Rare Bird Alert!

This morning I went to Eagle Creek for the Sunday morning bird walk that Audubon Society members host every week. I am very happy that I did. I ended up with a daily tally of 34 species, including 5 lifers, 2 of which are considered rare in Indiana!

Red-Necked Phalarope

Red-Necked Phalarope

First on the lifer list is the Red-Necked Phalarope. These birds are technically a subfamily of sandpipers, but are unique in several ways. First, instead of running around on shore probing for invertebrates, they swim around like tiny ducks and spin in circles very quickly, kicking up lunch from the bottom of the water. Secondly, the females are much more brightly colored than males. This individual is in its winter plumage, so I am unsure of its sex. But Peterson describes it as “scarce inland” and eBird lists it as a rarity for this location!

The other rarity I was able to see was a Baird’s Sandpiper, which is distinguishable from all of the other sandpipers by the dark black chevron marks on its back. I was only able to see it through an older gentleman’s spotting scope, so it was much too far to even attempt a photograph. But it is also a rare Indiana bird, as verified by eBird and Peterson (who calls it “scarce in the east”).

American Woodcock

American Woodcock

Not a rare bird, but next on my life list is the American Woodcock. You are probably more likely to step on one rather than see it because their camouflage is so ridiculous. Luckily, this individual had been roosting in the same spot for two weeks, so the other birders knew exactly where to look for it.

Caspian Tern

Caspian Tern

The Caspian Tern was also a lifer. These are the largest terns in the world and are distinguishable by their huge orange bills and black crests. These two were chilling with the seagulls.

My final lifer for the day was a Red-Shouldered Hawk, and I was able to get a great up-close look at one. While circling around a marsh, I heard a bird’s distress call break the silence. After locating the bird, I was able to see that it was a Wood Duck that was caught on something, most likely fishing line. As it struggled to free itself, the hawk was attracted by its distress signal and swooped down low less than 20 yards in front of me. The hawk did not get the duck, though. After a few minutes, everything was quiet again and the Red-Shoulder settled in a tree. The wood duck was gone. I didn’t see it go under, but I think it was most likely taken down by a snapping turtle. So it goes.

Final count for the day:
1.) American Crow
2.) Double-Crested Cormorant
3.) Great Blue Heron
4.) Mallard
5.) White-Breasted Nuthatch
6.) Northern Cardinal
7.) Carolina Chickadee
8.) Tufted Titmouse
9.) American Goldfinch
10.) Caspian Tern (lifer #1!)
11.) Mourning Dove
12.) Osprey
13.) Great Egret
14.) Song Sparrow
15.) Gray Catbird
16.) Canada Goose
17.) American Woodcock (lifer #2!)
18.) Killdeer
19.) Bald Eagle
20.) Barn Swallow
21.) Chimney Swift
22.) Baird’s Sandpiper (lifer #3!)
23.) Ring-Billed Gull
24.) Red-Necked Phalarope (lifer #4!)
25.) Blue Jay (vocalization)
26.) Downy Woodpecker
27.) Wood Duck
28.) Green Heron
29.) Eastern Bluebird
30.) Red-Shouldered Hawk (lifer #5!)
31.) Yellow Warbler (vocalization)
32.) American Robin
33.) Cedar Waxwing
34.) Pileated Woodpecker (vocalization)

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Drought

Indiana is taking a beating from the summer. We have had about a dozen 100+ degree days, and maybe four times that many 90+ with almost no rain on top of it all. This has resulted in burn bans, watering bans, and fireworks bans throughout the state. Grass is crispy and water levels are low. But this last part made Eagle Creek Reservoir a jackpot for shorebirds this past weekend, as receding water lines have exposed acres and acres of mudflats that offer a smorgasbord of arthropods and mollusks for them. Mmm.

I am sure that I observed more than two lifer varieties of sandpiper, but I was only able to positively identify two of them. I recently read a book that said there are three levels of birding proficiency: the first is when you can start to identify warblers, the second is when you can start to identify birds of prey, and the third is when you can start to identify sandpipers. This outing put me uncomfortably into Level-3 birding. There are approximately 72 million species of sandpiper, and they all look exactly alike.

Least Sandpiper

Least Sandpiper

This Least Sandpiper was my first lifer of the day. I was able to positively identify it thanks to the convenient fact that sandpipers exist in three sizes: small, medium, and large. The Least is the only small sized sandpiper with yellow legs. Check. Also, the lady with the spotting scope observing it from ten yards away told me it was a Least Sandpiper.

