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.
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:
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:
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.
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.
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!