Nothing Happened in February

As you may have guessed, February was a slow month bird wise. But March started pretty strong, so I will begin there.

Northern Shrike

Northern Shrike

Yesterday I went on my first long bike outing of 2018 down to Eagle Marsh. I was hoping to get a few early spring migrants, and I largely succeeded with FOGY (first of green year — a new term coined by Emily, who is doing a Wisconsin Green Big Year at The Big Gear) species including Common Grackle, Song Sparrow, Killdeer, etc. It was a windy day, so most birds laid low. But a Northern Shrike surprised me greatly. It was only the second one I have ever seen, and somehow it was also the first one ever recorded at Eagle Marsh, despite that preserve being objectively the best and most covered birding location in Allen County with a species list of over 230. The fact that it was also a Bike Shrike made it even better. This bird will undoubtedly make my obligatory “best of” list at the end of the year.

My Shrike glory powered me home through some fierce headwinds, where I then went with the family to Lions Park directly across the street from my house. As the kids were making themselves dizzy on the tire swing, I saw an unmistakable Red-headed Woodpecker flitting around in the oaks, with my house in the background less than 100 yards away. I have lived here for almost a year, and I have never seen a Red-headed Woodpecker at the park, but it looked like it might have even been checking out a hole for nesting. I will definitely be checking back frequently for this bird, and also keeping a steady lookout for the day I can count it as a yard bird. This is the hardest of the seven Indiana woodpecker species to come by, so getting it in my neighborhood on Shrike Day was gravy on top of an already great birding day. With it, my green list sits at 48 species for the year.

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Here Be Flying Squirrels

Speaking of the yard, I came home from the gym one night in February to hear a strange squeaking noise coming from the trees above the driveway. Hoping for a cool owl or something, I spent a few minutes watching. When movement finally let me track the source of the voice, I was thrilled to discover several Southern Flying Squirrels all cavorting about the trees in my yard! Lifer mammal! I have neither seen nor heard them since, but this was a very cool encounter. I dashed inside to grab my camera, interrupting Jaime’s ladies’ wine night, to try and manage a photo. I failed, but it made for an interesting new track to the conversation that was happening in the kitchen.

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Eastern Bluebirds

Still in the yard, I now want to introduce you to Bluebert and his mate. They are a pair of Eastern Bluebirds that have been foraging in our yard and even coming to the feeder for the last couple of weeks. Jaime first alerted me to them when I was in the shower, which I exited, still dripping wet, to see them from the bathroom window so that they could be counted as a proper yard bird for the first time. I always thought it was weird how into bluebirds some people are, but now that I have a pair of my own as feeder birds I totally get it.

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Downy Woodpeckers

In keeping with pairs of birds, here is a pair of Downies that have also been patronizing our buffet. The male and female were on a date.

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Bald Eagles

I was not intentionally planning on taking pictures of bird pairs, but that was the theme that emerged as I was looking at the photos I have taken over the last two months. This pair of Bald Eagles showed up at the water treatment plant at the end of January. It was the first time I have seen a pair in the city.

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No-Munk and Friend

The final pair photo is this couple of Eastern Chipmunks that have enjoyed the leftover scraps from a basement waterproofing project that we just finished. The one on the left only has half of a tail, so the kids have dubbed him the No-Munk. He’s no flying squirrel, but he has been around ever since we moved in, and it is cool to be able to identify the varmint as an individual.

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February Features

My February birding hasn’t been very exciting lately, but I have still had time to go to Foster Park a few times and hang out with some cooperative birds.

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Cooper’s Hawk

For the past three years in a row Cooper’s Hawk has made its appearance on the year list in the third week of February. Strange coincidence for a bird that is common year-round, or is there something to be said about this time of the year? This one was grasping something pretty tightly in its talon before it flew off.

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Hermit Thrush

I stared down this Hermit Thrush on February 12th. I know that a few of these birds overwinter in the area, but this still seems like a very early date. I usually don’t pick mine up until April.

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Hermit Tush

The date alone was a good enough field mark to identify this bird, but if there was any doubt here is its nice rufous tail. I usually think of Hermit Thrushes as skittish and wary, but this one seemed unconcerned with my presence. Maybe it carried this attitude in regard to the time of year too. It didn’t care that it was cold and early.

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Brown Creeper

Keep on creeping, Brown Creeper.

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Eastern Bluebird

Streaky brown birds are in style during winter in the Midwest. Eastern Bluebirds eschew this wisdom, however.

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American Red Squirrel

American Red Squirrels are either getting more common in the park, or I am getting better at spotting this fellow. Still uncommon and a nice year mammal.

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Untrue to its name

And I’ll be damned if the Hermit Thrush wasn’t forgoing its hermit nature and actually following me. It was practically forcing me to observe its bright pink legs. What are you, a thrush or a Blackpoll Warbler x Black-necked Stilt hybrid?

