Two Thirds Plus Three

On Sunday I rode out to Eagle Marsh to play mop-up duty on shorebirds. Of the possibilities, the two Yellowlegses were the most obvious outstanding omissions from my green list.

Continental Divide

Continental Divide

In the last year and a half there was some serious earthwork at Eagle Marsh. Some of it was to repair infrastructure damaged from flooding, some of it was habitat restoration, and some of it was to control invasive Asian Carp. Eagle Marsh is on the last line of defense for the Great Lakes, with the fish reaching the property but no farther. The newly opened Continental Divide trail meanders along high ground in between the two watersheds, with carp on the Mississippi side but not the Great Lakes side. Spillways between levees have chain link fences projecting over the high water mark to physically prevent the fish from making the jump.

BEKI

Belted Kingfisher

Even with such high stakes, this Belted Kingfisher was not interested in following anyone’s rules. Punk.

BAEA

Bald Eagle

Meanwhile in the other watershed, I wondered if the possibility of a clumsy eagle dropping its dinner over the berm could be the proverbial straw on the camel’s back?

GBHE1

Great Blue Heron

The birds didn’t seem to bother with such questions. As always, it was all about food. Usually skittish, this Great Blue Heron did not care at all about how close I was.

GBHE2

The definition of potential energy

It slowly crouched into a striking position and waited patiently as fish rippled around in the water.

GRYE

Yellowlegs

The heron had much more patience than I did. While it watched for lunch, I turned my camera to the mud behind it to try and get one of those Lesser/Greater Yellowlegs comparison shots. This is the best I could do. But both birds were had, so they officially gave me a new green year personal record and only two thirds of the way through the year. Woo!

GBHE3

Lunch

Meanwhile, the heron made its catch, the action of which I missed. It didn’t appear to be a carp either. Bummer. At least it was a substantial meal.

LEYE

Lesser Yellowlegs

So back to shorebirds I turned. I could not turn any of the Yellowlegs into Stilt Sandpipers, and try as I might, I could not turn any of the Leasts into Semipalmateds.

EAKI

Eastern Kingbird

So in an uncharacteristic move for Eagle Marsh, I got distracted by passerines. A small flock of young kingbirds bravely defended their tree from a Cedar Waxwing.

PHVI

Warbling Vireo

But they totally didn’t care about this bird. In my field notes I wrote this down as ‘vireo sp.’ Then I convinced myself it was a Tennessee Warbler. Following that, some spirited discussion on Facebook had a couple of experts whose word I trust very highly call it a Philadelphia Vireo which would have been a county bird. But the final verdict, I believe, is Warbling Vireo. Even with those dark lores, the overall coloration and shape of the bird make it the most boring possibility.

GRHE

Green Heron

A bird with no possible conflict of identity was this Green Heron.

AMMI

American Mink

The heron was hunting the exact same stretch of water as a sneaky American Mink, which was the last thing I saw before heading home.

I mounted my bike and started riding home on the towpath trail, but then I remembered that I still had an uneaten Cliff bar with me. I pulled over and as I was eating a weird song erupted out of the brush very close to the trail and to my right. I recognized the song which sounded like a DJ scratching records, but it took me a moment to place it. Bell’s Vireo! Talk about a right-place-right-time bird. I managed this cell phone video to catch a little bit of the song (if you can hear it over the shrillness of the insects). BEVI is regular but uncommon in Allen County, with only a handful of records each year. I had heard this species twice before at Eagle Marsh, but it was totally off my radar as a possibility on my ride that day. This was definitely a bird only made possible by biking, since there would not have been reason for me to be in that area if I drove.

RSHA 08.24.17

Red-shouldered Hawk

The weekend was incredibly productive even from home, where a Red-shouldered Hawk was sitting on a utility pole across the street when I got home from work on Thursday. This yard bird was also new for the green list this year, meaning that it plus my three additions on Saturday give me 146 species, and it’s still only August. I could count up the four most glaring holes in my list to put me at the ever-elusive 150 mark, but I don’t want to jinx it. Let’s just say that most wanted #1 rhymes with “Fileated Hoodpecker.”

