Catching Up

Moving was a huge time (and money) sink, but I still had a very good birding time lately. Here are some highlights spanning back through the last month.

NOPI

Northern Pintail

I made a concentrated effort to bird Eagle Marsh multiple times before switching houses, because that destination is now about an hour’s ride away rather than just 20 minutes by bike. It was very productive this spring, and the newly created mitigation wetlands offered some up-close viewing for ducks I don’t often see well like these Northern Pintail.

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Red-breasted Merganser

The neighboring ponds at the Serv-All sanitation mitigation area also did well. I had my first green Red-breasted Mergansers there back in March.

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American Mink

The adjoining marshes also represent mammals well. Eagle Marsh is the best place to see mustelids in the area, with skunks and minks both abundant. This mink was entirely unconcerned with me.

RUDU

Ruddy Duck

I was also able to slay a state nemesis (finally)! I have gone out to the marsh seeking Ruddy Ducks more times than I can count, and I was never able to get one until April 1. The date and my previous luck made me think it was a joke, but this was in fact a real bird and a new addition to the green list.

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Tundra Swans

The Ruddy Duck was exciting enough that I almost missed another state (and life) bird swimming in the same impoundment. These two Tundra Swans were a complete surprise since they only pass through the county in small numbers. I admired them for a while and tried to decide if they were Tundras or Trumpeters as I hiked around the water to try and get the best vantage point. In doing so, I momentarily shared the same stretch of path with a guy who had a huge long lens and a complete camo outfit.

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Tundra Swans

The swans were totally fine with our presence, and Mr. Long Lens put his camera down for a moment, so I whispered over to him, “Tundra or Trumpeter?” He looked at me like I insulted his grandmother, then he did an about face and marched away at about 30 miles per hour without saying a word. Birding is weird.

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Belted Kingfisher

The encounter was fine, though, because I much preferred to hang out with a Belted Kingfisher anyway.

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Purple Finch

Fast forward a week, and I had a couple of hours one afternoon after our move during which I intended to ride my bike from the new house to the old and back to connect my green list and make it continuous. Fortunately for me, I also had a pretty awesome target bird to chase in my old neighborhood when a former neighbor and birding friend alerted me to Purple Finches at her home feeders.

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Purple Finches

I picked up the male right away, and within a minute or two he flew in to the feeder with a female for some up-close and highly satisfying views. A county bird, and my first time ever seeing one in male-type plumage. A huge addition to the green list.

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Ruby-crowned Kinglet

Finally we are in the present, and having connected my green list to the new house, my new yard provided its first addition in the form of a small, pleasant flock of Ruby-crowned Kinglets flitting around my pine tree. I am pretty excited about the yard. It has spruce, pine, cedar, cherry, and ash trees for plenty of diversity, and it is directly across the street from a park with a large stand of mature oaks. A week and a half in I am at 23 birds on my yard list. I will be eagerly checking out a couple of new spots that may also be good enough for the title “local patch” once migration really kicks into gear. The green list is currently at 77, and it should be exploding in numbers very shortly. I can’t wait!

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Overtime

The concept of overtime has been very relevant to me lately. I have been working some pretty nutso hours, and my football team of choice needed an extra period to steal a win over the weekend. As the birding goes, I also got an extra chance to make up for some missed points this fall. Jaime wrangled the kids on top of making me a pie and doing all of the million other things she does every day so that I could go out birding a couple of times over my birthday weekend. Thanks, Feeb!

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My favorite view of Foster Park

I started off Friday afternoon walking to Foster Park. There weren’t many target birds left for me to get on the year there, and what few were possible (Orange-crowned Warbler, Gray-cheeked Thrush, Philadelphia Vireo) did not show up. I did have a nice hike, though. And the pleasant toot-toot-tooting of a Red-breasted Nuthatch was a new bird for me at the park, and tipped Foster’s eBird hotspot meter into the triple digits. It now has a green pin on the map instead of blue. That felt good!

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Brown Creeper

A few of the regular winter birds were around, so I enjoyed them, like this Brown Creeper and its ace camouflage.

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Ruby-crowned Kinglet

I dare you to name a bird that is more receptive to pishing and less wary of people than Ruby-crowned Kinglets. Go ahead. I’ll wait. Not possible, right?

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Groundhog

This plump fellow was watching me with great disdain. I suspect he will disappear into his burrow for the winter pretty soon.

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Clouded Sulphur

Leps will also become scarce soon. Better enjoy them while they’re still around.

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American Red Squirrel

A surprising entry from Team Mammal was this American Red Squirrel. I heard a weird alarm call that I didn’t recognize, and thinking it could be some unexpected bird or an infrequently-used cry to betray the presence of a raptor, I spent some time looking for it. This tiny rodent was the culprit. I was not disappointed, though, since I have only seen one in the park one or two other times. These squirrels are not nearly as common as the utterly abundant Fox Squirrel or even the less often encountered Eastern Gray Squirrel, and this one was pretty far away from the evergreens I thought they preferred.

The next afternoon I rode out in beautiful sunshine but nasty headwind to make it to Eagle Marsh. I failed spectacularly at getting all of the regular shorebirds earlier in the spring and fall, so I had quite a bit of lost time to make up. The overtime period was much needed.

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Long-billed Dowitcher

Hoping for an easy pick-up of Semipalmated Sandpiper (which I missed and will probably end the year without. Ugh. Really?), I instead bumbled into a much less expected sight: Long-billed Dowitcher. I managed a distant, blurry photo for the split second it actually had its bill out of the water so that its ridiculous length is evident. Further examination of my photos show that there were actually two birds, which I missed entirely in the field. This is a life bird for me, and green bird #140 this year. Greater Yellowlegs was also around for #141 and it saved me from another embarrassing shorebird miss.

