Best Bird of 2013

If you have been following my blog (thanks), you probably know that I set out to do a “big year” in the state of Indiana in 2013. My goal was to see 250 species in the state, but those plans quickly fell apart when I got a new job, moved to a new city, bought a new (old) house, and had a new baby. So the big year simply became a year list, but I still went chasing after new things. I had 38 life birds in 2013, bringing my total to 220, up from 182 on January 1, 2013. And on January 1, 2012 my life list numbered 109 species. So although where I sit may not be particularly impressive, I am pleased with the birding prowess I have gained in the past two years.

Many of the new birds that I saw in 2013 were particularly noteworthy: Evening Grosbeak, Long-Tailed Duck, or the Snowy Owl that I just saw today. However, I was guided to those birds (and quite a few others) by precise directions to known locations where others had already staked out the bird and observed its habits in enough detail to post reliable instructions online for rookies like me to find them. While seeing new and rare birds is always great, doing it in this way leaves something to be desired. That is why none of the birds previously listed are my best of 2013. The one I am choosing is one I found myself:

American Bittern

American Bittern

This American Bittern was the 90th of the 151 species of birds that I saw this year. I saw it in its expected range and habitat during its expected time of year in the spring at Eagle Creek Park in Indianapolis, not far from my home at the time. It was the last bird I saw on my last birding outing in Indy before moving to Fort Wayne, and I found it myself. I was so excited to see it because it was uncommon enough to be something I was not expecting, I was able to get a great photo despite these birds’ reputations for hiding out in tall reeds, and it is a big impressive predator. And I found it myself. Did I mention that? Stumbling across a bird in this way and appreciating it in the moment easily trumps following a list-serv to get to some Wal-Mart parking lot to find somebody else’s bird. Here’s to more encounters like this in 2014!

Early Migrants

Jaime and I were back in Indianapolis this weekend to pack up all of our worldly possessions in anticipation for our move to The Fort. But I still managed to get in a trip to Eagle Creek, and I am certainly glad that I did. I ended up with 10 new year birds, including a life bird, some of which were migrating early enough to be considered “rare” by eBird:

#082 Black-and-White Warbler

#082 Black-and-White Warbler

My first Warbler of the year was a variety I was not expecting: Black-and-White. As far as I can tell from what has been reported, this fellow may be one of the first to be seen in the state this year.

#083 Blue-Gray Gnatcatcher

#083 Blue-Gray Gnatcatcher

A swarm of Blue-Gray Gnatcatchers were feeding with the Black-and-White Warbler, representing my next FOY (first of year).

#084 Yellow-Rumped Warbler

#084 Yellow-Rumped Warbler

My next Warbler was the one that I expected to be first. Yellow-Rumped Warblers are just about the only Warbler expected to winter in Indiana.

#086 Ruby-Crowned Kinglet

#085 Ruby-Crowned Kinglet

Continuing the theme of small, color-named birds is the Ruby-Crowned Kinglet, who was also participating in the mixed foraging flock. Their Golden-Crowned bretheren were also there but not as willing to pose for photos.

#086 Pine Warbler

#086 Pine Warbler

My third Warbler for the day was of the Pine variety. There were several floating around the woods by Lily Lake, but this female was the only one who would stay still long enough to be photographed. Males are bright yellow.

#087 Hermit Thrush

#087 Hermit Thrush

I am not usually very good at identifying the brown woodland Thrushes, but this Hermit Thrush posed quite nicely to show off its reddish tail, helping me greatly with identification.

#088 Blue-Winged Teal

#088 Blue-Winged Teal

Switching gears from passerine birds, here are some Blue-Winged Teal, which are some of the last Indiana ducks I am missing for the year. They also represent a pretty decent run of photographs of consecutively-numbered year birds for me (in case you hadn’t noticed, we just got #82-88 without skipping a beat).

#090 American Bittern

#090 American Bittern

The final new bird of the day, no doubt the best, and also a lifer, was this terrifying American Bittern. Do not look directly into its unblinking, demonic eye.

(New birds that were not photographed include #081 Double-Crested Cormorant and #089 Eastern Phoebe.)