Eagle vs. Owl: Battle for the Marsh

The Indiana online birding world is reeling. The forces of good have apparently been undone by pure evil. Are any of us truly safe any more? High drama to be sure, and it’s all unfolding right here in my city.

BAEA

Immature Bald Eagle

Before I start, let me say that I have nothing against Bald Eagles. Bald Eagles are fine, kind of like how Red-tailed Hawks and Great Blue Herons are fine.

As its name implies, Eagle Marsh is the best place to see them in Fort Wayne. But I have also seen them at the water treatment plant, Foster Park, while driving along the highway, and soaring over the middle of downtown. Not to mention in close to a dozen other places around the state. They are common and widespread here. I understand that this was not always the case, but it has been decades since they were really in any existential danger, so maybe my age plays into my attitude about them.

With that said, Bald Eagles have a huge fandom around here. The most commonly list-served bird? Bald Eagle. The bird with the most photos on the Birding Indiana Facebook group? Bald Eagle. The bird anyone wants to talk about when they find out you are into birds? Bald Eagle.

So imagine the drama that has been unfolding this week when this was spotted:

GHOW

Nest

This is a nest built by Bald Eagles at the aforementioned Eagle Marsh. It has been productive for years, and it is incredibly easy to see from the main road going by the preserve. The days are rare that I don’t see at least one car pulled off to the side with camera pointed at this nest. And even I am guilty of stopping to look when an adult is perched on it or in the trees close by. But look carefully at the photo above.

That is not an eagle head sticking up out of the nest. Those are the ear tufts of a Great Horned Owl, which has apparently evicted the resident pair of eagles and usurped the nest. My first reaction to hearing this news was one of elation. GHOW was a nemesis for me in the state, and the bird above is my state bird, not to mention a solid green bird #58 for the year. I am super pumped about this owl, and I hope it succeeds in raising a brood.

To everyone else, this news is a tragedy. It kind of makes me feel like I am rooting for the bad guy. But when you can see eagles easily almost anywhere where there is water, why aren’t more people happy to have this owl? Am I in the wrong here, or what?

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Eastern Bluebird

Having been exhausted by so much drama, I spent the rest of my outing playing with my new camera. A warm winter has made for poor waterfowl viewing this year, so I had to resort to shooting more common and resident birds, like this hot mess of an Eastern Bluebird.

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Red-winged Blackbird

Similar to the eagle vs. owl debate, there seems to be a raging fight over which bird truly means that spring is finally here: American Robin or Red-winged Blackbird? Having seen both birds by early January, my vote goes to Hermit Thrush.

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Muskrat

Mammals had a good showing, too. This muskrat sat dumbly chomping on a cattail as I stood ten feet away. On the other side of the trail, I heard some rustling in the reeds and saw some movement out of the corner of my eye. Hoping it was an interesting sparrow, I turned to face the noise and pished to draw it out…

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American Mink

Instead of a bird head popping up, I got a surprise mink giving me the stink eye. These mustelids seem to be thriving here, but it was great to be so close to one.

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Beaver Work

The other charismatic mammal of the marsh didn’t make an appearance, but they were obviously around.

The last interesting thing to note: I saw one of the marsh’s Bald Eagles (the one in the first photo above) nastily bullying a Red-tailed Hawk around. It almost seemed like it was taking out the frustration from its second-place finish on the hawk. Crazy times we live in when a Red-tailed hawk is only the third most dominant raptor around.

Opening a Can of Worms (or Caterpillars)

Over Memorial Day Weekend, I got on the bike and rode to Eagle Marsh to check out some wetland habitat that I hadn’t had the chance to visit yet while motorless.

Prothonotary Warbler

Prothonotary Warbler

On the way there, I had to ride through Foster Park, which was not a total bummer since I got to spend some quality time with a loudly singing Prothonotary Warbler.

Foster Park Foot Bridge

Foster Park Foot Bridge

Eye-level warbler action is made possible at Foster by the presence of a foot bridge that I have mentioned here before. Please reference above how it enters the tree canopy at approximately 20 feet in height. Gary Fisher the bike is posed for scale. This may be the park’s best attribute in spring.

Stained Canada Goose

Stained Canada Goose

Once at Eagle Marsh, I was somewhat disappointed by the lack of diversity, even though I picked up motorless birds #95-97 (Double-Crested Cormorant, Tree Swallow, and Willow Flycatcher). I didn’t get many photos, save for this Canada Goose that shows some hideous stains on its should-be-white chinstrap that I am guessing are the result of wastewater from the adjacent landfill. Gross.

Killdeer

Killdeer

A Killdeer was also there, so I took its picture.

