Two Thirds Plus Three

On Sunday I rode out to Eagle Marsh to play mop-up duty on shorebirds. Of the possibilities, the two Yellowlegses were the most obvious outstanding omissions from my green list.

Continental Divide

Continental Divide

In the last year and a half there was some serious earthwork at Eagle Marsh. Some of it was to repair infrastructure damaged from flooding, some of it was habitat restoration, and some of it was to control invasive Asian Carp. Eagle Marsh is on the last line of defense for the Great Lakes, with the fish reaching the property but no farther. The newly opened Continental Divide trail meanders along high ground in between the two watersheds, with carp on the Mississippi side but not the Great Lakes side. Spillways between levees have chain link fences projecting over the high water mark to physically prevent the fish from making the jump.

BEKI

Belted Kingfisher

Even with such high stakes, this Belted Kingfisher was not interested in following anyone’s rules. Punk.

BAEA

Bald Eagle

Meanwhile in the other watershed, I wondered if the possibility of a clumsy eagle dropping its dinner over the berm could be the proverbial straw on the camel’s back?

GBHE1

Great Blue Heron

The birds didn’t seem to bother with such questions. As always, it was all about food. Usually skittish, this Great Blue Heron did not care at all about how close I was.

GBHE2

The definition of potential energy

It slowly crouched into a striking position and waited patiently as fish rippled around in the water.

GRYE

Yellowlegs

The heron had much more patience than I did. While it watched for lunch, I turned my camera to the mud behind it to try and get one of those Lesser/Greater Yellowlegs comparison shots. This is the best I could do. But both birds were had, so they officially gave me a new green year personal record and only two thirds of the way through the year. Woo!

GBHE3

Lunch

Meanwhile, the heron made its catch, the action of which I missed. It didn’t appear to be a carp either. Bummer. At least it was a substantial meal.

LEYE

Lesser Yellowlegs

So back to shorebirds I turned. I could not turn any of the Yellowlegs into Stilt Sandpipers, and try as I might, I could not turn any of the Leasts into Semipalmateds.

EAKI

Eastern Kingbird

So in an uncharacteristic move for Eagle Marsh, I got distracted by passerines. A small flock of young kingbirds bravely defended their tree from a Cedar Waxwing.

PHVI

Warbling Vireo

But they totally didn’t care about this bird. In my field notes I wrote this down as ‘vireo sp.’ Then I convinced myself it was a Tennessee Warbler. Following that, some spirited discussion on Facebook had a couple of experts whose word I trust very highly call it a Philadelphia Vireo which would have been a county bird. But the final verdict, I believe, is Warbling Vireo. Even with those dark lores, the overall coloration and shape of the bird make it the most boring possibility.

GRHE

Green Heron

A bird with no possible conflict of identity was this Green Heron.

AMMI

American Mink

The heron was hunting the exact same stretch of water as a sneaky American Mink, which was the last thing I saw before heading home.

I mounted my bike and started riding home on the towpath trail, but then I remembered that I still had an uneaten Cliff bar with me. I pulled over and as I was eating a weird song erupted out of the brush very close to the trail and to my right. I recognized the song which sounded like a DJ scratching records, but it took me a moment to place it. Bell’s Vireo! Talk about a right-place-right-time bird. I managed this cell phone video to catch a little bit of the song (if you can hear it over the shrillness of the insects). BEVI is regular but uncommon in Allen County, with only a handful of records each year. I had heard this species twice before at Eagle Marsh, but it was totally off my radar as a possibility on my ride that day. This was definitely a bird only made possible by biking, since there would not have been reason for me to be in that area if I drove.

RSHA 08.24.17

Red-shouldered Hawk

The weekend was incredibly productive even from home, where a Red-shouldered Hawk was sitting on a utility pole across the street when I got home from work on Thursday. This yard bird was also new for the green list this year, meaning that it plus my three additions on Saturday give me 146 species, and it’s still only August. I could count up the four most glaring holes in my list to put me at the ever-elusive 150 mark, but I don’t want to jinx it. Let’s just say that most wanted #1 rhymes with “Fileated Hoodpecker.”

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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.

