Return to the Mudflat

Rain has been sparse over July and August, but June gave us so much that things are still pretty soggy. That means little stopover habitat for migrating shorebirds, with mudflats few and far between. There has been one narrow but reliable stretch of sediment at Eagle Marsh, however, so it has been featured prominently as of late. And here it is again.

Caspian Tern

Caspian Tern

This is the same spit of dirt that gave me a pair of American Avocets a few weeks ago (although now it is sporting some algal growth). There was little activity on the jetty last weekend, but of the small variety there, half were new for the year. Included in that number were two Caspian Terns, a county bird and motorless #118.

Greater Yellowlegs

Greater Yellowlegs

Among the Ring-Billed Gulls and Mallards was a distant shorebird. A year or two ago, I would have cursed this bird for not giving me a good enough view. But I have grown in my ability to ID shorebirds considerably, so the name Greater Yellowlegs came to me pretty easily for #119. The bill length and slight upturn is a giveaway.

American Bullfrog

American Bullfrog

With few birds around, I turned my attention to other things, like this American Bullfrog (while daydreaming about a bittern bill spearing it from the water).

Common Buckeye

Common Buckeye

And this Common Buckeye was perched right near my bike as I left for home. It’s presence and attitude about those nettles seems like a pretty good omen for those other Buckeyes’ defense of title. (12 days away, but who’s counting?)

A Pretty Good Weekend

On Saturday I headed back to Eagle Marsh to check on the mudflats and see if anything new flew in.

Green Heron

Green Heron

My first good sign was a rather cooperative Green Heron.

Semipalmated Plover

Semipalmated Plover

The mud was pretty calm because it was the heat of the day, but the very first bird I saw was #114 for the motorless list: Semipalmated Plover. As I watched it dodge Killdeer, I realized that I had somehow never seen one in Indiana, so state bird too, embarrassingly enough.

Great Egret

Great Egret

The only other thing of note was this super relaxed Great Egret. At first I thought it might be injured, but after a while it stood up on both legs and flew away with no problem. Does anyone know what it might have been doing? I have never seen one adopt this position before.

After Eagle Marsh, I decided to bike again today despite the heat to try and mop up another bird that has been evading me on the motorless list: Pileated Woodpecker. I headed to Fox Island with this bird in mind.

Blue Grosbeak

Blue Grosbeak

My route took me past the quarry where Blue Grosbeak has become my nemesis over the last two years, but today I decided to stop and look around for one. I found two birds rather easily. Nemesis slayed! Even though this juvenile bird is in some boring plumage, check out the size of that bill. You can’t be disappointed with that. Lifer, and motorless #115. Further down the road closer to Fox Island I encountered two more, including a blue adult male that I couldn’t get a picture of but bringing my total to four individuals, which was pretty exciting.

Inside of the park, I was riding high from BLGR and totally pumped to see my woodpecker (which is the same one that deviled me during my Taken For Granted Challenge with The Laurence last year). As I was riding around, my eyes caught a largish bird that at first I mistook for a Gray Catbird.

Yellow-Billed Cuckoo

Yellow-Billed Cuckoo

Nope, Yellow-Billed Cuckoo! Lifer #2 for the day (actually within half an hour) and motorless #116. I was thrilled to see this bird, because my only other experience with one has been as a carcass on the sidewalk by my office.

On the ride out, I did finally manage Pileated Woodpecker flying over the road in the same place where I saw two of the grosbeaks. My list is now at 117, and getting two unexpected lifers made today one of the best outings I have had in a while. I was happy enough to be singing a little bit in my head on the way home, and appropriately enough, my favorite Scottish pop group has some songs that are totally appropriate for these birds.

 

This Isn’t As Hard As I Thought It Would Be

Two years ago when Walter was born, Jaime and I felt morally obligated to sit around and look at him for 21.5 hours a day (with the other 2.5 being reserved for sleep, of course). Alice was born on August 2nd, and with other stuff to worry about, we are kind of laughing about how much we stressed over this whole having kids thing. In fact, I have been birding (and lepping) with regular frequency lately. I am of course aided by synchronized napping from the kids and the fact that I took a bunch of time off work. But my prediction of not being able to continue birding very much has been mostly wrong.

Lesser Yellowlegs

Lesser Yellowlegs

I biked to Eagle Marsh today with the primary objective of getting some badly needed shorebirds on my motorless list. With receding waters and mild weather I was rewarded greatly. This Lesser Yellowlegs was only the first new bird of the day.

