Winter Specialties

This is a totally rad year for winter bird irruptions, and Indiana is getting its fair share. It all started with Red-Breasted Nuthatches all the way back in September, and the party has been continuing lately with both Red and White-Winged Crossbills.

White-Winged Crossbill

White-Winged Crossbill

In a trek out to Eagle Creek last week, I managed to see the White-Winged variety chomping on some pine cones (lifer). This might be one of the coolest birds I have ever seen. The kind folks at Cornell have a video telling you why:

I didn’t see any of the other famous winter finches, but it was a great trip with three lifers in total, including this guy:

American Tree Sparrow

American Tree Sparrow

American Tree Sparrows have suffered since the invasive House Sparrow (or Bitch Sparrow as it is known in the Majewski household) has arrived. But these guys came down from Canada to see what was going on for Thanksgiving.

Dark-Eyed Junco

Dark-Eyed Junco

Dark-Eyed Juncos are probably the most common winter-only bird in the Midwest, but this picture is terrible anyway. It took a long time before Jaime believed that they actually exist, because I would always talk about them while walking our dog, Emma The Dog, but we would never see any.

Oh, I almost forgot to mention my other lifer, which was not the Junco but a Bonaparte’s Gull that I failed to get a picture of.

 

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Birds of Prey at Cool Creek Park

This morning I decided to try out a new birding spot: Cool Creek Park up in Westfield. I joined a few others on a weekly bird hike and was able to spot some impressive birds of prey.

Barred Owl

Barred Owl

This Barred Owl appeared almost immediately and very unexpectedly. Early in the morning, only myself and one other gentleman were able to spot him, and the photo I got provided the proof that the hike leader needed to officially add it to the day’s tally. Also, this is a lifer for me despite being one of the more common owls.

Cooper's Hawk

Cooper’s Hawk

I kept seeing hawks (or maybe the same hawk) swooping in and out of the woods all morning, but none of them were close enough for me to get a good look. The other birders on the hike informed me it was most likely a Cooper’s Hawk, but I didn’t count it until I was leaving the park and saw this guy perching on a low branch directly in front of me. Positive ID, and a great photo too! I ended the day with only 21 species, but I am very happy with the big ‘uns I was able to log.

European Birding – Part Two

Okay, sorry that by “tomorrow” I meant “in two days.” But here is part two of my European vacation. I saved some of the more interesting sights for last:

Barnacle Goose

Barnacle Goose

Cue the Barnacle Goose at Saint James Park in London. This was one of several species of water fowl that was difficult because the royal parks all have large collections of exotic birds, and both the wild and domestic birds are incredibly tame. After some research, I was comfortable with my decision that these birds were wild.

Common Moorhen

Common Moorhen

See the problem above for the same situation I had with the Common Moorhen. In North America, members of the rail family are so skittish that it was weird to be able to walk up these guys without them really caring.

Eurasion Coot

Eurasian Coot

Ditto above for the Eurasian Coot.

Common Pochard

Common Pochard

The Common Pochard is a diving duck with a good, solid French name. Fitting that I saw this one at Saint James Park in London.

Tufted Duck

Tufted Duck

Continuing with British waterfowl, we have the Tufted Duck at Hyde Park.

Greylag Goose

Greylag Goose

Also at Hyde Park (and elsewhere) were Greylag Geese. You have probably seen these domesticated in the US, but they are naturally occurring in Britain.

 

Great Cormorant

Great Cormorant

Also at Hyde Park was this Great Cormorant, who kept diving so much that I could barely get his photo.

Great Crested Grebe

Great Crested Grebe

Also at Hyde Park and also Great was this Crested Grebe.

Grey Heron

Grey Heron

Finishing out the water birds is this Grey Heron at, you guessed it, Hyde Park.

White Wagtail

White Wagtail

Onto passerine birds, but still in Hyde Park, is the White Wagtail. As far as I can tell, wagtails are named so because they wag their tail a whole lot. The Europeans are just as clever at naming birds as Americans!

 

Blue Tit

Blue Tit

Moving on from Hyde Park, this Blue Tit was found at Tuileries in Paris. They are related to North American Chickadees.

