Falling Back

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

DSCN8094

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.

DSCN8101

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.

DSCN8106

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!

Advertisements

GregAndBirds Presents: Black-Bellied Whistling Duck

The Black-Bellied Whistling Duck is a tropical bird with a foothold in the United States along the gulf coast. It has also been expanding its range northward in recent years, with strong patterns of vagrancy into the Midwestern and Northeastern states. However, it still triggers the rare bird alerts along the Great Lakes, and you can be sure that one in Fort Wayne is a big deal.

Black-Bellied Whistling Duck

Black-Bellied Whistling Duck

Regular readers of this blog (or even single-time readers of this blog) know that I live and die by the diagnostic shot: photographs with just enough detail to tell what bird is fuzzily, blurrily, obscuredly in the picture. Today’s feature is about as close as I get to crushing birds here, so indulge me.

Black-Bellied Low Rider

Black-Bellied Low Rider

BBWD represents life bird #250 for me, and for a milestone I could not have asked for a better bird. Not only is it a rare vagrant to my corner of the world, but it is a gorgeous duck that has hung around for five days at this point and acts totally tame.

Black-Bellied Hallux

Black-Bellied Hallux

Questions of provenance can also be put to rest, as this bird has both halluces present and accounted for and no band to be seen.

Black-Bellied Lift Off

Black-Bellied Lift Off

I managed to hang out with this bird for quite a while after work, significantly calming my nerves after thoughts that I may have missed it. I planned to chase it on my lunch break, but a car had somehow wrecked itself on the only exit ramp to my parking garage, effectively blocking everybody in and making me hyperventilate in anxiety over the thoughts that the bird would fly and I would miss it by a matter of hours. No worries though. This bird was super cool.

Black-Bellied Mallard Head

Black-Bellied Mallard Head

It even had a sense of humor, posing in comparison with some of the less desirable birds that it shared a pond with.

Trash Birds

Trash Birds

In fact, the company this bird kept made it all the more sexy by comparison. It was associating with some of the worst trash birds out there: dumped 4H geese, manky hybrid Mallards, and crippled Canada Geese, all of which are expected in the highly-trafficked, highly-peopled, highly hot-dog-bunned Shoaff Lake next to the Fort Wayne Children’s Zoo.

Stumpy

Stumpy

By comparison, this was like Shaquille O’Neal playing for the Washington Generals.

Black-Bellied Whistling Duck

Black-Bellied Whistling Duck

I will say this is a bird I have fantasized about. Although in my fantasies when it shows up in Indiana I am the one finding it. You can’t win them all, but I this wasn’t a bad consolation prize.

Opening a Can of Worms (or Caterpillars)

Over Memorial Day Weekend, I got on the bike and rode to Eagle Marsh to check out some wetland habitat that I hadn’t had the chance to visit yet while motorless.

Prothonotary Warbler

Prothonotary Warbler

On the way there, I had to ride through Foster Park, which was not a total bummer since I got to spend some quality time with a loudly singing Prothonotary Warbler.

Foster Park Foot Bridge

Foster Park Foot Bridge

Eye-level warbler action is made possible at Foster by the presence of a foot bridge that I have mentioned here before. Please reference above how it enters the tree canopy at approximately 20 feet in height. Gary Fisher the bike is posed for scale. This may be the park’s best attribute in spring.

Stained Canada Goose

Stained Canada Goose

Once at Eagle Marsh, I was somewhat disappointed by the lack of diversity, even though I picked up motorless birds #95-97 (Double-Crested Cormorant, Tree Swallow, and Willow Flycatcher). I didn’t get many photos, save for this Canada Goose that shows some hideous stains on its should-be-white chinstrap that I am guessing are the result of wastewater from the adjacent landfill. Gross.

Killdeer

Killdeer

A Killdeer was also there, so I took its picture.

Red-Spotted Purple

Red-Spotted Purple

With little happening, I started paying attention to non-bird things. I hadn’t intended to feature this butterfly image on my blog, but I had to know what it was. I immediately felt like I did when I first began birding, and with no knowledge or other resources to turn to, I began Googling “butterfly identification,” “common butterflies,” and “Indiana butterflies.” This course of action is totally frowned upon for beginners in the birding circle, but when you’re sitting in your basement looking at photos without a butterfly field guide, it has to do. This Red-Spotted Purple (I didn’t even notice the red spots until after I learned what it was) is the first butterfly I have ever identified. Boom. My butterfly life list now stands at a solid 1.

