Green 5MR Big Day 2019

I have done big green days in the past, but since green birding pairs so nicely with 5MRing, I decided this year that I would combine the two. I planned way less than I did in the past, woke up later, traveled less total distance, hit fewer spots, and had a great day because of it.

On a perfectly sunny Wednesday when all of my co-workers went down to watch Indy 500 time trials (not my bag), I set out at 7:00am to meet Lorenzo at Franke Park, much like we did last time with such a great outcome.


Northern Mockingbird

Right as I arrived, Lorenzo texted me to let me know that he was looking at a Northern Mockingbird. This bird achieves trash bird status in much of the east, but north of the Wabash River it is vanishingly uncommon. This was only the second one I have seen in Allen County (the first was two years ago, also on a big green day, but not in my 5MR), so it was a great way to start things off.


Orchard Oriole

This male Orchard Oriole was foraging nearby the mockingbird. This was again a bird I see very infrequently, making it just the second time I have seen one on my green list.


Black-throated Green Warbler

There is a gravel road that cuts through Franke Park, and it is usually one of the most popular places to bird because it creates a nice edge habitat. But that day the road itself was actually a pretty big hit with the birds. It had rained most of the preceding week so there were lots of puddles. This Black-throated Green Warbler used one pretty efficiently, flying down to drink not more than 20 feet in front of us.


Wood Thrush

Perhaps more interestingly, a Wood Thrush was also hanging out on the road. Usually a dense forest skulker, seeing one totally exposed like this was novel.


Wilson’s Warbler

In contrast, a Wilson’s Warbler worked the low shrubs in a way that was appropriate for its species.


Blackburnian Warbler

Meanwhile, a small flock of several Blackburnian Warblers stuck to the treetops. I should mention that every bird listed so far was crammed into a stretch of woods no longer than about 25 yards. The birdies were densely packed, and it was great.


Red-breasted Nuthatch

Eventually things settled down as the sun warmed things up, so we headed into the forest to try and keep things going. A Red-breasted Nuthatch was still partying despite the lateness of the season. Not late enough to make eBird mad, but I did have another one three days later that tripped the filter.


Golden-winged Warbler

So you have seen the photo above I assume, but I should stress that by far the most common bird was American Redstart. I had close to two dozen of them to the point where we assumed most of the small warbler-shaped birds we were seeing were Redstarts. I admit that I was getting lazy and really only stopping to look if something was in great light or singing a new song. So when Lorenzo peered at a tiny silent speck across the creek way high up in dense leaves and said “Oh hey, that’s a Golden-winged Warbler,” it was the highlight of the day to that point. It was a county bird for both of us, and while not rare, they are definitely not numerous, especially considering the population declines they are suffering and their fondness for mating with Blue-winged Warblers instead of their own kind. On top of it all I somehow also managed a diagnostic photo too.


Lindenwood Nature Preserve

I finally left Franke after three hours and a total of 64 species. My next stop was to the Lindenwood Nature Preserve, near the edge of my circle west of town. Somehow I had never birded this place before, but it immediately proved fruitful. I gained Veery, Ovenbird, and Ruby-throated Hummingbird as new birds for the day, and I listened to two dozen or more Tennessee Warblers all singing from the treetops around me. The chorus was unreal.

This preserve is completely forested save for a small lake in the middle, and everything was a total mud pit, but that seemed to be great for the birds. As I was finishing one of the loop trails and about to head to my next destination, the best bird of the stop called from somewhere far off in the trees: Pileated Woodpecker! That was a bird that was totally unexpected for my 5MR, and one I hadn’t even gotten onto my green list in the past two years. Hearing it was definitely one of the best highlights of the morning.

Around 11:30 I rode east into downtown, following the river but adding no new birds. My plan was to eat lunch at a plaza and wait for Peregrine Falcon and Rock Pigeon to fly by. I didn’t get either, but Chimney Swift was a bird that had thus far eluded me. When I started riding to my next destination, I suddenly had a huge problem with shifting and realized that I was totally unable to coast. Thankfully, one of Fort Wayne’s better bike shops has two locations downtown, and after visiting the first one to learn that my rear freewheel was totally shot (and picking up a flyover Peregrine), I made it a couple blocks to the second one where they had the necessary part. I was back on the trail less than half an hour after I first broke down. Thanks, Fort Wayne Outfitters!

