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!

Feederwatching

Steady rain all weekend made it so that the birding was effectively feederwatching. First, the highlight:

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Red-breasted Nuthatch

For the second year in a row, my feeder has hosted a Red-breasted Nuthatch. Or in this case, three Red-breasted Nuthatches, which is a pretty neat trick.

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Red-breasted Nuthatch

Helping more than my one meager feeder filled with sunflower seeds to attract these stellar irruptive visitors is the row of 50 foot spruce trees along the edge of our backyard. I do what I can.

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Combo!

Feederwatchig is a technique I am not ashamed of, especially when it is the only way to get two species of nuthatch in the same shot. It also provides some interesting drama as you observe the power struggles between the same individual birds over the course of a couple of days.

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A not atypical situation

 

Each bird has its own unique way of using the food source, and species seem to dominate and yield to others in not quite truly hierarchical fashion. To start, there are three main styles of bird feedering:

The Traditionalists fly in, eat some seeds for a while, then fly away to go do other bird things. Adherents to this style include Northern Cardinal, House Sparrow, and Blue Jay.

The Gluttons fly in and stay put eating as much as they can until they are forced off. American Goldfinch, House Finch, and Mourning Dove are Gluttons.

The Dart-and-Runners fly in, take a single bite, and fly away to finish or stash it somewhere else. Time on the feeder is minimized to the greatest extent possible, and practitioners include Carolina Chickadee, Tufted Titmouse, and both White- and Red-breasted Nuthatches.

This is only part of the story, though. Each species also seems to have an unspoken relationship with all of the others.

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The struggle is real

We will start at the top of the food chain.

Blue Jays have a bad reputation, but in my yard they have only shown aggression to raptors. They don’t get pushed around by anybody, but they also don’t push others around. They also aren’t very frequent visitors to the feeder, so that may be why.

Northern Cardinals, on the other hand, are the usual owners of the joint. They will not be moved by anyone, plus they show extreme aggression toward House Sparrows. They will tolerate other birds only until they get too close, and then anything is fair.

House Sparrows are despised by all, and for good reason. They will swarm in numbers making their presence impossible to oust from the feeders, plus they are aggressive to most other manner of bird. When I was observing, the most frequent target was House Finch.

House Finches didn’t take it lying down, though. These birds will not start a fight, but they will fight back if pushed.

Tufted Titmice for the most part seemed to attack each other.

Meanwhile, Carolina Chickadees were the most peaceful species. In addition to showing no aggression, they also were infrequently if ever targets of bullying themselves.

White-breasted Nuthatches don’t pick on anyone, and they also don’t stick around long enough to get picked on themselves. Their strategy is to fly in, perch on the pole or baffle, and wait for an opening. Then they seize the opportunity.

Red-breasted Nuthatches operate largely in the same way, but instead of hanging around close by, they will fly in from literally out of nowhere to grab an empty seat at the table. They are also ridiculously tolerant of close approaches by humans. At one point I stood a foot away from the feeder and they still came and went as usual.

And finally, American Goldfinches come in big groups, hang upside-down, eat forever, and generally have a good time. All species seem to like them except House Sparrows.

Of course, birds are not the only ones using the feeders.

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Dare to dream

My set-up is largely mammal-proof (see: raccoons), but the furry ones have lofty goals.

Birding Fatherhood

Over the weekend, I birded for the first time since Walter has been here. It took a couple of weeks, but things have finally settled down enough to the point where Jaime and I are able to do some of our old things. For me, that meant a trip to Franke Park on Saturday morning.

I missed quite a few passerines on spring migration due to the chaotic changing around of our life, so I was hoping to add at least a few new ticks to the year list, and I succeeded. I ran into a flock of Warblers, Vireos, and Chickadees in the middle of the woods and was able to pick out a few species before some, ahem, gentleman’s unleashed dog came crashing through the underbrush, jumped up on me, and scattered the birds.

#141 Cape May Warbler

#141 Cape May Warbler

This Cape May Warbler was the first year bird of the day for me, bringing my total to 141. I was confused by this species’ fall plumage and couldn’t make up my mind at first, but the presence of the white wing patch as opposed to wing bars sealed the ID.

#143 Black-Throated Green Warbler

#143 Black-Throated Green Warbler

The only other new Warbler for me for the year was this Black-Throated Green, good for year bird #143 (Swainson’s Thrush was #142 and only made a brief appearance for no photo).

Warbler Duo

Warbler Duo

Black-Throated Green was a very popular individual and even spent some time discussing accent colors with this Black-and-White.

Red-Eyed Vireo

Red-Eyed Vireo

Also among the flock was this Red-Eyed Vireo, which at first I didn’t recognize because I am so used to seeing them as little specks calling from the tops of trees. This guy was frolicking under the canopoy, however, and gave me the best look (and photo) of the species that I have ever had.

Red-Tailed Hawk

Red-Tailed Hawk

Not all birds seen were small, however. This Red-Tailed Hawk was basically right next to my car as I was leaving. You can’t see it in the grass, but this fellow was chowing down on a snake.

