Spring in North Carolina

I get to bird North Carolina whenever I visit my family there; usually once a year or so. But I have only ever done so in winter or summer. Over spring break we loaded up and went to Raleigh for a week, which provided a nice new set of birds that I’m not used to seeing.

Brown Pelicans

The best birds were those that I got to see on a day trip to Wrightsville Beach in New Hanover County.

More Brown Pelicans

I have seen Brown Pelicans before, but not since I have been an actual birder. Watching the flocks soar in formation over the Atlantic was a big highlight of the trip.

Osprey
Bonaparte’s Gulls
Wrightsville Beach

Some familiar Midwest birds, an Osprey and Bonaparte’s Gulls, were in some vastly different habitat than I am used to seeing them in.

Sandwich Tern

There was also a totally new bird for me – Sandwich Tern! This trip now marks my third consecutive beach visit with a lifer. We’re going to the Lake Michigan shore in June, so I am optimistic to make it four for four.

Barnacles

Oh, and there were other life forms, too.

Eastern Phoebe with nesting material

Back at my parent’s place in the central part of the state, the birds were getting ready for spring too. A pair of Eastern Phoebes were busy building a nest under the deck.

Carolina Chickadee with nesting material

The ubiquitous Carolina Chickadees were also nesting. This one found some animal fur caught on a branch at the hiking trails surrounding the art museum.

Fish Crow

The dominant crow down there is Fish Crow. I heard their distinct “ah-ah” calls constantly.

Brown-headed Nuthatch

And once you learn the squeaky dog toy call of the Brown-headed Nuthatch, you can never not hear it.

Eastern Towhee

In general, the avifauna of the inland Carolinas is similar to that of the Midwest. But the abundance of certain species is very skewed. Up here, Eastern Towhees are relatively hard to come by, but they are a dime a dozen down there.

Northern Mockingbird

Ditto that for Northern Mockingbird.

Hermit Thrush

In early April anywhere, though, it’s easy to get excited about the start of migrant season. Hermit Thrushes start to appear in numbers.

Yellow-rumped Warbler

I caught four of the early warbler species, but just like home, Yellow-rumped were the most abundant.

Purple Martin

Purple Martins also gathered in flocks, which entertained Jaime and Alice as they walked with me one day.

White-eyed Vireo

A surprise White-eyed Vireo gave me a new state bird for NC as we watched the kids at the neighborhood playground.

Great Blue Heron

The real neighborhood celebrities, though, were the Great Blue Herons flying around.

Double-crested Cormorant

And finally, it was a great change of pace to get daily Double-crested Cormorants as yard birds.

2021: Year of the Snow Bunting

2021 is turning out to have a theme, but before I get to that, here’s what’s happened so far this year.

Hermit Thrush

I participated in two Christmas Bird Counts, Fort Wayne and Southwest Allen County. I was able to turn up Hermit Thrushes on both, which is notable this far north in the state. The one above was a cooperative individual among sparrows at Foster Park.

Purple Finch

The highlight of CBC season, though, was a pair of female Purple Finches at Payton County Park in December (I’m still waiting for these at home, despite this winter’s irruption).

“The Abandoned Golf Course”

In the beginning of January, before we got two feet of snow, I bike birded locally within my 5MR. I decided to check out a new-to-me place for birds: a spot I call “The Abandoned Golf Course” because it is an abandoned golf course. It sits right off the river greenway and was purchased by the city for flood control, so it’s technically public property. It has been letting go for a few years now, meaning that it has quite a bit of successional habitat consisting of new growth mixed in with a bunch of large mature trees left over from the golf course days. Every time I go, my brain screams “owls!” No luck on that front yet, but there have been plenty of hawks, plus a nice surprise in American Tree Sparrow which is great for my 5MR. Stay tuned for more updates from this spot this year.

The dam at Johnny Appleseed Park

Since February began, we were slammed with some brutally cold weather and tons and tons of snow. That resulted in all of my birding becoming super local. Thankfully, Johnny Appleseed Park is about half a mile from home and includes a large dam that keeps some of the water liquid even in below-freezing temperatures. It is a magnet for ducks.

Lesser Scaup

Jaime and I went a few times for some frigid hikes. She wants you to know that she took this photo of a Lesser Scaup (her lifer, among several others including many of the ducks below).

Redhead
Sleeping Ruddy Ducks
American Black Duck
Belted Kingfisher
Canada Goose with fish

On one occasion, Jaime found a Canada Goose fighting off Mallards and other geese for control of a rather large fish. The geese were slamming the fish around on the ice, probably to tenderize it. This is a behavior I have never seen, but it probably speaks to the scarcity of food during the major snow event.

