A Pretty Big Week

This past week on the southwestern shores of Lake Erie was an event called “The Biggest Week in American Birding.” Held at the famous Magee Marsh, all kinds of tired migrants cram into a little bottleneck of woods before they make the trip across the Great Lakes, and views of otherwise difficult to see species are up close and personal, and incredible. I wasn’t there. But I had a pretty big week of my own.

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Harris’s Sparrow

The evening of May 2nd I left the gym to discover an email from my birding friend Angie telling me that she had a Harris’s Sparrow in her yard. First thing the next morning I went over to check for the bird and found it singing in a tree by her driveway. Life bird, and first county record! Angie’s house is inside of my 5MR, so it also counts as the most improbable bird on that list to date! Angie has done a great job of turning her back yard into a wet woodland habitat, so if this bird were to pick anyone’s house to set up shop it would be hers. But this mind-blowing sighting got me wondering how many other crazy birds turn up at people’s feeders without ever getting recognized for what they are?

Magic Tree

The Magic Tree

Later in the week I met up with another birding friend, Lorenzo, to check out Franke Park again for some spring migrants. The weather was total crap with drizzle and clouds the whole morning. But the birding was magical. Photos were incredibly difficult to come by, but to give you an idea of the birdsplosion happening, take the photo above which contains four Brown Thrashers (yellow circles) and two male Rose-breasted Grosbeaks (red circles). At one point another thrasher and an Indigo Bunting were also clustered with that group at the top of the tree. We just kept giving each other “what is happening?” looks as the birds. just. kept. coming.

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Scarlet Tanager

We got tons of first-of-the-year birds, like this mellow female Scarlet Tanager and about five of her closest friends.

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Black-throated Blue Warbler

We also had double-digit warbler species, including this unabashedly confiding (and spectacularly handsome) male Black-throated Blue Warbler who was hopping around basically at our feet. He was only the second one I had ever seen.

Bad Bird Photo Quiz 2

Laughably Bad Common Loon

As I already said, photos were basically not happening. But a couple of birds on the park’s decently sized lake made me try anyway. Two Common Loons that took off and circled low before flying away represented a long-overdue state nemesis for me! I had previously seen them up and down the United States from Minnesota to Ohio to Florida, but never in my home state. If there was any day for them to finally go down, it was this day.

Tiny Wetland

Tiny Wetland

The last place we checked, just because we figured why not, was the tiny scrap of wetland behind the BMX track at the park. I usually only bother with this little parcel of swamp if I need a Red-winged Blackbird or something. It’s tiny, barely even a pond. This photo shows literally the entire thing (as well as the raindrops on my lens).

Bad Bird Photo Quiz 1

Sora!

But wouldn’t you know it, this little postage stamp of wetlands held not one but two Soras, a Marsh Wren, and a Common Yellowthroat, all birds that I had no reasonable hope of finding inside of my 5MR and that take a concerted multi-hour effort to get to at Eagle Marsh on my bike. Not today. As we were leaving, a van of people I knew from the Audubon Society pulled up, looking pretty miserable birding from their car in the rain. They informed us that is was slow going for them and they hoped we had better luck. We did.

In all, we tallied 59 species in barely two hours of birding, and my eBird checklist is here. I added two dozen new 5MR and Green birds for the year, including an additional personal county bird in White-eyed Vireo and an earliest ever county record of Willow Flycatcher for good measure. With the crazy good luck Lorenzo and I had in the morning, I continued to keep track of the species I saw later in the day and ended up at 64 without putting too much more effort into things. I will dub this day as the Accidental 5MR Big Day. The Official 5MR Big Day is yet to be had.

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Baltimore Oriole

I’m not done! Even with the steady rain and limited birding time due to family activities for Mother’s Day, my week of birds kept getting better. My jelly feeder managed to reel in only the second Baltimore Oriole I have seen from the yard, but it was merely a sign of things to come.

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Chestnut-sided Warbler in my yard

On Saturday and Sunday, a slow-moving bird tsunami swept over my yard and crushed me. Multiple singing Chestnut-sided Warblers visited the oaks around the house, which is pretty incredible because for whatever reason they are one of the harder warblers for me to get, and I hadn’t had one on my Green list since 2015. They were harbingers of a current of warblers so strong as to be almost unbelievable. Along with Chestnut-sided, I had Nashville, Tennessee, Black-throated Green, Northern Parula, Blackburnian, and Blue-winged Warblers all singing in and around my yard over the weekend, and I probably missed a few.

