Green 5MR Big Day 2019

I have done big green days in the past, but since green birding pairs so nicely with 5MRing, I decided this year that I would combine the two. I planned way less than I did in the past, woke up later, traveled less total distance, hit fewer spots, and had a great day because of it.

On a perfectly sunny Wednesday when all of my co-workers went down to watch Indy 500 time trials (not my bag), I set out at 7:00am to meet Lorenzo at Franke Park, much like we did last time with such a great outcome.

NOMO

Northern Mockingbird

Right as I arrived, Lorenzo texted me to let me know that he was looking at a Northern Mockingbird. This bird achieves trash bird status in much of the east, but north of the Wabash River it is vanishingly uncommon. This was only the second one I have seen in Allen County (the first was two years ago, also on a big green day, but not in my 5MR), so it was a great way to start things off.

OROR

Orchard Oriole

This male Orchard Oriole was foraging nearby the mockingbird. This was again a bird I see very infrequently, making it just the second time I have seen one on my green list.

BTGW

Black-throated Green Warbler

There is a gravel road that cuts through Franke Park, and it is usually one of the most popular places to bird because it creates a nice edge habitat. But that day the road itself was actually a pretty big hit with the birds. It had rained most of the preceding week so there were lots of puddles. This Black-throated Green Warbler used one pretty efficiently, flying down to drink not more than 20 feet in front of us.

WOTH

Wood Thrush

Perhaps more interestingly, a Wood Thrush was also hanging out on the road. Usually a dense forest skulker, seeing one totally exposed like this was novel.

WIWA

Wilson’s Warbler

In contrast, a Wilson’s Warbler worked the low shrubs in a way that was appropriate for its species.

BLWA

Blackburnian Warbler

Meanwhile, a small flock of several Blackburnian Warblers stuck to the treetops. I should mention that every bird listed so far was crammed into a stretch of woods no longer than about 25 yards. The birdies were densely packed, and it was great.

RBNU

Red-breasted Nuthatch

Eventually things settled down as the sun warmed things up, so we headed into the forest to try and keep things going. A Red-breasted Nuthatch was still partying despite the lateness of the season. Not late enough to make eBird mad, but I did have another one three days later that tripped the filter.

GWWA

Golden-winged Warbler

So you have seen the photo above I assume, but I should stress that by far the most common bird was American Redstart. I had close to two dozen of them to the point where we assumed most of the small warbler-shaped birds we were seeing were Redstarts. I admit that I was getting lazy and really only stopping to look if something was in great light or singing a new song. So when Lorenzo peered at a tiny silent speck across the creek way high up in dense leaves and said “Oh hey, that’s a Golden-winged Warbler,” it was the highlight of the day to that point. It was a county bird for both of us, and while not rare, they are definitely not numerous, especially considering the population declines they are suffering and their fondness for mating with Blue-winged Warblers instead of their own kind. On top of it all I somehow also managed a diagnostic photo too.

Lindenwood

Lindenwood Nature Preserve

I finally left Franke after three hours and a total of 64 species. My next stop was to the Lindenwood Nature Preserve, near the edge of my circle west of town. Somehow I had never birded this place before, but it immediately proved fruitful. I gained Veery, Ovenbird, and Ruby-throated Hummingbird as new birds for the day, and I listened to two dozen or more Tennessee Warblers all singing from the treetops around me. The chorus was unreal.

This preserve is completely forested save for a small lake in the middle, and everything was a total mud pit, but that seemed to be great for the birds. As I was finishing one of the loop trails and about to head to my next destination, the best bird of the stop called from somewhere far off in the trees: Pileated Woodpecker! That was a bird that was totally unexpected for my 5MR, and one I hadn’t even gotten onto my green list in the past two years. Hearing it was definitely one of the best highlights of the morning.

Around 11:30 I rode east into downtown, following the river but adding no new birds. My plan was to eat lunch at a plaza and wait for Peregrine Falcon and Rock Pigeon to fly by. I didn’t get either, but Chimney Swift was a bird that had thus far eluded me. When I started riding to my next destination, I suddenly had a huge problem with shifting and realized that I was totally unable to coast. Thankfully, one of Fort Wayne’s better bike shops has two locations downtown, and after visiting the first one to learn that my rear freewheel was totally shot (and picking up a flyover Peregrine), I made it a couple blocks to the second one where they had the necessary part. I was back on the trail less than half an hour after I first broke down. Thanks, Fort Wayne Outfitters!

