Foster Park: Birding the Underbirded

I regularly scan the Indiana Birding listserv emails looking for things from in and around Fort Wayne. Postings are frequent, but they usually cover the same few places: Fox Island, Eagle Marsh, Franke Parke, and a handful of others. This is for good reason; these sites are the most productive in the area. However, if a great bird were to show up elsewhere, I fear that it would be missed simply because there doesn’t seem to be a lot of surveillance away from these areas.

Foster Park is our neighborhood park, and although it is mostly a golf course, there is some prime riparian forest habitat along the river. So on the last two consecutive weekends I decided to thoroughly bird it for the first time.

Foster Park

Foster Park

Migration has tapered off now that the end of May is in sight, but I had some productive outings nonetheless.

Bay-Breasted Warbler

Bay-Breasted Warbler

Among the big draws that Foster has to offer is a foot bridge spanning the river that elevates you about 20 feet off the ground. This allows for eye-level looks at birds in the trees along the bank. This was one of three Bay-Breasted Warblers to which I was privy in my new elevation.

Cedar Waxwing

Cedar Waxwing

Large flocks of Cedar Waxwings also seemed to like the river, and they were oblivious to my presence. This one was basically doing laps around my head as it flew from perch to perch in pursuit of insects.

Tennessee Warbler

Tennessee Warbler

This Tennessee Warbler was also enthralled with the all-you-can-eat mosquito buffet. The few bites I sustained were worth it for views of birds like this.

Wilson's Warbler

Wilson’s Warbler

Wilson’s Warblers were among the most numerous warblers during both of my visits. Unfortunately, their tendency to skulk among dense brush made photo ops less than ideal.

Gray-Cheeked Thrush

Gray-Cheeked Thrush

Being at this whole birding thing for over two years now, I am finally able to make confident IDs of the brown thrushes. Whereas before I would have puzzled over this bird indefinitely, I was able to pick it out as a Gray-Cheeked Thrush at first glance. Dull plumage, a pale underside and lack of a distinct eye-ring are give-aways.

I didn’t have any life birds during these outings, but I did pick up quite a few annuals that had evaded me so far in 2014. I foresee many more trips in the future.

Robin Imposters in the Yard

For the uninitiated, this is what an American Robin looks like:

American Robin

American Robin

They are intrinsically very cool birds, and one of a very few species with bold orange going on. They are also voracious predators. But people don’t tend to think much of them because they are so common. However, they must have something enviable about them, because this morning we had three new yard birds who were all doing their best to act like the humble American Robin, Turdus migratorius.

Scarlet Tanager

Scarlet Tanager

There are many, many birds that I would have expected in the yard before a crippling male Scarlet Tanager. And I would have missed out on this guy entirely had he not been doing his Robin impression. Laying in bed, I heard a weird call outside of our bedroom window. At first I didn’t think anything of it. Then I thought how much like a sick Robin it sounded. And it hit me: every field guide I have ever read describes the song of the Scarlet Tanager as “an American Robin with a cold.” That description is dead on. I opened the blinds to see this bird flying away down the street. I ran out of the front door in my pajamas and mercilessly photographed this stunning red gent.

Swainson's Thrush

Swainson’s Thrush

As I was uploading the Tanager photos to Facebook to try and win over friends to the dark side show how cool birding can be, I saw another weird Robin running around in the back yard with a few others. Quickly lifting the binoculars, it resolved itself to be a Swainson’s Thrush acting like it was some kind of common feeder bird! Swainsons are forest birds, and I have never seen one in broad daylight, let alone a suburban lawn underneath a bird feeder. But that’s exactly where this one was. Isn’t spring migration great?

Gray Catbird

Gray Catbird

The final imposter wasn’t exactly doing a Robin impression, but this Gray Catbird very well could have mimicked the song as it freeloaded in our bird bath. In any case, this was the third new yard bird for the morning, and I would have expected him much sooner than the first two.

I try not to write “these are some birds that I saw in my yard” posts very often unless there is nothing else going on. But with the above birds I hope you didn’t mind bearing with me, although no “these are some birds that I saw in my yard” post is complete without one more:

Northern Cardinal

Northern Cardinal

Sorry, I had to do it.

May Day Bird Count

Fort Wayne’s Stockbridge Audubon Society takes part in the May Day Bird Count, where members go out and try to count every single individual bird in an area during the peak of spring migration. I signed up, knowing that I would benefit from the coordination of the count plus the experience of other birders. I was assigned to meet at Fox Island County Park in Fort Wayne at 6:30am and was met with near perfect conditions: storms rolled through Allen County the previous evening, causing night-migrating passerines to stop in their tracks and drop to the trees below, with the weather the next morning absolutely ideal for birding. This is as close to a fallout as I have ever experienced!

Palm Warbler

Palm Warbler

This Palm Warbler was one of about a dozen species of warbler for the morning, and this individual is the first alternate-plumaged bird that I have seen in Indiana.

Orange-Crowned Warbler

Orange-Crowned Warbler

A bird I was definitely not expecting to see was the Orange-Crowned Warbler. I have been trying not to rely too heavily on my camera recently, preferring instead to work out an ID on my own before going for photos. This is opposite of how I initially started birding, where I would take as many photos as possible, hope for a diagnostic shot, and go for the ID later on my computer. Thankfully, I employed the latter method for this bird, because it did not stay long and I wouldn’t have known what it was without this shot.

Magnolia Warbler

Magnolia Warbler

This blog is littered with photos of mostly-obstructed Magnolia Warblers, but I think this is the clearest shot I have ever gotten.

Baltimore Oriole

Baltimore Oriole

Ditto above for the Baltimore Oriole. With as abundant as they were at the park, I am a little frustrated that this is the best photo I could manage.

Not a target bird

Not a target bird

My long-time reader(s) may be thinking that the year is almost halfway over, and I have yet to mention my 2014 goal of a “strategic year” since I came up with the idea. Well, it’s not for lack of trying. I had many forays into the frigid abyss this winter and spring hoping for at least some Rusty Blackbirds, but all I could seem to come up with were things that were not Rusty Blackbirds, like this muskrat. Most of the other strategic birds on my list are either spring migrants or summer residents, so I was optimistic today. And I got close! With audio verification from the group leader’s iPhone, I am 100% sure that I heard a Cerulean Warbler vocalizing. However, I didn’t see it, so I won’t count it. I discussed this philosophy with others in the group, and they seemed to at least understand.

If I have never seen a bird, I won’t count it on my list, even if I know I am hearing it. Once I see it, however, it goes on there, and in subsequent encounters a vocalization will be enough to go on my count for that day and location. Thanks to the well-trained ears of my group, I checked several life birds off today after waiting patiently to see who was singing: Yellow-Throated Vireo, Acadian Flycatcher, and Tennessee Warbler were had this way. Wilson’s Warbler, Orange-Crowned Warbler, and Northern Waterthrush were gotten the old-fashioned way.

How to relax after a successful day

How to relax after a successful day

Following my victory in the morning, Jaime had the excellent idea to make the most of the great weather and the in-laws as baby sitters. We rented a canoe from the local outfitter and paddled around for several more hours on the Saint Mary’s River, which is something I can’t wait to do more of. And the birds kept coming, too! We had most of the Indiana swallows, including Cliff Swallow, which was one that had been eluding me in the state.