 

Eurasian Jay

Eurasian Jay

I spotted this Eurasian Jay outside of the Louvre one morning, and I am glad that this picture turned out to be one of the best of the trip, because it was the only one I got!

 

Blackcap

Blackcap

The last bird was kind of unique, and probably the least likely to be seen out of all that I observed in Europe. The Blackcap (this one’s cap isn’t black because it’s a female) is an old-world warbler . I found this one near the Eiffel Tower hanging out on the sidewalk dazed and confused after flying into a window. The bird was alive, so I can count it as a lifer even if it was slightly loopy. Despite the circumstances, it was still exciting to see because it’s definitely not a city bird.

That’s everything that was seen in Europe. I am excited to start birding again in Indiana, though, because eBird tells me that we are experiencing a larger than usual irruption of winter finches from Canada. I’m going to head back to Eagle Creek again this weekend for the first time in over a month. So, despite how great the trip was, it will be good to get back to some familiar surroundings.

European Birding – Part One

Jaime and I recently got back from a two-week European vacation in London and Paris. Long story short, it was an amazing time and highlights of most of what we did are available on Facebook. Highlights of the rest of what I did are available right here!

Because there was so much to do and see, Jaime and I didn’t really go on any true birding excursions, so all that I ended up seeing were the most common city birds where we were. But the birds of Europe are vastly different from what you can get in North America, so I had 19 lifers! And in addition to that, I was able to see three birds in their native ranges that are considered invasive species in the United States, plus one that makes its home naturally on both sides of the Atlantic. Oh, and there were also pigeons. To make this easier to digest, I now present to you my first in a two-part series of European birds:

European Starling

European Starling

If you see a nebulous black cloud of birds in the fall in Indiana (or elsewhere across the US, for that matter), it’s a pretty good chance that they are European Starlings, a pest bird and invasive species that was brought to America by some fool who wanted the birds of Shakespeare’s plays to live here. Its population exploded and got us where we are today. In Europe, though, the bird is actually a part of the natural biosphere and not nearly as common, so I was excited to see this one by the Tower of London!

House Sparrow

House Sparrow

Now, take everything I said above about the Starling (including the part about Shakespeare) and apply it to the House Sparrow, except this one was seen at Tuileries in Paris!

Mute Swan

Mute Swan

Now, take everything about the Starling and House Sparrow, substitute the Shakespeare parts for people just thinking it looked pretty on park ponds in the US, and you have the Mute Swan.

Northern Shoveler

Northern Shoveler

The Northern Shoveler is also regularly seen in North America, but unlike the last three birds, it exists there naturally. Still, I was excited to see this one at Hyde Park in London because I had only ever seen one before, and I didn’t have a picture.

Common Blackbird

Common Blackbird

Now on to the life birds! The Common Blackbird is not closely related to American blackbirds, but it is a thrush like the American Robin. This one was running around the Tower of London’s moat.

European Robin

European Robin

And unlike the Common Blackbird, European Robins have pretty much nothing in common with American Robins except for their color pattern, which is how the Yankee version got its name. This one was seen at Saint Paul’s Cathedral in London.

Carrion Crow

Carrion Crow

Another bird with American dopplegangers is the Carrion Crow, which as far as I can tell is only differentiated from the American Crow by the fact that it doesn’t live in America. This was another bird seen at Hyde Park.

Common Wood Pigeon

Common Wood Pigeon

The Common Wood Pigeon seems to be quite similar to the feral Rock Pigeons of every city in the world, but they are actually different. The first difference, which can’t be seen from this photo, is that they are about the size of a chicken. The second is that they have a big white spot on the side of their necks. The third is that they are much more likely to be hiding up in tree canopies than foraging for trash in the street, even though this one was perched on the Tower Bridge in London.

Black-Headed Gull

Black-Headed Gull

Probably the most numerous bird I saw in all of Europe was the Black-Headed Gull. In winter, they lose their black heads which is why the bird above does not seem to fit its name. In any case, these animals choked the Thames and the Seine in equal numbers. Oh well! Lifer anyway!

Eurasian Magpie

Eurasian Magpie

Another ridiculously common bird of Europe, but much more interesting than the others above, is the Eurasian Magpie. They are related to crows but are prettier to look at and seem to be much more clever.

Stay tuned, more to come tomorrow!