Falling Back

I have fallen behind in blogging, but not birding. Here is a relatively moderate summary of my bird-related activities since September.

DSCN8094

Swamp Adventure at the Binder Park Zoo in Battle Creek, MI

Over Labor Day weekend the family got out of town for a change of scenery. We spent the day in Battle Creek, Michigan at the Binder Park Zoo. For a zoo in a city of its size, Binder Park punches above its weight. One of the highlights is the Swamp Adventure.

DSCN8095

Swamp Adventure Boardwalk

A narrow boardwalk makes a loop over half a mile long through natural wetland. There are no animals on exhibit, and the idea is literally just to walk around and see what kind of animals inhabit the marshes of the Midwest. However, as we walked deeper into the swamp, we encountered numerous disgusted looking families heading toward us out of the wetlands. Every single one of them said, “You’d better turn around, there’s nothing down that way,” or “Don’t waste your time.” People are idiots. We listened to singing Yellow-throated Vireos, saw a flock of Cedar Waxwings, marveled at the size and quantity of swan feces, and watched a huge soft-shelled turtle basking in the shallows. Nothing to see here. Move along.

DSCN8101

Barred Owl behind bars

There is also a really neat kids play area, which for some reason had a cage with an injured Barred Owl directly in the middle of it.

DSCN8106

The Circle of Life

In the African savannah area, the zoo also had a dead zebra on display.

DSCN8107

Feeding Station

I was not the only one who was fooled. It is actually a feeding station for the exhibit’s vultures, which unfortunately were not using it. Very cool.

BBWA

Bay-breasted Warbler

Skipping ahead a few weeks, I helped lead a hike at Franke Park for the Stockbridge Audubon Society. The goal was fall warblers. One that gave some of the best views was a Bay-breasted that had found a large caterpillar.

BTGW

Black-throated Green Warbler

Otherwise, the only other species of note was a Black-throated Green. A follow-up trip to the park yielded similarly disappointing results. It seems as though a few days of strong south winds in the middle of September sent most of the migrants straight over Allen County this year.

WTDE

Urban Deer

In October I hit the Purdue campus to see if I could make some additions to the year’s green list. The only photographable species I got were two very unconcerned White-tailed Deer right next to me on the trail. But I succeeded in getting a small kettle of Broad-winged Hawks, which was a new green bird as well as a new bird for that patch, as was a Red-breasted Nuthatch.

RBNU

Red-breasted Nuthatch

On the subject of Red-breasted Nuthatches, this individual has been hanging out in my yard for over a month. The kids and I have spent a good deal of time watching him, and one day we decided to name him. Walter’s suggestion of “Casey” was defeated in an Instagram poll by an 80-point margin to Alice’s suggestion of “Poopy Ben.”

If this summer was the summer of the Dickcissel, this fall has been the fall of the Red-breasted Nuthatch. They are everywhere right now, and I have been seeing and hearing them consistently on every single birding outing since September.

CAGO

Canadian Invasion

My birding time was limited for much of October, meaning short outings here and there and no long bike rides. I finally changed that this past weekend with a ride down to Eagle Marsh. While too late for shorebird migration (which left lots of big holes in my green list. Pectoral Sandpiper? Ugh), there were some birds around. I scanned a big flock of Canada Geese for any outliers.

SACR

Sandhill Crane

There were no interesting waterfowl, but a very lost Sandhill Crane was failing to hide amongst the flock. I have seen hundreds of cranes this year, but this was the first green one. I am pretty sure it is also the first one that I have seen standing on the ground in Allen County.

WCSP

White-crowned Sparrow

The hits kept coming once I got to Eagle Marsh. My next green pick-ups were sparrows. First, a group of Swamp Sparrows materialized in the brush to become not only green birds but county birds as well. They were followed by a young White-crowned Sparrow, also my first green one of the year. I saw some on my bike ride to Ouabache in May, but they never made the list since I had to get motorized assistance on that trip.

MUSW.JPG

Mute Swans

I had brief hope that some fly-by swans would turn out to be something cool, but alas they were all Mutes.

RWBL & WUBL

Blackbirds

On my ride home, I had one last good sighting for the day. A small flock of blackbirds was up in a tree, and I stopped to scan to see what it consisted of. Mostly Red-winged Blackbirds, Common Grackles, and a few starlings, but mixed in were two Rusty Blackbirds! I imagine these birds are more common than they seem, but that they do a good job of hiding in the other huge blackbird flocks. These birds were in almost exactly the same place as the ones I saw last year, almost in exactly the same tree.

With just under two months to go, I have 137 species on my green list, which is exactly as many as I had in my first year of birding this way in 2015. I may have peaked last year. Even though I still plan on green birding as often as I can, I am looking forward to other adventures in 2019. Chief among them will be a trip to New Mexico in January. My experience with the west consists of a single trip to Boulder and one to San Francisco, and both were before I became a birder, so stay tuned!