American Avocet

American Avocet

Well hello there, small flock of Ring-Billed Gulls. Why are some of you smaller with a rusty wash on your skinny necks? And what’s the deal with those funky bills? Oh, it’s because you are actually American Avocets? That’s cool. State bird! I only lifered AMAV earlier this year during my trip to Lake Erie, and I did not expect to find them in Fort Wayne, let alone motorless. I won’t pretend that I didn’t know these birds were here and set out with them in mind, but prior to seeing the report the previous evening, I was still intending to go to Eagle Marsh for some shorebirding, so I like to think I would have found them on my own anyway. Even still, these will compete fiercely with Black-Bellied Whistling Duck for Best Bird of the Year. They are an unquestionably solid bird anywhere in Indiana, especially away from the big ticket hot spots in the southern part of the state or on Lake Michigan.

Least Sandpiper

Least Sandpiper

The good shorebirds kept coming, with some shockingly un-skittish Least Sandpipers that gave me great looks and somehow were also new county birds for me. The decurved bills are pronounced on these birds, which is a field mark I don’t think gets mentioned enough.

Spotted Sandpiper

Spotted Sandpiper

Also joining the shorebird party was this juvenile Spotted Sandpiper. In all, I left the day with four new birds for the list, putting me at 113 for the year without motor. But I saw more cool stuff recently, too.

Eastern Tiger Swallowtail

Eastern Tiger Swallowtail

I have been kind of obsessed with butterflies lately. Since I started photographing them earlier this summer I have learned a ton. And am getting better able to ID them, like knowing that the supposed Pipevine Swallowtail I talked about in the last post is actually a black morph of the Eastern Tiger Swallowtail, whose normal colors were represented by this stunning female that visited my yard a few days ago.

Red-Spotted Purple

Red-Spotted Purple

I went to Foster Park for two consecutive days just to look for butterflies, and I began to revisit species I have previously seen. But I spent more time trying to get photos that do them justice. Here is a Red-Spotted Purple, the species that got me hooked.

Monarch

Monarch

I just posted a Monarch recently, but unlike before this photo isn’t blurry.

Silver-Spotted Skipper

Silver-Spotted Skipper

I am only just now starting to learn about Skippers, which I understand to be like the butterfly version of Empidonax flycatchers only way, way worse.

Hackberry Emperor

Hackberry Emperor

If I ever have a successful career making hip-hop music, my stage name will be Hackberry Emperor.

Summer Azure

Summer Azure

This is a Summer Azure, aka Tiny, Tiny Coked-Up Spazmotron. Good lord was this thing hard to photograph.

Clouded Sulphur

Clouded Sulphur

Again with the tricky IDs… I am confident this is a Clouded Sulphur, despite their many dopplegangers.

Cabbage White

Cabbage White

From what I understand, Cabbage Whites are the House Sparrows of the butterfly world.

Tawny-Edged Skipper

Tawny-Edged Skipper

Here is another Skipper, this one Tawny-Edged and photographed with my phone.

Eight-Spotted Forester

Eight-Spotted Forester

Sharing the same flower was an Eight-Spotted Forester (only three spots pictured), which I guess is actually a moth. There are a lot of moths. I am not sure I want to go down that rabbit hole yet.

Home Stretch

This past weekend I put another 30 or so miles on Gary Fisher in a last desperate push to up my motorless list before my birding escapades will be curtailed by the arrival of a second progeny.

After making the necessary trek to the zoo to tick the still present, still obliging, still stunning Black-Bellied Whistling Duck (which now claims its rightful spot on the ivory tower reserved for Best Bird of the Year (both in general and on the motorless list)), I pointed westward to Eagle Marsh.

Solitary Sandpiper

Solitary Sandpiper

One of the first birds I saw was Solitary Sandpiper, which was also the only other new bird for the list, putting me at 108. For those keeping track at home, that is 1 less bird than what was on my entire life list when I started this blog three years ago.

Eastern Kingbird

Eastern Kingbird

An Eastern Kingbird followed me around suspiciously.

Monarch

Monarch

And I got my first officially identified look at a Monarch since I have been paying attention to these things.

Great Egret

Great Egret

White egrets were out in force, but they were all Great. No Snowy or Cattle this time.

Red-Tailed Hawk

Red-Tailed Hawk

On Sunday, I headed further out into the unincorporated county searching for shorebirds. The first things I found were a pair of Red-Tailed Hawks, one of which stuck around nicely. This was at the intersection of the same two country roads that yielded a different large raptor last Christmas.

