The End of a Yard List

I haven’t posted in a while because I have moved. I am still in Fort Wayne, but as of yesterday Grosbeak Gardens has officially ended its run as the location of my yard list among many other things. Because it was so awesome of a home (with some more background on that here), I feel as though a Greatest Hits list of yard birds is in order. All photos below were taken in my old yard.

First, the namesake:

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Rose-breasted Grosbeak

Rose-breasted Grosbeaks were the only grosbeak ever in the yard, but they made an annual appearance, and they were a hit with all members of the household.

Rose-Breasted Grosbeak

Eleanor

The first one showed up around Mother’s Day of 2013, and her name was Eleanor. She showed up daily for about two weeks and became a minor celebrity.

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Owlbert

Other named visitors included Owlbert the Barred Owl, shown here perched in our front ash tree right around Christmas last year. He (or she) was at least two owls who were very vocal every winter and spring we lived in the house. I last heard Owlbert the night before we moved, which was a relief since there was no trace of him for a few weeks after I recorded Great Horned Owl in his favorite spruce trees earlier in the year.

Northern Cardinal

Jim

We also had Jim the cardinal. Any and every male cardinal was Jim. Our high count of Jims was eight at one time. Jim and his wife Pam nested in our magnolia tree the first summer we lived in the house. Pam laid three eggs, two of which hatched, and one of which fledged.

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Rested-bread Nuthatch

We also had a troupe of Rested-bread Nuthatches, of which Walter was quite fond because I got so excited when they showed up for two consecutive winters. The high count was three at once last fall, and the birds at my feeders who would stash seeds in my neighbor’s carport roof represented my green ticks in 2015, 2016, and 2017.

Scarlet Tanager

Scarlet Tanager

One spring morning in 2014 I woke up to the song of a Scarlet Tanager directly out my bedroom window. I ran outside to chase it down the street as it hopped from tree to tree eating wasps. This was probably my favorite one-timer yard bird.

Cape May Warbler

Cape May Warbler

Also in 2014 was a flock of Cape May Warblers foraging in the spruces. I was watching football, and movement caught my eye. I found three of these birds, which were traveling through Indiana very late in October. I saw some again in the spruces last year, and those two sightings are my only two for the county.

Swainson's Thrush

Swainson’s Thrush

Swainson’s Thrushes also stopped by a few times to check in. One morning after a storm there was a fallout of Swainsons in the neighborhood, with individuals running in the street and eating out of the leaf litter in the gutters like robins.

Yard NOPA

Northern Parula

Once when I was grilling in the back yard an aggressively territorial Northern Parula came by to inspect. I was deemed unworthy, and it did not come back.

#117 Least Flycatcher

Least Flycatcher

Also in the one-hit wonder category was a Least Flycatcher who appeared soon after we moved in.

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Broad-winged Hawk

In the same vein was Broad-winged Hawk, although in this case the one-hit was a kettle of about 200 birds swirling overhead.

Sandhill Cranes

Sandhill Cranes

Sandhill Cranes also played the flyover card, but only a couple times a year and never consistently. Some times they showed up in March, other times in December or January. They always evoked great happiness with their bugling, however. Unfortunately, I never had a Whooping Crane mixed in.

Final stats for the yard are 72 species observed, with the first being a Jim on April 30, 2013 and the last new species being an Eastern Phoebe on March 25, 2017. I had eight warbler species, four woodpeckers, three flycatchers, two owls, four hawks, three wrens, three thrushes, and two chickadees. The ‘best’ yard bird was probably Yellow-billed Cuckoo, the ‘worst’ definitely House Sparrow, most surprising the flyover Double-crested Cormorants, and my personal favorite Scarlet Tanager (my spark bird after all). Owlbert was the biggest celebrity, with my neighborhood association dubbing him the unofficial mascot for a time. The most obvious birds that I never saw in my yard were Eastern Bluebird despite that they were all over my neighborhood, Red-winged Blackbird, or Killdeer in at least a flyover fashion.