Next, I traced the river greenway eastward to the southeastern boundary of my 5MR, stopping briefly to pick up easy birds in Turkey Vulture, Cliff Swallow, and Carolina Chickadee. I was approaching 80 species and had tapped out most of the potential for new birds in my mostly urbanized and riparian 5MR, so venturing out this way was strategic for getting my only shot at open country birds.


New Haven Fluddle

Waaay out on the edge of my circle, almost to the adjacent city of New Haven, was an area I had been wanting to check out because it held low-lying fields along the river. With the rain we had been getting, I thought it might be a good place to stop and look for shorebirds. My hunch was correct!


American Pipit with Least Sandpipers

Prior to that point, my only shorebird had been Killdeer. Franke Park is usually good for at least a Spotted Sandpiper if nothing else, but I struck out there earlier. However, this field held not only Spotted Sandpiper, but Lesser Yellowlegs and Least Sandpipers too. Those weren’t the best find, though. Foraging in the mud with them was a lone and very, very late American Pipit! I was stoked to see this bird, because it was even further off my 5MR radar than the Pileated Woodpecker was, and this was only my second time seeing one in Allen County. And on top of it all, it seems to be the latest ever spring record in eBird for my county.

This will be a field I continue to check out, and biking seems to be the best way to do it because the road is narrow with a steep drop-off on the shoulder. Pulling over in a car would be impractical, so score one for the bike.


Mourning Warbler

The other good thing about that field is that it is right across the river from the Deetz Nature Preserve, a property I had only birded once before but that yielded a good list. A nearby bridge made visiting this next stop pretty simple, and I made it there around 1:30 and with a day list of 79 species. Before the day began, I determined that 80 would be a respectable number, so I was eager to get my next new bird. It was getting hot and things were quiet in the early afternoon, so I wasn’t sure what it would be, although I still hadn’t come across some easy things like Belted Kingfisher or Field Sparrow. So it was an immense surprise when I flushed a Mourning Warbler out of the low brush to make that 80-species milestone, and this bird was a lifer to boot!


Common Yellowthroat

Instead of a peak, however, number 80 was just a sign of things to come. The brushy field on the western edge of the preserve gave me several new birds in rapid succession. I include this photo of a Common Yellowthroat not only because it was a new bird, but because while I was pressing the shutter a tremendous crashing noise just feet away from me made me jump up out of my skin. When I recovered I expected to look over and see a deer, but instead it was a Wild Turkey, yet another totally unexpected bird for the day! Then, to close out my visit, I ended with Field Sparrow to make it up to 83 species.

5MR-Green Big Day - 05.15.19

My 5MR and Big Day route

I got home around 4:00 to have dinner and get in some play time with the kids before heading out again for one final push around 7:00. I made the short trip to Purdue to look for Eastern Kingbird, which I got immediately, along with a bonus late Palm Warbler. Then I rode through Johnny Appleseed Park to finally get what would be my last new bird of the day in Belted Kingfisher.

After riding 40 miles as detailed by the red line on the map above, I ended the day at 89 species. This was quite a few more than I hoped for, and substantially better than the 77 I logged in a similar attempt two years ago where I traveled much further from home. Of my 89, I had 18 warblers, and of those warblers, one was my county Golden-winged, and one was my lifer Mourning. I logged a ton of species that I thought I had no chance at, chiefly Pileated Woodpecker, American Pipit, Wild Turkey, and one or two more sandpipers than I thought.

However, I did still have some obvious holes in the list. First and foremost was Rock Pigeon. I also was pretty thin on raptors and should have picked up Cooper’s Hawk, but it was not to be, and I also still haven’t had Common Nighthawk at all this year. If I had more time (or if I spent less time looking for migrants in the morning), I could have also maybe turned up some more grassland species like Horned Lark or Eastern Meadowlark. But in the end, I think the day was a huge success all things considered. With maybe a bit more planning and an amount of luck equal to what I had this year, I think 100 is totally possible for this particular 5MR. I’ll have to see what future outings hold! In any case, I ended the day with 130 total year-to-date species for my 5MR, and 128 for my green list.

“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!


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.



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 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.


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.



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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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!


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.



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.

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.



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.



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