Audubonning

In April I joined the board of directors for the local chapter of the Audubon Society. Last Saturday was my first official event: a hike at Foster Park. I was specifically asked to lead it because of my time birding there over the last several years, which was a pretty neat compliment. Foster was chosen because 100 years ago when the park was still being planned, the chapter namesake Charles Stockbridge went to the city of Fort Wayne to advocate that the new park include natural space for wildlife and not just be a big manicured lawn. To gather strength for his argument, he went out in May to count the bird species that could be found along the Saint Mary’s River where the park was to be built. He came up with a list of 44. A century later, my group set out to see if we could meet Mr. Stockbridge’s mark to commemorate his success in influencing one of the city’s keystone parks.

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Yellow-billed Cuckoo

I chose not to ride my bike only because I woke up kind of late, and it was supposed to storm right around the time the hike ended. Of course that meant that right off the bat we had some pretty great birds, but I won’t complain! A pair of Yellow-billed Cuckoos gave spectacular looks in a single lonely tree next to the baseball fields. It was pretty much consensus that nobody in the group of 12 or so had ever seen more than one cuckoo in the same field of view at the same time. Cool!

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Ruby-throated Hummingbird

A little while later, my proud trip leader moment occurred. We were hiking along the river, and I was acting as the official tally keeper for the morning. Mostly I was birding by ear and stopping to get people on new species when they first showed up. We had numerous Ruby-throated Hummingbirds, and I was only tallying them when I heard them squeak close by. I stopped to watch one of them, though, and was rewarded when it landed on a nest right in front of me. Most of the rest of the group were watching an Indigo Bunting pair, so I directed their attention to this tiny hummingbird abode to much collective joy.

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Barred Owl

The hits kept coming as we stumbled into a Barred Owl not five feet off the ground right by the trail. This plus everything else made a great day for the couple of new birders in the group, and we even began waving the attention of other people walking by to get them on the bird, which they did and observed for a long time. Everyone loves owls!

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House Wren

This House Wren in a nest cavity right next to the owl was way more perturbed by us than the raptor sitting next to it.

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Wood Ducks

And for the grand finale, Wood Duck babies. 14 in total. We ended the day with 48 species, breaking the century-old mark set by Mr. Stockbridge.

Besides Stockbridge Audubon, earlier this year I was asked to write an article on green birding for the Indianapolis chapter, Amos Butler Audubon Society. The result is on page 7 of their March/April newsletter. Their editor is also a green birder and is amassing quite the green list from the middle of the state.

I have always birded on my own for the most part, so it is strange but a nice change of pace to all of a sudden be immersed in a bigger birding community.

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“Big” “Green” Weekend

That’s right, I must use the words “big” and “green” in quotation marks when describing my birding weekend. But at least it was a legitimate weekend!

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Savannah Sparrow

Heading south from Fort Wayne and venturing into Wells County, things started off well! I had several grassland birds on my target list whose calls I diligently studied the week before. I was rewarded shortly after sunrise when I started hearing the unmistakable sounds of Savannah Sparrows from nearly everywhere.

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Dickcissel

As I was photographing the sparrow above, a Dickcissel, the first of many on the morning, leapt out of the grass and perched on a wire directly above me. Both of these grassland specialists can only be had with a serious investment in pedaling, so I was pretty happy to see them so early in the day.

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Ouabache State Park

Two and a half hours later, I arrived at Ouabache (pronounced “WAH-bash,” or “oo-BAH-chee if you’re a local) State Park just outside of Bluffton. I had never birded here, nor anywhere else in Wells County. The park was almost totally deserted on a Friday morning and the birds came at me fast, highlighted by my lifer Alder Flycatcher calling at the entrance gate.

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Common Yellowthroat

The park offers a good variety of habitats, and a bike trail winding along the Wabash (pronounced “Ouabache”) River offered up plenty of diversity. Among the birds was this Common Yellowthroat, this photo of which has already generated a 1-star rating on eBird. I know I am not a photographer, but come on.

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Fire Tower

One of the major attractions at Ouabache is a fire tower. Unfortunately, it is closed for renovation.

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Bison!

Fortunately, the other major attraction was working just fine. A large enclosure for American Bison lets visitors get up close and personal with the mighty beasts.

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Chestnut-sided Warbler

The path around the bison pen offers some great bird habitat, too. Among many firsts of the year, I caught a couple of Chestnut-sided Warblers. I think this would be an acceptable 1-star eBird photo. Just imagine that the bird is in focus.

