Albuquerque, Part 2: Lifer Train on the Rio Grande

After Will went to go rehearse the tango for his part in Maria de Buenos Aires, I took a ride over to the west side of the city to visit the Rio Grande Nature Center State Park.

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Spotted Towhee

There were feeders everywhere and birds all around. One of the first species I saw was a dapper male Spotted Towhee, a lifer.

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Dark-eyed “Oregon” Junco

Among the flocks gorging on seeds were dozens of Dark-eyed Juncos, a species of which I have seen thousands in my life. But I had never before seen the Oregon race. Lifer color morph!

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“Audubon’s” Yellow-rumped Warbler

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“Red-shafted” Northern Flicker

Along with the Juncos were western color variations of my familiar Yellow-rumped Warblers and Northern Flickers. I made sure to document each of these in the off chance they get split into their own species some day. Similarly, I paid some attention to the big, pale western White-breasted Nuthatches that have recently been proposed for a split. Having now seen and heard them, I can understand that thought process.

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Porcupine

I saw all of these things within yards of the visitor’s center. And then there was this porcupine. It was actually one of two I saw at the park that afternoon to represent a lifer mammal!

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Banded Cooper’s Hawk

At the base of the same tree that the porcupine was snoozing in, I watched this banded Cooper’s Hawk enjoy its meal. I reported the band, 31C, but with the federal government shutdown I am not holding my breath on a response any time soon.

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Black Phoebe

As I wandered west toward the mighty Rio Grande, remarking in the process how she dances on the sand, I viewed my next lifer: this Black Phoebe. Seeing flycatchers in January is a novel experience for me!

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Lesser Goldfinch

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Bushtit

Two small, photo-shy birds were working the brush above the Phoebe, and they were also lifers: Lesser Goldfinch and Bushtit!

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Rio Grande Bosque

The trail opened up into the cottonwood forests all along the Rio Grande. It was pretty incredible to me how one city can contain so many totally different biomes. Compared to the high mountains I was in during the morning and the desert of the city, the river bosque was a unique world unto itself as well.

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Bewick’s Wren

Among the trees in the bosque, birds were less numerous. But there were still lifers to be had, like this spunky Bewick’s Wren. Interestingly, this species used to be common in the east within the last century including in Indiana, but now it is totally absent except in just a few random pockets of Ohio Valley hill country. Maybe one day I will stumble across one in the Midwest.

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A view with a view

I hiked along the river for a while and then looped back to explore the wetlands on the other side of the park. I stopped to enjoy the view of the distant Sandia Crest where I had been just a few hours earlier.

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Ross’s Goose

My eye was then drawn to the white blob in the middle of the other geese on the pond, where I saw that I was looking at only my second ever Ross’s Goose, and coincidentally right behind it my second ever Canvasback.

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Cackling Goose

Then I realized that the little guys that Ross was swimming around with were not just Canada Geese, but instead actually mostly Cackling Geese to keep the lifer train going. I stood and watched them for a while and then struck up a conversation with an older gentleman birder. We remarked how interesting it was for me to be so enthused by his common Cackling Geese, while at the same time he was so geeked about the apparently uncommon White-throated Sparrow under the feeders. I saw the sparrow too, but I didn’t pay it much attention because of how numerous they are for me at home.

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Greater Roadrunner

He asked me if I had seen any Roadrunners, and I told him unfortunately not. He remarked how they like to run around the parking lot at the nature center, and that I should watch for them there. We had our backs facing said parking lot, so I turned around to see where might be a good spot to look, and one was standing right there. Not to beat a dead horse, but — lifer #12 for the day!

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Roadrunner Sunbather

My first instinct was to be amazed at how huge Roadrunners are. I have occasionally felt that photos of certain species do not properly portray their size, either large or small, so that I have been impressed when I first lay my own eyes on them. But this Roadrunner was HUGE. Even though the field guides tell you measurements, for whatever reason I always envisioned them maybe a little larger than a Blue Jay. But now I know that they could actually give a Cooper’s Hawk the business.

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Portrait of a Killer

My next thought was that, wow, I must be lucky and I shouldn’t move too quickly or risk scaring this incredible bird away. But no. The thing didn’t care at all that I was standing right there, and then it just fluffed out its feathers and started sunbathing. I variously watched, photographed, and Instagrammed the beast all while it acted like I was not there and basically ran across my foot at one point. Finally, it had a friend appear to see what was going on, and they both decided that there were more interesting things to see/eat in the bushes out of sight.

It was incredibly cool to end the day with such an amazing animal that also happens to be the state bird of New Mexico (note: New Mexico might have the best state bird). Having spent nearly the entire day hiking and birding within a range of nearly 7,000 feet of elevation difference, I was pretty exhausted. I met Will back at his house, crashed for a nap, then we wrapped up the evening at a combination pinball arcade/techno club downtown, which itself was also a lifer experience.

