“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!

SASP

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.

DICK

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.

Ouabache.JPG

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.

COYE

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.

Fire Tower.JPG

Fire Tower

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

Bison

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.

CSWA

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.

Bike.JPG

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.

RHWO

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.

SCTA

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.

BBWA

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.

Spy Run.JPG

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.

CAWA.JPG

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!

RBGR

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.

Combo

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.

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Parks and Recreation

I spent the weekend enjoying the warmest weather of the year so far chasing birds to bulk up my motorless list. I started out at Foster Park (the “park”) as always and then on Sunday took a nice long bike ride (the “recreation”) to try and find the open-country birds I have been missing.

But first, I have been on a pretty solid streak of showing you mammal pictures. So let’s get those out of the way.

Eastern Chipmunk

Eastern Chipmunk

At Foster, an Eastern Chipmunk was perched precariously high up in a tree above the river. I took this photo from a foot bridge about 20 feet up, and this animal looked just about as surprised to see me as I did him.

Eastern Cottontail Rabbit

Eastern Cottontail Rabbit

The Eastern Cottontail Rabbit is the predominant (only?) lagomorph in the Midwest. We have one that frequents our yard, because our lawn is not made of grass but instead clover and weird purple flowers and other things that aren’t supposed to make up your lawn. Jaime has named him Earl. Having planted a garden this week also, I am pre-emptively declaring war on Earl. Ain’t no bunny gonna eat my strawberries.

Cedar Stoutwing

Cedar Stoutwing

Now that those are out of the way, I will tell you about birds. Foster Park yielded a great bounty of migrants, including several new warblers for the year. I got photos of none of them. Instead, I spent quality time with a flock of Cedar Waxwings, which are my absolute favorite bird.

Cedar Sveltewing

Cedar Sveltewing

Both the tubby and lean varieties of waxwings were present.

Habitats Collide

Habitats Collide

My trip to Foster got me all the way up to 85 species on the motorless list, and I know that I could have stuck around and tallied a few more migrants. But one type of habitat that I had not yet visited this year going motorless was open country. Fort Wayne is not a large city, but I live close to its core, so getting out into fields and grassland without a car took some planning. My destination was the quarry southwest of town, where Blue Grosbeaks reportedly hang out every year. On Sunday afternoon, I got on my bike and made for the intersection of agricultural land, gravel mining, and scrub trees growing by drainage ditches. The distant rock pile in the photo above is about as close as we get to mountains in northern Indiana.

Common Yellowthroat

Common Yellowthroat

I missed out on the grosbeak, but I did pick up several new birds for the year, including Killdeer (yes, Killdeer) and the above-pictured Common Yellowthroat. On my way home, I made a small detour to check out a half-finished housing development that looked like it had some decent mudflat or wetland habitat on Google maps. I ran into enough “no trespassing” signs to make me feel like I was entering a military base, so that plan was dashed. But I did pick up enough birds from my trip to land at 91 at the end of the day.

Yard NOPA

Yard NOPA

This week also saw me pick up some great yard birds, putting Grosbeak Gardens at 54 species. Earlier in the week, a Yellow-Throated Warbler was singing vigorously from the top of a neighbor’s maple tree, which is surprising considering all of the sycamores it had to choose from in the neighborhood. And then tonight as I was firing up the grill, I heard a very vociferous Northern Parula making a racket like he owned the place. After Walter was in bed, I went out back to see if I could get a photo. I managed one in the fading light as this individual continued his caffeinated blitz among our spruce trees. Here he is perching on a wire like he is some kind of cardinal or something. Have you no dignity, Northern Parula?

Bucolic Birds

The google defines “bucolic” as such:

Of or relating to the pleasant aspects of the countryside.

This past week I have had some very bucolic experiences in southwestern Allen County related to birds. July is supposed to be a slow month for birding. But it hasn’t been for me, because I have had the opportunity to get out much more than I did in the previous months. The result is ten new year birds for my Indiana list, three of which are new to the life list as well.

Bucolic

Bucolic

Eagle Marsh yielded some annuals that I missed earlier: #129 Willow Flycatcher, #130 Warbling Vireo, #131 Orchard Oriole, and #132 Marsh Wren.

#129 Willow Flycatcher

#129 Willow Flycatcher

A flooded area along Amber Road on the extreme outskirts of Fort Wayne also provided bountiful shorebirds. Who needs a beach when you have muddy cornfields?

#133 Pectoral Sandpiper

#133 Pectoral Sandpiper

#134 Semipalmated Sandpiper

#134 Semipalmated Sandpiper

#135 Spotted Sandpiper

#135 Spotted Sandpiper

Are sandpipers bucolic? I’ll let you decide. How to tell them apart? Allow me to help. #133 Pectoral Sandpipers are one of the easier shorebirds to pick out, because the streaking on their fronts comes to an abrupt halt in their pectoral region. #134 Semipalmated Sandpipers (lifer) are one of the smallest shorebirds, and unique in that they have black legs (which are barely discernible in the above photo, even with the full-arthropod-seeking-submerged-head shot) and not as reddish as other peeps. #135 Spotted Sandpipers are not spotted in their basic plumage, plus their wings and back are a uniform brownish gray without patterns (compare with Pectorals). Whew. Glad that’s over with.

