One of Those Days

Everyone eventually has a birding day when they put together a plan with high expectations, only to find that it’s all for naught. Either the birds aren’t there, or the plans change, or conditions are poor for viewing. Today was not one of those days.

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Welcoming Committee

I spent the morning and early afternoon birding Eagle Marsh. It used to be about a 25 minute ride for me, but from my new house it takes over an hour. No matter. The weather was awesome. And I had a pretty great sign of things to come in the form of three amigos perched on the wires over the trailhead at the marsh: Green Heron, Mourning Dove, and Red-winged Blackbird.

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The Fourth

Then an Indigo Bunting joined them for good measure.

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Green Heron

Of all the birds to be perched on a wire, this one was pretty weird.

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Purple Martins

The good signs kept coming with a tree full of Purple Martins just a little way down the trail. PUMA was (somehow) a county bird for me and the first new green bird on the day.

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Common Gallinule

Next up, a state bird popped its head out of the reeds and stared me down for several long moments before I could figure out what the hell it was. Juvenile Common Gallinules are weird. I wasn’t expecting this bird at all, least not in this particular plumage. I have only seen adults before, and those were in Florida. My mind cycled in the following order: Wood Duck, Sora, Virginia Rail. Nope.

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Bank Swallow

Before checking out the other end of the marsh, I stopped to admire the massing post-breeding dispersal birds. These Bank Swallows obliged for a photo.

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Pectoral Sandpiper

At the other end of the marsh was where I realized it would be a phenomenal birding day. Not only were there huge mudflats hosting hundreds of birds, the lighting was great, the birds stayed put, and I got some great shots. I like this Pectoral Sandpiper and its reflection.

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Least Sandpiper

The shorebirds kept coming, and next on the buffet was Least Sandpiper.

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Solitary Sandpiper

A duo of Solitary Sandpipers followed close behind. This was a pretty bad miss for me last year, so these views made up for it.

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Spotted Sandpiper

Continuing a theme, I present to you: Spotted Sandpiper.

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Killdeer

And a Killdeer, because why not?

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A whole mess of birds

I also lucked into some Caspian Terns, which are annual but uncommon and irregular in Allen County. Two flyovers on the east end plus two more chilling with gulls on the west end for a total of four individuals was a pretty good tally. As you can tell from the photo above, there was a lot to keep track of, and I almost overlooked the small white blob just to the left of the terns.

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Bonaparte’s Gull

With its head tucked, all I could see was the edge of a black cap making me think it might have been one of the sterna terns, but it finally picked its head up showing an extensive black hood and a black bill, good for Bonaparte’s Gull. This was my best find of the day, another county bird, and apparently the first July record for the species in this part of the state.

I ended the day with seven new green birds, three of which were new for me in Allen County and one of those new for Indiana. My 2017 green list is currently at 142 species, only one less than all of last year. 150 will be totally obtainable with “easy” birds (I say that without somehow seeing them yet) left to pick up including Pileated Woodpecker, Scarlet Tanager, both yellowlegs, and a couple of fall warblers to push me over the hump, and hopefully one or two unexpected things. If you had a birding goal this year, how is it coming along now that we are midway through?

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New Local Patch

I have been settled into my new house for about three months now, and that means (most) of the paint touch-ups, furniture assembly, and emergency repairs are done. So I get to bird! The first thing for me in that regard was to find a new local patch. I had an outstanding one right next to my old neighborhood in Foster Park, so I am used to a high quality of patch birding. I did not take this decision lightly. After consulting Google Maps, considering how long it would take me to get there, and how conducive it would be for green birding, I arrived at the only logical choice.

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My New Local Patch

Gaze upon it! It is the western half of the IPFW campus, pronounced “IP-fwah,” short for Indiana Purdue Fort Wayne, and one of my wife’s alma maters (Go ‘Dons!). Yes, I made it an eBird hotspot, but the reviewer decided that a better acronym would be IUPUFW in the same style as IUPUI, (pronounced “Ooey-pooey“) one of my alma maters and short for Indiana University Purdue University Indianapolis (saying ‘university’ twice is really important).

My house is in the neighborhood just south of the bottom-right corner of the map above. The greenway trail follows Anthony Boulevard north right into the heart of campus, and it is less than a ten-minute bike ride away from me.

[Begin Stephan voice.] This patch has everything: the St. Joseph River, restored meadows, lots of edge habitat, and a big ol’ woodlot.

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Tiny Swamp

It also has a legitimate swamp in it with water literally right up against, and often flooding, the road next to it. It is also tiny, like less than a quarter of an acre tiny, but it provided me with at least one FOY bird in Green Heron this year.

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St. Joseph River

The big draw is the river. It is very wide here with lots of little inlets and banks in a fairly natural state. When the water is low, it exposes lots of mudflats which I am hoping will be a boon for shorebirds pretty soon.

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Cool Bridge

It has a pretty great bridge as part of the trail system, and Cliff and Barn Swallows are all over the place on it. It also provides a great vantage point from which to scan the riverbanks in all directions.

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Common Nighthawk

Being part of a relatively recently build college campus, there are lots of gravel rooftops in the area, meaning Common Nighthawks are abundant at this time of year. With as many as were flying around I actually tried to get a decent photo of one for the first time ever, and I don’t think I did too bad.

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Eastern Kingbird

Most of the area in between these features is a big complex of athletic fields, fittingly called The Plex. The trees around them create great edges for all manner of birds, and tonight when I visited the passerines du jour were high numbers of Eastern Kingbirds, a bird I had never seen in the city limits before. So that was cool.

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Don the Mastodon

I will be sure to keep you all apprised of the birding opportunities here. I think this area holds great potential. Just tonight I picked up another FOY in Sharp-shinned Hawk to put my green list at 135. Fifteen more species and five months to go to hit the elusive 150, and I have faith that IPFW can help me do it!

3 Dimensions and 2 Generations

I spent a long holiday weekend with much family time, and Walter and I went kayaking downtown on Monday afternoon. They don’t call Fort Wayne the Three Rivers City for nothing!

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Cheese.

It was Walter’s first time in a boat, and he did remarkably well. The fine folks at Fort Wayne Outfitters helped make paddling with kids easy and fun.

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Hotdog toes not included.

We stayed on the water for over an hour, which with a three year old is pretty good. We toured about one and a half miles of the city’s rivers, including those right alongside its namesake fort, several downed logs with plenty of turtles to observe, and three bridges which were counted. Having biked to the depot, I was also keeping an eye out for birds to add to the green list.

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Black-crowned Night Heron

Walter proved to be the reason why I was able to add one to the list. He demanded that I paddle over to a floating beer can, and when we got there we flushed an adult Black-crowned Night Heron from the trees overhead. I managed a smartphone photo before it disappeared. In two and a half years, I have added birds to the list by foot and by bicycle, but this was the first time I got a year bird while in a kayak. Make that a three-dimensional green list!

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Walter’s List!

I encourage Walter to observe the birds around us and tell him what we see, and he is able to identify several species by sight and sound. But I have tried to leave the obsessive-compulsive listing behavior out of it. However, after seeing the heron, I was trying to tell Walter why it was a special bird. I remember saying something along the lines of “I haven’t seen one yet this year, so now I can add it to my list.” Two days later, and tonight while on a walk Walter says unprompted, “Dad, I want to put these birds on my list!” while we were looking at some House Sparrows. When we got home he could not recall what we had seen earlier, but he was able to identify the bird on our feeder as “a girl woodpecker” (it was in fact a female Downy), so he listed that instead. And now my son’s official self-initiated life list is at one species! I couldn’t be prouder. We are officially a two-generation birding household.