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

Trailbirds: Hiking and Biking

A new event hosted by Fort Wayne Trails is the Early Bird Nature Walk and Bike Ride. It is geared toward amateurs of both birding and biking, and I participated in the second event yesterday. Despite the damp and cool conditions, about ten hardy souls met at the Wells Street bridge to use the city’s trail system in pursuit of birds.

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Urban Birders

The beginning part of the event was an urban hike along the St. Mary’s River downtown, which turned up many good birds including several first-of-the-years. The second part was a bike ride that traversed much better habitat and produced some pretty great results.

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Blue-headed Vireo

The route took us about four miles downriver to Foster Park, where we were treated to some incredible looks by a radioactive male Scarlet Tanager, which is probably one of the best birds possible to get first-timers interested. In a small mixed flock including said tanager, I also managed to pull out my lifer Blue-headed Vireo. This is the first motorless lifer I have had this year, and I am pretty sure it’s my first lifer at Foster Park as well. It is also Indiana bird 199.

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Yellow-rumped Warbler

Much of the group also had their first warbler experience. Specifically, they learned how difficult they can be to actually see and identify. Fortunately we were treated to point-blank looks at a few Yellow-rumps.

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Eponymous Butterbutt

The field mark of this bird was readily evident.

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American Goldfinch

We only get one flavor of goldfinch in the Midwest, but the group was very appreciative of a bird I often overlook.

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Swainson’s Thrush

After the ride had ended and a friend and I had some requisite Pint and Slice for lunch, I rode back through Foster on my way home. I picked up a few more annuals that the group had missed, including this Swainson’s Thrush and a stunning singing male Blackburnian Warbler, which was a county bird for me.

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Foster Park

I ended my afternoon with 43 species, with 13 new green year birds including one lifer which brings my list to 94. Most of these were seen in a disused corner of the park that includes a rotting picnic pavilion. Apparently the trails through Foster used to be paved roads that attracted cruisers and teenagers. Luckily for me and the birds, it is foot traffic only now and quiet enough that we stumbled upon two Cooper’s Hawks actively tending a nest close by.

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Nom.

Not bird related but still worth mentioning is the raccoon that was raiding our feeder before I left for the ride. I didn’t mind too much because he was finishing off some old stale seed.

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The Lookout

He employed a friend to make sure the coast was clear. Teamwork, because there is no ‘I’ in ‘raccoon’ or ‘bunny.’

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Wild Turkey

To bring things back around to birds, and because I have nowhere else to put it, I will end with this Wild Turkey. I encountered this fellow at work last week and had to decelerate more rapidly than I would have liked to avoid hitting him. I usually only see turkeys from the interstate where stopping is more frowned upon, so this time I seized the opportunity to fire off a couple shots while he crossed the road in front of me. He was also only about 200 yards from the county line, so this was another county bird this week, although I wish I could add it to my green list.

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!

Fall Migrants

Fall is confusing. And I don’t mean in terms of the dull, basic-plumaged birds floating around at this time of year. I went to Fox Island last week, bird mecca #1 in Fort Wayne, and found nothing but the gates to Mosquito Hell. Meanwhile yesterday I happened to glance out of the back window while watching football and gazed upon a foraging frenzy by a mixed flock of great migrants:

Cape May Warbler

Cape May Warbler

Stars among them were several Cape May Warblers, a species that became yard bird #47 for the year and a half we have lived at Grosbeak Gardens.

Yellow-Rumped Warbler

Yellow-Rumped Warbler

The warbler action also included a few Yellow-Rumpeds, including one that checked out our bird feeder for a second or two.

Black-Capped Chickadee

Black-Capped Chickadee

Also present were the duo of newly moved-in Black-Capped Chickadees. Chickadees have become very interesting to me since moving to Fort Wayne, since the city lies smack in the middle of the overlap zone for Carolinas and Black-Cappeds. We live south of downtown, and the only species I had seen in the area previously were Carolinas, with Black-Cappeds occurring north of town, or in very small numbers in some of the more birdy areas like Fox Island. However, since last month our Carolinas have been evicted by Black-Cappeds, and they are now the only chickadees that I see in our neighborhood. This new development is contrary to everything I have read about Carolinas pushing north and displacing Black-Cappeds in the southern part of the overlap zone.

In comparison to the Carolinas, the Black-Cappeds have more color saturation in their buff-colored sides, and their white cheek stretches further toward the back of the head, as the bird above exhibits. They also have more white edging on their wings. It’s pretty cool that we have had both species in our yard. Now I can hope for another appearance of a Fort Wayne Boreal Chickadee (it has happened before, apparently).