Advertisements

Year End Summary: Festivus Edition

(Author’s note: I started this before the holidays, and it is no longer seasonally appropriate, but I am not changing the theme at this point.)

Happy Festivus, everyone! I am about to embark on a car trip that will effectively mean the end of my green birding adventures for the year, so even though 2017 hasn’t yet expired, now is as good a time as any for the obligatory year end summary post.

Part 1: The Pole

An important part of Festivus is the Festivus Pole. I feel like this is appropriate for the birder who is an obsessive lister, because the final size of one’s list ends up being a de facto “pole” measuring contest anyway. Here are my stats:

Total bird species observed: 158
Total miles traveled for birding purposes: 461.2
Miles traveled per species: 2.9 (this is a lot less than I thought it would be!)
Miles biked: 410.3
Miles walked/hiked: 49.4
Miles kayaked: 1.5
Miles driven: 0.0

Now that I have completed three full years of green birding, I have some interesting data to look back on. I have improved my numbers each year, with 137 species in 2015, 143 in 2016, and now 158 in 2017.

Over three years, I have observed a total of 187 species while birding green, all in Allen County, Indiana. There are 108 species that I observed in all three years; 34 species that I observed in two of the years; and 45 species that I observed in only one of the years. Of those single-year only species, 12 were in 2015; 13 were in 2016; and 20 were in 2017. I had nine lifers while green in 2015, five in 2016, and five in 2017.

Part 2: The Airing of Grievances

The airing of grievances is arguably the most famous Festivus tradition. So let me begin. I only had one real mishap this year. In June when I was participating in the Acres Land Trust’s inaugural Bird Blitz, I had a flat tire about 12 miles from home with nothing to fix it. My father-in-law came to the rescue of me and my bike, but I had to wait a couple of weeks before I could ride up to the scene of the accident to pick up where I left off.

There were also several birds that I did not see, leaving me much aggrieved. Particularly because I was so close to the 160 mark. In order of their egregiousness:

5.) Prothonotary Warbler. I came up empty at my two most reliable spots for this bird, and I never saw one anyone else this year, either.

4.) Yellow-billed Cuckoo. I never heard one anywhere at all this year, green or otherwise. Super weird.

3.) Pileated Woodpecker. These birds are year-round residents in Allen County, but every single time I went to the best place to find them, Fox Island, I never saw nor heard a single one all year. I managed a couple of them elsewhere while having driven, but this was a bird I was counting on.

2.) Scarlet Tanager. This is one of the most common and easiest to see migrants in the Midwest. I saw plenty of them this year, just never while I was out under my own power. The worst offender was the bird I saw at my in-laws’ house. The family has lunch there on most Sundays, and on one of them Jaime and I for whatever reason decided to drive instead of riding our bikes like we usually do. That ended up being the day a tanager was in their front yard about half a mile from home. I kicked myself hard that day.

1.) Snowy Owl. Normally this would be an incredibly difficult bird to find in any year, regardless of whether or not I was using gasoline. However, 2017 is having a huge irruption of Snowies, and I did in fact see one when I left my office to drive to it. A single bird was found about seven miles from my home, and it was right in the middle of the Fort Wayne Christmas Bird Count area to boot. Naturally, the owl stuck around for about five days before peacing out the day before the count. The day after the count, I headed out on bicycle to make one last attempt for it, but it never reappeared.

Part 3: The Feats of Strength

There were many birding accomplishments of which I am very proud. In addition to my overall number, I attempted a feat of strength in a green big day on May 17th, in which I traveled 55+ miles and found 77 species despite extremely hot and extremely windy weather.

5.) Northern Waterthrush. I had some subjectively better birds in the form of Henslow’s Sparrow (#1 bird from last year) or Black-billed Cuckoo (state-endangered and lifer), but this was the bird that put me at 150 species in September, allowing me to reach my goal.

20170703_141140

Cell phone shot of bird #4

4.) Black-crowned Night Heron. I saw this bird while on a kayak outing with my son in July. We biked to the livery and paddled the river, so this so far is the only FOY green species I have seen in while kayaking in any year. It was also really cool that Walter was able to see it with me.

RUBL

Bird #3

3.) Rusty Blackbird. State nemesis! I had some really great views of a few Rusties while biking to Eagle Marsh in November. Had I been driving, there is no way I would have found them

2.) Bell’s Vireo. A real birder’s bird: drab, prone to hiding, small, and uncommon. I had a purely lucky right place/right time bird on the Towpath Trail on my way home from Eagle Marsh in August. I stopped to have a snack and it immediately started singing right next to me. There was only one other Bell’s Vireo reported in Allen County this year.

cbc-raptor-2

My best bird of 2017

1.) Merlin. On the second day of the year, I had my best bird of 2017 despite a botched ID at the time. I was taking part in the Southwest Allen County CBC on January 2nd, and as I was riding through Foster Park to get to another location, I stopped to observe (and thankfully photograph) what I thought was a Sharp-shinned Hawk. Instead, it turned out to be a Merlin, and again it was one of only two reported in the county this year.

