Winter Catch-Up Post

I realized that besides a needlessly lengthy year-end summary post with only three old photos, I haven’t blogged since November. I have, however, birded. So it’s time to change that.

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Carolina Wren

I spent part of the holiday season in Raleigh, North Carolina at my parents’ house. The day after Christmas I birded at the next-door William B. Umstead State Park. There, a photogenic Carolina Wren posed on a photogenic mossy stump for me.

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Northern Mockingbird

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Brown Thrasher

I also got to watch a Northern Mockingbird and a Brown Thrasher throw down, which was pretty cool. Despite its size disadvantage, the mocker owned the fight.

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Ruddy Duck

There were also more Ruddy Ducks than I have ever seen in my life, with dozens in Big Lake.

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Mallard x American Black Duck?

But the most interesting duck was an apparent male Mallard x American Black Duck hybrid. I have not spent much time studying my duck crosses, but that pairing seems to be what this one is. If you have any thoughts, please weigh in.

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Horned Lark

Back home in Indiana, it has been below freezing for a couple of weeks. My current 2018 green list is up to a whopping 6 species because I haven’t yet ventured out for any local birding. But I did travel for work on Wednesday that put me in the vicinity of the Mount Comfort Airport east of Indianapolis. This airport is famous for its winter birds, so I decided to stop on my lunch break to see what was on the seed pile that had been thoughtfully constructed by enterprising birders.

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Lapland Longspur

I was immediately greeted by Horned Larks (they said ‘hola’ of course) and Lapland Longspurs, the latter of which was a long overdue lifer*. The asterisk is because I have never actually got a definitive ID on one until today, but I know for an absolute fact that I have seen them before on two or three occasions with all of the flocks of birds I have scared from the side of snowy country roads.

Cornivores

Cornivores

I watched the larks and longspurs stuff their faces with corn as I in turn also stuffed my face with Subway. Watching these birds from close range in a warm car was not a bad way to spend a lunch break.

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Snow Bunting

It was quickly made even better by the arrival of another species. A single bird landed about 10 feet away from my car on the opposite side of the feeding frenzy. I saw right away that it was the second lifer of my lunch break, a Snow Bunting. And thus the Rural Midwest Winter Birding Trifecta was complete! Snow Buntings are reported from Mount Comfort every year, but not in nearly the numbers as the other species. I went to get the longspurs, and I figured I may or may not also get the bunting, so luck was on my side.

With two additions to the life list already, so far in 2018 I am averaging 0.67 life birds per day. Not bad!

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Casa del Lago

Jaime, Walter, Alice, and I just returned from a relaxing Christmas week at my parents’ new house in North Carolina that my sister christened “Casa del Lago” (Italian for “House of Legos”). There was a lot of this:

Train Rides

Train Rides

Some of this:

Nemo

Nemo

Even more of this:

Doughnut Game: On Point

Doughnut Game: On Point

And finally, this:

Lamb Hats for All

Lamb Hats for All

But also lots and lots of this:

Amigos

Amigos

It was mostly backyard birding, but still satisfactory. North Carolina gets largely the same birds as the Midwest, but the quantity and commonness are vastly skewed. Case in point: Cedar Waxwings descended on the house in a pleasant, zeeeing cloud.

Nom

Nom

NOM

NOM

The smorgasbord was in full effect for us all. The ivy berries nor the cookie platters stood a chance.

Eastern Red Cedar

Eastern Red Cedar

I got a photo of a waxwing in its namesake tree, too, which I thought was pretty cool. Just kidding, I just wanted another opportunity to showcase my spirit animal.

William Umstead State Park

William Umstead State Park

My parents’ neighborhood is surrounded on three sides by William Umstead State Park in Raleigh, so the scenery is prime. Even though it wasn’t particularly birdy on the day I went hiking, the views were pretty good.

Pines

Pines

I’m not used to pine trees like this.

Brown Thrasher

Brown Thrasher

The mimids definitely felt at home, though!

Northern Mockingbird

Northern Mockingbird

We have Brown Thrashers and Northern Mockingbirds in Indiana, but not nearly in the numbers as down south. And not in winter. Or “winter” since the Christmas Eve temperature was a steamy 79 degrees.

Eastern Gray Squirrel

Eastern Gray Squirrel

Indiana’s fat, lazy Fox Squirrels were also nowhere to be seen. Maybe because their blubber would have given them heat stroke in the tropical temperatures. It was odd seeing nothing but their smaller, spazzier cousins the Eastern Gray Squirrel.

Red-Shouldered Hawk

Red-Shouldered Hawk

Lots of raptors showed up to the squirrel party, though. Fun fact: I have now seen more Red-Shouldered Hawks in my parents’ front yard than I have seen in my entire state.

Towhee Butt

Towhee Butt

A fitting end to the trip gave me the southern end of a northbound Eastern Towhee, appropriate because these birds are the worst skunk on my 2015 motorless list. This photo sums up how cooperative they were for me this week despite the fact that they are literally everywhere down there.

