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.

Creepin’ for Warblers

In the 90 or so minutes that I was out birding yesterday, I managed to cover a distance of about 100 yards. I encountered a huge mixed flock of birds at Foster Park that was so thick that I barely had to move to tick 7 new species for the year, including one lifer. It also meant I stayed rather close to the playground and pavilions, so there were more people around than I am used to. Included in this was one neighbor who saw me standing behind a tree with camera and binoculars and shouted, “Hey creeper!” When I recounted this story to Jaime later, she said “You should have said, ‘No! Warbler!'” Bird pun from my wife. Have I mentioned how much I love this woman? (Also: she decided we should eat dinner at Chipotle that night.)

Bay-Breasted Warbler

Bay-Breasted Warbler

This was the bird I was creeping on. Of the sometimes confusing “Baypoll” complex of fall warblers, this one posed no difficulty since it showed its rufous sides so nicely to declare that it was in fact Bay-Breasted.

Blackpoll Warbler

Blackpoll Warbler

Bay-Breasted’s finely streaked, slightly duller doppleganger Blackpoll Warbler was also present, giving me a life bird in one of the last few eastern warblers I haven’t seen.

Wilson's Warbler

Wilson’s Warbler

The creeping continued as I snuck up on a Wilson’s Warbler taking a bath. Dig that toupee.

Black-Throated Green Warbler

Black-Throated Green Warbler

Not a year bird, but pleasant to see nonetheless was a Black-Throated Green Warbler picking off spiders.

Scarlet Tanager

Scarlet Tanager

The flock also included some non-warblers. This lady Scarlet Tanager was my first of the year, and one of my biggest misses prior to the day. That honor now goes to Eastern Towhee, which I somehow haven’t picked up yet in 2015 motorless or otherwise.

My motorless count is now 126, which is only 25 birds fewer than my laughable rookie “big year” attempt from two years ago in which I drove across the state looking for things and generally being terrible at finding them. I have gotten way better at this whole birding thing in the mean time.

Robin Imposters in the Yard

For the uninitiated, this is what an American Robin looks like:

American Robin

American Robin

They are intrinsically very cool birds, and one of a very few species with bold orange going on. They are also voracious predators. But people don’t tend to think much of them because they are so common. However, they must have something enviable about them, because this morning we had three new yard birds who were all doing their best to act like the humble American Robin, Turdus migratorius.

Scarlet Tanager

Scarlet Tanager

There are many, many birds that I would have expected in the yard before a crippling male Scarlet Tanager. And I would have missed out on this guy entirely had he not been doing his Robin impression. Laying in bed, I heard a weird call outside of our bedroom window. At first I didn’t think anything of it. Then I thought how much like a sick Robin it sounded. And it hit me: every field guide I have ever read describes the song of the Scarlet Tanager as “an American Robin with a cold.” That description is dead on. I opened the blinds to see this bird flying away down the street. I ran out of the front door in my pajamas and mercilessly photographed this stunning red gent.

Swainson's Thrush

Swainson’s Thrush

As I was uploading the Tanager photos to Facebook to try and win over friends to the dark side show how cool birding can be, I saw another weird Robin running around in the back yard with a few others. Quickly lifting the binoculars, it resolved itself to be a Swainson’s Thrush acting like it was some kind of common feeder bird! Swainsons are forest birds, and I have never seen one in broad daylight, let alone a suburban lawn underneath a bird feeder. But that’s exactly where this one was. Isn’t spring migration great?

Gray Catbird

Gray Catbird

The final imposter wasn’t exactly doing a Robin impression, but this Gray Catbird very well could have mimicked the song as it freeloaded in our bird bath. In any case, this was the third new yard bird for the morning, and I would have expected him much sooner than the first two.

I try not to write “these are some birds that I saw in my yard” posts very often unless there is nothing else going on. But with the above birds I hope you didn’t mind bearing with me, although no “these are some birds that I saw in my yard” post is complete without one more:

Northern Cardinal

Northern Cardinal

Sorry, I had to do it.