Snow Bunting

The best birds of the year so far, though, have been Snow Buntings. One day while working at home, I got a text from a friend who told me that he found a flock of five of them in his parking lot at work. Ten minutes later I was also looking at them since they were only about a mile and a half away. County and 5MR bird!

More Snow Buntings

Last weekend we went to Johnny Appleseed Park as a family to take advantage of the sledding hill. As I pulled into a parking spot, the first thing I noticed on the ground not more than 20 feet away were more Snow Buntings! (The photo above is from the first time I saw them, but the scene was more or less the same the second time around). The birds were in a busy parking lot flanked by yelling sledding kids, and in the middle of the city next door to our hockey arena and even closer to home than the first batch. Not the typical location I would expect to randomly stumble across them. Prior to February 2021, I had seen a grand total of 1 Snow Bunting in my life. But this month I have seen 9 in my own 5MR, including the lone bird I re-found yesterday while visiting Johnny Appleseed Park again on my bike to also get the species on my green list! I didn’t add any new birds to my green life list last year, so this one becomes #199! Hopefully I can get #200 this year as well. We’ll see!…

Hi, I Still Have A Blog

Six months, huh? Okay, here are some things I have done since July.

Hathaway Preserve, Wabash County

In August we took a family hike at the Hathaway Preserve in Wabash County. The primary feature here is the creek cutting through the bedrock, offering impressive scenery and topography uncommon for northeastern Indiana. We caught a lot of frogs, discovered many crayfish, and got away from town for a while. Not particularly birdy, but if you are in the area it’s worth a stop just for the contrast to the surrounding cornfields.

Black-throated Blue Warbler

The yard list is now up to 90 species (and I get a cake at 100)! Several new birds showed up one day in September when a big mixed flock flew through the yard. A highlight was this female Black-throated Blue Warbler!

Blur-headed Vireo

A Blue-headed Vireo was also a pretty great surprise, although this was the only photo I could manage.

House Wren

A very late House Wren was also part of the party.

House Sparrow

One day in October, a House Sparrow with a bizarrely over-long bill showed up at the feeder.

House Sparrow

It only stayed for a few minutes and did not seem to have any trouble eating. I haven’t seen it again. Avian Keratin Disorder?

Pine Siskins

Like in much of the rest of the continent, Pine Siskins descended upon our yard in a big way. Beginning in late October (and continuing as of today), we have had a persistent flock of these ravenous granivores. My high count was 15 at once. The feeder above was built specifically for this winter’s irruption in my hopes that a bigger finch like an Evening Grosbeak would find the big platform, but these guys are welcome too.

American Robin

The platform is so accommodating that even birds not typically seen on feeders have given it a try.

Red-breasted Nuthatch

Small guys have liked it, too.

White-breasted Nuthatch

Nuthatches in general do weird things.

Eastern Bluebirds

But not as weird as our small flock of Eastern Bluebirds, which take turns alternately beating each other up over access to the feeder before doing something like the photo above.

Eastern Bluebirds

Speaking of bluebirds, we saw many at a fall hike at Metea Park.

Siskin in a Pine

New Year’s resolutions: bird more, blog more. I’m still doing my green list, but I have found it to be a bit much of a chore to track that alongside a separate 5MR list. I still love birding locally, and most of my green birding happens inside of my 5MR. But in 2021 I am going to assign myself just the one task.

More (and more recent) things soon!

Mid-Summer Update Part 2: Things I Saw Recently

Having not gone anywhere or done anything as a family for four months, last weekend we took a socially-distanced and masked long weekend to South Haven, Michigan on the eastern shore of Lake Michigan. We arrived at the beach early enough to avoid people, and we left before it got crowded. We did the same with the restaurants and took a few meals back to our AirBnB.

We spent the early part of each day at the beach, and I brought my camera in case cool birds showed up. They did.

RBGU 1

Ring-billed Gull

The dominant Midwestern gull is the Ring-billed. With nice weather and photogenic surf, I practiced my bird portraits on these guys. Here is a snappy adult.

HEGU

Herring Gull

The ratio of Herring-to-Ring-billed Gulls was approximately 1:200. The first morning there was only one other non-Ring-billed, and it was a young-ish HERG.

CATE 1

Caspian Tern

Caspian Terns were constantly flying around overhead. But only a couple of times did one actually land on the beach.

BOGU 2

Bonaparte’s Gulls

At one point, a tight flock of tiny gulls swooped by and landed in the lake. Bonaparte’s Gulls! eBird didn’t like it. There were 13 in total in various stages of head molt.

BOGU 1

Bonies

They came in to shore, where a few other people took notice and pointed them out. I resisted the urge to go up and talk about the different kinds of seagulls.

