Yard Work

It’s been a while! I have birded a few times and gone to some cool places over the past month, including the Deetz Nature Preserve in the town of New Haven where I got a long overdue lifer/nemesis in Black-throated Blue Warbler for green bird #152. I also picked up Blackpoll (#153) and Bay-breasted (#154) on that trip to further pump up the list. It is also less than five miles from my new house, which will make it ideal to visit on a Five Mile Radius list that I hope to do next year in addition to all the green birding.

I also did something that I don’t often do and attended a group hike at Eagle Marsh with the local Audubon chapter. I biked there too and made four late Semipalmated Sandpipers green bird #155. Additionally, I was solicited to be on the board of that group because, and I quote, “we need people who aren’t 80.” I probably don’t have the time needed to commit to that, but it was a cool thing to be asked.

Much of the in between time in October was spent yard birding, and I added four species to the list to bring the total to 53 species.


Nashville Warbler

I had a mixed flock of warblers fly through earlier in the month with many Magnolia Warblers, which were new, and several Nashville Warblers, which were the only ones willing to sit still enough to document. I also had Rock Pigeon, Golden-crowned Kinglet, and Barred Owl (on Halloween!) to round out the month. Still no juncos, though.

Speaking of owls in the yard, last weekend I took Walter to Lowe’s to have him help me with a father-son birding project. I decided that we would build a Screech Owl box and put it up in the big maple in our back yard.



Walter was game to help me measure everything out and then proceeded to spend almost an hour using the tape measure on everything else in the garage. For this, The Internet told us that a good box could be made from a single board of 10 inches by 8 feet. They didn’t have cedar, so I chose untreated pine.


Child labor?

I have spent all of my money on bike, binocular, and camera gear (and okay, some Legos), which means that I do not own the stereotypical dad power tools. This owl box was strictly rustic with all cuts made by hand. I figure the owls will appreciate edges that are a little rough.


They see me drillin’

I also don’t own a hole saw. So the entrance hole is rustic too. I took my largest drill bit and just chiseled chunks out of it, with some finishing touches from the generic, lowercase-D dremel.


A home for an owl

Both kids helped me gather some pine needles to line the bottom of the box, and it was hung about 15 feet high in our tree. Eastern Screech Owl would be a state bird for me, but I am optimistic that this will be how I get my Indiana bird.



Building this thing was way easier than I thought it would be. Even if you are a rookie like me and lacking in tools, it is definitely worth it to make one from scratch rather than shell out $60 to buy one premade. Whether or not it actually works remains to be seen, but rest assured I will be live-blogging about it whenever an owl does decide to move in.


Celery Bog

Last week I was in West Lafayette, Indiana, which is where the famously celebrated and exquisitely named Celery Bog Wildlife Area is located. I had specific intentions to try and find the Cinnamon Teal that was reported there the day prior to my visit.


Wood Duck family

The CITE ended up being a one-day wonder which I, and the many other birders present, missed. But the waterfowl were abundant, including the two regular Indiana teal and this pleasant family of Wood Ducks.

I was not saddened over my dip, though. In fact, of the time I spent birding Celery Bog, only 15 minutes or so were half-heartedly spent scanning for the rare bird. The rest of my time was blissfully occupied by the massive wave of warblers and friends that were flying around everywhere.


Bay-breasted Warbler

I arrived just a few hours after a major storm front moved through, and it must have dropped every bird in the area down into the trees of the Celery-green oasis. One of the most numerous birds were Bay-breasted Warblers like this one. Almost all were at eye level and in great light. I had nine warbler species, including my lifer Golden-winged.


Black-and-White Warbler

The other birders around me were all kind of doing the same thing in being ecstatically frustrated by the abundance of smallish birds. There was almost too much to look at.


Scarlet Tanager

The warblers had some great company, including four vireo species and both Scarlet and Summer Tanagers. My first two-tanager day.


Swainson’s Thrush

Several species of thrush were in on the action, too. Chief among them were Swainson’ses.


Somewhere between Peru and Mexico

I eventually had to go to a meeting and ultimately come home (via US-24, which has this great sign right at about the midpoint of the state. Jaime knew I was going to use this caption).


Cooper’s Hawk

Home has been a place for a cool bird lately, too. For the past week or two we have had a large young female Cooper’s Hawk taking up a sentry post in our back yard. She likes to perch and poop on the swing set. This is the best photo I could manage.

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Winnie Cooper

Thankfully Jaime is around to take photos, because she was able to get this great shot the other day. We have dubbed our new neighbor Winnie Cooper and everyone likes her even though she murdered a baby cardinal in full view of our kids. Ever since then the chipmunks helpfully tell us when she is in the yard. Thanks, chipmunks!

