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.

purdue - johnny appleseed - kirkwood

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.

water treatment & river greenway

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.

kreager & deetz

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!

Advertisements

2018 Year in Review

Hello readers, and welcome to the mandatory year-end review post! I only blogged a dozen times or so last year, so I feel as though this is mostly unnecessary, but it is always fun just the same.

My 2018 goal, as it has been for the last several years, was to maximize my green birding. In the fourth complete year that I have been tracking green birding, I came up with 138 species. Far from my best effort but also not my worst. Among those were five entirely new species for my green life list, bringing the total to 192. I also had one lifer while going green this year: a nemesis Veery seen at Franke Park in May.

RNGR

Red-necked Grebe, March 2018

If I had to choose a bird of the year it would be the Red-necked Grebe that I found at the water treatment ponds on March 19th. I got off work early that day and decided to ride my bike down to check out the waterfowl, resulting in this bird and my only legitimately “rare” find of the year. Red-necked Grebes are quite uncommon in Indiana away from Lake Michigan. This one hung around for over a week, and many other birders from as far away as Indianapolis were able to successfully see it.

Northern Shrike

Northern Shrike, March 2018

March was unquestionably my best birding month. A couple of weeks before the grebe, I biked to Eagle Marsh for the afternoon and came up with a Northern Shrike. While not considered “rare” to flag the eBird filter or make the Indiana Rare Bird Alert, shrikes are scarce even if they are regular in the state. I happened to be hiking a relatively under-birded trail, and this bird hopped up into view for only about 20 seconds before disappearing. It was not refound by anyone else, and it ended up being the only one eBirded in Allen County all year, so I am glad I had my camera with me.

Ouabache

Ouabache State Park, May 2018

In May I attempted a Big Green Weekend with plans to ride my bike 120 miles over the course of three days to bird in five different Northeast Indiana counties. The weather forecast in the week leading up to my trip kept getting more and more ominous, but I decided to follow through anyway. I made it to Ouabache State Park in Adams County, where I had a productive morning with 50 species including my lifer Alder Flycatcher. Then the rain started. I tried to race it to my Air BnB the next town over, but by the time I got there two hours later I was thoroughly soaked, with the forecast calling for unrelenting rain and thunderstorms for the next two days. With my best laid plans dashed, I called Jaime to come pick me up from Berne, about 50 miles from home. While disappointing, the trip was my single longest distance bike birding outing to date even if my car ride home meant it didn’t count for my green list.

RTHU

Ruby-throated Hummingbird on nest – May 2018

2018 was the first year where I really got plugged in to the local birding community. I joined Fort Wayne’s Stockbridge Audubon Society and helped lead several field trips, including the one where we all saw the above hummingbird guarding her nest. I was a counter in the Fort Wayne Christmas Bird Count, and I was a section leader for the first time on the Southwest Allen County Christmas Bird Count. I also met a few other local birders through Facebook and had a great time birding with new friends.

G - Final

Bird Bubbler – April 2018

I made some birding improvements to my home in 2018. In April I made a bird bubbler to try and attract some more migrants to my yard. A full recap with instructions can be found here. I have only seen three species actually use it so far, but it was a fun project, and I got some cool new yard birds this year nonetheless to bring that list up to 65 species.

CHSW Tower

Chimney Swift Tower – October 2018

Work also had a few bird-related moments. I worked on a housing development outside of Indianapolis that I made sure included a Chimney Swift tower, with plans and information for our carpenters generously provided by Indianapolis’s Amos Butler Audubon Society. At the grand opening in October, I got to tell more than a few people what exactly this structure was for, what Chimney Swifts are, and why they are good to have around. (In case you are wondering it  looks better now. It still needed to be painted when I took this photo.)

Kid Birders

Birder Kids

Both of my kids are now also fully into birds! This more than anything might be the best birding thing of 2018. My 5-year-old son and 3-year-old daughter both have life lists that they have started on their own initiative, and even though Alice’s also includes “squirrel” several times, I am letting them run with them however they want to, because they like nature and that is awesome. They are both getting old enough that I can now take them out to look for birds without any other sort of catch or incentive (like tricking them into birding while visiting a park, which may have happened a few times before).

