Birds with Red Anatomy

Some birds have better names than others. Many names are utilitarian; describing exactly what the bird looks like. Case-in-point:

RHWO

Red-headed Woodpecker

The Red-headed Woodpecker is a woodpecker with a red head! This is the bird I was talking about in my last post. It is still hanging out at Lions Park directly across the street from my home. I have yet to add it as a yard bird, but last Sunday I spent some quality time getting to know it. And it is a gnarly-looking example of a usually stunning species. This bird was born last year and is very awkwardly in the midst of transitioning from immature to adult plumage. I suppose everyone’s adolescence is rough.

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Red-tailed Hawk

A young Red-tailed Hawk seemed to be doing much better in appearance, as it too was spotted at Lions Park last week. The mess of viscera and fur hanging below it was a Fox Squirrel.

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Fox Squirrel

It might have been this squirrel. Or it might have been this squirrel’s friend, mother, or mortal enemy. We will never know. Also seen at Lions Park, pre-hawk sighting.

RNGR

Red-necked Grebe

We have covered red heads, tails, and now we move on to the neck. A power outage at work today allowed me an extra hour in which to go birding. I decided to check the water treatment ponds to mop up some of the last remaining regular waterfowl. Despite my best plans, there was almost no activity, save for a bird completely off my radar: Red-necked Grebe! I have only ever seen this bird on one other occasion, in the exact same place in 2014 when we were having a particularly brutal winter and much of Lakes Michigan and Erie were frozen. That year the ice drove a lot of usually deep water birds like this inland in search of open water in reservoirs, so Fort Wayne got a few of them. To see one today in 40+ degree temperatures this far inland was very low on the list of expected things to see! Green bird #53 for the year, and #189 in my life.

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Cedar Waxwing

Since last time, I also picked up Horned Grebe (two courting birds dancing around the Redneck above), Eastern Phoebe, Rock Pigeon, and this furtive Cedar Waxwing trying to hide from me on the Purdue campus yesterday.

WBNU.JPG

White-breasted Nuthatch

Yes, that means I got to go birding on back-to-back days, a rare treat to enjoy. While today had a bigger highlight, yesterday was equally enjoyable even though it was mostly common folk like this White-breasted Nuthatch cramming itself into a tree crevice.

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Hey tree, your Raccoon is hanging out.

The nuthatches weren’t the only ones jamming themselves into trees. Walking through my favorite local woodlot, I heard scraping sounds that I hoped would be a cool bird. It turned out to be a Raccoon quickly hurrying away from me. It must have been very alarmed by my presence, because it frantically tried to jam itself into the tiniest tree hole ever. It got halfway in and then appeared to be stuck for a very long and awkward moment, bum to the world.

Rac-hole

Rac-hole

It eventually got all the way in somehow. That hole was only a few inches across, so I hope it was worth it for that Raccoon turning itself into a sausage to get away from me.

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Feederwatching

Steady rain all weekend made it so that the birding was effectively feederwatching. First, the highlight:

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Red-breasted Nuthatch

For the second year in a row, my feeder has hosted a Red-breasted Nuthatch. Or in this case, three Red-breasted Nuthatches, which is a pretty neat trick.

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Red-breasted Nuthatch

Helping more than my one meager feeder filled with sunflower seeds to attract these stellar irruptive visitors is the row of 50 foot spruce trees along the edge of our backyard. I do what I can.

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Combo!

Feederwatchig is a technique I am not ashamed of, especially when it is the only way to get two species of nuthatch in the same shot. It also provides some interesting drama as you observe the power struggles between the same individual birds over the course of a couple of days.

Full.JPG

A not atypical situation

 

Each bird has its own unique way of using the food source, and species seem to dominate and yield to others in not quite truly hierarchical fashion. To start, there are three main styles of bird feedering:

The Traditionalists fly in, eat some seeds for a while, then fly away to go do other bird things. Adherents to this style include Northern Cardinal, House Sparrow, and Blue Jay.

The Gluttons fly in and stay put eating as much as they can until they are forced off. American Goldfinch, House Finch, and Mourning Dove are Gluttons.

The Dart-and-Runners fly in, take a single bite, and fly away to finish or stash it somewhere else. Time on the feeder is minimized to the greatest extent possible, and practitioners include Carolina Chickadee, Tufted Titmouse, and both White- and Red-breasted Nuthatches.

This is only part of the story, though. Each species also seems to have an unspoken relationship with all of the others.

house-battle

The struggle is real

We will start at the top of the food chain.

Blue Jays have a bad reputation, but in my yard they have only shown aggression to raptors. They don’t get pushed around by anybody, but they also don’t push others around. They also aren’t very frequent visitors to the feeder, so that may be why.