What I did on my spring vacation

After the most insane several weeks of work in my life, I took off a couple of days and pointed my car eastward. My destination: the swamps of Lake Erie in northwest Ohio. My goal: warblers! I camped out at Maumee Bay State Park in Oregon, Ohio to check out the famed bird mecca of Magee Marsh, the proclaimed “warbler capital of the world.” Perhaps you have heard of it.

Magee Marsh

Magee Marsh

I went a week early, because even though peak migration is still a ways off, there was no way I could put up with all of those khaki vests and bucket hats. By all accounts, though, even the weeks leading up to the Biggest Week have plenty of migrant action. And the whole place is set up like some kind of birding amusement park. Just look at it. I was pumped. On to the warblers!

Yellow Warbler

Yellow Warbler

First to be spotted was the always abundant yet cheerful Yellow Warbler. Good start!

Next up was… nothing.

Angry Sea

Angry Sea

The day I arrived, a freakishly cold storm blew in off the lake, driving north to south. This stopped everyone in their tracks as they flew northward. This has apparently been the story all spring, and everyone I talked to apologized to me profusely at what was thought to be one of the worst years for late migration that anyone could remember. I saw one warbler species during my entire trip.

Rusty Blackbird

Rusty Blackbird

If not for the tiny flock of Rusty Blackbirds (life bird!), Magee Marsh would have been a total bust. I had a backup plan, though.

Metzger Marsh

Metzger Marsh

The other ‘M’ marsh next door to Magee is Metzger. While not a magnet for passerines, some great shorebirds had been hanging out there, so with the wind still ripping from the north off of the lake, I headed there.

American Avocets

American Avocets

Other than the dozens of egrets that I saw as I drove up, the very first thing I saw was a gigantic flock of shorebirds working the mud: American Avocets (life bird)! They had just appeared that morning, so word had not gotten out yet, and it was a great surprise. This photo shows only about half of the flock; different peoples’ counts ranged from between 99 to 117 birds, which is pretty much unheard of in the Midwest.

Class Photo

Class Photo

It was tough to look away from the avocets, but there was a mind-blowing array of wetland birds to comprehend. I felt like I was in Florida or something. The photo above includes Caspian and Common Terns plus Bonaparte’s Gulls; all birds I have only seen in small numbers previously.

White-Faced Ibis

White-Faced Ibis

Probably the biggest draw for most people at Metzger were the reported White-Faced Ibis. I was having poor luck trying to locate the birds across the expanse of wetlands, until a lady flushed them from probably 10 yards away. They were feeding next to the road behind some tall grass, and nobody saw them until they flew straight up, circled once, and then disappeared from view. Not the best look at another life bird, but I will take it. This happened probably no more than 15 minutes after I arrived, so I would definitely not have seen them had I gotten there any later.

Trumpeter Swans

Trumpeter Swans

Some of the less jittery birds included these two Trumpeter Swans (life bird!) who cared not that I was standing mere feet away, taking as many photos as I could get.

Headless Swans

Headless Swans

If you are wondering about the brown stains on the swans’ heads, this photo should answer your question.

Savannah Sparrow

Savannah Sparrow

This Savannah Sparrow was uncommonly cooperative, and one of the last birds I saw before heading back to Maumee Bay.

Common Grackle

Common Grackle

The camp mascot should have been Common Grackle, which numbered in the hundreds at the park. I took the time to photograph this guy as I ate lunch.

Tree Swallow

Tree Swallow

Swallows were also very much on the menu, and in many varieties. These Tree Swallows seemed to be staking out a nest site.

Purple Martin

Purple Martin

Meanwhile, this Purple Martin pondered what it means to be truly free, and if his wings are merely metaphors for life.

White-Tailed Deer

White-Tailed Deer

Maumee Bay had a pretty nice boardwalk, but it was mostly quiet when I was there, so I resorted to taking pictures of deer.

Eastern Screech-Owl

Eastern Screech-Owl

But on the way out, this Eastern Screech-Owl was mean-muggin’ me from a nest box. Lifer! Along with the Great-Horned Owl on nest that I saw at Metzger, this bird meant that I saw more species of owl than I did warbler in the Warbler Capital of the World. Weird.

Solitary Sandpiper

Solitary Sandpiper

Before my trip was over with, I did head back to Metzger to see if anything else new flew in. The birds remained mostly unchanged, but I did get some close-up views of shorebirds in good lighting, like this Solitary Sandpiper.

Lesser Yellowlegs

Lesser Yellowlegs

And this Lesser Yellowlegs.

