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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

Trailbirds: Hiking and Biking

A new event hosted by Fort Wayne Trails is the Early Bird Nature Walk and Bike Ride. It is geared toward amateurs of both birding and biking, and I participated in the second event yesterday. Despite the damp and cool conditions, about ten hardy souls met at the Wells Street bridge to use the city’s trail system in pursuit of birds.

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Urban Birders

The beginning part of the event was an urban hike along the St. Mary’s River downtown, which turned up many good birds including several first-of-the-years. The second part was a bike ride that traversed much better habitat and produced some pretty great results.

BHVI

Blue-headed Vireo

The route took us about four miles downriver to Foster Park, where we were treated to some incredible looks by a radioactive male Scarlet Tanager, which is probably one of the best birds possible to get first-timers interested. In a small mixed flock including said tanager, I also managed to pull out my lifer Blue-headed Vireo. This is the first motorless lifer I have had this year, and I am pretty sure it’s my first lifer at Foster Park as well. It is also Indiana bird 199.

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Yellow-rumped Warbler

Much of the group also had their first warbler experience. Specifically, they learned how difficult they can be to actually see and identify. Fortunately we were treated to point-blank looks at a few Yellow-rumps.

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Eponymous Butterbutt

The field mark of this bird was readily evident.

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American Goldfinch

We only get one flavor of goldfinch in the Midwest, but the group was very appreciative of a bird I often overlook.

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Swainson’s Thrush

After the ride had ended and a friend and I had some requisite Pint and Slice for lunch, I rode back through Foster on my way home. I picked up a few more annuals that the group had missed, including this Swainson’s Thrush and a stunning singing male Blackburnian Warbler, which was a county bird for me.

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Foster Park

I ended my afternoon with 43 species, with 13 new green year birds including one lifer which brings my list to 94. Most of these were seen in a disused corner of the park that includes a rotting picnic pavilion. Apparently the trails through Foster used to be paved roads that attracted cruisers and teenagers. Luckily for me and the birds, it is foot traffic only now and quiet enough that we stumbled upon two Cooper’s Hawks actively tending a nest close by.

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Nom.

Not bird related but still worth mentioning is the raccoon that was raiding our feeder before I left for the ride. I didn’t mind too much because he was finishing off some old stale seed.

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The Lookout

He employed a friend to make sure the coast was clear. Teamwork, because there is no ‘I’ in ‘raccoon’ or ‘bunny.’

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Wild Turkey

To bring things back around to birds, and because I have nowhere else to put it, I will end with this Wild Turkey. I encountered this fellow at work last week and had to decelerate more rapidly than I would have liked to avoid hitting him. I usually only see turkeys from the interstate where stopping is more frowned upon, so this time I seized the opportunity to fire off a couple shots while he crossed the road in front of me. He was also only about 200 yards from the county line, so this was another county bird this week, although I wish I could add it to my green list.

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.

Brown Thrushes

Last Saturday I went for a group hike with the Stockbridge Audubon Society in Franke Park. It was a spectacularly poor day for warblers, which I was really hoping to see, but I did get some good looks (and slightly worse photos) of the occasionally enigmatic brown thrushes.

Swainson's Thrush

Swainson’s Thrush

First among them was the Swainson’s Thrush, a bird first seen this year on my outing to the park last week. Note the strong eye ring and buff coloration of this bird. It will be important later!

#144 Gray-Cheeked Thrush

#144 Gray-Cheeked Thrush

This awful photo is of year bird #144 and life bird #214, Gray-Cheeked Thrush. See the lack of eye ring and notably paler underside? Compare with the Swainson’s above. That is how you can tell these two species apart.

Cooper's Hawk

Cooper’s Hawk

Slightly better in photo quality was this Cooper’s Hawk, a bird I haven’t seen nearly enough of.

Eastern Wood-Pewee

Eastern Wood-Pewee

And coming into good lighting is a commonly heard bird that usually spends its days under tree cover, providing less than ideal photo ops. Allow me to reintroduce the Eastern Wood-Pewee.

Mourning Dove

Mourning Dove

How about another gray bird sitting on a bare branch in front of blue sky? The always reliable MoDo.

I am in Saint Louis for the weekend, so my Indiana bird spotting will be taking a rest as I look for the elusive Eurasian Tree Sparrow, whose only North American habitat is this city. Random!

Warbler Bonanza

After not going out birding for a few weeks, I just had a Big Day at the always reliable Eagle Creek. In four hours, I logged 46 species, 7 of which were lifers and 11 of which were Warblers: Nashville Warbler, Chestnut-Sided Warbler (lifer), Ovenbird, Black-and-White Warbler, American Redstart, Magnolia Warbler (lifer), Yellow-Throated Warbler, Bay-Breasted Warbler (lifer), Blackburnian Warbler (lifer), Cape May Warbler (lifer), and Palm Warbler (lifer). For those of you keeping track at home, my only non-Warbler lifer on the day was a Red-Breasted Nuthatch, which somehow I had never seen despite how common they are. And the park was full of them this morning. Here is my list on eBird!

My pictures weren’t quite as good as my day list, but I did get a few nonetheless:

Blackburnian Warbler

Blackburnian Warbler

The Warblers were so thick that I didn’t even have to look for them. I could just train my binoculars on a tree branch and one or two (or three in one instance) would just fly into view after a few seconds. Of course identifying what I was seeing was much more difficult than finding the birds, but thanks to several other birders present at the Eagle Creek marina, I had a lot of help. The Blackburnian Warbler above was fairly easy to identify because of his black, white, and orange color scheme.

Chestnut-Sided Warbler

Chestnut-Sided Warbler

So the Chestnut-Sided Warbler doesn’t have chestnut-colored sides in the fall, so this was a tricky ID. But Peterson saved the day, as he showed me that this is the only fall Warbler with a green cap and yellow wing bars.

Pileated Woodpecker

Pileated Woodpecker

I have had problems getting a photo of the impressively large Pileated Woodpecker. But today, this guy was flying back and forth between two huge sycamore trees, screaming all the way. Kind of hard to miss. He must have been trying to get someone’s attention, because in between the screams he would jackhammer on a hollow dead branch, raising even more of a ruckus.

Pied-Billed Grebe

Pied-Billed Grebe

Pied-Billed Grebes are here now! Although they were not big fans of getting their picture taken, ducking under the water and darting away if I got too close.

Wood Thrush

Swainson’s Thrush

Swainson’s Thrush says ‘sup.

Miscellaneous Indianapolis

Since pretty much every day this week has cracked triple digits on the thermometer, I have stayed indoors as much as possible. I imagine that even if I were to head out to one of the local parks, I wouldn’t see much. So here are some random photos from around town that I took earlier this year that haven’t been blogged yet:

Yellow-Throated Warbler

Yellow-Throated Warbler

This Yellow-Throated Warbler was singing its heart out at the Broad Ripple Art Center back in April.

Carolina Wren

Carolina Wren

So was this much more conspicuous Carolina Wren.

Chipping Sparrow

Chipping Sparrow

This Chipping Sparrow was hanging out in Holcomb Gardens at Butler University back in April, too.

Great Blue Heron

Great Blue Heron

Back in October, Jaime and I were at the 100-Acre Wilderness of the Indianapolis Museum of Art and saw this Great Blue Heron.

Hermit Thrush

Swainson’s Thrush

We got a pretty good look at a usually reclusive Swainson’s Thrush that day, too.