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?

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Manicured Lawn (but not yard) Birds

There is not much for a birder to do in the early part of late summer in Indiana. Sure, we could all play around with that new eBird feature and make a birder profile (Friend me! Wait, what do you mean you can’t do that?). But there are some birds to be found. So, following cues from fellow Hoosier the Bushwhacking Birder, I have recently been checking out the soccer fields that I pass by every day on my way to and from work in the hope for some good grasspipers.

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Killdeer

“Good” in this case is subjective. But Killdeer sure are interesting to look at in the pre-migration September heat when there is little else around. If they weren’t so common and so obnoxious, I think I could really get to like the Northern Screaming Plover.

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Horned Lark

Mixed in with my plover friends have been some birds that I might have expected but am still getting used to seeing outside of winter. Horned Larks are easy to come by in the Midwest just about anywhere where there are empty fields. But in the summer when they are hidden or pushed out by the appearance of crops, they can become scarce. I suppose the soccer fields of the Fort Wayne Sport Club have just enough weedy edges to attract this dapper mustachioed lover of the prairie.

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Another Killdeer

Same bird, markedly different grass. This lime green expanse of fescue can be found at the Lebanon Sod Farm just northwest of Indianapolis. Being in the area recently, I had to stop by. This pristine turf isn’t just measured in acres. We are talking mile after square mile of perfectly verdant soon-to-be-golfed-on grass.

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What’s this?

As I counted Killdeer, I saw a smaller, darker form marching stoically toward me across this prosthetic prairie.

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Buff-breasted Sandpiper

A lifer Buff-breasted Sandpiper had graced me with its presence. These shortgrass specialists are regular but uncommon visitors to Indiana as they migrate. We are on the severe eastern side of their flight path as they head south, so it is notable whenever a few stop by. Finding this bird (followed closely by a second) in the huge expanse of grass with no optics, limited time to be out birding, looking into the sun, and behind a bunch of heat distortion, I think I did pretty well.

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Combo!

To celebrate, I will post this tri-species combo shot. Because everybody loves combos. And they are all foraging in the short grass, so it is relevant, okay? Note: the MODO got exploded by a Cooper’s Hawk a little while after I took this.

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Hobomok Skipper?

We have now reached the portion of the blog called “photo dump.” I think this is a Hobomok Skipper. That’s fun to say.

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Peck’s Skipper?

I think this one is a Peck’s Skipper. If I am right, both are liferflies. Sorry about all of the butterflies, but they are just so easy to photograph, and they’re all still new. With any luck, I will be adding birds to the dormant green list again soon.

Business Casual Birding

My new job has me frequently traversing the state and going into small communities in far-flung Indiana counties. Yesterday, I had to attend a town council meeting in an incredibly rural area whose entire county has less people living in it than my neighborhood. But few people generally means more birds. So I took the opportunity to go to the nearby Pine Creek Game Bird Habitat, which was only 20 minutes out of my way, even on gravel roads.

Pine Creek

Pine Creek

Pine Creek is in the heart of windmill country. Don Quixote would quickly meet his match here. Being totally surrounded by these enormous, silent, and spinning monoliths is kind of creepy. But the birding was superb, even if I was dressed to do business. It doesn’t hurt if you have some dirt on your shoes in these salt-of-the-earth farm towns.

Killdeer Klaxon

Killdeer Klaxon

Pine Creek is a haven for pheasants and other grassland birds, but at this time of the year the highlight was the mostly dry marsh. Shore birds were myriad but guarded by screaming hordes of Killdeer who wouldn’t let me sneak up on anything.

Wilson's Snipe

Wilson’s Snipe

Thankfully, not everyone was as quick on the uptake as the Killdeer. Despite screaming and taking off in alarm and causing the whole damn mudflat to fly off, not everyone knew what they were running from. Case in point: this Wilson’s Snipe landed about 20 feet from me when things calmed down.

You can't see me

You can’t see me

I am not used to seeing snipe as stretched out as that. This one was doing a much better job looking like it was supposed to.

White-Rumped Sandpiper

Dunlin

Giving me some ID trouble were this group of Dunlin.

American Pipit

American Pipit

American Pipit gave me a life bird. 99% of the time I go birding alone, so one time I was kind of taken aback when a more experienced birder referred to this bird as “pipp-it,” which sounds silly to me. I had always assumed it was pronounced “pipe-it.” Which one is correct?