Northern Cardinals, on the other hand, are the usual owners of the joint. They will not be moved by anyone, plus they show extreme aggression toward House Sparrows. They will tolerate other birds only until they get too close, and then anything is fair.

House Sparrows are despised by all, and for good reason. They will swarm in numbers making their presence impossible to oust from the feeders, plus they are aggressive to most other manner of bird. When I was observing, the most frequent target was House Finch.

House Finches didn’t take it lying down, though. These birds will not start a fight, but they will fight back if pushed.

Tufted Titmice for the most part seemed to attack each other.

Meanwhile, Carolina Chickadees were the most peaceful species. In addition to showing no aggression, they also were infrequently if ever targets of bullying themselves.

White-breasted Nuthatches don’t pick on anyone, and they also don’t stick around long enough to get picked on themselves. Their strategy is to fly in, perch on the pole or baffle, and wait for an opening. Then they seize the opportunity.

Red-breasted Nuthatches operate largely in the same way, but instead of hanging around close by, they will fly in from literally out of nowhere to grab an empty seat at the table. They are also ridiculously tolerant of close approaches by humans. At one point I stood a foot away from the feeder and they still came and went as usual.

And finally, American Goldfinches come in big groups, hang upside-down, eat forever, and generally have a good time. All species seem to like them except House Sparrows.

Of course, birds are not the only ones using the feeders.

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Dare to dream

My set-up is largely mammal-proof (see: raccoons), but the furry ones have lofty goals.

Take a Walk

I took a walk with my camera today, not really intending to do any serious birding.

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Blue-gray Gnatcatcher fledgling

Foster Park’s resident Blue-gray Gnatcatchers were successful in their nesting attempts this year. Here, an individual waits for its angry black unibrow to grow in.

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Blue-gray Gnatcatcher fledgling

I have always found these birds some of the most maddening to try and take a picture of. But the job was made easy by tons of fledglings sitting around on branches, begging to be fed. Also: if you thought the sound of a calling adult Blue-gray Gnatcatcher was comical, the sounds of a begging juvenile BGGN are so much more so.

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White-breasted Nuthatch fledgling

Nuthatches were also having babies.

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Gray Catbird fledgling

So were the catbirds.

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Groundhog

I have almost tripped over the sheer number of baby groundhogs that call the riverbank and trails home, but they were not out today. This adult was not amused.

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Hackberry Emperor

Making a solid claim to being the oldest animal at the park was this heavily worn and seriously faded Hackberry Emperor. So much life experience for one tiny invertebrate. I have to wonder what the chances are for any individual butterfly to actually get to this point. One in a million seems way too large.

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.

Yank… Yank Yank!

It’s been a long time! In between getting a new job and thoroughly wrecking my bike, I have seen some birds.

Red-Breasted Nuthatch

Red-Breasted Nuthatch

While eating a cinnamon roll, making coffee, and holding a baby this morning, I glanced out the window to see a Red-Breasted Nuthatch on the feeder. Later on in the day while “doing yard work,” I managed to get a serviceable photo after being alerted to its continuing presence by a series of pleasant “yank yank yanks.” He was busy flying back and forth from the feeder to the fence to the spruce trees and appearing to stash seeds. I hope this means he is preparing to settle in for the winter, or maybe this is just an impulsive habit that irruptive nuthatches posses?

White-Breasted Nuthatch

White-Breasted Nuthatch

And here is the other Indiana nuthatch for good measure. There are a couple of guys trying to get the state bird changed to WBNU, and I think I support them.

Winter Wren

Winter Wren

The trees by the river at Foster Park that were downed by the storms this summer and the accompanying brushpiles that accumulated around them must make great habitat for Winter Wrens, because I missed them entirely in the first part of the year, but they are out in force now. I even had one in my yard. This has got to be one of the hardest birds to photograph due to its size, secretive nature, and obscuring and dark habitat preference. I am really pleased with what I managed to get.

Golden-Crowned Kinglet

Golden-Crowned Kinglet

Despite how much more common they are, this was the best I could do with Golden-Crowned Kinglet. A flock of about 20 was mocking me all throughout the park.

Osprey

Osprey

So about that bike wreck. It happened on my way to Eagle Marsh a few weeks ago. I got pretty banged up, but continued on my way anyway. A guy has got to see some shorebirds, amiright? Or at least an Osprey.

Pied-Billed Grebe

Pied-Billed Grebe

The trip also gave me my first encounter of the year with Pied-Billed Grebe. All of these above birds leave me at 130 species on the motorless list!

Raccon

Raccon

On my way back from the bike wreck, I encountered this raccoon.

Life is no way to treat an animal.