Red-Bellied Woodpecker

Red-Bellied Woodpecker

I will leave you with a photo of the always industrious Red-Bellied Woodpecker going to work on our utilities. I apologize for the sneakily-disguised “there are some birds I saw in my yard” post. But I will spare you a photo of a cardinal.

Early Migrants

Jaime and I were back in Indianapolis this weekend to pack up all of our worldly possessions in anticipation for our move to The Fort. But I still managed to get in a trip to Eagle Creek, and I am certainly glad that I did. I ended up with 10 new year birds, including a life bird, some of which were migrating early enough to be considered “rare” by eBird:

#082 Black-and-White Warbler

#082 Black-and-White Warbler

My first Warbler of the year was a variety I was not expecting: Black-and-White. As far as I can tell from what has been reported, this fellow may be one of the first to be seen in the state this year.

#083 Blue-Gray Gnatcatcher

#083 Blue-Gray Gnatcatcher

A swarm of Blue-Gray Gnatcatchers were feeding with the Black-and-White Warbler, representing my next FOY (first of year).

#084 Yellow-Rumped Warbler

#084 Yellow-Rumped Warbler

My next Warbler was the one that I expected to be first. Yellow-Rumped Warblers are just about the only Warbler expected to winter in Indiana.

#086 Ruby-Crowned Kinglet

#085 Ruby-Crowned Kinglet

Continuing the theme of small, color-named birds is the Ruby-Crowned Kinglet, who was also participating in the mixed foraging flock. Their Golden-Crowned bretheren were also there but not as willing to pose for photos.

#086 Pine Warbler

#086 Pine Warbler

My third Warbler for the day was of the Pine variety. There were several floating around the woods by Lily Lake, but this female was the only one who would stay still long enough to be photographed. Males are bright yellow.

#087 Hermit Thrush

#087 Hermit Thrush

I am not usually very good at identifying the brown woodland Thrushes, but this Hermit Thrush posed quite nicely to show off its reddish tail, helping me greatly with identification.

#088 Blue-Winged Teal

#088 Blue-Winged Teal

Switching gears from passerine birds, here are some Blue-Winged Teal, which are some of the last Indiana ducks I am missing for the year. They also represent a pretty decent run of photographs of consecutively-numbered year birds for me (in case you hadn’t noticed, we just got #82-88 without skipping a beat).

#090 American Bittern

#090 American Bittern

The final new bird of the day, no doubt the best, and also a lifer, was this terrifying American Bittern. Do not look directly into its unblinking, demonic eye.

(New birds that were not photographed include #081 Double-Crested Cormorant and #089 Eastern Phoebe.)

Commoners at Holliday Park

I went out on Saturday to see what I could before heading up to Fort Wayne for the weekend. Though there wasn’t a whole lot going on, I did get a lifer (Least Flycatcher) and some decent photos of common birds I hadn’t previously spent much time trying to photograph. I ended the morning with 30 species, which are documented on eBird.

Least Flycatcher

Least Flycatcher

This Least Flycatcher was performing some impressive aerial acrobatics. Luckily, he kept returning to the same perch so I was ready with my camera. These birds are one of the genus Empidonax, which consists of approximately 900 billion species of flycatchers that all look exactly alike. I have complained about this before on this blog, but these birds in particular look EXACTLY ALIKE. I was only able to identify this one because I had such a close look at it (to see that it’s grayness was more gray than the similarly gray Willow, Alder, Acadian, and Yellow-Bellied Flycatchers), and its habitat matched that of the Least as described in Peterson, plus they are apparently the most common of the eastern flycatchers.

Red-Bellied Woodpecker

Red-Bellied Woodpecker

After being infuriated by the flycatcher ID’s, I was able to calm down with some very, very easy birds. Take for instance this very inaccurately named Red-Bellied Woodpecker.

Hairy Woodpecker

Hairy Woodpecker

And this Hairy Woodpecker. It can be distinguished from its very similar cousin the Downy Woodpecker by the fact that it actually has a beak and not just a tiny nub.

White-Breasted Nuthatch

White-Breasted Nuthatch

I like nuthatches, like this White-Breasted Nuthatch, a lot because they behave so ridiculously and have really goofy calls that sound like the Martians from Mars Attacks.

American Goldfinch

American Goldfinch

There were about 30 billion American Goldfinches swooping around the park, and all of them had shed their yellow for their basic plumage. But this one let me get close!

Yellow-Rumped Warbler

Yellow-Rumped Warbler

Speaking of basic plumage, the reason this Yellow-Rumped Warbler is not sporting his is because this photo is actually from the spring of 2007. I did see a Yellow-Rumped this past weekend, but I found this picture on my computer and want an excuse to post it because it’s way better than the one I got on Saturday.