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Southwestward, to Goose Pond!

I write this entry from a Red Roof Inn on the outskirts of Evansville, Indiana. Work has me making numerous stops all over the state over the course of three days. Today, I found myself pointed southwest, which is pretty easy to do considering Fort Wayne is about as northeast as you can go.

ECDO.JPG

Eurasian Collared Dove

This is not a birding trip. I swear. But at one of my very first stops in the city of Delphi, I found a new state bird in Eurasian Collared Dove foraging in the maple seeds directly above my appointment destination. A good omen!

Two of my next stops were Shelburn and Winslow, small towns serendipitously placed on either end of Goose Pond Fish and Wildlife Area. Goose Pond is the real deal. I have been there once before, but that was in February a few years back. Today the sun was shining and the migrants were migrating, so I got out for about an hour to stretch my legs after driving for so long.

Goose Pond is 9,000+ acres of restored wetland habitat in western Greene County that packs such a big ecological punch that it attracts some insane rarities (Spotted Redshank, anyone?) and has actually altered the migration routes for many species that historically didn’t push very far into Indiana.

BNST

Black-necked Stilt

The absurdly cool, ludicrously proportioned Black-necked Stilt is one of those birds.

BNST Pair.JPG

Black-necked Stilt pair

Goose Pond has made these gangly birds common in the southwest corner of the state, and they even breed here, which may be something this pair is getting ready to do. Stilts were my biggest target in visiting Goose Pond, and they did not disappoint as life birds!

GRYE

Greater Yellowlegs

I was fortunate that this Greater Yellowlegs was around, because the stilts were much more interested in it than in me. They kept chasing it away when it foraged too close to them. They absolutely dwarfed it, too.

GWTE

Green-winged Teal

While shorebird watching, I had a close encounter of the teal kind. This handsome drake landed right in front of me and gave me the best look at the species that I have ever had.

SWSP.JPG

Swamp Sparrow

All birds at Goose Pond are beautiful, including the little brown jobs. I admit guilt in having sup-par sparrow watching skills. I usually assume every non-Zonitrichia sparrow is a Song Sparrow, but now I am wondering how many Swamp Sparrows I have missed in my life.

NOHA.JPG

Northern Harrier

The weather was perfect for birding today, as evidenced by the blue sky behind this Northern Harrier. It flew right in front of the moon at one point, but my camera would not focus fast enough for a photo.

AMWP.JPG

American White Pelican

I don’t think I will ever get tired of the reaction people give me when I tell them that there are pelicans in Indiana.

Snake.JPG

Snake

Some other animals were around, too. I don’t know anything about snakes, but Wikipedia tells me this snake butt might belong to a Northern Water Snake. Can anyone corroborate? It was big.

Goose Pond.JPG

Goose Pond – Unit 10

Goose Pond is broken up into segments divided by (unpaved (sometimes flooded)) county roads. The one that I tromped around in and that seems to be the place to go for the best diversity of birds is Unit 10. The place is so huge you could easily spend a weekend there and still not see it all, so I will be back again the next chance I get.

Return to the Mudflat

Rain has been sparse over July and August, but June gave us so much that things are still pretty soggy. That means little stopover habitat for migrating shorebirds, with mudflats few and far between. There has been one narrow but reliable stretch of sediment at Eagle Marsh, however, so it has been featured prominently as of late. And here it is again.

Caspian Tern

Caspian Tern

This is the same spit of dirt that gave me a pair of American Avocets a few weeks ago (although now it is sporting some algal growth). There was little activity on the jetty last weekend, but of the small variety there, half were new for the year. Included in that number were two Caspian Terns, a county bird and motorless #118.

Greater Yellowlegs

Greater Yellowlegs

Among the Ring-Billed Gulls and Mallards was a distant shorebird. A year or two ago, I would have cursed this bird for not giving me a good enough view. But I have grown in my ability to ID shorebirds considerably, so the name Greater Yellowlegs came to me pretty easily for #119. The bill length and slight upturn is a giveaway.