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My trusty steed

This is where I should mention that I had been diligently watching the weather forecast all week. Conditions were supposed to be perfect up until two days before my trip. Then things all turned to crap. At around only 10:30 the rain moved in, so I hid in a shelter to eat lunch and plan my next move.

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Red-headed Woodpecker

The oaks around the picnic shelter allowed me to watch the antics of a couple of Red-headed Woodpeckers while I charged my phone and got a weather update. Earlier in the morning, I knew to expect rain in the late morning, but by that time the forecast changed to say it would continue to do so all afternoon.

I decided that at the next break in the downpour, I would make a hasty exit to try and book it to my next destination in the town of Berne 10 miles away where I had an AirBnb waiting for me and a potentially great birding site in the Limberlost Swamp just down the road. I got through the gates of the park right as the rain came back with a vengeance. I was pedaling directly into the wind, and it took me over two hours to ride the 10 miles. I was thoroughly soaked by the time I got to my lodging. Checking the weather again, I saw that the forecast had changed to rain for the rest of the day, through the night, and into the next day where it would then transform from showers into thunderstorms. I knew I had met my match, so I sheepishly called for a rescue to extract me from Berne and back to Fort Wayne. (Thanks, Jaime!)

I logged 11 new green species from my outing at Ouabache, but none except the Alder Flycatcher were things I couldn’t get from closer to home, so I scrapped any and all plans to ride back down to the park and reconnect to my broken route at a later date.

By Sunday, the weather had cleared and I went birding again, this time 3 rather than 30 miles from home. I headed to Franke Park to see what late migrants were there.

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Scarlet Tanager

Before I even got to the park, I stopped along a new section of the Pufferbelly Trail to examine a Blackburnian Warbler that was singing overhead. That proved to be a great decision, because it was traveling in a mixed flock that included two male Scarlet Tanagers and Bay-breasted, Magnolia, and Tennessee Warblers. The tanager was one of my biggest misses on the green list last year, so it was good to get it back.

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Bay-breasted Warbler

Franke was equally good birding, and I found another Bay-breasted Warbler among the flocks. This seems to be a bird I only ever get in the fall, so it was cool to see one in its breeding plumage.

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Spy RUn

On one trail I saw a particularly diverse flock of migrants on the opposite bank of Spy Run (a creek, not an 80’s arcade game). The brush was in my way, so I climbed onto a gravel bar in the middle of the stream to see just who was there.

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Canada Warbler

The best bird was this sharp male Canada Warbler. This is a bird I see relatively infrequently, but it was one of a couple at the park that day. It even stayed still for several minutes, which is no small feat for a warbler!

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Rose-breasted Grosbeak

In all, I had 10 new green birds, including several of the species that would have been new green birds from my trip to Ouabache. This Rose-breasted Grosbeak was not one of them, but I feel like it’s getting pretty late for them so I included him anyway.

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Combo!

One of the last things I saw before heading home was this Monarch foraging in close proximity to an American Robin. My first bird/butterfly combo, and a fitting end to a redeemed weekend.

This Week’s Plans & Last Week’s Birds

This coming weekend I will give my annual green list a huge jolt. I am going on a three-day, five-county birding bike trip dubbed the Big Green Weekend! (Thanks, Jaime!) Leaving on Friday morning, I will depart Fort Wayne and travel south through Wells and Adams Counties. On Saturday I will go west through Jay and Huntington Counties. My return on Sunday will bring me back northeast through Allen County to Fort Wayne. The total distance will be in the neighborhood of 150 miles.

I will be visiting a large wooded state park, a marsh, a swampy forest, a reservoir, and miles and miles and miles of grassland and farmland in between. I have a decent shot at 125 different species, with the potential for many more if I get lucky. This is a little bit late in the spring for peak diversity, but the weather looks fantastic, and I am still far enough north that I should see a lot of the late migrants and the summer breeders.

I have several target species that would be lifers including Northern Bobwhite, Vesper Sparrow, and King Rail. There are also plenty of others that would be new to the green list, including Summer Tanager, Ring-necked Pheasant, and Bobolink that are all possibilities.

As of today, my green list is at 103 species thanks in large part to the birding I did at Lawton and Franke Parks last week. I will leave you with the highlights so that this post isn’t only text.

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Yellow-rumped Warbler

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Yellow Warbler

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Warbling Vireo

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Swainson’s Thrush

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Rose-breasted Grosbeak

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Jaime took this photo of Mallards in our back yard! Walter called me at work to tell me about it