Falling Back

I have fallen behind in blogging, but not birding. Here is a relatively moderate summary of my bird-related activities since September.

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Swamp Adventure at the Binder Park Zoo in Battle Creek, MI

Over Labor Day weekend the family got out of town for a change of scenery. We spent the day in Battle Creek, Michigan at the Binder Park Zoo. For a zoo in a city of its size, Binder Park punches above its weight. One of the highlights is the Swamp Adventure.

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Swamp Adventure Boardwalk

A narrow boardwalk makes a loop over half a mile long through natural wetland. There are no animals on exhibit, and the idea is literally just to walk around and see what kind of animals inhabit the marshes of the Midwest. However, as we walked deeper into the swamp, we encountered numerous disgusted looking families heading toward us out of the wetlands. Every single one of them said, “You’d better turn around, there’s nothing down that way,” or “Don’t waste your time.” People are idiots. We listened to singing Yellow-throated Vireos, saw a flock of Cedar Waxwings, marveled at the size and quantity of swan feces, and watched a huge soft-shelled turtle basking in the shallows. Nothing to see here. Move along.

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Barred Owl behind bars

There is also a really neat kids play area, which for some reason had a cage with an injured Barred Owl directly in the middle of it.

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The Circle of Life

In the African savannah area, the zoo also had a dead zebra on display.

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Feeding Station

I was not the only one who was fooled. It is actually a feeding station for the exhibit’s vultures, which unfortunately were not using it. Very cool.

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Bay-breasted Warbler

Skipping ahead a few weeks, I helped lead a hike at Franke Park for the Stockbridge Audubon Society. The goal was fall warblers. One that gave some of the best views was a Bay-breasted that had found a large caterpillar.

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Black-throated Green Warbler

Otherwise, the only other species of note was a Black-throated Green. A follow-up trip to the park yielded similarly disappointing results. It seems as though a few days of strong south winds in the middle of September sent most of the migrants straight over Allen County this year.

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Urban Deer

In October I hit the Purdue campus to see if I could make some additions to the year’s green list. The only photographable species I got were two very unconcerned White-tailed Deer right next to me on the trail. But I succeeded in getting a small kettle of Broad-winged Hawks, which was a new green bird as well as a new bird for that patch, as was a Red-breasted Nuthatch.

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Red-breasted Nuthatch

On the subject of Red-breasted Nuthatches, this individual has been hanging out in my yard for over a month. The kids and I have spent a good deal of time watching him, and one day we decided to name him. Walter’s suggestion of “Casey” was defeated in an Instagram poll by an 80-point margin to Alice’s suggestion of “Poopy Ben.”

If this summer was the summer of the Dickcissel, this fall has been the fall of the Red-breasted Nuthatch. They are everywhere right now, and I have been seeing and hearing them consistently on every single birding outing since September.

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Canadian Invasion

My birding time was limited for much of October, meaning short outings here and there and no long bike rides. I finally changed that this past weekend with a ride down to Eagle Marsh. While too late for shorebird migration (which left lots of big holes in my green list. Pectoral Sandpiper? Ugh), there were some birds around. I scanned a big flock of Canada Geese for any outliers.

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Sandhill Crane

There were no interesting waterfowl, but a very lost Sandhill Crane was failing to hide amongst the flock. I have seen hundreds of cranes this year, but this was the first green one. I am pretty sure it is also the first one that I have seen standing on the ground in Allen County.

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White-crowned Sparrow

The hits kept coming once I got to Eagle Marsh. My next green pick-ups were sparrows. First, a group of Swamp Sparrows materialized in the brush to become not only green birds but county birds as well. They were followed by a young White-crowned Sparrow, also my first green one of the year. I saw some on my bike ride to Ouabache in May, but they never made the list since I had to get motorized assistance on that trip.

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Mute Swans

I had brief hope that some fly-by swans would turn out to be something cool, but alas they were all Mutes.

