Bicycle Blitz

My office closed early on Friday because we were having the carpets cleaned. So instead of working until noon, I took the morning off too and did what any normal person would do with all of that free time: go on an 8.5 hour, 45-mile bike ride around the county hitting all of the major birding spots along the way.

I left home before sunrise to make it to Eagle Marsh by 6:30am to meet up with Rodger, one of Fort Wayne’s wisest birding sages. I had a bunch of summer marsh birds to pick up, but my real goal of the morning was rails.

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Sora

We hit on my biggest target bird in Sora. This is actually a life bird for me (I don’t count heard-only birds), and one individual actually showed itself for about a minute or two for me to fire off some photos despite the poor morning light. It is also my 200th Indiana species.

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Marsh Wren

A Marsh Wren popped up directly in front of me to gather some cattail fluff for an assumed nest.

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Red-winged Blackbird

Female Red-winged Blackbirds are pretty in a different way than their men.

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Great Blue Heron

More love for common birds.

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Bald Eagle

A visit to Eagle Marsh wouldn’t be complete without a sighting of its namesake species, in this case getting its tower buzzed.

I finished at the marsh and made my way alone to Fox Island for some woodland birds.

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Fox Island

There were disappointingly few migrants around, but the scenery was gorgeous. On other days, Fox Island also serves as the gates to Mosquito Hell, but they were almost non-existent when I showed up.

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Indigo Bunting

The most numerous bird of the day had to be Indigo Bunting.

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Acadian Flycatcher

Despite the (lack of) lighting, I like the way this Acadian Flycatcher turned out. Without hearing their song, this picture shows about everything you need to identify one, anyway.

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Baby Raccoon

I thought that the movement inside of this hollow snag was an owl at first. It turned out to be a nest of a different kind.

I ate my lunch on the deck of the nature center and refilled my water before trekking out on the last third of my day. Rather than having a specific destination, the afternoon was reserved for traveling country roads in search of grassland and shore birds.

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A productive field

I rode past a field that is famous for attracting all manner of shorebirds, but found nothing there except for one single species feeding in the mud.

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Red-headed Woodpecker

Yes, it was a Red-headed Woodpecker, because that makes sense, right? When I approached, it flew up to the lone utility pole stuck in the middle of the field. But trust me, this thing was acting like a damn sandpiper. Birding is weird. Red-headed Woodpecker is a county bird for me. They are regular in Allen County year-round but not very common, so it’s kind of a crap shoot to see one. Dumb luck paid off.

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Farm Fresh

Just up the road from the woodpecker I put on the brakes for a flock of turkeys that I thought were eating under a bird feeder in a yard. On second look, just kidding, not wild. Oh well.

The day ended up being incredibly great (and tiring). I ended with 70 species, 17 of which were new green year birds for a list-to-date of 123. This is about four months ahead of my pace from last year without any rarities supplementing the list. Plus I slew my two heard-only nemeses from 2015: Eastern Towhee and Wood Thrush. I expect that the count will slow down considerably from here, but I missed several target birds that I will go back for. I also still haven’t seen a hummingbird yet this year. Again, birding is weird. But good!

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Eagle vs. Owl: Battle for the Marsh

The Indiana online birding world is reeling. The forces of good have apparently been undone by pure evil. Are any of us truly safe any more? High drama to be sure, and it’s all unfolding right here in my city.

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Immature Bald Eagle

Before I start, let me say that I have nothing against Bald Eagles. Bald Eagles are fine, kind of like how Red-tailed Hawks and Great Blue Herons are fine.

As its name implies, Eagle Marsh is the best place to see them in Fort Wayne. But I have also seen them at the water treatment plant, Foster Park, while driving along the highway, and soaring over the middle of downtown. Not to mention in close to a dozen other places around the state. They are common and widespread here. I understand that this was not always the case, but it has been decades since they were really in any existential danger, so maybe my age plays into my attitude about them.

With that said, Bald Eagles have a huge fandom around here. The most commonly list-served bird? Bald Eagle. The bird with the most photos on the Birding Indiana Facebook group? Bald Eagle. The bird anyone wants to talk about when they find out you are into birds? Bald Eagle.

So imagine the drama that has been unfolding this week when this was spotted:

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Nest

This is a nest built by Bald Eagles at the aforementioned Eagle Marsh. It has been productive for years, and it is incredibly easy to see from the main road going by the preserve. The days are rare that I don’t see at least one car pulled off to the side with camera pointed at this nest. And even I am guilty of stopping to look when an adult is perched on it or in the trees close by. But look carefully at the photo above.

That is not an eagle head sticking up out of the nest. Those are the ear tufts of a Great Horned Owl, which has apparently evicted the resident pair of eagles and usurped the nest. My first reaction to hearing this news was one of elation. GHOW was a nemesis for me in the state, and the bird above is my state bird, not to mention a solid green bird #58 for the year. I am super pumped about this owl, and I hope it succeeds in raising a brood.

To everyone else, this news is a tragedy. It kind of makes me feel like I am rooting for the bad guy. But when you can see eagles easily almost anywhere where there is water, why aren’t more people happy to have this owl? Am I in the wrong here, or what?

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Eastern Bluebird

Having been exhausted by so much drama, I spent the rest of my outing playing with my new camera. A warm winter has made for poor waterfowl viewing this year, so I had to resort to shooting more common and resident birds, like this hot mess of an Eastern Bluebird.

