Mid-Year Review

Jaime took Walter to the zoo today with a friend, and I had the day off, so that meant I was able to spend the morning biking to Eagle Marsh. There is still a lot of flooding here, but my route was doable if not muddy. As always, I took a ride through Foster Park first.

Hole 14 Fairway

Hole 14 Fairway

The golf course at Foster is just about wrecked. This stretch of grass is usually nice green fairway, and there are no water features at all on the course.

The Carnage

The Carnage

The entire two-mile trail around the course looked pretty much like this. I would wager that every single worm in the vicinity drowned. Watch your step.

High Water Mark

High Water Mark

This tree still had the high water mark clearly visible on it, about 7 feet above ground level.

The Mud

The Mud

A nice muddy stripe also coated the habitat along the river. Note: Fort Wayne has a combined stormwater and sewer overflow pipe. So that means when the system gets deluged, both types of water mix together. You probably don’t need to imagine the smell of this picture.

The Wind

The Wind

On top of the flooding, last week a mighty windstorm blew through town, which did not help anything.

Painted Turtle

Painted Turtle

The turtles didn’t mind, however. My identified turtles life list now stands at 2!

Eastern Wood-Pewee

Eastern Wood-Pewee

The birds also seemed to manage okay.

American Mink

American Mink

After I finally made it to Eagle Marsh, I was greeted immediately by a fly-over Green Heron, good for motorless bird #101. Then this American Mink crossed the trail in front of me. I have seen them before, including being witness to one’s brutal takedown of a female Mallard, but I had never gotten a photo. Of course the one shot I got this time is blurry.

Snails

Snails

As I made my way through the water-logged trails, I felt a sickening crunch at one point, looked down, and saw that I was standing in the middle of hundreds of snails. Watch your step. I won’t begin to guess an ID.

Northern Leopard Frog

Northern Leopard Frog

Also present: tons of Northern Leopard Frogs (and my identified frog life list now stands at 1!).

Osprey

Osprey

Despite all these photos, I really was out looking for birds. I heard a bunch of Marsh Wrens in the cattails around me, and since I don’t list heard-only birds, I was bound and determined to actually see one. While I waited for one to show itself, a big raptor flew into my peripheral vision. At first I thought it was a Bald Eagle, but instead it was an Osprey. This is a county bird for me, and not one that was on my radar. It is not anything earth-shattering to find an Osprey in Allen County, but they don’t seem to be reliable anywhere. So this was a right place, right time bird that I luckily stumbled into for motorless #102. And I did see a Marsh Wren eventually as well for #103, and on the way out I happened upon a Mute Swan with cygnet for #104.

I have exceeded my original goal, and am now just going to push this list as high as it will go. At the halfway point of the year, my best birds so far are Snow Goose and Osprey. I have lifered 5 times while motorless: Canvasback, Louisiana Waterthrush, Blue-Winged Warbler, Northern Parula, and Yellow-Breasted Chat. My biggest misses so far are Great Egret, Pied-Billed Grebe, Scarlet Tanager, Wood Thrush, Orchard Oriole, and Eastern Meadowlark. Good birding to you all!

Birds, Butterflies, and Books

The Midwest has been on the receiving end of some intense precipitation over the last two weeks, and all of my regular birding sites are flooded. So despite my best efforts, the motorless list had been frustratingly stuck at 99 species. But this past weekend on a bicycle trek downtown, I finally secured my century bird in Peregrine Falcon. I did not get a picture of it, so instead I will shamelessly plug the book that I made for baby #2, who is due at the end of July:

Mini Ornithologist

Mini Ornithologist

I made a similar book for Walter when he was born, and several people afterward commented that I should have more printed and sell them. So I made an updated version and am now using my kid to hawk stuff on the internet. I’ve totally got this parenting thing down.

Eastern Comma

Eastern Comma

So anyway, like I said, the birding sites are water-logged. But all that means is I have explored my other nerd thing by taking pictures of butterflies.

Great Spangled Fritillary

Great Spangled Fritillary

Both of the above bugs were seen at the very muddy, very inaccessible Fox Island.

Arrowhead Prairie

Arrowhead Prairie

Things dried out enough for me on Sunday to actually get in the car and do some scouting for a potential epic bike ride to Arrowhead Prairie. I realize this defeats the purpose of doing a motorless list, but I really, really want a Henslow’s Sparrow on mine, because I understand how rage-inducing that would be to some bird bloggers out there. And isn’t the very essence of blogging one-upsmanship and narcissism? Rhetorical question; the answer is “yes.”