#136 Dickcissel

#136 Dickcissel

Onward and upward to Arrowhead Prairie, one of the most bucolic places I have ever been, and the location where the bucolic photo at the beginning of this post was taken. #136 Dickcissels abounded there today (lifer). In addition to having one of the more fun bird names to say, Dickcissels have been something of a nemesis bird for me. Usually associated with more westerly locales such as the great plains, Fort Wayne has nonetheless had continuing reports of these small animals this year. I struck out many, many times before finally hitting on some today. I also had some (lifer) Bank Swallows, ending my very productive week at 137 species in the state of Indiana in the year 2013. But why stop here? Here are some other bucolic photos that I got this week of some previously mentioned birdies:

Eastern Bluebird

Eastern Bluebird

Common Yellowthroat

Common Yellowthroat

Indigo Bunting

Indigo Bunting

August Shorebirds

Shorebird migration is in full swing across Indiana, and over the past two weekends I made it out to two different sites to see what I could find.

First up was Eagle Marsh on the south side of Fort Wayne. I had never been there before, and it didn’t disappoint! I logged 25 species and 2 lifers:

Pectoral Sandpiper

Pectoral Sandpiper

I am slowly beginning to be able to distinguish between all these sandpipers. The Pectoral Sandpipers at Eagle Marsh were identified by the band of brown streaks that stops abruptly at their chest. The individual second from the left that is directly facing the camera shows off this field mark particularly well.

Marsh Wren

Marsh Wren

Lifer #2 was this Marsh Wren who was telling me off very loudly for getting too close to his territory.

 

Belted Kingfisher

Belted Kingfisher

Also present was this Belted Kingfisher who would not let me get any closer than this to take his picture.

Common Yellowthroat

Common Yellowthroat

These two Common Yellowthroats were much more accommodating for me and my camera. My full list for the day can be found on eBird.

My second stop for shorebirds in August was the always reliable Eagle Creek in Indianapolis. My day list included 35 species, one of which was a lifer.

Lesser Yellowlegs

Lesser Yellowlegs

This Lesser Yellowlegs was my only lifer on the day, but it was only about 10 yards from shore and basically posed for me to photograph it. Named for its gigantic bright yellow legs, this huge sandpiper is only “lesser” in comparison to the also aptly-named Greater Yellowlegs, who was unfortunately not around.

Carolina Chickadee

Carolina Chickadee

Carolina Chickadees were also everywhere, like always. A full disclosure of all the birds I saw is available at eBird, which is way cooler than I originally thought and will now be housing all of my checklists.

 

Skiles Test Park – 6/23/12

I had never heard of Skiles Test Nature Park until recently, and I have now gone there on consecutive weekends. My first trip yielded two lifers (Common Yellowthroat and Field Sparrow) but no photos. My trip yesterday yielded no lifers, but some decent shots of the things I saw the first time. A fair trade-off.

Common Yellowthroat

Common Yellowthroat

The Common Yellowthroat is a new world warbler that is common and has a yellow throat. They were everywhere at Skiles. I would hear them whistling from deep inside of a bush or behind 15 feet of leaves and branches, only to see them as they flew to the inside of another tree at approximately 700 miles per hour. This resulted in two things on my first trip: no photograph, and a frustrated determination to go back and wait as long as necessary to get a good shot. On trip number two, I only had to wait about 5 minutes before one showed itself out in the open. This is actually the only photo that I got, and thankfully it is clear enough that I am now satisfied.

Blue-Gray Gnatcatcher

Blue-Gray Gnatcatcher

The Blue-Gray Gnatcatcher is an old world warbler that is blue-gray and catches gnats. Much like the Common Yellowthroat, they also fly around at 9,000 miles per hour but don’t mind being out in the open as much, so thankfully I got an okay photograph.

Field Sparrow

Field Sparrow

The Field Sparrow is a sparrow that lives in fields. It was also probably the most common bird I had never seen before this past week.

Cedar Waxwing

Cedar Waxwing

The Cedar Waxwing does not live in cedar trees and does not have wax on its wings. I know I put up a picture of one recently, but since they are the best bird ever, here’s another.

Here is everything I saw:
1.) Brown-Headed Cowbird
2.) Red-Winged Blackbird
3.) American Goldfinch
4.) White-Breasted Nuthatch (vocalization only)
5.) American Robin
6.) Carolina Wren
7.) Red-Eyed Vireo (vocalization only)
8.) Eastern Towhee (vocalization only)
9.) Northern Cardinal
10.) Blue-Gray Gnatcatcher
11.) Gray Catbird
12.) Downy Woodpecker
13.) Mourning Dove
14.) Carolina Chickadee
15.) Northern Rough-Winged Swallow
16.) Cedar Waxwing
17.) Chimney Swift
18.) Common Yellowthroat
19.) Great Blue Heron
20.) Willow Flycatcher
21.) Field Sparrow
22.) Barn Swallow
23.) Tufted Titmouse (vocalization only)
24.) Indigo Bunting
25.) Eastern Wood Pewee (vocalization only)
26.) Baltimore Oriole