“Life is no way to treat an animal.” -KV

But it was looking for a scenic place to spend its last hours. So it goes, Mr. Raccoon. So it goes.

Unusual Suspects

I have hit Foster Park hard and often in the first two months of this year, trying in vain to bulk up my motorless list. But after the usual suspects were had early, the birding has been slow, if not relaxing. I am still missing Mourning Dove for the year. Seriously. Mourning Dove.

Yesterday, on the last day of February, I took advantage of some sunshine to check out Foster again, hoping to tick sapsuckers, kinglets, and maybe a Winter Wren (and Mourning Dove).

White-Breasted Nuthatch

White-Breasted Nuthatch

I was desperate to actually put together a blog post with photos in it, so as I walked the river bank, I started taking pictures of everything that moved, which was not much. Nothing against White-Breasted Nuthatch, but I can see you anywhere.

Fox Squirrel

Fox Squirrel

I was getting desperate to make something out of my trip. So squirrels were fair game, too. Maybe I could do one of those interesting “Here are some mammals I saw while birding” posts, but I would need to do better than Fox Squirrel to muster that.

River Ice

River Ice

Falling deeper into despair, I resorted to taking pictures of the cool ice formations on the river.

Maybe...

Maybe…

Next, my mind tried very hard to make this stub of branch into a waxwing.

Common Goldeneye

Common Goldeneye

Then suddenly, something black and white splashed down into the river next to me. Common Goldeneye! Good! My patience paid off, as this was certainly an unexpected duck to find. Open water must have been hard to come by for this diver, because he was cruising around in a tiny open patch of shallow and frozen river. I also realized that this is actually a county bird for me; score!

Usual Suspects

Usual Suspects

Common Goldeneye turned out to be especially good, because this photo summarizes the rest of the waterfowl present.

Looking Up

Looking Up

As I continued, I began to look up both literally and figuratively, because a jogger flushed a large raptor ahead of me on the trail, and it landed almost directly above me.

Closer...

Closer…

See it? No? Let me zoom in some more…

Barred Owl

Barred Owl

Barred Owl was an exceptional way to end the day. I hear them all the time behind my house, but I am a seen-only kind of guy when it comes to listing. I figured I would get one eventually on the motorless list, but I did not expect to see one in full sunlight and manage a clear photograph to boot.

Now if only I could get so lucky with Mourning Dove…

Birding Fatherhood

Over the weekend, I birded for the first time since Walter has been here. It took a couple of weeks, but things have finally settled down enough to the point where Jaime and I are able to do some of our old things. For me, that meant a trip to Franke Park on Saturday morning.

I missed quite a few passerines on spring migration due to the chaotic changing around of our life, so I was hoping to add at least a few new ticks to the year list, and I succeeded. I ran into a flock of Warblers, Vireos, and Chickadees in the middle of the woods and was able to pick out a few species before some, ahem, gentleman’s unleashed dog came crashing through the underbrush, jumped up on me, and scattered the birds.

#141 Cape May Warbler

#141 Cape May Warbler

This Cape May Warbler was the first year bird of the day for me, bringing my total to 141. I was confused by this species’ fall plumage and couldn’t make up my mind at first, but the presence of the white wing patch as opposed to wing bars sealed the ID.

#143 Black-Throated Green Warbler

#143 Black-Throated Green Warbler

The only other new Warbler for me for the year was this Black-Throated Green, good for year bird #143 (Swainson’s Thrush was #142 and only made a brief appearance for no photo).

Warbler Duo

Warbler Duo

Black-Throated Green was a very popular individual and even spent some time discussing accent colors with this Black-and-White.

Red-Eyed Vireo

Red-Eyed Vireo

Also among the flock was this Red-Eyed Vireo, which at first I didn’t recognize because I am so used to seeing them as little specks calling from the tops of trees. This guy was frolicking under the canopoy, however, and gave me the best look (and photo) of the species that I have ever had.

Red-Tailed Hawk

Red-Tailed Hawk

Not all birds seen were small, however. This Red-Tailed Hawk was basically right next to my car as I was leaving. You can’t see it in the grass, but this fellow was chowing down on a snake.

Since my birding time in the field has been limited as of late, I have spent more time in the backyard, with son in one arm and camera in the other, trying to document some of the birds closer to home. I spent about an hour sitting on our patio a couple of weeks ago documenting the denizens of Grosbeak Gardens:

American Goldfinches

American Goldfinches

House Finch

House Finch

Pam

Pam

White-Breasted Nuthatch

White-Breasted Nuthatch

And a final bird of note was one seen at Metea Park, where Jaime and I were married exactly two years ago on August 6 and went again this year on our anniversary. He was behaving much more like a Goldfinch than a Woodpecker:

Downy Woodpecker

Downy Woodpecker