America’s Beloved Agri-Hobo

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Ice Bike

I went out to collect as many species of waterfowl as I could over the last two weeks. It has been really cold in northern Indiana, so my strategy was to look for the open patches of water that are few and far between where the birds will congregate. Luckily, I now live right next to two such places since moving last spring. I felt vaguely hobo-ish riding (okay, walking) my bike somewhat needlessly through the snow. But a guy’s gotta bird green.

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Redhead

The first really good winter birding spot in Fort Wayne is the water treatment ponds, about a mile and a half from my house. Even with the greenway trails totally uncleared, it was worth it to trudge to this spot.

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Common Mergansers

On my first trip two weekends ago I found a huge diversity of ducks that quickly elevated my 2018 green list. Included among the species were a couple of Redheads and a small flotilla of Common Mergansers. Each of these are birds I only found in one of the preceding years’ lists.

Dam

The dam at Johnny Appleseed Park

The second good place I found for duckies is Johnny Appleseed Park, which is only about half a mile from home. I visited this past weekend. People know about the water treatment plant, but this park is relatively unbirded despite having the grave of its namesake (that link was the first one I found when I googled ‘johnny appleseed grave’ and it refers to the man as ‘America’s beloved agri-hobo’ — fantastic!). So I did what I had to do and made it Allen County’s newest eBird hotspot. The dam on the river here keeps the water turbulent and unfrozen.

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Common Goldeneye

Among the Mallards and Canada Geese floated two Common Goldeneye, which was a little bit exciting.

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Hooded Merganser

Many Hooded Mergansers also mixed things up. This female wanted nothing to do with me.

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Cooper’s Hawk

Of the five new birds I added during my visit, none of them actually ended up being ducks. This Cooper’s Hawk was probably the coolest among the collection.

Even when the weather warms up and ducks are more spread out, I will probably be more frequently visiting Johnny Appleseed Park. It’s proximity to home can’t be beat, and I need to pay proper respects to America’s beloved agri-hobo.

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Monthly Update…

For the past several months, I have been averaging one birding outing and then blogging about it. Let’s keep the tradition alive with the month of March.

Red-Necked Grebe

Red-Necked Grebe

Indiana has been experiencing a particularly brutal winter, as I have written about previously. But one of the unexpected bonuses has been an influx of deep-water waterfowl. Lake Michigan has been completely frozen over, which has caused problems for some of the birds that typically prefer deeper, larger expanses of water.

Red-Necked Grebes

Red-Necked Grebes

These Red-Necked Grebes (lifer!) are among those birds that have been driven inland in search of open water. They found it in Fort Wayne at the terminal pond of the water treatment plant. While not exactly the best-sounding place for me to spend a relaxing Sunday morning, this man-made lake was the best habitat for waterfowl, because it circulates and is heated by whatever they do to it at the plant. Other atypical ducks that have seen surging numbers away from the lakeshore include Long-Tailed Ducks, White-Winged Scoters, and myriad Loons, none of which were also present. But I did get one more lifer.

Common Merganser

Common Merganser

Somehow, the Common Merganser (lifer!) was the only Merganser that I had not yet seen. This male was one of the individuals present that let me complete the trifecta. Even from considerable distance, their shape and color blocking made identification easy.

Gadwalls

Gadwalls

There were hundreds (thousands?) of other birds on the water, too. These Gadwalls represented only the second instance of the species I have seen, and they were in full-on courtship mode, chasing and shoving each other around in the lake. From a distance, the best field mark to identify these ducks is the white spot and black butt.

Lesser Scaup

Lesser Scaup

The river had a few birds as well, like this Lesser Scaup, which can be separated by the shape of the head from the similar Greater Scaup. The Mallard in the background offers an interesting size comparison.

Muscovy Duck

Muscovy Duck

Okay, so this final duck was not present in Fort Wayne, and if you are a long-time reader you may recognize it. I saw this Muscovy Duck on the University of Miami campus (hence the White Ibis behind it) in 2012 when Jaime and I were in Florida for my sister’s graduation. At the time, I counted it, but later on I took it off the life list after learning that the South Florida population is descended from domestic stock. In the mean time, I read a great article on 10,000 Birds arguing the case for birds like this, since they are obviously self-sustaining and breeding in the wild. They are basically in the same boat as the ubiquitous European Starlings, House Sparrows, and Rock Pigeons found in every other city that are also descended from feral individuals. So, I have decided that since it’s my list, I will put it back on. With this armchair tick, my life list now stands at 223 species.