In 2019 I am looking forward to several birding goals. First, I am going to Albuquerque, New Mexico in two weeks. I have only been out west twice and never as a birder, so I am really looking forward to getting a bunch of ridiculously common birds as lifers, including such things as White-winged Dove and Common Raven. And you can bet I will also be trying for really cool specialties like Rosy-finches, too! My life list is a meager 283 species right now, but I fully hope to be at 300 or above by the end of January.

After I get home, the rest of my birding year will be preoccupied by the 5-Mile Radius Challenge! This pairs extremely well with my green birding, which I also intend to keep up with this year. The emphasis of this challenge is to record as many species as possible within five miles from home, meaning that I will have to explore all the nooks and crannies of Fort Wayne for hidden pockets of nature. I will elaborate on my plans for this more in my next post. Until then, happy New Year!

End of the Year Odds and Ends

Hello again for the month, although hopefully the next time I check in will be sooner than the last, because I am going to attend a Christmas Bird Count in a couple of weeks. Here are some recent things!

PISI

Pine Siskin

On December 1 it rained all day long and was generally cold and miserable. This was perfect weather to drive a lot of birds to the feeder, where I had a welcome newcomer in the form of a Pine Siskin. This was only my third time seeing this species in Allen County, and it was a great addition to the yard list. It also was a new green bird, meaning that 2018 will thankfully not be my lowest count year. I now sit exactly one species above 2015 when I first started doing this.

WOCH

Woodchonk

On the same day as the siskin, my most recent yard mammal also showed up. A big chonking Woodchuck intermittently hides in the pile of pallets that my neighbors are keeping in their back yard. For whatever reason, the kids were way more entertained by this guy than by the Pine Siskin.

FOSQ1

Not for you.

Some smaller rodents have recently been getting more daring. Nothing has touched my owl box that I have had up for over a year, but recently the Fox Squirrels have taken a liking to it.

FOSQ2

Break a tooth.

This fellow has taken to enlarging the entrance hole. I don’t know if he is actively trying to make it less suitable for owls or just gnawing for his teeth’s sake.

Kid Birders.JPG

Kid Birders

The weather has been extremely cold, but we haven’t had any snow at all. That means we all go stir crazy on the weekends because it’s too much effort and not enough reward to get out of the house. So last weekend I decided to take the kids birding at my local patch: the Purdue west campus. The kids lasted 45 minutes in 20 degrees, which was honestly pretty great! I didn’t get photos of anything, and we saw single-digit species, but we did get to see a flock of about 100 Sandhill Cranes flying overhead as we were leaving. Campus is less than a mile from home, and the cranes were flying directly toward out neighborhood. Unfortunately I did not race them home fast enough to get them as yard birds. But they were new for my eBird hotspot (of which I am so far the only person to submit anything). Hopefully next year I can break 100 species to turn the pin green. I did that with my old patch, Foster Park, and got lots more people to bird there. But so far nobody else has bitten on good ol’ PFW.

Falling Back

I have fallen behind in blogging, but not birding. Here is a relatively moderate summary of my bird-related activities since September.

DSCN8094

Swamp Adventure at the Binder Park Zoo in Battle Creek, MI

Over Labor Day weekend the family got out of town for a change of scenery. We spent the day in Battle Creek, Michigan at the Binder Park Zoo. For a zoo in a city of its size, Binder Park punches above its weight. One of the highlights is the Swamp Adventure.

DSCN8095

Swamp Adventure Boardwalk

A narrow boardwalk makes a loop over half a mile long through natural wetland. There are no animals on exhibit, and the idea is literally just to walk around and see what kind of animals inhabit the marshes of the Midwest. However, as we walked deeper into the swamp, we encountered numerous disgusted looking families heading toward us out of the wetlands. Every single one of them said, “You’d better turn around, there’s nothing down that way,” or “Don’t waste your time.” People are idiots. We listened to singing Yellow-throated Vireos, saw a flock of Cedar Waxwings, marveled at the size and quantity of swan feces, and watched a huge soft-shelled turtle basking in the shallows. Nothing to see here. Move along.