Red Admiral

Red Admiral

Naturally, when I got there I saw more butterflies.

Northern Flicker

Northern Flicker

And while the grass was not tall enough for Henslow’s Sparrows (yet), I did see the woodpecker that one would expect of wide-open, treeless country. This Northern Flicker provided me with the I Can’t Get Away With Writing A Bird Blog And Not Showing A Single Bird Picture picture.

To summarize: 1.) Buy my book; 2.) I am finally at 100 species on my motorless list (and it is worth noting that my entire life list measured 109 when I started this blog); 3.) my butterfly life list is now at 4 species; and 4.) I am going to do everything in my power to get a Henslow’s Sparrow on my motorless list.

Urban Birding

Last weekend the sun was shining, the bike was ready, and the motorless list stood at 98 species. So I headed to downtown Fort Wayne in the hope of hitting the century mark before the end of May with two reliable downtown birds: Cliff Swallow and Peregrine Falcon.

Cliff Swallow

Cliff Swallow

I had no trouble finding the swallows, but my camera was no match for them. Of the dozens of photos that I took, this one ended up being the best. Yikes. Cliff Swallow is a bird that is not reported very often in Allen County, but I know a secret hiding place where they can be found. If not for a river kayak outing last spring, I would not have known about the colony beneath the heavily traveled Harrison Street bridge where they can only be observed from below.

Municipal Architecture

Municipal Architecture

With motorless bird #99 under my belt, I followed the river back toward the city, stopping along the way to admire some outstanding municipal architecture. Is this Gothic building: A.) City Hall, B.) County Courthouse, C.) Cathedral, or D.) University?

Answer: E.) Water Treatment Plant. They don’t build them like this any more.

Peregrine Falcon Habitat

Peregrine Falcon Habitat

A nest of introduced Peregrine Falcons has been very productive for several years in downtown Fort Wayne. I have seen many birds at several times this year, including one doing epic battle with a Turkey Vulture above the streets of the city, but always when I had driven into town (side note: the dogfight ended in a draw, but I would count it as a win for the TUVU who was pulling off some incredible aerobatic maneuvers to avoid the falcon). On this day, PEFA would remain hidden among the rooftops, so my list frustratingly stays at 99.

Lincoln Tower

Lincoln Tower

As it is written in the Constitution, every single Midwest city must boast one marquee pre-WWII Art Deco skyscraper. Fort Wayne’s is the Lincoln Tower, built as national headquarters for Lincoln Bank, and completed one month before the stock market crash leading to the Great Depression.

One Summit Square

One Summit Square

The monolith behind Lincoln Tower is One Summit Square, or if you want to call it by its new name, the Indiana Michigan Power Center (ugh). This building has the claim to fame of being the tallest structure in the city, the 4th tallest in the State (this is Indiana… I’ll take what I can get), and the single greatest murderer of birds in the downtown core. Although I suppose the killings are not intentional, so I guess we can call them manslaughter. Or birdslaughter.

Black-Billed Cuckoo

Black-Billed Cuckoo

It doesn’t matter if you are a Black-Billed Cuckoo…

Yellow-Billed Cuckoo

Yellow-Billed Cuckoo

Or a Yellow-Billed Cuckoo. The shiny glass panes of this building will get you either way. In general, if you are in the genus Coccyzus, stay the hell away. For the record: I have neither of these birds on my life list.

Mad Anthony Wayne

Mad Anthony Wayne

I have nothing as good to offer as some of the fare being blogged about from Arizona or Maine, but I can tell you about my city’s namesake: General “Mad” Anthony Wayne. To appropriately honor him, the city has a statue and an NBA D-League team (2014 champions, baby!).

The Worst Pigeon

The Worst Pigeon

To keep things bird-related as this wraps up, I offer you the world’s worst Rock Pigeon. I have no idea if this thing was sick or incubating eggs, but it was sitting in the doorway of an insurance company in a pile of its own filth. Even though I have yet to crack triple-digits, I am glad that this was not bird #100.

A challenge for my reader(s): Correctly guess bird #100, and your name will live immortally on this blog!

Opening a Can of Worms (or Caterpillars)

Over Memorial Day Weekend, I got on the bike and rode to Eagle Marsh to check out some wetland habitat that I hadn’t had the chance to visit yet while motorless.

Prothonotary Warbler

Prothonotary Warbler

On the way there, I had to ride through Foster Park, which was not a total bummer since I got to spend some quality time with a loudly singing Prothonotary Warbler.

