Birding by Bike: A How-to

Step 1: Ride a bike.

Step 2: Observe birds.

I had planned in my head this grand series of blog posts about how to most effectively bird by bike. But after thinking about it, I realized that nobody needs that. All you need to do is do it at least once, and if you like it, great! Then keep doing it.

I think we all fall into the trap of hyper-competitiveness that is made worse by the internet. I could tell you about how I have honed my strategy in bike-birding and what I think is the best way to do it. But you are not me, so it doesn’t matter. If your bike has two wheels (or more! or less!) then that is all that matters. Well, that and observing birds. You don’t need fancy gear. Inflate your tires and put on a backpack to carry your binoculars and some granola bars. Here is the equipment you need to bike-bird:

1.) A helmet.

2.) Binoculars, probably, but only if you want.

Again, I was going to list the accoutrements I have purchased in my two-and-a-half years of full-blown bike birding, but that would just seem like another barrier to entry for someone thinking about giving it a try for the first time. The biggest hurdle to get over when choosing to bird by bike is not equipment or physical fitness, but FOMO: Fear Of Missing Out.

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Swainson’s Thrush

Find a local patch as soon as you can, and bird the hell out of it. You won’t have the time or the energy to bike across town to the known hotspots that throw off eBird rarities. The Swainson’s Thrushes won’t care. I found this one and many other common migrants at a random woodlot close to my new house back in May. Eventually you will not even think about that potential Alder Flycatcher that may or may not be out at the marsh 15 miles away; instead you will be thinking about what you can find next at your local patch. It took me a long time for this to sink in, but once it did I enjoyed birding a lot more. The birds at Foster Park (and now the California Road Woodlot) were my patch birds, and therefore MY birds. I found them. It felt good. And I didn’t have to buy gas.

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Yellow-breasted Chat

Eventually, you will want to leave the local patch. But since you have gotten good at bike birding, it won’t be as big of a deal if you need to ride an hour to get to a specific place. And that’s where you will get some really good birds to add to your list, like the Yellow-breasted Chat that I saw today at the Dustin preserve when I visited again to reconnect my green list to the flat tire I suffered three weeks ago.

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Yellow-throated Vireo

So yes, flat tires and things will happen. You will encounter unpaved roads, gravel, and roadside trash that will force you to invest in a decent hybrid bike, tools, and a repair kit. You will eventually want that stuff anyway, because you will want to go farther and farther in fulfillment of finding new birds for the green list. But that happens way later. It happens after you have seen a bunch of Yellow-throated Vireos. It happens after you have bike birded for the first time.

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Turtle

You will be able to stop on a moment’s notice to look at cool stuff crossing the road, like small turtles with leeches stuck to their backs. Or slam on the breaks because you heard a sparrow way out in the grass by the road, and because you are on a bike, you can actually hear it and count it. Eventually, you will get to the point where you don’t like driving to birds any more.

Try bike birding once! You will like it. It is good for you. It is good for birds. Yay!

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Acres Land Trust – Bird Blitz 2017

On Saturday I participated in the inaugural Bird Blitz held by the Acres Land Trust. Acres is a great non-profit organization that exists to preserve exceptional examples of natural areas in Indiana, Ohio, and Michigan, and they have dozens of nature preserves scattered throughout those states. The Bird Blitz was a fundraising event for them that also doubled as a way to conduct a bird census of their entire network of preserves. Throw in a cool shirt designed by the Yonder Clothing Company, and I was all-in.

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Dustin Preserve

Volunteers were asked to register for a specific property, and I requested to count at the Tom and Jane Dustin Nature Preserve so that I could participate in the festivities by bike. It is about 12 miles north of home in Huntertown, Indiana, and it also conveniently doubles as the Acres main office where the post-blitz tally and after party was held. This was the first time I experienced “birding” and “after-party” in the same instance. The pizza was good!

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Trail

The Dustins willed their property and home to Acres, and it has become a habitat of reclaimed farmland, hardwood forest, and steep bluffs overlooking Cedar Creek. The terrain is actually quite steep, and it is much different than most other birding locales in northeast Indiana. This was my first time at the preserve, and even though migration has settled down, the day was hot, and I birded in the late afternoon, I racked up a pretty good species list.

