Obligatory End/Beginning of the Year Post

Before you start a birding blog, you have to swear an oath to do an annual end of the year post followed by a beginning of the year post. It’s only after year three that they let you do both combined into one entry, so here is my end of 2015 / beginning of 2016 post for you!

If you have been reading (thanks!), you know that I try to do one specific challenge each year and that 2015 was my first motorless list. It was way more challenging and fun than I thought it would be, but I was also much more successful than I imagined. I ended the year at 137 species, including 9 life birds. But first, here is what I didn’t see:

Top Five Misses

5.) Ruddy Duck – The most common waterfowl I have never seen, and tons of records from my county this year.

4.) White-Eyed Vireo – According to eBird target species, this is the most common bird that I have never seen, period (although I wonder how many of those records are heard-only).

3.) Tennessee Warbler – The most common warbler that I missed.

2.) Wood Thrush – Relatively common, and heard at one point but never seen. Ugh.

1.) Eastern Towhee – Without a doubt the most common bird I didn’t see despite going looking for it a couple of times and again hearing one.

Hopefully all of these birds go down this year to vindicate me. But I did see plenty of good stuff last year too, so here you go:

Top Five Ticks

Blue Grosbeak

Blue Grosbeak

5.) Blue Grosbeak – One of my motorless lifers, BLGR was also a nemesis that I slayed.

Common Goldeneye

Common Goldeneye

4.) Common Goldeneye – I didn’t realize that COGO would be one of my best birds of the year until near the end. The one I found at Foster Park in February ended up being the only one I saw all year, and it was even more unusual because it was in the shallow river.

Snow Goose

Snow Goose

3.) Snow Goose – Not an uncommon bird in Indiana, but definitely not typical in the eastern half of the state. This was only the fourth eBird record in Allen County.

American Avocet

American Avocet

2.) American Avocet – This bird was almost my #1 (more on that below), but still was a really great tick, and it was almost self-found! I set out in the morning with plans to go to this part of Eagle Marsh looking for shorebirds, and right before I left I saw the listserv report that two AMAVs were there, so I like to think that I would have found them anyway. They also would have been lifers if not for the flock of 100+ that I saw at Metzger Marsh in Ohio earlier in the spring.

Black-Bellied Whistling Duck

Black-Bellied Whistling Duck

1.) Black-Bellied Whistling Duck – This one feels like kind of a cop-out because of how easy it was to see and how long it stuck around at Franke Park, especially compared to the avocets above. But, it was a lifer and the least likely bird that I saw all year anywhere, and it gave me some incredible looks. I can’t count on seeing this bird anywhere near Indiana again any time soon.

Now for the current year. In 2016, for the fourth year in a row, my first bird was Northern Cardinal. I didn’t get a picture of that fellow in my yard, nor would many people care to see him, so instead here is a leucistic female that I saw during the Southwest Allen County Christmas Bird Count on January 2nd:

Leucistic Northern Cardinal

Leucistic Northern Cardinal

My assigned CBC territory was Fox Island, which after my time pedaling last year is now within easy biking distance of home, so I started out my new green (easier to type and say than “motorless”) list strong. I don’t have any new birds compared to last year yet, but as of this writing I am at 28 species, a number I didn’t hit until the second week of March in 2015.

Sandhill Cranes

Sandhill Cranes

The best birds so far have been this surprising flock of Sandhill Cranes catching a thermal directly above my house. SACR is a gimme in Indiana, but usually not until March. These guys were migrating south crazy late. If I can have a “miss” yet, it is probably Red-Breasted Nuthatch. The one in my yard was around daily for over two months, but I have not seen it at all since we got back from our week in North Carolina. Oh, also Eastern Towhee. Again heard already but not seen.

My hope is to beat the 137 species from last year, but an aggressive goal is 152 which would be one more bird than my hilariously novice Indiana “big year” attempt from 2013.

Happy New Year, good birding, and good luck to all of you other listers out there!

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Patience Paying Off

Blah blah blah the weather, blah snow, blah blah cold, blah blah blah. You’ve heard it before.

Today, however, it approached 60 degrees and I got my bird on! I had the single most productive day of the year so far (even including January 1st) by dusting off my bike, cruising the river greenways around Fort Wayne, and looking for waterfowl. In my hiking boots, windbreaker, safety helmet, and gleaming white complexion on top of Jaime’s off-road bike, a friendly gentleman called out to me “That is straight gangsta!” as I rode past. He must have known I was heading to the water treatment plant to look at ducks. Because the birding was straight gangsta.

Be Alert

Be Alert

My path took me downtown, where I picked up the first motorless bird of the day: Rock Pigeon. New list. Count it!

Canvasback

Canvasback

When I got to the terminal pond next to the very swollen river, I immediately saw a new county bird in American Black Duck. Then the massive flock of Canada Geese close to shore got spooked by something (me) and flew off, leaving only coots and a large white-backed duck from whence they launched. Canvasback! This is actually a life bird for me, and I was stoked to see it. I wondered if going motorless would net me any life birds, and it looks like the answer is yes.

Snow Goose

Snow Goose

My next fist pump (okay, so it was a double fist pump) came for Snow Goose. I was originally disappointed that one of those funky domesticated barnyard geese had snuck in with the other good ones, but as the bird swam closer I realized what it actually was. Snow Goose is not a life bird for me, but it is so far easily the best bird of the year. They are not numerous in Indiana away from the southwestern part of the state (where Goose Pond Fish & Wildlife Area is), and I had only seen a few of them before and never gotten a photograph. Solid.

In all, my bicycle voyage netted me 14 new birds for the motorless list, including 3 county and 1 life bird. But the birds weren’t done. Once I got home, Jaime, Walter and I were preparing to go for a walk when a small hawk came swooping in over our heads and disappeared into the trees in our back yard. Its squeaky dog toy vocalizations told me right away that this was the Sharp-Shinned Hawk I tried to imagine last week. Good for a new tick on the motorless and also the yard list. Then, once we got back and I was hanging blinds in the to-be new baby’s bedroom, I heard the unmistakable trilling of Sandhill Cranes. I ran outside just in time to see one huge wave flying over the house.

The moral of the story is that patience pays off. I have felt like a hermit for the last several months, but one good outing today gave me more than I was hoping for. After becoming somewhat pessimistic about my prospects to see 100 birds without a car this year, I am suddenly right back in it.