A Pretty Big Week

This past week on the southwestern shores of Lake Erie was an event called “The Biggest Week in American Birding.” Held at the famous Magee Marsh, all kinds of tired migrants cram into a little bottleneck of woods before they make the trip across the Great Lakes, and views of otherwise difficult to see species are up close and personal, and incredible. I wasn’t there. But I had a pretty big week of my own.

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Harris’s Sparrow

The evening of May 2nd I left the gym to discover an email from my birding friend Angie telling me that she had a Harris’s Sparrow in her yard. First thing the next morning I went over to check for the bird and found it singing in a tree by her driveway. Life bird, and first county record! Angie’s house is inside of my 5MR, so it also counts as the most improbable bird on that list to date! Angie has done a great job of turning her back yard into a wet woodland habitat, so if this bird were to pick anyone’s house to set up shop it would be hers. But this mind-blowing sighting got me wondering how many other crazy birds turn up at people’s feeders without ever getting recognized for what they are?

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The Magic Tree

Later in the week I met up with another birding friend, Lorenzo, to check out Franke Park again for some spring migrants. The weather was total crap with drizzle and clouds the whole morning. But the birding was magical. Photos were incredibly difficult to come by, but to give you an idea of the birdsplosion happening, take the photo above which contains four Brown Thrashers (yellow circles) and two male Rose-breasted Grosbeaks (red circles). At one point another thrasher and an Indigo Bunting were also clustered with that group at the top of the tree. We just kept giving each other “what is happening?” looks as the birds. just. kept. coming.

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Scarlet Tanager

We got tons of first-of-the-year birds, like this mellow female Scarlet Tanager and about five of her closest friends.

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Black-throated Blue Warbler

We also had double-digit warbler species, including this unabashedly confiding (and spectacularly handsome) male Black-throated Blue Warbler who was hopping around basically at our feet. He was only the second one I had ever seen.

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Laughably Bad Common Loon

As I already said, photos were basically not happening. But a couple of birds on the park’s decently sized lake made me try anyway. Two Common Loons that took off and circled low before flying away represented a long-overdue state nemesis for me! I had previously seen them up and down the United States from Minnesota to Ohio to Florida, but never in my home state. If there was any day for them to finally go down, it was this day.

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Tiny Wetland

The last place we checked, just because we figured why not, was the tiny scrap of wetland behind the BMX track at the park. I usually only bother with this little parcel of swamp if I need a Red-winged Blackbird or something. It’s tiny, barely even a pond. This photo shows literally the entire thing (as well as the raindrops on my lens).

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Sora!

But wouldn’t you know it, this little postage stamp of wetlands held not one but two Soras, a Marsh Wren, and a Common Yellowthroat, all birds that I had no reasonable hope of finding inside of my 5MR and that take a concerted multi-hour effort to get to at Eagle Marsh on my bike. Not today. As we were leaving, a van of people I knew from the Audubon Society pulled up, looking pretty miserable birding from their car in the rain. They informed us that is was slow going for them and they hoped we had better luck. We did.

In all, we tallied 59 species in barely two hours of birding, and my eBird checklist is here. I added two dozen new 5MR and Green birds for the year, including an additional personal county bird in White-eyed Vireo and an earliest ever county record of Willow Flycatcher for good measure. With the crazy good luck Lorenzo and I had in the morning, I continued to keep track of the species I saw later in the day and ended up at 64 without putting too much more effort into things. I will dub this day as the Accidental 5MR Big Day. The Official 5MR Big Day is yet to be had.

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Baltimore Oriole

I’m not done! Even with the steady rain and limited birding time due to family activities for Mother’s Day, my week of birds kept getting better. My jelly feeder managed to reel in only the second Baltimore Oriole I have seen from the yard, but it was merely a sign of things to come.

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Chestnut-sided Warbler in my yard

On Saturday and Sunday, a slow-moving bird tsunami swept over my yard and crushed me. Multiple singing Chestnut-sided Warblers visited the oaks around the house, which is pretty incredible because for whatever reason they are one of the harder warblers for me to get, and I hadn’t had one on my Green list since 2015. They were harbingers of a current of warblers so strong as to be almost unbelievable. Along with Chestnut-sided, I had Nashville, Tennessee, Black-throated Green, Northern Parula, Blackburnian, and Blue-winged Warblers all singing in and around my yard over the weekend, and I probably missed a few.