DSCN8101

Barred Owl behind bars

There is also a really neat kids play area, which for some reason had a cage with an injured Barred Owl directly in the middle of it.

DSCN8106

The Circle of Life

In the African savannah area, the zoo also had a dead zebra on display.

DSCN8107

Feeding Station

I was not the only one who was fooled. It is actually a feeding station for the exhibit’s vultures, which unfortunately were not using it. Very cool.

BBWA

Bay-breasted Warbler

Skipping ahead a few weeks, I helped lead a hike at Franke Park for the Stockbridge Audubon Society. The goal was fall warblers. One that gave some of the best views was a Bay-breasted that had found a large caterpillar.

BTGW

Black-throated Green Warbler

Otherwise, the only other species of note was a Black-throated Green. A follow-up trip to the park yielded similarly disappointing results. It seems as though a few days of strong south winds in the middle of September sent most of the migrants straight over Allen County this year.

WTDE

Urban Deer

In October I hit the Purdue campus to see if I could make some additions to the year’s green list. The only photographable species I got were two very unconcerned White-tailed Deer right next to me on the trail. But I succeeded in getting a small kettle of Broad-winged Hawks, which was a new green bird as well as a new bird for that patch, as was a Red-breasted Nuthatch.

RBNU

Red-breasted Nuthatch

On the subject of Red-breasted Nuthatches, this individual has been hanging out in my yard for over a month. The kids and I have spent a good deal of time watching him, and one day we decided to name him. Walter’s suggestion of “Casey” was defeated in an Instagram poll by an 80-point margin to Alice’s suggestion of “Poopy Ben.”

If this summer was the summer of the Dickcissel, this fall has been the fall of the Red-breasted Nuthatch. They are everywhere right now, and I have been seeing and hearing them consistently on every single birding outing since September.

CAGO

Canadian Invasion

My birding time was limited for much of October, meaning short outings here and there and no long bike rides. I finally changed that this past weekend with a ride down to Eagle Marsh. While too late for shorebird migration (which left lots of big holes in my green list. Pectoral Sandpiper? Ugh), there were some birds around. I scanned a big flock of Canada Geese for any outliers.

SACR

Sandhill Crane

There were no interesting waterfowl, but a very lost Sandhill Crane was failing to hide amongst the flock. I have seen hundreds of cranes this year, but this was the first green one. I am pretty sure it is also the first one that I have seen standing on the ground in Allen County.

WCSP

White-crowned Sparrow

The hits kept coming once I got to Eagle Marsh. My next green pick-ups were sparrows. First, a group of Swamp Sparrows materialized in the brush to become not only green birds but county birds as well. They were followed by a young White-crowned Sparrow, also my first green one of the year. I saw some on my bike ride to Ouabache in May, but they never made the list since I had to get motorized assistance on that trip.

MUSW.JPG

Mute Swans

I had brief hope that some fly-by swans would turn out to be something cool, but alas they were all Mutes.

RWBL & WUBL

Blackbirds

On my ride home, I had one last good sighting for the day. A small flock of blackbirds was up in a tree, and I stopped to scan to see what it consisted of. Mostly Red-winged Blackbirds, Common Grackles, and a few starlings, but mixed in were two Rusty Blackbirds! I imagine these birds are more common than they seem, but that they do a good job of hiding in the other huge blackbird flocks. These birds were in almost exactly the same place as the ones I saw last year, almost in exactly the same tree.

With just under two months to go, I have 137 species on my green list, which is exactly as many as I had in my first year of birding this way in 2015. I may have peaked last year. Even though I still plan on green birding as often as I can, I am looking forward to other adventures in 2019. Chief among them will be a trip to New Mexico in January. My experience with the west consists of a single trip to Boulder and one to San Francisco, and both were before I became a birder, so stay tuned!

