This Week’s Plans & Last Week’s Birds

This coming weekend I will give my annual green list a huge jolt. I am going on a three-day, five-county birding bike trip dubbed the Big Green Weekend! (Thanks, Jaime!) Leaving on Friday morning, I will depart Fort Wayne and travel south through Wells and Adams Counties. On Saturday I will go west through Jay and Huntington Counties. My return on Sunday will bring me back northeast through Allen County to Fort Wayne. The total distance will be in the neighborhood of 150 miles.

I will be visiting a large wooded state park, a marsh, a swampy forest, a reservoir, and miles and miles and miles of grassland and farmland in between. I have a decent shot at 125 different species, with the potential for many more if I get lucky. This is a little bit late in the spring for peak diversity, but the weather looks fantastic, and I am still far enough north that I should see a lot of the late migrants and the summer breeders.

I have several target species that would be lifers including Northern Bobwhite, Vesper Sparrow, and King Rail. There are also plenty of others that would be new to the green list, including Summer Tanager, Ring-necked Pheasant, and Bobolink that are all possibilities.

As of today, my green list is at 103 species thanks in large part to the birding I did at Lawton and Franke Parks last week. I will leave you with the highlights so that this post isn’t only text.

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Yellow-rumped Warbler

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Yellow Warbler

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Warbling Vireo

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Swainson’s Thrush

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Rose-breasted Grosbeak

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Jaime took this photo of Mallards in our back yard! Walter called me at work to tell me about it

Two Thirds Plus Three

On Sunday I rode out to Eagle Marsh to play mop-up duty on shorebirds. Of the possibilities, the two Yellowlegses were the most obvious outstanding omissions from my green list.

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Continental Divide

In the last year and a half there was some serious earthwork at Eagle Marsh. Some of it was to repair infrastructure damaged from flooding, some of it was habitat restoration, and some of it was to control invasive Asian Carp. Eagle Marsh is on the last line of defense for the Great Lakes, with the fish reaching the property but no farther. The newly opened Continental Divide trail meanders along high ground in between the two watersheds, with carp on the Mississippi side but not the Great Lakes side. Spillways between levees have chain link fences projecting over the high water mark to physically prevent the fish from making the jump.

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Belted Kingfisher

Even with such high stakes, this Belted Kingfisher was not interested in following anyone’s rules. Punk.

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Bald Eagle

Meanwhile in the other watershed, I wondered if the possibility of a clumsy eagle dropping its dinner over the berm could be the proverbial straw on the camel’s back?

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Great Blue Heron

The birds didn’t seem to bother with such questions. As always, it was all about food. Usually skittish, this Great Blue Heron did not care at all about how close I was.

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The definition of potential energy

It slowly crouched into a striking position and waited patiently as fish rippled around in the water.

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Yellowlegs

The heron had much more patience than I did. While it watched for lunch, I turned my camera to the mud behind it to try and get one of those Lesser/Greater Yellowlegs comparison shots. This is the best I could do. But both birds were had, so they officially gave me a new green year personal record and only two thirds of the way through the year. Woo!

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Lunch

Meanwhile, the heron made its catch, the action of which I missed. It didn’t appear to be a carp either. Bummer. At least it was a substantial meal.

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Lesser Yellowlegs

So back to shorebirds I turned. I could not turn any of the Yellowlegs into Stilt Sandpipers, and try as I might, I could not turn any of the Leasts into Semipalmateds.

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Eastern Kingbird

So in an uncharacteristic move for Eagle Marsh, I got distracted by passerines. A small flock of young kingbirds bravely defended their tree from a Cedar Waxwing.

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Warbling Vireo

But they totally didn’t care about this bird. In my field notes I wrote this down as ‘vireo sp.’ Then I convinced myself it was a Tennessee Warbler. Following that, some spirited discussion on Facebook had a couple of experts whose word I trust very highly call it a Philadelphia Vireo which would have been a county bird. But the final verdict, I believe, is Warbling Vireo. Even with those dark lores, the overall coloration and shape of the bird make it the most boring possibility.

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Green Heron

A bird with no possible conflict of identity was this Green Heron.

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American Mink

The heron was hunting the exact same stretch of water as a sneaky American Mink, which was the last thing I saw before heading home.

I mounted my bike and started riding home on the towpath trail, but then I remembered that I still had an uneaten Cliff bar with me. I pulled over and as I was eating a weird song erupted out of the brush very close to the trail and to my right. I recognized the song which sounded like a DJ scratching records, but it took me a moment to place it. Bell’s Vireo! Talk about a right-place-right-time bird. I managed this cell phone video to catch a little bit of the song (if you can hear it over the shrillness of the insects). BEVI is regular but uncommon in Allen County, with only a handful of records each year. I had heard this species twice before at Eagle Marsh, but it was totally off my radar as a possibility on my ride that day. This was definitely a bird only made possible by biking, since there would not have been reason for me to be in that area if I drove.

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Red-shouldered Hawk

The weekend was incredibly productive even from home, where a Red-shouldered Hawk was sitting on a utility pole across the street when I got home from work on Thursday. This yard bird was also new for the green list this year, meaning that it plus my three additions on Saturday give me 146 species, and it’s still only August. I could count up the four most glaring holes in my list to put me at the ever-elusive 150 mark, but I don’t want to jinx it. Let’s just say that most wanted #1 rhymes with “Fileated Hoodpecker.”

Commuting

Pretty much all of my birding in the last two weeks has been done while commuting by bicycle. Here are some things that I saw.

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American Kestrel

An American Kestrel is always sitting on the same wire over a field by my office. The dark smear on the bird’s belly in the photo aboveĀ appears to be blood. It must have been feeling sluggish post-meal, since it was more cooperative than most.

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Warbling Vireo

Warbling Vireos are one of the most commonly heard birds on the greenway along the river, but rarely do I actually stop to try and observe them. This one let me get quite close.

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Cliff Swallows

The Harrison Street bridge in downtown Fort Wayne is the only reliable place I know of to get Cliff Swallow, and these birds were motorless #125.

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Colony

Their architecture is pretty impressive. Others who have tried to make their home under this bridge have not been as successful.

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Cedar Waxwing

For a period of about a week, a literal swarm of Cedar Waxwings numbering in the hundreds decimated the ornamental cherry trees of Indian Village Park on either side of the trail. It was a spectacle to behold, and I spent a long time getting to know the flock.

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Cedar Waxwing

Waxwings are my favorite bird, hands down. You can make all kinds of metaphors about their behavior, so choose one. They also look cool.

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Orange Tail Feathers

One individual had orange tail feathers, which is something I have read about but never observed before.

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Bombycillas away!

In case you were wondering, here is what they do with all of that fruit.

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Grassy Domain

My ride traverses a variety of habitat, but it usually produces only the expected things. The exception to that might have beenĀ last week. Two separate weedy fields gave me two separate really good birds that were heard-only. Last Monday, only a mile and a half from downtown, I heard Dickcissel. On Friday I rode past the field pictured above, and there were at least two Grasshopper Sparrows somewhere within. These last birds would have been lifers if I decided to count them, but I can’t bring myself to do it. I did eBird them though, which also felt weird because now I have more birds in eBird than I do on my life list. If you are reading, how do you rectify this situation? Difficult times. Such is the life of a birder.