Eastern Bluebird

Eastern Bluebird

With the butterfly itch scratched, I returned to Foster Park the next day to find things as slow as the day before. I did pick up motorless bird #98 (Acadian Flycatcher, and may I add that being 2 birds away from my goal is killing me. I am now taking bets for what species #100 will be), but spent my time taking pictures of common thrushes. Case in point, male Eastern Bluebird.

American Robin Fledgling

American Robin Fledgling

Case in point again, fledgling American Robin who is still bespotted.

Larger Blue Flag

Larger Blue Flag

With the lack of avian activity, my camera began to drift again. I found a cool flower by the river and took its picture. But the ID itch came back, and I now know after Gooling “wildflower identification” that this is a Larger Blue Flag, one of about a half dozen names for the plant that Wikipedia tells me about.

Butterflies and flowers seem to be the next go-to subjects for birders with wandering eyes (I am not messing with dragonflies). I am not honestly sure if this weekend sparked a new obsession or not, but at the very least now I have additional lists to keep, because listing is cool, right?

The Locals

My travel schedule has been a bit nuts lately, with trips for business, family, and of course birding taking me through many places over the last several weeks. I am home for a while now though, so it is back to local birding and building the motorless list some more. Here are some of the things I have seen in and around Fort Weezy recently.

Palm Warbler

Palm Warbler

A May without warblers would be a sad thing indeed. Not to worry. The Midwest’s strong suit is alive and well, and this Palm Warbler was making use of its namesake with all of the many date and coconut palms growing wild in Indiana.

Louisiana Waterthrush

Louisiana Waterthrush

Waterthrushes are some of the most underrated warblers. Any bird that acts in no way like the other members of its family is alright by me, and this Louisiana Waterthrush was doing just that by putting on a decent sandpiper performance. LOWA is also a life bird for me, motorless lifer #4 for the year. I also lifered sans motor this week with Blue-Winged Warbler. The motorless list is up to 77 as of today, and 100 looks more attainable all the time. I am still missing embarrassingly common things like Killdeer, Great Egret, and Tree Swallow.

Snapping Turtle

Snapping Turtle

I have seen some cool non-bird things recently, too. Like this ridiculously enormous snapping turtle. This thing was probably close to 3 feet long from nose to tail, no joke. I know that birds are technically more closely related to dinosaurs, but this guy gives them a run for their money.

Muskrat

Muskrat

Mammals have also been around. When they aren’t attacking your dog, muskrats are actually pretty cute.

Raccoon

Raccoon

I take that back. Raccoons put them to shame.

Chug

Chug

What better way to wash down an entire block of suet than by sticking your whole head in the nasty birdbath that hadn’t yet been cleaned out after my trip to Indianapolis?

Canada Goose

Canada Goose

What was I doing in Indianapolis, you ask? I realize this makes two consecutive blog posts with Canada Goose featured. So I will end with my other notable Indy sighting of first-of-the-year Rose-Breasted Grosbeak, signing from the middle of a downtown parking lot. Birds are weird.

What I did on my spring vacation

After the most insane several weeks of work in my life, I took off a couple of days and pointed my car eastward. My destination: the swamps of Lake Erie in northwest Ohio. My goal: warblers! I camped out at Maumee Bay State Park in Oregon, Ohio to check out the famed bird mecca of Magee Marsh, the proclaimed “warbler capital of the world.” Perhaps you have heard of it.

Magee Marsh

Magee Marsh

I went a week early, because even though peak migration is still a ways off, there was no way I could put up with all of those khaki vests and bucket hats. By all accounts, though, even the weeks leading up to the Biggest Week have plenty of migrant action. And the whole place is set up like some kind of birding amusement park. Just look at it. I was pumped. On to the warblers!

Yellow Warbler

Yellow Warbler

First to be spotted was the always abundant yet cheerful Yellow Warbler. Good start!

Next up was… nothing.

Angry Sea

Angry Sea

The day I arrived, a freakishly cold storm blew in off the lake, driving north to south. This stopped everyone in their tracks as they flew northward. This has apparently been the story all spring, and everyone I talked to apologized to me profusely at what was thought to be one of the worst years for late migration that anyone could remember. I saw one warbler species during my entire trip.

Rusty Blackbird

Rusty Blackbird

If not for the tiny flock of Rusty Blackbirds (life bird!), Magee Marsh would have been a total bust. I had a backup plan, though.

Metzger Marsh

Metzger Marsh

The other ‘M’ marsh next door to Magee is Metzger. While not a magnet for passerines, some great shorebirds had been hanging out there, so with the wind still ripping from the north off of the lake, I headed there.

