Starting This 5MR (With Guest Blogger)

Since January 1st all of my Indiana birding has been inside of my 5MR. It has been productive!

HAWO

Hairy Woodpecker

In the first few days of January every bird is exciting. It’s always great to reset the odometer and be able to count literally everything all over again, from the ubiquitous Northern Cardinal to the otherwise aggravating House Sparrow. During that glorious window where each and every feeder bird is new again, I was also lucky enough to be visited by a female Hairy Woodpecker, which is infrequently seen in the yard.

Johnny Appleseed

Johnny Appleseed Park

Outside of feeder watching, I have also made a few brief forays deeper into my 5MR territory, including visits to find ducks at Johnny Appleseed Park and the water treatment ponds.

Goldeneye

Common Goldeneye

I was lucky enough to get a nice little waterfowl haul that included Common Goldeneye at both locations. These trips also yielded Common and Hooded Mergansers, Ring-necked Ducks, American Coots, and numerous other water-based FOYs:

GBHE

Great Blue Heron

RBGU

correction: Herring Gull!

**Thank you so much to commentor Raf for pointing out that this is actually a Herring Gull, and not the Ring-billed I assumed it to be. I noted the field mark of “bird is a gull inland in February” and therefore just checked it off as a Ring-billed. Shame on me. Herring is actually an incredibly good county bird here, and I believe this is only the third one I have seen.

MUSW

Mute Swan

Most of the rest of the month of January was spent alternating between bouts of weird weather. The star of the weather show, though, was last week’s Polar Vortex during which the temperature did not exceed -10 degrees Fahrenheit for approximately three days. While I still had to go to work during that time, someone was at home stuck inside with the kids but still keeping an eye on our bird situation: my oft-mentioned but never before featured wife, Jaime! Everything below is in her own (orange) words, and also her photos. She deserves literally all of the credit for me being able to see a state bird in our own yard as well as tick a rather uncommon variety of hawk!

Feeb

My recent bird binge started when I looked out of our kitchen window and saw a strange-looking squirrel in the owl box. I quickly grabbed Greg’s camera and zoomed in for a closer look.

Snowy Owl

Strange-looking Squirrel

I started screaming and jumping up and down, and our daughter came in to see what was the matter. I called Greg at work frantically and yelled to him “there’s an owl in the owl house!” He thought one of the kids had been injured until he realized what I was yelling into the phone.

EASO

Eastern Screech-Owl

It was so fluffy and so sleepy, and there was snow blowing in its face. It was cute. I want one. I couldn’t stop looking at it all day.

Three Amigos

Three Amigos

So then I was on bird watch. I was mostly concerned that it would swoop down and eat one of our other birds, but it didn’t. As I was watching all of the other birds, I saw in the pine tree that there were these other colorful ones all huddled together, and I liked them even though they are common. I was moved to photograph them.

RSHA

Red-shouldered Hawk

Later when I was looking out the window, I saw a giant thing fly down and sit on the branch in our neighbors’ tree. I thought at first it was the owl, but then when I saw how big it was I knew it was a hawk of some sort, but not one I had ever seen before. It was some sort of shouldered-hawk. It impressed Greg.

Starling.JPG

Not an owl

It eventually got dark and we couldn’t see the owl any more, then the next day there was a squirrel in the owl house. A few hours later another bird was in there, but it was not an owl unfortunately. Just a starling trying to stay dry. They must be smart birds. There were also about 50 of them in our yard. But I was sad. I missed Ollie the owl.

I want everyone to know that I was traumatized by birding one time when we went hiking and I got a bug in my eye. Also there was a turkey on the loose that we couldn’t see but we could hear chasing us. Other than that, I like birding.

Two Thirds Plus Three

On Sunday I rode out to Eagle Marsh to play mop-up duty on shorebirds. Of the possibilities, the two Yellowlegses were the most obvious outstanding omissions from my green list.

