Green 5MR Big Day 2019

I have done big green days in the past, but since green birding pairs so nicely with 5MRing, I decided this year that I would combine the two. I planned way less than I did in the past, woke up later, traveled less total distance, hit fewer spots, and had a great day because of it.

On a perfectly sunny Wednesday when all of my co-workers went down to watch Indy 500 time trials (not my bag), I set out at 7:00am to meet Lorenzo at Franke Park, much like we did last time with such a great outcome.

NOMO

Northern Mockingbird

Right as I arrived, Lorenzo texted me to let me know that he was looking at a Northern Mockingbird. This bird achieves trash bird status in much of the east, but north of the Wabash River it is vanishingly uncommon. This was only the second one I have seen in Allen County (the first was two years ago, also on a big green day, but not in my 5MR), so it was a great way to start things off.

OROR

Orchard Oriole

This male Orchard Oriole was foraging nearby the mockingbird. This was again a bird I see very infrequently, making it just the second time I have seen one on my green list.

BTGW

Black-throated Green Warbler

There is a gravel road that cuts through Franke Park, and it is usually one of the most popular places to bird because it creates a nice edge habitat. But that day the road itself was actually a pretty big hit with the birds. It had rained most of the preceding week so there were lots of puddles. This Black-throated Green Warbler used one pretty efficiently, flying down to drink not more than 20 feet in front of us.

WOTH

Wood Thrush

Perhaps more interestingly, a Wood Thrush was also hanging out on the road. Usually a dense forest skulker, seeing one totally exposed like this was novel.

WIWA

Wilson’s Warbler

In contrast, a Wilson’s Warbler worked the low shrubs in a way that was appropriate for its species.

BLWA

Blackburnian Warbler

Meanwhile, a small flock of several Blackburnian Warblers stuck to the treetops. I should mention that every bird listed so far was crammed into a stretch of woods no longer than about 25 yards. The birdies were densely packed, and it was great.

RBNU

Red-breasted Nuthatch

Eventually things settled down as the sun warmed things up, so we headed into the forest to try and keep things going. A Red-breasted Nuthatch was still partying despite the lateness of the season. Not late enough to make eBird mad, but I did have another one three days later that tripped the filter.

GWWA

Golden-winged Warbler

So you have seen the photo above I assume, but I should stress that by far the most common bird was American Redstart. I had close to two dozen of them to the point where we assumed most of the small warbler-shaped birds we were seeing were Redstarts. I admit that I was getting lazy and really only stopping to look if something was in great light or singing a new song. So when Lorenzo peered at a tiny silent speck across the creek way high up in dense leaves and said “Oh hey, that’s a Golden-winged Warbler,” it was the highlight of the day to that point. It was a county bird for both of us, and while not rare, they are definitely not numerous, especially considering the population declines they are suffering and their fondness for mating with Blue-winged Warblers instead of their own kind. On top of it all I somehow also managed a diagnostic photo too.

Lindenwood

Lindenwood Nature Preserve

I finally left Franke after three hours and a total of 64 species. My next stop was to the Lindenwood Nature Preserve, near the edge of my circle west of town. Somehow I had never birded this place before, but it immediately proved fruitful. I gained Veery, Ovenbird, and Ruby-throated Hummingbird as new birds for the day, and I listened to two dozen or more Tennessee Warblers all singing from the treetops around me. The chorus was unreal.

This preserve is completely forested save for a small lake in the middle, and everything was a total mud pit, but that seemed to be great for the birds. As I was finishing one of the loop trails and about to head to my next destination, the best bird of the stop called from somewhere far off in the trees: Pileated Woodpecker! That was a bird that was totally unexpected for my 5MR, and one I hadn’t even gotten onto my green list in the past two years. Hearing it was definitely one of the best highlights of the morning.

Around 11:30 I rode east into downtown, following the river but adding no new birds. My plan was to eat lunch at a plaza and wait for Peregrine Falcon and Rock Pigeon to fly by. I didn’t get either, but Chimney Swift was a bird that had thus far eluded me. When I started riding to my next destination, I suddenly had a huge problem with shifting and realized that I was totally unable to coast. Thankfully, one of Fort Wayne’s better bike shops has two locations downtown, and after visiting the first one to learn that my rear freewheel was totally shot (and picking up a flyover Peregrine), I made it a couple blocks to the second one where they had the necessary part. I was back on the trail less than half an hour after I first broke down. Thanks, Fort Wayne Outfitters!

