America’s Beloved Agri-Hobo

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Ice Bike

I went out to collect as many species of waterfowl as I could over the last two weeks. It has been really cold in northern Indiana, so my strategy was to look for the open patches of water that are few and far between where the birds will congregate. Luckily, I now live right next to two such places since moving last spring. I felt vaguely hobo-ish riding (okay, walking) my bike somewhat needlessly through the snow. But a guy’s gotta bird green.

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Redhead

The first really good winter birding spot in Fort Wayne is the water treatment ponds, about a mile and a half from my house. Even with the greenway trails totally uncleared, it was worth it to trudge to this spot.

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Common Mergansers

On my first trip two weekends ago I found a huge diversity of ducks that quickly elevated my 2018 green list. Included among the species were a couple of Redheads and a small flotilla of Common Mergansers. Each of these are birds I only found in one of the preceding years’ lists.

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The dam at Johnny Appleseed Park

The second good place I found for duckies is Johnny Appleseed Park, which is only about half a mile from home. I visited this past weekend. People know about the water treatment plant, but this park is relatively unbirded despite having the grave of its namesake (that link was the first one I found when I googled ‘johnny appleseed grave’ and it refers to the man as ‘America’s beloved agri-hobo’ — fantastic!). So I did what I had to do and made it Allen County’s newest eBird hotspot. The dam on the river here keeps the water turbulent and unfrozen.

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Common Goldeneye

Among the Mallards and Canada Geese floated two Common Goldeneye, which was a little bit exciting.

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Hooded Merganser

Many Hooded Mergansers also mixed things up. This female wanted nothing to do with me.

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Cooper’s Hawk

Of the five new birds I added during my visit, none of them actually ended up being ducks. This Cooper’s Hawk was probably the coolest among the collection.

Even when the weather warms up and ducks are more spread out, I will probably be more frequently visiting Johnny Appleseed Park. It’s proximity to home can’t be beat, and I need to pay proper respects to America’s beloved agri-hobo.

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Thanksgiving Trip

During the week of Thanksgiving the GregAndBirds clan loaded up to go to North Carolina for a visit to my parents. We flew out of Detroit, which first necessitated a two-and-a-half hour drive through northwest Ohio and southeast Michigan. I have never been as acutely aware of every Turkey Vulture and Rock Pigeon along the road thanks to eBird profiles and their nifty color-shaded maps showing how many species you have seen in every county everywhere. But I did tick a few really good ones, like the Bald Eagle in Monroe, MI and the appropriate flock of Wild Turkeys in Paulding, OH. You shall know a birder by their trail of light orange in sparsely-visited counties (for the record, I did the same thing when we went to visit some of Jaime’s friends outside of Charlotte during the trip).

I did some serious birding too, though. Thanksgiving was bookended by trips to the William B. Umstead State Park right by my folks’ place.

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A pretty good park!

I am not much for hashtag campaigns, but #optoutside on the traditional shopping days was one I could get behind. Apparently everyone else had the same idea, because conditions were crowded. The birding was decent though, and crowds disappeared entirely when I left the trails (on the suggestion of a staff member) to hike the same power line cut I birded earlier in the summer.

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White-throated Sparrow

There was nothing too out of the ordinary, but I did get to add some meat to my North Carolina state list.

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Pine Warbler

I contented myself with passerines since the waterfowl on Big Lake were mostly too far away to enjoy. Seeing any non-Yellow-rumped Warbler in the winter is exciting for this Midwesterner, so I appreciated this male Pine Warbler foraging on the ground in poor light. The mixed flock it was a part of was also pretty exceptional: Brown-headed Nuthatches, Eastern Bluebirds, Pine Warblers, and one Red-bellied Woodpecker.

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Intermission

In between my two outings, Thanksgiving occurred. But unfortunately for me so did a bout of food poisoning. I did manage to eat a piece of one of my sister’s famous ludicrously sweet, over-the-top, and delicious cakes, though. Yes, those are Nutter Butter acorns.

