Over the Hump!

This morning I rode down to Fox Island with a mission to once and for all hit the 150 species mark on my yearly green list. Spoiler: I succeeded!

Fox Island was chosen specifically because it is the closest spot that has resident Pileated Woodpeckers, and I hoped to stumble into one of those while also searching around for warblers that I missed in the spring. The first new green bird flew over me while I was still out on the road. The square-shaped white patches on the wings of a Red-headed Woodpecker right over me made for an unexpected addition to the list. Had I been driving, I probably would have been moving too fast for the ID, so chalk up #147 for the bike!

#148 happened deep on the trails of Fox Island. As I rounded a bend in the swampy northwestern portion of the property, I saw what I first thought was a female American Goldfinch sitting on a branch at eye level. Then the wing bars and eye ring shouted “empidonax” at me, and I realized I was looking at a Yellow-bellied Flycatcher. Even though I didn’t hear it vocalize, the yellow was outrageous enough to make the ID. Life bird to boot!

There was a small flock of activity with the flycatcher, and the next bird identified was #149, Blackburnian Warbler.

BLWA

Blackburnian Warbler

I was especially happy to see this bird, because the only other ones I had this year came while I was at my in-laws’ house earlier in the spring. We have a family lunch there almost every Sunday, and one day Jaime and I for some reason decided to drive instead of taking our bikes as usual. There were several of them in the oaks in the front yard (along with my only Scarlet Tanager of the year), and I was worried I might miss them on the green list entirely this year (still a possibility for the tanager).

The flock was so active that I didn’t even realize what #150 for the year was until after tallying my list later. But it turns out that the Northern Waterthrush that popped up on a branch for a few seconds ended up being that milestone bird. This one was also a new addition to my overall green list, clocking in at #184 since 2015.

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Wilson’s Warbler

The last new bird of the day is one I always seem to find only in the fall. There were a couple of Wilson’s Warblers for species #151. The bushes this one was feeding in also hosted another bird that stuck its head up momentarily, showing me an obvious striped facial pattern that for a moment stopped me dead in my tracks as I thought I had a Golden-winged Warbler. When the bird reappeared I realized it was a Downy Woodpecker. Oops.

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Muskrat Babies: we make our dreams come true!

As I ate lunch on the deck of the nature center, I watched a baby muskrat and counted up all of the birds that could still be had this year with a little bit of luck and only moderate effort, and it made me excited to keep going. Stoking my enthusiasm is the group of folks who have joined the Midwest Green Birding group I created on Facebook, and conversations about green big years are already happening. Even if you’re not based in the Midwest, feel free to join if you are into that kind of thing!

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Juvenile MODO

When I got home, I must have been very exhausted and not moving much, because as I sat in the back yard this juvenile Mourning Dove just about landed on my head. It startled me enough that I yelled.

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Mourning Dove

This bird, which I am pretending is the mom, was not too happy and flapped up out of the bushes to see what was going on. Sorry, MODOs!

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.

Random Exploration

In my new job, I have the privilege of roaming the state of Indiana in search of cool, abandoned places. Recently, I have been exploring North-Central Indiana, where the place names are a random juxtaposition of Native American (Shipshewanna, Kankakee) and Polish (Kosciusko, Pulaski). I have seen some interesting things.

Blight

Blight

A decomposing power plant in Warsaw.

Decay

Decay

An abandoned motel in Philadelphia, IN.

Vacancy

Vacancy

I can’t even fathom when was the last time someone actually rented this room.

MODO

MODO

I have seen birds too in these wanderings. Sometimes they are as common as a MODO on a barbed wire fence.

Sandhill Cranes

Sandhill Cranes

Yesterday, I came across a flock of several hundred Sandhill Cranes in a field outside San Pierre (French? Spanish?). A very cool sight, since I usually only see them as giant wave formations passing overhead and rarely on the ground.

San Pierre

San Pierre

The townspeople obviously think so too, because the welcome sign on the way into town (population: 158) depicts a lone crane. I didn’t stop to photograph it, but miraculously Wikipedia has a picture of it, so here you go.

Dapper Waxwing

Dapper Waxwing

Since this post is now just a random jumble of things, I will end it with my cool art print that I got from Berkley Illustration. I have been following this guy for a few years, and when I saw this on Instagram I had to purchase it immediately. If you are in need of a last-minute Christmas gift for that nature-enthusiast in your life, I can’t recommend his stuff enough. Besides birds, I am also partial to lumberjack chipmunk and Wes Anderson meerkat.

Spring-ish!

It’s spring around the blogosphere, and you can tell because all of the Midwestern birders are leaping up in the air, clicking their heels, and whooping for joy at the prospect of the first neotropic migrants of the year: Eastern Phoebe, Hermit Thrush, Yellow-Rumped Warbler, and many other great birds, none of which I have actually seen yet this year.

MODO!

MODO!

