The City Proper

I usually go out towards the edge of town to bird, but on Sunday I pedaled into the interior city limits to hit two scenic destinations: a water treatment plant and a cemetery.

Northern Shoveler

Northern Shoveler

Jumping on the river greenway downtown, the first interesting bird I noticed were a few Northern Shovelers. I think this is the first time I have ever seen their bright orange legs.

Horned Grebe

Horned Grebe

Arriving at the water treatment plant, the only other bird of note was a lone Horned Grebe bobbing waaaay out on the terminal ponds. I wouldn’t have bothered to post this shot except for that it is a new motorless bird good for #137.

Blue Jay

Blue Jay

With the waterfowl mostly a bust I headed back through downtown to visit a sparsely birded but occasionally great Lindenwood Cemetery. It was my first visit of the year, and my mission was finches. I came up totally empty (unless you count goldfinches), although I was able to acquaint myself with some of the more common birds around, including a pair of Blue Jays foraging for acorns among the headstones and a flock of about 9,000,000 Dark-Eyed Juncos. The Red Crossbill reported from Thanksgiving day was not to be seen.

But: funny birding story. I pedaled into the middle of the cemetery, which was almost completely deserted. I ignored the one single car there and ate a hasty peanut butter sandwich while listening for finch calls. When I was done eating, I pulled out my phone to play a recording of Red Crossbill, hoping to get really lucky. Within 10 seconds, the door to the car flew open, and a gentleman stepped out calling with some hesitation, “…Are you birding?” My answer: “Yes.” His reply: “Did you just play a tape?” My reply: “Yes.” He continued: “Of a Red Crossbill?” My response, now on guard: “Yes…” I was mostly playing the recording for my own education, since I have never heard nor seen RECR, but this guy was totally not expecting anyone else to be there birding, let alone birding on a bike, so he was about through the roof thinking he had found the bird. Oops. Disclaimer: I don’t use playback very often, but have been known to on occasion. In the end, he asked me to play it again in the off chance it would attract the bird. +1 for cool other birders.

With exactly one month to go in 2015, I may have finally plateaued in my challenge for the year unless something crazy lands in my neighborhood (but there are currently both a Townsend’s Solitaire and a Green-Tailed Towhee in the state, so who knows?). With regular sub-freezing temperatures now on tap, I may have my cycling opportunities over with, although there was a Snowy Owl reported yesterday that is only 15 miles away from home, so…

(Just kidding, Jaime!)

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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.

European Birding – Part One

Jaime and I recently got back from a two-week European vacation in London and Paris. Long story short, it was an amazing time and highlights of most of what we did are available on Facebook. Highlights of the rest of what I did are available right here!

Because there was so much to do and see, Jaime and I didn’t really go on any true birding excursions, so all that I ended up seeing were the most common city birds where we were. But the birds of Europe are vastly different from what you can get in North America, so I had 19 lifers! And in addition to that, I was able to see three birds in their native ranges that are considered invasive species in the United States, plus one that makes its home naturally on both sides of the Atlantic. Oh, and there were also pigeons. To make this easier to digest, I now present to you my first in a two-part series of European birds:

European Starling

European Starling

If you see a nebulous black cloud of birds in the fall in Indiana (or elsewhere across the US, for that matter), it’s a pretty good chance that they are European Starlings, a pest bird and invasive species that was brought to America by some fool who wanted the birds of Shakespeare’s plays to live here. Its population exploded and got us where we are today. In Europe, though, the bird is actually a part of the natural biosphere and not nearly as common, so I was excited to see this one by the Tower of London!

House Sparrow

House Sparrow

Now, take everything I said above about the Starling (including the part about Shakespeare) and apply it to the House Sparrow, except this one was seen at Tuileries in Paris!

Mute Swan

Mute Swan

Now, take everything about the Starling and House Sparrow, substitute the Shakespeare parts for people just thinking it looked pretty on park ponds in the US, and you have the Mute Swan.

Northern Shoveler

Northern Shoveler

The Northern Shoveler is also regularly seen in North America, but unlike the last three birds, it exists there naturally. Still, I was excited to see this one at Hyde Park in London because I had only ever seen one before, and I didn’t have a picture.

Common Blackbird

Common Blackbird

Now on to the life birds! The Common Blackbird is not closely related to American blackbirds, but it is a thrush like the American Robin. This one was running around the Tower of London’s moat.

European Robin

European Robin

And unlike the Common Blackbird, European Robins have pretty much nothing in common with American Robins except for their color pattern, which is how the Yankee version got its name. This one was seen at Saint Paul’s Cathedral in London.

Carrion Crow

Carrion Crow

Another bird with American dopplegangers is the Carrion Crow, which as far as I can tell is only differentiated from the American Crow by the fact that it doesn’t live in America. This was another bird seen at Hyde Park.

Common Wood Pigeon

Common Wood Pigeon

The Common Wood Pigeon seems to be quite similar to the feral Rock Pigeons of every city in the world, but they are actually different. The first difference, which can’t be seen from this photo, is that they are about the size of a chicken. The second is that they have a big white spot on the side of their necks. The third is that they are much more likely to be hiding up in tree canopies than foraging for trash in the street, even though this one was perched on the Tower Bridge in London.

Black-Headed Gull

Black-Headed Gull

Probably the most numerous bird I saw in all of Europe was the Black-Headed Gull. In winter, they lose their black heads which is why the bird above does not seem to fit its name. In any case, these animals choked the Thames and the Seine in equal numbers. Oh well! Lifer anyway!

Eurasian Magpie

Eurasian Magpie

Another ridiculously common bird of Europe, but much more interesting than the others above, is the Eurasian Magpie. They are related to crows but are prettier to look at and seem to be much more clever.

Stay tuned, more to come tomorrow!