Bicycle Blitz

My office closed early on Friday because we were having the carpets cleaned. So instead of working until noon, I took the morning off too and did what any normal person would do with all of that free time: go on an 8.5 hour, 45-mile bike ride around the county hitting all of the major birding spots along the way.

I left home before sunrise to make it to Eagle Marsh by 6:30am to meet up with Rodger, one of Fort Wayne’s wisest birding sages. I had a bunch of summer marsh birds to pick up, but my real goal of the morning was rails.

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Sora

We hit on my biggest target bird in Sora. This is actually a life bird for me (I don’t count heard-only birds), and one individual actually showed itself for about a minute or two for me to fire off some photos despite the poor morning light. It is also my 200th Indiana species.

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Marsh Wren

A Marsh Wren popped up directly in front of me to gather some cattail fluff for an assumed nest.

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Red-winged Blackbird

Female Red-winged Blackbirds are pretty in a different way than their men.

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Great Blue Heron

More love for common birds.

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Bald Eagle

A visit to Eagle Marsh wouldn’t be complete without a sighting of its namesake species, in this case getting its tower buzzed.

I finished at the marsh and made my way alone to Fox Island for some woodland birds.

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Fox Island

There were disappointingly few migrants around, but the scenery was gorgeous. On other days, Fox Island also serves as the gates to Mosquito Hell, but they were almost non-existent when I showed up.

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Indigo Bunting

The most numerous bird of the day had to be Indigo Bunting.

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Acadian Flycatcher

Despite the (lack of) lighting, I like the way this Acadian Flycatcher turned out. Without hearing their song, this picture shows about everything you need to identify one, anyway.

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Baby Raccoon

I thought that the movement inside of this hollow snag was an owl at first. It turned out to be a nest of a different kind.

I ate my lunch on the deck of the nature center and refilled my water before trekking out on the last third of my day. Rather than having a specific destination, the afternoon was reserved for traveling country roads in search of grassland and shore birds.

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A productive field

I rode past a field that is famous for attracting all manner of shorebirds, but found nothing there except for one single species feeding in the mud.

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Red-headed Woodpecker

Yes, it was a Red-headed Woodpecker, because that makes sense, right? When I approached, it flew up to the lone utility pole stuck in the middle of the field. But trust me, this thing was acting like a damn sandpiper. Birding is weird. Red-headed Woodpecker is a county bird for me. They are regular in Allen County year-round but not very common, so it’s kind of a crap shoot to see one. Dumb luck paid off.

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Farm Fresh

Just up the road from the woodpecker I put on the brakes for a flock of turkeys that I thought were eating under a bird feeder in a yard. On second look, just kidding, not wild. Oh well.

The day ended up being incredibly great (and tiring). I ended with 70 species, 17 of which were new green year birds for a list-to-date of 123. This is about four months ahead of my pace from last year without any rarities supplementing the list. Plus I slew my two heard-only nemeses from 2015: Eastern Towhee and Wood Thrush. I expect that the count will slow down considerably from here, but I missed several target birds that I will go back for. I also still haven’t seen a hummingbird yet this year. Again, birding is weird. But good!

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Bucolic Birds

The google defines “bucolic” as such:

Of or relating to the pleasant aspects of the countryside.

This past week I have had some very bucolic experiences in southwestern Allen County related to birds. July is supposed to be a slow month for birding. But it hasn’t been for me, because I have had the opportunity to get out much more than I did in the previous months. The result is ten new year birds for my Indiana list, three of which are new to the life list as well.

Bucolic

Bucolic

Eagle Marsh yielded some annuals that I missed earlier: #129 Willow Flycatcher, #130 Warbling Vireo, #131 Orchard Oriole, and #132 Marsh Wren.

#129 Willow Flycatcher

#129 Willow Flycatcher

A flooded area along Amber Road on the extreme outskirts of Fort Wayne also provided bountiful shorebirds. Who needs a beach when you have muddy cornfields?

#133 Pectoral Sandpiper

#133 Pectoral Sandpiper

#134 Semipalmated Sandpiper

#134 Semipalmated Sandpiper

#135 Spotted Sandpiper

#135 Spotted Sandpiper

Are sandpipers bucolic? I’ll let you decide. How to tell them apart? Allow me to help. #133 Pectoral Sandpipers are one of the easier shorebirds to pick out, because the streaking on their fronts comes to an abrupt halt in their pectoral region. #134 Semipalmated Sandpipers (lifer) are one of the smallest shorebirds, and unique in that they have black legs (which are barely discernible in the above photo, even with the full-arthropod-seeking-submerged-head shot) and not as reddish as other peeps. #135 Spotted Sandpipers are not spotted in their basic plumage, plus their wings and back are a uniform brownish gray without patterns (compare with Pectorals). Whew. Glad that’s over with.

#136 Dickcissel

#136 Dickcissel

Onward and upward to Arrowhead Prairie, one of the most bucolic places I have ever been, and the location where the bucolic photo at the beginning of this post was taken. #136 Dickcissels abounded there today (lifer). In addition to having one of the more fun bird names to say, Dickcissels have been something of a nemesis bird for me. Usually associated with more westerly locales such as the great plains, Fort Wayne has nonetheless had continuing reports of these small animals this year. I struck out many, many times before finally hitting on some today. I also had some (lifer) Bank Swallows, ending my very productive week at 137 species in the state of Indiana in the year 2013. But why stop here? Here are some other bucolic photos that I got this week of some previously mentioned birdies:

Eastern Bluebird

Eastern Bluebird

Common Yellowthroat

Common Yellowthroat

Indigo Bunting

Indigo Bunting

Summer

The calendar isn’t totally accurate. Despite the fact that we are still technically in spring, the birds tell me that it is summer. Instead of a random assortment of migrating birds, my first birding outing in two weeks today brought me many summer residents who are here to stay for at least another couple of months (well, with one exception).