My new yard, which as of now is unnamed, is already playing catch up. But after three days it boasts 11 species, and I am looking forward to seeing what ends up on the list.

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City Sparrows

If you have never been, Indianapolis is a surprisingly cool city. There is plenty to see, eat, and buy downtown and in the surrounding neighborhoods. I was there on Monday for work, and I could probably be forgiven for stopping in one of its parks to enjoy the beautiful fall day.

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Downtown Indianapolis

Of course, there were birds around, too.

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Clay-colored Sparrow

Specifically, this bird was around. Clay-colored Sparrow was a lifer. And yes, I did see it in the same place where the first photo was taken. The washed-out background of the sparrow photo is the limestone of the Indiana War Memorial just a few blocks from my old office.

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Field Sparrow

Finding this single bird in a small urban park was made much more difficult by the presence of Field Sparrows. The Clay-colored was associating with a small flock of them, and the poor looks they were giving me didn’t allow me to differentiate between species. I spent an hour chasing them around the park as the group flew from tree to tree, when finally, right when my parking meter was about to expire, they all finally perched out in the open on tall decorative grass in a concrete planter. With the sun at my back, I found my target bird.

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Song Sparrow

The most numerous sparrow was Song Sparrow, kind of like the most numerous person around was the conspicuous Pokémon Go player. For a moment I thought about approaching one of them and waxing philosophical about how they were looking for virtual animals and I was looking for a real one right in the same place. But it didn’t happen. Instead, I went up to two other guys with cameras to ask them if they saw the sparrow. They turned out to be German tourists who were taking pictures of the buildings, and, shockingly, the phrase “Clay-colored” does not translate very well from English.

Shout out to the guy with the long lens who I hollered at out of my car window, though. He actually was a birder and let me know that CCSP was still hanging around before I began my search.

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Red-breasted Nuthatch

In other news, I spent some time last weekend trying to get decent shots of my Red-breasted Nuthatch flock. I have had at least two birds at the feeder for the past month, and they have gotten used to me to the point of not caring. Walter and I even tried to hold seed out in the hopes they would land on our hands, but I guess they aren’t stupid despite their confidence.

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Red-breasted Seed Stasher

I am not a huge fan of feeder shots, so I used a binder clip to attach a spruce branch to the feeder hoping that the birds would land on it prior to getting a morsel. No dice. But I did find a branch in my Japanese maple tree where they were cramming seeds under the bark, so I sat for a while with camera fixed on that spot and got something pretty serviceable. Bonus points for nuthatch tongue!

Feederwatching

Steady rain all weekend made it so that the birding was effectively feederwatching. First, the highlight:

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Red-breasted Nuthatch

For the second year in a row, my feeder has hosted a Red-breasted Nuthatch. Or in this case, three Red-breasted Nuthatches, which is a pretty neat trick.

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Red-breasted Nuthatch

Helping more than my one meager feeder filled with sunflower seeds to attract these stellar irruptive visitors is the row of 50 foot spruce trees along the edge of our backyard. I do what I can.

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Combo!

Feederwatchig is a technique I am not ashamed of, especially when it is the only way to get two species of nuthatch in the same shot. It also provides some interesting drama as you observe the power struggles between the same individual birds over the course of a couple of days.

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A not atypical situation

 

Each bird has its own unique way of using the food source, and species seem to dominate and yield to others in not quite truly hierarchical fashion. To start, there are three main styles of bird feedering:

The Traditionalists fly in, eat some seeds for a while, then fly away to go do other bird things. Adherents to this style include Northern Cardinal, House Sparrow, and Blue Jay.

The Gluttons fly in and stay put eating as much as they can until they are forced off. American Goldfinch, House Finch, and Mourning Dove are Gluttons.

The Dart-and-Runners fly in, take a single bite, and fly away to finish or stash it somewhere else. Time on the feeder is minimized to the greatest extent possible, and practitioners include Carolina Chickadee, Tufted Titmouse, and both White- and Red-breasted Nuthatches.

