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:

RBGR

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.

front-yard-owl-12-17-2016

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.

rbnu2

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.

bwha

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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Spontaneous Generation

In my high school biology class, I remember that we had textbooks that seemed to give condescending consideration to the other “theories” that I am sure some arcane law dictated that the publisher include with the chapter on the origins of life and evolution. After discussing sexual selection and evolutionary fitness at length, I distinctly remember the book talking about stuff like “intelligent design” with a not so subtle wink wink to the legislature while also introducing other cockamamie theories and giving them equal weight. Theories like the one where organelles and parts of animals were just kind of there and floating around in the soup and one day they combined together to make whole animals. Or the one that was our class favorite, “spontaneous generation.”

I am sure Wikipedia could correct me, but going purely on recall, I believe this is a mostly medieval theory that said provided the right conditions life would just kind of show up. For instance. Do you want to generate a hive of bees? Then hollow out on ox carcass and leave it in the sun for a few days. Mice? Put some old shirts in a root cellar.

Long story short, I was thinking about spontaneous generation on Saturday while out for a nice long bike ride. My goal was open country winter birds, and the subtle differences in field texture and vegetation at this time of year made me think of what could give rise to a host of different species. Wild Turkey? Put your corn stubble next to a woodlot. Snowy Owl? Make sure you have lots and lots of acres with a few high spots of ground. I did not see any birds as good as those, but I did get one new one for the green list in the habitat that generates it:

Domain of the HOLA.JPG

Domain of the Horned Lark

Want to grow some Horned Larks? Then look for nothing. Seriously. Plowed-under dirt seems to be their favorite habitat. I didn’t think organisms could thrive on literally nothing, but it wouldn’t shock me if there were flocks of HOLAs flitting around in the vacuum of space.

HOLA.JPG

Horned Lark

There were plenty of birds out in those fields, but brown on brown doesn’t photograph well, so here is one that I saw while on a scouting mission for work earlier in the week when there was still snow on the ground.

HOLA is a bird I did not say hola to last year for the simple reason that I didn’t look for them. I had to go way out of my way, but it was an easy tick to give me a new green species that I didn’t have in 2015. Despite the energy for this bird, the ride was enjoyable. The wind was roaring the whole day which made for difficulty at times, but the headwind was more than made up for when I was blasting in high gear uphill because of the 30+ mile per hour wind at my back. I was almost keeping up with traffic on some of the country roads which made for one of the few times while birding that I actually felt like a badass to passers-by.

SACR.JPG

Sandhill Cranes

The wind was wreaking havoc on all but the terrestrial birds (hence the lark party), but I did also manage my first Turkey Vulture of the year and a few flocks of Sandhill Cranes trying in vain to keep formation despite the gale.

PISI.JPG

Pine Siskins

Once the wind was done, it replaced the balmy weather on Saturday with some colder temperatures on Sunday. But it also blew in some great birds in the form of a small flock of Pine Siskins hanging out in my back yard. New yard bird! I only managed one of the irruptive winter specialties last year with Red-breasted Nuthatch, so if these are the only ones I see this year I am still keeping on pace. Also: has anyone else ever noticed how much Pine Siskins and Northern Parulas sound alike?

COHA.JPG

Cooper’s Hawk

My last green bird of the weekend was this Cooper’s Hawk. Is this some weird molt or more like this kind of situation?

Random Exploration

In my new job, I have the privilege of roaming the state of Indiana in search of cool, abandoned places. Recently, I have been exploring North-Central Indiana, where the place names are a random juxtaposition of Native American (Shipshewanna, Kankakee) and Polish (Kosciusko, Pulaski). I have seen some interesting things.

Blight

Blight

A decomposing power plant in Warsaw.

Decay

Decay

An abandoned motel in Philadelphia, IN.

Vacancy

Vacancy

I can’t even fathom when was the last time someone actually rented this room.

MODO

MODO

I have seen birds too in these wanderings. Sometimes they are as common as a MODO on a barbed wire fence.

Sandhill Cranes

Sandhill Cranes

Yesterday, I came across a flock of several hundred Sandhill Cranes in a field outside San Pierre (French? Spanish?). A very cool sight, since I usually only see them as giant wave formations passing overhead and rarely on the ground.