Eagle Marsh

Birding has played second fiddle to life this summer, but I got out to Eagle Marsh on Sunday. I had a few species on my mind that I wanted to see, but when I got there it was obvious that the sheer number of individuals would be the highlight. Post-breeding dispersal is on in the Midwest.

RTHA

Red-tailed Hawk

The first bird to catch my attention was a young, begging Red-tailed Hawk that sounded remarkably like a Ring-billed Gull.

PUMA 1

Swallow Flock

PUMA 2

Swallow Swarm

PUMA 3

Purple Martins

As I hiked down the Towpath Trail, I became increasingly aware that there were thousands of birds around. Most of them were swallows, and of those, 99% were Purple Martins. Two huge flocks were congregating on electrical transmission towers at either end of the preserve, with uncountable birds buzzing and swooping around in between. I estimated at least 500 martins to trip the eBird filter, an accomplishment always good for a birder badge of pride. I have seen most of the other swallow species flock like this in late summer, but never PUMAs. A good half looked like first summer birds.

NRWS.JPG

Northern Rough-winged Swallow

A few other species mixed in with the flock, mainly Barn Swallows. But I was able to pick out a small group of Northern Rough-winged Swallows clustered to themselves off to one side of the power lines.

New Impoundment.JPG

New Impoundment

I hiked up the trail to the newly created levee that forms the “continental divide” between the Mississippi and Great Lakes watersheds. When this was completed a year or two ago it made a new impoundment between Eagle Marsh and the neighboring Fox Island preserve to the south (the trees in the photo above are in Fox Island).

COGA.JPG

Common Gallinules

I spent some time scanning the new impoundment to see what might be around. The water was much too high for shorebirds, but a somewhat unexpected sighting was a family of Common Gallinules, with mom and five chicks. I have only seen one other bird in Allen County before, so it is cool to know they are breeding here!

Viceroy

Viceroy

Eagle Marsh is a pretty good stopover for Monarch butterflies, and the Little River Wetlands Project holds an annual Monarch Festival there each year. So it was a little surprising to see so many Viceroy butterflies out and about. In addition to their smaller size, the stripe through the hindwing is the best way to tell Viceroys from their bigger sisters.

GBHE

Great Blue Heron

Try as I might to tread softly, I kept startling Great Blue Herons from either side of the levee. If I were to guess what the devil sounds like, Great Blue Heron calls would be a good bet.

Heron Feather.JPG

Heron Feather

One of them angrily dropped a feather as it fled before me. Here is my size-13 cankle for size comparison.

DCCO

Double-crested Cormorant

Before I left, I stopped to observe a fishing Double-crested Cormorant. Plenty of these birds were around, but a group of his buddies on a partially submerged log did not yield any increasingly common in Indiana Neotropic Cormorants.

It was such a nice day that I took a long detour home to look for Blue Grosbeaks. I didn’t find any, but I did get my waaaaaay overdue first of the year American Kestrel. It plus the martins and gallinules meant three new green species, bringing my total to 131 for this year.

It’s Been Hot Out

Indiana has been baking in a heat wave for what seems like the better part of a month. Although I have neglected this blog during that time, I have taken a few sweaty bike rides.

DICK 2

Dickcissel

The common theme has been Dickcissels. Dickcissels everywhere. Dickcissels at the airport. Dickcissels perched in random trees by the side of the road like the one above. Dickcissels at Eagle Marsh. This has been the summer of the Dickcissel. I have seen more Dickcissels in June of 2018 than I have in the rest of my life combined.

DICK

The State Bird

If you really, really want to see a Dickcissel, though, just go to any farm field with utility wires strung alongside it.

GRSP

Grasshopper Sparrow

On one particularly Dickcissely stretch of road south of town, I found some of their friends. Chief among them were numerous Grasshopper Sparrows, which are always a good sparrow to have around. They were also hanging out with Savannah Sparrows, which were the first ones I saw since my trip to Ouabache State Park, meaning I officially got them back on the green list for the year (which is up to 128, thanks for asking).