Next, I traced the river greenway eastward to the southeastern boundary of my 5MR, stopping briefly to pick up easy birds in Turkey Vulture, Cliff Swallow, and Carolina Chickadee. I was approaching 80 species and had tapped out most of the potential for new birds in my mostly urbanized and riparian 5MR, so venturing out this way was strategic for getting my only shot at open country birds.

Fluddle

New Haven Fluddle

Waaay out on the edge of my circle, almost to the adjacent city of New Haven, was an area I had been wanting to check out because it held low-lying fields along the river. With the rain we had been getting, I thought it might be a good place to stop and look for shorebirds. My hunch was correct!

AMPI & LESA

American Pipit with Least Sandpipers

Prior to that point, my only shorebird had been Killdeer. Franke Park is usually good for at least a Spotted Sandpiper if nothing else, but I struck out there earlier. However, this field held not only Spotted Sandpiper, but Lesser Yellowlegs and Least Sandpipers too. Those weren’t the best find, though. Foraging in the mud with them was a lone and very, very late American Pipit! I was stoked to see this bird, because it was even further off my 5MR radar than the Pileated Woodpecker was, and this was only my second time seeing one in Allen County. And on top of it all, it seems to be the latest ever spring record in eBird for my county.

This will be a field I continue to check out, and biking seems to be the best way to do it because the road is narrow with a steep drop-off on the shoulder. Pulling over in a car would be impractical, so score one for the bike.

MOWA

Mourning Warbler

The other good thing about that field is that it is right across the river from the Deetz Nature Preserve, a property I had only birded once before but that yielded a good list. A nearby bridge made visiting this next stop pretty simple, and I made it there around 1:30 and with a day list of 79 species. Before the day began, I determined that 80 would be a respectable number, so I was eager to get my next new bird. It was getting hot and things were quiet in the early afternoon, so I wasn’t sure what it would be, although I still hadn’t come across some easy things like Belted Kingfisher or Field Sparrow. So it was an immense surprise when I flushed a Mourning Warbler out of the low brush to make that 80-species milestone, and this bird was a lifer to boot!

COYE

Common Yellowthroat

Instead of a peak, however, number 80 was just a sign of things to come. The brushy field on the western edge of the preserve gave me several new birds in rapid succession. I include this photo of a Common Yellowthroat not only because it was a new bird, but because while I was pressing the shutter a tremendous crashing noise just feet away from me made me jump up out of my skin. When I recovered I expected to look over and see a deer, but instead it was a Wild Turkey, yet another totally unexpected bird for the day! Then, to close out my visit, I ended with Field Sparrow to make it up to 83 species.

5MR-Green Big Day - 05.15.19

My 5MR and Big Day route

I got home around 4:00 to have dinner and get in some play time with the kids before heading out again for one final push around 7:00. I made the short trip to Purdue to look for Eastern Kingbird, which I got immediately, along with a bonus late Palm Warbler. Then I rode through Johnny Appleseed Park to finally get what would be my last new bird of the day in Belted Kingfisher.

After riding 40 miles as detailed by the red line on the map above, I ended the day at 89 species. This was quite a few more than I hoped for, and substantially better than the 77 I logged in a similar attempt two years ago where I traveled much further from home. Of my 89, I had 18 warblers, and of those warblers, one was my county Golden-winged, and one was my lifer Mourning. I logged a ton of species that I thought I had no chance at, chiefly Pileated Woodpecker, American Pipit, Wild Turkey, and one or two more sandpipers than I thought.

However, I did still have some obvious holes in the list. First and foremost was Rock Pigeon. I also was pretty thin on raptors and should have picked up Cooper’s Hawk, but it was not to be, and I also still haven’t had Common Nighthawk at all this year. If I had more time (or if I spent less time looking for migrants in the morning), I could have also maybe turned up some more grassland species like Horned Lark or Eastern Meadowlark. But in the end, I think the day was a huge success all things considered. With maybe a bit more planning and an amount of luck equal to what I had this year, I think 100 is totally possible for this particular 5MR. I’ll have to see what future outings hold! In any case, I ended the day with 130 total year-to-date species for my 5MR, and 128 for my green list.

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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.

Quartet.JPG

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.

PUMA.JPG

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.

COGA.JPG

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.

PESA.JPG

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.

