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

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What I did on my spring vacation

After the most insane several weeks of work in my life, I took off a couple of days and pointed my car eastward. My destination: the swamps of Lake Erie in northwest Ohio. My goal: warblers! I camped out at Maumee Bay State Park in Oregon, Ohio to check out the famed bird mecca of Magee Marsh, the proclaimed “warbler capital of the world.” Perhaps you have heard of it.

Magee Marsh

Magee Marsh

I went a week early, because even though peak migration is still a ways off, there was no way I could put up with all of those khaki vests and bucket hats. By all accounts, though, even the weeks leading up to the Biggest Week have plenty of migrant action. And the whole place is set up like some kind of birding amusement park. Just look at it. I was pumped. On to the warblers!

Yellow Warbler

Yellow Warbler

First to be spotted was the always abundant yet cheerful Yellow Warbler. Good start!

Next up was… nothing.

Angry Sea

Angry Sea

The day I arrived, a freakishly cold storm blew in off the lake, driving north to south. This stopped everyone in their tracks as they flew northward. This has apparently been the story all spring, and everyone I talked to apologized to me profusely at what was thought to be one of the worst years for late migration that anyone could remember. I saw one warbler species during my entire trip.

Rusty Blackbird

Rusty Blackbird

If not for the tiny flock of Rusty Blackbirds (life bird!), Magee Marsh would have been a total bust. I had a backup plan, though.

Metzger Marsh

Metzger Marsh

The other ‘M’ marsh next door to Magee is Metzger. While not a magnet for passerines, some great shorebirds had been hanging out there, so with the wind still ripping from the north off of the lake, I headed there.

American Avocets

American Avocets

Other than the dozens of egrets that I saw as I drove up, the very first thing I saw was a gigantic flock of shorebirds working the mud: American Avocets (life bird)! They had just appeared that morning, so word had not gotten out yet, and it was a great surprise. This photo shows only about half of the flock; different peoples’ counts ranged from between 99 to 117 birds, which is pretty much unheard of in the Midwest.

Class Photo

Class Photo

It was tough to look away from the avocets, but there was a mind-blowing array of wetland birds to comprehend. I felt like I was in Florida or something. The photo above includes Caspian and Common Terns plus Bonaparte’s Gulls; all birds I have only seen in small numbers previously.

White-Faced Ibis

White-Faced Ibis

Probably the biggest draw for most people at Metzger were the reported White-Faced Ibis. I was having poor luck trying to locate the birds across the expanse of wetlands, until a lady flushed them from probably 10 yards away. They were feeding next to the road behind some tall grass, and nobody saw them until they flew straight up, circled once, and then disappeared from view. Not the best look at another life bird, but I will take it. This happened probably no more than 15 minutes after I arrived, so I would definitely not have seen them had I gotten there any later.

Trumpeter Swans

Trumpeter Swans

Some of the less jittery birds included these two Trumpeter Swans (life bird!) who cared not that I was standing mere feet away, taking as many photos as I could get.

Headless Swans

Headless Swans

If you are wondering about the brown stains on the swans’ heads, this photo should answer your question.

Savannah Sparrow

Savannah Sparrow

This Savannah Sparrow was uncommonly cooperative, and one of the last birds I saw before heading back to Maumee Bay.

Common Grackle

Common Grackle

The camp mascot should have been Common Grackle, which numbered in the hundreds at the park. I took the time to photograph this guy as I ate lunch.

Tree Swallow

Tree Swallow

Swallows were also very much on the menu, and in many varieties. These Tree Swallows seemed to be staking out a nest site.

Purple Martin

Purple Martin

Meanwhile, this Purple Martin pondered what it means to be truly free, and if his wings are merely metaphors for life.

White-Tailed Deer

White-Tailed Deer

Maumee Bay had a pretty nice boardwalk, but it was mostly quiet when I was there, so I resorted to taking pictures of deer.