WILL + BOGU

Willet + BOGU

While I was watching, a Willet flew in and landed with the flock!

WILL 3

Willet

This Willet was somehow the first one ever recorded at the eBird hotspot. They aren’t super common on the Great Lakes, but they are numerous enough that it’s surprising nobody had previously recorded one from this relatively huge and easily accessible beach. This was my first Great Lakes Willet, and my first time seeing the “western” subspecies, with all of my previous sightings coming from Atlantic beaches. If (when?) they get split, this will be my lifer!

MAGO 1

Marbled Godwit

I watched the Willet fly up and down the beach for a while, with it occasionally going out of sight and then coming back. After a while, I thought I saw it fly by again low over the shore, but realized it did not have the fancy underwing pattern of a Willet and looked very orange underneath. I took off with my camera to find that it was a Marbled Godwit! Lifer!

MAGO 3

Marbled Godwit in the waves

I wasn’t quite sure how common these birds were at this location, so I re-activated my Facebook account because I felt the need to let people know about it. It set off a small flurry of activity on the Michigan Listers group, and within a couple of hours there were other people on the beach who were definitely birders. But by then the Godwit was gone and it appears I was the only one who saw it (I mean besides a bunch of oblivious beachgoers). According to eBird, this is either the 3rd or 4th county record. Cool!

WILL 2

Fly-by Willets

The next day, the bird activity was much lessened. But two fly-by Willets were a highlight. I ticked a bunch of other Michigan state birds over the weekend, too, like Rose-breasted Grosbeak, Baltimore Oriole, and other common things I had just never picked up in my intermittent travels there. The trip was great, and it marked my second consecutive Michigan beach trip resulting in a lifer (or possibly two if that Willet gets split).

Mid-Summer Update Part 1: Things I Saw A While Ago

Oof… this blog has gotten away from me. I have had my Facebook account deactivated since March (with one exception, which I will get to at a later date), and that seems to be where I plugged into the birding community the most. I do not miss Facebook at all, but I have noticed less of an emphasis on posting my sightings, photos, etc, which in turn has made me think about this blog less. I have been thinking about creating a Facebook account to only follow bird stuff and nothing else. Good idea? I have seen some things over the last two months, though! Here they are:

BAOR 1

Jelly Flip

After I returned to my office, Jaime kept me entertained with daily updates on our yard bird situation.

BAOR 2

Jelly Beak

We had a small flock of Baltimore Orioles that were regulars at our jelly feeder. The most I ever saw at one time were three adult males.

RBGR

Rose-breasted Grosbeaks

Rose-breasted Grosbeaks showed up in similar numbers but did not stick around as long. All of these photos are Jaime’s, by the way!

PRWA

Prothonotary Warbler

I birded a few times locally this spring. The magic scrap of wetland at Franke Park turned up a couple of Prothonotary Warblers one morning. They were a new bird for that park for me and new for my 5MR, which was exciting stuff.

LEBI

Least Bittern

The excitement lasted until my friend said, “Is that a Least Bittern?” Then the warblers were quickly old news. This bird was chilling out in the open not more than 30 feet from us, letting me get a photo of it unaided with my cell phone (this is not that photo). For perspective, this “wetland” is a scrap of cattails about 30 feet by 20 feet that is directly behind a BMX track and totally surrounded by mowed grass on all other sides. I have no idea why a Least Bittern chose this spot, but it was a visual lifer for me (I had only ever heard them previously) and the bird of the year to that date.

BTGW

Black-throated Green Warbler

Here is a close-up of a Black-throated Green Warbler that we saw that same day. It preened in a bush, not moving for several minutes. The most unwarblerlike warbler I have ever encountered.

BHVI

Blue-headed Vireo

To round out the photos, here is a Blue-headed Vireo, a bird I don’t see very often, but which appeared immediately after one of us said something along the lines of “I can’t believe we haven’t had a vireo yet.” Funny how that almost always works. I ought to try it more often.

The rest of my good spring sightings have occurred incidentally, including a Yellow-billed Cuckoo at my inlaws’ house and Common Nighthawks over my backyard while mowing the grass. Even if there’s been a lack of posting and a lack of photos, it was a good spring! More to come soon. And maybe I’ll even update my Green and 5MR list pages.

One Third of the Year 2020

2020 has been weird. To cope, I have been birding.

1 Salomon

Salomon Farm Park

In February (I think), I went to an event at Salomon Farm Park on the north side of Fort Wayne. I had never been there before, but it offered some good birds.

