Starting This 5MR (With Guest Blogger)

Since January 1st all of my Indiana birding has been inside of my 5MR. It has been productive!

HAWO

Hairy Woodpecker

In the first few days of January every bird is exciting. It’s always great to reset the odometer and be able to count literally everything all over again, from the ubiquitous Northern Cardinal to the otherwise aggravating House Sparrow. During that glorious window where each and every feeder bird is new again, I was also lucky enough to be visited by a female Hairy Woodpecker, which is infrequently seen in the yard.

Johnny Appleseed

Johnny Appleseed Park

Outside of feeder watching, I have also made a few brief forays deeper into my 5MR territory, including visits to find ducks at Johnny Appleseed Park and the water treatment ponds.

Goldeneye

Common Goldeneye

I was lucky enough to get a nice little waterfowl haul that included Common Goldeneye at both locations. These trips also yielded Common and Hooded Mergansers, Ring-necked Ducks, American Coots, and numerous other water-based FOYs:

GBHE

Great Blue Heron

RBGU

correction: Herring Gull!

**Thank you so much to commentor Raf for pointing out that this is actually a Herring Gull, and not the Ring-billed I assumed it to be. I noted the field mark of “bird is a gull inland in February” and therefore just checked it off as a Ring-billed. Shame on me. Herring is actually an incredibly good county bird here, and I believe this is only the third one I have seen.

MUSW

Mute Swan

Most of the rest of the month of January was spent alternating between bouts of weird weather. The star of the weather show, though, was last week’s Polar Vortex during which the temperature did not exceed -10 degrees Fahrenheit for approximately three days. While I still had to go to work during that time, someone was at home stuck inside with the kids but still keeping an eye on our bird situation: my oft-mentioned but never before featured wife, Jaime! Everything below is in her own (orange) words, and also her photos. She deserves literally all of the credit for me being able to see a state bird in our own yard as well as tick a rather uncommon variety of hawk!

Feeb

My recent bird binge started when I looked out of our kitchen window and saw a strange-looking squirrel in the owl box. I quickly grabbed Greg’s camera and zoomed in for a closer look.

Snowy Owl

Strange-looking Squirrel

I started screaming and jumping up and down, and our daughter came in to see what was the matter. I called Greg at work frantically and yelled to him “there’s an owl in the owl house!” He thought one of the kids had been injured until he realized what I was yelling into the phone.

EASO

Eastern Screech-Owl

It was so fluffy and so sleepy, and there was snow blowing in its face. It was cute. I want one. I couldn’t stop looking at it all day.

Three Amigos

Three Amigos

So then I was on bird watch. I was mostly concerned that it would swoop down and eat one of our other birds, but it didn’t. As I was watching all of the other birds, I saw in the pine tree that there were these other colorful ones all huddled together, and I liked them even though they are common. I was moved to photograph them.

RSHA

Red-shouldered Hawk

Later when I was looking out the window, I saw a giant thing fly down and sit on the branch in our neighbors’ tree. I thought at first it was the owl, but then when I saw how big it was I knew it was a hawk of some sort, but not one I had ever seen before. It was some sort of shouldered-hawk. It impressed Greg.

Starling.JPG

Not an owl

It eventually got dark and we couldn’t see the owl any more, then the next day there was a squirrel in the owl house. A few hours later another bird was in there, but it was not an owl unfortunately. Just a starling trying to stay dry. They must be smart birds. There were also about 50 of them in our yard. But I was sad. I missed Ollie the owl.

I want everyone to know that I was traumatized by birding one time when we went hiking and I got a bug in my eye. Also there was a turkey on the loose that we couldn’t see but we could hear chasing us. Other than that, I like birding.

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Some Thoughts on Fall

I have been to much (although admittedly not all) of this country, and I have very strong feelings about fall in the Midwest being one of the greatest season/location combinations possible.

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Foster Park

Things are still green here, but once September 22nd hit, fall was official. Football season returns. You don’t have to feel weird about eating soup. And all manner of farm-related family activities beckon you to the countryside. These are not the trappings of high-brow culture. But, man, are they fun.

