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!

Not at Home and Close to Home

My job frequently has me traveling to far flung corners of Indiana and occasionally other states. This past week put me in Oakland City, Indiana, otherwise known as home to the Patoka River National Wildlife Refuge. You know what I had to do.

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Patoka River NWR

I only had about an hour to kill before I got back on the road, but thanks to local advice from Facebook, I was able to hit a productive spot.

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Snakey Point Marsh

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Ducks

Most of my views were about like this (how many species of ducks in the photo above?), which leaves little of use photo-wise for this blog, but it did allow me to really flesh out my Gibson County list. Actually, I did a lot of birding paint-by-number in weird little rural counties that I would otherwise have few reasons to visit. Those of you eBirding since last summer know what I’m talking about.

Indiana Map

My Indiana Map

There they are in all of their light-orange-to-red glory. This has got to be some sort of clever trick by the Cornell folks to get people to eBird more. Give them a snappy color-coded map to fill in with all kinds of bird sightings. Driving through Owen County? Don’t forget to add the pigeons you saw at the gas station and the Red-tailed Hawks sitting on every other fencepost. I added probably 100 county ticks on my state map from my route from Fort Wayne (brightest red – 186 species) down to Evansville (opposite corner) and back. I can’t wait for the day when there’s no more gray left on this map.

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Bird ID Quiz

Closer to home, I had a couple of hours to get out of the house yesterday. As I was preparing my bike to ride out to Eagle Marsh, a trio of American Crows started raising hell in the spruce trees behind my house. I assumed they had found my resident Barred Owl, but I decided I would take a look to find out just in case it was something better. This was about as good of a look as I got until the dappled brown lump turned its head and showed me that it was actually a Great Horned Owl, which is yard bird #70! I was worried that Grosbeak Gardens would forever be stuck at 69 species, because it will only be my yard for a couple more weeks. I will give it a proper goodbye in the next post.

Invigorated (and having spent a not insignificant part of my birding time in the back yard), I ditched the bike plans and instead walked over to Foster Park for what will probably be one of its last times as my local patch. I hung out with the common folk, and it was nice.

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Brown Creeper

I don’t know if it’s me or the park, but I always have an incredible time with the Brown Creepers. I think I have said before that you can just about pet them at Foster Park if you want to. Here is a close-up of a Brown Creeper ear.

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American Robin

American Robins look and act cool. They hunt with ruthless and deadly efficiency. But they are really common and their movements constantly make you think that a less obvious migrant just landed on the ground over there. Oh well. This one did ferocious battle with an annelid (and won).

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Winter Wren

Ever since a storm a few summers ago blew down a bunch of trees by the river, Foster Park has been thick with Winter Wrens in the late winter and early spring. This fellow was irritated that I was walking through his space, but he provided me with the best look and photo of his kind that I have ever had.

I will miss Foster Park a lot. I will still be able to visit it, but it will take the better part of an afternoon to get there and back from my new place. Although it might end up being worth the trip, because it is by far the best place to find Yellow-throated Warblers and Barred Owls in the county from what I have seen. In the meantime, I will have to find a new local patch. I’m looking forward to that, though!

Franke Park

Franke Park is a great birding spot on the north side of Fort Wayne. I only went one time last year to chase Black-bellied Whistling Duck, but I rode that way on Sunday even though other hot spots are closer to me. I need to remind myself to go more often this year.

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Natural Stairs

The park is crossed by numerous mountain biking trails, but it was quiet when I was there. A large creek running through the park provides some great forested stream habitat that attracts tons of migrants in the spring. The woods also open up onto more park-like lawns, creating a ton of edge habitat.

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Fox Sparrow

I managed two new birds for the green list, the first being a flock of Fox Sparrows being skulkariffic in the brush. I did not see this bird last year, so it was great to get.

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Field Sparrow

The second was a pair of Field Sparrows. I am used to seeing these birds in overgrown and weedy fields sharing space with Common Yellowthroats and Willow Flycatchers. But these two were working the edge of a brush/lawn transition that I have never seen them in before. It seemed like much more of a habitat for Chipping Sparrows, which are a bird I still haven’t seen yet in 2016. Quirk of migration?

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American Robin

Seriously. This is who was foraging next to the Field Sparrows. On that note, American Robin is a very underappreciated bird. Even though your aunt loves to post photos with captions about how they mean spring is finally here, they are voracious predators of a singular mind. How many other birds have you seen that literally rip their prey in half during the struggle, raptors included? That’s what I thought.

March16 Cumulative Route

March Cumulative Route

At the beginning of April, I am at 67 green species. I didn’t hit that number until early in May last year. The map above shows all the ground I have covered while birding on bike and foot, and including overlapping routes I have traveled 273 miles to date doing so.