Eastern Screech-Owl

Eastern Screech-Owl

But on the way out, this Eastern Screech-Owl was mean-muggin’ me from a nest box. Lifer! Along with the Great-Horned Owl on nest that I saw at Metzger, this bird meant that I saw more species of owl than I did warbler in the Warbler Capital of the World. Weird.

Solitary Sandpiper

Solitary Sandpiper

Before my trip was over with, I did head back to Metzger to see if anything else new flew in. The birds remained mostly unchanged, but I did get some close-up views of shorebirds in good lighting, like this Solitary Sandpiper.

Lesser Yellowlegs

Lesser Yellowlegs

And this Lesser Yellowlegs.

Solitary Yellowlegs

Solitary Yellowlegs

And this Solitary Yellowlegs.

Dunlin

Dunlin

Most things there were Dunlin, which were looking very dapper in their alternate plumage.

Semipalmated Plover

Semipalmated Plover

When a Peregrine Falcon blew by, the Dunlin scattered, but in their wake remained a lone Semipalmated Plover with serious chutzpah. Further out was an American Golden-Plover (lifer!) who did not afford a photo opportunity.

Northern Shoveler

Northern Shoveler

Last, but certainly not least were waterfowl. Teals and Gadwall and others abounded, like these Northern Shovelers.

Canada Geeselets

Canada Geeselets

And of course these Canada Geese. I don’t care what you say, baby geese are cute. To keep my birder street cred, I will tell you this is a photo of Branta canadensis actively using its R-selected reproduction strategy.

Mine was a great trip. I ended up with 64 species accounted for, with 6 of them new to my life list. I hope to go back some time and give Magee Marsh another shot, but at least now I know that northwest Ohio isn’t all warblers.

Drought

Indiana is taking a beating from the summer. We have had about a dozen 100+ degree days, and maybe four times that many 90+ with almost no rain on top of it all. This has resulted in burn bans, watering bans, and fireworks bans throughout the state. Grass is crispy and water levels are low. But this last part made Eagle Creek Reservoir a jackpot for shorebirds this past weekend, as receding water lines have exposed acres and acres of mudflats that offer a smorgasbord of arthropods and mollusks for them. Mmm.

I am sure that I observed more than two lifer varieties of sandpiper, but I was only able to positively identify two of them. I recently read a book that said there are three levels of birding proficiency: the first is when you can start to identify warblers, the second is when you can start to identify birds of prey, and the third is when you can start to identify sandpipers. This outing put me uncomfortably into Level-3 birding. There are approximately 72 million species of sandpiper, and they all look exactly alike.

Least Sandpiper

Least Sandpiper

This Least Sandpiper was my first lifer of the day. I was able to positively identify it thanks to the convenient fact that sandpipers exist in three sizes: small, medium, and large. The Least is the only small sized sandpiper with yellow legs. Check. Also, the lady with the spotting scope observing it from ten yards away told me it was a Least Sandpiper.

Solitary Sandpiper

Solitary Sandpiper

This Solitary Sandpiper, lifer number two on the day, only slightly more difficult. Probably because I was looking across the water and taking pictures of everything that moved, 100% not sure of what they were. These are what birders call “LBJ’s,” short for Little Brown Jobs. When I got home, this Solitary was actually not too bad to ID though, because it is the only medium-sized sandpiper with a full white eye ring (click the picture to zoom and you can see it). Also, I looked on eBird to find that Solitaries had indeed been sighted at Eagle Creek that day.

Killdeer

Killdeer

Also present at the reservoir was this Killdeer, which is a plover and not a sandpiper, and one of approximately three trillion at Eagle Creek on Saturday. I have seen many, many Killdeer before, and although there are quite a few types of plovers out there, they are easy to identify because of their characteristic call, the double black ring around their neck, and the fact that they are likely the only plover you will ever see away from huge lakes or the ocean.

Ring-Billed Gull

Ring-Billed Gull

This flock of seagulls was not playing 80s new wave music, but they were easy to identify as Ring-Billed Gulls because they are gulls with rings around their bills.