Next, I traced the river greenway eastward to the southeastern boundary of my 5MR, stopping briefly to pick up easy birds in Turkey Vulture, Cliff Swallow, and Carolina Chickadee. I was approaching 80 species and had tapped out most of the potential for new birds in my mostly urbanized and riparian 5MR, so venturing out this way was strategic for getting my only shot at open country birds.

Fluddle

New Haven Fluddle

Waaay out on the edge of my circle, almost to the adjacent city of New Haven, was an area I had been wanting to check out because it held low-lying fields along the river. With the rain we had been getting, I thought it might be a good place to stop and look for shorebirds. My hunch was correct!

AMPI & LESA

American Pipit with Least Sandpipers

Prior to that point, my only shorebird had been Killdeer. Franke Park is usually good for at least a Spotted Sandpiper if nothing else, but I struck out there earlier. However, this field held not only Spotted Sandpiper, but Lesser Yellowlegs and Least Sandpipers too. Those weren’t the best find, though. Foraging in the mud with them was a lone and very, very late American Pipit! I was stoked to see this bird, because it was even further off my 5MR radar than the Pileated Woodpecker was, and this was only my second time seeing one in Allen County. And on top of it all, it seems to be the latest ever spring record in eBird for my county.

This will be a field I continue to check out, and biking seems to be the best way to do it because the road is narrow with a steep drop-off on the shoulder. Pulling over in a car would be impractical, so score one for the bike.

MOWA

Mourning Warbler

The other good thing about that field is that it is right across the river from the Deetz Nature Preserve, a property I had only birded once before but that yielded a good list. A nearby bridge made visiting this next stop pretty simple, and I made it there around 1:30 and with a day list of 79 species. Before the day began, I determined that 80 would be a respectable number, so I was eager to get my next new bird. It was getting hot and things were quiet in the early afternoon, so I wasn’t sure what it would be, although I still hadn’t come across some easy things like Belted Kingfisher or Field Sparrow. So it was an immense surprise when I flushed a Mourning Warbler out of the low brush to make that 80-species milestone, and this bird was a lifer to boot!

COYE

Common Yellowthroat

Instead of a peak, however, number 80 was just a sign of things to come. The brushy field on the western edge of the preserve gave me several new birds in rapid succession. I include this photo of a Common Yellowthroat not only because it was a new bird, but because while I was pressing the shutter a tremendous crashing noise just feet away from me made me jump up out of my skin. When I recovered I expected to look over and see a deer, but instead it was a Wild Turkey, yet another totally unexpected bird for the day! Then, to close out my visit, I ended with Field Sparrow to make it up to 83 species.

5MR-Green Big Day - 05.15.19

My 5MR and Big Day route

I got home around 4:00 to have dinner and get in some play time with the kids before heading out again for one final push around 7:00. I made the short trip to Purdue to look for Eastern Kingbird, which I got immediately, along with a bonus late Palm Warbler. Then I rode through Johnny Appleseed Park to finally get what would be my last new bird of the day in Belted Kingfisher.

After riding 40 miles as detailed by the red line on the map above, I ended the day at 89 species. This was quite a few more than I hoped for, and substantially better than the 77 I logged in a similar attempt two years ago where I traveled much further from home. Of my 89, I had 18 warblers, and of those warblers, one was my county Golden-winged, and one was my lifer Mourning. I logged a ton of species that I thought I had no chance at, chiefly Pileated Woodpecker, American Pipit, Wild Turkey, and one or two more sandpipers than I thought.

However, I did still have some obvious holes in the list. First and foremost was Rock Pigeon. I also was pretty thin on raptors and should have picked up Cooper’s Hawk, but it was not to be, and I also still haven’t had Common Nighthawk at all this year. If I had more time (or if I spent less time looking for migrants in the morning), I could have also maybe turned up some more grassland species like Horned Lark or Eastern Meadowlark. But in the end, I think the day was a huge success all things considered. With maybe a bit more planning and an amount of luck equal to what I had this year, I think 100 is totally possible for this particular 5MR. I’ll have to see what future outings hold! In any case, I ended the day with 130 total year-to-date species for my 5MR, and 128 for my green list.

Falling Back

I have fallen behind in blogging, but not birding. Here is a relatively moderate summary of my bird-related activities since September.

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Swamp Adventure at the Binder Park Zoo in Battle Creek, MI

Over Labor Day weekend the family got out of town for a change of scenery. We spent the day in Battle Creek, Michigan at the Binder Park Zoo. For a zoo in a city of its size, Binder Park punches above its weight. One of the highlights is the Swamp Adventure.