Opening a Can of Worms (or Caterpillars)

Over Memorial Day Weekend, I got on the bike and rode to Eagle Marsh to check out some wetland habitat that I hadn’t had the chance to visit yet while motorless.

Prothonotary Warbler

Prothonotary Warbler

On the way there, I had to ride through Foster Park, which was not a total bummer since I got to spend some quality time with a loudly singing Prothonotary Warbler.

Foster Park Foot Bridge

Foster Park Foot Bridge

Eye-level warbler action is made possible at Foster by the presence of a foot bridge that I have mentioned here before. Please reference above how it enters the tree canopy at approximately 20 feet in height. Gary Fisher the bike is posed for scale. This may be the park’s best attribute in spring.

Stained Canada Goose

Stained Canada Goose

Once at Eagle Marsh, I was somewhat disappointed by the lack of diversity, even though I picked up motorless birds #95-97 (Double-Crested Cormorant, Tree Swallow, and Willow Flycatcher). I didn’t get many photos, save for this Canada Goose that shows some hideous stains on its should-be-white chinstrap that I am guessing are the result of wastewater from the adjacent landfill. Gross.

Killdeer

Killdeer

A Killdeer was also there, so I took its picture.

Red-Spotted Purple

Red-Spotted Purple

With little happening, I started paying attention to non-bird things. I hadn’t intended to feature this butterfly image on my blog, but I had to know what it was. I immediately felt like I did when I first began birding, and with no knowledge or other resources to turn to, I began Googling “butterfly identification,” “common butterflies,” and “Indiana butterflies.” This course of action is totally frowned upon for beginners in the birding circle, but when you’re sitting in your basement looking at photos without a butterfly field guide, it has to do. This Red-Spotted Purple (I didn’t even notice the red spots until after I learned what it was) is the first butterfly I have ever identified. Boom. My butterfly life list now stands at a solid 1.

Eastern Bluebird

Eastern Bluebird

With the butterfly itch scratched, I returned to Foster Park the next day to find things as slow as the day before. I did pick up motorless bird #98 (Acadian Flycatcher, and may I add that being 2 birds away from my goal is killing me. I am now taking bets for what species #100 will be), but spent my time taking pictures of common thrushes. Case in point, male Eastern Bluebird.

American Robin Fledgling

American Robin Fledgling

Case in point again, fledgling American Robin who is still bespotted.

Larger Blue Flag

Larger Blue Flag

With the lack of avian activity, my camera began to drift again. I found a cool flower by the river and took its picture. But the ID itch came back, and I now know after Gooling “wildflower identification” that this is a Larger Blue Flag, one of about a half dozen names for the plant that Wikipedia tells me about.

Butterflies and flowers seem to be the next go-to subjects for birders with wandering eyes (I am not messing with dragonflies). I am not honestly sure if this weekend sparked a new obsession or not, but at the very least now I have additional lists to keep, because listing is cool, right?

Robin Imposters in the Yard

For the uninitiated, this is what an American Robin looks like:

American Robin

American Robin

They are intrinsically very cool birds, and one of a very few species with bold orange going on. They are also voracious predators. But people don’t tend to think much of them because they are so common. However, they must have something enviable about them, because this morning we had three new yard birds who were all doing their best to act like the humble American Robin, Turdus migratorius.

Scarlet Tanager

Scarlet Tanager

There are many, many birds that I would have expected in the yard before a crippling male Scarlet Tanager. And I would have missed out on this guy entirely had he not been doing his Robin impression. Laying in bed, I heard a weird call outside of our bedroom window. At first I didn’t think anything of it. Then I thought how much like a sick Robin it sounded. And it hit me: every field guide I have ever read describes the song of the Scarlet Tanager as “an American Robin with a cold.” That description is dead on. I opened the blinds to see this bird flying away down the street. I ran out of the front door in my pajamas and mercilessly photographed this stunning red gent.

Swainson's Thrush

Swainson’s Thrush

As I was uploading the Tanager photos to Facebook to try and win over friends to the dark side show how cool birding can be, I saw another weird Robin running around in the back yard with a few others. Quickly lifting the binoculars, it resolved itself to be a Swainson’s Thrush acting like it was some kind of common feeder bird! Swainsons are forest birds, and I have never seen one in broad daylight, let alone a suburban lawn underneath a bird feeder. But that’s exactly where this one was. Isn’t spring migration great?

Gray Catbird

Gray Catbird

The final imposter wasn’t exactly doing a Robin impression, but this Gray Catbird very well could have mimicked the song as it freeloaded in our bird bath. In any case, this was the third new yard bird for the morning, and I would have expected him much sooner than the first two.

I try not to write “these are some birds that I saw in my yard” posts very often unless there is nothing else going on. But with the above birds I hope you didn’t mind bearing with me, although no “these are some birds that I saw in my yard” post is complete without one more:

Northern Cardinal

Northern Cardinal

Sorry, I had to do it.