SCTA

Another Scarlet Tanager

Two pretty bad Scarlet Tanager photos in the same post? Why yes, yes because this one was also in my yard. It shared the same tree with a Blackburnian Warbler, which seems to be a pretty consistent combo for me. Does anyone else seem to get Blackburnian Warbler at the same time they get Scarlet Tanager?

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Least Flycatcher

The storm finally petered out with a muted Least Flycatcher as the last new bird in the yard, but it was still a new one for the year on my 5MR (currently at 107) and Green (currently at 105) lists. In all, I added six entirely new species to my yard list this weekend to arrive at a 25-month total of 75 species.

In my last post I said I thought I had gotten a sign of good things to come. Turns out I was right, but I hope I haven’t cashed in all of my birding karma yet. 5MR Big Day coming on May 15th! Stay tuned!

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Early Spring Stuff

Way back in March (almost two months ago now, holy cow) I received an email from the USGS with a certificate attached inside:

COHA Certificate

It was for the report of the banded Cooper’s Hawk I found in New Mexico!

Banded Cooper’s Hawk

The government shutdown ended, and so they were able to tell me that this lady was at least 6 years old and had been banded in nearly the exact same place as I saw her in January. My first banded bird report!

Later on, I did in fact go birding again locally, even though it’s been ages since I updated this blog. I have been dutifully 5MRing with some nice results thus far.

Ruby-crowned Kinglet

In early April I went to the Purdue woodlot to enhance my year list. A number of the earliest of spring migrants were passing through. It seems as though Ruby-crowned Kinglets like the one above, their Golden-crowned brothers, and several other species all appear together at once. Seeing one is a good sign that some of the others are also around.

Hermit Thrush

The Hermit Thrush is one of this group of collaborative migrants. It has been a pretty good year for them, with one even making a brief stay in my backyard for a new addition to that list.

PFW Woodlot

I always thought that the PFW woodlot would be great habitat for Winter Wrens. The forest floor is strewn with leaf litter and fallen logs. On the day of my visit I specifically tried to find this bird, since it too travels with the ones above, and because I had never seen one at this particular location.

Winter Wren

Bingo! Don’t you love it when your hunch turns out to be right? This is a new bird for my Purdue hotspot as well as my 5MR.

Not an Owl

I thought that the tree cavities would also make good hiding spots for owls. But the only ear tufts I found in one turned out to be something else. Oh well, can’t win them all.

Black Morph Squirrel

The other interesting mammal I came across was this dark morph Fox Squirrel. This color variation is common north of Allen County, even to the point of being the expected phenotype in many areas, but they are still not very numerous in Fort Wayne.

Eastern Gray Squirrel

Speaking of squirrels, an Eastern Gray Squirrel has been hanging out in my yard for the past week. These are even less common here than the dark ones. It is a new species for my house! They are smaller, quicker, and much more wary than their beefy Fox Squirrel cousins.

American Red Squirrel

While we’re on the subject of Sciuridae, I had another new squirrel addition to my 5MR last weekend on a visit to Franke Park: several American Red Squirrels. It seems like as squirrel size decreases, attitude increases, and these guys prove the rule. I now have six squirrel species in my 5MR this year, including another sighting of Southern Flying Squirrel that may be colonizing an oak tree in my yard!

Baltimore Oriole

Now that the arboreal rodents are out of my system, I will talk a little more about the next wave of early migrants, which included this Baltimore Oriole on my Franke Park trip. This guy was scenically eating nectar in the flowers of this ornamental tree, so I had to stop and watch.

Hooded Warbler!

The true purpose of my trip was to try and get my first warblers of the year. It was disappointingly quiet, but I did hear a Yellow Warbler on my way in and not much else. I expected at least to stumble across the ubiquitous and classic early eastern warbler the Yellow-rumped, but there were disappointingly few birds around. However, as I hiked around the pond a little yellow guy zoomed close by my feet to offer itself as the winner of the First Warbler Seen Of The Year: a Hooded Warbler!

