A Pretty Big Week

This past week on the southwestern shores of Lake Erie was an event called “The Biggest Week in American Birding.” Held at the famous Magee Marsh, all kinds of tired migrants cram into a little bottleneck of woods before they make the trip across the Great Lakes, and views of otherwise difficult to see species are up close and personal, and incredible. I wasn’t there. But I had a pretty big week of my own.

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Harris’s Sparrow

The evening of May 2nd I left the gym to discover an email from my birding friend Angie telling me that she had a Harris’s Sparrow in her yard. First thing the next morning I went over to check for the bird and found it singing in a tree by her driveway. Life bird, and first county record! Angie’s house is inside of my 5MR, so it also counts as the most improbable bird on that list to date! Angie has done a great job of turning her back yard into a wet woodland habitat, so if this bird were to pick anyone’s house to set up shop it would be hers. But this mind-blowing sighting got me wondering how many other crazy birds turn up at people’s feeders without ever getting recognized for what they are?

Magic Tree

The Magic Tree

Later in the week I met up with another birding friend, Lorenzo, to check out Franke Park again for some spring migrants. The weather was total crap with drizzle and clouds the whole morning. But the birding was magical. Photos were incredibly difficult to come by, but to give you an idea of the birdsplosion happening, take the photo above which contains four Brown Thrashers (yellow circles) and two male Rose-breasted Grosbeaks (red circles). At one point another thrasher and an Indigo Bunting were also clustered with that group at the top of the tree. We just kept giving each other “what is happening?” looks as the birds. just. kept. coming.

SCTA

Scarlet Tanager

We got tons of first-of-the-year birds, like this mellow female Scarlet Tanager and about five of her closest friends.

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Black-throated Blue Warbler

We also had double-digit warbler species, including this unabashedly confiding (and spectacularly handsome) male Black-throated Blue Warbler who was hopping around basically at our feet. He was only the second one I had ever seen.

Bad Bird Photo Quiz 2

Laughably Bad Common Loon

As I already said, photos were basically not happening. But a couple of birds on the park’s decently sized lake made me try anyway. Two Common Loons that took off and circled low before flying away represented a long-overdue state nemesis for me! I had previously seen them up and down the United States from Minnesota to Ohio to Florida, but never in my home state. If there was any day for them to finally go down, it was this day.

Tiny Wetland

Tiny Wetland

The last place we checked, just because we figured why not, was the tiny scrap of wetland behind the BMX track at the park. I usually only bother with this little parcel of swamp if I need a Red-winged Blackbird or something. It’s tiny, barely even a pond. This photo shows literally the entire thing (as well as the raindrops on my lens).

Bad Bird Photo Quiz 1

Sora!

But wouldn’t you know it, this little postage stamp of wetlands held not one but two Soras, a Marsh Wren, and a Common Yellowthroat, all birds that I had no reasonable hope of finding inside of my 5MR and that take a concerted multi-hour effort to get to at Eagle Marsh on my bike. Not today. As we were leaving, a van of people I knew from the Audubon Society pulled up, looking pretty miserable birding from their car in the rain. They informed us that is was slow going for them and they hoped we had better luck. We did.

In all, we tallied 59 species in barely two hours of birding, and my eBird checklist is here. I added two dozen new 5MR and Green birds for the year, including an additional personal county bird in White-eyed Vireo and an earliest ever county record of Willow Flycatcher for good measure. With the crazy good luck Lorenzo and I had in the morning, I continued to keep track of the species I saw later in the day and ended up at 64 without putting too much more effort into things. I will dub this day as the Accidental 5MR Big Day. The Official 5MR Big Day is yet to be had.

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Baltimore Oriole

I’m not done! Even with the steady rain and limited birding time due to family activities for Mother’s Day, my week of birds kept getting better. My jelly feeder managed to reel in only the second Baltimore Oriole I have seen from the yard, but it was merely a sign of things to come.

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Chestnut-sided Warbler in my yard

On Saturday and Sunday, a slow-moving bird tsunami swept over my yard and crushed me. Multiple singing Chestnut-sided Warblers visited the oaks around the house, which is pretty incredible because for whatever reason they are one of the harder warblers for me to get, and I hadn’t had one on my Green list since 2015. They were harbingers of a current of warblers so strong as to be almost unbelievable. Along with Chestnut-sided, I had Nashville, Tennessee, Black-throated Green, Northern Parula, Blackburnian, and Blue-winged Warblers all singing in and around my yard over the weekend, and I probably missed a few.

SCTA

Another Scarlet Tanager

Two pretty bad Scarlet Tanager photos in the same post? Why yes, yes because this one was also in my yard. It shared the same tree with a Blackburnian Warbler, which seems to be a pretty consistent combo for me. Does anyone else seem to get Blackburnian Warbler at the same time they get Scarlet Tanager?