DSCN8095

Swamp Adventure Boardwalk

A narrow boardwalk makes a loop over half a mile long through natural wetland. There are no animals on exhibit, and the idea is literally just to walk around and see what kind of animals inhabit the marshes of the Midwest. However, as we walked deeper into the swamp, we encountered numerous disgusted looking families heading toward us out of the wetlands. Every single one of them said, “You’d better turn around, there’s nothing down that way,” or “Don’t waste your time.” People are idiots. We listened to singing Yellow-throated Vireos, saw a flock of Cedar Waxwings, marveled at the size and quantity of swan feces, and watched a huge soft-shelled turtle basking in the shallows. Nothing to see here. Move along.

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Barred Owl behind bars

There is also a really neat kids play area, which for some reason had a cage with an injured Barred Owl directly in the middle of it.

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The Circle of Life

In the African savannah area, the zoo also had a dead zebra on display.

DSCN8107

Feeding Station

I was not the only one who was fooled. It is actually a feeding station for the exhibit’s vultures, which unfortunately were not using it. Very cool.

BBWA

Bay-breasted Warbler

Skipping ahead a few weeks, I helped lead a hike at Franke Park for the Stockbridge Audubon Society. The goal was fall warblers. One that gave some of the best views was a Bay-breasted that had found a large caterpillar.

BTGW

Black-throated Green Warbler

Otherwise, the only other species of note was a Black-throated Green. A follow-up trip to the park yielded similarly disappointing results. It seems as though a few days of strong south winds in the middle of September sent most of the migrants straight over Allen County this year.

WTDE

Urban Deer

In October I hit the Purdue campus to see if I could make some additions to the year’s green list. The only photographable species I got were two very unconcerned White-tailed Deer right next to me on the trail. But I succeeded in getting a small kettle of Broad-winged Hawks, which was a new green bird as well as a new bird for that patch, as was a Red-breasted Nuthatch.

RBNU

Red-breasted Nuthatch

On the subject of Red-breasted Nuthatches, this individual has been hanging out in my yard for over a month. The kids and I have spent a good deal of time watching him, and one day we decided to name him. Walter’s suggestion of “Casey” was defeated in an Instagram poll by an 80-point margin to Alice’s suggestion of “Poopy Ben.”

If this summer was the summer of the Dickcissel, this fall has been the fall of the Red-breasted Nuthatch. They are everywhere right now, and I have been seeing and hearing them consistently on every single birding outing since September.

CAGO

Canadian Invasion

My birding time was limited for much of October, meaning short outings here and there and no long bike rides. I finally changed that this past weekend with a ride down to Eagle Marsh. While too late for shorebird migration (which left lots of big holes in my green list. Pectoral Sandpiper? Ugh), there were some birds around. I scanned a big flock of Canada Geese for any outliers.

SACR

Sandhill Crane

There were no interesting waterfowl, but a very lost Sandhill Crane was failing to hide amongst the flock. I have seen hundreds of cranes this year, but this was the first green one. I am pretty sure it is also the first one that I have seen standing on the ground in Allen County.

WCSP

White-crowned Sparrow

The hits kept coming once I got to Eagle Marsh. My next green pick-ups were sparrows. First, a group of Swamp Sparrows materialized in the brush to become not only green birds but county birds as well. They were followed by a young White-crowned Sparrow, also my first green one of the year. I saw some on my bike ride to Ouabache in May, but they never made the list since I had to get motorized assistance on that trip.

MUSW.JPG

Mute Swans

I had brief hope that some fly-by swans would turn out to be something cool, but alas they were all Mutes.

RWBL & WUBL

Blackbirds

On my ride home, I had one last good sighting for the day. A small flock of blackbirds was up in a tree, and I stopped to scan to see what it consisted of. Mostly Red-winged Blackbirds, Common Grackles, and a few starlings, but mixed in were two Rusty Blackbirds! I imagine these birds are more common than they seem, but that they do a good job of hiding in the other huge blackbird flocks. These birds were in almost exactly the same place as the ones I saw last year, almost in exactly the same tree.

With just under two months to go, I have 137 species on my green list, which is exactly as many as I had in my first year of birding this way in 2015. I may have peaked last year. Even though I still plan on green birding as often as I can, I am looking forward to other adventures in 2019. Chief among them will be a trip to New Mexico in January. My experience with the west consists of a single trip to Boulder and one to San Francisco, and both were before I became a birder, so stay tuned!