Hooded Warbler

Look at this handsome dude! I had only ever seen one previously almost seven years ago, and not in Allen County. So count it for new patch bird, new 5MR bird, new green bird, and new county bird! It gave me some great looks too, probably because it was much more concerned with the Blue Jays harassing it than it was with me. I am taking this as a good sign for things to come yet this spring!

Starting This 5MR (With Guest Blogger)

Since January 1st all of my Indiana birding has been inside of my 5MR. It has been productive!

HAWO

Hairy Woodpecker

In the first few days of January every bird is exciting. It’s always great to reset the odometer and be able to count literally everything all over again, from the ubiquitous Northern Cardinal to the otherwise aggravating House Sparrow. During that glorious window where each and every feeder bird is new again, I was also lucky enough to be visited by a female Hairy Woodpecker, which is infrequently seen in the yard.

Johnny Appleseed

Johnny Appleseed Park

Outside of feeder watching, I have also made a few brief forays deeper into my 5MR territory, including visits to find ducks at Johnny Appleseed Park and the water treatment ponds.

Goldeneye

Common Goldeneye

I was lucky enough to get a nice little waterfowl haul that included Common Goldeneye at both locations. These trips also yielded Common and Hooded Mergansers, Ring-necked Ducks, American Coots, and numerous other water-based FOYs:

GBHE

Great Blue Heron

RBGU

correction: Herring Gull!

**Thank you so much to commentor Raf for pointing out that this is actually a Herring Gull, and not the Ring-billed I assumed it to be. I noted the field mark of “bird is a gull inland in February” and therefore just checked it off as a Ring-billed. Shame on me. Herring is actually an incredibly good county bird here, and I believe this is only the third one I have seen.

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Mute Swan

Most of the rest of the month of January was spent alternating between bouts of weird weather. The star of the weather show, though, was last week’s Polar Vortex during which the temperature did not exceed -10 degrees Fahrenheit for approximately three days. While I still had to go to work during that time, someone was at home stuck inside with the kids but still keeping an eye on our bird situation: my oft-mentioned but never before featured wife, Jaime! Everything below is in her own (orange) words, and also her photos. She deserves literally all of the credit for me being able to see a state bird in our own yard as well as tick a rather uncommon variety of hawk!

Feeb

My recent bird binge started when I looked out of our kitchen window and saw a strange-looking squirrel in the owl box. I quickly grabbed Greg’s camera and zoomed in for a closer look.

Snowy Owl

Strange-looking Squirrel

I started screaming and jumping up and down, and our daughter came in to see what was the matter. I called Greg at work frantically and yelled to him “there’s an owl in the owl house!” He thought one of the kids had been injured until he realized what I was yelling into the phone.

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Eastern Screech-Owl

It was so fluffy and so sleepy, and there was snow blowing in its face. It was cute. I want one. I couldn’t stop looking at it all day.

Three Amigos

Three Amigos

So then I was on bird watch. I was mostly concerned that it would swoop down and eat one of our other birds, but it didn’t. As I was watching all of the other birds, I saw in the pine tree that there were these other colorful ones all huddled together, and I liked them even though they are common. I was moved to photograph them.

RSHA

Red-shouldered Hawk

Later when I was looking out the window, I saw a giant thing fly down and sit on the branch in our neighbors’ tree. I thought at first it was the owl, but then when I saw how big it was I knew it was a hawk of some sort, but not one I had ever seen before. It was some sort of shouldered-hawk. It impressed Greg.

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Not an owl

It eventually got dark and we couldn’t see the owl any more, then the next day there was a squirrel in the owl house. A few hours later another bird was in there, but it was not an owl unfortunately. Just a starling trying to stay dry. They must be smart birds. There were also about 50 of them in our yard. But I was sad. I missed Ollie the owl.

I want everyone to know that I was traumatized by birding one time when we went hiking and I got a bug in my eye. Also there was a turkey on the loose that we couldn’t see but we could hear chasing us. Other than that, I like birding.

Albuquerque, Part 3: Farewell in the Foothills

First, let me say that if you are here because of the 5MR group, welcome! I want to assure you that I actually am birding locally in 2019, but before I get into that I have one final trip post from my stint in New Mexico.