Yellow Warbler

Yellow Warbler

It was also a pretty decent day for passerine birds as well. This female Yellow Warbler was chowing down on a moth.

American Crow

American Crow

Likewise, this American Crow feasted on the remains of a catfish. Mmm.

I had 37 species on the day:
1.) White-Breasted Nuthatch (vocalization)
2.) American Robin
3.) Red-Eyed Vireo (vocalization)
4.) Tufted Titmouse (vocalization)
5.) Carolina Chickadee
6.) Eastern Wood Pewee (vocalization)
7.) Eastern Towhee (vocalization)
8.) Blue Jay
9.) Northern Cardinal
10.) Gray Catbird
11.) Canada Goose
12.) American Goldfinch
13.) Indigo Bunting (vocalization)
14.) American Crow
15.) Song Sparrow
16.) Double-Crested Cormorant
17.) Great Blue Heron
18.) Belted Kingfisher
19.) Mallard
20.) Barn Swallow
21.) Mourning Dove
22.) Northern Rough-Winged Swallow
23.) Willow Flycatcher (vocalization)
24.) Chimney Swift
25.) Eastern Kingbird
26.) Yellow Warbler
27.) Killdeer
28.) Cedar Waxwing
29.) American Coot
30.) Great Egret
31.) Least Sandpiper (lifer!)
32.) Red-Winged Blackbird
33.) Blue-Gray Gnatcatcher
34.) Downy Woodpecker
35.) Ring-Billed Gull
36.) Spotted Sandpiper
37.) Solitary Sandpiper (lifer!)

Eagle Creek – 6/2/12

Migration season is over, but that doesn’t mean that I can’t have a productive birding outing. I went back to Eagle Creek Park today to see what I could come up with. I ended up with 38 species seen (I was able to visually identify every bird that I heard!), including one lifer:

Willow Flycatcher

Willow Flycatcher

The Willow Flycatcher was my lone lifer of the day. It is one of several nearly visually indistinguishable species within the genus Empidonax, but I was able to listen to this one singing long enough to commit the song to memory and look it up when I got home for a positive ID.

Yellow Warbler

Yellow Warbler

Warblers are tricky to ID and even more difficult to photograph, but not the Yellow Warbler. The obvious plumage and sheer number of these at Eagle Creek allowed me to get a decent shot.

Cedar Waxwing

Cedar Waxwing

The Cedar Waxwing is my all-time favorite bird. This one is participating in one of my all-time favorite activities.

Song Sparrow

Song Sparrow

This is a Song Sparrow.

Northern Cardinal

Northern Cardinal

And in an encore performance from last weekend, another Northern Cardinal, just because it was there.

Full list (in order of appearance):
1.) Mallard
2.) Canada Goose
3.) Carolina Wren
4.) Brown-Headed Cowbird
5.) Northern Cardinal
6.) Downy Woodpecker
7.) White-Breasted Nuthatch
8.) American Crow
9.) Blue Jay
10.) Red-Bellied Woodpecker
11.) Indigo Bunting
12.) Cedar Waxwing
13.) Carolina Chickadee
14.) Mourning Dove
15.) American Goldfinch
16.) Gray Catbird
17.) Yellow Warbler
18.) Rock Dove
19.) Common Grackle
20.) Barn Swallow
21.) Song Sparrow
22.) Double-Crested Cormorant
23.) Red-Winged Blackbird
24.) Willow Flycatcher (lifer!)
25.) Chimney Swift
26.) Baltimore Oriole
27.) American Robin
28.) Wood Duck
29.) Brown Thrasher
30.) Tree Swallow
31.) Northern Rough-Winged Swallow
32.) Red-Eyed Vireo
33.) Tufted Titmouse
34.) Great Blue Heron
35.) Hairy Woodpecker
36.) Eastern Wood Pewee
37.) House Wren
38.) Prothonotary Warbler