But in the summer when they are hidden or pushed out by the appearance of crops, they can become scarce. I suppose the soccer fields of the Fort Wayne Sport Club have just enough weedy edges to attract this dapper mustachioed lover of the prairie.

kill

Another Killdeer

Same bird, markedly different grass. This lime green expanse of fescue can be found at the Lebanon Sod Farm just northwest of Indianapolis. Being in the area recently, I had to stop by. This pristine turf isn’t just measured in acres. We are talking mile after square mile of perfectly verdant soon-to-be-golfed-on grass.

BBSA KILL.JPG

What’s this?

As I counted Killdeer, I saw a smaller, darker form marching stoically toward me across this prosthetic prairie.

bbsa

Buff-breasted Sandpiper

A lifer Buff-breasted Sandpiper had graced me with its presence. These shortgrass specialists are regular but uncommon visitors to Indiana as they migrate. We are on the severe eastern side of their flight path as they head south, so it is notable whenever a few stop by. Finding this bird (followed closely by a second) in the huge expanse of grass with no optics, limited time to be out birding, looking into the sun, and behind a bunch of heat distortion, I think I did pretty well.

Combo.JPG

Combo!

To celebrate, I will post this tri-species combo shot. Because everybody loves combos. And they are all foraging in the short grass, so it is relevant, okay? Note: the MODO got exploded by a Cooper’s Hawk a little while after I took this.

HOSK.JPG

Hobomok Skipper?

We have now reached the portion of the blog called “photo dump.” I think this is a Hobomok Skipper. That’s fun to say.

PESK.JPG

Peck’s Skipper?

I think this one is a Peck’s Skipper. If I am right, both are liferflies. Sorry about all of the butterflies, but they are just so easy to photograph, and they’re all still new. With any luck, I will be adding birds to the dormant green list again soon.

Greg and Butterflies

I rode out to Eagle Marsh today in phenomenal weather, hoping that the line of storms last night would have dropped some interesting shorebirds into the area. Nope. But there were a lot of butterflies instead. I need to start a butterfly life list, because I have lost count, and I am getting okay at identifying them.

BLSW.JPG

Black Swallowtail

A male Black Swallowtail jockeyed for position with a honey bee. Liferfly!

FISK.JPG

Fiery Skipper

My other lifer was this male Fiery Skipper. This lep was bright and shiny! I almost thought it was a sulphur for a moment.

PECR.JPG

Pearl Crescent

Pearl Crescents were puddling everywhere on the mud. They probably numbered in the hundreds. One bounced off of my face while I was riding home.

COBU.JPG

Common Buckeye

The Common Buckeye is one of my favorites just because of its name alone.

MONA

Monarch

And finally, a worn Monarch. Butterflies like this are really interesting to me, just because they have been through so much. You can pretty much bet that this one has been to Mexico and back.

EAPH.JPG

Eastern Phoebe

Eastern Phoebes are not butterflies. But this is a bird blog after all.