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Eurasian Collared Dove and a hot air balloon

I awoke early on Sunday morning to a nice purple sky. When I stepped to the window to admire it, I noticed that there was a hot air balloon flying over the neighborhood like it was the most normal thing in the world. Putting on clothes to go investigate and take some scenic photos, I managed to line it up with a Eurasian Collared Dove on a street lamp. I feel like this particular scenario would never happen in 49 other states.

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White-winged Dove

Back at Will’s house, this White-winged Dove was keeping watch over the front yard. These birds are as common as pigeons in Albuquerque so I had lifered them on my first day in town, but this was the best up-close experience I had with one. After Instagramming it with the requisite Fleetwood Mac joke, we got breakfast and then headed to the foothills.

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Elena Gallegos Open Space

Our destination was the Elena Gallegos Open Space on the east side of town which was chosen specifically by my host for its excellent scenic attributes and high-quality hiking.

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Western Bluebirds

Of course I was also acutely aware that the rocky hills peppered with juniper and cholla would bring all kinds of new birds to me, too. To prove my point, a flock of Western Bluebirds greeted us almost immediately upon exiting the car. Lifer.

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Townsend’s Solitaire

Pretend that this in-focus photo of the front of a juniper shrub is what I actually want to show you. The blurred Townsend’s Solitaire in the background is just a bonus. This was unfortunately the best shot of the flighty little things I could manage even though they were numerous in the juniper. Lifer again.

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Challenge: accepted.

We followed the established trail for quite a while until my guide saw a rocky ridge protruding out from the hills and decided that we had to climb it. It intimidated the hell out of me, but with my guide’s expertise in bouldering I decided to go with it.

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Human for scale

Here is a photo of Will to show the scale of the boulders on which we were scrambling. The climb took a solid hour and ended up being almost 500 vertical feet above the trail. It would have been a relatively easy climb except for the prickly pear and cholla growing in between most of the rocks. I managed to complete the climb while only getting shanked once.

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Our view from the top

The ridge we climbed wasn’t even a minor prominence among the canyons, but the view from the top was spectacular.

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Our view looking the other direction

Looking out over the valley and the city, it felt like I had just summited a major peak. But turning 180 degrees showed just how high the crest was beyond us, nearly 4,000 feet higher still. “Sandia” is the Spanish word for watermelon, and it was apparent why these mountains were named as we were up close and personal with their pink granite.

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Common Raven

The only birds around as we climbed were dozens of Dark-eyed Juncos fleeing before us. After we reached the top of our climb, I tried to meditate but was easily distracted by a soaring Common Raven flying overhead. Lifer once more.

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Woodhouse’s Scrub-Jay

The climb down was a little easier but we still had to be strategic in our descent. I was rewarded at the bottom with exceptional views of curious Woodhouse’s Scrub-Jays. Lifer, again, for the record.

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Western Red-tailed Hawk

The last life bird for the trip was a Ladder-backed Woodpecker that we flushed out of the brush while bushwhacking. I did not get a picture of it, so here is a dark-morph “Western” Red-tailed Hawk, a color of the species I had never previously seen. In all, I saw 54 species on the trip, 16 of which were lifers. My total life list now checks in at a tantalizing 299 species. My next one will be a neat milestone, and while the trip was fantastic it will be kind of cool to most likely get it close to home.

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One last look

Albuquerque was a phenomenally great place to visit, and if I ever get the chance to go back I definitely will. The combination of the atmosphere of the city, the scenery, the outdoor adventure opportunities, the food, and yes also the birds made it one of the most remarkable places I have ever been, and it was made all the better by getting to visit such a cool person in the process.

Something I learned after my visit is that New Mexico has the fourth highest state species list in the country, ahead of such places as Arizona and Alaska, and trailing only California, Florida, and Texas. So what I’m saying is that if you want to plan a trip, go to the land of enchantment. See lots of cool birds, but do lots of other cool things there, too!

Albuquerque, Part 2: Lifer Train on the Rio Grande

After Will went to go rehearse the tango for his part in Maria de Buenos Aires, I took a ride over to the west side of the city to visit the Rio Grande Nature Center State Park.

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Spotted Towhee

There were feeders everywhere and birds all around. One of the first species I saw was a dapper male Spotted Towhee, a lifer.

