2016 in Review

2016 and its merits or lack thereof have already been discussed all over the internet, so I don’t need to say anything more in that regard (unless you want to read something positive). This is a summary instead of my year in birding that was 2016.

I am about to wrap up my second year of green birding, which I have become much more serious about. It started as a way to keep a fun new list of birds, but it has now become my preferred method of birding, a way to keep in shape, and a new hobby in and of itself in the form of bicycling. Over the summer I made the 20-mile round trip to work at least weekly, which is something I never would have done before. I missed out on my goal of 150 green species (I got 143), but I grew my overall green list (167) and improved on my number from last year (137). I will now be keeping track of this method in a master list on the new Green Birding page at the top of this blog.

My goal for 2017 will most definitely be to make and surpass the 150 mark. I am optimistic because I got close this year without seeing anything uncommon. In fact, I don’t think I even tripped the eBird filter all year except for maybe having an early date for Yellow-throated Warbler. This is in sharp contrast to 2015 where things like American Avocet and Black-bellied Whistling Duck made the list. I did see some pretty great and unusual Indiana birds this year, though, they were just birds I ended up driving to. So to put the whole year — both green and gasoline fueled — in perspective, here are a bunch of High Fidelity-style lists.

My Best Non-Green Birds of 2016

1 - BHNU

#5 – Brown-headed Nuthatch (Wake County, NC)

Brown-headed Nuthatch was not a life bird, but it was one I saw in abundance during my two trips to North Carolina in July and November. It makes the list because there is no hope to see it anywhere besides the southeast, and nuthatches are cool.

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#4 – Buff-breasted Sandpiper (Boone County, IN)

I found this bird on a crap shoot of a detour while out running another errand. Without magnification and looking into the sun over hundreds of acres of sod, finding two of these birds was a pretty big thrill.

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#3 – Ross’s Goose (St. Joseph County, IN)

The easiest tick of the year, I was able to get this bird from my car in a parking lot while waiting for a meeting to start.

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#2 – Clay-colored Sparrow (Marion County, IN)

A life bird in a downtown Indianapolis city park, this was an exercise in patience. I found the bird at the last possible moment before I needed to leave and after over an hour of waiting, and I managed a pretty good photo on top of it all.

BNST Pair

#1 – Black-necked Stilt (Greene County, IN)

One of my biggest target birds this year became first life and state birds at the same time while on a trip far from home, but then followed up soon after as county birds. And they are just so cool looking!

My Best Green Birds of 2016

1-baow-portrait

#5 – Barred Owl (Foster Park)

This bird wasn’t new to any particular list, nor is it even uncommon (if you are a regular reader you are probably sick of seeing it on this blog). But the encounter I had in September with the individual pictured above was spectacular. Read more about it here.

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#4 – Broad-winged Hawk (Foster Park)

A new state bird and a new entry to the green list, I was out walking with my wife and kids when we stumbled into a huge kettle of hundreds of Broad-winged Hawks. This was the only time I saw them all year, and it was quite impressive.

AMPI

#3 – American Pipit (random field on the way to Fox Island)

I was biking to Fox Island earlier in the spring to pump up my list with migrants, but before I even got there I had to slam on the brakes to see what the birds way out in the field were. This is a great case of a bird I would have totally missed if I was driving. But it’s not the best example (keep reading).

RHWO

#2 – Red-headed Woodpecker (Amber & Branning Floodplain)

During my epic May ride of nearly 50 miles, I saw this bird foraging in the mud while looking for shorebirds. It was a random encounter to be sure, and a real right place right time moment.

#128 Henslow's Sparrow

#1 – Henslow’s Sparrow (random field on the way to work)

This photo is from 2013, and I never actually saw a Henslow’s Sparrow this year. But it is easily my best green bird of the year and the best example of what I would have missed if I was driving. My bike route to work is different from my driving route and takes me farther out into the country. I was passing a random overgrown and unbirded field when I thought I heard the chirping of a HESP. Needing to get to work on time, I was unable to stay and do a thorough check, but I sent an email to the listserv saying that I was pretty sure I heard one. A local expert stopped by the field later that day and confirmed that there was indeed a bird calling from that location. I rode by again the next day and heard it more clearly, and at that point made the decision that my skills are getting good enough to count heard-only birds that I am confident in like this one. From what I understand, this ended up being the only county record of HESP this year.

Not everything worked out that well, though.

