A Pretty Big Week

This past week on the southwestern shores of Lake Erie was an event called “The Biggest Week in American Birding.” Held at the famous Magee Marsh, all kinds of tired migrants cram into a little bottleneck of woods before they make the trip across the Great Lakes, and views of otherwise difficult to see species are up close and personal, and incredible. I wasn’t there. But I had a pretty big week of my own.

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Harris’s Sparrow

The evening of May 2nd I left the gym to discover an email from my birding friend Angie telling me that she had a Harris’s Sparrow in her yard. First thing the next morning I went over to check for the bird and found it singing in a tree by her driveway. Life bird, and first county record! Angie’s house is inside of my 5MR, so it also counts as the most improbable bird on that list to date! Angie has done a great job of turning her back yard into a wet woodland habitat, so if this bird were to pick anyone’s house to set up shop it would be hers. But this mind-blowing sighting got me wondering how many other crazy birds turn up at people’s feeders without ever getting recognized for what they are?

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The Magic Tree

Later in the week I met up with another birding friend, Lorenzo, to check out Franke Park again for some spring migrants. The weather was total crap with drizzle and clouds the whole morning. But the birding was magical. Photos were incredibly difficult to come by, but to give you an idea of the birdsplosion happening, take the photo above which contains four Brown Thrashers (yellow circles) and two male Rose-breasted Grosbeaks (red circles). At one point another thrasher and an Indigo Bunting were also clustered with that group at the top of the tree. We just kept giving each other “what is happening?” looks as the birds. just. kept. coming.

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Scarlet Tanager

We got tons of first-of-the-year birds, like this mellow female Scarlet Tanager and about five of her closest friends.

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Black-throated Blue Warbler

We also had double-digit warbler species, including this unabashedly confiding (and spectacularly handsome) male Black-throated Blue Warbler who was hopping around basically at our feet. He was only the second one I had ever seen.

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Laughably Bad Common Loon

As I already said, photos were basically not happening. But a couple of birds on the park’s decently sized lake made me try anyway. Two Common Loons that took off and circled low before flying away represented a long-overdue state nemesis for me! I had previously seen them up and down the United States from Minnesota to Ohio to Florida, but never in my home state. If there was any day for them to finally go down, it was this day.

Tiny Wetland

Tiny Wetland

The last place we checked, just because we figured why not, was the tiny scrap of wetland behind the BMX track at the park. I usually only bother with this little parcel of swamp if I need a Red-winged Blackbird or something. It’s tiny, barely even a pond. This photo shows literally the entire thing (as well as the raindrops on my lens).

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Sora!

But wouldn’t you know it, this little postage stamp of wetlands held not one but two Soras, a Marsh Wren, and a Common Yellowthroat, all birds that I had no reasonable hope of finding inside of my 5MR and that take a concerted multi-hour effort to get to at Eagle Marsh on my bike. Not today. As we were leaving, a van of people I knew from the Audubon Society pulled up, looking pretty miserable birding from their car in the rain. They informed us that is was slow going for them and they hoped we had better luck. We did.

In all, we tallied 59 species in barely two hours of birding, and my eBird checklist is here. I added two dozen new 5MR and Green birds for the year, including an additional personal county bird in White-eyed Vireo and an earliest ever county record of Willow Flycatcher for good measure. With the crazy good luck Lorenzo and I had in the morning, I continued to keep track of the species I saw later in the day and ended up at 64 without putting too much more effort into things. I will dub this day as the Accidental 5MR Big Day. The Official 5MR Big Day is yet to be had.

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Baltimore Oriole

I’m not done! Even with the steady rain and limited birding time due to family activities for Mother’s Day, my week of birds kept getting better. My jelly feeder managed to reel in only the second Baltimore Oriole I have seen from the yard, but it was merely a sign of things to come.