The first stop was at a very flooded Eagle Marsh for the first notable bird. I was alerted to it thanks to the always reliable IN-Bird-L email list: Bell’s Vireo. Having scanned through field guides, I guess I was aware that this is a bird, so it was not technically a brain bird for me (see definition), but I knew almost nothing about it. Not where it lives, not what it looks like, and not what it sounds like. The emails on the list-serve described “vigorous singing,” so I looked up its voice (you can too), and heard its distinct scratching-a-record call almost immediately on exiting my vehicle. It stayed well hidden in dense brush, and I only got two glimpses of it: once when it flew to another dense area of brush, and once when it popped its head up for about an eighth of a second. But I stayed and listened to him for almost half an hour, which is as good a field mark as any. Life bird #205 and year bird #122.

So enough about that Bell’s Vireo. Here is a pretty picture of another bird that I also saw at the marsh:

Indigo Bunting

Indigo Bunting

I also saw year bird #123 Common Yellowthroat, the only warbler of the entire day, on that stop. Several muskrats were also a highlight.

After Eagle Marsh, I headed to Franke Park, being turned away by flooded roads to Fox Island (common theme). The very first species of bird that I saw was this:

American White Pelican

American White Pelican

You know it’s a good birding day when there are pelicans acting like Canada Geese. These chaps must have been migrating and grounded by the storms that we had a few days ago, and they were making a holiday of it by staying at the park. This picture was taken from the window of my car, to give you an indication of how close they were. I have seen these elsewhere this year in both Greene and Marion Counties, but this was by far the best look I have ever had of this species.

#124 Eastern Wood-Pewee

#124 Eastern Wood-Pewee

I heard about a thousand Eastern Wood-Pewees while at Franke, and this one was good for year bird #124.

Great Crested Flycatcher

Great Crested Flycatcher

And while we’re talking about flycatchers, here is one of many of the Great Crested variety that were hanging around the frog pond.

I finished the day with distant looks (but great audio) from a Wood Thrush, year bird #125. I am exactly half way to my stated goal of 250, but I am pretty sure that I can save that number for another year. It will be nearly impossible with all of the spring migrants that I missed from being busy with first-time homeownership, that new job in a new city, and a baby due in two months. But if that is my tradeoff for less birding, I will gladly take it!

Fort Harrison State Park

Today was my first birding day post-degree, so I spent about four hours wandering around Fort Harrison State Park in Lawrence, Indiana. It wasn’t a great day for photos, but I got two lifers (Hooded Warbler and Red-Eyed Vireo!) on my tally of 37 species identified.

Indigo Bunting

Indigo Bunting

I saw about three times as many Indigo Buntings at Fort Harrison as I have on every other day of my life combined. The jamboree began immediately, as one of these was the very first bird I saw as I was still in my car driving to the trail head.

Indigo Bunting (Female)

Indigo Bunting (Female)

This is a female. Mother Nature is sexist.

Northern Rough-Winged Swallow

Northern Rough-Winged Swallow

Some Northern Rough-Winged Swallows perched high in a tree by a lake and were very good sports about having their pictures taken.

Red-Eyed Vireo

Red-Eyed Vireo

While on the theme of drab-looking birds, here is the lone photo of a lifer that I was able to get. This is a Red-Eyed Vireo, which I actually heard the entire day without realizing what they were because they are loud and monotonous in their song, but like to hide up in treetops and don’t have any distinguishing physical features. Finally, as I was getting back into my car one sang right above my head and stayed long enough to let me take this.

It would also like to say that since I was able to bag my first Black-Throated Green Warbler and Scarlet Tanager last week, I saw them everywhere today. Maybe my eye is now trained to spot them, but I saw two separate Scarlet Tanagers and dozens and dozens of Black-Throated Green Warblers. If this pattern holds, I will see many more Vireos and Hooded Warblers on my next outing.

Tally for the day (in order of appearance):
1.) Indigo Bunting
2.) Song Sparrow (vocalization only)
3.) Carolina Chickadee
4.) American Robin
5.) Scarlet Tanager
6.) Northern Cardinal
7.) Brown-Headed Cowbird
8.) Black-Throated Green Warbler
9.) Blue Jay
10.) Tufted Titmouse
11.) Common Grackle
12.) Barn Swallow
13.) American Goldfinch
14.) Cedar Waxwing
15.) Eastern Towhee
16.) Eastern Bluebird
17.) Great Blue Heron
18.) White-Throated Sparrow (vocalization only)
19.) Baltimore Oriole
20.) House Wren
21.) Chipping Sparrow
22.) Hairy Woodpecker
23.) Hooded Warbler (lifer!)
24.) Red-Bellied Woodpecker
25.) Downy Woodpecker
26.) Pileated Woodpecker
27.) White-Breasted Nuthatch
28.) Eastern Wood Pewee
29.) Northern Flicker
30.) Canada Goose
31.) Northern Rough-Winged Swallow
32.) Chimney Swift
33.) Red-Winged Blackbird
34.) Mourning Dove (vocalization only)
35.) Brown Thrasher
36.) Gray Catbird
37.) Red-Eyed Vireo (lifer!)