Happy Holidays!

Birding Raleigh

Jaime and I traveled to my parents’ house to celebrate my mom’s birthday and Easter last weekend. As always, there were many great birds to be had. My parents have provided ample landscaping, feeders, and water features to attract many birds. In between the many dozens of meals that we ate, I spent a considerable amount of time on the deck and looking out the kitchen window, jealously plotting how to landscape our future yard (closing later this month, fingers crossed) to be a similar haven for these small, wing-ed beasts. Behold!

Carolina Chickadee

Carolina Chickadee

It was totally appropriate to be watching Carolina Chickadees in the state of (North) Carolina. Also: it takes an architect’s talent to select a feeder that is both this visually pleasing and also effective at nourishing the avian fauna of the suburban Triangle region. Well played, dad.

Carolina Wren

Carolina Wren

I’m having deja-vu all over again. Carolina Wren? In Carolina? It can’t be! Author’s note: I found it amusing that despite being one of the smallest birds of the yard, these fellows were first in pecking order, giving much larger Towhees and Cardinals the boot when they demanded some vittles.

House Finch

House Finch

House Finches (or Pink Birds in our household) were the most common feeder enthusiasts chez Majewski. This gentleman knows what is proper as he allows his lady friend to dine first.

American Goldfinch

American Goldfinch

This American Goldfinch was shedding his brown winter plumes for a new yellow get-up. And he, like countless others, could not be dissuaded from the clean lines of modernism.

Northern Mockingbird

Northern Mockingbird

Northern Mockingbirds aren’t so shallow as to be easily had by the prospect of a free meal.

White-Crowned Sparrow

White-Crowned Sparrow

And somehow Casa di mi Padre remains the only locale where I have ever seen a White-Crowned Sparrow despite their supposed commonality. Come on, Indiana, you’re falling behind.

Winter Wren

Winter Wren

Not all birds were found quite so easily. Jaime and I made a trip to a local park with a walking path around a lake. A Winter Wren was working some tree roots and caught me off guard. I had to stalk it for a few minutes before getting this mediocre photo. It was by far the best bird of the weekend, and another missing from my Indiana list. While not rare, I will go out on a limb and declare these to be uncommon.

It was a great trip for many reasons besides just birds. But, this weekend the task at hand is Swallows, which are beginning to appear up here in Fort Wayne for the spring. My goal is to get to 100 birds by the end of April. Go!

My history with birds

As anyone who was at my wedding can attest, I like birds.

I think it all started when I was in elementary school and had a weird obsession with parrots. I am neutral toward parrots now, because the one endemic species found in the United States was driven to extinction about 100 years before I was born. There are feral populations in much of the country, though, of which I have seen a few species, but it’s not the same as seeing a bird in its native habitat. But to a kid, parrots are pretty cool. Probably because they are brightly colored animals that can talk. Trips to Disney World only reinforced how cool this concept is to a 7-year-old.

Fast forward to around 2005 and I was a sophomore at Ohio State. My uncle had sent me a small point-and-shoot digital camera, and I was trying to figure out a project that would let me put it to use outside of my intermittent trips out of town. One day while at Mirror Lake, I noticed a Northern Cardinal (I did not know at the time the proper prefix), and tried to photograph it. Then I saw an American Goldfinch (again, I was oblivious to the “American” part), and was amazed that two different kinds of birds would present themselves to me. I didn’t get a decent photo of either one, but it was then that I decided to document all of the wildlife at Ohio State. After a month or so of wandering around campus looking for animals, I realized that the most diverse wildlife at Ohio State was bird life, and I didn’t know what any of them were, so I started looking them up. I then realized how many kinds of birds there are, and I realized that I had a life-long quest perfectly lined up in front of me. That’s when I became a birder. I got a new camera with a 12x zoom and the Peterson Field Guide to the Birds of Eastern and Central North America, and the game was on.

Because that camera has just recently gone the way of the Carolina Parakeet, I present to you now some of the earliest birds that I photographed while at OSU.

Brown Creeper

Brown Creeper

This Brown Creeper flew directly in front of me on the South Oval and landed at eye level on a tree trunk about two feet away from me during fall of my senior year. It was a pretty lucky catch.

Willet

Willet

During my junior year, I went on a Habitat for Humanity trip to Brunswick, GA. Our group went to the beach one day and I just started snapping pictures of all of the shore birds I could, not having any idea what they were. Peterson confirmed that my life list included these Willets, and this is still one of my favorite bird photos that I have taken.

Northern Mockingbird

Northern Mockingbird

On another Habitat trip in Bluffton, SC, this Northern Mockingbird wanted to help us out on the job site. After flapping around terrified for a few minutes, our trip leader threw a towel over it and transported it outside, but not before I was able to take this picture.

More to come soon, especially once this whole master’s degree thing is all finished (19 days, but who’s counting?).