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Portrait of a Barred Owl

I feel the same way about my recent September birds. I haven’t gone anywhere extravagant, and I didn’t see anything at all rare. But I enjoyed the run-of-the-mill immensely, even though the blogosphere might make you think you are not living life if you aren’t seeing a Juan Fernandez Petrel.

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I know this guy well.

I would much rather spend some quality time with some good friends, the common birds in my neighborhood. I hear this Barred Owl every once in a while, and occasionally he even makes a roost in the spruces in my back yard. It isn’t that big of a surprise to see him along the southern part of the woods at Foster Park, either. And that is exactly where I found him on Friday, but this was one of the best encounters with any bird I have ever had.

As I was following a trail, he flew up from ground level just a few yards ahead of me. He perched in a low branch very close, and watched me for a minute as I tried hard not to move or make any noise. Then, he turned his attention to an acorn falling through the foliage, and watched for the Blue Jays calling in the area. He wasn’t concerned with me. For a bird to ignore you, is that respect? It felt like it. It was an incredible sighting.

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Northern Flicker

As I continued my walk, I came upon a big mixed flock of birds. Notable in it were some Black-throated Green and Blackpoll Warblers, both green year birds. I didn’t get great photos, but that doesn’t matter when the young Northern Flicker they were with was quite willing to fill in.

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Cooper’s Hawk

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Red-tailed Hawk

Next, a Cooper’s Hawk successfully chased away a young Red-tailed. The much larger buteo was undoubtedly making its first go of it alone in the world.

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Eastern Phoebe

This Eastern Phoebe was hanging on to summer for as long as it could. Rather than joining the mixed flocks and starting an adventure south, this bird perched in a tree and called “phoebe” the whole time while it sallied for bugs like it was still the early stages of June.

BWHA Kettle.JPG

Broad-winged Hawks

The next morning, I woke up and went for a walk with the family. As we neared the park again, we saw a huge cloud of hawks swirling around in the morning sunlight. At least 100 Broad-winged Hawks were all tailgating together, with some of them eventually making their way right above our house. A pretty incredible sight for a yard bird.

BWHA.JPG

Broad-winged Hawk

A lone bird landed in the spruces behind my house, chasing away a Mourning Dove. Not only was this group representative of a new species in the yard, but they were a state bird as well.

BLJA.JPG

Blue Jay

Few hawks are game to stand up to a determined Blue Jay, however. This fellow and his posse were successful in running off the guy above who could have otherwise ruined everyone’s day.

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Monarch

Hawks weren’t the only migrants making impressively large southward flights. Nearly two dozen Monarchs were also there this weekend, making their annual march to the hills of Mexico.

9-eatb

Eastern Tailed Blue

Other smaller leps have also made a last push recently. Eastern Tailed Blues were all over my yard for a few days, and then all of a sudden were gone.

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Giant Swallowtail

Others, like this Giant Swallowtail at my in-laws’ house, decided to go it alone as the days shortened.

It is very easy to enjoy all of these species, no matter how common. I like to make metaphors in the things I see, which I guess is pretty cheesy, but makes the common things more relatable and more enjoyable. Cheesy yet enjoyable. Kind of like pumpkin spice everything, corn mazes, and homecoming. Fall in the Midwest is great. Bring it on.

January Birding in the Midwest

Is a mad dash to get a few dozen species right at the beginning of the year and then a whole bunch of slow progress to tick off the random birds here and there that you miss. On a cold but sunny Sunday, I took a 20+ mile ride to both Fox Island and Eagle Marsh to chase a few less common birds (Purple Finch, Rough-legged Hawk) but mostly just ended up watching common fare. I did add two new species to the green list, though: Song Sparrow and Barred Owl.