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Cloudless Giant Sulphur

The yard surprisingly still had some butterflies in it, too, which made things better. The Cloudless Giant Sulphur is a life lep for me. They really are big!

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Golden-crowned Kinglet

The neighborhood was also awash with some quintessential fall birds.

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Hooded Merganser

I wouldn’t have included this poor shot of a Hooded Merganser, but it counts as a yard bird from my parents’ vantage point, which is pretty solid.

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Carolina Wren

The next day I felt a lot better, so I visited Umstead again. I retraced my footsteps, only in reverse. I was greeted by close to a dozen Carolina Wrens calling in the warm weather.

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A different Carolina Wren

For a brief second, two of them investigated the same knot in a tree, but I wasn’t fast enough with the camera shutter.

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Ruddy Duck

The ducks on the lake were more cooperative on that second day, including a very actively diving Ruddy Duck that I first thought was a grebe. This is the part where I mention Ruddy Duck was a life bird, and probably the single most embarrassing hole in my life list to that date. That title now goes to either White-eyed Vireo or American Wigeon. What is yours?

I hope everyone had a happy Thanksgiving, good birding, and maybe some obsessive highway-driving county listing, too!

Spring Waterfowl

Wednesday was my last day at my old job, and Thursday was a day devoted to packing up the house for the impending move. And birding. I had my best day of waterfowl so far at Eagle Creek, and spring migration is in full force for ducks and grebes.

#066 Bufflehead

#066 Bufflehead

A new duck for me, and year bird #066, was the Bufflehead. In addition to having an awesome name, these ducks are one of the smallest in North America. A large raft of them was easily visible from the viewing deck at the Eagle Creek Ornithology Center. Other first-of-the-year birds for me were #067 Pied-Billed Grebe and #068 (and lifer) Red-Breasted Merganser.

#068 Horned Grebe

#069 Horned Grebe

Year bird #069 was this very cooperative Horned Grebe, a bird I had only seen one previous time several years ago outside of Wilmington, NC.

Hooded Merganser

Hooded Merganser

A duck that I already have on my year list but is great nonetheless is the Hooded Merganser. There were at least a dozen floating close to the observation deck, allowing for good photo ops.

Belted Kingfisher

Belted Kingfisher

Another sign of spring was this pair of flirting Belted Kingfishers. They kept chasing each other around and making their high-pitched rattling call. I believe the male is on the right. It was a good thing these two were so preoccupied with each other, because Kingfishers are usually not tolerant of a close approach.

Ducks

Yesterday was one of the best days for birding so far this year. It was sunny and in the 50s, and the ice at Eagle Creek is gone (for now anyway, we’re supposed to have a high of 19 on Tuesday). The ducks were out in full force enjoying the weather.

Mallard

Mallard

Mallards were the dominant species of the day like usual, but I realized I have never bothered to take a picture of them. So to be fair despite their commonness, here you go.

Common Goldeneye

Common Goldeneye

Also abundant were Common Goldeneyes, my life bird from last week. They did not like being watched, and the best photo I could get was of one duck who was preoccupied with fighting off Ring-Billed Gulls and did not notice my approach.

Hooded Merganser

#038 Hooded Merganser

Year bird #038 and a lifer as well were these Hooded Mergansers. The male of this species is possibly the coolest looking waterfowl I have ever seen. He kept raising and lowering his crest to show off. The ladies loved it, as evidenced in the photo above.

American Black Duck

#040 American Black Duck

Had I not been on the lookout specifically for ducks, I very well might have overlooked the flock of American Black Ducks hanging out near the mudflats at the far north edge of the park. At first glance, they look like the Mallards that they tend to socialize with. Year bird #040 and a lifer as well (bringing my life list to 186).

Other birds seen this week for the first time in 2013 were #037 Eastern Meadowlark (seen at the Indianapolis Regional Airport on Friday afternoon), #039 Great Blue Heron (seen alongside the duck action at Eagle Creek), and #041 Red-Shouldered Hawk (two of which I wouldn’t have seen if they weren’t busy screaming at each other in the woods at Eagle Creek).