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Dark-eyed “Oregon” Junco

Among the flocks gorging on seeds were dozens of Dark-eyed Juncos, a species of which I have seen thousands in my life. But I had never before seen the Oregon race. Lifer color morph!

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“Audubon’s” Yellow-rumped Warbler

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“Red-shafted” Northern Flicker

Along with the Juncos were western color variations of my familiar Yellow-rumped Warblers and Northern Flickers. I made sure to document each of these in the off chance they get split into their own species some day. Similarly, I paid some attention to the big, pale western White-breasted Nuthatches that have recently been proposed for a split. Having now seen and heard them, I can understand that thought process.

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Porcupine

I saw all of these things within yards of the visitor’s center. And then there was this porcupine. It was actually one of two I saw at the park that afternoon to represent a lifer mammal!

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Banded Cooper’s Hawk

At the base of the same tree that the porcupine was snoozing in, I watched this banded Cooper’s Hawk enjoy its meal. I reported the band, 31C, but with the federal government shutdown I am not holding my breath on a response any time soon.

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Black Phoebe

As I wandered west toward the mighty Rio Grande, remarking in the process how she dances on the sand, I viewed my next lifer: this Black Phoebe. Seeing flycatchers in January is a novel experience for me!

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Lesser Goldfinch

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Bushtit

Two small, photo-shy birds were working the brush above the Phoebe, and they were also lifers: Lesser Goldfinch and Bushtit!

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Rio Grande Bosque

The trail opened up into the cottonwood forests all along the Rio Grande. It was pretty incredible to me how one city can contain so many totally different biomes. Compared to the high mountains I was in during the morning and the desert of the city, the river bosque was a unique world unto itself as well.

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Bewick’s Wren

Among the trees in the bosque, birds were less numerous. But there were still lifers to be had, like this spunky Bewick’s Wren. Interestingly, this species used to be common in the east within the last century including in Indiana, but now it is totally absent except in just a few random pockets of Ohio Valley hill country. Maybe one day I will stumble across one in the Midwest.

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A view with a view

I hiked along the river for a while and then looped back to explore the wetlands on the other side of the park. I stopped to enjoy the view of the distant Sandia Crest where I had been just a few hours earlier.

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Ross’s Goose

My eye was then drawn to the white blob in the middle of the other geese on the pond, where I saw that I was looking at only my second ever Ross’s Goose, and coincidentally right behind it my second ever Canvasback.

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Cackling Goose

Then I realized that the little guys that Ross was swimming around with were not just Canada Geese, but instead actually mostly Cackling Geese to keep the lifer train going. I stood and watched them for a while and then struck up a conversation with an older gentleman birder. We remarked how interesting it was for me to be so enthused by his common Cackling Geese, while at the same time he was so geeked about the apparently uncommon White-throated Sparrow under the feeders. I saw the sparrow too, but I didn’t pay it much attention because of how numerous they are for me at home.

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Greater Roadrunner

He asked me if I had seen any Roadrunners, and I told him unfortunately not. He remarked how they like to run around the parking lot at the nature center, and that I should watch for them there. We had our backs facing said parking lot, so I turned around to see where might be a good spot to look, and one was standing right there. Not to beat a dead horse, but — lifer #12 for the day!

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Roadrunner Sunbather

My first instinct was to be amazed at how huge Roadrunners are. I have occasionally felt that photos of certain species do not properly portray their size, either large or small, so that I have been impressed when I first lay my own eyes on them. But this Roadrunner was HUGE. Even though the field guides tell you measurements, for whatever reason I always envisioned them maybe a little larger than a Blue Jay. But now I know that they could actually give a Cooper’s Hawk the business.

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Portrait of a Killer

My next thought was that, wow, I must be lucky and I shouldn’t move too quickly or risk scaring this incredible bird away. But no. The thing didn’t care at all that I was standing right there, and then it just fluffed out its feathers and started sunbathing. I variously watched, photographed, and Instagrammed the beast all while it acted like I was not there and basically ran across my foot at one point. Finally, it had a friend appear to see what was going on, and they both decided that there were more interesting things to see/eat in the bushes out of sight.

