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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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.

CARW.JPG

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.

NOMO.JPG

Northern Mockingbird

BRTH.JPG

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.

RUDU.JPG

Ruddy Duck

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

MALLxGADW.JPG

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.

HOLA.JPG

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.

LALO.JPG

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.

SNBU

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!

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?).