SOSP

Song Sparrow

AMTS.JPG

American Tree Sparrow

HAWO.JPG

Hairy Woodpecker

BLJA.JPG

Blue Jay

RTHA.JPG

Red-tailed Hawk

VIOP.JPG

Virginia Opossum

The City Proper

I usually go out towards the edge of town to bird, but on Sunday I pedaled into the interior city limits to hit two scenic destinations: a water treatment plant and a cemetery.

Northern Shoveler

Northern Shoveler

Jumping on the river greenway downtown, the first interesting bird I noticed were a few Northern Shovelers. I think this is the first time I have ever seen their bright orange legs.

Horned Grebe

Horned Grebe

Arriving at the water treatment plant, the only other bird of note was a lone Horned Grebe bobbing waaaay out on the terminal ponds. I wouldn’t have bothered to post this shot except for that it is a new motorless bird good for #137.

Blue Jay

Blue Jay

With the waterfowl mostly a bust I headed back through downtown to visit a sparsely birded but occasionally great Lindenwood Cemetery. It was my first visit of the year, and my mission was finches. I came up totally empty (unless you count goldfinches), although I was able to acquaint myself with some of the more common birds around, including a pair of Blue Jays foraging for acorns among the headstones and a flock of about 9,000,000 Dark-Eyed Juncos. The Red Crossbill reported from Thanksgiving day was not to be seen.

But: funny birding story. I pedaled into the middle of the cemetery, which was almost completely deserted. I ignored the one single car there and ate a hasty peanut butter sandwich while listening for finch calls. When I was done eating, I pulled out my phone to play a recording of Red Crossbill, hoping to get really lucky. Within 10 seconds, the door to the car flew open, and a gentleman stepped out calling with some hesitation, “…Are you birding?” My answer: “Yes.” His reply: “Did you just play a tape?” My reply: “Yes.” He continued: “Of a Red Crossbill?” My response, now on guard: “Yes…” I was mostly playing the recording for my own education, since I have never heard nor seen RECR, but this guy was totally not expecting anyone else to be there birding, let alone birding on a bike, so he was about through the roof thinking he had found the bird. Oops. Disclaimer: I don’t use playback very often, but have been known to on occasion. In the end, he asked me to play it again in the off chance it would attract the bird. +1 for cool other birders.

With exactly one month to go in 2015, I may have finally plateaued in my challenge for the year unless something crazy lands in my neighborhood (but there are currently both a Townsend’s Solitaire and a Green-Tailed Towhee in the state, so who knows?). With regular sub-freezing temperatures now on tap, I may have my cycling opportunities over with, although there was a Snowy Owl reported yesterday that is only 15 miles away from home, so…

(Just kidding, Jaime!)

Morgantown, WV

Over Memorial Day Weekend, Jaime and I had the opportunity to spend a few days in West Virginia visiting my grandparents. In between old family stories and more than a few good meals, we were able to check out the Core Arboretum on the campus of WVU to do some hiking and birding. I didn’t get any new lifers, but we were able to see many birds much more commonly in the hills than we get in Indiana. Among the biggest highlight was a Wild Turkey stumbling around in the underbrush. We also got the chance to see some much more common birds at the feeders in my grandparents’ yard and around the neighborhood.

Northern Cardinal

Northern Cardinal

This Northern Cardinal was framed by the deck posts. I don’t give Cardinals enough attention because of how common they are, and it is also worth noting that the Northern Cardinal is the state bird of every state I have ever lived in (chronologically: North Carolina, West Virginia, Ohio, Virginia, and Indiana).

Blue Jay

Blue Jay

Blue Jays ruled the roost at the feeder. They were also seen in quantities unheard of in our home city.

Northern Flicker

Northern Flicker

This Northern Flicker was seen at the Arboretum. Flickers are the weird cousins of the woodpecker family, as they like to spend a lot of the time on the ground, where they smash ants and rub them all over their bodies. They also have very dapper handlebar mustaches.

Mourning Dove

Mourning Dove

We did see MoDos in Morgantown, but this photo was actually taken at a stop in Columbus on our way to West Virginia. For a while, there was some confusion in our household over the possibility of these birds actually being owls because of the calls that they make.