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Blue-winged Warbler

The best bird, and by far the most surprising, was a stunning male Blue-winged Warbler working the edge of the meadow area. I was not expecting to add any new warbler species to my green list in June, but that’s what this was.

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“Bee-buzz!”

He appeared to be on territory, and I watched him for quite a long time. Other new pick-ups for the year included Yellow-throated Vireo and Black-capped Chickadee. I have written before that Fort Wayne falls squarely in the overlap zone of Carolina and Black-capped Chickadee, with most birds being Carolinas. But Huntertown is far enough north that the resident chickadee is Black-capped, and their vocalizations told me as much.

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Little Wood Satyr

I had one lifer during the day in the form of a Little Wood Satyr. Its habitat preference mirrored that of the Blue-winged Warbler.

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Eastern Tiger Swallowtail

There were also loads of Eastern Tiger Swallowtails, this one with only one swallowtail. I want to say this is my favorite butterfly, but that would be like someone saying their favorite bird is a Northern Cardinal. It’s too obvious of a choice. But look at it!

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Eastern Wood-Pewee

Even if Eastern Wood-Pewees were gaudy, you would still never see them. I have probably heard 100 of them for every one that I have actually seen. That is probably because I don’t stop to look for them after I hear them singing, but this one was breaking character to forage way down low in the trees.

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Cedar Creek

The Blitz event was great, but I would be happy to return to Dustin again for just plain birding. I will have to return, actually. As the evening ended I departed on my bike and headed home. About 100 feet from the preserve office I started skidding and wobbling uncontrollably on the gravel driveway. I looked down and saw that my rear tire was totally flat. I found the hole pretty easily, but I stupidly had nothing to fix it with. Thankfully my father-in-law was up to the task of picking up me and my stranded bike and brought me home. Thanks, Dave!

So right now I am disconnected from the end of my green list by 12 miles of riding. I picked up three new species (for a year-to-date total of 131) that I refuse to leave off, so I will have to ride back up to Dustin now that I have fixed the bike and then ride back home to resume adding species to the list. Thankfully this didn’t happen a month earlier or I would be missing species by the day. I already have more green birds in June than I did last year, but it’s still a bit frustrating. In any case, that incident will inspire the next couple of posts I have scheduled about how to bird by bike.

Big Green Day 2017

On Wednesday, most people in my office went down to Indy for pre-500 festivities. Since that is not my thing at all, I decided it would be the perfect day to undertake a green big day, which is something I have been wanting to do for a while. Last year I did a day-long ride, but I wasn’t strategic about maximizing the number of species, and I definitely did not prepare well enough. So I put a plan together and got everything ready the evening before.

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Provisions

Pictured above: my binoculars (Vortex Diamondback 8×42), camera (Nikon Coolpix P600), notepad, pen, house key, driver’s license and credit card for emergencies, two dollars in change to pay the Fox Island admission fee, a pair of extra socks, sunscreen, bug spray, bike lock, hat, sport bottle, a big thing of PowerAde that was in my fridge for like a year, three liters of water, three Cliff bars, a bag of trail mix, and two peanut butter sandwiches. Not pictured: my phone and a multi-tool. Oh, and also my bike. All of this fit into my trunk bag and panniers and wasn’t really that difficult to lug around all day.

Last year on my long ride I went just about as hard as I could in between birding stops to maximize time, and it ended up costing me. I hit a wall in the early afternoon that was due to a combination of a lack of calories and dehydration, so this supply list was built mostly to keep that from happening again. I decided to pace myself, take it easy on the rides, and do a lot of birding while actually on my bike.

I left home just after 4:30am on Wednesday with my plan being to make it to Fox Island before sunrise to rack up as many singing migrant passerines as possible, and then do mop-up duty on grassland and marsh birds at other nearby locations as needed. I netted my first bird of the day, a singing American Robin, while I was still in the garage, and my first new green bird came just a few minutes into my ride as I heard a calling Common Nighthawk over my neighborhood. As I rode through downtown heading toward Fox Island, I continued to build my list with surprising additions of Yellow Warbler and Gray Catbird singing vigorously in the pre-dawn. I made it to the towpath trail near Eagle Marsh and then got a county bird as an American Woodcock peented from somewhere far off in the grass. Things were going well, so naturally I ditched my planned route all together.

