Audubonning

In April I joined the board of directors for the local chapter of the Audubon Society. Last Saturday was my first official event: a hike at Foster Park. I was specifically asked to lead it because of my time birding there over the last several years, which was a pretty neat compliment. Foster was chosen because 100 years ago when the park was still being planned, the chapter namesake Charles Stockbridge went to the city of Fort Wayne to advocate that the new park include natural space for wildlife and not just be a big manicured lawn. To gather strength for his argument, he went out in May to count the bird species that could be found along the Saint Mary’s River where the park was to be built. He came up with a list of 44. A century later, my group set out to see if we could meet Mr. Stockbridge’s mark to commemorate his success in influencing one of the city’s keystone parks.

YBCU

Yellow-billed Cuckoo

I chose not to ride my bike only because I woke up kind of late, and it was supposed to storm right around the time the hike ended. Of course that meant that right off the bat we had some pretty great birds, but I won’t complain! A pair of Yellow-billed Cuckoos gave spectacular looks in a single lonely tree next to the baseball fields. It was pretty much consensus that nobody in the group of 12 or so had ever seen more than one cuckoo in the same field of view at the same time. Cool!

RTHU

Ruby-throated Hummingbird

A little while later, my proud trip leader moment occurred. We were hiking along the river, and I was acting as the official tally keeper for the morning. Mostly I was birding by ear and stopping to get people on new species when they first showed up. We had numerous Ruby-throated Hummingbirds, and I was only tallying them when I heard them squeak close by. I stopped to watch one of them, though, and was rewarded when it landed on a nest right in front of me. Most of the rest of the group were watching an Indigo Bunting pair, so I directed their attention to this tiny hummingbird abode to much collective joy.

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Barred Owl

The hits kept coming as we stumbled into a Barred Owl not five feet off the ground right by the trail. This plus everything else made a great day for the couple of new birders in the group, and we even began waving the attention of other people walking by to get them on the bird, which they did and observed for a long time. Everyone loves owls!

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House Wren

This House Wren in a nest cavity right next to the owl was way more perturbed by us than the raptor sitting next to it.

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Wood Ducks

And for the grand finale, Wood Duck babies. 14 in total. We ended the day with 48 species, breaking the century-old mark set by Mr. Stockbridge.

Besides Stockbridge Audubon, earlier this year I was asked to write an article on green birding for the Indianapolis chapter, Amos Butler Audubon Society. The result is on page 7 of their March/April newsletter. Their editor is also a green birder and is amassing quite the green list from the middle of the state.

I have always birded on my own for the most part, so it is strange but a nice change of pace to all of a sudden be immersed in a bigger birding community.

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The Life of a Cardinal

Disclaimer: This is another post about yard birds. And the yard birds in question are cardinals.

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Mama Pam

Our yard has a Northern Cardinal nest in the bushes along the edge of our back yard. The kids enjoy watching the pair, named Jim and Pam (as are all male and female cardinals anywhere, respectively). Even Alice, who is 21 months old, can proclaim “Jim!” when the male lands on the bird bath.

These birds have had a hell of a time in the month we have lived with them. It all started with the grosbeaks, who were here for three days but fiercely bullied all comers away from the feeders. This was good news with regard to our House Sparrows (who also have a colony of two nests on our front porch that have blown down three times between them), but it seriously strained the abilities of our Jim and Pam.

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House Wren

Throw in a House Wren (unnamed) whose territory seems to overlap entirely with that of the cardinals and will chase away any and all birds who get too close to him, and you have quite the stressful situation.

NOCA nestlings

Cardinal Nest

To top it all off, in investigating the nest while the parents were both away I noticed that one of their dear brood seems to be a cowbird. The young’un in the back of the nest may be decrying this, or it may just be begging for another helping of arthropod. In any case, Jim and Pam are raising a child of their own as well as a foster child in this hellacious suburban wildlife environment, and they are dealing with it admirably…

Raccoon

Oh snap.

While at the neighborhood park this past weekend, Jaime, the kids, and I discovered three raccoon babies all doing various raccoon-y things in different corners of the park. For the first time, I broke into the “animals are wild, they aren’t pets like Emma the Dog, etc, etc.” speech with Walter. This seemed to go over well. Until the next evening when one of them showed up in the cedar trees alongside our house. The kids lost their minds.

We tried to restrain Walter and Alice from running up to the raccoon while simultaneously encouraging them to observe the wildlife. Then it dawned on me what the little beast was really up to. A red blur flashed into the cedars at the same instant.

Raccoon and NOCA 1

Jim the Cardinal sizes up the threat

Jim had exactly the same thought as I did. He zoomed in from out of nowhere to let the raccoon (bottom right) know that he was there (top left). Jim stood his ground for a few moments, trying to decide how much the raccoon actually knew.

NOCA Nest

Secret Nest Location

This photo is immediately to the right of the one above it. The cardinal nest is midway up the vegetation directly in front of the utility pole. For a minute, it seemed like the clumsy young raccoon was just going to blunder into traffic, and it actually fell out of the cedar tree and landed on its head. But then it did a 180 and headed right for the bushes.

Raccpon and NOCA 2

The action builds

At this point, it was obvious that the raccoon knew there was something good to be had, but it couldn’t quite figure out where. This is when Jim really sprang into action. He flew down to the raccoon’s level and unleashed a devastating series of “chip chip chips” in its general direction. For a moment I thought he might go full Killdeer and feign injury to draw the predator away, but he was honest about his status as defender of the nest, and with erect crest he continued to hop around issuing warning calls.

Raccoon and NOCA 3

The plan is working

The plan worked to perfection. The raccoon became much more interested in the bright red thingy making noise, and it followed Jim far into the neighboring yard and out of sight. It did not come back.

Jim and Pam meanwhile earned a well-deserved break, and within minutes of the all clear they were both leisurely eating back at the feeders.

GRCA

Gray Catbird

Or least they were until the catbirds ran them off. What a life to be a cardinal in this day and age.