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Chestnut-sided Warbler in my yard

On Saturday and Sunday, a slow-moving bird tsunami swept over my yard and crushed me. Multiple singing Chestnut-sided Warblers visited the oaks around the house, which is pretty incredible because for whatever reason they are one of the harder warblers for me to get, and I hadn’t had one on my Green list since 2015. They were harbingers of a current of warblers so strong as to be almost unbelievable. Along with Chestnut-sided, I had Nashville, Tennessee, Black-throated Green, Northern Parula, Blackburnian, and Blue-winged Warblers all singing in and around my yard over the weekend, and I probably missed a few.

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Another Scarlet Tanager

Two pretty bad Scarlet Tanager photos in the same post? Why yes, yes because this one was also in my yard. It shared the same tree with a Blackburnian Warbler, which seems to be a pretty consistent combo for me. Does anyone else seem to get Blackburnian Warbler at the same time they get Scarlet Tanager?

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Least Flycatcher

The storm finally petered out with a muted Least Flycatcher as the last new bird in the yard, but it was still a new one for the year on my 5MR (currently at 107) and Green (currently at 105) lists. In all, I added six entirely new species to my yard list this weekend to arrive at a 25-month total of 75 species.

In my last post I said I thought I had gotten a sign of good things to come. Turns out I was right, but I hope I haven’t cashed in all of my birding karma yet. 5MR Big Day coming on May 15th! Stay tuned!

“Big” “Green” Weekend

That’s right, I must use the words “big” and “green” in quotation marks when describing my birding weekend. But at least it was a legitimate weekend!

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Savannah Sparrow

Heading south from Fort Wayne and venturing into Wells County, things started off well! I had several grassland birds on my target list whose calls I diligently studied the week before. I was rewarded shortly after sunrise when I started hearing the unmistakable sounds of Savannah Sparrows from nearly everywhere.

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Dickcissel

As I was photographing the sparrow above, a Dickcissel, the first of many on the morning, leapt out of the grass and perched on a wire directly above me. Both of these grassland specialists can only be had with a serious investment in pedaling, so I was pretty happy to see them so early in the day.

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Ouabache State Park

Two and a half hours later, I arrived at Ouabache (pronounced “WAH-bash,” or “oo-BAH-chee if you’re a local) State Park just outside of Bluffton. I had never birded here, nor anywhere else in Wells County. The park was almost totally deserted on a Friday morning and the birds came at me fast, highlighted by my lifer Alder Flycatcher calling at the entrance gate.

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Common Yellowthroat

The park offers a good variety of habitats, and a bike trail winding along the Wabash (pronounced “Ouabache”) River offered up plenty of diversity. Among the birds was this Common Yellowthroat, this photo of which has already generated a 1-star rating on eBird. I know I am not a photographer, but come on.

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Fire Tower

One of the major attractions at Ouabache is a fire tower. Unfortunately, it is closed for renovation.

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Bison!

Fortunately, the other major attraction was working just fine. A large enclosure for American Bison lets visitors get up close and personal with the mighty beasts.

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Chestnut-sided Warbler

The path around the bison pen offers some great bird habitat, too. Among many firsts of the year, I caught a couple of Chestnut-sided Warblers. I think this would be an acceptable 1-star eBird photo. Just imagine that the bird is in focus.

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My trusty steed

This is where I should mention that I had been diligently watching the weather forecast all week. Conditions were supposed to be perfect up until two days before my trip. Then things all turned to crap. At around only 10:30 the rain moved in, so I hid in a shelter to eat lunch and plan my next move.

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Red-headed Woodpecker

The oaks around the picnic shelter allowed me to watch the antics of a couple of Red-headed Woodpeckers while I charged my phone and got a weather update. Earlier in the morning, I knew to expect rain in the late morning, but by that time the forecast changed to say it would continue to do so all afternoon.

I decided that at the next break in the downpour, I would make a hasty exit to try and book it to my next destination in the town of Berne 10 miles away where I had an AirBnb waiting for me and a potentially great birding site in the Limberlost Swamp just down the road. I got through the gates of the park right as the rain came back with a vengeance. I was pedaling directly into the wind, and it took me over two hours to ride the 10 miles. I was thoroughly soaked by the time I got to my lodging. Checking the weather again, I saw that the forecast had changed to rain for the rest of the day, through the night, and into the next day where it would then transform from showers into thunderstorms. I knew I had met my match, so I sheepishly called for a rescue to extract me from Berne and back to Fort Wayne. (Thanks, Jaime!)