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Blackbirds

On my ride home, I had one last good sighting for the day. A small flock of blackbirds was up in a tree, and I stopped to scan to see what it consisted of. Mostly Red-winged Blackbirds, Common Grackles, and a few starlings, but mixed in were two Rusty Blackbirds! I imagine these birds are more common than they seem, but that they do a good job of hiding in the other huge blackbird flocks. These birds were in almost exactly the same place as the ones I saw last year, almost in exactly the same tree.

With just under two months to go, I have 137 species on my green list, which is exactly as many as I had in my first year of birding this way in 2015. I may have peaked last year. Even though I still plan on green birding as often as I can, I am looking forward to other adventures in 2019. Chief among them will be a trip to New Mexico in January. My experience with the west consists of a single trip to Boulder and one to San Francisco, and both were before I became a birder, so stay tuned!

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Family Birding

The birding has been good lately, with my new house an ideal launchpad to hotspot Franke Park. I have been twice in as many weeks and have pumped up my green list to 98 species. Photos, however, have not been easy to get this spring. Here is the best (and only) one from those trips:

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Blue-gray Gnatcatcher

The yard birding has been superb, too. And the whole family has been involved. It all started a few weeks ago when we added Mallard to the list. We had Mallard as a yard bird at the old house, but only as a flyover.

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Mallard

These were different. Jaime spotted them in the yard underneath our feeders one evening at dinner, and things just weren’t the same after that for the kids.

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Birds and Kids

The ducks did laps around the house as the kids chased them from window to window. Dinner was put on hold.

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Rose-breasted Grosbeak

A similar thing happened today when a small flock of Rose-breasted Grosbeaks arrived at the house. While I was at work, Jaime proceeded to text me updates on the comings and goings of these charismatic feeder birds. She also took several great photos, like the one above.

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Rose-breasted Grosbeaks

We had at least three individual Rosebeasts appear all at once. And they seem to be thick all over the state as of today.

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Kids and a Rosebeast

And again, the kids got in on the action, too.

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White-throated Sparrow

The yard has also played host to a variety of other birds, and the list is already up to 35 species, several of which have been sparrows.

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White-crowned Sparrow

White-throateds have been common and consistent all spring, but today the surprise was a White-crowned. WCSP is a bird we never had on our old yard list.

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Chipping Sparrow

The sparrow train continued with Chipping, too.

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American Robin

We’ve also had thrushes, like this puffed-up male American Robin.

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Gray-cheeked Thrush

A more interesting thrush appeared last weekend. I assumed the skulker in the bushes was a Swainson’s Thrush, but a more careful look revealed its negative field marks: no strong eye ring, no buff-colored face, and no warmth to the rest of the bird’s grayish feathers. Good for Gray-cheeked Thrush! I have only seen a couple of these birds in the county, and I missed them entirely last year. This individual was a strong addition to the yard and green lists.

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Nashville Warbler

Another high-quality migrant passing through the yard was a Nashville Warbler. Or is this a female Canada Warbler? I had to double-check that this was in fact a Nashville by referencing the gray hood continuing under the beak, as opposed to the yellow from the breast reaching up to the beak on a female Canada. That is not a field mark I have ever had to notice before, but the strength of the eye ring screaming “Canada” required it.

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Downy Woodpecker

Not all birds are that tough, though. Downy Woodpeckers are gluttons and will pose nicely so long as the suet is flowing. This female gave little regard for manners as chunks of it flew from her saturated feathers.

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House Finch

Rounding out the photos is a sorry male House Finch showing some nasty swelling around his eyes.

That’s all for the mostly run-of-the-mill. At the end of April, I was running ahead of my listing pace for the last two years, and that is even considering that migration here has been somewhat late with a lot of rain and wind keeping birds south. My next big outing will be on May 17th when I plan on undertaking a Big Green Day. I have never done anything like that before, so it will be fun to see how many species I can rack up by bike and how high I can grow the list. Stay tuned!

