February Features

My February birding hasn’t been very exciting lately, but I have still had time to go to Foster Park a few times and hang out with some cooperative birds.

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Cooper’s Hawk

For the past three years in a row Cooper’s Hawk has made its appearance on the year list in the third week of February. Strange coincidence for a bird that is common year-round, or is there something to be said about this time of the year? This one was grasping something pretty tightly in its talon before it flew off.

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Hermit Thrush

I stared down this Hermit Thrush on February 12th. I know that a few of these birds overwinter in the area, but this still seems like a very early date. I usually don’t pick mine up until April.

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Hermit Tush

The date alone was a good enough field mark to identify this bird, but if there was any doubt here is its nice rufous tail. I usually think of Hermit Thrushes as skittish and wary, but this one seemed unconcerned with my presence. Maybe it carried this attitude in regard to the time of year too. It didn’t care that it was cold and early.

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Brown Creeper

Keep on creeping, Brown Creeper.

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Eastern Bluebird

Streaky brown birds are in style during winter in the Midwest. Eastern Bluebirds eschew this wisdom, however.

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American Red Squirrel

American Red Squirrels are either getting more common in the park, or I am getting better at spotting this fellow. Still uncommon and a nice year mammal.

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Untrue to its name

And I’ll be damned if the Hermit Thrush wasn’t forgoing its hermit nature and actually following me. It was practically forcing me to observe its bright pink legs. What are you, a thrush or a Blackpoll Warbler x Black-necked Stilt hybrid?

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Throwback Thursday: Armchair Lifers

In October of 2012 Jaime and I spent 10 days in Europe by way of London and Paris. It was the best trip I have ever been on. It also happened to coincide with the point in my life where I was making that awkward transition from “bird-watcher” to “birder,” so I was aware of all of the new and exciting birds around, but I was poor at actually knowing what they were (original blog posts here and here). Today I had to dig up an old tax return, and the flash drive that I needed to use had our vacation photos on it. I looked through them to reminisce, but instead I ended up with some armchair lifers that for whatever reason I couldn’t or didn’t identify at the time.

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Egyptian Goose

The bulk of my bird photos come from Kensington Gardens and Hyde Park where exotic waterfowl abound. At the time, I had a hell of a job trying to discern the domestic from the truly wild, and I think my caution was well-founded. However, Egyptian Goose is one that I have since learned is all over the UK. This one doesn’t have any bands and has both halluces present, so there is no reason to think it isn’t one of the established population. If you look closely, you can also see some pigeons in the photo. Armchair lifer!

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Ruddy Shelduck

The next in line are this pair of Ruddy Shelducks. eBird has a smattering of sightings across the London area, but most of them seem to indicate that these birds are introduced and kept as part of a collection. Sorry Ruddy Shelduck, you look cool but you are not getting counted!

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Mandarin Duck

Mandarin Duck is a bird I specifically remembered seeing, because, honestly, look at it. However, I had somehow not featured it on my initial write-up. I put it on my list from the 2012 trip, and 2017 research shows that large populations are also well-established on Britain. Not an armchair lifer, but validated countable bird!

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Red-breasted Goose

Red-breasted Goose is native to Europe, including the UK, but their numbers are seriously low. A chance encounter with tame, grazing birds like these certainly means they are part of a collection. Not countable!

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Combo!

Here is a cropped combo shot showing Mute Swan, Greater White-fronted Goose, Bar-headed Goose, Rock Pigeon, and Tourist. I don’t even think I noticed the geese in the background at the time, and the internet tells me neither Greater White-fronted nor Bar-headed are countable anyway. I like the swan though, especially because it’s not an invasive species in this photo!

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Lesser Black-backed Gull

I have a few photos of gulls from the trip, including lots of the ubiquitous Black-headed as well as a few immature Herring that I didn’t want to ID at the time. But the most surprising shot was this decent photo of what is very obviously a Lesser Black-backed Gull, a bird that I have chased and dipped on twice in Indiana thinking that it would be a lifer. But it wouldn’t have been, because this bird represents my armchair lifer! The best field mark for this bird is the half of a pigeon hanging out of its mouth. I have come to learn that LBBGs are famous for hunting them at Hyde Park.

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Tower Raven

Next up is a raven I shot at the Tower of London. These birds are obviously kept, but they are cool anyway, so here you go. eBird shows that their wild counterparts are abundant in the UK but with a gaping hole in their distribution over London city proper. I suppose it would be tough to substantiate a wild bird appearing in the city when these guys are so famous.

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European Goldfinch

Hopping the Eurostar to Paris, I had this photo mixed in with all of my others from Jardin des Tuileries. I distinctly remember trying to get a photo of the House Sparrow because I thought it was cool that they were in their native range, and indeed I have a bunch of blurry photos to prove it. This one, however, also has another bird in it that I have no memory of seeing at the time, and judging by my lack of other photos of it probably didn’t notice at all. My House Sparrow got photobombed by a European Goldfinch. Armchair lifer, and perhaps a bird even more embarrassing than my CBC Sharp-shinned Merlin.

I thought I would feel bad about retroactively counting birds this way, but I thought it was actually kind of fun. Does anyone else admit to doing this?

Waterfowl

When it’s below freezing but sunny like it was this weekend, it is usually a good thing for waterfowl at the city water treatment ponds which don’t ice over. I added six new species to the green list, which felt good since my hunch paid off and also because my outing to Fox Island last week netted zero new birds for the year.

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Double-crested Cormorant

Riding the greenway along the river, my first interesting sighting was a bird mixed in with the Canada Geese. Double-crested Cormorant is not a bird I would usually expect to associate with typical waterfowl, but this one was swimming along with all of the others. It made an interesting size comparison. A diving Pied-billed Grebe was also a nice early surprise.

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American Black Duck

At the ponds, there were also some mixers-in with the abundant geese. American Black Duck is a bird I don’t see very often. This pair plus Northern Pintail made for two species that I missed last year, and it is good to have them back on the list.

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Gadwall

Gadwall are not ducks that I see on land very often. I don’t recall ever seeing their speckled underbellies before. From afar, they are smudgy gray and black. But at close range they are actually good looking birds!

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Greater White-fronted Geese

Earlier in the week I was driving back from an appointment and decided to seek out a flock of Greater White-fronted Geese that had been reported from just outside the city limits in a famously productive field. As I turned onto the appropriate road, a flock of about 60 birds flew low over my vehicle for an impressive entrance of a life bird. Not green, but I will take it.

This winter seems to be the winter of the goose in Indiana. Snow and Greater White-fronted are common in the western half of the state but not so much in the east. However, this year both species are making a huge push all over it. Ross’s Geese, an uncommon state bird in general, also seem to be much more abundant than in years past. I have read that this is a trend that is getting stronger, so we’ll see how common these birds become in the near future. In my lifetime I have seen five Snow Geese, this singular flock of Greater White-fronteds, one Ross’s, and zero Cackling.

In other news, I have launched the other nerdy project that I have alluded to on this blog before: another blog, History of a Home. If having two blogs on extremely esoteric subjects doesn’t make me cool, then nothing will.