San Pierre

San Pierre

The townspeople obviously think so too, because the welcome sign on the way into town (population: 158) depicts a lone crane. I didn’t stop to photograph it, but miraculously Wikipedia has a picture of it, so here you go.

Dapper Waxwing

Dapper Waxwing

Since this post is now just a random jumble of things, I will end it with my cool art print that I got from Berkley Illustration. I have been following this guy for a few years, and when I saw this on Instagram I had to purchase it immediately. If you are in need of a last-minute Christmas gift for that nature-enthusiast in your life, I can’t recommend his stuff enough. Besides birds, I am also partial to lumberjack chipmunk and Wes Anderson meerkat.

Magical Bird Wonderland

Today I was fortunate enough to have a meeting for work in the small city of Linton. For those of you not familiar with Indiana birding locations, Linton is the home of the Goose Pond Fish and Wildlife Area, also known as Magical Bird Wonderland and the state’s premier birding location not located on Lake Michigan. I made sure to arrive at the meeting extra early to get in some quality birding time. Despite the driving rain, it was a more than great day!

#054 Sandhill Crane

#054 Sandhill Crane

If Indiana does one bird well, it is the Sandhill Crane, and Goose Pond does the Sandhill Crane very well. Since its establishment, Goose Pond has actually altered the migration route of these birds, causing massive swarms of the four-foot-tall beasts to gather there in the winter. There were literally thousands, if not tens of thousands of cranes. They covered the corn stubble fields, grazing like massive herds of avian cattle. They passed overhead in wave after wave of unending V’s. The cranes here may actually be the most incredible natural phenomenon I have ever seen, and a highly worthy year bird #054

#056 American White Pelican

#056 American White Pelican

Also among the impressive flocks of birds was the continuing mass of American White Pelicans that had taken over many of the muskrat lodges in the main pool. These are a rarity in Indiana at this time of year, giving me a very good year bird #056. Not that #055 Common Grackle wasn’t also good, but I will probably not be seeing pelicans every day this spring and summer in my neighborhood.

#058 Redhead

#058 Redhead

The waterfowl kept coming with several species of ducks, many of which were lifers for me. Redheads were year bird #058 as well as life birds. I came home to show Jaime my photos, and the first thing she said was “Redheads!” I told her I was impressed that she knew the name of them, only to be informed that she was just talking about their red heads. This is an appropriately named duck.

#059 Ring-Necked Duck

#059 Ring-Necked Duck

Year bird #059 was the Ring-Necked Duck pictured above (the male is the top center bird in the photo). A few of these small ducks were hanging out in a large group of Redheads, Lesser Scaups, and Gadwalls on a very small pond.

#060 Lesser Scaup

#060 Lesser Scaup

Here is one of the aforementioned Lesser Scaup. In addition to being year bird #060 (which was my target number to get to today), they were also life birds.

#061 Gadwall

#061 Gadwall

The last bird I was able to identify was the humble Gadwall (bottom center bird above). Year bird #061 (putting me over my goal) and yet another lifer as well.

For those of you keeping track at home, you may have noticed that I skipped year bird #057. That is because I didn’t get a picture of them. However, as I was marching to the duck pond to take photos, I accidentally flushed a flock of Sandhill Cranes that was out of sight over a rise. As the birds lifted off, I saw three large white forms fly away with them. My heart literally skipped a beat as I thought “Whooping Cranes!” The total global population of Whooping Cranes is only in the triple digits, so they would have been a very exciting sight. Their rarity also contributed to my not seeing them, because the white birds in question turned out to be Snow Geese. Still exciting for me, though, because they were lifers! I ended the day with a life list of 192 species.

Goose Pond was incredibly impressive, despite the stormy weather and the fact that I missed many of the most impressive migrating flocks of waterfowl (sadly missing from my day list were Greater White-Fronted Geese and Northern Pintail). I will definitely try to make another trip back here some time despite the distance, and I will recommend that if you are even in the vicinity of southwest Indiana, Goose Pond is well worth a visit.