Since my birding time in the field has been limited as of late, I have spent more time in the backyard, with son in one arm and camera in the other, trying to document some of the birds closer to home. I spent about an hour sitting on our patio a couple of weeks ago documenting the denizens of Grosbeak Gardens:

American Goldfinches

American Goldfinches

House Finch

House Finch

Pam

Pam

White-Breasted Nuthatch

White-Breasted Nuthatch

And a final bird of note was one seen at Metea Park, where Jaime and I were married exactly two years ago on August 6 and went again this year on our anniversary. He was behaving much more like a Goldfinch than a Woodpecker:

Downy Woodpecker

Downy Woodpecker

Birding Raleigh

Jaime and I traveled to my parents’ house to celebrate my mom’s birthday and Easter last weekend. As always, there were many great birds to be had. My parents have provided ample landscaping, feeders, and water features to attract many birds. In between the many dozens of meals that we ate, I spent a considerable amount of time on the deck and looking out the kitchen window, jealously plotting how to landscape our future yard (closing later this month, fingers crossed) to be a similar haven for these small, wing-ed beasts. Behold!

Carolina Chickadee

Carolina Chickadee

It was totally appropriate to be watching Carolina Chickadees in the state of (North) Carolina. Also: it takes an architect’s talent to select a feeder that is both this visually pleasing and also effective at nourishing the avian fauna of the suburban Triangle region. Well played, dad.

Carolina Wren

Carolina Wren

I’m having deja-vu all over again. Carolina Wren? In Carolina? It can’t be! Author’s note: I found it amusing that despite being one of the smallest birds of the yard, these fellows were first in pecking order, giving much larger Towhees and Cardinals the boot when they demanded some vittles.

House Finch

House Finch

House Finches (or Pink Birds in our household) were the most common feeder enthusiasts chez Majewski. This gentleman knows what is proper as he allows his lady friend to dine first.

American Goldfinch

American Goldfinch

This American Goldfinch was shedding his brown winter plumes for a new yellow get-up. And he, like countless others, could not be dissuaded from the clean lines of modernism.

Northern Mockingbird

Northern Mockingbird

Northern Mockingbirds aren’t so shallow as to be easily had by the prospect of a free meal.

White-Crowned Sparrow

White-Crowned Sparrow

And somehow Casa di mi Padre remains the only locale where I have ever seen a White-Crowned Sparrow despite their supposed commonality. Come on, Indiana, you’re falling behind.

Winter Wren

Winter Wren

Not all birds were found quite so easily. Jaime and I made a trip to a local park with a walking path around a lake. A Winter Wren was working some tree roots and caught me off guard. I had to stalk it for a few minutes before getting this mediocre photo. It was by far the best bird of the weekend, and another missing from my Indiana list. While not rare, I will go out on a limb and declare these to be uncommon.

It was a great trip for many reasons besides just birds. But, this weekend the task at hand is Swallows, which are beginning to appear up here in Fort Wayne for the spring. My goal is to get to 100 birds by the end of April. Go!

Mary Gray Bird Sanctuary

I eagerly watched eBird all week for signs of the continuation of Evening Grosbeaks at the Mary Gray Bird Sanctuary in Connersville, about an hour and a half east of Indianapolis. After seeing no updates, I impatiently asked on the Indiana Birding Facebook group if they were still there, and I was met with an affirmative answer! So the first thing I did on Saturday (after cleaning the house and walking the dog) was to pack up and go bird.

I pulled up to the parking lot right at 9:00, and a gentlemen approached my car and asked if I was looking for the Grosbeaks. He turned out to be the resident manager of the sanctuary, and he brought me to the glassed-in porch behind his home where dozens of common feeder birds were feasting on sunflower seeds. I only had to wait about five minutes before the giant yellow beasts showed up, and I owe him life bird #187 and year bird #042! (Thank you!)

Evening Grosbeak

#042 Evening Grosbeak

Evening Grosbeaks only appear irregularly during the winter in Indiana, and sometimes they don’t show up at all. To be able to see them so easily and at such close range was just awesome. This is just another bird in the great bounty of this winter’s huge irruption.

Yellow-Bellied Sapsucker

#044 Yellow-Bellied Sapsucker

Year bird #044 was this Yellow-Bellied Sapsucker that was banging away on a pine tree on one of the sanctuary’s many trails. I wasn’t expecting to see this woodpecker until after I had encountered the much more common Hairy Woodpecker, but to date, the Hairy is the most notable absence on my year list.

Downy Woodpecker

Downy Woodpecker

Continuing the theme of woodpeckers was a Downy Woodpecker, a species that I had previously seen this year. Because they are everywhere.

House Finch

House Finch

Another of the already seen and common birds was the House Finch. This one swooped in after the Grosbeaks left and started noshing on seeds. For those keen observers keeping track at home, year bird #043 was this guy’s friend, a Purple Finch, that was hanging out with the flock, but I did not get his photo.

Dark-Eyed Junco

Dark-Eyed Junco

For good measure, here is another common winter bird, the Dark-Eyed Junco.

Since this was the last weekend of January, my total for the month will most likely stay at 44 birds, unless something unexpected lands on my head or I finally see a Hairy Woodpecker around my neighborhood.