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!

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?