Eagle Marsh

The sky was all purple, there were people running everywhere…

I instead stopped at the east end of Eagle Marsh to listen for what would be my only shot at rails and bitterns. I struck out on those, but I picked up several year birds and enjoyed a pretty great sunrise.

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Why did the crayfish cross the road?

The most interesting thing I found was a rather large crustacean crossing the gravel driveway right next to my bike. I am not sure what this fellow was doing, because there was not much water anywhere around him. I have never seen a crayfish on dry land before. I left Eagle Marsh and continued on toward Fox Island in daylight.

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Wild Turkey

The first really good bird that I saw was a lone Wild Turkey foraging in a freshly plowed field. I stopped to take a photo and inadvertently got a pickup truck to slow down and see what I was looking at. This is my first green turkey.

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Turkey Vultures

Further down the road I found some more turkeys of the vulture variety. I don’t usually see them perched on the ground, so I stopped again to admire. By then it was about 7:00, and another mile down the road I was at Fox Island, and I changed plans again. It was posted that the park didn’t open until 9:00, and although it would have been totally easy for me to just bike on it, I felt very guilty about even thinking of doing that. I have birded with the caretaker who lives on-site, and I figured that would be a pretty crummy thing to do to him without first asking permission, so I stopped to consider my options. I checked the weather, and that helped me plan my next move.

The wind was supposed to pick up considerably in a few hours, as in blowing at a constant 20 miles per hour with gusts up to 40 miles per hour, and it would be coming from the southwest which was the direction of all of my other planned stops and the opposite direction of home. If I took time to bird here now, I would have to ride face-first into that wind for the rest of the day, and I did not want to do that. So I started riding that direction to get to my furthest point as soon as possible, and then ride with the wind at my back all the way home.

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Grasshopper Sparrow

I didn’t have to ride far before new birds started showing up. Backtracking out from Fox Island, I heard a Grasshopper Sparrow and stopped to watch for it. It hopped up onto a sign for my first ever view of this species. This is a bird I definitely would have missed if I was in a car. Continuing my ride, I heard at least two more calling in various places during the morning. Pro-tip: bike birding is great for finding Grasshopper Sparrows.

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White-tailed Deer

I saw a whole lot of deer out in the open country as I worked my way southwest toward the airport.

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Eastern Meadowlark

Eastern Meadowlarks were similarly numerous and are birds I have never photographed before. It is pretty enlightening to see how common these birds actually are considering how infrequently I encounter them from my usual birding spots closer to the city.

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Spotted Sandpiper

Along the way, I found a Spotted Sandpiper sharing a flooded field with a bunch of Semipalmated Plovers. All were new green year birds, and shorebirds were a big hole in my list last year so it was good to pick them up.

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Orchard Oriole

Around 9:00 I made it to Arrowhead Prairie way down in the southwest corner of Allen County. I immediately heard a Henslow’s Sparrow along the roadside there for my first really great bird of the morning. I couldn’t locate where it was singing from, but my consolation were several singing Orchard Orioles, the first ones on my green list in three years.

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Field Sparrow

I took a break at Arrowhead and tallied my species, which numbered 52 without looking for any of the famous woodland migrants. A huge flock of Field Sparrows kept me company.

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Fox Island

I made it back to Fox Island about an hour later, and by then the wind had really started to pick up, plus I had been riding almost constantly since 4:30, so it felt good to get off my bike and use some different muscles. The wind was great to keep the mosquitoes at bay, but it made hearing birdsong somewhat difficult. The ever increasing temperature didn’t make things any easier, either. But I had several target species to find, including my only real chance for Pileated Woodpecker and some great habitat (pictured above) for Prothonotary Warbler.