I logged 11 new green species from my outing at Ouabache, but none except the Alder Flycatcher were things I couldn’t get from closer to home, so I scrapped any and all plans to ride back down to the park and reconnect to my broken route at a later date.

By Sunday, the weather had cleared and I went birding again, this time 3 rather than 30 miles from home. I headed to Franke Park to see what late migrants were there.

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Scarlet Tanager

Before I even got to the park, I stopped along a new section of the Pufferbelly Trail to examine a Blackburnian Warbler that was singing overhead. That proved to be a great decision, because it was traveling in a mixed flock that included two male Scarlet Tanagers and Bay-breasted, Magnolia, and Tennessee Warblers. The tanager was one of my biggest misses on the green list last year, so it was good to get it back.

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Bay-breasted Warbler

Franke was equally good birding, and I found another Bay-breasted Warbler among the flocks. This seems to be a bird I only ever get in the fall, so it was cool to see one in its breeding plumage.

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Spy RUn

On one trail I saw a particularly diverse flock of migrants on the opposite bank of Spy Run (a creek, not an 80’s arcade game). The brush was in my way, so I climbed onto a gravel bar in the middle of the stream to see just who was there.

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Canada Warbler

The best bird was this sharp male Canada Warbler. This is a bird I see relatively infrequently, but it was one of a couple at the park that day. It even stayed still for several minutes, which is no small feat for a warbler!

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Rose-breasted Grosbeak

In all, I had 10 new green birds, including several of the species that would have been new green birds from my trip to Ouabache. This Rose-breasted Grosbeak was not one of them, but I feel like it’s getting pretty late for them so I included him anyway.

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Combo!

One of the last things I saw before heading home was this Monarch foraging in close proximity to an American Robin. My first bird/butterfly combo, and a fitting end to a redeemed weekend.

Warbler Bonanza

After not going out birding for a few weeks, I just had a Big Day at the always reliable Eagle Creek. In four hours, I logged 46 species, 7 of which were lifers and 11 of which were Warblers: Nashville Warbler, Chestnut-Sided Warbler (lifer), Ovenbird, Black-and-White Warbler, American Redstart, Magnolia Warbler (lifer), Yellow-Throated Warbler, Bay-Breasted Warbler (lifer), Blackburnian Warbler (lifer), Cape May Warbler (lifer), and Palm Warbler (lifer). For those of you keeping track at home, my only non-Warbler lifer on the day was a Red-Breasted Nuthatch, which somehow I had never seen despite how common they are. And the park was full of them this morning. Here is my list on eBird!

My pictures weren’t quite as good as my day list, but I did get a few nonetheless:

Blackburnian Warbler

Blackburnian Warbler

The Warblers were so thick that I didn’t even have to look for them. I could just train my binoculars on a tree branch and one or two (or three in one instance) would just fly into view after a few seconds. Of course identifying what I was seeing was much more difficult than finding the birds, but thanks to several other birders present at the Eagle Creek marina, I had a lot of help. The Blackburnian Warbler above was fairly easy to identify because of his black, white, and orange color scheme.

Chestnut-Sided Warbler

Chestnut-Sided Warbler

So the Chestnut-Sided Warbler doesn’t have chestnut-colored sides in the fall, so this was a tricky ID. But Peterson saved the day, as he showed me that this is the only fall Warbler with a green cap and yellow wing bars.

Pileated Woodpecker

Pileated Woodpecker

I have had problems getting a photo of the impressively large Pileated Woodpecker. But today, this guy was flying back and forth between two huge sycamore trees, screaming all the way. Kind of hard to miss. He must have been trying to get someone’s attention, because in between the screams he would jackhammer on a hollow dead branch, raising even more of a ruckus.

Pied-Billed Grebe

Pied-Billed Grebe

Pied-Billed Grebes are here now! Although they were not big fans of getting their picture taken, ducking under the water and darting away if I got too close.

Wood Thrush

Swainson’s Thrush

Swainson’s Thrush says ‘sup.