Acres Land Trust – Bird Blitz 2017

On Saturday I participated in the inaugural Bird Blitz held by the Acres Land Trust. Acres is a great non-profit organization that exists to preserve exceptional examples of natural areas in Indiana, Ohio, and Michigan, and they have dozens of nature preserves scattered throughout those states. The Bird Blitz was a fundraising event for them that also doubled as a way to conduct a bird census of their entire network of preserves. Throw in a cool shirt designed by the Yonder Clothing Company, and I was all-in.

Dustin Preserve.JPG

Dustin Preserve

Volunteers were asked to register for a specific property, and I requested to count at the Tom and Jane Dustin Nature Preserve so that I could participate in the festivities by bike. It is about 12 miles north of home in Huntertown, Indiana, and it also conveniently doubles as the Acres main office where the post-blitz tally and after party was held. This was the first time I experienced “birding” and “after-party” in the same instance. The pizza was good!

Trail.JPG

Trail

The Dustins willed their property and home to Acres, and it has become a habitat of reclaimed farmland, hardwood forest, and steep bluffs overlooking Cedar Creek. The terrain is actually quite steep, and it is much different than most other birding locales in northeast Indiana. This was my first time at the preserve, and even though migration has settled down, the day was hot, and I birded in the late afternoon, I racked up a pretty good species list.

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Blue-winged Warbler

The best bird, and by far the most surprising, was a stunning male Blue-winged Warbler working the edge of the meadow area. I was not expecting to add any new warbler species to my green list in June, but that’s what this was.

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“Bee-buzz!”

He appeared to be on territory, and I watched him for quite a long time. Other new pick-ups for the year included Yellow-throated Vireo and Black-capped Chickadee. I have written before that Fort Wayne falls squarely in the overlap zone of Carolina and Black-capped Chickadee, with most birds being Carolinas. But Huntertown is far enough north that the resident chickadee is Black-capped, and their vocalizations told me as much.

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Little Wood Satyr

I had one lifer during the day in the form of a Little Wood Satyr. Its habitat preference mirrored that of the Blue-winged Warbler.

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Eastern Tiger Swallowtail

There were also loads of Eastern Tiger Swallowtails, this one with only one swallowtail. I want to say this is my favorite butterfly, but that would be like someone saying their favorite bird is a Northern Cardinal. It’s too obvious of a choice. But look at it!

EAWP

Eastern Wood-Pewee

Even if Eastern Wood-Pewees were gaudy, you would still never see them. I have probably heard 100 of them for every one that I have actually seen. That is probably because I don’t stop to look for them after I hear them singing, but this one was breaking character to forage way down low in the trees.

Cedar Creek.JPG

Cedar Creek

The Blitz event was great, but I would be happy to return to Dustin again for just plain birding. I will have to return, actually. As the evening ended I departed on my bike and headed home. About 100 feet from the preserve office I started skidding and wobbling uncontrollably on the gravel driveway. I looked down and saw that my rear tire was totally flat. I found the hole pretty easily, but I stupidly had nothing to fix it with. Thankfully my father-in-law was up to the task of picking up me and my stranded bike and brought me home. Thanks, Dave!

So right now I am disconnected from the end of my green list by 12 miles of riding. I picked up three new species (for a year-to-date total of 131) that I refuse to leave off, so I will have to ride back up to Dustin now that I have fixed the bike and then ride back home to resume adding species to the list. Thankfully this didn’t happen a month earlier or I would be missing species by the day. I already have more green birds in June than I did last year, but it’s still a bit frustrating. In any case, that incident will inspire the next couple of posts I have scheduled about how to bird by bike.

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Brown Thrushes

Last Saturday I went for a group hike with the Stockbridge Audubon Society in Franke Park. It was a spectacularly poor day for warblers, which I was really hoping to see, but I did get some good looks (and slightly worse photos) of the occasionally enigmatic brown thrushes.

Swainson's Thrush

Swainson’s Thrush

First among them was the Swainson’s Thrush, a bird first seen this year on my outing to the park last week. Note the strong eye ring and buff coloration of this bird. It will be important later!

#144 Gray-Cheeked Thrush

#144 Gray-Cheeked Thrush

This awful photo is of year bird #144 and life bird #214, Gray-Cheeked Thrush. See the lack of eye ring and notably paler underside? Compare with the Swainson’s above. That is how you can tell these two species apart.

Cooper's Hawk

Cooper’s Hawk

Slightly better in photo quality was this Cooper’s Hawk, a bird I haven’t seen nearly enough of.

Eastern Wood-Pewee

Eastern Wood-Pewee

And coming into good lighting is a commonly heard bird that usually spends its days under tree cover, providing less than ideal photo ops. Allow me to reintroduce the Eastern Wood-Pewee.

Mourning Dove

Mourning Dove

How about another gray bird sitting on a bare branch in front of blue sky? The always reliable MoDo.

I am in Saint Louis for the weekend, so my Indiana bird spotting will be taking a rest as I look for the elusive Eurasian Tree Sparrow, whose only North American habitat is this city. Random!

Summer

The calendar isn’t totally accurate. Despite the fact that we are still technically in spring, the birds tell me that it is summer. Instead of a random assortment of migrating birds, my first birding outing in two weeks today brought me many summer residents who are here to stay for at least another couple of months (well, with one exception).

The first stop was at a very flooded Eagle Marsh for the first notable bird. I was alerted to it thanks to the always reliable IN-Bird-L email list: Bell’s Vireo. Having scanned through field guides, I guess I was aware that this is a bird, so it was not technically a brain bird for me (see definition), but I knew almost nothing about it. Not where it lives, not what it looks like, and not what it sounds like. The emails on the list-serve described “vigorous singing,” so I looked up its voice (you can too), and heard its distinct scratching-a-record call almost immediately on exiting my vehicle. It stayed well hidden in dense brush, and I only got two glimpses of it: once when it flew to another dense area of brush, and once when it popped its head up for about an eighth of a second. But I stayed and listened to him for almost half an hour, which is as good a field mark as any. Life bird #205 and year bird #122.

So enough about that Bell’s Vireo. Here is a pretty picture of another bird that I also saw at the marsh:

Indigo Bunting

Indigo Bunting

I also saw year bird #123 Common Yellowthroat, the only warbler of the entire day, on that stop. Several muskrats were also a highlight.

After Eagle Marsh, I headed to Franke Park, being turned away by flooded roads to Fox Island (common theme). The very first species of bird that I saw was this:

American White Pelican

American White Pelican

You know it’s a good birding day when there are pelicans acting like Canada Geese. These chaps must have been migrating and grounded by the storms that we had a few days ago, and they were making a holiday of it by staying at the park. This picture was taken from the window of my car, to give you an indication of how close they were. I have seen these elsewhere this year in both Greene and Marion Counties, but this was by far the best look I have ever had of this species.

#124 Eastern Wood-Pewee

#124 Eastern Wood-Pewee

I heard about a thousand Eastern Wood-Pewees while at Franke, and this one was good for year bird #124.

Great Crested Flycatcher

Great Crested Flycatcher

And while we’re talking about flycatchers, here is one of many of the Great Crested variety that were hanging around the frog pond.

I finished the day with distant looks (but great audio) from a Wood Thrush, year bird #125. I am exactly half way to my stated goal of 250, but I am pretty sure that I can save that number for another year. It will be nearly impossible with all of the spring migrants that I missed from being busy with first-time homeownership, that new job in a new city, and a baby due in two months. But if that is my tradeoff for less birding, I will gladly take it!