SPSA

Spotted Sandpiper

Another bird on the same stretch of wires with all of the sparrows and Dickcissels was this guy. I know Spotted Sandpiper is the goofy uncle of the sandpiper family, but this behavior was just taking it too far.

REVI

Red-eyed Vireo

With as hot as it’s been, I have mostly been able to tolerate short bursts of birding from the yard. This Red-eyed Vireo was new for the yard before the weather became unbearable. In the 16 months we have been in our current home, the yard list is now up to 62 species.

AMRO Fountain.JPG

Baby Robin

The yard birding has also benefitted from the bird bubbler, which one day hosted a long-staying juvenile American Robin. It found the water source and then just sat in it. For like half an hour.

Parents.JPG

Parents just don’t get it

But like all the things that youth think are cool, once its mom found the fountain, the baby was all of a sudden less interested.

Pond Siblings.JPG

Pond Siblings

Fortunately for me, my kids are still young enough that they like the same stuff I do. Earlier in June while Jaime was in Toronto, I had several days alone with the kids. The best one among them was the day that we went to Fox Island, which is usually a birding destination for me by myself.

Pond Walter

Nuthatch

Pond Alice

Chirper

They loved it. Or at least wading in the quasi-nasty pond. Walter also felt inspired to add a few birds to his own personal life list. The outdoors are pretty great!

Audubonning

In April I joined the board of directors for the local chapter of the Audubon Society. Last Saturday was my first official event: a hike at Foster Park. I was specifically asked to lead it because of my time birding there over the last several years, which was a pretty neat compliment. Foster was chosen because 100 years ago when the park was still being planned, the chapter namesake Charles Stockbridge went to the city of Fort Wayne to advocate that the new park include natural space for wildlife and not just be a big manicured lawn. To gather strength for his argument, he went out in May to count the bird species that could be found along the Saint Mary’s River where the park was to be built. He came up with a list of 44. A century later, my group set out to see if we could meet Mr. Stockbridge’s mark to commemorate his success in influencing one of the city’s keystone parks.

YBCU

Yellow-billed Cuckoo

I chose not to ride my bike only because I woke up kind of late, and it was supposed to storm right around the time the hike ended. Of course that meant that right off the bat we had some pretty great birds, but I won’t complain! A pair of Yellow-billed Cuckoos gave spectacular looks in a single lonely tree next to the baseball fields. It was pretty much consensus that nobody in the group of 12 or so had ever seen more than one cuckoo in the same field of view at the same time. Cool!

RTHU

Ruby-throated Hummingbird

A little while later, my proud trip leader moment occurred. We were hiking along the river, and I was acting as the official tally keeper for the morning. Mostly I was birding by ear and stopping to get people on new species when they first showed up. We had numerous Ruby-throated Hummingbirds, and I was only tallying them when I heard them squeak close by. I stopped to watch one of them, though, and was rewarded when it landed on a nest right in front of me. Most of the rest of the group were watching an Indigo Bunting pair, so I directed their attention to this tiny hummingbird abode to much collective joy.

BAOW.JPG

Barred Owl

The hits kept coming as we stumbled into a Barred Owl not five feet off the ground right by the trail. This plus everything else made a great day for the couple of new birders in the group, and we even began waving the attention of other people walking by to get them on the bird, which they did and observed for a long time. Everyone loves owls!

HOWR

House Wren

This House Wren in a nest cavity right next to the owl was way more perturbed by us than the raptor sitting next to it.

WODU.JPG

Wood Ducks

And for the grand finale, Wood Duck babies. 14 in total. We ended the day with 48 species, breaking the century-old mark set by Mr. Stockbridge.

Besides Stockbridge Audubon, earlier this year I was asked to write an article on green birding for the Indianapolis chapter, Amos Butler Audubon Society. The result is on page 7 of their March/April newsletter. Their editor is also a green birder and is amassing quite the green list from the middle of the state.

I have always birded on my own for the most part, so it is strange but a nice change of pace to all of a sudden be immersed in a bigger birding community.