The motorless list was MODOless for far longer than it should have been. And do you know what? I was pretty dang excited to finally see one this past weekend. Excited enough that I am even going to post this hideously composed photo. New year list challenges make even humdrum birds cathartic. Also snagged on the list was Carolina Chickadee, of which no photo was obtained.

Carolina Wren

Carolina Wren

With MODO ticked, I again set my sights on wrens. I didn’t find the sought-after Winter one, but one of their Carolinian brothers was out in full display, no doubt staking his territory for the coming mating season. As promising a sign of spring as any.

Scaupwreck

Scaupwreck

The still frozen St. Mary’s river yielded some waterfowl too, but not in the way that I hoped. This shipwrecked scaup (I think) showed no obvious cause of mortality, and it was not there the previous day.

Brown Creeper Yoga

Brown Creeper Yoga

Undeterred by the circle of life on display in front of it, this Brown Creeper showed no hesitation in showcasing some of its yoga moves. I feel like I have posted this bird a lot recently, but that may be because they are near the top of the chart when it comes to being apathetic or just downright oblivious in front of humans. This bird was no more than five feet away from me at my closest approach, and showed no signs of trepidation as I watched it from point blank range. I probably could have petted it if I wanted to.

Cooper's Hawk

Cooper’s Hawk

The last bird of the outing was this svelte hawk. As I trudged along the river, I was pretty surprised when this bird flew up from below me down the embankment and perched at eye level. My gut reaction was Sharp-Shinned, but the uneven tail feathers and overall body proportions (and corrections on the Indiana Birding – No Rules! Facebook page) told me otherwise.

Thank you all for bearing with this blog during these slow winter months. Our snow is very much melting now, and I am hoping for some more diverse fare as the weeks go by. And my Mayday weekend trip to the famous migrant mecca of Magee Marsh and Maumee Bay State Park in northwest Ohio is all planned out. I am excited to camp among woodcocks and whip-poor-wills and tick some serious warbler action as a last big birding hurrah before baby #2 gets here in July!

Brown Thrushes

Last Saturday I went for a group hike with the Stockbridge Audubon Society in Franke Park. It was a spectacularly poor day for warblers, which I was really hoping to see, but I did get some good looks (and slightly worse photos) of the occasionally enigmatic brown thrushes.

Swainson's Thrush

Swainson’s Thrush

First among them was the Swainson’s Thrush, a bird first seen this year on my outing to the park last week. Note the strong eye ring and buff coloration of this bird. It will be important later!

#144 Gray-Cheeked Thrush

#144 Gray-Cheeked Thrush

This awful photo is of year bird #144 and life bird #214, Gray-Cheeked Thrush. See the lack of eye ring and notably paler underside? Compare with the Swainson’s above. That is how you can tell these two species apart.

Cooper's Hawk

Cooper’s Hawk

Slightly better in photo quality was this Cooper’s Hawk, a bird I haven’t seen nearly enough of.

Eastern Wood-Pewee

Eastern Wood-Pewee

And coming into good lighting is a commonly heard bird that usually spends its days under tree cover, providing less than ideal photo ops. Allow me to reintroduce the Eastern Wood-Pewee.

Mourning Dove

Mourning Dove

How about another gray bird sitting on a bare branch in front of blue sky? The always reliable MoDo.

I am in Saint Louis for the weekend, so my Indiana bird spotting will be taking a rest as I look for the elusive Eurasian Tree Sparrow, whose only North American habitat is this city. Random!

Morgantown, WV

Over Memorial Day Weekend, Jaime and I had the opportunity to spend a few days in West Virginia visiting my grandparents. In between old family stories and more than a few good meals, we were able to check out the Core Arboretum on the campus of WVU to do some hiking and birding. I didn’t get any new lifers, but we were able to see many birds much more commonly in the hills than we get in Indiana. Among the biggest highlight was a Wild Turkey stumbling around in the underbrush. We also got the chance to see some much more common birds at the feeders in my grandparents’ yard and around the neighborhood.

Northern Cardinal

Northern Cardinal

This Northern Cardinal was framed by the deck posts. I don’t give Cardinals enough attention because of how common they are, and it is also worth noting that the Northern Cardinal is the state bird of every state I have ever lived in (chronologically: North Carolina, West Virginia, Ohio, Virginia, and Indiana).

Blue Jay

Blue Jay

Blue Jays ruled the roost at the feeder. They were also seen in quantities unheard of in our home city.

Northern Flicker

Northern Flicker

This Northern Flicker was seen at the Arboretum. Flickers are the weird cousins of the woodpecker family, as they like to spend a lot of the time on the ground, where they smash ants and rub them all over their bodies. They also have very dapper handlebar mustaches.

Mourning Dove

Mourning Dove

We did see MoDos in Morgantown, but this photo was actually taken at a stop in Columbus on our way to West Virginia. For a while, there was some confusion in our household over the possibility of these birds actually being owls because of the calls that they make.