American Bullfrog

American Bullfrog

With few birds around, I turned my attention to other things, like this American Bullfrog (while daydreaming about a bittern bill spearing it from the water).

Common Buckeye

Common Buckeye

And this Common Buckeye was perched right near my bike as I left for home. It’s presence and attitude about those nettles seems like a pretty good omen for those other Buckeyes’ defense of title. (12 days away, but who’s counting?)

Birthday Birds

I haven’t had a lot of opportunity to go out into the field since Walter has been around, so for a birthday present Jaime watched him while I went to Eagle Marsh for a couple of hours with my binoculars and camera. Exactly one year previously, I birded Hyde Park in London, and while Fort Wayne is not as exotic of a locale it still gave me some pretty good results.

Bald Eagle

Bald Eagle

Right off the bat I saw two of the Marsh’s namesake birds wheeling around with a bunch of hawks.

#145 Merlin

#145 Merlin

While eagles are cool, I was much more interested in this Merlin, a life bird and year bird #145 for me. These falcons made some news this past year with their first-ever documented nest in the state of Indiana not far from Fort Wayne. Because they are not resident, this one was totally unexpected and the highlight of the afternoon.

Greater Yellowlegs

Greater Yellowlegs

Lesser Yellowlegs

Lesser Yellowlegs

Both species of Yellowlegs were also out in force at the marsh. I got some of the best looks I have ever seen of either species, and none of the birds minded my close approach. I used to be confused by identifying these birds, but the more I have seen the easier it gets. Look at the relative length of the bill on the Greater compared to the Lesser, and identification is easy. It also helps that the Greater’s bill is slightly upturned.

American Coot

American Coot

And just because I haven’t posted a picture of them in a while, here are some American Coots living up to their colloquial nickname of Mud Hen.

Not a Bird

Not a Bird

I also saw this animal, which I am pretty sure is not a bird. Any amphianologists care to tell me what this is?

 

Round Numbers

In the last few weeks, I have been slowly chipping away at birds not yet on my year list. I’ll start from where I left off last time:

#070: Wood Duck. I finally got to see a few of these guys at Eagle Marsh in Fort Wayne, which is quickly becoming my new Eagle Creek.

#071: Mute Swan. A pair seen at Eagle Marsh on the way to make an offer on what will be (fingers crossed) our new house. I never liked these much before, but they may be a good luck bird for me now.

#071 Mute Swan

#071 Mute Swan

#072: Sharp-Shinned Hawk. Seen at Fox Island County Park one day after work, and a life bird for me! I got great looks at it from my car.

#073: Black-Capped Chickadee. Likewise seen at Fox Island. There are only a few places in the country where Black-Capped and Carolina Chickadees coexist, and where that happens they are very difficult to distinguish from each other. Fort Wayne happens to be one of those places. But, the birds at the Fox Island feeders were careless enough to approach close, letting me see their subtle differences (bright white cheeks as opposed to plain white, pale patch on wing).

#074: Eastern Towhee. Kicking around under the feeders at Fox Island.

#075: Brown-Headed Cowbird. Seen perched on the roof of the in-laws’ house after returning home from a walk with Emma The Dog.

#076: Tree Swallow. Riding gusty winds over Eagle Marsh.

#076 Tree Swallow

#076 Tree Swallow

#077: Field Sparrow. Lurking in the brush at Eagle Marsh.

#077 Field Sparrow

#077 Field Sparrow

#078: Chipping Sparrow. Flocking in a yard near Lakeside Park, also seen while walking Emma The Dog.

#079: Greater Yellowlegs. Life Bird #200!!! Seen today in a flooded field on the southwest side of town. I went there specifically thanks to tip-offs from IN-Bird-L.

#079 Greater Yellowlegs

#079 Greater Yellowlegs

#080: Lesser Yellowlegs. The only reason I was able to identify either of the Yellowlegs was because both species were present in said flooded field, and size comparison was easy.

So at 4.5 months into 2013, I stand at 80 birds on the year and 200 birds on the life, and migration season has barely started!