It was incredibly cool to end the day with such an amazing animal that also happens to be the state bird of New Mexico (note: New Mexico might have the best state bird). Having spent nearly the entire day hiking and birding within a range of nearly 7,000 feet of elevation difference, I was pretty exhausted. I met Will back at his house, crashed for a nap, then we wrapped up the evening at a combination pinball arcade/techno club downtown, which itself was also a lifer experience.

Albuquerque – Part 1

Sixteen years ago, fate decided that I would live in a dorm room on the 22nd floor of Lincoln Tower during my freshman year at Ohio State. The interesting thing about this was that the other person who fate decided would live there was a person named Will.

Will has a PhD in Quantum Physics, which I always thought was something that made-up scientists in movies had. He is a prolific rock climber, is an impressionist painter, was a member of the OSU rugby team, and dabbles in three styles of traditional dance. Not coincidentally, some of the coolest things I have ever done in my life featured Will close by, not the least of which included getting married. So when he told me that he was moving to New Mexico and that I should come visit, the decision to take his advice was pretty easy.

I left on Friday morning for a marathon day of travel that included driving to Indianapolis for a flight to Dallas to connect me to Albuquerque. I spent three nights in town, the first of which I was introduced to the best tacos I have ever eaten (braised ox tail), some excellent local beer (Tractor Brewing), and fantastic ice cream (with chile in all of it).

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Sunrise over the Sandias

The following morning we got up early and drove up to the crest of the Sandia Mountains which tower over the city so that we could catch sunrise.

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It had snowed in the mountains the night before, so when the sun was fully up the scene was pretty magical.

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Mountain Chickadee

Birding was only an incidental part of my trip, but I absolutely was prepared to see all kinds of new species, for I had never previously before been to the Southwest. Once the sun was fully up, I began to notice the activity of alpine birds that I had been reading about. The first of the trip was a Mountain Chickadee, a lifer which perched nicely in front of the orange stucco of the Sandia House lodge.

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But the scenery was so brilliant that I didn’t observe long. We hiked along the crest as the sun came up, and the shadow over the city below gradually receded.

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Albuquerque viewed from 10,600 feet

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The snowy mountains, accurately described as “dramatic af”

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Black Rosy-Finch and Gray-crowned Rosy-Finch

By the time day was in full swing and more people began joining us on the trails (which I discovered were covered with waist-deep snow in places), we had to head back down so that Will could make a tango rehearsal for his role in an opera performance. I was energized despite the altitude making me feel like I had a hangover, and I became even more pumped when a small flock of the birds I had been hoping most to see landed in one of the spruces next to Sandia House. Of the three species of the Sandias’ most famous and celebrated birds the Rosy-Finches, I was able to pick out two of them: Black and Gray-crowned Rosy-Finches, respectively. In the three hours we spent on the mountain, I saw three species of bird, but all three were lifers. The combination of the sunrise, the scenery, and maybe some mild altitude sickness had me feeling all light headed but happy. It was a great morning.

An Introduction to My 5MR

As I alluded to in my last post, my 2019 plans include the 5MR Challenge. The idea, made popular/famous by Jen at I Used To Hate Birds, is to find as many species as possible within a five-mile radius of your home. Birding locally fits in perfectly with my green birding, so I am combining the two this year. I fully expect that not all of my 5MR birds will be green, and not all of my green birds will be in my 5MR, but there will most likely be an enormous overlap. So since that is how I will be spending my birding time this year, I thought I would acquaint you with my circle:

5mr

My 5-Mile Radius

I live on the near northeast side of Fort Wayne since moving at the beginning of 2017. Had I drawn this circle around my old house, I would have been able to include all of the biggest Allen County birding hotspots, but now Eagle Marsh and Fox Island are far outside of my territory. No problem, that just means I get to explore more.