Red-Spotted Purple

Red-Spotted Purple

With little happening, I started paying attention to non-bird things. I hadn’t intended to feature this butterfly image on my blog, but I had to know what it was. I immediately felt like I did when I first began birding, and with no knowledge or other resources to turn to, I began Googling “butterfly identification,” “common butterflies,” and “Indiana butterflies.” This course of action is totally frowned upon for beginners in the birding circle, but when you’re sitting in your basement looking at photos without a butterfly field guide, it has to do. This Red-Spotted Purple (I didn’t even notice the red spots until after I learned what it was) is the first butterfly I have ever identified. Boom. My butterfly life list now stands at a solid 1.

Eastern Bluebird

Eastern Bluebird

With the butterfly itch scratched, I returned to Foster Park the next day to find things as slow as the day before. I did pick up motorless bird #98 (Acadian Flycatcher, and may I add that being 2 birds away from my goal is killing me. I am now taking bets for what species #100 will be), but spent my time taking pictures of common thrushes. Case in point, male Eastern Bluebird.

American Robin Fledgling

American Robin Fledgling

Case in point again, fledgling American Robin who is still bespotted.

Larger Blue Flag

Larger Blue Flag

With the lack of avian activity, my camera began to drift again. I found a cool flower by the river and took its picture. But the ID itch came back, and I now know after Gooling “wildflower identification” that this is a Larger Blue Flag, one of about a half dozen names for the plant that Wikipedia tells me about.

Butterflies and flowers seem to be the next go-to subjects for birders with wandering eyes (I am not messing with dragonflies). I am not honestly sure if this weekend sparked a new obsession or not, but at the very least now I have additional lists to keep, because listing is cool, right?

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

Birding Holliday Park

Now that I am done with school (forever!), I will hopefully be birding more frequently. I even bought a new Nikon Coolpix L810 to replace my dead Canon especially for the cause. For my inaugural post-master’s bird hike, this morning I ventured to Holliday Park, which is a large city park with hiking trails and cool ruins that is only about two miles from home. I made a good decision, because I identified 28 species and heard and saw probably a dozen others that I couldn’t pin down. I also managed to get some good photos from the brand new camera.

The first interesting bird of the day was a bright red streak that I saw dart below a shrub off to my right almost directly inside of the entrance gate. I made a mental note of “Cardinal” and instead turned my attention to whatever small unidentifiable bird was singing from a treetop overhead, with the hope that it would be some kind of new Warbler. It eventually left me without a positive ID, so I continued down the path, only to see the Cardinal again. I figured I might as well try to get a picture since it was posing for me so nicely in a locust tree up ahead. As I zoomed in, I realized that it did not have a black mask, it did not have a crest, and it had a thin yellow beak, which made it a Summer Tanager, not a Northern Cardinal.

Summer Tanager

Summer Tanager

This was really exciting for a few reasons. First, these birds are relatively uncommon, usually preferring to fly around woodland treetops eating bees, and central Indiana is in the extreme northern extent of their range. Second, I had never seen one before. Third, despite never seeing one, I knew exactly what it was and didn’t have to look to see if it was a Summer or a Scarlet Tanager, which made me proud of my birding skills.

The only other bird that exciting for me was the enormous Pileated Woodpecker that flew down and perched in a small tree about 30 feet from me. I scrambled for my camera, took one blurry picture, then was told I was “out of memory.” After deleting a few pictures of more common birds to make room, the Pileated flew away, of course.

Some birds I did get pictures of include these Canada Geese on the White River:

Canada Goose

Canada Goose

This Gray Catbird yodeling from the top of a tree:

Gray Catbird

Gray Catbird

An Eastern Bluebird towards the middle of the lawn:

Eastern Bluebird

Eastern Bluebird

And these three Brown-Headed Cowbirds out of about 17 billion in the park that day:

Brown-Headed Cowbird

Brown-Headed Cowbird

My full count for the day, in order of appearance, included:
1.) American Robin
2.) Eastern Wood Pewee
3.) Red-Bellied Woodpecker
4.) Brown-Headed Cowbird
5.) White-Breasted Nuthatch
6.) White-Throated Sparrow (vocalization only)
7.) Chipping Sparrow
8.) Tufted Titmouse
9.) American Goldfinch
10.) Mallard
11.) Gray Catbird
12.) Northern Cardinal
13.) Summer Tanager (lifer!)
14.) Common Grackle
15.) House Sparrow
16.) Downy Woodpecker
17.) Eastern Bluebird
18.) Mourning Dove (vocalization only)
19.) Song Sparrow
20.) Canada Goose
21.) Carolina Wren
22.) Blue Jay (vocalization only)
23.) Pileated Woodpecker
24.) Ruby-Throated Hummingbird
25.) Carolina Chickadee
26.) House Finch
27.) Turkey Vulture
28.) European Starling