Gray-Cheeked Thrush

Gray-Cheeked Thrush

And now to totally switch gears, this bird was seen at Foster Park last weekend. Gray-Cheeked Thrush is motorless bird #131 on the year.

Ruby-Crowned Kinglet

Ruby-Crowned Kinglet

Foster also held a sizeable flock of Ruby-Crowned Kinglets, which at first I thought were hummingbirds. No fewer than three individual birds were sporadically hovering at the tips of those little flowers, doing who knows what. This is a behavior I have never seen in these birds, and enough of them were doing it to make me feel like I am missing out on something.

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I also came across this scene from Breaking Bad. I will just stop now.

Opening a Can of Worms (or Caterpillars)

Over Memorial Day Weekend, I got on the bike and rode to Eagle Marsh to check out some wetland habitat that I hadn’t had the chance to visit yet while motorless.

Prothonotary Warbler

Prothonotary Warbler

On the way there, I had to ride through Foster Park, which was not a total bummer since I got to spend some quality time with a loudly singing Prothonotary Warbler.

Foster Park Foot Bridge

Foster Park Foot Bridge

Eye-level warbler action is made possible at Foster by the presence of a foot bridge that I have mentioned here before. Please reference above how it enters the tree canopy at approximately 20 feet in height. Gary Fisher the bike is posed for scale. This may be the park’s best attribute in spring.

Stained Canada Goose

Stained Canada Goose

Once at Eagle Marsh, I was somewhat disappointed by the lack of diversity, even though I picked up motorless birds #95-97 (Double-Crested Cormorant, Tree Swallow, and Willow Flycatcher). I didn’t get many photos, save for this Canada Goose that shows some hideous stains on its should-be-white chinstrap that I am guessing are the result of wastewater from the adjacent landfill. Gross.

Killdeer

Killdeer

A Killdeer was also there, so I took its picture.

Red-Spotted Purple

Red-Spotted Purple

With little happening, I started paying attention to non-bird things. I hadn’t intended to feature this butterfly image on my blog, but I had to know what it was. I immediately felt like I did when I first began birding, and with no knowledge or other resources to turn to, I began Googling “butterfly identification,” “common butterflies,” and “Indiana butterflies.” This course of action is totally frowned upon for beginners in the birding circle, but when you’re sitting in your basement looking at photos without a butterfly field guide, it has to do. This Red-Spotted Purple (I didn’t even notice the red spots until after I learned what it was) is the first butterfly I have ever identified. Boom. My butterfly life list now stands at a solid 1.

Eastern Bluebird

Eastern Bluebird

With the butterfly itch scratched, I returned to Foster Park the next day to find things as slow as the day before. I did pick up motorless bird #98 (Acadian Flycatcher, and may I add that being 2 birds away from my goal is killing me. I am now taking bets for what species #100 will be), but spent my time taking pictures of common thrushes. Case in point, male Eastern Bluebird.

American Robin Fledgling

American Robin Fledgling

Case in point again, fledgling American Robin who is still bespotted.

Larger Blue Flag

Larger Blue Flag

With the lack of avian activity, my camera began to drift again. I found a cool flower by the river and took its picture. But the ID itch came back, and I now know after Gooling “wildflower identification” that this is a Larger Blue Flag, one of about a half dozen names for the plant that Wikipedia tells me about.

Butterflies and flowers seem to be the next go-to subjects for birders with wandering eyes (I am not messing with dragonflies). I am not honestly sure if this weekend sparked a new obsession or not, but at the very least now I have additional lists to keep, because listing is cool, right?

February 23rd Update

It is bitterly cold outside, which is seriously ruining my ability to see waterfowl close to home. The only bodies of water that are not frozen are the big reservoirs, so I decided to hit a few this morning. My first stop was the Scott Starling Sanctuary just to the north of Eagle Creek.

#053 Killdeer

#053 Killdeer

Bird-wise, there wasn’t much exciting going on except for my first Killdeer of the year. He was running around on the frozen mud looking like he was thinking about what a huge mistake he made coming back up north this early.

Coyote

Coyote

But, the non-avian fauna was pretty impressive. I stumbled upon two surprised coyotes rooting around in a field. In the past year, I have come across quite a few coyotes, and they are always cool to see. I think it is especially interesting that they get so close to the central city of a place as big as Indianapolis.