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Red-winged Blackbird

Similar to the eagle vs. owl debate, there seems to be a raging fight over which bird truly means that spring is finally here: American Robin or Red-winged Blackbird? Having seen both birds by early January, my vote goes to Hermit Thrush.

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Muskrat

Mammals had a good showing, too. This muskrat sat dumbly chomping on a cattail as I stood ten feet away. On the other side of the trail, I heard some rustling in the reeds and saw some movement out of the corner of my eye. Hoping it was an interesting sparrow, I turned to face the noise and pished to draw it out…

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American Mink

Instead of a bird head popping up, I got a surprise mink giving me the stink eye. These mustelids seem to be thriving here, but it was great to be so close to one.

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Beaver Work

The other charismatic mammal of the marsh didn’t make an appearance, but they were obviously around.

The last interesting thing to note: I saw one of the marsh’s Bald Eagles (the one in the first photo above) nastily bullying a Red-tailed Hawk around. It almost seemed like it was taking out the frustration from its second-place finish on the hawk. Crazy times we live in when a Red-tailed hawk is only the third most dominant raptor around.

Back from a month off

Sorry for that long delay. In the mean time, I (finally) saw some Cedar Waxwings (#126) flying and zeeeing over my backyard in June. Year bird and yard bird at the same time. Word! Since then, I have seen them all over the place. It only took six months.

Recently, Fort Wayne has been enjoying a spate of several uncommon birds. I went chasing after one today and found it almost immediately perched on a fence at the Fort Wayne International Airport. Behold:

Upland Sandpiper

#127 Upland Sandpiper

Life bird and year bird #127, Upland Sandpiper! Not common in Indiana; more a resident of the open prairie. These guys are extremely early fall migrants, and it is likely that this one is on his way south even though it’s barely July.

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Anger

I also happened upon the world’s angriest Red-Winged Blackbird. It happens.

Election Day at Eagle Creek

As government employees, Jaime and I get Election Day off. So Jaime used the occasion to plan a celebratory graduation adventure day that consisted of, among other things, seeing The Avengers and going to lunch at the Historic Steer Inn. But for me the highlight of the day was 3 relaxing hours of birding with my wife at Eagle Creek Park on the west side of Indianapolis. I thought I had a productive day this past weekend, but today beat it easily: 30 species seen, including FOUR lifers.

It also marked the first time I encountered a truly rare bird. Well, we didn’t actually see it. But we did run across dozens of people scanning the islands of the bird sanctuary’s lake, scouring the flocks of roosting Double-Crested Cormorants for one solitary Neotropic Cormorant among them, which is only the second individual of that species ever recorded in the state of Indiana. Even without logging one of those, I had a great birding day nonetheless. Here are some pictures.

Scarlet Tanager

Scarlet Tanager (lifer!). After being really pumped about seeing my first Summer Tanager on Saturday, I was high-fiving Jaime when I completed the set with this Scarlet Tanager, who we probably would have missed if not for the tip from a fellow birder there for the Neotropic Cormorant. We also saw this little guy’s wife, but I couldn’t get a photo of her.

Black-Throated Green Warbler

Black-Throated Green Warbler (lifer!). I am still enough of a novice that pretty much any Warbler I can definitely ID is a lifer for me. This guy was no exception, and Jaime and I watched him for about 15 minutes. We were only able to identify him after consulting Roger Tory Peterson when we got home.

Orchard Oriole

Orchard Oriole (lifer!). I only got to take one photo of this guy before he flew off. Good thing it turned out great!

Prothonotary Warbler

Prothonotary Warbler (lifer!). Enjoy this photo of a Prothonotary Warbler’s butt. This was my last lifer of the day, and his ID was again secret until we got home. I would like to note that he was much more orange in the face than the field guide would have lead me to believe.

Baltimore Oriole

Baltimore Oriole. Since I’m on a theme of orange birds.

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Baltimore Oriole. As an added bonus, we were able to spot a female in her nest!

Red-Winged Blackbird

Red-Winged Blackbird. I’m now officially out of orange.

Eastern Kingbird

Eastern Kingbird. I like these guys a lot.

Tree Swallow

Tree Swallow. Iridescent and turquoise, a pair of these guys may or may not have attacked us as we got too close to their nest box.

Official tally for the day (in order of appearance):
1.) Mallard
2.) Canada Goose
3.) American Crow
4.) Red-Bellied Woodpecker
5.) Northern Cardinal
6.) Blue Jay
7.) Yellow-Rumped Warbler
8.) Brown-Headed Cowbird
9.) Carolina Chickadee
10.) Great Blue Heron
11.) Downy Woodpecker (vocalization only)
12.) Black-Throated Green Warbler (lifer!)
13.) American Goldfinch
14.) White-Breasted Nuthatch (vocalization only)
15.) Tufted Titmouse
16.) Double-Crested Cormorant
17.) Scarlet Tanager (lifer!)
18.) American Coot
19.) Yellow Warbler
20.) Song Sparrow
21.) Baltimore Oriole
22.) Gray Catbird
23.) Orchard Oriole (lifer!)
24.) Red-Winged Blackbird
25.) Cedar Waxwing
26.) Tree Swallow
27.) Eastern Kingbird
28.) Mourning Dove
29.) Prothonotary Warbler (lifer!)
30.) Eastern Bluebird