American Avocets

American Avocets

Other than the dozens of egrets that I saw as I drove up, the very first thing I saw was a gigantic flock of shorebirds working the mud: American Avocets (life bird)! They had just appeared that morning, so word had not gotten out yet, and it was a great surprise. This photo shows only about half of the flock; different peoples’ counts ranged from between 99 to 117 birds, which is pretty much unheard of in the Midwest.

Class Photo

Class Photo

It was tough to look away from the avocets, but there was a mind-blowing array of wetland birds to comprehend. I felt like I was in Florida or something. The photo above includes Caspian and Common Terns plus Bonaparte’s Gulls; all birds I have only seen in small numbers previously.

White-Faced Ibis

White-Faced Ibis

Probably the biggest draw for most people at Metzger were the reported White-Faced Ibis. I was having poor luck trying to locate the birds across the expanse of wetlands, until a lady flushed them from probably 10 yards away. They were feeding next to the road behind some tall grass, and nobody saw them until they flew straight up, circled once, and then disappeared from view. Not the best look at another life bird, but I will take it. This happened probably no more than 15 minutes after I arrived, so I would definitely not have seen them had I gotten there any later.

Trumpeter Swans

Trumpeter Swans

Some of the less jittery birds included these two Trumpeter Swans (life bird!) who cared not that I was standing mere feet away, taking as many photos as I could get.

Headless Swans

Headless Swans

If you are wondering about the brown stains on the swans’ heads, this photo should answer your question.

Savannah Sparrow

Savannah Sparrow

This Savannah Sparrow was uncommonly cooperative, and one of the last birds I saw before heading back to Maumee Bay.

Common Grackle

Common Grackle

The camp mascot should have been Common Grackle, which numbered in the hundreds at the park. I took the time to photograph this guy as I ate lunch.

Tree Swallow

Tree Swallow

Swallows were also very much on the menu, and in many varieties. These Tree Swallows seemed to be staking out a nest site.

Purple Martin

Purple Martin

Meanwhile, this Purple Martin pondered what it means to be truly free, and if his wings are merely metaphors for life.

White-Tailed Deer

White-Tailed Deer

Maumee Bay had a pretty nice boardwalk, but it was mostly quiet when I was there, so I resorted to taking pictures of deer.

Eastern Screech-Owl

Eastern Screech-Owl

But on the way out, this Eastern Screech-Owl was mean-muggin’ me from a nest box. Lifer! Along with the Great-Horned Owl on nest that I saw at Metzger, this bird meant that I saw more species of owl than I did warbler in the Warbler Capital of the World. Weird.

Solitary Sandpiper

Solitary Sandpiper

Before my trip was over with, I did head back to Metzger to see if anything else new flew in. The birds remained mostly unchanged, but I did get some close-up views of shorebirds in good lighting, like this Solitary Sandpiper.

Lesser Yellowlegs

Lesser Yellowlegs

And this Lesser Yellowlegs.

Solitary Yellowlegs

Solitary Yellowlegs

And this Solitary Yellowlegs.

Dunlin

Dunlin

Most things there were Dunlin, which were looking very dapper in their alternate plumage.

Semipalmated Plover

Semipalmated Plover

When a Peregrine Falcon blew by, the Dunlin scattered, but in their wake remained a lone Semipalmated Plover with serious chutzpah. Further out was an American Golden-Plover (lifer!) who did not afford a photo opportunity.

Northern Shoveler

Northern Shoveler

Last, but certainly not least were waterfowl. Teals and Gadwall and others abounded, like these Northern Shovelers.

Canada Geeselets

Canada Geeselets

And of course these Canada Geese. I don’t care what you say, baby geese are cute. To keep my birder street cred, I will tell you this is a photo of Branta canadensis actively using its R-selected reproduction strategy.

Mine was a great trip. I ended up with 64 species accounted for, with 6 of them new to my life list. I hope to go back some time and give Magee Marsh another shot, but at least now I know that northwest Ohio isn’t all warblers.

Unusual Suspects

I have hit Foster Park hard and often in the first two months of this year, trying in vain to bulk up my motorless list. But after the usual suspects were had early, the birding has been slow, if not relaxing. I am still missing Mourning Dove for the year. Seriously. Mourning Dove.

Yesterday, on the last day of February, I took advantage of some sunshine to check out Foster again, hoping to tick sapsuckers, kinglets, and maybe a Winter Wren (and Mourning Dove).

White-Breasted Nuthatch

White-Breasted Nuthatch

I was desperate to actually put together a blog post with photos in it, so as I walked the river bank, I started taking pictures of everything that moved, which was not much. Nothing against White-Breasted Nuthatch, but I can see you anywhere.

