Mammals

On Sunday morning I rode to Eagle Marsh early in the hope of adding a few birds to the green list.

Sunrise.JPG

Sunrise over the marsh

I succeeded in finding my target bird: Least Bittern. At least three of them were clucking in the reeds. Another heard-only bird in what is becoming a solid yet frustrating run. Technically a lifer, but can I really count it?

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North American Beaver

As I tried to cut a hole in the vegetation with my laser eyes, I was severely startled by a large splash directly behind me. I am used to the little plops of frogs, but this was like a huge rock hitting the water. I had unintentionally drawn the wrath of a North American Beaver. Much circling and tail smacking ensued. I have seen ample evidence of these creatures at Eagle Marsh in the form of chewed trees, but this was the first of its species I have actually seen. State mammal!

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White-tailed Deer

Other charismatic megafauna were also around. I was holding on to hope that the deer tromping around in the shallow water would flush one of the bitterns, but the birds held tight.

TRSW.JPG

Tree Swallow

Tree Swallows may be common, but I can really get behind an animal that is iridescent turquoise. Keep doing your thing, mama swallow.

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Weekend Update

I went birding this weekend, and now I’m going to blog about it. So if you thought you would be spared another post of me stretching my puny zoom to the limit across the expanse of the Fort Wayne water treatment ponds, then you are sorely mistaken.

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Horned Grebe

Despite my best efforts, this is not a Common Loon. HOGR had the honor of being my last 2015 motorless bird, so now I don’t have to sweat it out in November.

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Lesser Scaup

A raft of Lesser Scaup that actually aren’t Ring-necked Ducks! Even from this atrocious distance, the lack of a pointy white thing creeping up from the flank is absent. A bird not seen enough, and not at all last year.

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White-breasted Nuthatch

WBNU posed nicely.

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The Salmon of Capistrano

I tallied six new green species on Sunday, the scaup being the highlight. All of the early migrants are back, including Golden-crowned Kinglet, Eastern Phoebe, Wood Duck, and Tree Swallows doing what swallows do.

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.

Round Numbers

In the last few weeks, I have been slowly chipping away at birds not yet on my year list. I’ll start from where I left off last time:

#070: Wood Duck. I finally got to see a few of these guys at Eagle Marsh in Fort Wayne, which is quickly becoming my new Eagle Creek.

#071: Mute Swan. A pair seen at Eagle Marsh on the way to make an offer on what will be (fingers crossed) our new house. I never liked these much before, but they may be a good luck bird for me now.

#071 Mute Swan

#071 Mute Swan

#072: Sharp-Shinned Hawk. Seen at Fox Island County Park one day after work, and a life bird for me! I got great looks at it from my car.

#073: Black-Capped Chickadee. Likewise seen at Fox Island. There are only a few places in the country where Black-Capped and Carolina Chickadees coexist, and where that happens they are very difficult to distinguish from each other. Fort Wayne happens to be one of those places. But, the birds at the Fox Island feeders were careless enough to approach close, letting me see their subtle differences (bright white cheeks as opposed to plain white, pale patch on wing).

#074: Eastern Towhee. Kicking around under the feeders at Fox Island.

#075: Brown-Headed Cowbird. Seen perched on the roof of the in-laws’ house after returning home from a walk with Emma The Dog.

#076: Tree Swallow. Riding gusty winds over Eagle Marsh.

#076 Tree Swallow

#076 Tree Swallow

#077: Field Sparrow. Lurking in the brush at Eagle Marsh.

#077 Field Sparrow

#077 Field Sparrow

#078: Chipping Sparrow. Flocking in a yard near Lakeside Park, also seen while walking Emma The Dog.

#079: Greater Yellowlegs. Life Bird #200!!! Seen today in a flooded field on the southwest side of town. I went there specifically thanks to tip-offs from IN-Bird-L.

#079 Greater Yellowlegs

#079 Greater Yellowlegs

#080: Lesser Yellowlegs. The only reason I was able to identify either of the Yellowlegs was because both species were present in said flooded field, and size comparison was easy.

So at 4.5 months into 2013, I stand at 80 birds on the year and 200 birds on the life, and migration season has barely started!

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