North Carolina – Part 1

It has been a while since I’ve last blogged, but to make it up to you I hope that this next series of posts will be more interesting than the standard fare here. I just got back from a week-long trip to Raleigh, North Carolina for family, multiple birthday cakes, and of course birds.

I have always brought along my camera when visiting the parents, because North Carolina offers better diversity and a few different species than what I am used to in the Midwest. But during the week we were there, my down time was filled with exploring the biodiversity around their new home on the northwest side of the city.

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Carolina Wren

The yard birds were superb, helped greatly by proximity to a lake and the William B. Umstead State Park. Though abundant and also easily found in the north, Carolina Wrens evoked a feeling of being in the south that few other birds can match.

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Brown-headed Nuthatch

Okay, so Brown-headed Nuthatches can match and surpass that feeling. The only thing that could make this photo of a BHNU perched on a pine cone more southern is if it were sticking its bill into a vat of pork barbecue.

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Zabulon Skipper

The butterfly game was also strong in the yard. Every morning a pleasant cloud of Zabulon Skippers would be nectaring in the flowers by the front porch. Life lep!

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Eastern Tiger Swallowtail

Yellow butterflies were also represented at a larger scale, too. Walter named this Eastern Tiger Swallowtail “Caunsey.”

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William B. Umstead State Forest

Birding in the neighborhood wasn’t complete without a visit to the Umstead State Forest next door, close enough to walk to.

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Summer Tanager

The park did not offer any new birds, but the number of species that I have only seen once or twice in the Hoosier state were impressively represented. Summer Tanagers were clucking everywhere, which was exciting to see because I live on the very northern fringe of their range and only rarely see them.

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Blue Grosbeak

Blue Grosbeaks were also exceedingly common in a power line cut going through the middle of the park. Again, found in Indiana, but not very often.

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Big Lake

The trail eventually opened up on a big lake fittingly named Big Lake.

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Yellow-spotted Millipede

The lake allowed all kinds of bugs to flourish, including some pretty crazy things like this weiner dog-sized ‘pede.

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Southern Cloudywing

Again with the skippers, and another lifer in that regard. This Southern Cloudywing was the only one I saw on my hike.

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Web

While I will never get used to the feeling of walking through a spiderweb while focusing on a distant bird, at least they can be pretty scenic.

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Blue-headed Vireo

The vireos really seemed to like the arthropod buffet. And again, this is a species that I have only seen  few times previously.

With the good birds (and other things) coming at such a rapid clip, I was in the mood to get out of the house and out of town for an extended morning to go hunt much more rare creatures. That summary will be coming up next.

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Obligatory End/Beginning of the Year Post

Before you start a birding blog, you have to swear an oath to do an annual end of the year post followed by a beginning of the year post. It’s only after year three that they let you do both combined into one entry, so here is my end of 2015 / beginning of 2016 post for you!

If you have been reading (thanks!), you know that I try to do one specific challenge each year and that 2015 was my first motorless list. It was way more challenging and fun than I thought it would be, but I was also much more successful than I imagined. I ended the year at 137 species, including 9 life birds. But first, here is what I didn’t see:

Top Five Misses

5.) Ruddy Duck – The most common waterfowl I have never seen, and tons of records from my county this year.

4.) White-Eyed Vireo – According to eBird target species, this is the most common bird that I have never seen, period (although I wonder how many of those records are heard-only).

3.) Tennessee Warbler – The most common warbler that I missed.

2.) Wood Thrush – Relatively common, and heard at one point but never seen. Ugh.

1.) Eastern Towhee – Without a doubt the most common bird I didn’t see despite going looking for it a couple of times and again hearing one.

Hopefully all of these birds go down this year to vindicate me. But I did see plenty of good stuff last year too, so here you go:

Top Five Ticks

Blue Grosbeak

Blue Grosbeak

5.) Blue Grosbeak – One of my motorless lifers, BLGR was also a nemesis that I slayed.

Common Goldeneye

Common Goldeneye

4.) Common Goldeneye – I didn’t realize that COGO would be one of my best birds of the year until near the end. The one I found at Foster Park in February ended up being the only one I saw all year, and it was even more unusual because it was in the shallow river.

Snow Goose

Snow Goose

3.) Snow Goose – Not an uncommon bird in Indiana, but definitely not typical in the eastern half of the state. This was only the fourth eBird record in Allen County.

