I have been out the past couple of weekends birding. Finally starting to get my feet back under me. Fall migration is a great motivator. Mid-September is usually about peak migration for fall warblers here in Indiana. With that in mind, I slipped out to Eagle Creek Park the past couple of weekends. The park was quite crowded at times. That complicates things a bit. I am not overly comfortable birding in crowds; even outdoors. It only takes one good sighting to pull the crowd right around you, and then I feel I need to move - there is still that pandemic thing.... Anyway, I got a few shots over the past couple weekends, and I thought I would share some. Where to start? Well, I guess I will follow the advice of the Lewis Carrol from Alice in Wonderland - "Begin at the beginning".
I was up somewhat early and at Eagle Creek before the sun was above the trees two weekends ago. I did not have high expectations for the day. Strong north winds the past few days did not signal a favorable migration; so, when I saw some Wood Ducks at a small pond, I stopped to shoot them.
As a bonus, I got this Green Heron perched on a stump in the middle of the duckweek-covered pond. He was fishing minnows out from under all that duckweed. The lighting was pretty dark, and the mosquitoes were thick; so, I did not stay terribly long. It is supposed to be warbler season, after all.
Arriving at the marina, my initial expectations were panning out. All I could find were Red-eyed Vireo. Now, anyone who talks to me, will more than likely hear about how I like shooting in the shade. Truth be told, I do - within limits. Early mornings and evenings with good directional light are best. Shade is great for the middle of the day. Full, midday sun is awful. It is hard to argue against good directional lighting though. This Red-eyed Vireo volunteered to help model my point. I will leave it to you to figure out which was good morning light and which was shaded. Both shots were taken within a 100 feet of each other and within about 15 minutes.
After this, things really picked up. The sun was warming things up, and the warblers were suddenly everywhere. Unfortunately, they were also moving about a 100 miles per hour; so, I had some issues getting shots. One of my favorites was from a series taken of a couple of Northern Parula. They appeared to be an adult male and a hatch year bird, and they were feeding quite low in some honeysuckle.
My favorite photo is not technically the greatest, but I think it really captures the bird in its moment. This bird is hurriedly searching the branches of this bush. All I ever really see is a blur of action as the bird jumps from perch-to-perch and makes my life rough. I saw where this bird was heading and focused ahead a bit and caught him as he quickly searched before flying on. So, what do I like about this? Look at the end leaf on the left. There is a tiny spider and some sort of fly hiding on the underside of that leaf. This is what this bird is searching for - food. It is a small glimpse into the bird's world and what it is about.
Of course, some birds make it a bit more obvious; like this web-coated Chestnut-sided Warbler. He has been cheekily raiding spider webs for bugs and copping a bit of attitude about it. He has spider web on his face and balled up around his feet.
While the next bird is not a warbler, he was out looking for food, too. This Yellow-billed Cuckoo has found what appears to be a type of tussock moth caterpillar. The hairs on these caterpillars are an irritant. The bird took the time to do some meal prep before gulping its unfortunate victim down. Meal prep consisted of shaking and beating the caterpillar until all the hairs fell off.
There were a lot of good birds around, and I managed a few passable photos of some. It is hard to argue against the beauty of Blackburnian, Magnolia, Black-throated Blue, and Redstarts. They are all pretty striking birds. Honestly, the Chestnut-sided are some of my favorites. That green is so distinctive. As striking at those birds are. I am just as happy to photograph the rather plain, by comparison, Bay-breasted Warblers that were so abundant that weekend.
Which brings us around to last weekend. Without a doubt, I knew Saturday was going to be slow. There was a line of storms cutting across the northern part of the state Friday night. This cut off all migration, and the calm overnight winds locally did not keep anything here. Unfortunately, I was right this time. For the most part. There were individuals spread around. The berry eaters had finally arrived, though. The dogwoods around the marina are loaded with berries, and they are starting to go quickly. Prime culprits for berry snatching are Bay-breasted, Blackpoll, Tennesee, Yellow-rumped, and Cape May Warblers. The Swainson's Thrush will bomb in for a few before heading back to cover. On occasion, a nice bright Philadelphia Vireo will slip in for a quick berry or two before heading off. I spent a while hanging out around the busier bushes before the crowds got there.
It was hot and things slowed down fairly quickly. I headed back over after the other photographers had cleared, but the birds had taken their fill and disappeared, too. As a consolation, I got a parting shot at a distant Bald Eagle snatching a fish off the water.
I knew last Sunday was going to be good. I just felt it. Maybe it was the calling Swainson's Thursh I heard in my backyard as I was leaving. Maybe it was the clear night and the thought of all the bottled-up migrants from the night before. Whatever it was, I was right. At least I had a good day. Not so much from a photo perspective. But, I saw and got good looks at some birds. As usual, I was on a time schedule for this Sunday.
I started out at the berry spot, but activity was slow or high up in the trees. A Cape May did hop out in the full sun for a few quick shots.
I headed over to the other side of the marina and found a mini-fallout. At lacpoint, I had 5 Tennessee Warblers within the frame of my camera. Here is what started a good day, for me. It was not the numbers of usual migrants; it was the number of unusual ones popping up in the mix. Okay, Blackburnian is not unusual, but the fact that this bird was still mostly orange was quite unusual. The mix of orange and yellow with the still-stark blacks of the bird made for a very striking fall-plumaged bird. Sorry, I am really talking this bird up, and I did not even get a pic of it. Not one worth sharing, anyway. There was also a late Yellow Warbler what still had some faint reddish streaks on it. Earlier, I had brief looks at an Ovenbird, and there were several Black-and-white Warblers jumping about. It is just a treat to run across these birds while sorting through the numbers of "typical" migrants like Yellow-rumped, Blackpoll, and Tennesee.
It is over here that I took another of my favorite photos. Not far from this Tennessee Warbler (but hidden under the stem of the plant) is a bug. It actually looks too big for the bird to eat, but who knows. I just think it is interesting to be able to get into the bird's world a little bit and see the things it is looking for.
I met up with my friend, Scott, here, and we birded on up the road a bit. We ran across the tail-end of large flock of warblers. They pretty much dissipated as we arrived, though. We walked on up the road and over to the Discovery Center. Along the way, we had two Merlin chasing each other near the parking lot of the Peace and Learning Center. We actually thought that was going to be the highlight. The usual places at the Discover Center were dead - until we decided to head back. On the way back, we found a nice flock of warblers hanging out at the edge of the parking lot. I started pishing and a beautiful male Golden-winged Warbler flew right at me. For the next 5 minutes or so, we did our best to photograph this bird. After it left, a Wilson's Warbler came in for the next round of teasing. They eventually disappeared; although we did not see where they headed. We tried tracking them, but all we had were some redstarts. I even messed up the shots of those when they pished in. I checked my watch and saw it was time to head home. I am just going to label this section of pics as, "I should have done better."
All in all, it was two great weekends of local birding. I cannot say that I expect the same thing next weekend, but I will hope that I am wrong and that there will be a lot more warblers!
Thanks for reading,