Solitary Sandpiper

Solitary Sandpiper

This Solitary Sandpiper, lifer number two on the day, only slightly more difficult. Probably because I was looking across the water and taking pictures of everything that moved, 100% not sure of what they were. These are what birders call “LBJ’s,” short for Little Brown Jobs. When I got home, this Solitary was actually not too bad to ID though, because it is the only medium-sized sandpiper with a full white eye ring (click the picture to zoom and you can see it). Also, I looked on eBird to find that Solitaries had indeed been sighted at Eagle Creek that day.

Killdeer

Killdeer

Also present at the reservoir was this Killdeer, which is a plover and not a sandpiper, and one of approximately three trillion at Eagle Creek on Saturday. I have seen many, many Killdeer before, and although there are quite a few types of plovers out there, they are easy to identify because of their characteristic call, the double black ring around their neck, and the fact that they are likely the only plover you will ever see away from huge lakes or the ocean.

Ring-Billed Gull

Ring-Billed Gull

This flock of seagulls was not playing 80s new wave music, but they were easy to identify as Ring-Billed Gulls because they are gulls with rings around their bills.

Yellow Warbler

Yellow Warbler

It was also a pretty decent day for passerine birds as well. This female Yellow Warbler was chowing down on a moth.

American Crow

American Crow

Likewise, this American Crow feasted on the remains of a catfish. Mmm.

I had 37 species on the day:
1.) White-Breasted Nuthatch (vocalization)
2.) American Robin
3.) Red-Eyed Vireo (vocalization)
4.) Tufted Titmouse (vocalization)
5.) Carolina Chickadee
6.) Eastern Wood Pewee (vocalization)
7.) Eastern Towhee (vocalization)
8.) Blue Jay
9.) Northern Cardinal
10.) Gray Catbird
11.) Canada Goose
12.) American Goldfinch
13.) Indigo Bunting (vocalization)
14.) American Crow
15.) Song Sparrow
16.) Double-Crested Cormorant
17.) Great Blue Heron
18.) Belted Kingfisher
19.) Mallard
20.) Barn Swallow
21.) Mourning Dove
22.) Northern Rough-Winged Swallow
23.) Willow Flycatcher (vocalization)
24.) Chimney Swift
25.) Eastern Kingbird
26.) Yellow Warbler
27.) Killdeer
28.) Cedar Waxwing
29.) American Coot
30.) Great Egret
31.) Least Sandpiper (lifer!)
32.) Red-Winged Blackbird
33.) Blue-Gray Gnatcatcher
34.) Downy Woodpecker
35.) Ring-Billed Gull
36.) Spotted Sandpiper
37.) Solitary Sandpiper (lifer!)

The Birds of Fort Wayne

Last weekend Jaime and I were up in Fort Wayne visiting her parents. On Saturday afternoon, we decided that going birding would be a great way to spend our time! Shockingly enough, every single bird we saw was a lifer for me. I don’t think this feat will ever be duplicated ever again. Here is just a sample of what we saw:

Cattle Egret

Cattle Egret

This Cattle Egret was sitting on the roadside as we left the house.

White Stork

White Stork

We stumbled upon this pair of White Storks nesting in a field.

Red-Billed Blue Magpie

Red-Billed Blue Magpie

I managed to get a great shot of this Red-Billed Blue Magpie through a chain-link fence in a neighbor’s yard.

Hunting Cissa

Hunting Cissa

This Hunting Cissa was flying around the Lincoln Tower Bank downtown.

African Penguin

African Penguin

We had to stop the car to let this flock of African Penguins cross the road in front of us.

Ostrich

Ostrich

As we were coming back home, we startled this Ostrich in Dave and Jean’s backyard. Or maybe we just went to the zoo. I can’t remember.

On Sunday morning, however, Dave and I did go check out Fox Island Park on the south side of town, where we were able to see dozens and dozens of migrating herons among other things, including this Green Heron, which was wild and actually counted toward my list. I have only seen a few of them previously.

Green Heron

Green Heron

The hot and dry weather that Indiana has been experiencing all summer has actually turned out to be beneficial for birding. Receding water lines have resulted in large stretches of mud flats that attract shore birds in vast quantities as they start the beginning stages of southward migration. I had a very productive day back home at Eagle Creek yesterday, with many more shorebirds to be blogged here soon.