This is only part of the story, though. Each species also seems to have an unspoken relationship with all of the others.

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The struggle is real

We will start at the top of the food chain.

Blue Jays have a bad reputation, but in my yard they have only shown aggression to raptors. They don’t get pushed around by anybody, but they also don’t push others around. They also aren’t very frequent visitors to the feeder, so that may be why.

Northern Cardinals, on the other hand, are the usual owners of the joint. They will not be moved by anyone, plus they show extreme aggression toward House Sparrows. They will tolerate other birds only until they get too close, and then anything is fair.

House Sparrows are despised by all, and for good reason. They will swarm in numbers making their presence impossible to oust from the feeders, plus they are aggressive to most other manner of bird. When I was observing, the most frequent target was House Finch.

House Finches didn’t take it lying down, though. These birds will not start a fight, but they will fight back if pushed.

Tufted Titmice for the most part seemed to attack each other.

Meanwhile, Carolina Chickadees were the most peaceful species. In addition to showing no aggression, they also were infrequently if ever targets of bullying themselves.

White-breasted Nuthatches don’t pick on anyone, and they also don’t stick around long enough to get picked on themselves. Their strategy is to fly in, perch on the pole or baffle, and wait for an opening. Then they seize the opportunity.

Red-breasted Nuthatches operate largely in the same way, but instead of hanging around close by, they will fly in from literally out of nowhere to grab an empty seat at the table. They are also ridiculously tolerant of close approaches by humans. At one point I stood a foot away from the feeder and they still came and went as usual.

And finally, American Goldfinches come in big groups, hang upside-down, eat forever, and generally have a good time. All species seem to like them except House Sparrows.

Of course, birds are not the only ones using the feeders.

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Dare to dream

My set-up is largely mammal-proof (see: raccoons), but the furry ones have lofty goals.

Yank… Yank Yank!

It’s been a long time! In between getting a new job and thoroughly wrecking my bike, I have seen some birds.

Red-Breasted Nuthatch

Red-Breasted Nuthatch

While eating a cinnamon roll, making coffee, and holding a baby this morning, I glanced out the window to see a Red-Breasted Nuthatch on the feeder. Later on in the day while “doing yard work,” I managed to get a serviceable photo after being alerted to its continuing presence by a series of pleasant “yank yank yanks.” He was busy flying back and forth from the feeder to the fence to the spruce trees and appearing to stash seeds. I hope this means he is preparing to settle in for the winter, or maybe this is just an impulsive habit that irruptive nuthatches posses?

White-Breasted Nuthatch

White-Breasted Nuthatch

And here is the other Indiana nuthatch for good measure. There are a couple of guys trying to get the state bird changed to WBNU, and I think I support them.

Winter Wren

Winter Wren

The trees by the river at Foster Park that were downed by the storms this summer and the accompanying brushpiles that accumulated around them must make great habitat for Winter Wrens, because I missed them entirely in the first part of the year, but they are out in force now. I even had one in my yard. This has got to be one of the hardest birds to photograph due to its size, secretive nature, and obscuring and dark habitat preference. I am really pleased with what I managed to get.

Golden-Crowned Kinglet

Golden-Crowned Kinglet

Despite how much more common they are, this was the best I could do with Golden-Crowned Kinglet. A flock of about 20 was mocking me all throughout the park.

Osprey

Osprey

So about that bike wreck. It happened on my way to Eagle Marsh a few weeks ago. I got pretty banged up, but continued on my way anyway. A guy has got to see some shorebirds, amiright? Or at least an Osprey.

Pied-Billed Grebe

Pied-Billed Grebe

The trip also gave me my first encounter of the year with Pied-Billed Grebe. All of these above birds leave me at 130 species on the motorless list!

Raccon

Raccon

On my way back from the bike wreck, I encountered this raccoon.

Life is no way to treat an animal.

“Life is no way to treat an animal.” -KV

But it was looking for a scenic place to spend its last hours. So it goes, Mr. Raccoon. So it goes.