Fox Squirrel

Fox Squirrel

I was getting desperate to make something out of my trip. So squirrels were fair game, too. Maybe I could do one of those interesting “Here are some mammals I saw while birding” posts, but I would need to do better than Fox Squirrel to muster that.

River Ice

River Ice

Falling deeper into despair, I resorted to taking pictures of the cool ice formations on the river.

Maybe...

Maybe…

Next, my mind tried very hard to make this stub of branch into a waxwing.

Common Goldeneye

Common Goldeneye

Then suddenly, something black and white splashed down into the river next to me. Common Goldeneye! Good! My patience paid off, as this was certainly an unexpected duck to find. Open water must have been hard to come by for this diver, because he was cruising around in a tiny open patch of shallow and frozen river. I also realized that this is actually a county bird for me; score!

Usual Suspects

Usual Suspects

Common Goldeneye turned out to be especially good, because this photo summarizes the rest of the waterfowl present.

Looking Up

Looking Up

As I continued, I began to look up both literally and figuratively, because a jogger flushed a large raptor ahead of me on the trail, and it landed almost directly above me.

Closer...

Closer…

See it? No? Let me zoom in some more…

Barred Owl

Barred Owl

Barred Owl was an exceptional way to end the day. I hear them all the time behind my house, but I am a seen-only kind of guy when it comes to listing. I figured I would get one eventually on the motorless list, but I did not expect to see one in full sunlight and manage a clear photograph to boot.

Now if only I could get so lucky with Mourning Dove…

Birding Holliday Park

Now that I am done with school (forever!), I will hopefully be birding more frequently. I even bought a new Nikon Coolpix L810 to replace my dead Canon especially for the cause. For my inaugural post-master’s bird hike, this morning I ventured to Holliday Park, which is a large city park with hiking trails and cool ruins that is only about two miles from home. I made a good decision, because I identified 28 species and heard and saw probably a dozen others that I couldn’t pin down. I also managed to get some good photos from the brand new camera.

The first interesting bird of the day was a bright red streak that I saw dart below a shrub off to my right almost directly inside of the entrance gate. I made a mental note of “Cardinal” and instead turned my attention to whatever small unidentifiable bird was singing from a treetop overhead, with the hope that it would be some kind of new Warbler. It eventually left me without a positive ID, so I continued down the path, only to see the Cardinal again. I figured I might as well try to get a picture since it was posing for me so nicely in a locust tree up ahead. As I zoomed in, I realized that it did not have a black mask, it did not have a crest, and it had a thin yellow beak, which made it a Summer Tanager, not a Northern Cardinal.

Summer Tanager

Summer Tanager

This was really exciting for a few reasons. First, these birds are relatively uncommon, usually preferring to fly around woodland treetops eating bees, and central Indiana is in the extreme northern extent of their range. Second, I had never seen one before. Third, despite never seeing one, I knew exactly what it was and didn’t have to look to see if it was a Summer or a Scarlet Tanager, which made me proud of my birding skills.

The only other bird that exciting for me was the enormous Pileated Woodpecker that flew down and perched in a small tree about 30 feet from me. I scrambled for my camera, took one blurry picture, then was told I was “out of memory.” After deleting a few pictures of more common birds to make room, the Pileated flew away, of course.

Some birds I did get pictures of include these Canada Geese on the White River:

Canada Goose

Canada Goose

This Gray Catbird yodeling from the top of a tree:

Gray Catbird

Gray Catbird

An Eastern Bluebird towards the middle of the lawn:

Eastern Bluebird

Eastern Bluebird

And these three Brown-Headed Cowbirds out of about 17 billion in the park that day:

Brown-Headed Cowbird

Brown-Headed Cowbird

My full count for the day, in order of appearance, included:
1.) American Robin
2.) Eastern Wood Pewee
3.) Red-Bellied Woodpecker
4.) Brown-Headed Cowbird
5.) White-Breasted Nuthatch
6.) White-Throated Sparrow (vocalization only)
7.) Chipping Sparrow
8.) Tufted Titmouse
9.) American Goldfinch
10.) Mallard
11.) Gray Catbird
12.) Northern Cardinal
13.) Summer Tanager (lifer!)
14.) Common Grackle
15.) House Sparrow
16.) Downy Woodpecker
17.) Eastern Bluebird
18.) Mourning Dove (vocalization only)
19.) Song Sparrow
20.) Canada Goose
21.) Carolina Wren
22.) Blue Jay (vocalization only)
23.) Pileated Woodpecker
24.) Ruby-Throated Hummingbird
25.) Carolina Chickadee
26.) House Finch
27.) Turkey Vulture
28.) European Starling