One of Those Days

Everyone eventually has a birding day when they put together a plan with high expectations, only to find that it’s all for naught. Either the birds aren’t there, or the plans change, or conditions are poor for viewing. Today was not one of those days.

Trio

Welcoming Committee

I spent the morning and early afternoon birding Eagle Marsh. It used to be about a 25 minute ride for me, but from my new house it takes over an hour. No matter. The weather was awesome. And I had a pretty great sign of things to come in the form of three amigos perched on the wires over the trailhead at the marsh: Green Heron, Mourning Dove, and Red-winged Blackbird.

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The Fourth

Then an Indigo Bunting joined them for good measure.

GRHE

Green Heron

Of all the birds to be perched on a wire, this one was pretty weird.

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Purple Martins

The good signs kept coming with a tree full of Purple Martins just a little way down the trail. PUMA was (somehow) a county bird for me and the first new green bird on the day.

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Common Gallinule

Next up, a state bird popped its head out of the reeds and stared me down for several long moments before I could figure out what the hell it was. Juvenile Common Gallinules are weird. I wasn’t expecting this bird at all, least not in this particular plumage. I have only seen adults before, and those were in Florida. My mind cycled in the following order: Wood Duck, Sora, Virginia Rail. Nope.

BANS

Bank Swallow

Before checking out the other end of the marsh, I stopped to admire the massing post-breeding dispersal birds. These Bank Swallows obliged for a photo.

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Pectoral Sandpiper

At the other end of the marsh was where I realized it would be a phenomenal birding day. Not only were there huge mudflats hosting hundreds of birds, the lighting was great, the birds stayed put, and I got some great shots. I like this Pectoral Sandpiper and its reflection.

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Least Sandpiper

The shorebirds kept coming, and next on the buffet was Least Sandpiper.

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Solitary Sandpiper

A duo of Solitary Sandpipers followed close behind. This was a pretty bad miss for me last year, so these views made up for it.

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Spotted Sandpiper

Continuing a theme, I present to you: Spotted Sandpiper.

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Killdeer

And a Killdeer, because why not?

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A whole mess of birds

I also lucked into some Caspian Terns, which are annual but uncommon and irregular in Allen County. Two flyovers on the east end plus two more chilling with gulls on the west end for a total of four individuals was a pretty good tally. As you can tell from the photo above, there was a lot to keep track of, and I almost overlooked the small white blob just to the left of the terns.

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Bonaparte’s Gull

With its head tucked, all I could see was the edge of a black cap making me think it might have been one of the sterna terns, but it finally picked its head up showing an extensive black hood and a black bill, good for Bonaparte’s Gull. This was my best find of the day, another county bird, and apparently the first July record for the species in this part of the state.

I ended the day with seven new green birds, three of which were new for me in Allen County and one of those new for Indiana. My 2017 green list is currently at 142 species, only one less than all of last year. 150 will be totally obtainable with “easy” birds (I say that without somehow seeing them yet) left to pick up including Pileated Woodpecker, Scarlet Tanager, both yellowlegs, and a couple of fall warblers to push me over the hump, and hopefully one or two unexpected things. If you had a birding goal this year, how is it coming along now that we are midway through?

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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.

…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.

Drought

Indiana is taking a beating from the summer. We have had about a dozen 100+ degree days, and maybe four times that many 90+ with almost no rain on top of it all. This has resulted in burn bans, watering bans, and fireworks bans throughout the state. Grass is crispy and water levels are low. But this last part made Eagle Creek Reservoir a jackpot for shorebirds this past weekend, as receding water lines have exposed acres and acres of mudflats that offer a smorgasbord of arthropods and mollusks for them. Mmm.

I am sure that I observed more than two lifer varieties of sandpiper, but I was only able to positively identify two of them. I recently read a book that said there are three levels of birding proficiency: the first is when you can start to identify warblers, the second is when you can start to identify birds of prey, and the third is when you can start to identify sandpipers. This outing put me uncomfortably into Level-3 birding. There are approximately 72 million species of sandpiper, and they all look exactly alike.

Least Sandpiper

Least Sandpiper

This Least Sandpiper was my first lifer of the day. I was able to positively identify it thanks to the convenient fact that sandpipers exist in three sizes: small, medium, and large. The Least is the only small sized sandpiper with yellow legs. Check. Also, the lady with the spotting scope observing it from ten yards away told me it was a Least Sandpiper.

Solitary Sandpiper

Solitary Sandpiper

This Solitary Sandpiper, lifer number two on the day, only slightly more difficult. Probably because I was looking across the water and taking pictures of everything that moved, 100% not sure of what they were. These are what birders call “LBJ’s,” short for Little Brown Jobs. When I got home, this Solitary was actually not too bad to ID though, because it is the only medium-sized sandpiper with a full white eye ring (click the picture to zoom and you can see it). Also, I looked on eBird to find that Solitaries had indeed been sighted at Eagle Creek that day.

Killdeer

Killdeer

Also present at the reservoir was this Killdeer, which is a plover and not a sandpiper, and one of approximately three trillion at Eagle Creek on Saturday. I have seen many, many Killdeer before, and although there are quite a few types of plovers out there, they are easy to identify because of their characteristic call, the double black ring around their neck, and the fact that they are likely the only plover you will ever see away from huge lakes or the ocean.

Ring-Billed Gull

Ring-Billed Gull

This flock of seagulls was not playing 80s new wave music, but they were easy to identify as Ring-Billed Gulls because they are gulls with rings around their bills.

Yellow Warbler

Yellow Warbler

It was also a pretty decent day for passerine birds as well. This female Yellow Warbler was chowing down on a moth.

American Crow

American Crow

Likewise, this American Crow feasted on the remains of a catfish. Mmm.

I had 37 species on the day:
1.) White-Breasted Nuthatch (vocalization)
2.) American Robin
3.) Red-Eyed Vireo (vocalization)
4.) Tufted Titmouse (vocalization)
5.) Carolina Chickadee
6.) Eastern Wood Pewee (vocalization)
7.) Eastern Towhee (vocalization)
8.) Blue Jay
9.) Northern Cardinal
10.) Gray Catbird
11.) Canada Goose
12.) American Goldfinch
13.) Indigo Bunting (vocalization)
14.) American Crow
15.) Song Sparrow
16.) Double-Crested Cormorant
17.) Great Blue Heron
18.) Belted Kingfisher
19.) Mallard
20.) Barn Swallow
21.) Mourning Dove
22.) Northern Rough-Winged Swallow
23.) Willow Flycatcher (vocalization)
24.) Chimney Swift
25.) Eastern Kingbird
26.) Yellow Warbler
27.) Killdeer
28.) Cedar Waxwing
29.) American Coot
30.) Great Egret
31.) Least Sandpiper (lifer!)
32.) Red-Winged Blackbird
33.) Blue-Gray Gnatcatcher
34.) Downy Woodpecker
35.) Ring-Billed Gull
36.) Spotted Sandpiper
37.) Solitary Sandpiper (lifer!)