DSCN4039

Least Sandpiper

The shorebirds kept coming, and next on the buffet was Least Sandpiper.

SOSA3.JPG

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.

SPSA.JPG

Spotted Sandpiper

Continuing a theme, I present to you: Spotted Sandpiper.

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Killdeer

And a Killdeer, because why not?

Mess with CATE.JPG

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.

BOGU.JPG

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?

This Isn’t As Hard As I Thought It Would Be

Two years ago when Walter was born, Jaime and I felt morally obligated to sit around and look at him for 21.5 hours a day (with the other 2.5 being reserved for sleep, of course). Alice was born on August 2nd, and with other stuff to worry about, we are kind of laughing about how much we stressed over this whole having kids thing. In fact, I have been birding (and lepping) with regular frequency lately. I am of course aided by synchronized napping from the kids and the fact that I took a bunch of time off work. But my prediction of not being able to continue birding very much has been mostly wrong.

Lesser Yellowlegs

Lesser Yellowlegs

I biked to Eagle Marsh today with the primary objective of getting some badly needed shorebirds on my motorless list. With receding waters and mild weather I was rewarded greatly. This Lesser Yellowlegs was only the first new bird of the day.

American Avocet

American Avocet

Well hello there, small flock of Ring-Billed Gulls. Why are some of you smaller with a rusty wash on your skinny necks? And what’s the deal with those funky bills? Oh, it’s because you are actually American Avocets? That’s cool. State bird! I only lifered AMAV earlier this year during my trip to Lake Erie, and I did not expect to find them in Fort Wayne, let alone motorless. I won’t pretend that I didn’t know these birds were here and set out with them in mind, but prior to seeing the report the previous evening, I was still intending to go to Eagle Marsh for some shorebirding, so I like to think I would have found them on my own anyway. Even still, these will compete fiercely with Black-Bellied Whistling Duck for Best Bird of the Year. They are an unquestionably solid bird anywhere in Indiana, especially away from the big ticket hot spots in the southern part of the state or on Lake Michigan.

Least Sandpiper

Least Sandpiper

The good shorebirds kept coming, with some shockingly un-skittish Least Sandpipers that gave me great looks and somehow were also new county birds for me. The decurved bills are pronounced on these birds, which is a field mark I don’t think gets mentioned enough.

Spotted Sandpiper

Spotted Sandpiper

Also joining the shorebird party was this juvenile Spotted Sandpiper. In all, I left the day with four new birds for the list, putting me at 113 for the year without motor. But I saw more cool stuff recently, too.

Eastern Tiger Swallowtail

Eastern Tiger Swallowtail

I have been kind of obsessed with butterflies lately. Since I started photographing them earlier this summer I have learned a ton. And am getting better able to ID them, like knowing that the supposed Pipevine Swallowtail I talked about in the last post is actually a black morph of the Eastern Tiger Swallowtail, whose normal colors were represented by this stunning female that visited my yard a few days ago.

Red-Spotted Purple

Red-Spotted Purple

I went to Foster Park for two consecutive days just to look for butterflies, and I began to revisit species I have previously seen. But I spent more time trying to get photos that do them justice. Here is a Red-Spotted Purple, the species that got me hooked.

Monarch

Monarch

I just posted a Monarch recently, but unlike before this photo isn’t blurry.

Silver-Spotted Skipper

Silver-Spotted Skipper

I am only just now starting to learn about Skippers, which I understand to be like the butterfly version of Empidonax flycatchers only way, way worse.

Hackberry Emperor

Hackberry Emperor

If I ever have a successful career making hip-hop music, my stage name will be Hackberry Emperor.

Summer Azure

Summer Azure

This is a Summer Azure, aka Tiny, Tiny Coked-Up Spazmotron. Good lord was this thing hard to photograph.

Clouded Sulphur

Clouded Sulphur

Again with the tricky IDs… I am confident this is a Clouded Sulphur, despite their many dopplegangers.

Cabbage White

Cabbage White

From what I understand, Cabbage Whites are the House Sparrows of the butterfly world.

Tawny-Edged Skipper

Tawny-Edged Skipper

Here is another Skipper, this one Tawny-Edged and photographed with my phone.

Eight-Spotted Forester

Eight-Spotted Forester

Sharing the same flower was an Eight-Spotted Forester (only three spots pictured), which I guess is actually a moth. There are a lot of moths. I am not sure I want to go down that rabbit hole yet.

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!)