Audubonning

In April I joined the board of directors for the local chapter of the Audubon Society. Last Saturday was my first official event: a hike at Foster Park. I was specifically asked to lead it because of my time birding there over the last several years, which was a pretty neat compliment. Foster was chosen because 100 years ago when the park was still being planned, the chapter namesake Charles Stockbridge went to the city of Fort Wayne to advocate that the new park include natural space for wildlife and not just be a big manicured lawn. To gather strength for his argument, he went out in May to count the bird species that could be found along the Saint Mary’s River where the park was to be built. He came up with a list of 44. A century later, my group set out to see if we could meet Mr. Stockbridge’s mark to commemorate his success in influencing one of the city’s keystone parks.

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Yellow-billed Cuckoo

I chose not to ride my bike only because I woke up kind of late, and it was supposed to storm right around the time the hike ended. Of course that meant that right off the bat we had some pretty great birds, but I won’t complain! A pair of Yellow-billed Cuckoos gave spectacular looks in a single lonely tree next to the baseball fields. It was pretty much consensus that nobody in the group of 12 or so had ever seen more than one cuckoo in the same field of view at the same time. Cool!

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Ruby-throated Hummingbird

A little while later, my proud trip leader moment occurred. We were hiking along the river, and I was acting as the official tally keeper for the morning. Mostly I was birding by ear and stopping to get people on new species when they first showed up. We had numerous Ruby-throated Hummingbirds, and I was only tallying them when I heard them squeak close by. I stopped to watch one of them, though, and was rewarded when it landed on a nest right in front of me. Most of the rest of the group were watching an Indigo Bunting pair, so I directed their attention to this tiny hummingbird abode to much collective joy.

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Barred Owl

The hits kept coming as we stumbled into a Barred Owl not five feet off the ground right by the trail. This plus everything else made a great day for the couple of new birders in the group, and we even began waving the attention of other people walking by to get them on the bird, which they did and observed for a long time. Everyone loves owls!

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House Wren

This House Wren in a nest cavity right next to the owl was way more perturbed by us than the raptor sitting next to it.

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Wood Ducks

And for the grand finale, Wood Duck babies. 14 in total. We ended the day with 48 species, breaking the century-old mark set by Mr. Stockbridge.

Besides Stockbridge Audubon, earlier this year I was asked to write an article on green birding for the Indianapolis chapter, Amos Butler Audubon Society. The result is on page 7 of their March/April newsletter. Their editor is also a green birder and is amassing quite the green list from the middle of the state.

I have always birded on my own for the most part, so it is strange but a nice change of pace to all of a sudden be immersed in a bigger birding community.

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Celery Bog

Last week I was in West Lafayette, Indiana, which is where the famously celebrated and exquisitely named Celery Bog Wildlife Area is located. I had specific intentions to try and find the Cinnamon Teal that was reported there the day prior to my visit.

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Wood Duck family

The CITE ended up being a one-day wonder which I, and the many other birders present, missed. But the waterfowl were abundant, including the two regular Indiana teal and this pleasant family of Wood Ducks.

I was not saddened over my dip, though. In fact, of the time I spent birding Celery Bog, only 15 minutes or so were half-heartedly spent scanning for the rare bird. The rest of my time was blissfully occupied by the massive wave of warblers and friends that were flying around everywhere.

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Bay-breasted Warbler

I arrived just a few hours after a major storm front moved through, and it must have dropped every bird in the area down into the trees of the Celery-green oasis. One of the most numerous birds were Bay-breasted Warblers like this one. Almost all were at eye level and in great light. I had nine warbler species, including my lifer Golden-winged.

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Black-and-White Warbler

The other birders around me were all kind of doing the same thing in being ecstatically frustrated by the abundance of smallish birds. There was almost too much to look at.

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Scarlet Tanager

The warblers had some great company, including four vireo species and both Scarlet and Summer Tanagers. My first two-tanager day.

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Swainson’s Thrush

Several species of thrush were in on the action, too. Chief among them were Swainson’ses.

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Somewhere between Peru and Mexico

I eventually had to go to a meeting and ultimately come home (via US-24, which has this great sign right at about the midpoint of the state. Jaime knew I was going to use this caption).

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Cooper’s Hawk

Home has been a place for a cool bird lately, too. For the past week or two we have had a large young female Cooper’s Hawk taking up a sentry post in our back yard. She likes to perch and poop on the swing set. This is the best photo I could manage.

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Winnie Cooper

Thankfully Jaime is around to take photos, because she was able to get this great shot the other day. We have dubbed our new neighbor Winnie Cooper and everyone likes her even though she murdered a baby cardinal in full view of our kids. Ever since then the chipmunks helpfully tell us when she is in the yard. Thanks, chipmunks!

April Annuals Arriving

After what seemed like an excruciatingly long winter (or maybe I am just reading too many bird blogs from people out west), good things are finally happening in my corner of the Midwest.

Spring

Spring

I birded a long stretch of the St. Mary’s River over two days this past weekend, and my birdometer turned satisfyingly. As of today, the motorless list is up to 61 species, and we haven’t even gotten into the thick of migration. In no particular order, here are some highlights (aka the birds I actually got pictures of).

Wood Ducks

Wood Ducks

Wood Ducks were pairing off up and down the river, making their pathetic little squeaky call all over the place.

Hermit Thrush

Hermit Thrush

Hermit Thrushes are skulky bastards. I managed to catch one by surprise.

Sapsucker Camo

Sapsucker Camo

Yellow-Bellied Sapsuckers are not birds that I think of as being particularly well camouflaged, but this one was putting on a convincing act as a peeling scale of bark.

Chipping Sparrow

Chipping Sparrow

Chipping Sparrows were chipping.

Yellow-Throated Warbler

Yellow-Throated Warbler

I love it when my first warbler of the year is not Yellow-Rumped. The many large Sycamore trees along the river provide ample room for Yellow-Throated Warblers, and I came across a flock of four birds all jockeying for position in the branches and singing loudly. Yellow-Throated is my favorite warbler for looks, habits, attitude, and because it was one of the first birds I learned to identify by song.

YRWA: Take 1

YRWA: Take 1

The only other warbler around was the expected Yellow-Rumped. A nice bird in its time and place, so I tried to get a photo. One thrill-seeking bird sallied for gnats right in front of me, totally oblivious. At one point it dove straight for my face, caught a bug, then banked 90 degrees to avoid a collision. I tried to get a photograph of this obliging bird. Take 1: backlit.

YRWA: Take 2

YRWA: Take 2

Take 2: stick in the face.

YRWA: Take 3

YRWA: Take 3

Take 3: stick in the face.

Some birds won’t be photographed. I am leagues away from the crushing shots others can pull off, but I at least like my photo documentation not to look like witness protection program participants. Add to these shots about a dozen more hopelessly blurry photos.

That’s all for now. I expect to have some really good stuff in about three weeks, when I will be spending three days camping in the woods on the Lake Erie coast, hopefully up to my eyeballs in warblers. Stay tuned!