Continental Divide

Continental Divide

In the last year and a half there was some serious earthwork at Eagle Marsh. Some of it was to repair infrastructure damaged from flooding, some of it was habitat restoration, and some of it was to control invasive Asian Carp. Eagle Marsh is on the last line of defense for the Great Lakes, with the fish reaching the property but no farther. The newly opened Continental Divide trail meanders along high ground in between the two watersheds, with carp on the Mississippi side but not the Great Lakes side. Spillways between levees have chain link fences projecting over the high water mark to physically prevent the fish from making the jump.

BEKI

Belted Kingfisher

Even with such high stakes, this Belted Kingfisher was not interested in following anyone’s rules. Punk.

BAEA

Bald Eagle

Meanwhile in the other watershed, I wondered if the possibility of a clumsy eagle dropping its dinner over the berm could be the proverbial straw on the camel’s back?

GBHE1

Great Blue Heron

The birds didn’t seem to bother with such questions. As always, it was all about food. Usually skittish, this Great Blue Heron did not care at all about how close I was.

GBHE2

The definition of potential energy

It slowly crouched into a striking position and waited patiently as fish rippled around in the water.

GRYE

Yellowlegs

The heron had much more patience than I did. While it watched for lunch, I turned my camera to the mud behind it to try and get one of those Lesser/Greater Yellowlegs comparison shots. This is the best I could do. But both birds were had, so they officially gave me a new green year personal record and only two thirds of the way through the year. Woo!

GBHE3

Lunch

Meanwhile, the heron made its catch, the action of which I missed. It didn’t appear to be a carp either. Bummer. At least it was a substantial meal.

LEYE

Lesser Yellowlegs

So back to shorebirds I turned. I could not turn any of the Yellowlegs into Stilt Sandpipers, and try as I might, I could not turn any of the Leasts into Semipalmateds.

EAKI

Eastern Kingbird

So in an uncharacteristic move for Eagle Marsh, I got distracted by passerines. A small flock of young kingbirds bravely defended their tree from a Cedar Waxwing.

PHVI

Warbling Vireo

But they totally didn’t care about this bird. In my field notes I wrote this down as ‘vireo sp.’ Then I convinced myself it was a Tennessee Warbler. Following that, some spirited discussion on Facebook had a couple of experts whose word I trust very highly call it a Philadelphia Vireo which would have been a county bird. But the final verdict, I believe, is Warbling Vireo. Even with those dark lores, the overall coloration and shape of the bird make it the most boring possibility.

GRHE

Green Heron

A bird with no possible conflict of identity was this Green Heron.

AMMI

American Mink

The heron was hunting the exact same stretch of water as a sneaky American Mink, which was the last thing I saw before heading home.

I mounted my bike and started riding home on the towpath trail, but then I remembered that I still had an uneaten Cliff bar with me. I pulled over and as I was eating a weird song erupted out of the brush very close to the trail and to my right. I recognized the song which sounded like a DJ scratching records, but it took me a moment to place it. Bell’s Vireo! Talk about a right-place-right-time bird. I managed this cell phone video to catch a little bit of the song (if you can hear it over the shrillness of the insects). BEVI is regular but uncommon in Allen County, with only a handful of records each year. I had heard this species twice before at Eagle Marsh, but it was totally off my radar as a possibility on my ride that day. This was definitely a bird only made possible by biking, since there would not have been reason for me to be in that area if I drove.

RSHA 08.24.17

Red-shouldered Hawk

The weekend was incredibly productive even from home, where a Red-shouldered Hawk was sitting on a utility pole across the street when I got home from work on Thursday. This yard bird was also new for the green list this year, meaning that it plus my three additions on Saturday give me 146 species, and it’s still only August. I could count up the four most glaring holes in my list to put me at the ever-elusive 150 mark, but I don’t want to jinx it. Let’s just say that most wanted #1 rhymes with “Fileated Hoodpecker.”

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!