Creepin’ for Warblers

In the 90 or so minutes that I was out birding yesterday, I managed to cover a distance of about 100 yards. I encountered a huge mixed flock of birds at Foster Park that was so thick that I barely had to move to tick 7 new species for the year, including one lifer. It also meant I stayed rather close to the playground and pavilions, so there were more people around than I am used to. Included in this was one neighbor who saw me standing behind a tree with camera and binoculars and shouted, “Hey creeper!” When I recounted this story to Jaime later, she said “You should have said, ‘No! Warbler!'” Bird pun from my wife. Have I mentioned how much I love this woman? (Also: she decided we should eat dinner at Chipotle that night.)

Bay-Breasted Warbler

Bay-Breasted Warbler

This was the bird I was creeping on. Of the sometimes confusing “Baypoll” complex of fall warblers, this one posed no difficulty since it showed its rufous sides so nicely to declare that it was in fact Bay-Breasted.

Blackpoll Warbler

Blackpoll Warbler

Bay-Breasted’s finely streaked, slightly duller doppleganger Blackpoll Warbler was also present, giving me a life bird in one of the last few eastern warblers I haven’t seen.

Wilson's Warbler

Wilson’s Warbler

The creeping continued as I snuck up on a Wilson’s Warbler taking a bath. Dig that toupee.

Black-Throated Green Warbler

Black-Throated Green Warbler

Not a year bird, but pleasant to see nonetheless was a Black-Throated Green Warbler picking off spiders.

Scarlet Tanager

Scarlet Tanager

The flock also included some non-warblers. This lady Scarlet Tanager was my first of the year, and one of my biggest misses prior to the day. That honor now goes to Eastern Towhee, which I somehow haven’t picked up yet in 2015 motorless or otherwise.

My motorless count is now 126, which is only 25 birds fewer than my laughable rookie “big year” attempt from two years ago in which I drove across the state looking for things and generally being terrible at finding them. I have gotten way better at this whole birding thing in the mean time.

Birding Fatherhood

Over the weekend, I birded for the first time since Walter has been here. It took a couple of weeks, but things have finally settled down enough to the point where Jaime and I are able to do some of our old things. For me, that meant a trip to Franke Park on Saturday morning.

I missed quite a few passerines on spring migration due to the chaotic changing around of our life, so I was hoping to add at least a few new ticks to the year list, and I succeeded. I ran into a flock of Warblers, Vireos, and Chickadees in the middle of the woods and was able to pick out a few species before some, ahem, gentleman’s unleashed dog came crashing through the underbrush, jumped up on me, and scattered the birds.

#141 Cape May Warbler

#141 Cape May Warbler

This Cape May Warbler was the first year bird of the day for me, bringing my total to 141. I was confused by this species’ fall plumage and couldn’t make up my mind at first, but the presence of the white wing patch as opposed to wing bars sealed the ID.

#143 Black-Throated Green Warbler

#143 Black-Throated Green Warbler

The only other new Warbler for me for the year was this Black-Throated Green, good for year bird #143 (Swainson’s Thrush was #142 and only made a brief appearance for no photo).

Warbler Duo

Warbler Duo

Black-Throated Green was a very popular individual and even spent some time discussing accent colors with this Black-and-White.

Red-Eyed Vireo

Red-Eyed Vireo

Also among the flock was this Red-Eyed Vireo, which at first I didn’t recognize because I am so used to seeing them as little specks calling from the tops of trees. This guy was frolicking under the canopoy, however, and gave me the best look (and photo) of the species that I have ever had.

Red-Tailed Hawk

Red-Tailed Hawk

Not all birds seen were small, however. This Red-Tailed Hawk was basically right next to my car as I was leaving. You can’t see it in the grass, but this fellow was chowing down on a snake.

Since my birding time in the field has been limited as of late, I have spent more time in the backyard, with son in one arm and camera in the other, trying to document some of the birds closer to home. I spent about an hour sitting on our patio a couple of weeks ago documenting the denizens of Grosbeak Gardens:

American Goldfinches

American Goldfinches

House Finch

House Finch

Pam

Pam

White-Breasted Nuthatch

White-Breasted Nuthatch

And a final bird of note was one seen at Metea Park, where Jaime and I were married exactly two years ago on August 6 and went again this year on our anniversary. He was behaving much more like a Goldfinch than a Woodpecker:

Downy Woodpecker

Downy Woodpecker

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