2 EABL

Eastern Bluebird

3 HAWO

Hairy Woodpecker

4 MODO

Mourning Dove

5 LESC

Lesser Scaup

6 HOLA

Horned Lark

In March, I had to travel to Warrick County in the southern part of Indiana for work (before everything blew up). I stopped by Blue Grass Fish & Wildlife Area one of the days I was there.

7 KILL

The Lord of all Killdeer

8 EAME

I think this is my first ever photo of an Eastern Meadowlark

9 NOMO

Northern Mockingbird

10 SWSP

Swamp Sparrow

In April, I started going to Franke Park a lot, hoping to pick up migrants.

11 HETH

Hermit Thrush

13 WTSP 2

White-throated Sparrow

12 YTWA

Yellow-throated Warbler – my favorite warbler

Working from home, I was able to pick up my second ever county Pine Warbler from my living room window one morning.

PIWA

Pine Warbler

I took a family hike at Bicentennial Woods yesterday.

15 SWTH

My son is the one who first spotted this Swainson’s Thrush

And finally to get caught up with the present, today I had an incredible 50-species, 20-FOY day at Franke Park.

16 LOWA

Louisiana Waterthrush

17 OSPR

Super random but incredibly exciting flyover Osprey

That’s all! I am still green listing and 5MRing. I am not on Facebook, though. I had to get off for my own mental health between news of viruses in the white house and elsewhere. So, I have had less motivation to share bird photos, which is why they have built up for four months.

 

Not A Year In Review Post

2019 ended up being a great birding year! On my 5MR I had 143 species, and on my green list I had 139. Not spectacular numbers, but they included several lifers, state birds, and other cool species. I thought about doing a year in review post to show some of the highlights, but since I have hardly blogged in the last six months, just scroll down to see them in reverse chronological order. I had outstanding out-of-state birding in New Mexico, Michigan, and North Carolina and surpassed a milestone early in the year with life bird #300, a Greater Scaup (I’m currently at 303).

HETH

Hermit Thrush

To illustrate how random and scattershot my birding has been this fall, here is a Hermit Thrush. It was really the only good photo on my camera since the last time I blogged. And I have no idea where or when I took this photo. But I am sure I enjoyed it, whatever it was!

In 2020 I am again doing a 5MR just to see what I can turn up. I now have Friday afternoons off from work, which gives me the perfect opportunity to make the short ride to either the water treatment ponds or Johnny Appleseed Park to see what I can get in that circle.

I’m also still green birding, and maybe this year I can set a personal best and beat my high mark of 158. I am picking up species like crazy already, mostly because it has been so warm. I had both Yellow-rumped Warbler and Eastern Phoebe on my (very late) CBC on January 4th. I usually don’t see either of those birds until March at least.

So, I’m birding but not blogging very much. Facebook is a big reason why. I’ll probably still maintain this blog as a personal record or to brag about really cool stuff I find. But getting behind in writing doesn’t bother me as much as it used to.

I suppose I can’t REALLY end this post without a Bird Of The Year. Even though I saw some new and incredible things like Black and Gray-crowned Rosy-finches, Piping Plover, a self-found Mourning Warbler, and a first county record Harris’s Sparrow in 2019, my “best” bird was undoubtedly the Eastern Screech-Owl found by Jaime in our yard in the box that I built.

EASO

BOTY

The Decision Not to Chase

I was a competitive swimmer for 17 years of my life. Most of my childhood, my entire adolescence, and a not insignificant part of my adulthood were dedicated to this one sport where I had a moderate amount of success. I was recruited to swim varsity at a couple of small colleges, but in the end I went to Ohio State where I wasn’t good enough for varsity but ended up captaining the club team. In the 100 yard butterfly I was Big Ten club champion, held the national club record for about two minutes until it was broken again by a guy in the next heat, and I finished 3rd at nationals in that event in my junior year. It was fun. Then all of a sudden it wasn’t.

In my senior year my interest in swimming began to wane. I think it was a realization that my dedication had caused me to miss out on some things that I would have been interested in doing. I took a Tae Kwon Do class, I went to more concerts and parties, and I started skipping swimming practice a lot. It was fun! But then I graduated, got a job, and all of a sudden the random electives and house parties evaporated just as quickly as I had finally discovered them. So I started swimming again out of a lack of anything else to do, and an inability to shake nearly two decades of the feeling of obligation.

I joined local Masters swimming clubs, which are for adults who want to stay competitive. I did a couple of meets, realized I was nowhere near my old peak, and doubled down on the swimming and training as a result. I added 5ks, 10ks, and triathlons to my repertoire of competition (this blog actually started as my personal event training blog before I went all in on birds and changed its name). The sense of camaraderie was still there a little bit, but nowhere near what it was for me in school. Plus, my body began to start feeling like an adult. I swam because I felt like I had to.