Foster Park Foot Bridge

Foster Park Foot Bridge

Eye-level warbler action is made possible at Foster by the presence of a foot bridge that I have mentioned here before. Please reference above how it enters the tree canopy at approximately 20 feet in height. Gary Fisher the bike is posed for scale. This may be the park’s best attribute in spring.

Stained Canada Goose

Stained Canada Goose

Once at Eagle Marsh, I was somewhat disappointed by the lack of diversity, even though I picked up motorless birds #95-97 (Double-Crested Cormorant, Tree Swallow, and Willow Flycatcher). I didn’t get many photos, save for this Canada Goose that shows some hideous stains on its should-be-white chinstrap that I am guessing are the result of wastewater from the adjacent landfill. Gross.

Killdeer

Killdeer

A Killdeer was also there, so I took its picture.

Red-Spotted Purple

Red-Spotted Purple

With little happening, I started paying attention to non-bird things. I hadn’t intended to feature this butterfly image on my blog, but I had to know what it was. I immediately felt like I did when I first began birding, and with no knowledge or other resources to turn to, I began Googling “butterfly identification,” “common butterflies,” and “Indiana butterflies.” This course of action is totally frowned upon for beginners in the birding circle, but when you’re sitting in your basement looking at photos without a butterfly field guide, it has to do. This Red-Spotted Purple (I didn’t even notice the red spots until after I learned what it was) is the first butterfly I have ever identified. Boom. My butterfly life list now stands at a solid 1.

Eastern Bluebird

Eastern Bluebird

With the butterfly itch scratched, I returned to Foster Park the next day to find things as slow as the day before. I did pick up motorless bird #98 (Acadian Flycatcher, and may I add that being 2 birds away from my goal is killing me. I am now taking bets for what species #100 will be), but spent my time taking pictures of common thrushes. Case in point, male Eastern Bluebird.

American Robin Fledgling

American Robin Fledgling

Case in point again, fledgling American Robin who is still bespotted.

Larger Blue Flag

Larger Blue Flag

With the lack of avian activity, my camera began to drift again. I found a cool flower by the river and took its picture. But the ID itch came back, and I now know after Gooling “wildflower identification” that this is a Larger Blue Flag, one of about a half dozen names for the plant that Wikipedia tells me about.

Butterflies and flowers seem to be the next go-to subjects for birders with wandering eyes (I am not messing with dragonflies). I am not honestly sure if this weekend sparked a new obsession or not, but at the very least now I have additional lists to keep, because listing is cool, right?

Shedding the Monster

Birding is frequently my release for the week. I had some pent up rage when I finally got home today, so I unleashed it appropriately by doing a brisk 12 mile bike ride to Fox Island County Park and back to mop up some shrubland species for the motorless list. The weather was perfect, and I enjoyed the trip just as much as the destination. A few weeks ago a friend shared this video, and it is about how I felt today.

Yellow-Breasted Chat

Yellow-Breasted Chat

This Yellow-Breasted Chat was the surprise for the day and became motorless lifer #5 for the year. Together with the also newly added Yellow Warbler and Field Sparrow, my list for the year now stands at 94 species. I think that I both set my bar a little low with 100 species, and also that I have been putting more effort into this endeavor than I thought I would be. It has been fun, and much more rewarding than regular listing.

Bunnies

Bunnies

Speaking of having fun, Earl has been associating with a certain other bunny.

Gratuitous Bunny Foreplay

Gratuitous Bunny Foreplay

At first I thought he was having a turf dispute, and then I thought maybe he was horsing around with an old college buddy. But after closer examination, it appears that we are all witnessing the beginning of more bunnies. Earl’s got hops, and the ladies approve.

Parks and Recreation

I spent the weekend enjoying the warmest weather of the year so far chasing birds to bulk up my motorless list. I started out at Foster Park (the “park”) as always and then on Sunday took a nice long bike ride (the “recreation”) to try and find the open-country birds I have been missing.

But first, I have been on a pretty solid streak of showing you mammal pictures. So let’s get those out of the way.

Eastern Chipmunk

Eastern Chipmunk

At Foster, an Eastern Chipmunk was perched precariously high up in a tree above the river. I took this photo from a foot bridge about 20 feet up, and this animal looked just about as surprised to see me as I did him.