Over the Hump!

This morning I rode down to Fox Island with a mission to once and for all hit the 150 species mark on my yearly green list. Spoiler: I succeeded!

Fox Island was chosen specifically because it is the closest spot that has resident Pileated Woodpeckers, and I hoped to stumble into one of those while also searching around for warblers that I missed in the spring. The first new green bird flew over me while I was still out on the road. The square-shaped white patches on the wings of a Red-headed Woodpecker right over me made for an unexpected addition to the list. Had I been driving, I probably would have been moving too fast for the ID, so chalk up #147 for the bike!

#148 happened deep on the trails of Fox Island. As I rounded a bend in the swampy northwestern portion of the property, I saw what I first thought was a female American Goldfinch sitting on a branch at eye level. Then the wing bars and eye ring shouted “empidonax” at me, and I realized I was looking at a Yellow-bellied Flycatcher. Even though I didn’t hear it vocalize, the yellow was outrageous enough to make the ID. Life bird to boot!

There was a small flock of activity with the flycatcher, and the next bird identified was #149, Blackburnian Warbler.


Blackburnian Warbler

I was especially happy to see this bird, because the only other ones I had this year came while I was at my in-laws’ house earlier in the spring. We have a family lunch there almost every Sunday, and one day Jaime and I for some reason decided to drive instead of taking our bikes as usual. There were several of them in the oaks in the front yard (along with my only Scarlet Tanager of the year), and I was worried I might miss them on the green list entirely this year (still a possibility for the tanager).

The flock was so active that I didn’t even realize what #150 for the year was until after tallying my list later. But it turns out that the Northern Waterthrush that popped up on a branch for a few seconds ended up being that milestone bird. This one was also a new addition to my overall green list, clocking in at #184 since 2015.


Wilson’s Warbler

The last new bird of the day is one I always seem to find only in the fall. There were a couple of Wilson’s Warblers for species #151. The bushes this one was feeding in also hosted another bird that stuck its head up momentarily, showing me an obvious striped facial pattern that for a moment stopped me dead in my tracks as I thought I had a Golden-winged Warbler. When the bird reappeared I realized it was a Downy Woodpecker. Oops.


Muskrat Babies: we make our dreams come true!

As I ate lunch on the deck of the nature center, I watched a baby muskrat and counted up all of the birds that could still be had this year with a little bit of luck and only moderate effort, and it made me excited to keep going. Stoking my enthusiasm is the group of folks who have joined the Midwest Green Birding group I created on Facebook, and conversations about green big years are already happening. Even if you’re not based in the Midwest, feel free to join if you are into that kind of thing!


Juvenile MODO

When I got home, I must have been very exhausted and not moving much, because as I sat in the back yard this juvenile Mourning Dove just about landed on my head. It startled me enough that I yelled.


Mourning Dove

This bird, which I am pretending is the mom, was not too happy and flapped up out of the bushes to see what was going on. Sorry, MODOs!

Two Thirds Plus Three

On Sunday I rode out to Eagle Marsh to play mop-up duty on shorebirds. Of the possibilities, the two Yellowlegses were the most obvious outstanding omissions from my green list.

Continental Divide

Continental Divide

In the last year and a half there was some serious earthwork at Eagle Marsh. Some of it was to repair infrastructure damaged from flooding, some of it was habitat restoration, and some of it was to control invasive Asian Carp. Eagle Marsh is on the last line of defense for the Great Lakes, with the fish reaching the property but no farther. The newly opened Continental Divide trail meanders along high ground in between the two watersheds, with carp on the Mississippi side but not the Great Lakes side. Spillways between levees have chain link fences projecting over the high water mark to physically prevent the fish from making the jump.


Belted Kingfisher

Even with such high stakes, this Belted Kingfisher was not interested in following anyone’s rules. Punk.


Bald Eagle

Meanwhile in the other watershed, I wondered if the possibility of a clumsy eagle dropping its dinner over the berm could be the proverbial straw on the camel’s back?


Great Blue Heron

The birds didn’t seem to bother with such questions. As always, it was all about food. Usually skittish, this Great Blue Heron did not care at all about how close I was.


The definition of potential energy

It slowly crouched into a striking position and waited patiently as fish rippled around in the water.



The heron had much more patience than I did. While it watched for lunch, I turned my camera to the mud behind it to try and get one of those Lesser/Greater Yellowlegs comparison shots. This is the best I could do. But both birds were had, so they officially gave me a new green year personal record and only two thirds of the way through the year. Woo!



