Green Friday

I really like the #optoutside campaign to replace Black Friday. I have never used that day for its ‘intended’ purpose, but I am glad that there is starting to be some real momentum for an alternative that is known even on the average person’s social media feed. In Indiana, all state parks were allowing free admission on that day. I didn’t go to one, but I did spend most of the day birding.

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Northern Flicker at the backyard feeder

It started with a family viewing of the Northern Flicker that has been patronizing our suet feeder recently. It first appeared earlier in the week while I was at work, and Jaime was incredibly excited to tell me that she used Sibley to identify it. We think it might actually be interested in our screech owl house; it has been frequenting the tree that it is mounted to.

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Amereican Coot

Later in the morning I departed on my bike to check some local spots for possible new year birds. The first stop was the Fort Wayne water treatment ponds, which I arrived at via a new link to the River Greenway in the form of the Pemberton Levee SELRES_900e3f50-1ad4-44b6-89b5-eb9b2c4fc06eSELRES_fded3a05-735c-415b-beb1-861ac23ab939SELRES_e011007f-aee9-4854-a57d-f9cd336335d9SELRES_734f4210-8dd9-4c2a-97c7-efdb161473b3TrailSELRES_734f4210-8dd9-4c2a-97c7-efdb161473b3SELRES_e011007f-aee9-4854-a57d-f9cd336335d9SELRES_fded3a05-735c-415b-beb1-861ac23ab939SELRES_900e3f50-1ad4-44b6-89b5-eb9b2c4fc06e. This new route doesn’t really save any distance, but it is nice to ride separate from traffic for even half a mile. There were a lot of birds at the ponds, but unfortunately not a lot of diversity and nothing new. I enjoyed some closer-than-usual looks at American Coots.

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Great Horned Owl

The star of the show at the ponds ended up being a Great Horned Owl that I flushed from right next to the trail. It flew up and perched close by allowing me to get a photo for the first time and also for the Blue Jays to thoroughly harass it.

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Lindenwood Cemetery

My next stop was Lindenwood Cemetery just on the other side of downtown. My primary goal there was winter finches. Specifically, I hoped for Red Crossbills. Indiana is experiencing a major irruption this year, and they have appeared at Lindenwood in years past because it offers the most conifers of any site near the city. No luck for me on Friday because the leaf blowers were out in force, so with time to spare I decided to keep riding and add another stop to my birding agenda.

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Rusty Blackbird

I took the Towpath Trail southwest toward Eagle Marsh. While I was riding on a particularly birdy segment I saw what at first I thought was a starling up in a tree. I wasn’t going to slow down, but right as I became even with it I could tell it was something else, and I braked to get out the binoculars. It flew down into the brush after a moment, and I stood there waiting to see if it would re-emerge. When it finally did, I was able to confirm it as a Rusty Blackbird, which was a state bird and also Allen County bird #199. It was soon joined by a friend as well as some Red-winged Blackbirds. While not totally unexpected, this bird wasn’t really on my radar as one that I might get green.

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Eagle Marsh

When I got to Eagle Marsh I decided to eschew my usual path and take the newly completed Continental Divide trail all the way around the preserve. It was windy but sunny, and bird numbers were low as the temperature had not risen enough to melt all of the ice.

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American Wigeon

The larger basins were mostly clear though, so I spent a good deal of time scanning the Mallards and Northern Shovelers for anything different. I was rewarded by two American Wigeon, pictured above as a diagnostic photo only because they were something of a nemesis for me, a long overdue life bird, and the only duck regularly occurring in the inland-Midwest that I had not seen. Plus with the Rusty from earlier, they were Allen County bird #200.

The last notable sighting as I was leaving the marsh to head home was a flyby Northern Harrier making my third year bird for the day. I ended the day with a green list of 158 species, all in Allen County. When I got home, I saw a report of a Snowy Owl the next county over that I was within 10 miles of. In addition to crossbills, Indiana is also currently experiencing a big invasion of Snowies, and I could have gone for that one by foregoing my other birding stops. But even as cool of a pickup as that would have been on a bicycle, I am glad that I birded where I did on Green Friday and found my own birds to add to the list.

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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.

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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:

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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.