In the fall of 2010, I took the world’s most patient girlfriend (who is now my wife) to Chicago where I was registered to compete in the Big Shoulders event, which is a 3 mile swim in Lake Michigan along the Chicago lakefront. It was pouring rain, and poor Jaime ended up about as wet as I did when all was said and done. The air and water temperatures were both about 60 degrees each. There were 3-foot waves breaking in my face for the hour and a half I was in the water, so I could taste diesel fuel on the surface the entire time. The murky water was so dark that when my arm extended all the way below me I could not see my hand. The one thought I remember having during that race was “this is like something out of a nightmare.” And it really was. It was terrible. After that, I was done with swimming and I never looked back.

Now, almost a decade later, it is kind of surreal to look back on this past life and realize that the thing that defined me for half of my existence is no longer a part of my life at all. I don’t actively shun swimming, and I can’t say I had a classic burn-out, but it was too much for too long and now it’s not something I even really ever think about.

If you have made it this far on my birding blog, you may wonder what this novella has to do with anything. Well, ever since I went over the cliff from “birdwatcher” to “birder” some time in 2012, I approached birding with the same intensity as I did swimming. Everything was a competition. In 2013 as an incredibly na├»ve new birder I decided I would do a Big Year, which was a hilarious joke. Then pretty much ever since then I have dedicated my efforts to some sort of task, like keeping this blog for more than seven (OMG) years or doing an annual Green List, a 5MR, a county list, or something similar.

This is not an announcement that I am quitting blogging, birding, or listing, but it is an explanation for my four-month hiatus, and a description of my realization that in the time when life has gotten in the way of birding more than I want, it has actually been good for me.

0 MAWA

Magnolia Warbler

A critique I have of my local Audubon chapter is that all of their events traditionally focus on maximizing species and time in the field. There are no events for people with a casual interest in birds, and since most of the people in my life fit this description, I decided to do something about it. I have led two family- and beginner-friendly hikes, and they have been great. There is a lot of talking and only a handful of species seen, but they have been fun. We have even seen things like this bathing Magnolia Warbler, too.

1 Kid Photo

Birding with Kids

I have also birded with my kids more this summer than I ever have. It’s always a great time, even if we don’t see much.

2 Frog

Froggo

They are old enough to follow their own interests now, too. For a minute we had a very strong dragonfly phase, which quickly turned into a frog phase when I took the kids to Eagle Marsh and they found many more of the latter than the former.

4 WTSP

White-throated Sparrow

I have birded solo too. Last weekend for my birthday, I took a couple of hours on Saturday morning to go birding. At first I thought I wanted to go on a bicycle chase for an American Avocet and Black-bellied Whistling Duck at Eagle Marsh, but then I decided that the two-hour round trip didn’t really appeal to me, and I wanted to be home by lunch time anyway. So instead I went to my local patch and found a lot of really common birds. It was great.

3 HAWO.JPG

Hairy Woodpecker

I got a new patch bird anyway, this Hairy Woodpecker. Neat!

5 PESA.JPG

Pectoral Sandpiper

Later in the evening, Jaime took me to a Burmese restaurant on the south side of town for dinner. I mentioned earlier the birds at Eagle Marsh, so she suggested we stop there on the way to dinner.

7 AMAV

American Avocet

We ended up getting the Avocet! And Jaime also saw her first Pectoral Sandpipers, Greater Yellowlegs, and Green-winged Teals. None of these went on my 2019 green list, but hiking with my wife for an hour in awesome weather was better than that. We did not even try to find the Whistling Duck, for what it’s worth.

8 COHA

Jaime’s Hawk

Getting lifers and nice round numbers on the list is fun, don’t get me wrong. But birding when and where I feel like it, involving my family and friends, choosing not to chase if it won’t be enjoyable, and generally being way more relaxed about the whole thing has just been much better than what I’ve done before. And I know it’s paying off, because I find photos on my camera every now and again like this one that Jaime took.

The North Coast

Two weeks ago we vacationed in Manistee, Michigan, located at approximately the base of the pinky fingernail of the mitten and right on the shore.

Manistee Lighthouse

Manistee is one of many small beach towns on the eastern shore of Lake Michigan. But it is a little less tourist-gentrified (a little cheaper) and a lot further north (colder) than most of them. That made it an ideal place for us to spend the week, where all we needed was the beach and a couple restaurants.

Angry Waters

The peak tourist season is early August to probably Labor Day, when the water has had a chance to warm up a bit. For us in late June, it was still closer to spring than the height of summer, and the first day we were there the water showed it. Our Airbnb was about a mile from one of the two public beaches, and the surf was rocking like the ocean, with sand churning up to the point where the water was brown and you couldn’t see your skin just below the surface.