My Biggest Green Misses of 2016

#5 – Black-capped Chickadee – I never made it far enough north to see a bird I was 100% certain was a Black-capped. Fort Wayne is smack in the middle of the Carolina/Black-capped overlap zone, with Carolinas being the much more common bird in 2/3 of the county.

#4 – Ducks – Northern Pintail and American Black Duck are frustrating misses.

#3 – Warblers – I missed several common ones, notably Chestnut-sided, Black-and-White, Bay-breasted, Wilson’s, and Canada.

#2 – Shorebirds – Dunlin, Semipalmated, and Solitary Sandpipers are all super embarrassing.

BNST

#1 – Black-necked Stilt

Black-necked Stilt is both my best non-green bird and my worst green miss. The pair in the photograph above were one-day wonders about 5 miles from my house, but the day they showed up I was too busy to make the ride out to see them. I ended up driving by on my way to the grocery store, though, so at least I got them as county birds. I found some great birds on bike that I would have missed if I was driving, but this was one I only managed to get by driving and just couldn’t get to by bike. Such is the life of a green birder.

Revisiting this last list of birds is making me all the more excited to get out there and reset the odometer in just a few days. I wish everyone else well with whatever your goals are for 2017, birding or otherwise. Happy new year!

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Good Tidings to You

This is just a quick post to all of you out there in bird land wishing you good winter holidays.

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Barred Owl

This fellow showed up in my front yard last Saturday.

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A nice winter scene

It seemed very nice to have a wise sentinel keeping an eye on things from far above my roof.

And this owl/house combo seemed like a pretty great way to mention the other project I have going on right now:

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Circa 1928

I have been diving head first into the history of my house. I am not sure if I will mention it much more on this blog, or if it will in fact feature here, or if I will otherwise share the information I find somewhere else. But my home for the last four years has played a big role in my birding in keeping my yard list, having Foster Park a few blocks away, and its ideal location as home-base for a motorless quest. And it seems to have a pretty cool story in and of itself, too.

I will check in again one more time before House Sparrows and American Crows once again become exciting new year birds, but until then I hope all of you have happy winter holidays, whichever ones they are that you celebrate. And I hope you are planning a productive and satisfying new year.

The Chase

Yesterday I had the afternoon off, and the snow had not yet started, so I rode out to Eagle Marsh for probably the last time this year. I had one bird on my mind as I wound down mop-up duty for my green list.

hegu

Herring Gull

The list-serv reports told me this gull was there. So yes, that means exactly what it sounds like: I used a free afternoon to spend time and energy chasing a Herring Gull on my bicycle in below freezing weather.

Herring Gull is not a county bird, nor is it  even a year bird. And it is certainly not an exciting bird. But when their reliable spots of expansive open water are an hours-long bike ride away, getting one this close to home was very big news and I had to chase it. This is another reason why birding green is so fun. Even the trashiest of trash birds become really good ticks. Trash bird is not meant as an insult; it’s just how I also happened to also see some HEGUs the previous day while driving for work:

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Trash Birds

Despite their low-brow status, they are at least interesting as the garbage disposals of the bird world. The slab of panfish that the youngster above was eating was doubtlessly scavenged from one of the better hunters sitting nearby:

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Thief

For what it’s worth, if I were doing a 5-mile radius challenge, I could count the Ring-billed Gulls in the photo above, but not the Herring Gull. The 5-mile radius line from my house splits the main impoundment of Eagle Marsh cleanly in half, and the birds in the background are on the far side of the line and outside of the circle.

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We are not amused

Playing by those rules, the heron in the background would also be out of bounds. But this one would count. There are plenty around still even though the water is mostly frozen. They all look angry like this, though.

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Coyote

The most interesting sighting of the day came in mammal form. About half of the Ring-billed Gulls were spooked, so I began scanning for eagles. I didn’t see any, but I noticed some movement along the far shoreline where a coyote was tentatively trying to step out onto the ice. He evidently thought better of his plan, though, because after a few steps he turned around and gave up. Neato! This is my first coyote in Allen County, and getting it motorless puts me at 13 mammal species for the year.

On my ride home, a shiny adult White-crowned Sparrow popped out of the brush on the trail and landed in a tree right next to me, giving me another addition to the list and saving me from a really embarrassing miss this year. It plus the gull put me at 143. That will probably be my final number unless a Purple Finch shows up in my yard.

I plan on starting 2017 strong, though. I am participating in the Southwest Allen Christmas Bird Count on January 2nd to jumpstart my resolution to hit 150. See you then!