Red-Tailed Hawk

Red-Tailed Hawk

While we’re on the subject of apex predators, I also saw this Red-Tailed Hawk at the Eagle Creek Reservoir. I went with intentions of finding some ducks or maybe non-Canada Geese, but was happy to see this fellow surveying his domain instead. I usually only see Red-Tails on the side of the highway as I speed by at 70 miles per hour, so to actually stop and get a good look was nice.

 

Drought

Indiana is taking a beating from the summer. We have had about a dozen 100+ degree days, and maybe four times that many 90+ with almost no rain on top of it all. This has resulted in burn bans, watering bans, and fireworks bans throughout the state. Grass is crispy and water levels are low. But this last part made Eagle Creek Reservoir a jackpot for shorebirds this past weekend, as receding water lines have exposed acres and acres of mudflats that offer a smorgasbord of arthropods and mollusks for them. Mmm.

I am sure that I observed more than two lifer varieties of sandpiper, but I was only able to positively identify two of them. I recently read a book that said there are three levels of birding proficiency: the first is when you can start to identify warblers, the second is when you can start to identify birds of prey, and the third is when you can start to identify sandpipers. This outing put me uncomfortably into Level-3 birding. There are approximately 72 million species of sandpiper, and they all look exactly alike.

Least Sandpiper

Least Sandpiper

This Least Sandpiper was my first lifer of the day. I was able to positively identify it thanks to the convenient fact that sandpipers exist in three sizes: small, medium, and large. The Least is the only small sized sandpiper with yellow legs. Check. Also, the lady with the spotting scope observing it from ten yards away told me it was a Least Sandpiper.

Solitary Sandpiper

Solitary Sandpiper

This Solitary Sandpiper, lifer number two on the day, only slightly more difficult. Probably because I was looking across the water and taking pictures of everything that moved, 100% not sure of what they were. These are what birders call “LBJ’s,” short for Little Brown Jobs. When I got home, this Solitary was actually not too bad to ID though, because it is the only medium-sized sandpiper with a full white eye ring (click the picture to zoom and you can see it). Also, I looked on eBird to find that Solitaries had indeed been sighted at Eagle Creek that day.

Killdeer

Killdeer

Also present at the reservoir was this Killdeer, which is a plover and not a sandpiper, and one of approximately three trillion at Eagle Creek on Saturday. I have seen many, many Killdeer before, and although there are quite a few types of plovers out there, they are easy to identify because of their characteristic call, the double black ring around their neck, and the fact that they are likely the only plover you will ever see away from huge lakes or the ocean.

Ring-Billed Gull

Ring-Billed Gull

This flock of seagulls was not playing 80s new wave music, but they were easy to identify as Ring-Billed Gulls because they are gulls with rings around their bills.

Yellow Warbler

Yellow Warbler

It was also a pretty decent day for passerine birds as well. This female Yellow Warbler was chowing down on a moth.

American Crow

American Crow

Likewise, this American Crow feasted on the remains of a catfish. Mmm.

I had 37 species on the day:
1.) White-Breasted Nuthatch (vocalization)
2.) American Robin
3.) Red-Eyed Vireo (vocalization)
4.) Tufted Titmouse (vocalization)
5.) Carolina Chickadee
6.) Eastern Wood Pewee (vocalization)
7.) Eastern Towhee (vocalization)
8.) Blue Jay
9.) Northern Cardinal
10.) Gray Catbird
11.) Canada Goose
12.) American Goldfinch
13.) Indigo Bunting (vocalization)
14.) American Crow
15.) Song Sparrow
16.) Double-Crested Cormorant
17.) Great Blue Heron
18.) Belted Kingfisher
19.) Mallard
20.) Barn Swallow
21.) Mourning Dove
22.) Northern Rough-Winged Swallow
23.) Willow Flycatcher (vocalization)
24.) Chimney Swift
25.) Eastern Kingbird
26.) Yellow Warbler
27.) Killdeer
28.) Cedar Waxwing
29.) American Coot
30.) Great Egret
31.) Least Sandpiper (lifer!)
32.) Red-Winged Blackbird
33.) Blue-Gray Gnatcatcher
34.) Downy Woodpecker
35.) Ring-Billed Gull
36.) Spotted Sandpiper
37.) Solitary Sandpiper (lifer!)