Meanwhile, the heron made its catch, the action of which I missed. It didn’t appear to be a carp either. Bummer. At least it was a substantial meal.


Lesser Yellowlegs

So back to shorebirds I turned. I could not turn any of the Yellowlegs into Stilt Sandpipers, and try as I might, I could not turn any of the Leasts into Semipalmateds.


Eastern Kingbird

So in an uncharacteristic move for Eagle Marsh, I got distracted by passerines. A small flock of young kingbirds bravely defended their tree from a Cedar Waxwing.


Warbling Vireo

But they totally didn’t care about this bird. In my field notes I wrote this down as ‘vireo sp.’ Then I convinced myself it was a Tennessee Warbler. Following that, some spirited discussion on Facebook had a couple of experts whose word I trust very highly call it a Philadelphia Vireo which would have been a county bird. But the final verdict, I believe, is Warbling Vireo. Even with those dark lores, the overall coloration and shape of the bird make it the most boring possibility.


Green Heron

A bird with no possible conflict of identity was this Green Heron.


American Mink

The heron was hunting the exact same stretch of water as a sneaky American Mink, which was the last thing I saw before heading home.

I mounted my bike and started riding home on the towpath trail, but then I remembered that I still had an uneaten Cliff bar with me. I pulled over and as I was eating a weird song erupted out of the brush very close to the trail and to my right. I recognized the song which sounded like a DJ scratching records, but it took me a moment to place it. Bell’s Vireo! Talk about a right-place-right-time bird. I managed this cell phone video to catch a little bit of the song (if you can hear it over the shrillness of the insects). BEVI is regular but uncommon in Allen County, with only a handful of records each year. I had heard this species twice before at Eagle Marsh, but it was totally off my radar as a possibility on my ride that day. This was definitely a bird only made possible by biking, since there would not have been reason for me to be in that area if I drove.

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Red-shouldered Hawk

The weekend was incredibly productive even from home, where a Red-shouldered Hawk was sitting on a utility pole across the street when I got home from work on Thursday. This yard bird was also new for the green list this year, meaning that it plus my three additions on Saturday give me 146 species, and it’s still only August. I could count up the four most glaring holes in my list to put me at the ever-elusive 150 mark, but I don’t want to jinx it. Let’s just say that most wanted #1 rhymes with “Fileated Hoodpecker.”

Whiteout Conditions

Yesterday was fairly improbable. First, the obvious reason:


Eclipse through an Android

As it turns out, the solar eclipse was pretty cool looking, but it didn’t really translate through the camera of an Android phone.


Speaking of androids…

During mid-afternoon northern Indiana’s sky slowly dimmed and then got brighter again all thanks to the approximately 80% coverage the eclipse afforded us at this latitude. Here is me doing my best Daft Punk impression with a welding mask. The protective headgear will probably make an appearance again in 2024 when the encore performance will be much more impressive in Indiana.

2024 eclipse

Path of Totality: 2024 edition

Before the light show had totally ended I pointed my car towards southeast Michigan where I had a city council meeting to attend later that evening. I knew of a summering Whooping Crane that was directly on my route and would have been a lifer, so I decided I would try to pick it up on my way into town. I checked eBird first and then Facebook to confirm its continuing presence, the latter of which told me there was also a Swallow-tailed Kite less than 10 miles away from the crane’s known whereabouts. So I performed a double chase of two improbable birds. The kite was first, and the number one jam of the summer started playing on the radio just as I arrived. I took it to be a good sign considering the events of the day and stark black-and-whiteness of the bird.


Swallow-tailed Kite

The crowd of cars and pile of long lenses let me know right away that the bird was there. This may have been the combination easiest chase/best bird I have ever completed since it was literally exactly where I was going anyway and STKI is just so damn cool. Lifering a bird 1,200 miles out of its normal range with almost no effort on the day of a solar eclipse was just a bit too much, and the birding gods must have agreed, because I whited out on the Whooping Crane. But that just means I can hold on to hope for lifering it as a yard bird when it flies over in the spring, which may or may not be an event more improbable than the combination of things yesterday.

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.


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.


The Fourth

Then an Indigo Bunting joined them for good measure.


Green Heron

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


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.


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.


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.


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.


Least Sandpiper

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


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.


Spotted Sandpiper

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



And a Killdeer, because why not?

Mess with CATE.JPG

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.


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?

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.

Local Patch

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.


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.

St Joseph River.JPG

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.


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.


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.


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.


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!