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Least Flycatcher

The storm finally petered out with a muted Least Flycatcher as the last new bird in the yard, but it was still a new one for the year on my 5MR (currently at 107) and Green (currently at 105) lists. In all, I added six entirely new species to my yard list this weekend to arrive at a 25-month total of 75 species.

In my last post I said I thought I had gotten a sign of good things to come. Turns out I was right, but I hope I haven’t cashed in all of my birding karma yet. 5MR Big Day coming on May 15th! Stay tuned!

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The End of a Yard List

I haven’t posted in a while because I have moved. I am still in Fort Wayne, but as of yesterday Grosbeak Gardens has officially ended its run as the location of my yard list among many other things. Because it was so awesome of a home (with some more background on that here), I feel as though a Greatest Hits list of yard birds is in order. All photos below were taken in my old yard.

First, the namesake:

RBGR

Rose-breasted Grosbeak

Rose-breasted Grosbeaks were the only grosbeak ever in the yard, but they made an annual appearance, and they were a hit with all members of the household.

Rose-Breasted Grosbeak

Eleanor

The first one showed up around Mother’s Day of 2013, and her name was Eleanor. She showed up daily for about two weeks and became a minor celebrity.

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Owlbert

Other named visitors included Owlbert the Barred Owl, shown here perched in our front ash tree right around Christmas last year. He (or she) was at least two owls who were very vocal every winter and spring we lived in the house. I last heard Owlbert the night before we moved, which was a relief since there was no trace of him for a few weeks after I recorded Great Horned Owl in his favorite spruce trees earlier in the year.

Northern Cardinal

Jim

We also had Jim the cardinal. Any and every male cardinal was Jim. Our high count of Jims was eight at one time. Jim and his wife Pam nested in our magnolia tree the first summer we lived in the house. Pam laid three eggs, two of which hatched, and one of which fledged.

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Rested-bread Nuthatch

We also had a troupe of Rested-bread Nuthatches, of which Walter was quite fond because I got so excited when they showed up for two consecutive winters. The high count was three at once last fall, and the birds at my feeders who would stash seeds in my neighbor’s carport roof represented my green ticks in 2015, 2016, and 2017.

Scarlet Tanager

Scarlet Tanager

One spring morning in 2014 I woke up to the song of a Scarlet Tanager directly out my bedroom window. I ran outside to chase it down the street as it hopped from tree to tree eating wasps. This was probably my favorite one-timer yard bird.

Cape May Warbler

Cape May Warbler

Also in 2014 was a flock of Cape May Warblers foraging in the spruces. I was watching football, and movement caught my eye. I found three of these birds, which were traveling through Indiana very late in October. I saw some again in the spruces last year, and those two sightings are my only two for the county.

Swainson's Thrush

Swainson’s Thrush

Swainson’s Thrushes also stopped by a few times to check in. One morning after a storm there was a fallout of Swainsons in the neighborhood, with individuals running in the street and eating out of the leaf litter in the gutters like robins.

Yard NOPA

Northern Parula

Once when I was grilling in the back yard an aggressively territorial Northern Parula came by to inspect. I was deemed unworthy, and it did not come back.

#117 Least Flycatcher

Least Flycatcher

Also in the one-hit wonder category was a Least Flycatcher who appeared soon after we moved in.

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Broad-winged Hawk

In the same vein was Broad-winged Hawk, although in this case the one-hit was a kettle of about 200 birds swirling overhead.

Sandhill Cranes

Sandhill Cranes

Sandhill Cranes also played the flyover card, but only a couple times a year and never consistently. Some times they showed up in March, other times in December or January. They always evoked great happiness with their bugling, however. Unfortunately, I never had a Whooping Crane mixed in.

Final stats for the yard are 72 species observed, with the first being a Jim on April 30, 2013 and the last new species being an Eastern Phoebe on March 25, 2017. I had eight warbler species, four woodpeckers, three flycatchers, two owls, four hawks, three wrens, three thrushes, and two chickadees. The ‘best’ yard bird was probably Yellow-billed Cuckoo, the ‘worst’ definitely House Sparrow, most surprising the flyover Double-crested Cormorants, and my personal favorite Scarlet Tanager (my spark bird after all). Owlbert was the biggest celebrity, with my neighborhood association dubbing him the unofficial mascot for a time. The most obvious birds that I never saw in my yard were Eastern Bluebird despite that they were all over my neighborhood, Red-winged Blackbird, or Killdeer in at least a flyover fashion.

My new yard, which as of now is unnamed, is already playing catch up. But after three days it boasts 11 species, and I am looking forward to seeing what ends up on the list.