Common Grackle

Activity on the beach was obviously limited in these conditions, so I contented myself with the good light and common animals.

Eastern Gray Squirrel – Black Color Variant

Common Grackles abounded, and the local population of similarly black Eastern Gray Squirrels paid no attention to us.

Lake Bluff Bird Sanctuary

The next morning was sunny but the temperature was only in the 50s. So we went to the Lake Bluff Bird Sanctuary operated by Michigan Audubon about two miles north of the city.

Scarlet Tanager

I enjoyed racking up a list of about 20 species while we hiked, including what eBird tells me is somehow only the second June county record of Northern Parula. Jaime and I observed this Scarlet Tanager preening while the kids pretended to be explorers bushwhacking through the (for them) head-high grass. Thankfully, I was the only one who ended up with a tick.

Giant Sequoia, aka California Redwood

The bird sanctuary also doubles as an arboretum and hosts some impressively large specimens of cottonwood, gingko, and a few Giant Sequoias. This one is the Michigan state champion at 95 feet, and it was transported from California in a coffee can as a seedling to this site in 1949.

What a difference a day makes

We returned to the beach later that afternoon to warmer air and MUCH calmer water. The difference from the previous day was remarkable, with the water almost glasslike and nearly indiscernible from the sky at the horizon.

Midwest Water

Without the boiling surf, the clearness of the water became staggeringly apparent. As someone used to murky Midwestern rivers and lakes, it was shocking actually. And it was also completely free of debris to resemble something more suited to the Gulf of Mexico than the Rust Belt Great Lakes.

Gull Tracks

There was almost nobody else on the beach, which was amazing. And once you got used to the brisk water, swimming was not too bad either.

Ring-billed Gull

My favorite 80s new wave band

As the day warmed up even more and the beach became more active, I began to lose focus on the birds and instead made sand castles that the kids repeatedly wanted to build and destroy.

Piping Plover!

That’s why I was shocked to see that some movement to our left just a few yards down the beach was a Piping Plover! There was nothing there when we arrived in the morning, so this one must have flown in unnoticed by me. Lifer! I was very much hoping to see one of these birds on my trip, but had gotten a little discouraged because the pair that had nested in Manistee for the last several years did not do so in 2019, and there had been no eBird reports of any birds at all since May.

(L) Orange Flag, Light Green, Silver, (R) Silver, Yellow

I watched the plover for a few minutes before some people walked by and flushed it, when it flew away to the north and disappeared. With only 200 or so individuals in the entire Great Lakes population, pretty much all of these birds are protected, monitored, and banded at birth. Thankfully my photos showed all of the bands, and I submitted the sighting to the Great Lakes Piping Plover Recovery Effort, who gave me a biography.

This particular bird is a female that hatched in 2009 at Sleeping Bear Dunes, about 30 miles to the north of Manistee and the stronghold for the species on Lake Michigan. She mated for the first time in 2010 on the lake’s North Manitou Island, which is part of Sleeping Bear. In subsequent years she did nest at Manistee, but in 2019 she decided to nest elsewhere in the city of Ludington, just to the south. She lost her mate during incubation and her nest failed as a result. Since then, she has been seen in various places in the area but has not paired up again because this year there are many more females than males in the area. Godspeed, little plover.

Ludington

Later in the week we also made it to Ludington, most recent nesting place of our plover. It is a slightly larger, slightly more redeveloped town with quite a bit to do (including Jaime’s and my favorite beer of the trip: Ludington Bay Brewery Tangelo).

American Mink

While walking on the park by the city marina, we came across a close-range American Mink hanging out underneath of a group of fisherman. Smart guy. Besides the rocks there was no cover of any kind, so seeing this dude here was a bit surprising.

Yard Deer

Later that night (while playing some Wingspan), we noticed a White-tailed Deer strolling down the sidewalk. The next night it was in our front yard.

Baby Deer

The next morning we found two baby deer in the back yard. No wonder mom was hanging around.

Bar Lake

On one of the last days of the trip, I went to Bar Lake just north of the city to try for some reported Black Terns. The angle of the public access point made seeing anything impossible without a kayak, but the scenery was pretty just after sunrise.

Ribbon Clouds

So we went to the beach again, where the scenery was still in full force with these outstanding clouds.

Fog

Apparently, the wispy ribbons of cloud meant hella fog was about to roll in. No problem. You can build sandcastles pretty well even in zero visibility.

