2016 in Review

2016 and its merits or lack thereof have already been discussed all over the internet, so I don’t need to say anything more in that regard (unless you want to read something positive). This is a summary instead of my year in birding that was 2016.

I am about to wrap up my second year of green birding, which I have become much more serious about. It started as a way to keep a fun new list of birds, but it has now become my preferred method of birding, a way to keep in shape, and a new hobby in and of itself in the form of bicycling. Over the summer I made the 20-mile round trip to work at least weekly, which is something I never would have done before. I missed out on my goal of 150 green species (I got 143), but I grew my overall green list (167) and improved on my number from last year (137). I will now be keeping track of this method in a master list on the new Green Birding page at the top of this blog.

My goal for 2017 will most definitely be to make and surpass the 150 mark. I am optimistic because I got close this year without seeing anything uncommon. In fact, I don’t think I even tripped the eBird filter all year except for maybe having an early date for Yellow-throated Warbler. This is in sharp contrast to 2015 where things like American Avocet and Black-bellied Whistling Duck made the list. I did see some pretty great and unusual Indiana birds this year, though, they were just birds I ended up driving to. So to put the whole year — both green and gasoline fueled — in perspective, here are a bunch of High Fidelity-style lists.

My Best Non-Green Birds of 2016

1 - BHNU

#5 – Brown-headed Nuthatch (Wake County, NC)

Brown-headed Nuthatch was not a life bird, but it was one I saw in abundance during my two trips to North Carolina in July and November. It makes the list because there is no hope to see it anywhere besides the southeast, and nuthatches are cool.

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#4 – Buff-breasted Sandpiper (Boone County, IN)

I found this bird on a crap shoot of a detour while out running another errand. Without magnification and looking into the sun over hundreds of acres of sod, finding two of these birds was a pretty big thrill.

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#3 – Ross’s Goose (St. Joseph County, IN)

The easiest tick of the year, I was able to get this bird from my car in a parking lot while waiting for a meeting to start.

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#2 – Clay-colored Sparrow (Marion County, IN)

A life bird in a downtown Indianapolis city park, this was an exercise in patience. I found the bird at the last possible moment before I needed to leave and after over an hour of waiting, and I managed a pretty good photo on top of it all.

BNST Pair

#1 – Black-necked Stilt (Greene County, IN)

One of my biggest target birds this year became first life and state birds at the same time while on a trip far from home, but then followed up soon after as county birds. And they are just so cool looking!

My Best Green Birds of 2016

1-baow-portrait

#5 – Barred Owl (Foster Park)

This bird wasn’t new to any particular list, nor is it even uncommon (if you are a regular reader you are probably sick of seeing it on this blog). But the encounter I had in September with the individual pictured above was spectacular. Read more about it here.

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#4 – Broad-winged Hawk (Foster Park)

A new state bird and a new entry to the green list, I was out walking with my wife and kids when we stumbled into a huge kettle of hundreds of Broad-winged Hawks. This was the only time I saw them all year, and it was quite impressive.

AMPI

#3 – American Pipit (random field on the way to Fox Island)

I was biking to Fox Island earlier in the spring to pump up my list with migrants, but before I even got there I had to slam on the brakes to see what the birds way out in the field were. This is a great case of a bird I would have totally missed if I was driving. But it’s not the best example (keep reading).

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#2 – Red-headed Woodpecker (Amber & Branning Floodplain)

During my epic May ride of nearly 50 miles, I saw this bird foraging in the mud while looking for shorebirds. It was a random encounter to be sure, and a real right place right time moment.

#128 Henslow's Sparrow

#1 – Henslow’s Sparrow (random field on the way to work)

This photo is from 2013, and I never actually saw a Henslow’s Sparrow this year. But it is easily my best green bird of the year and the best example of what I would have missed if I was driving. My bike route to work is different from my driving route and takes me farther out into the country. I was passing a random overgrown and unbirded field when I thought I heard the chirping of a HESP. Needing to get to work on time, I was unable to stay and do a thorough check, but I sent an email to the listserv saying that I was pretty sure I heard one. A local expert stopped by the field later that day and confirmed that there was indeed a bird calling from that location. I rode by again the next day and heard it more clearly, and at that point made the decision that my skills are getting good enough to count heard-only birds that I am confident in like this one. From what I understand, this ended up being the only county record of HESP this year.

