New Feature! Desktop Explorer #1

My love of birds and my professional life don’t intersect much except in the lucky instances where work travel permits me to see a few cool species. However, they do share one big similarity: maps.

When I am looking for new birding spots with tree cover and water nearby, perusing eBird to see where a desired species can be found, or trying to find out who owns a property to ask permission to bird on it, I am checking out maps. Likewise, my job in the real estate development world has me frequently digging up as much information as I can on a locality before I visit it in person by way of maps provided by Google, county assessors, various federal agencies, and others.

To break up the sometimes monotonous “I went here, I saw this” format of my blog, I present to you the first of what I hope becomes an ongoing feature: Desktop Explorer! Yes, it is as nerdy as it sounds: looking at maps on a computer to gain new insights on places. Maps can tell you a lot of things about land use trends, environmental factors, local culture, and why certain decisions were made for the way things are laid out. I think all of these things are interesting in general, but also relevant to my hobby.

In the first installment, I will offer a neighborhood that I frequently pass by in Fort Wayne known as Lincoln Park. From above, it is a pretty typical neighborhood with some commercial and industrial areas bordering it, but also a large undeveloped tract of woods:

FW Lincoln Park Aerial

Wondering what was going on, I pulled up the city’s GIS (Geographic Information System) which is an incredibly useful tool.

FW Lincoln Park Parcels

This revealed the underlying plat and parcels beneath the trees. The original shape of the subdivision is evident here, but it was never developed. This is an older neighborhood surrounded by other development, so the lack of anything going on here is strange. Most of the unbuilt lots are also owned by the city. One more quick look at a FEMA map just to check my suspicion confirmed it:

FW Lincoln Park Flood Map

Flood zone city. Bingo. It’s kind of strange that the developer here would have gone to the trouble of buying land and platting lots in a 100-year floodplain (1% chance of catastrophic flood annually), but that is exactly where those ghost parcels are. Someone was sloppy, or something crazy happened soon after everything was planned.

Sometimes, though, you don’t need the Federal Emergency Management Agency to tell you where it floods.

Foster Flood

This an aerial of Foster Park taken some time last summer that shows the extent of the flooding from consecutive heavy storms. The brown encroaching into the golf course and ball fields is mud that washed in when they were submerged for several weeks.

If you have stayed with me this long, thank you. To make it up to you, I will tell you why knowing about flood trends and their effects on property might be of interest.

BAOR

Baltimore Oriole

In the case of Foster Park, it is some great riparian habitat where birds like this Baltimore Oriole thrive. But more interestingly…

BNST.JPG

Black-necked Stilt

Flooded areas, like this agricultural field, are some of the best places to find the unexpected. I had my county Black-necked Stilts in a place just like that today. I didn’t have enough time to bike out to see them, but I managed to squeeze them in on a trip to the grocery store. And I wouldn’t have found them without the aide of a map, either.

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May Day Bird Count

Fort Wayne’s Stockbridge Audubon Society takes part in the May Day Bird Count, where members go out and try to count every single individual bird in an area during the peak of spring migration. I signed up, knowing that I would benefit from the coordination of the count plus the experience of other birders. I was assigned to meet at Fox Island County Park in Fort Wayne at 6:30am and was met with near perfect conditions: storms rolled through Allen County the previous evening, causing night-migrating passerines to stop in their tracks and drop to the trees below, with the weather the next morning absolutely ideal for birding. This is as close to a fallout as I have ever experienced!

Palm Warbler

Palm Warbler

This Palm Warbler was one of about a dozen species of warbler for the morning, and this individual is the first alternate-plumaged bird that I have seen in Indiana.

Orange-Crowned Warbler

Orange-Crowned Warbler

A bird I was definitely not expecting to see was the Orange-Crowned Warbler. I have been trying not to rely too heavily on my camera recently, preferring instead to work out an ID on my own before going for photos. This is opposite of how I initially started birding, where I would take as many photos as possible, hope for a diagnostic shot, and go for the ID later on my computer. Thankfully, I employed the latter method for this bird, because it did not stay long and I wouldn’t have known what it was without this shot.

