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.

North Carolina – Part 2

Having sufficiently whetted my appetite for southeastern birds, I departed early on Sunday morning for the town of Southern Pines, which is also a very good description of the habitat I was looking for. The namesake pine species in that part of the state is the Longleaf, the only tree in which Red-cockaded Woodpeckers will call home. The Weymouth Woods Sandhills Nature Preserve, directly adjacent to the world’s largest military base (not hyperbole; it really is) Fort Bragg, is famous nationally for hosting a colony of the endangered woodpeckers.

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Weymouth Woods Sandhills Nature Preserve

Long story short, I did not see any “cockades” as the park rangers call them or the other open pine forest specialty species Bachman’s Sparrow. But I saw both on a previous trip a few years ago, so I wasn’t entirely bummed out. There were other good things going on.

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Red-cockaded Woodpecker Home

A tree growing about 15 feet from the visitor’s center hosted a woodpecker nest. The oppressive heat index was pushing 105 degrees with humidity, so the birds were laying low and out of sight. But cockades only nest in living trees, so it was still pretty neat to see the humongous sap-flow oozing out of the hole they bored.

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Eastern Towhee

Despite the heat, there were plenty of birds like this young Eastern Towhee that didn’t know any better than go outside on a sweltering day. It was scratching its feet in this tent caterpillar nest to get at the larvae inside.

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Yellow-billed Cuckoo

Another tent caterpillar specialist, this Yellow-billed Cuckoo showed itself long enough for an elusive photograph. Folklore calls these birds “rain crows” because they supposedly call more often in hot and humid weather right before a summer storm. I have read plenty of things online saying there is no basis for this claim, but several of these birds were making a ruckus, and it did storm later in the day.

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Silver-spotted Skipper

I followed the trails down into a ravine with water and a little more shade, hoping that the woodpeckers would trade their preferred trees for some respite from the heat. I didn’t find anything down there besides a bunch more butterflies.

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Horace’s Duskywing

I learned that, much like birds, some species of butterflies will let you get quite close, while others won’t tolerate it. All of the Silver-spotted Skippers I saw seemed cool with my camera an inch away, while this Horace’s Duskywing (lifer) wouldn’t give me the time of day.

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Spicebush Swallowtail

Swallowtails are to butterflies as raptors are to birds: big, easy to see, and impressive enough to get the average person to stop and look. The spicebush variety was another lifer.

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Pine Warbler

Butterflies only held my attention for so long, and I had to get back to the birds. What better species to see in a pine forest than a Pine Warbler?

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Red-headed Woodpecker

I eventually did see some woodpeckers, but they were not the right kind. Visitng Weymouth Woods might be the only time I have ever been slightly disappointed to see a Red-headed Woodpecker. But they are awesome birds, so I had to check myself, and I ended up appreciating the family group of two adults and a juvenile swooping in and out of some burned trees.

Despite dipping on the desired species, Weymouth Woods is a great place to see southeastern birds, including many, many more Summer Tanagers and Brown-headed Nuthatches (which are literally everywhere once you learn their squeaky dog toy calls). The rangers there are also great and can provide a ton of insight into the habits and life history of they specialty species at the preserve. Around 50 miles from Raleigh, I highly recommend it if you are ever in the Triangle area.

That wraps up my out of state birding adventures. But it’s been a while since I have seriously birded at home, and we’ve got shorebirds coming in from the north by the day. Stay tuned! The summer doldrums are almost over…

A Pretty Good Weekend

On Saturday I headed back to Eagle Marsh to check on the mudflats and see if anything new flew in.

Green Heron

Green Heron

My first good sign was a rather cooperative Green Heron.

Semipalmated Plover

Semipalmated Plover

The mud was pretty calm because it was the heat of the day, but the very first bird I saw was #114 for the motorless list: Semipalmated Plover. As I watched it dodge Killdeer, I realized that I had somehow never seen one in Indiana, so state bird too, embarrassingly enough.

Great Egret

Great Egret

The only other thing of note was this super relaxed Great Egret. At first I thought it might be injured, but after a while it stood up on both legs and flew away with no problem. Does anyone know what it might have been doing? I have never seen one adopt this position before.

After Eagle Marsh, I decided to bike again today despite the heat to try and mop up another bird that has been evading me on the motorless list: Pileated Woodpecker. I headed to Fox Island with this bird in mind.

Blue Grosbeak

Blue Grosbeak

My route took me past the quarry where Blue Grosbeak has become my nemesis over the last two years, but today I decided to stop and look around for one. I found two birds rather easily. Nemesis slayed! Even though this juvenile bird is in some boring plumage, check out the size of that bill. You can’t be disappointed with that. Lifer, and motorless #115. Further down the road closer to Fox Island I encountered two more, including a blue adult male that I couldn’t get a picture of but bringing my total to four individuals, which was pretty exciting.

Inside of the park, I was riding high from BLGR and totally pumped to see my woodpecker (which is the same one that deviled me during my Taken For Granted Challenge with The Laurence last year). As I was riding around, my eyes caught a largish bird that at first I mistook for a Gray Catbird.

Yellow-Billed Cuckoo

Yellow-Billed Cuckoo

Nope, Yellow-Billed Cuckoo! Lifer #2 for the day (actually within half an hour) and motorless #116. I was thrilled to see this bird, because my only other experience with one has been as a carcass on the sidewalk by my office.

On the ride out, I did finally manage Pileated Woodpecker flying over the road in the same place where I saw two of the grosbeaks. My list is now at 117, and getting two unexpected lifers made today one of the best outings I have had in a while. I was happy enough to be singing a little bit in my head on the way home, and appropriately enough, my favorite Scottish pop group has some songs that are totally appropriate for these birds.