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?

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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.

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The definition of potential energy

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

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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.

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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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One of Those Days

Everyone eventually has a birding day when they put together a plan with high expectations, only to find that it’s all for naught. Either the birds aren’t there, or the plans change, or conditions are poor for viewing. Today was not one of those days.

Trio

Welcoming Committee

I spent the morning and early afternoon birding Eagle Marsh. It used to be about a 25 minute ride for me, but from my new house it takes over an hour. No matter. The weather was awesome. And I had a pretty great sign of things to come in the form of three amigos perched on the wires over the trailhead at the marsh: Green Heron, Mourning Dove, and Red-winged Blackbird.

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The Fourth

Then an Indigo Bunting joined them for good measure.

GRHE

Green Heron

Of all the birds to be perched on a wire, this one was pretty weird.

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Purple Martins

The good signs kept coming with a tree full of Purple Martins just a little way down the trail. PUMA was (somehow) a county bird for me and the first new green bird on the day.

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Common Gallinule

Next up, a state bird popped its head out of the reeds and stared me down for several long moments before I could figure out what the hell it was. Juvenile Common Gallinules are weird. I wasn’t expecting this bird at all, least not in this particular plumage. I have only seen adults before, and those were in Florida. My mind cycled in the following order: Wood Duck, Sora, Virginia Rail. Nope.

BANS

Bank Swallow

Before checking out the other end of the marsh, I stopped to admire the massing post-breeding dispersal birds. These Bank Swallows obliged for a photo.

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Pectoral Sandpiper

At the other end of the marsh was where I realized it would be a phenomenal birding day. Not only were there huge mudflats hosting hundreds of birds, the lighting was great, the birds stayed put, and I got some great shots. I like this Pectoral Sandpiper and its reflection.

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Least Sandpiper

The shorebirds kept coming, and next on the buffet was Least Sandpiper.

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Solitary Sandpiper

A duo of Solitary Sandpipers followed close behind. This was a pretty bad miss for me last year, so these views made up for it.

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Spotted Sandpiper

Continuing a theme, I present to you: Spotted Sandpiper.

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Killdeer

And a Killdeer, because why not?

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A whole mess of birds

I also lucked into some Caspian Terns, which are annual but uncommon and irregular in Allen County. Two flyovers on the east end plus two more chilling with gulls on the west end for a total of four individuals was a pretty good tally. As you can tell from the photo above, there was a lot to keep track of, and I almost overlooked the small white blob just to the left of the terns.

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Bonaparte’s Gull

With its head tucked, all I could see was the edge of a black cap making me think it might have been one of the sterna terns, but it finally picked its head up showing an extensive black hood and a black bill, good for Bonaparte’s Gull. This was my best find of the day, another county bird, and apparently the first July record for the species in this part of the state.

I ended the day with seven new green birds, three of which were new for me in Allen County and one of those new for Indiana. My 2017 green list is currently at 142 species, only one less than all of last year. 150 will be totally obtainable with “easy” birds (I say that without somehow seeing them yet) left to pick up including Pileated Woodpecker, Scarlet Tanager, both yellowlegs, and a couple of fall warblers to push me over the hump, and hopefully one or two unexpected things. If you had a birding goal this year, how is it coming along now that we are midway through?

A Pretty Good Weekend

On Saturday I headed back to Eagle Marsh to check on the mudflats and see if anything new flew in.

Green Heron

Green Heron

My first good sign was a rather cooperative Green Heron.

Semipalmated Plover

Semipalmated Plover

The mud was pretty calm because it was the heat of the day, but the very first bird I saw was #114 for the motorless list: Semipalmated Plover. As I watched it dodge Killdeer, I realized that I had somehow never seen one in Indiana, so state bird too, embarrassingly enough.

Great Egret

Great Egret

The only other thing of note was this super relaxed Great Egret. At first I thought it might be injured, but after a while it stood up on both legs and flew away with no problem. Does anyone know what it might have been doing? I have never seen one adopt this position before.

After Eagle Marsh, I decided to bike again today despite the heat to try and mop up another bird that has been evading me on the motorless list: Pileated Woodpecker. I headed to Fox Island with this bird in mind.

Blue Grosbeak

Blue Grosbeak

My route took me past the quarry where Blue Grosbeak has become my nemesis over the last two years, but today I decided to stop and look around for one. I found two birds rather easily. Nemesis slayed! Even though this juvenile bird is in some boring plumage, check out the size of that bill. You can’t be disappointed with that. Lifer, and motorless #115. Further down the road closer to Fox Island I encountered two more, including a blue adult male that I couldn’t get a picture of but bringing my total to four individuals, which was pretty exciting.

Inside of the park, I was riding high from BLGR and totally pumped to see my woodpecker (which is the same one that deviled me during my Taken For Granted Challenge with The Laurence last year). As I was riding around, my eyes caught a largish bird that at first I mistook for a Gray Catbird.

Yellow-Billed Cuckoo

Yellow-Billed Cuckoo

Nope, Yellow-Billed Cuckoo! Lifer #2 for the day (actually within half an hour) and motorless #116. I was thrilled to see this bird, because my only other experience with one has been as a carcass on the sidewalk by my office.

On the ride out, I did finally manage Pileated Woodpecker flying over the road in the same place where I saw two of the grosbeaks. My list is now at 117, and getting two unexpected lifers made today one of the best outings I have had in a while. I was happy enough to be singing a little bit in my head on the way home, and appropriately enough, my favorite Scottish pop group has some songs that are totally appropriate for these birds.

 

The Birds of Fort Wayne

Last weekend Jaime and I were up in Fort Wayne visiting her parents. On Saturday afternoon, we decided that going birding would be a great way to spend our time! Shockingly enough, every single bird we saw was a lifer for me. I don’t think this feat will ever be duplicated ever again. Here is just a sample of what we saw:

Cattle Egret

Cattle Egret

This Cattle Egret was sitting on the roadside as we left the house.

White Stork

White Stork

We stumbled upon this pair of White Storks nesting in a field.

Red-Billed Blue Magpie

Red-Billed Blue Magpie

I managed to get a great shot of this Red-Billed Blue Magpie through a chain-link fence in a neighbor’s yard.

Hunting Cissa

Hunting Cissa

This Hunting Cissa was flying around the Lincoln Tower Bank downtown.

African Penguin

African Penguin

We had to stop the car to let this flock of African Penguins cross the road in front of us.

Ostrich

Ostrich

As we were coming back home, we startled this Ostrich in Dave and Jean’s backyard. Or maybe we just went to the zoo. I can’t remember.

On Sunday morning, however, Dave and I did go check out Fox Island Park on the south side of town, where we were able to see dozens and dozens of migrating herons among other things, including this Green Heron, which was wild and actually counted toward my list. I have only seen a few of them previously.

Green Heron

Green Heron

The hot and dry weather that Indiana has been experiencing all summer has actually turned out to be beneficial for birding. Receding water lines have resulted in large stretches of mud flats that attract shore birds in vast quantities as they start the beginning stages of southward migration. I had a very productive day back home at Eagle Creek yesterday, with many more shorebirds to be blogged here soon.