Magnolia Warbler

Magnolia Warbler

This blog is littered with photos of mostly-obstructed Magnolia Warblers, but I think this is the clearest shot I have ever gotten.

Baltimore Oriole

Baltimore Oriole

Ditto above for the Baltimore Oriole. With as abundant as they were at the park, I am a little frustrated that this is the best photo I could manage.

Not a target bird

Not a target bird

My long-time reader(s) may be thinking that the year is almost halfway over, and I have yet to mention my 2014 goal of a “strategic year” since I came up with the idea. Well, it’s not for lack of trying. I had many forays into the frigid abyss this winter and spring hoping for at least some Rusty Blackbirds, but all I could seem to come up with were things that were not Rusty Blackbirds, like this muskrat. Most of the other strategic birds on my list are either spring migrants or summer residents, so I was optimistic today. And I got close! With audio verification from the group leader’s iPhone, I am 100% sure that I heard a Cerulean Warbler vocalizing. However, I didn’t see it, so I won’t count it. I discussed this philosophy with others in the group, and they seemed to at least understand.

If I have never seen a bird, I won’t count it on my list, even if I know I am hearing it. Once I see it, however, it goes on there, and in subsequent encounters a vocalization will be enough to go on my count for that day and location. Thanks to the well-trained ears of my group, I checked several life birds off today after waiting patiently to see who was singing: Yellow-Throated Vireo, Acadian Flycatcher, and Tennessee Warbler were had this way. Wilson’s Warbler, Orange-Crowned Warbler, and Northern Waterthrush were gotten the old-fashioned way.

How to relax after a successful day

How to relax after a successful day

Following my victory in the morning, Jaime had the excellent idea to make the most of the great weather and the in-laws as baby sitters. We rented a canoe from the local outfitter and paddled around for several more hours on the Saint Mary’s River, which is something I can’t wait to do more of. And the birds kept coming, too! We had most of the Indiana swallows, including Cliff Swallow, which was one that had been eluding me in the state.

The Yard List

On Saturday I set out for Fox Island early to try and pump up my list with more spring migrants. I was lucky enough to encounter a group from the Stockbridge Audubon Society conducting a bird survey, and I got to hike with them for several hours. I got ten new year birds, including one lifer: #107 Indigo Bunting, #108 Chestnut-Sided Warbler, #109 Brown Thrasher, #110 Yellow Warbler, #111 Magnolia Warbler, #112 American Redstart, #113 Ruby-Throated Hummingbird, #114 White-Crowned Sparrow (finally!), #115 Green Heron, and #116 and life bird Great Crested Flycatcher.

#111 Magnolia Warbler

#111 Magnolia Warbler

As evidenced by the fact that this was my best shot of a year bird, it was a poor day for photos with very overcast skies scattering all of the light.

Baltimore Oriole

Baltimore Oriole

Not even the easily seen birds got good photos.

Despite the poor picture quality, it was a great weekend for birds, and they just kept on coming once I got home. In Indianapolis, our “yard” was more or less a parking strip separating our house from 51st Street. In Fort Wayne, we have much more suitable habitat, which helps quite a bit.

The New Back Yard

The New Back Yard

We have extensive cover that includes a row of pine trees that screen us from our neighbors to the west, which I think actually does more to attract the birdies than our feeder and bath.

Rose-Breasted Grosbeak

Rose-Breasted Grosbeak

This is Eleanor the Rose-Breasted Grosbeak. She is one of the happy denizens of our new home and has been frequenting the sunflower seed offered by the new feeder that was sent as a housewarming gift by my sister. She has been hanging around for three days now. We have seen a male only briefly; he made a hovering approach for about two seconds this morning, and we were lucky enough to see him while eating breakfast, but he darted away and has disappeared, not to be seen since. Eleanor is cool, but I hope her gentleman caller comes back.

#116 Great Crested Flycatcher

#116 Great Crested Flycatcher

The first morning we observed Eleanor, I saw a pale yellow flicker in the pine trees out of the corner of my eye. After running to get my binoculars, I was able to check Great Crested Flycatcher off of our yard list, not more than 24 hours after checking it off of my life list. I think it’s pretty amazing that we have logged this species in the yard before things like House Finch and White-Breasted Nuthatch.