I am now beyond my total from last year’s motorless challenge, and only 9 birds away from a nice, round 150. Opportunities to add anything more to this list will be few and far between, but with some strategy I think it is still attainable. My most likely options that are still on the table are: Dunlin, Wilson’s Snipe, Purple Finch, Northern Pintail, American Black Duck, White-crowned Sparrow, Black-capped Chickadee, Herring Gull, Common Loon, and Lapland Longspur. But I will take anything that the birding gods throw at me, especially since this is supposed to be a good year for some of the less common winter finches…

Business Casual Birding

My new job has me frequently traversing the state and going into small communities in far-flung Indiana counties. Yesterday, I had to attend a town council meeting in an incredibly rural area whose entire county has less people living in it than my neighborhood. But few people generally means more birds. So I took the opportunity to go to the nearby Pine Creek Game Bird Habitat, which was only 20 minutes out of my way, even on gravel roads.

Pine Creek

Pine Creek

Pine Creek is in the heart of windmill country. Don Quixote would quickly meet his match here. Being totally surrounded by these enormous, silent, and spinning monoliths is kind of creepy. But the birding was superb, even if I was dressed to do business. It doesn’t hurt if you have some dirt on your shoes in these salt-of-the-earth farm towns.

Killdeer Klaxon

Killdeer Klaxon

Pine Creek is a haven for pheasants and other grassland birds, but at this time of the year the highlight was the mostly dry marsh. Shore birds were myriad but guarded by screaming hordes of Killdeer who wouldn’t let me sneak up on anything.

Wilson's Snipe

Wilson’s Snipe

Thankfully, not everyone was as quick on the uptake as the Killdeer. Despite screaming and taking off in alarm and causing the whole damn mudflat to fly off, not everyone knew what they were running from. Case in point: this Wilson’s Snipe landed about 20 feet from me when things calmed down.

You can't see me

You can’t see me

I am not used to seeing snipe as stretched out as that. This one was doing a much better job looking like it was supposed to.

White-Rumped Sandpiper

Dunlin

Giving me some ID trouble were this group of Dunlin.

American Pipit

American Pipit

American Pipit gave me a life bird. 99% of the time I go birding alone, so one time I was kind of taken aback when a more experienced birder referred to this bird as “pipp-it,” which sounds silly to me. I had always assumed it was pronounced “pipe-it.” Which one is correct?

Gray-Cheeked Thrush

Gray-Cheeked Thrush

And now to totally switch gears, this bird was seen at Foster Park last weekend. Gray-Cheeked Thrush is motorless bird #131 on the year.

Ruby-Crowned Kinglet

Ruby-Crowned Kinglet

Foster also held a sizeable flock of Ruby-Crowned Kinglets, which at first I thought were hummingbirds. No fewer than three individual birds were sporadically hovering at the tips of those little flowers, doing who knows what. This is a behavior I have never seen in these birds, and enough of them were doing it to make me feel like I am missing out on something.

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I also came across this scene from Breaking Bad. I will just stop now.

Early Migrants

Jaime and I were back in Indianapolis this weekend to pack up all of our worldly possessions in anticipation for our move to The Fort. But I still managed to get in a trip to Eagle Creek, and I am certainly glad that I did. I ended up with 10 new year birds, including a life bird, some of which were migrating early enough to be considered “rare” by eBird:

#082 Black-and-White Warbler

#082 Black-and-White Warbler

My first Warbler of the year was a variety I was not expecting: Black-and-White. As far as I can tell from what has been reported, this fellow may be one of the first to be seen in the state this year.

#083 Blue-Gray Gnatcatcher

#083 Blue-Gray Gnatcatcher

A swarm of Blue-Gray Gnatcatchers were feeding with the Black-and-White Warbler, representing my next FOY (first of year).

#084 Yellow-Rumped Warbler

#084 Yellow-Rumped Warbler

My next Warbler was the one that I expected to be first. Yellow-Rumped Warblers are just about the only Warbler expected to winter in Indiana.

#086 Ruby-Crowned Kinglet

#085 Ruby-Crowned Kinglet

Continuing the theme of small, color-named birds is the Ruby-Crowned Kinglet, who was also participating in the mixed foraging flock. Their Golden-Crowned bretheren were also there but not as willing to pose for photos.

#086 Pine Warbler

#086 Pine Warbler

My third Warbler for the day was of the Pine variety. There were several floating around the woods by Lily Lake, but this female was the only one who would stay still long enough to be photographed. Males are bright yellow.

#087 Hermit Thrush

#087 Hermit Thrush

I am not usually very good at identifying the brown woodland Thrushes, but this Hermit Thrush posed quite nicely to show off its reddish tail, helping me greatly with identification.

#088 Blue-Winged Teal

#088 Blue-Winged Teal

Switching gears from passerine birds, here are some Blue-Winged Teal, which are some of the last Indiana ducks I am missing for the year. They also represent a pretty decent run of photographs of consecutively-numbered year birds for me (in case you hadn’t noticed, we just got #82-88 without skipping a beat).

#090 American Bittern

#090 American Bittern

The final new bird of the day, no doubt the best, and also a lifer, was this terrifying American Bittern. Do not look directly into its unblinking, demonic eye.

(New birds that were not photographed include #081 Double-Crested Cormorant and #089 Eastern Phoebe.)