Eastern Cottontail Rabbit

Eastern Cottontail Rabbit

The Eastern Cottontail Rabbit is the predominant (only?) lagomorph in the Midwest. We have one that frequents our yard, because our lawn is not made of grass but instead clover and weird purple flowers and other things that aren’t supposed to make up your lawn. Jaime has named him Earl. Having planted a garden this week also, I am pre-emptively declaring war on Earl. Ain’t no bunny gonna eat my strawberries.

Cedar Stoutwing

Cedar Stoutwing

Now that those are out of the way, I will tell you about birds. Foster Park yielded a great bounty of migrants, including several new warblers for the year. I got photos of none of them. Instead, I spent quality time with a flock of Cedar Waxwings, which are my absolute favorite bird.

Cedar Sveltewing

Cedar Sveltewing

Both the tubby and lean varieties of waxwings were present.

Habitats Collide

Habitats Collide

My trip to Foster got me all the way up to 85 species on the motorless list, and I know that I could have stuck around and tallied a few more migrants. But one type of habitat that I had not yet visited this year going motorless was open country. Fort Wayne is not a large city, but I live close to its core, so getting out into fields and grassland without a car took some planning. My destination was the quarry southwest of town, where Blue Grosbeaks reportedly hang out every year. On Sunday afternoon, I got on my bike and made for the intersection of agricultural land, gravel mining, and scrub trees growing by drainage ditches. The distant rock pile in the photo above is about as close as we get to mountains in northern Indiana.

Common Yellowthroat

Common Yellowthroat

I missed out on the grosbeak, but I did pick up several new birds for the year, including Killdeer (yes, Killdeer) and the above-pictured Common Yellowthroat. On my way home, I made a small detour to check out a half-finished housing development that looked like it had some decent mudflat or wetland habitat on Google maps. I ran into enough “no trespassing” signs to make me feel like I was entering a military base, so that plan was dashed. But I did pick up enough birds from my trip to land at 91 at the end of the day.

Yard NOPA

Yard NOPA

This week also saw me pick up some great yard birds, putting Grosbeak Gardens at 54 species. Earlier in the week, a Yellow-Throated Warbler was singing vigorously from the top of a neighbor’s maple tree, which is surprising considering all of the sycamores it had to choose from in the neighborhood. And then tonight as I was firing up the grill, I heard a very vociferous Northern Parula making a racket like he owned the place. After Walter was in bed, I went out back to see if I could get a photo. I managed one in the fading light as this individual continued his caffeinated blitz among our spruce trees. Here he is perching on a wire like he is some kind of cardinal or something. Have you no dignity, Northern Parula?

The Locals

My travel schedule has been a bit nuts lately, with trips for business, family, and of course birding taking me through many places over the last several weeks. I am home for a while now though, so it is back to local birding and building the motorless list some more. Here are some of the things I have seen in and around Fort Weezy recently.

Palm Warbler

Palm Warbler

A May without warblers would be a sad thing indeed. Not to worry. The Midwest’s strong suit is alive and well, and this Palm Warbler was making use of its namesake with all of the many date and coconut palms growing wild in Indiana.

Louisiana Waterthrush

Louisiana Waterthrush

Waterthrushes are some of the most underrated warblers. Any bird that acts in no way like the other members of its family is alright by me, and this Louisiana Waterthrush was doing just that by putting on a decent sandpiper performance. LOWA is also a life bird for me, motorless lifer #4 for the year. I also lifered sans motor this week with Blue-Winged Warbler. The motorless list is up to 77 as of today, and 100 looks more attainable all the time. I am still missing embarrassingly common things like Killdeer, Great Egret, and Tree Swallow.

Snapping Turtle

Snapping Turtle

I have seen some cool non-bird things recently, too. Like this ridiculously enormous snapping turtle. This thing was probably close to 3 feet long from nose to tail, no joke. I know that birds are technically more closely related to dinosaurs, but this guy gives them a run for their money.

Muskrat

Muskrat

Mammals have also been around. When they aren’t attacking your dog, muskrats are actually pretty cute.

Raccoon

Raccoon

I take that back. Raccoons put them to shame.

Chug

Chug

What better way to wash down an entire block of suet than by sticking your whole head in the nasty birdbath that hadn’t yet been cleaned out after my trip to Indianapolis?

Canada Goose

Canada Goose

What was I doing in Indianapolis, you ask? I realize this makes two consecutive blog posts with Canada Goose featured. So I will end with my other notable Indy sighting of first-of-the-year Rose-Breasted Grosbeak, signing from the middle of a downtown parking lot. Birds are weird.