Part 4: The Send Off

In conclusion, I had a pretty great year, birding and otherwise. I will again be doing my birding green next year, and I hope to go on at least one longer overnight bike trip to find some new birds. If you are also into this kind of thing, let me know about your goals for 2018 or accomplishments in 2017. You can also join the Facebook group I created for the esoteric adventures that are green birding.

Happy Festivus, Happy New Year, and Happy Birding!

Green Friday

I really like the #optoutside campaign to replace Black Friday. I have never used that day for its ‘intended’ purpose, but I am glad that there is starting to be some real momentum for an alternative that is known even on the average person’s social media feed. In Indiana, all state parks were allowing free admission on that day. I didn’t go to one, but I did spend most of the day birding.

NOFL 11.25.17.JPG

Northern Flicker at the backyard feeder

It started with a family viewing of the Northern Flicker that has been patronizing our suet feeder recently. It first appeared earlier in the week while I was at work, and Jaime was incredibly excited to tell me that she used Sibley to identify it. We think it might actually be interested in our screech owl house; it has been frequenting the tree that it is mounted to.

AMCO

Amereican Coot

Later in the morning I departed on my bike to check some local spots for possible new year birds. The first stop was the Fort Wayne water treatment ponds, which I arrived at via a new link to the River Greenway in the form of the Pemberton Levee SELRES_900e3f50-1ad4-44b6-89b5-eb9b2c4fc06eSELRES_fded3a05-735c-415b-beb1-861ac23ab939SELRES_e011007f-aee9-4854-a57d-f9cd336335d9SELRES_734f4210-8dd9-4c2a-97c7-efdb161473b3TrailSELRES_734f4210-8dd9-4c2a-97c7-efdb161473b3SELRES_e011007f-aee9-4854-a57d-f9cd336335d9SELRES_fded3a05-735c-415b-beb1-861ac23ab939SELRES_900e3f50-1ad4-44b6-89b5-eb9b2c4fc06e. This new route doesn’t really save any distance, but it is nice to ride separate from traffic for even half a mile. There were a lot of birds at the ponds, but unfortunately not a lot of diversity and nothing new. I enjoyed some closer-than-usual looks at American Coots.

GHOW

Great Horned Owl

The star of the show at the ponds ended up being a Great Horned Owl that I flushed from right next to the trail. It flew up and perched close by allowing me to get a photo for the first time and also for the Blue Jays to thoroughly harass it.

Lindenwood

Lindenwood Cemetery

My next stop was Lindenwood Cemetery just on the other side of downtown. My primary goal there was winter finches. Specifically, I hoped for Red Crossbills. Indiana is experiencing a major irruption this year, and they have appeared at Lindenwood in years past because it offers the most conifers of any site near the city. No luck for me on Friday because the leaf blowers were out in force, so with time to spare I decided to keep riding and add another stop to my birding agenda.

RUBL

Rusty Blackbird

I took the Towpath Trail southwest toward Eagle Marsh. While I was riding on a particularly birdy segment I saw what at first I thought was a starling up in a tree. I wasn’t going to slow down, but right as I became even with it I could tell it was something else, and I braked to get out the binoculars. It flew down into the brush after a moment, and I stood there waiting to see if it would re-emerge. When it finally did, I was able to confirm it as a Rusty Blackbird, which was a state bird and also Allen County bird #199. It was soon joined by a friend as well as some Red-winged Blackbirds. While not totally unexpected, this bird wasn’t really on my radar as one that I might get green.

Eagle Marsh.JPG

Eagle Marsh

When I got to Eagle Marsh I decided to eschew my usual path and take the newly completed Continental Divide trail all the way around the preserve. It was windy but sunny, and bird numbers were low as the temperature had not risen enough to melt all of the ice.

AMWI.JPG

American Wigeon

The larger basins were mostly clear though, so I spent a good deal of time scanning the Mallards and Northern Shovelers for anything different. I was rewarded by two American Wigeon, pictured above as a diagnostic photo only because they were something of a nemesis for me, a long overdue life bird, and the only duck regularly occurring in the inland-Midwest that I had not seen. Plus with the Rusty from earlier, they were Allen County bird #200.

The last notable sighting as I was leaving the marsh to head home was a flyby Northern Harrier making my third year bird for the day. I ended the day with a green list of 158 species, all in Allen County. When I got home, I saw a report of a Snowy Owl the next county over that I was within 10 miles of. In addition to crossbills, Indiana is also currently experiencing a big invasion of Snowies, and I could have gone for that one by foregoing my other birding stops. But even as cool of a pickup as that would have been on a bicycle, I am glad that I birded where I did on Green Friday and found my own birds to add to the list.

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.