Reviews!

I have been birding for almost five years, but before this week I never had a serious pair of binoculars. The cheap pairs I had been using are actually quite embarrassing, so I won’t talk about them here. Instead, I am now a member of Team Vortex, having bought the 8×42 Diamondback model. Verdict: they are great! They seem to be the highest rated model in their price range among almost all reviews. They work very well for me, too. 10 out of 10 after taking them for a spin at Eagle Marsh.

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American Tree Sparrow

American Tree Sparrows didn’t give me any need to break out the new bins. For easiness to see and abundance, I give them a 10 out of 10. For number of colors in their bill, they score a 2.

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White-crowned Sparrow

White-crowned Sparrows were (literally) chilling by the trail, providing me with a January bird that took me until October and December respectively to get on the green list the last two years. In the category of alleviating worry about missing an easy bird, White-crowned Sparrows are a 6 out of 10. They also get an 8 for looking like I had the black-and-white filter set on my camera.

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Muskrat

Muskrats only manage to get a 3 in terms of mammals you actually want to see. But they get a 9 in fooling you into thinking they are a beaver on first glance.

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Virginia Opossum

Virginia Opossums look way cuter than they should. They also get an 8.5 in looking like a panda.

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Eastern Cottontail Rabbit

This Eastern Cottontail Rabbit scored a zero in the category of outrunning Red-tailed Hawks.

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Unicorn Squirrel Feeder

Unicorn Head Squirrel Feeders score a 10 in receiving one in the mail from your sister and laughing out loud because of how random of a birthday gift they are.

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The Godfather?

However, they ultimately end up with a 1 for durability. This example lasted less then 24 hours before it was eaten alive.

Birding Raleigh

Jaime and I traveled to my parents’ house to celebrate my mom’s birthday and Easter last weekend. As always, there were many great birds to be had. My parents have provided ample landscaping, feeders, and water features to attract many birds. In between the many dozens of meals that we ate, I spent a considerable amount of time on the deck and looking out the kitchen window, jealously plotting how to landscape our future yard (closing later this month, fingers crossed) to be a similar haven for these small, wing-ed beasts. Behold!

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Carolina Chickadee

It was totally appropriate to be watching Carolina Chickadees in the state of (North) Carolina. Also: it takes an architect’s talent to select a feeder that is both this visually pleasing and also effective at nourishing the avian fauna of the suburban Triangle region. Well played, dad.

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Carolina Wren

I’m having deja-vu all over again. Carolina Wren? In Carolina? It can’t be! Author’s note: I found it amusing that despite being one of the smallest birds of the yard, these fellows were first in pecking order, giving much larger Towhees and Cardinals the boot when they demanded some vittles.

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House Finch

House Finches (or Pink Birds in our household) were the most common feeder enthusiasts chez Majewski. This gentleman knows what is proper as he allows his lady friend to dine first.

American Goldfinch

American Goldfinch

This American Goldfinch was shedding his brown winter plumes for a new yellow get-up. And he, like countless others, could not be dissuaded from the clean lines of modernism.

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Northern Mockingbird

Northern Mockingbirds aren’t so shallow as to be easily had by the prospect of a free meal.

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White-Crowned Sparrow

And somehow Casa di mi Padre remains the only locale where I have ever seen a White-Crowned Sparrow despite their supposed commonality. Come on, Indiana, you’re falling behind.

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Winter Wren

Not all birds were found quite so easily. Jaime and I made a trip to a local park with a walking path around a lake. A Winter Wren was working some tree roots and caught me off guard. I had to stalk it for a few minutes before getting this mediocre photo. It was by far the best bird of the weekend, and another missing from my Indiana list. While not rare, I will go out on a limb and declare these to be uncommon.

It was a great trip for many reasons besides just birds. But, this weekend the task at hand is Swallows, which are beginning to appear up here in Fort Wayne for the spring. My goal is to get to 100 birds by the end of April. Go!