The Yard List

On Saturday I set out for Fox Island early to try and pump up my list with more spring migrants. I was lucky enough to encounter a group from the Stockbridge Audubon Society conducting a bird survey, and I got to hike with them for several hours. I got ten new year birds, including one lifer: #107 Indigo Bunting, #108 Chestnut-Sided Warbler, #109 Brown Thrasher, #110 Yellow Warbler, #111 Magnolia Warbler, #112 American Redstart, #113 Ruby-Throated Hummingbird, #114 White-Crowned Sparrow (finally!), #115 Green Heron, and #116 and life bird Great Crested Flycatcher.

#111 Magnolia Warbler

#111 Magnolia Warbler

As evidenced by the fact that this was my best shot of a year bird, it was a poor day for photos with very overcast skies scattering all of the light.

Baltimore Oriole

Baltimore Oriole

Not even the easily seen birds got good photos.

Despite the poor picture quality, it was a great weekend for birds, and they just kept on coming once I got home. In Indianapolis, our “yard” was more or less a parking strip separating our house from 51st Street. In Fort Wayne, we have much more suitable habitat, which helps quite a bit.

The New Back Yard

The New Back Yard

We have extensive cover that includes a row of pine trees that screen us from our neighbors to the west, which I think actually does more to attract the birdies than our feeder and bath.

Rose-Breasted Grosbeak

Rose-Breasted Grosbeak

This is Eleanor the Rose-Breasted Grosbeak. She is one of the happy denizens of our new home and has been frequenting the sunflower seed offered by the new feeder that was sent as a housewarming gift by my sister. She has been hanging around for three days now. We have seen a male only briefly; he made a hovering approach for about two seconds this morning, and we were lucky enough to see him while eating breakfast, but he darted away and has disappeared, not to be seen since. Eleanor is cool, but I hope her gentleman caller comes back.

#116 Great Crested Flycatcher

#116 Great Crested Flycatcher

The first morning we observed Eleanor, I saw a pale yellow flicker in the pine trees out of the corner of my eye. After running to get my binoculars, I was able to check Great Crested Flycatcher off of our yard list, not more than 24 hours after checking it off of my life list. I think it’s pretty amazing that we have logged this species in the yard before things like House Finch and White-Breasted Nuthatch.

#117 Least Flycatcher

#117 Least Flycatcher

Yesterday was Flycatcher day at the Majewski homestead, as this small bird appeared just after the Great Crested made its appearance. I originally thought it was a Phoebe, but after a closer look through binoculars and some painful deliberation in my field guide, I concluded Least Flycatcher. People on Facebook agreed, and I ticked this species off both the year list and the yard list at the same time. Here’s hoping that the next yard birds will be Vermillion and Scissor-Tailed Flycatchers. One can hope, right?

Commoners at Holliday Park

I went out on Saturday to see what I could before heading up to Fort Wayne for the weekend. Though there wasn’t a whole lot going on, I did get a lifer (Least Flycatcher) and some decent photos of common birds I hadn’t previously spent much time trying to photograph. I ended the morning with 30 species, which are documented on eBird.

Least Flycatcher

Least Flycatcher

This Least Flycatcher was performing some impressive aerial acrobatics. Luckily, he kept returning to the same perch so I was ready with my camera. These birds are one of the genus Empidonax, which consists of approximately 900 billion species of flycatchers that all look exactly alike. I have complained about this before on this blog, but these birds in particular look EXACTLY ALIKE. I was only able to identify this one because I had such a close look at it (to see that it’s grayness was more gray than the similarly gray Willow, Alder, Acadian, and Yellow-Bellied Flycatchers), and its habitat matched that of the Least as described in Peterson, plus they are apparently the most common of the eastern flycatchers.

Red-Bellied Woodpecker

Red-Bellied Woodpecker

After being infuriated by the flycatcher ID’s, I was able to calm down with some very, very easy birds. Take for instance this very inaccurately named Red-Bellied Woodpecker.

Hairy Woodpecker

Hairy Woodpecker

And this Hairy Woodpecker. It can be distinguished from its very similar cousin the Downy Woodpecker by the fact that it actually has a beak and not just a tiny nub.

White-Breasted Nuthatch

White-Breasted Nuthatch

I like nuthatches, like this White-Breasted Nuthatch, a lot because they behave so ridiculously and have really goofy calls that sound like the Martians from Mars Attacks.

American Goldfinch

American Goldfinch

There were about 30 billion American Goldfinches swooping around the park, and all of them had shed their yellow for their basic plumage. But this one let me get close!

Yellow-Rumped Warbler

Yellow-Rumped Warbler

Speaking of basic plumage, the reason this Yellow-Rumped Warbler is not sporting his is because this photo is actually from the spring of 2007. I did see a Yellow-Rumped this past weekend, but I found this picture on my computer and want an excuse to post it because it’s way better than the one I got on Saturday.