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Another Scarlet Tanager

Two pretty bad Scarlet Tanager photos in the same post? Why yes, yes because this one was also in my yard. It shared the same tree with a Blackburnian Warbler, which seems to be a pretty consistent combo for me. Does anyone else seem to get Blackburnian Warbler at the same time they get Scarlet Tanager?

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Least Flycatcher

The storm finally petered out with a muted Least Flycatcher as the last new bird in the yard, but it was still a new one for the year on my 5MR (currently at 107) and Green (currently at 105) lists. In all, I added six entirely new species to my yard list this weekend to arrive at a 25-month total of 75 species.

In my last post I said I thought I had gotten a sign of good things to come. Turns out I was right, but I hope I haven’t cashed in all of my birding karma yet. 5MR Big Day coming on May 15th! Stay tuned!

Bicycle Blitz

My office closed early on Friday because we were having the carpets cleaned. So instead of working until noon, I took the morning off too and did what any normal person would do with all of that free time: go on an 8.5 hour, 45-mile bike ride around the county hitting all of the major birding spots along the way.

I left home before sunrise to make it to Eagle Marsh by 6:30am to meet up with Rodger, one of Fort Wayne’s wisest birding sages. I had a bunch of summer marsh birds to pick up, but my real goal of the morning was rails.

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Sora

We hit on my biggest target bird in Sora. This is actually a life bird for me (I don’t count heard-only birds), and one individual actually showed itself for about a minute or two for me to fire off some photos despite the poor morning light. It is also my 200th Indiana species.

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Marsh Wren

A Marsh Wren popped up directly in front of me to gather some cattail fluff for an assumed nest.

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Red-winged Blackbird

Female Red-winged Blackbirds are pretty in a different way than their men.

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Great Blue Heron

More love for common birds.

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Bald Eagle

A visit to Eagle Marsh wouldn’t be complete without a sighting of its namesake species, in this case getting its tower buzzed.

I finished at the marsh and made my way alone to Fox Island for some woodland birds.

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Fox Island

There were disappointingly few migrants around, but the scenery was gorgeous. On other days, Fox Island also serves as the gates to Mosquito Hell, but they were almost non-existent when I showed up.

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Indigo Bunting

The most numerous bird of the day had to be Indigo Bunting.

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Acadian Flycatcher

Despite the (lack of) lighting, I like the way this Acadian Flycatcher turned out. Without hearing their song, this picture shows about everything you need to identify one, anyway.

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Baby Raccoon

I thought that the movement inside of this hollow snag was an owl at first. It turned out to be a nest of a different kind.

I ate my lunch on the deck of the nature center and refilled my water before trekking out on the last third of my day. Rather than having a specific destination, the afternoon was reserved for traveling country roads in search of grassland and shore birds.

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A productive field

I rode past a field that is famous for attracting all manner of shorebirds, but found nothing there except for one single species feeding in the mud.

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Red-headed Woodpecker

Yes, it was a Red-headed Woodpecker, because that makes sense, right? When I approached, it flew up to the lone utility pole stuck in the middle of the field. But trust me, this thing was acting like a damn sandpiper. Birding is weird. Red-headed Woodpecker is a county bird for me. They are regular in Allen County year-round but not very common, so it’s kind of a crap shoot to see one. Dumb luck paid off.

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Farm Fresh

Just up the road from the woodpecker I put on the brakes for a flock of turkeys that I thought were eating under a bird feeder in a yard. On second look, just kidding, not wild. Oh well.

The day ended up being incredibly great (and tiring). I ended with 70 species, 17 of which were new green year birds for a list-to-date of 123. This is about four months ahead of my pace from last year without any rarities supplementing the list. Plus I slew my two heard-only nemeses from 2015: Eastern Towhee and Wood Thrush. I expect that the count will slow down considerably from here, but I missed several target birds that I will go back for. I also still haven’t seen a hummingbird yet this year. Again, birding is weird. But good!