Family Birding

The birding has been good lately, with my new house an ideal launchpad to hotspot Franke Park. I have been twice in as many weeks and have pumped up my green list to 98 species. Photos, however, have not been easy to get this spring. Here is the best (and only) one from those trips:

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Blue-gray Gnatcatcher

The yard birding has been superb, too. And the whole family has been involved. It all started a few weeks ago when we added Mallard to the list. We had Mallard as a yard bird at the old house, but only as a flyover.

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Mallard

These were different. Jaime spotted them in the yard underneath our feeders one evening at dinner, and things just weren’t the same after that for the kids.

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Birds and Kids

The ducks did laps around the house as the kids chased them from window to window. Dinner was put on hold.

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Rose-breasted Grosbeak

A similar thing happened today when a small flock of Rose-breasted Grosbeaks arrived at the house. While I was at work, Jaime proceeded to text me updates on the comings and goings of these charismatic feeder birds. She also took several great photos, like the one above.

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Rose-breasted Grosbeaks

We had at least three individual Rosebeasts appear all at once. And they seem to be thick all over the state as of today.

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Kids and a Rosebeast

And again, the kids got in on the action, too.

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White-throated Sparrow

The yard has also played host to a variety of other birds, and the list is already up to 35 species, several of which have been sparrows.

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White-crowned Sparrow

White-throateds have been common and consistent all spring, but today the surprise was a White-crowned. WCSP is a bird we never had on our old yard list.

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Chipping Sparrow

The sparrow train continued with Chipping, too.

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American Robin

We’ve also had thrushes, like this puffed-up male American Robin.

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Gray-cheeked Thrush

A more interesting thrush appeared last weekend. I assumed the skulker in the bushes was a Swainson’s Thrush, but a more careful look revealed its negative field marks: no strong eye ring, no buff-colored face, and no warmth to the rest of the bird’s grayish feathers. Good for Gray-cheeked Thrush! I have only seen a couple of these birds in the county, and I missed them entirely last year. This individual was a strong addition to the yard and green lists.

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Nashville Warbler

Another high-quality migrant passing through the yard was a Nashville Warbler. Or is this a female Canada Warbler? I had to double-check that this was in fact a Nashville by referencing the gray hood continuing under the beak, as opposed to the yellow from the breast reaching up to the beak on a female Canada. That is not a field mark I have ever had to notice before, but the strength of the eye ring screaming “Canada” required it.

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Downy Woodpecker

Not all birds are that tough, though. Downy Woodpeckers are gluttons and will pose nicely so long as the suet is flowing. This female gave little regard for manners as chunks of it flew from her saturated feathers.

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House Finch

Rounding out the photos is a sorry male House Finch showing some nasty swelling around his eyes.

That’s all for the mostly run-of-the-mill. At the end of April, I was running ahead of my listing pace for the last two years, and that is even considering that migration here has been somewhat late with a lot of rain and wind keeping birds south. My next big outing will be on May 17th when I plan on undertaking a Big Green Day. I have never done anything like that before, so it will be fun to see how many species I can rack up by bike and how high I can grow the list. Stay tuned!

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Business Casual Birding

My new job has me frequently traversing the state and going into small communities in far-flung Indiana counties. Yesterday, I had to attend a town council meeting in an incredibly rural area whose entire county has less people living in it than my neighborhood. But few people generally means more birds. So I took the opportunity to go to the nearby Pine Creek Game Bird Habitat, which was only 20 minutes out of my way, even on gravel roads.

Pine Creek

Pine Creek

Pine Creek is in the heart of windmill country. Don Quixote would quickly meet his match here. Being totally surrounded by these enormous, silent, and spinning monoliths is kind of creepy. But the birding was superb, even if I was dressed to do business. It doesn’t hurt if you have some dirt on your shoes in these salt-of-the-earth farm towns.

Killdeer Klaxon

Killdeer Klaxon

Pine Creek is a haven for pheasants and other grassland birds, but at this time of the year the highlight was the mostly dry marsh. Shore birds were myriad but guarded by screaming hordes of Killdeer who wouldn’t let me sneak up on anything.

Wilson's Snipe

Wilson’s Snipe

Thankfully, not everyone was as quick on the uptake as the Killdeer. Despite screaming and taking off in alarm and causing the whole damn mudflat to fly off, not everyone knew what they were running from. Case in point: this Wilson’s Snipe landed about 20 feet from me when things calmed down.

You can't see me

You can’t see me

I am not used to seeing snipe as stretched out as that. This one was doing a much better job looking like it was supposed to.

White-Rumped Sandpiper

Dunlin

Giving me some ID trouble were this group of Dunlin.

American Pipit

American Pipit

American Pipit gave me a life bird. 99% of the time I go birding alone, so one time I was kind of taken aback when a more experienced birder referred to this bird as “pipp-it,” which sounds silly to me. I had always assumed it was pronounced “pipe-it.” Which one is correct?

Gray-Cheeked Thrush

Gray-Cheeked Thrush

And now to totally switch gears, this bird was seen at Foster Park last weekend. Gray-Cheeked Thrush is motorless bird #131 on the year.

Ruby-Crowned Kinglet

Ruby-Crowned Kinglet

Foster also held a sizeable flock of Ruby-Crowned Kinglets, which at first I thought were hummingbirds. No fewer than three individual birds were sporadically hovering at the tips of those little flowers, doing who knows what. This is a behavior I have never seen in these birds, and enough of them were doing it to make me feel like I am missing out on something.

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I also came across this scene from Breaking Bad. I will just stop now.

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!