Eagle Marsh

Birding has played second fiddle to life this summer, but I got out to Eagle Marsh on Sunday. I had a few species on my mind that I wanted to see, but when I got there it was obvious that the sheer number of individuals would be the highlight. Post-breeding dispersal is on in the Midwest.

RTHA

Red-tailed Hawk

The first bird to catch my attention was a young, begging Red-tailed Hawk that sounded remarkably like a Ring-billed Gull.

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Swallow Flock

PUMA 2

Swallow Swarm

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Purple Martins

As I hiked down the Towpath Trail, I became increasingly aware that there were thousands of birds around. Most of them were swallows, and of those, 99% were Purple Martins. Two huge flocks were congregating on electrical transmission towers at either end of the preserve, with uncountable birds buzzing and swooping around in between. I estimated at least 500 martins to trip the eBird filter, an accomplishment always good for a birder badge of pride. I have seen most of the other swallow species flock like this in late summer, but never PUMAs. A good half looked like first summer birds.

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Northern Rough-winged Swallow

A few other species mixed in with the flock, mainly Barn Swallows. But I was able to pick out a small group of Northern Rough-winged Swallows clustered to themselves off to one side of the power lines.

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New Impoundment

I hiked up the trail to the newly created levee that forms the “continental divide” between the Mississippi and Great Lakes watersheds. When this was completed a year or two ago it made a new impoundment between Eagle Marsh and the neighboring Fox Island preserve to the south (the trees in the photo above are in Fox Island).

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Common Gallinules

I spent some time scanning the new impoundment to see what might be around. The water was much too high for shorebirds, but a somewhat unexpected sighting was a family of Common Gallinules, with mom and five chicks. I have only seen one other bird in Allen County before, so it is cool to know they are breeding here!

Viceroy

Viceroy

Eagle Marsh is a pretty good stopover for Monarch butterflies, and the Little River Wetlands Project holds an annual Monarch Festival there each year. So it was a little surprising to see so many Viceroy butterflies out and about. In addition to their smaller size, the stripe through the hindwing is the best way to tell Viceroys from their bigger sisters.

GBHE

Great Blue Heron

Try as I might to tread softly, I kept startling Great Blue Herons from either side of the levee. If I were to guess what the devil sounds like, Great Blue Heron calls would be a good bet.

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Heron Feather

One of them angrily dropped a feather as it fled before me. Here is my size-13 cankle for size comparison.

DCCO

Double-crested Cormorant

Before I left, I stopped to observe a fishing Double-crested Cormorant. Plenty of these birds were around, but a group of his buddies on a partially submerged log did not yield any increasingly common in Indiana Neotropic Cormorants.

It was such a nice day that I took a long detour home to look for Blue Grosbeaks. I didn’t find any, but I did get my waaaaaay overdue first of the year American Kestrel. It plus the martins and gallinules meant three new green species, bringing my total to 131 for this year.

One of Those Days

Everyone eventually has a birding day when they put together a plan with high expectations, only to find that it’s all for naught. Either the birds aren’t there, or the plans change, or conditions are poor for viewing. Today was not one of those days.

Trio

Welcoming Committee

I spent the morning and early afternoon birding Eagle Marsh. It used to be about a 25 minute ride for me, but from my new house it takes over an hour. No matter. The weather was awesome. And I had a pretty great sign of things to come in the form of three amigos perched on the wires over the trailhead at the marsh: Green Heron, Mourning Dove, and Red-winged Blackbird.

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The Fourth

Then an Indigo Bunting joined them for good measure.

GRHE

Green Heron

Of all the birds to be perched on a wire, this one was pretty weird.

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Purple Martins

The good signs kept coming with a tree full of Purple Martins just a little way down the trail. PUMA was (somehow) a county bird for me and the first new green bird on the day.

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Common Gallinule

Next up, a state bird popped its head out of the reeds and stared me down for several long moments before I could figure out what the hell it was. Juvenile Common Gallinules are weird. I wasn’t expecting this bird at all, least not in this particular plumage. I have only seen adults before, and those were in Florida. My mind cycled in the following order: Wood Duck, Sora, Virginia Rail. Nope.

BANS

Bank Swallow

Before checking out the other end of the marsh, I stopped to admire the massing post-breeding dispersal birds. These Bank Swallows obliged for a photo.

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Pectoral Sandpiper

At the other end of the marsh was where I realized it would be a phenomenal birding day. Not only were there huge mudflats hosting hundreds of birds, the lighting was great, the birds stayed put, and I got some great shots. I like this Pectoral Sandpiper and its reflection.

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Least Sandpiper

The shorebirds kept coming, and next on the buffet was Least Sandpiper.

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Solitary Sandpiper

A duo of Solitary Sandpipers followed close behind. This was a pretty bad miss for me last year, so these views made up for it.

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Spotted Sandpiper

Continuing a theme, I present to you: Spotted Sandpiper.

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Killdeer

And a Killdeer, because why not?

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A whole mess of birds

I also lucked into some Caspian Terns, which are annual but uncommon and irregular in Allen County. Two flyovers on the east end plus two more chilling with gulls on the west end for a total of four individuals was a pretty good tally. As you can tell from the photo above, there was a lot to keep track of, and I almost overlooked the small white blob just to the left of the terns.

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Bonaparte’s Gull

With its head tucked, all I could see was the edge of a black cap making me think it might have been one of the sterna terns, but it finally picked its head up showing an extensive black hood and a black bill, good for Bonaparte’s Gull. This was my best find of the day, another county bird, and apparently the first July record for the species in this part of the state.

I ended the day with seven new green birds, three of which were new for me in Allen County and one of those new for Indiana. My 2017 green list is currently at 142 species, only one less than all of last year. 150 will be totally obtainable with “easy” birds (I say that without somehow seeing them yet) left to pick up including Pileated Woodpecker, Scarlet Tanager, both yellowlegs, and a couple of fall warblers to push me over the hump, and hopefully one or two unexpected things. If you had a birding goal this year, how is it coming along now that we are midway through?