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Toad

I struck out on both targets as well as almost all other possible additions to the list. I managed only five warbler species the whole morning. I resigned myself to looking at other things. Thankfully, I had a “then suddenly…” moment.

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Black-billed Cuckoo

A cuckoo flew directly in front of me and perched pretty much right over my head. I expected it to be my first of the year Yellow-billed, but instead it was a lifer Black-billed! This quickly became the best bird of the day and gave me back some of my original optimism about the day.

Re-energized, I set out into the brushy prairie area of the park to try for one more possible specialty before departing. I played tapes of Yellow-breasted Chat to try and find that target bird. I got a response when a much larger bird popped up out of the bushes. Northern Mockingbird! This was a county bird for me. They are nothing to write home about downstate in Indiana, but they get exceedingly scarce the further north you go.

Having spent about four hours at Fox Island, the afternoon was progressing rapidly, and the wind was brutal with temperatures close to 90. This made for some weird birding. I was at 72 species with some really great and unexpected ones, but I was still completely lacking in common birds like Carolina Chickadee, House Finch, and every raptor.

Especially grateful for my earlier decision to play to the wind’s advantage, I headed northeast to Eagle Marsh for the second time. Riding mostly with the wind, the few turns I had to make against it were insane. On one stretch, I had to pedal as hard as I could downhill in low gear just to actually move. But when I turned my back to it, I blasted down the roads at almost the speed of traffic.

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Dunlin

There was almost nothing happening on the mudflats except for some hilarious backwards-flying swallows trying and failing to deal with the wind. I managed only one new bird, Dunlin, but it was a dapper alternate bird and one that I missed last year.

Deciding to pick off my remaining possible birds one-by-one, I left Eagle Marsh and headed toward home via Foster Park. I managed to snag the always reliable Yellow-throated Warbler there, with one singing despite the heat. Then I rode the greenway back toward downtown to try and get a few more common birds on the list.

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Magnolia Warbler

The only interesting thing I found on the greenway was a deceased Magnolia Warbler. Thankfully I did see a live one at Fox Island, and this one had no obvious signs of mortality. I suppose a cyclist could have hit it?

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My final route

I made it home around 4:00 and managed to pick up two more species in the yard over the course of the evening: House Finch and Red-tailed Hawk, which ended up being my last bird of the day. In all, I covered 57.5 miles over the course of the day and ended at 77 species. I got some really good finds like the cuckoo and Henslow’s Sparrow, but I missed some embarrassingly easy ones like Carolina Chickadee, Green Heron, Great Egret, and American Kestrel. But the mark has officially been set for Allen County if not Indiana, and I have every intention of beating this number next year. Although I hope someone else does it first.

A really good May morning at Fox Island could land close to 100 species, and that is without any other stops. I don’t feel like weather was a disadvantage, though. If nothing else, my fuel and hydration strategy worked perfectly, and I felt no ill effects from physical exertion during the day or in those following.

The Life of a Cardinal

Disclaimer: This is another post about yard birds. And the yard birds in question are cardinals.

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Mama Pam

Our yard has a Northern Cardinal nest in the bushes along the edge of our back yard. The kids enjoy watching the pair, named Jim and Pam (as are all male and female cardinals anywhere, respectively). Even Alice, who is 21 months old, can proclaim “Jim!” when the male lands on the bird bath.

These birds have had a hell of a time in the month we have lived with them. It all started with the grosbeaks, who were here for three days but fiercely bullied all comers away from the feeders. This was good news with regard to our House Sparrows (who also have a colony of two nests on our front porch that have blown down three times between them), but it seriously strained the abilities of our Jim and Pam.

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House Wren

Throw in a House Wren (unnamed) whose territory seems to overlap entirely with that of the cardinals and will chase away any and all birds who get too close to him, and you have quite the stressful situation.

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Cardinal Nest

To top it all off, in investigating the nest while the parents were both away I noticed that one of their dear brood seems to be a cowbird. The young’un in the back of the nest may be decrying this, or it may just be begging for another helping of arthropod. In any case, Jim and Pam are raising a child of their own as well as a foster child in this hellacious suburban wildlife environment, and they are dealing with it admirably…

Raccoon

Oh snap.