…And We’re Back!

Sorry for the suspense, everybody. I know you have been checking this blog daily, maybe even hourly, to see if I did make it to 100 birds in Indiana by the end of April. Well, with buying a house, moving, shoving couches through windows, cutting box-springs in half, putting together lawnmowers, and grilling chicken, things have been pretty busy. We also just got internet service today after a week-and-a-half without. But now I’m back in the blogosphere. And the answer to the question you have been dying to know is that, yes, at the last hour, I did make it to 100 birds (102, actually).

#099 were two Black Vultures seen soaring above Johnny Appleseed Park in Fort Wayne. I was able to spot them because they were flying with a group of Turkey Vultures.

#100 was a Savannah Sparrow seen at Fox Island, and it was a lifer! Unfortunately, I could not get a photo.

#101 was a Baltimore Oriole, first spotted by Jaime, also at Fox Island. She has an eye for orange birds.

#102 Rose-Breasted Grosbeak

#102 Rose-Breasted Grosbeak

#102 was this Rose-Breasted Grosbeak, seen on the same trip to Fox Island. I managed to get a photo of everything on him except for his rose-breast.

#103 Solitary Sandpiper

#103 Solitary Sandpiper

The first year bird in May was #103 Solitary Sandpiper seen at Eagle Marsh.

#104 Eastern Kingbird

#104 Eastern Kingbird

Also on the Eagle Marsh trip was #104 Eastern Kingbird.

#105 Scarlet Tanager

#105 Scarlet Tanager

Moving on to Franke Park, I had a great #105 in this male Scarlet Tanager, which is always one of my favorites.

And to bring things to the present, the most recent bird was #106 House Wren seen while walking through our new neighborhood.

I hope to have a more thorough update this weekend, because I still only have 3 warblers on the year. Plus, our backyard is much better at attracting birds than the small patch of grass we had in Indianapolis.

Best Bird of the Year

One of my favorite birding blogs, 10,000 Birds, is putting together a retrospective of its readers’ best birds of the year 2012. To me, “best” is a purely subjective term. I am sure that for most birders the rarest or most unlikely bird that they encountered would qualify as their best. But the single bird that I am choosing as my best is a common bird that was found in its expected range about 15 minutes away from my house.

Scarlet Tanager

Scarlet Tanager

Jaime, my amazing wife, took me on a birding excursion on our day off to celebrate me finishing my master’s degree. It was May 8th, and we went to Eagle Creek Park on the west side of Indianapolis for the first time (the park has since become my primary birding home base). I had seen a Summer Tanager for the first time a few days beforehand, so I had Scarlet Tanager on my mind and hoped to see this bird in particular. After walking around for a couple of hours, Jaime and I came across another birder who asked us if we had seen anything good, to which I replied a typical summer checklist of alright birds: Indigo Bunting, Baltimore Oriole, Yellow Warbler. When we asked the same, she told us that she had spotted a Scarlet Tanager. I had already told Jaime about my hope to see this bird, so we single-mindedly followed our informant’s cue to check out some trees on the north side of the reservoir. Within minutes, we were rewarded with our goal bird.

Seeing a Scarlet Tanager for the first time was definitely my biggest birding highlight of the year. Even though I got to see exotic species in places like Europe and Florida, and even though I came across rarer birds in Indiana, this one was special. Jaime stopped and stared at it with me until it had flown out of sight. Even if you aren’t a birder, you can’t help but appreciate the awesome colors of this bird (even though this one in question was an immature male and not quite as red as others like him). The fact that I got to enjoy the experience with my wife made it that much better.

Earlier in the spring, I didn’t even have a life list put together, and when I created one I found that I only had 109 species even though I considered myself a birder. The Scarlet Tanager was one of the first new birds of the year that I encountered, and the experience made me that much more excited to pursue the rest of them. Today, just over eight months after that sighting, my life list is up to 181 species. I feel like this has been the year that I became a serious birder, and the Scarlet Tanager feels like a milestone bird in turning that corner.

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.

Baltimore Oriole

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