#117 Least Flycatcher

#117 Least Flycatcher

Yesterday was Flycatcher day at the Majewski homestead, as this small bird appeared just after the Great Crested made its appearance. I originally thought it was a Phoebe, but after a closer look through binoculars and some painful deliberation in my field guide, I concluded Least Flycatcher. People on Facebook agreed, and I ticked this species off both the year list and the yard list at the same time. Here’s hoping that the next yard birds will be Vermillion and Scissor-Tailed Flycatchers. One can hope, right?

Election Day at Eagle Creek

As government employees, Jaime and I get Election Day off. So Jaime used the occasion to plan a celebratory graduation adventure day that consisted of, among other things, seeing The Avengers and going to lunch at the Historic Steer Inn. But for me the highlight of the day was 3 relaxing hours of birding with my wife at Eagle Creek Park on the west side of Indianapolis. I thought I had a productive day this past weekend, but today beat it easily: 30 species seen, including FOUR lifers.

It also marked the first time I encountered a truly rare bird. Well, we didn’t actually see it. But we did run across dozens of people scanning the islands of the bird sanctuary’s lake, scouring the flocks of roosting Double-Crested Cormorants for one solitary Neotropic Cormorant among them, which is only the second individual of that species ever recorded in the state of Indiana. Even without logging one of those, I had a great birding day nonetheless. Here are some pictures.

Scarlet Tanager

Scarlet Tanager (lifer!). After being really pumped about seeing my first Summer Tanager on Saturday, I was high-fiving Jaime when I completed the set with this Scarlet Tanager, who we probably would have missed if not for the tip from a fellow birder there for the Neotropic Cormorant. We also saw this little guy’s wife, but I couldn’t get a photo of her.

Black-Throated Green Warbler

Black-Throated Green Warbler (lifer!). I am still enough of a novice that pretty much any Warbler I can definitely ID is a lifer for me. This guy was no exception, and Jaime and I watched him for about 15 minutes. We were only able to identify him after consulting Roger Tory Peterson when we got home.

Orchard Oriole

Orchard Oriole (lifer!). I only got to take one photo of this guy before he flew off. Good thing it turned out great!

Prothonotary Warbler

Prothonotary Warbler (lifer!). Enjoy this photo of a Prothonotary Warbler’s butt. This was my last lifer of the day, and his ID was again secret until we got home. I would like to note that he was much more orange in the face than the field guide would have lead me to believe.

Baltimore Oriole

Baltimore Oriole. Since I’m on a theme of orange birds.

Baltimore Oriole

Baltimore Oriole. As an added bonus, we were able to spot a female in her nest!

Red-Winged Blackbird

Red-Winged Blackbird. I’m now officially out of orange.

Eastern Kingbird

Eastern Kingbird. I like these guys a lot.

Tree Swallow

Tree Swallow. Iridescent and turquoise, a pair of these guys may or may not have attacked us as we got too close to their nest box.

Official tally for the day (in order of appearance):
1.) Mallard
2.) Canada Goose
3.) American Crow
4.) Red-Bellied Woodpecker
5.) Northern Cardinal
6.) Blue Jay
7.) Yellow-Rumped Warbler
8.) Brown-Headed Cowbird
9.) Carolina Chickadee
10.) Great Blue Heron
11.) Downy Woodpecker (vocalization only)
12.) Black-Throated Green Warbler (lifer!)
13.) American Goldfinch
14.) White-Breasted Nuthatch (vocalization only)
15.) Tufted Titmouse
16.) Double-Crested Cormorant
17.) Scarlet Tanager (lifer!)
18.) American Coot
19.) Yellow Warbler
20.) Song Sparrow
21.) Baltimore Oriole
22.) Gray Catbird
23.) Orchard Oriole (lifer!)
24.) Red-Winged Blackbird
25.) Cedar Waxwing
26.) Tree Swallow
27.) Eastern Kingbird
28.) Mourning Dove
29.) Prothonotary Warbler (lifer!)
30.) Eastern Bluebird