While at the neighborhood park this past weekend, Jaime, the kids, and I discovered three raccoon babies all doing various raccoon-y things in different corners of the park. For the first time, I broke into the “animals are wild, they aren’t pets like Emma the Dog, etc, etc.” speech with Walter. This seemed to go over well. Until the next evening when one of them showed up in the cedar trees alongside our house. The kids lost their minds.

We tried to restrain Walter and Alice from running up to the raccoon while simultaneously encouraging them to observe the wildlife. Then it dawned on me what the little beast was really up to. A red blur flashed into the cedars at the same instant.

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Jim the Cardinal sizes up the threat

Jim had exactly the same thought as I did. He zoomed in from out of nowhere to let the raccoon (bottom right) know that he was there (top left). Jim stood his ground for a few moments, trying to decide how much the raccoon actually knew.

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Secret Nest Location

This photo is immediately to the right of the one above it. The cardinal nest is midway up the vegetation directly in front of the utility pole. For a minute, it seemed like the clumsy young raccoon was just going to blunder into traffic, and it actually fell out of the cedar tree and landed on its head. But then it did a 180 and headed right for the bushes.

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The action builds

At this point, it was obvious that the raccoon knew there was something good to be had, but it couldn’t quite figure out where. This is when Jim really sprang into action. He flew down to the raccoon’s level and unleashed a devastating series of “chip chip chips” in its general direction. For a moment I thought he might go full Killdeer and feign injury to draw the predator away, but he was honest about his status as defender of the nest, and with erect crest he continued to hop around issuing warning calls.

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The plan is working

The plan worked to perfection. The raccoon became much more interested in the bright red thingy making noise, and it followed Jim far into the neighboring yard and out of sight. It did not come back.

Jim and Pam meanwhile earned a well-deserved break, and within minutes of the all clear they were both leisurely eating back at the feeders.

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Gray Catbird

Or least they were until the catbirds ran them off. What a life to be a cardinal in this day and age.

Family Birding

The birding has been good lately, with my new house an ideal launchpad to hotspot Franke Park. I have been twice in as many weeks and have pumped up my green list to 98 species. Photos, however, have not been easy to get this spring. Here is the best (and only) one from those trips:

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Blue-gray Gnatcatcher

The yard birding has been superb, too. And the whole family has been involved. It all started a few weeks ago when we added Mallard to the list. We had Mallard as a yard bird at the old house, but only as a flyover.

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Mallard

These were different. Jaime spotted them in the yard underneath our feeders one evening at dinner, and things just weren’t the same after that for the kids.

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Birds and Kids

The ducks did laps around the house as the kids chased them from window to window. Dinner was put on hold.

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Rose-breasted Grosbeak

A similar thing happened today when a small flock of Rose-breasted Grosbeaks arrived at the house. While I was at work, Jaime proceeded to text me updates on the comings and goings of these charismatic feeder birds. She also took several great photos, like the one above.

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Rose-breasted Grosbeaks

We had at least three individual Rosebeasts appear all at once. And they seem to be thick all over the state as of today.

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Kids and a Rosebeast

And again, the kids got in on the action, too.

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White-throated Sparrow

The yard has also played host to a variety of other birds, and the list is already up to 35 species, several of which have been sparrows.

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White-crowned Sparrow

White-throateds have been common and consistent all spring, but today the surprise was a White-crowned. WCSP is a bird we never had on our old yard list.

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Chipping Sparrow

The sparrow train continued with Chipping, too.

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American Robin

We’ve also had thrushes, like this puffed-up male American Robin.

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Gray-cheeked Thrush

A more interesting thrush appeared last weekend. I assumed the skulker in the bushes was a Swainson’s Thrush, but a more careful look revealed its negative field marks: no strong eye ring, no buff-colored face, and no warmth to the rest of the bird’s grayish feathers. Good for Gray-cheeked Thrush! I have only seen a couple of these birds in the county, and I missed them entirely last year. This individual was a strong addition to the yard and green lists.