Solitary Yellowlegs

Solitary Yellowlegs

And this Solitary Yellowlegs.

Dunlin

Dunlin

Most things there were Dunlin, which were looking very dapper in their alternate plumage.

Semipalmated Plover

Semipalmated Plover

When a Peregrine Falcon blew by, the Dunlin scattered, but in their wake remained a lone Semipalmated Plover with serious chutzpah. Further out was an American Golden-Plover (lifer!) who did not afford a photo opportunity.

Northern Shoveler

Northern Shoveler

Last, but certainly not least were waterfowl. Teals and Gadwall and others abounded, like these Northern Shovelers.

Canada Geeselets

Canada Geeselets

And of course these Canada Geese. I don’t care what you say, baby geese are cute. To keep my birder street cred, I will tell you this is a photo of Branta canadensis actively using its R-selected reproduction strategy.

Mine was a great trip. I ended up with 64 species accounted for, with 6 of them new to my life list. I hope to go back some time and give Magee Marsh another shot, but at least now I know that northwest Ohio isn’t all warblers.

Birthday Birds

I haven’t had a lot of opportunity to go out into the field since Walter has been around, so for a birthday present Jaime watched him while I went to Eagle Marsh for a couple of hours with my binoculars and camera. Exactly one year previously, I birded Hyde Park in London, and while Fort Wayne is not as exotic of a locale it still gave me some pretty good results.

Bald Eagle

Bald Eagle

Right off the bat I saw two of the Marsh’s namesake birds wheeling around with a bunch of hawks.

#145 Merlin

#145 Merlin

While eagles are cool, I was much more interested in this Merlin, a life bird and year bird #145 for me. These falcons made some news this past year with their first-ever documented nest in the state of Indiana not far from Fort Wayne. Because they are not resident, this one was totally unexpected and the highlight of the afternoon.

Greater Yellowlegs

Greater Yellowlegs

Lesser Yellowlegs

Lesser Yellowlegs

Both species of Yellowlegs were also out in force at the marsh. I got some of the best looks I have ever seen of either species, and none of the birds minded my close approach. I used to be confused by identifying these birds, but the more I have seen the easier it gets. Look at the relative length of the bill on the Greater compared to the Lesser, and identification is easy. It also helps that the Greater’s bill is slightly upturned.

American Coot

American Coot

And just because I haven’t posted a picture of them in a while, here are some American Coots living up to their colloquial nickname of Mud Hen.

Not a Bird

Not a Bird

I also saw this animal, which I am pretty sure is not a bird. Any amphianologists care to tell me what this is?

 

August Shorebirds

Shorebird migration is in full swing across Indiana, and over the past two weekends I made it out to two different sites to see what I could find.

First up was Eagle Marsh on the south side of Fort Wayne. I had never been there before, and it didn’t disappoint! I logged 25 species and 2 lifers:

Pectoral Sandpiper

Pectoral Sandpiper

I am slowly beginning to be able to distinguish between all these sandpipers. The Pectoral Sandpipers at Eagle Marsh were identified by the band of brown streaks that stops abruptly at their chest. The individual second from the left that is directly facing the camera shows off this field mark particularly well.

Marsh Wren

Marsh Wren

Lifer #2 was this Marsh Wren who was telling me off very loudly for getting too close to his territory.

 

Belted Kingfisher

Belted Kingfisher

Also present was this Belted Kingfisher who would not let me get any closer than this to take his picture.

Common Yellowthroat

Common Yellowthroat

These two Common Yellowthroats were much more accommodating for me and my camera. My full list for the day can be found on eBird.

My second stop for shorebirds in August was the always reliable Eagle Creek in Indianapolis. My day list included 35 species, one of which was a lifer.

Lesser Yellowlegs

Lesser Yellowlegs

This Lesser Yellowlegs was my only lifer on the day, but it was only about 10 yards from shore and basically posed for me to photograph it. Named for its gigantic bright yellow legs, this huge sandpiper is only “lesser” in comparison to the also aptly-named Greater Yellowlegs, who was unfortunately not around.

Carolina Chickadee

Carolina Chickadee

Carolina Chickadees were also everywhere, like always. A full disclosure of all the birds I saw is available at eBird, which is way cooler than I originally thought and will now be housing all of my checklists.