Bank Swallows

Bank Swallows

The puddles in the muddy fields didn’t turn up anything besides a million Killdeer, a Spotted Sandpiper, and a muddy American Robin that I spent an embarrassingly long time trying to turn into an American Golden Plover. So I spent some time admiring the ludicrous flocks of swallows.

Pipevine Swallowtail

Pipevine Swallowtail

On the ride home, I detoured to check out another flooded field. Besides two Mallards, the only flighted life of note was this huge and awesome Pipevine Swallowtail.

Pipevine Swallowtail Underwing

Pipevine Swallowtail Underwing

Look at how cool this bug is.

Easter Island

Easter Island

To leave you, I present this Polynesian warrior keeping evil spirits out of the Waynedale rock quarry.

GregAndBirds Presents: Black-Bellied Whistling Duck

The Black-Bellied Whistling Duck is a tropical bird with a foothold in the United States along the gulf coast. It has also been expanding its range northward in recent years, with strong patterns of vagrancy into the Midwestern and Northeastern states. However, it still triggers the rare bird alerts along the Great Lakes, and you can be sure that one in Fort Wayne is a big deal.

Black-Bellied Whistling Duck

Black-Bellied Whistling Duck

Regular readers of this blog (or even single-time readers of this blog) know that I live and die by the diagnostic shot: photographs with just enough detail to tell what bird is fuzzily, blurrily, obscuredly in the picture. Today’s feature is about as close as I get to crushing birds here, so indulge me.

Black-Bellied Low Rider

Black-Bellied Low Rider

BBWD represents life bird #250 for me, and for a milestone I could not have asked for a better bird. Not only is it a rare vagrant to my corner of the world, but it is a gorgeous duck that has hung around for five days at this point and acts totally tame.

Black-Bellied Hallux

Black-Bellied Hallux

Questions of provenance can also be put to rest, as this bird has both halluces present and accounted for and no band to be seen.

Black-Bellied Lift Off

Black-Bellied Lift Off

I managed to hang out with this bird for quite a while after work, significantly calming my nerves after thoughts that I may have missed it. I planned to chase it on my lunch break, but a car had somehow wrecked itself on the only exit ramp to my parking garage, effectively blocking everybody in and making me hyperventilate in anxiety over the thoughts that the bird would fly and I would miss it by a matter of hours. No worries though. This bird was super cool.

Black-Bellied Mallard Head

Black-Bellied Mallard Head

It even had a sense of humor, posing in comparison with some of the less desirable birds that it shared a pond with.

Trash Birds

Trash Birds

In fact, the company this bird kept made it all the more sexy by comparison. It was associating with some of the worst trash birds out there: dumped 4H geese, manky hybrid Mallards, and crippled Canada Geese, all of which are expected in the highly-trafficked, highly-peopled, highly hot-dog-bunned Shoaff Lake next to the Fort Wayne Children’s Zoo.

Stumpy

Stumpy

By comparison, this was like Shaquille O’Neal playing for the Washington Generals.

Black-Bellied Whistling Duck

Black-Bellied Whistling Duck

I will say this is a bird I have fantasized about. Although in my fantasies when it shows up in Indiana I am the one finding it. You can’t win them all, but I this wasn’t a bad consolation prize.

Just an update. No more, no less.

Last weekend I allocated many hours to undertake a 25ish mile bike trek to Arrowhead and back in the hopes of putting some serious weight on my motorless list.

I had grand dreams of excellent Indiana grassland birds: Henslow’s Sparrow, Bobolink, and Northern Bobwhite. And if those failed, I would at least be guaranteed to rack up American Kestrel and Eastern Meadowlark.

Indiana

Indiana

Let it be known that none of these were had, with the sole exception of Eastern Meadowlark. This might be the only instance in recorded history where one rode a bicycle 25 miles through the Midwest countryside and did not see an American Kestrel. But surprise birds were two flyover Great Egrets, finally. I ended the day with a list of 106.

Woody Lair

Woody Lair

The scenery was, however, fantastic. I even discovered an unknown-to-me nature preserve with tall, dense conifers that really stood out weirdly in the rest of the farm country. I stopped to stick my head in this strange place, enticed by the fluting of Wood Thrushes from within, but they were not to be on that day.

Pearl Crescent

Pearl Crescent

I found some (tiny!) butterflies, though!

So it goes.

So it goes.

So that I don’t finish this post without any pictures of birds at all, here is a John James Audubon/Kurt Vonnegut (hey, he’s from Indiana, yo!) mashup that I drew while screwing around and listening to Joy Division during Walter’s naptime today to release a bit of angsty existentialism.

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!