Not everything worked out that well, though.

My Biggest Green Misses of 2016

#5 – Black-capped Chickadee – I never made it far enough north to see a bird I was 100% certain was a Black-capped. Fort Wayne is smack in the middle of the Carolina/Black-capped overlap zone, with Carolinas being the much more common bird in 2/3 of the county.

#4 – Ducks – Northern Pintail and American Black Duck are frustrating misses.

#3 – Warblers – I missed several common ones, notably Chestnut-sided, Black-and-White, Bay-breasted, Wilson’s, and Canada.

#2 – Shorebirds – Dunlin, Semipalmated, and Solitary Sandpipers are all super embarrassing.

BNST

#1 – Black-necked Stilt

Black-necked Stilt is both my best non-green bird and my worst green miss. The pair in the photograph above were one-day wonders about 5 miles from my house, but the day they showed up I was too busy to make the ride out to see them. I ended up driving by on my way to the grocery store, though, so at least I got them as county birds. I found some great birds on bike that I would have missed if I was driving, but this was one I only managed to get by driving and just couldn’t get to by bike. Such is the life of a green birder.

Revisiting this last list of birds is making me all the more excited to get out there and reset the odometer in just a few days. I wish everyone else well with whatever your goals are for 2017, birding or otherwise. Happy new year!

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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…

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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.

Southwestward, to Goose Pond!

I write this entry from a Red Roof Inn on the outskirts of Evansville, Indiana. Work has me making numerous stops all over the state over the course of three days. Today, I found myself pointed southwest, which is pretty easy to do considering Fort Wayne is about as northeast as you can go.

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Eurasian Collared Dove

This is not a birding trip. I swear. But at one of my very first stops in the city of Delphi, I found a new state bird in Eurasian Collared Dove foraging in the maple seeds directly above my appointment destination. A good omen!

Two of my next stops were Shelburn and Winslow, small towns serendipitously placed on either end of Goose Pond Fish and Wildlife Area. Goose Pond is the real deal. I have been there once before, but that was in February a few years back. Today the sun was shining and the migrants were migrating, so I got out for about an hour to stretch my legs after driving for so long.

Goose Pond is 9,000+ acres of restored wetland habitat in western Greene County that packs such a big ecological punch that it attracts some insane rarities (Spotted Redshank, anyone?) and has actually altered the migration routes for many species that historically didn’t push very far into Indiana.

BNST

Black-necked Stilt

The absurdly cool, ludicrously proportioned Black-necked Stilt is one of those birds.

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Black-necked Stilt pair

Goose Pond has made these gangly birds common in the southwest corner of the state, and they even breed here, which may be something this pair is getting ready to do. Stilts were my biggest target in visiting Goose Pond, and they did not disappoint as life birds!

GRYE

Greater Yellowlegs

I was fortunate that this Greater Yellowlegs was around, because the stilts were much more interested in it than in me. They kept chasing it away when it foraged too close to them. They absolutely dwarfed it, too.

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Green-winged Teal

While shorebird watching, I had a close encounter of the teal kind. This handsome drake landed right in front of me and gave me the best look at the species that I have ever had.

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Swamp Sparrow

All birds at Goose Pond are beautiful, including the little brown jobs. I admit guilt in having sup-par sparrow watching skills. I usually assume every non-Zonitrichia sparrow is a Song Sparrow, but now I am wondering how many Swamp Sparrows I have missed in my life.

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Northern Harrier

The weather was perfect for birding today, as evidenced by the blue sky behind this Northern Harrier. It flew right in front of the moon at one point, but my camera would not focus fast enough for a photo.

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American White Pelican

I don’t think I will ever get tired of the reaction people give me when I tell them that there are pelicans in Indiana.

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Snake

Some other animals were around, too. I don’t know anything about snakes, but Wikipedia tells me this snake butt might belong to a Northern Water Snake. Can anyone corroborate? It was big.

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Goose Pond – Unit 10

Goose Pond is broken up into segments divided by (unpaved (sometimes flooded)) county roads. The one that I tromped around in and that seems to be the place to go for the best diversity of birds is Unit 10. The place is so huge you could easily spend a weekend there and still not see it all, so I will be back again the next chance I get.