January Birding in the Midwest

Is a mad dash to get a few dozen species right at the beginning of the year and then a whole bunch of slow progress to tick off the random birds here and there that you miss. On a cold but sunny Sunday, I took a 20+ mile ride to both Fox Island and Eagle Marsh to chase a few less common birds (Purple Finch, Rough-legged Hawk) but mostly just ended up watching common fare. I did add two new species to the green list, though: Song Sparrow and Barred Owl.

SOSP

Song Sparrow

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American Tree Sparrow

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Hairy Woodpecker

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Blue Jay

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Red-tailed Hawk

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Virginia Opossum

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Goose Chase

Work took me to South Bend this week. That was lucky, because there just so happened to be a notable white goose hanging around in the river in neighboring Mishawaka.

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Nope.

Just kidding. It was a lifer Ross’s Goose.

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Ross’s Goose

I could make all kinds of awful birder jokes about this goose’s name (…But how do you know that hummingbird’s name is “Rufus”?), but I will spare you.

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Nice to meet you, Ross.

I guess this was technically a “chase” even though it was only about three miles away from where I was going anyway and required literally zero effort to see: park car, step out of car, see goose, take photos, leave 15 minutes later and arrive early to 10:30 appointment. Nothing beats finding birds yourself, but it’s always nice to have a successful chase.

BUFF

Bufflehead

I haven’t gotten many new green entries recently, but the most recent and most notable addition to that list was this Bufflehead seen at Foster Park two weeks ago. This is the first green bird so far this year that I did not see on my 2015 list. Let’s keep them coming! (Towhee, anybody?)

On that note, Indiana’s towhee game is strong at the moment: Eastern, Spotted, and Green-tailed are all in the state as of this week. The latter two are a three- and five-hour drive away from me respectively, but still, that’s a good showing here.

Obligatory End/Beginning of the Year Post

Before you start a birding blog, you have to swear an oath to do an annual end of the year post followed by a beginning of the year post. It’s only after year three that they let you do both combined into one entry, so here is my end of 2015 / beginning of 2016 post for you!

If you have been reading (thanks!), you know that I try to do one specific challenge each year and that 2015 was my first motorless list. It was way more challenging and fun than I thought it would be, but I was also much more successful than I imagined. I ended the year at 137 species, including 9 life birds. But first, here is what I didn’t see:

Top Five Misses

5.) Ruddy Duck – The most common waterfowl I have never seen, and tons of records from my county this year.

4.) White-Eyed Vireo – According to eBird target species, this is the most common bird that I have never seen, period (although I wonder how many of those records are heard-only).

3.) Tennessee Warbler – The most common warbler that I missed.

2.) Wood Thrush – Relatively common, and heard at one point but never seen. Ugh.

1.) Eastern Towhee – Without a doubt the most common bird I didn’t see despite going looking for it a couple of times and again hearing one.

Hopefully all of these birds go down this year to vindicate me. But I did see plenty of good stuff last year too, so here you go:

Top Five Ticks

Blue Grosbeak

Blue Grosbeak

5.) Blue Grosbeak – One of my motorless lifers, BLGR was also a nemesis that I slayed.

Common Goldeneye

Common Goldeneye

4.) Common Goldeneye – I didn’t realize that COGO would be one of my best birds of the year until near the end. The one I found at Foster Park in February ended up being the only one I saw all year, and it was even more unusual because it was in the shallow river.

Snow Goose

Snow Goose

3.) Snow Goose – Not an uncommon bird in Indiana, but definitely not typical in the eastern half of the state. This was only the fourth eBird record in Allen County.

American Avocet

American Avocet

2.) American Avocet – This bird was almost my #1 (more on that below), but still was a really great tick, and it was almost self-found! I set out in the morning with plans to go to this part of Eagle Marsh looking for shorebirds, and right before I left I saw the listserv report that two AMAVs were there, so I like to think that I would have found them anyway. They also would have been lifers if not for the flock of 100+ that I saw at Metzger Marsh in Ohio earlier in the spring.

Black-Bellied Whistling Duck

Black-Bellied Whistling Duck

1.) Black-Bellied Whistling Duck – This one feels like kind of a cop-out because of how easy it was to see and how long it stuck around at Franke Park, especially compared to the avocets above. But, it was a lifer and the least likely bird that I saw all year anywhere, and it gave me some incredible looks. I can’t count on seeing this bird anywhere near Indiana again any time soon.

Now for the current year. In 2016, for the fourth year in a row, my first bird was Northern Cardinal. I didn’t get a picture of that fellow in my yard, nor would many people care to see him, so instead here is a leucistic female that I saw during the Southwest Allen County Christmas Bird Count on January 2nd:

Leucistic Northern Cardinal

Leucistic Northern Cardinal

My assigned CBC territory was Fox Island, which after my time pedaling last year is now within easy biking distance of home, so I started out my new green (easier to type and say than “motorless”) list strong. I don’t have any new birds compared to last year yet, but as of this writing I am at 28 species, a number I didn’t hit until the second week of March in 2015.

Sandhill Cranes

Sandhill Cranes

The best birds so far have been this surprising flock of Sandhill Cranes catching a thermal directly above my house. SACR is a gimme in Indiana, but usually not until March. These guys were migrating south crazy late. If I can have a “miss” yet, it is probably Red-Breasted Nuthatch. The one in my yard was around daily for over two months, but I have not seen it at all since we got back from our week in North Carolina. Oh, also Eastern Towhee. Again heard already but not seen.

My hope is to beat the 137 species from last year, but an aggressive goal is 152 which would be one more bird than my hilariously novice Indiana “big year” attempt from 2013.

Happy New Year, good birding, and good luck to all of you other listers out there!