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My local stomping grounds

First, here is the area immediately next to home where I will see birds every day. I live in the neighborhood surrounding Lions Park, which is a pretty small kids’ park but which hosted cool things last year like a Red-headed Woodpecker and nesting Cooper’s Hawks. Further west is Johnny Appleseed Park, home to the final resting place of its namesake, but also a decent selection of waterfowl in the winter thanks to the dam. Across the big expressway to the north is Purdue-Fort Wayne, which I have adopted as my local patch. A big chunk of my year birds will come from here, and it is also one of my best shots for shorebirds and some of the less common waders in the marshy parts of the river.

franke park

Franke Park

Next up is the biggest hotspot inside of my circle: Franke Park. This is a premiere birding destination in Allen County thanks to its quantity and quality of habitat for all manner of spring and fall migrants. The zoo is also there, just to the south of the lake. It also offers surprisingly good birding, with things like warblers easily viewable from its elevated boardwalks and a Black-crowned Night-Heron has been known to hang out inside. Then there is the lake itself. It has a ton of trashy feral barnyard ducks and geese, but it is also good for cormorants, gulls, and sometimes shorebirds. Its big draw, however, is its potential for rarities, and it has had some fantastic ones in the past, including this:

Black-Bellied Whistling Duck

Black-Bellied Whistling Duck

And these:

American White Pelican

American White Pelicans

So yeah. I’ll probably be visiting Franke Park a lot.

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Water Treatment Ponds + River Greenway

The next really good spots are the Water Treatment Ponds and the River Greenway that runs right by them. This is my go-to spot for all the waterfowl, and I have seen just about all of the possible Indiana ducks here over the years (disregard Black-bellied Whistling Duck above), including uncommon ones for the county like Canvasback and Snow Goose.

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Kreager Park + Deetz Nature Preserve

Following the River Greenway east leads to Kreager Park, which is not particularly birdy, but it is huge and has a lot of grass next to some ag fields, so the possibility for country birds exists. Across the river to the south is Deetz Nature Preserve, a very under-birded place with lots of small shrubby trees that I have shamefully only visited once, but it was crawling with warblers when I visited and is where I got my lifer Black-throated Blue Warbler. Just outside of the image above on the very eastern edge of my circle is more agricultural land, and an outside shot at getting open country birds like Horned Lark and Eastern Meadowlark.

lindenwood - downtown

The Downtown Area

Next up is downtown and the area immediately adjacent. Downtown itself is good for Peregrine Falcon and Cliff Swallow (and randomly last year my only Northern Parula for the entirety of 2018), but it has some nearby greenspace like Swinney Park that can turn up good migrants. To the west are conifer-heavy Lindenwood Cemetery famous for winter finches, and the separate Lindenwood Nature Preserve, a place which I have embarrassingly never visited. Thank you 5MR for finally encouraging me to bird here.

foster park

Foster Park

My circle barely catches the northern tip of Foster Park, but that is okay because it will be good for Yellow-throated Warblers. My old house is also just barely inside of my circle, for what it’s worth.

mengerson

My local YMCA and the Mengerson Preserve

Now we are getting into the really random parts of the 5MR. A new YMCA opened up close to home recently, and in going to and from it this past year I heard American Woodcocks and Dickcissels in the undeveloped lot next to it. I am biding my time until it gets dug up and turned into an office park, but the fact that it is adjacent to an Acres Land Trust property, the Mengerson Preserve, might help. I have never birded Mengerson, but it looks like a good woodlot and I intend to do so this year.

smith field

Smith Field

The northern part of my circle also includes a local private airport called Smith Field where I have never seen anything interesting, but it offers fields in the midst of other development so you never know what kind of big raptor might turn up. Specifically I am holding out hope for a large owl, maybe one the color of snow?

Shoaff Park & Northern Neighborhoods.JPG

Shoaff Park and points north

Finally, we end at the far northern part of my circle. It includes Shoaff Park, which again is someplace I have never birded, but it seems a lot like Foster. There is also a lot of river meandering here and some potential to discover good bird spots among the mostly privately-owned land. And in and among the neighborhood trees lies my only real chance at Black-capped Chickadee, which is being pushed farther and farther north by the Carolina Chickadees that are the default species in town. Apparently 50 years ago Black-capped was the default and Carolinas were rare in Fort Wayne, but now that is flipped.

In summary, I am very excited about this challenge. I don’t want to put a number goal on my list, because I honestly don’t know what is possible. This circle has great potential for warblers and other migrant passerines as well as waterfowl, but finding shorebirds and grassland species will prove tricky. If you haven’t thought of participating in a 5MR this year, it’s never too late! And it you are, best of luck birding locally in 2019!