Herring Gull

When the fog lifted it revealed some new gulls on the beach in the form of a small group of Herring Gulls mixed in with all the Ring-billeds. With my tern miss it was nice to add one last trip bird.

Farewell Dunes

Manistee was great, both for vacationing and for birding. There is plenty to do that we didn’t get to on either front, including a great little art deco theater in its downtown, kayaking everywhere, and Sleeping Bear Dunes, all things I would go again for to get the chance to experience. Bird-wise, you can never see too many plovers, and if I go again I will seek out plover chicks! The aforementioned Black Terns are also a possibility, as are Ruffed Grouse, and Kirtland’s Warblers are only two hours away. All in all this was a fantastic trip on all fronts and I would recommend a vacation here to anyone, birder or not.

Green 5MR Big Day 2019

I have done big green days in the past, but since green birding pairs so nicely with 5MRing, I decided this year that I would combine the two. I planned way less than I did in the past, woke up later, traveled less total distance, hit fewer spots, and had a great day because of it.

On a perfectly sunny Wednesday when all of my co-workers went down to watch Indy 500 time trials (not my bag), I set out at 7:00am to meet Lorenzo at Franke Park, much like we did last time with such a great outcome.

NOMO

Northern Mockingbird

Right as I arrived, Lorenzo texted me to let me know that he was looking at a Northern Mockingbird. This bird achieves trash bird status in much of the east, but north of the Wabash River it is vanishingly uncommon. This was only the second one I have seen in Allen County (the first was two years ago, also on a big green day, but not in my 5MR), so it was a great way to start things off.

OROR

Orchard Oriole

This male Orchard Oriole was foraging nearby the mockingbird. This was again a bird I see very infrequently, making it just the second time I have seen one on my green list.

BTGW

Black-throated Green Warbler

There is a gravel road that cuts through Franke Park, and it is usually one of the most popular places to bird because it creates a nice edge habitat. But that day the road itself was actually a pretty big hit with the birds. It had rained most of the preceding week so there were lots of puddles. This Black-throated Green Warbler used one pretty efficiently, flying down to drink not more than 20 feet in front of us.

WOTH

Wood Thrush

Perhaps more interestingly, a Wood Thrush was also hanging out on the road. Usually a dense forest skulker, seeing one totally exposed like this was novel.

WIWA

Wilson’s Warbler

In contrast, a Wilson’s Warbler worked the low shrubs in a way that was appropriate for its species.

BLWA

Blackburnian Warbler

Meanwhile, a small flock of several Blackburnian Warblers stuck to the treetops. I should mention that every bird listed so far was crammed into a stretch of woods no longer than about 25 yards. The birdies were densely packed, and it was great.

RBNU

Red-breasted Nuthatch

Eventually things settled down as the sun warmed things up, so we headed into the forest to try and keep things going. A Red-breasted Nuthatch was still partying despite the lateness of the season. Not late enough to make eBird mad, but I did have another one three days later that tripped the filter.

GWWA

Golden-winged Warbler

So you have seen the photo above I assume, but I should stress that by far the most common bird was American Redstart. I had close to two dozen of them to the point where we assumed most of the small warbler-shaped birds we were seeing were Redstarts. I admit that I was getting lazy and really only stopping to look if something was in great light or singing a new song. So when Lorenzo peered at a tiny silent speck across the creek way high up in dense leaves and said “Oh hey, that’s a Golden-winged Warbler,” it was the highlight of the day to that point. It was a county bird for both of us, and while not rare, they are definitely not numerous, especially considering the population declines they are suffering and their fondness for mating with Blue-winged Warblers instead of their own kind. On top of it all I somehow also managed a diagnostic photo too.

Lindenwood

Lindenwood Nature Preserve

I finally left Franke after three hours and a total of 64 species. My next stop was to the Lindenwood Nature Preserve, near the edge of my circle west of town. Somehow I had never birded this place before, but it immediately proved fruitful. I gained Veery, Ovenbird, and Ruby-throated Hummingbird as new birds for the day, and I listened to two dozen or more Tennessee Warblers all singing from the treetops around me. The chorus was unreal.

This preserve is completely forested save for a small lake in the middle, and everything was a total mud pit, but that seemed to be great for the birds. As I was finishing one of the loop trails and about to head to my next destination, the best bird of the stop called from somewhere far off in the trees: Pileated Woodpecker! That was a bird that was totally unexpected for my 5MR, and one I hadn’t even gotten onto my green list in the past two years. Hearing it was definitely one of the best highlights of the morning.