American Avocet

American Avocet

2.) American Avocet – This bird was almost my #1 (more on that below), but still was a really great tick, and it was almost self-found! I set out in the morning with plans to go to this part of Eagle Marsh looking for shorebirds, and right before I left I saw the listserv report that two AMAVs were there, so I like to think that I would have found them anyway. They also would have been lifers if not for the flock of 100+ that I saw at Metzger Marsh in Ohio earlier in the spring.

Black-Bellied Whistling Duck

Black-Bellied Whistling Duck

1.) Black-Bellied Whistling Duck – This one feels like kind of a cop-out because of how easy it was to see and how long it stuck around at Franke Park, especially compared to the avocets above. But, it was a lifer and the least likely bird that I saw all year anywhere, and it gave me some incredible looks. I can’t count on seeing this bird anywhere near Indiana again any time soon.

Now for the current year. In 2016, for the fourth year in a row, my first bird was Northern Cardinal. I didn’t get a picture of that fellow in my yard, nor would many people care to see him, so instead here is a leucistic female that I saw during the Southwest Allen County Christmas Bird Count on January 2nd:

Leucistic Northern Cardinal

Leucistic Northern Cardinal

My assigned CBC territory was Fox Island, which after my time pedaling last year is now within easy biking distance of home, so I started out my new green (easier to type and say than “motorless”) list strong. I don’t have any new birds compared to last year yet, but as of this writing I am at 28 species, a number I didn’t hit until the second week of March in 2015.

Sandhill Cranes

Sandhill Cranes

The best birds so far have been this surprising flock of Sandhill Cranes catching a thermal directly above my house. SACR is a gimme in Indiana, but usually not until March. These guys were migrating south crazy late. If I can have a “miss” yet, it is probably Red-Breasted Nuthatch. The one in my yard was around daily for over two months, but I have not seen it at all since we got back from our week in North Carolina. Oh, also Eastern Towhee. Again heard already but not seen.

My hope is to beat the 137 species from last year, but an aggressive goal is 152 which would be one more bird than my hilariously novice Indiana “big year” attempt from 2013.

Happy New Year, good birding, and good luck to all of you other listers out there!

A Pretty Good Weekend

On Saturday I headed back to Eagle Marsh to check on the mudflats and see if anything new flew in.

Green Heron

Green Heron

My first good sign was a rather cooperative Green Heron.

Semipalmated Plover

Semipalmated Plover

The mud was pretty calm because it was the heat of the day, but the very first bird I saw was #114 for the motorless list: Semipalmated Plover. As I watched it dodge Killdeer, I realized that I had somehow never seen one in Indiana, so state bird too, embarrassingly enough.

Great Egret

Great Egret

The only other thing of note was this super relaxed Great Egret. At first I thought it might be injured, but after a while it stood up on both legs and flew away with no problem. Does anyone know what it might have been doing? I have never seen one adopt this position before.

After Eagle Marsh, I decided to bike again today despite the heat to try and mop up another bird that has been evading me on the motorless list: Pileated Woodpecker. I headed to Fox Island with this bird in mind.

Blue Grosbeak

Blue Grosbeak

My route took me past the quarry where Blue Grosbeak has become my nemesis over the last two years, but today I decided to stop and look around for one. I found two birds rather easily. Nemesis slayed! Even though this juvenile bird is in some boring plumage, check out the size of that bill. You can’t be disappointed with that. Lifer, and motorless #115. Further down the road closer to Fox Island I encountered two more, including a blue adult male that I couldn’t get a picture of but bringing my total to four individuals, which was pretty exciting.

Inside of the park, I was riding high from BLGR and totally pumped to see my woodpecker (which is the same one that deviled me during my Taken For Granted Challenge with The Laurence last year). As I was riding around, my eyes caught a largish bird that at first I mistook for a Gray Catbird.

Yellow-Billed Cuckoo

Yellow-Billed Cuckoo

Nope, Yellow-Billed Cuckoo! Lifer #2 for the day (actually within half an hour) and motorless #116. I was thrilled to see this bird, because my only other experience with one has been as a carcass on the sidewalk by my office.

On the ride out, I did finally manage Pileated Woodpecker flying over the road in the same place where I saw two of the grosbeaks. My list is now at 117, and getting two unexpected lifers made today one of the best outings I have had in a while. I was happy enough to be singing a little bit in my head on the way home, and appropriately enough, my favorite Scottish pop group has some songs that are totally appropriate for these birds.