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Nashville Warbler

Another high-quality migrant passing through the yard was a Nashville Warbler. Or is this a female Canada Warbler? I had to double-check that this was in fact a Nashville by referencing the gray hood continuing under the beak, as opposed to the yellow from the breast reaching up to the beak on a female Canada. That is not a field mark I have ever had to notice before, but the strength of the eye ring screaming “Canada” required it.

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Downy Woodpecker

Not all birds are that tough, though. Downy Woodpeckers are gluttons and will pose nicely so long as the suet is flowing. This female gave little regard for manners as chunks of it flew from her saturated feathers.

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House Finch

Rounding out the photos is a sorry male House Finch showing some nasty swelling around his eyes.

That’s all for the mostly run-of-the-mill. At the end of April, I was running ahead of my listing pace for the last two years, and that is even considering that migration here has been somewhat late with a lot of rain and wind keeping birds south. My next big outing will be on May 17th when I plan on undertaking a Big Green Day. I have never done anything like that before, so it will be fun to see how many species I can rack up by bike and how high I can grow the list. Stay tuned!

Catching Up

Moving was a huge time (and money) sink, but I still had a very good birding time lately. Here are some highlights spanning back through the last month.

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Northern Pintail

I made a concentrated effort to bird Eagle Marsh multiple times before switching houses, because that destination is now about an hour’s ride away rather than just 20 minutes by bike. It was very productive this spring, and the newly created mitigation wetlands offered some up-close viewing for ducks I don’t often see well like these Northern Pintail.

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Red-breasted Merganser

The neighboring ponds at the Serv-All sanitation mitigation area also did well. I had my first green Red-breasted Mergansers there back in March.

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American Mink

The adjoining marshes also represent mammals well. Eagle Marsh is the best place to see mustelids in the area, with skunks and minks both abundant. This mink was entirely unconcerned with me.

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Ruddy Duck

I was also able to slay a state nemesis (finally)! I have gone out to the marsh seeking Ruddy Ducks more times than I can count, and I was never able to get one until April 1. The date and my previous luck made me think it was a joke, but this was in fact a real bird and a new addition to the green list.

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Tundra Swans

The Ruddy Duck was exciting enough that I almost missed another state (and life) bird swimming in the same impoundment. These two Tundra Swans were a complete surprise since they only pass through the county in small numbers. I admired them for a while and tried to decide if they were Tundras or Trumpeters as I hiked around the water to try and get the best vantage point. In doing so, I momentarily shared the same stretch of path with a guy who had a huge long lens and a complete camo outfit.

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Tundra Swans

The swans were totally fine with our presence, and Mr. Long Lens put his camera down for a moment, so I whispered over to him, “Tundra or Trumpeter?” He looked at me like I insulted his grandmother, then he did an about face and marched away at about 30 miles per hour without saying a word. Birding is weird.

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Belted Kingfisher

The encounter was fine, though, because I much preferred to hang out with a Belted Kingfisher anyway.

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Purple Finch

Fast forward a week, and I had a couple of hours one afternoon after our move during which I intended to ride my bike from the new house to the old and back to connect my green list and make it continuous. Fortunately for me, I also had a pretty awesome target bird to chase in my old neighborhood when a former neighbor and birding friend alerted me to Purple Finches at her home feeders.

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Purple Finches

I picked up the male right away, and within a minute or two he flew in to the feeder with a female for some up-close and highly satisfying views. A county bird, and my first time ever seeing one in male-type plumage. A huge addition to the green list.

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Ruby-crowned Kinglet

Finally we are in the present, and having connected my green list to the new house, my new yard provided its first addition in the form of a small, pleasant flock of Ruby-crowned Kinglets flitting around my pine tree. I am pretty excited about the yard. It has spruce, pine, cedar, cherry, and ash trees for plenty of diversity, and it is directly across the street from a park with a large stand of mature oaks. A week and a half in I am at 23 birds on my yard list. I will be eagerly checking out a couple of new spots that may also be good enough for the title “local patch” once migration really kicks into gear. The green list is currently at 77, and it should be exploding in numbers very shortly. I can’t wait!