Around 11:30 I rode east into downtown, following the river but adding no new birds. My plan was to eat lunch at a plaza and wait for Peregrine Falcon and Rock Pigeon to fly by. I didn’t get either, but Chimney Swift was a bird that had thus far eluded me. When I started riding to my next destination, I suddenly had a huge problem with shifting and realized that I was totally unable to coast. Thankfully, one of Fort Wayne’s better bike shops has two locations downtown, and after visiting the first one to learn that my rear freewheel was totally shot (and picking up a flyover Peregrine), I made it a couple blocks to the second one where they had the necessary part. I was back on the trail less than half an hour after I first broke down. Thanks, Fort Wayne Outfitters!

Next, I traced the river greenway eastward to the southeastern boundary of my 5MR, stopping briefly to pick up easy birds in Turkey Vulture, Cliff Swallow, and Carolina Chickadee. I was approaching 80 species and had tapped out most of the potential for new birds in my mostly urbanized and riparian 5MR, so venturing out this way was strategic for getting my only shot at open country birds.

Fluddle

New Haven Fluddle

Waaay out on the edge of my circle, almost to the adjacent city of New Haven, was an area I had been wanting to check out because it held low-lying fields along the river. With the rain we had been getting, I thought it might be a good place to stop and look for shorebirds. My hunch was correct!

AMPI & LESA

American Pipit with Least Sandpipers

Prior to that point, my only shorebird had been Killdeer. Franke Park is usually good for at least a Spotted Sandpiper if nothing else, but I struck out there earlier. However, this field held not only Spotted Sandpiper, but Lesser Yellowlegs and Least Sandpipers too. Those weren’t the best find, though. Foraging in the mud with them was a lone and very, very late American Pipit! I was stoked to see this bird, because it was even further off my 5MR radar than the Pileated Woodpecker was, and this was only my second time seeing one in Allen County. And on top of it all, it seems to be the latest ever spring record in eBird for my county.

This will be a field I continue to check out, and biking seems to be the best way to do it because the road is narrow with a steep drop-off on the shoulder. Pulling over in a car would be impractical, so score one for the bike.

MOWA

Mourning Warbler

The other good thing about that field is that it is right across the river from the Deetz Nature Preserve, a property I had only birded once before but that yielded a good list. A nearby bridge made visiting this next stop pretty simple, and I made it there around 1:30 and with a day list of 79 species. Before the day began, I determined that 80 would be a respectable number, so I was eager to get my next new bird. It was getting hot and things were quiet in the early afternoon, so I wasn’t sure what it would be, although I still hadn’t come across some easy things like Belted Kingfisher or Field Sparrow. So it was an immense surprise when I flushed a Mourning Warbler out of the low brush to make that 80-species milestone, and this bird was a lifer to boot!

COYE

Common Yellowthroat

Instead of a peak, however, number 80 was just a sign of things to come. The brushy field on the western edge of the preserve gave me several new birds in rapid succession. I include this photo of a Common Yellowthroat not only because it was a new bird, but because while I was pressing the shutter a tremendous crashing noise just feet away from me made me jump up out of my skin. When I recovered I expected to look over and see a deer, but instead it was a Wild Turkey, yet another totally unexpected bird for the day! Then, to close out my visit, I ended with Field Sparrow to make it up to 83 species.

5MR-Green Big Day - 05.15.19

My 5MR and Big Day route

I got home around 4:00 to have dinner and get in some play time with the kids before heading out again for one final push around 7:00. I made the short trip to Purdue to look for Eastern Kingbird, which I got immediately, along with a bonus late Palm Warbler. Then I rode through Johnny Appleseed Park to finally get what would be my last new bird of the day in Belted Kingfisher.

After riding 40 miles as detailed by the red line on the map above, I ended the day at 89 species. This was quite a few more than I hoped for, and substantially better than the 77 I logged in a similar attempt two years ago where I traveled much further from home. Of my 89, I had 18 warblers, and of those warblers, one was my county Golden-winged, and one was my lifer Mourning. I logged a ton of species that I thought I had no chance at, chiefly Pileated Woodpecker, American Pipit, Wild Turkey, and one or two more sandpipers than I thought.

However, I did still have some obvious holes in the list. First and foremost was Rock Pigeon. I also was pretty thin on raptors and should have picked up Cooper’s Hawk, but it was not to be, and I also still haven’t had Common Nighthawk at all this year. If I had more time (or if I spent less time looking for migrants in the morning), I could have also maybe turned up some more grassland species like Horned Lark or Eastern Meadowlark. But in the end, I think the day was a huge success all things considered. With maybe a bit more planning and an amount of luck equal to what I had this year, I think 100 is totally possible for this particular 5MR. I’ll have to see what future outings hold! In any case, I ended the day with 130 total year-to-date species for my 5MR, and 128 for my green list.