The End of a Yard List

I haven’t posted in a while because I have moved. I am still in Fort Wayne, but as of yesterday Grosbeak Gardens has officially ended its run as the location of my yard list among many other things. Because it was so awesome of a home (with some more background on that here), I feel as though a Greatest Hits list of yard birds is in order. All photos below were taken in my old yard.

First, the namesake:

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Rose-breasted Grosbeak

Rose-breasted Grosbeaks were the only grosbeak ever in the yard, but they made an annual appearance, and they were a hit with all members of the household.

Rose-Breasted Grosbeak

Eleanor

The first one showed up around Mother’s Day of 2013, and her name was Eleanor. She showed up daily for about two weeks and became a minor celebrity.

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Owlbert

Other named visitors included Owlbert the Barred Owl, shown here perched in our front ash tree right around Christmas last year. He (or she) was at least two owls who were very vocal every winter and spring we lived in the house. I last heard Owlbert the night before we moved, which was a relief since there was no trace of him for a few weeks after I recorded Great Horned Owl in his favorite spruce trees earlier in the year.

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Jim

We also had Jim the cardinal. Any and every male cardinal was Jim. Our high count of Jims was eight at one time. Jim and his wife Pam nested in our magnolia tree the first summer we lived in the house. Pam laid three eggs, two of which hatched, and one of which fledged.

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Rested-bread Nuthatch

We also had a troupe of Rested-bread Nuthatches, of which Walter was quite fond because I got so excited when they showed up for two consecutive winters. The high count was three at once last fall, and the birds at my feeders who would stash seeds in my neighbor’s carport roof represented my green ticks in 2015, 2016, and 2017.

Scarlet Tanager

Scarlet Tanager

One spring morning in 2014 I woke up to the song of a Scarlet Tanager directly out my bedroom window. I ran outside to chase it down the street as it hopped from tree to tree eating wasps. This was probably my favorite one-timer yard bird.

Cape May Warbler

Cape May Warbler

Also in 2014 was a flock of Cape May Warblers foraging in the spruces. I was watching football, and movement caught my eye. I found three of these birds, which were traveling through Indiana very late in October. I saw some again in the spruces last year, and those two sightings are my only two for the county.

Swainson's Thrush

Swainson’s Thrush

Swainson’s Thrushes also stopped by a few times to check in. One morning after a storm there was a fallout of Swainsons in the neighborhood, with individuals running in the street and eating out of the leaf litter in the gutters like robins.

Yard NOPA

Northern Parula

Once when I was grilling in the back yard an aggressively territorial Northern Parula came by to inspect. I was deemed unworthy, and it did not come back.

#117 Least Flycatcher

Least Flycatcher

Also in the one-hit wonder category was a Least Flycatcher who appeared soon after we moved in.

bwha

Broad-winged Hawk

In the same vein was Broad-winged Hawk, although in this case the one-hit was a kettle of about 200 birds swirling overhead.

Sandhill Cranes

Sandhill Cranes

Sandhill Cranes also played the flyover card, but only a couple times a year and never consistently. Some times they showed up in March, other times in December or January. They always evoked great happiness with their bugling, however. Unfortunately, I never had a Whooping Crane mixed in.

Final stats for the yard are 72 species observed, with the first being a Jim on April 30, 2013 and the last new species being an Eastern Phoebe on March 25, 2017. I had eight warbler species, four woodpeckers, three flycatchers, two owls, four hawks, three wrens, three thrushes, and two chickadees. The ‘best’ yard bird was probably Yellow-billed Cuckoo, the ‘worst’ definitely House Sparrow, most surprising the flyover Double-crested Cormorants, and my personal favorite Scarlet Tanager (my spark bird after all). Owlbert was the biggest celebrity, with my neighborhood association dubbing him the unofficial mascot for a time. The most obvious birds that I never saw in my yard were Eastern Bluebird despite that they were all over my neighborhood, Red-winged Blackbird, or Killdeer in at least a flyover fashion.

My new yard, which as of now is unnamed, is already playing catch up. But after three days it boasts 11 species, and I am looking forward to seeing what ends up on the list.