Author Archives: Amy

North Pond: Wood Ducks & a lifer

Following our rescue & recovery route one Thursday morning in late March, Arthur and I headed to a Chicago birding hotspot, North Pond in Lincoln Park.

The view from North Pond

We were hoping to see a Cinnamon Teal, a bird that had first been spotted at the pond on March 11th — almost three weeks prior to our visit. There hadn’t been any reports of the bird in recent days, so I fully expected it might already be gone.

Birding North Pond

We didn’t have a huge amount of time, so we walked the path around the pond, concentrating on the ducks and looking for the Cinnamon Teal. Most of the birds we saw were Wood Ducks and Mallards.

Wood Duck

There were Wood Ducks all over the place, making their darling squeaky call and acting much less afraid than most of the Wood Ducks we encounter outside of the city.

Wood Duck

We even got to see some Wood Ducks in their other element, perched above us on tree limbs.

Wood Duck

Wood Duck

As we were finishing our walk around the pond, I was making a sad face, for we had not see the Cinnamon Teal. Just as we were about to leave, we looked back for one more check of the water, and finally saw our prize.

Cinnamon Teal

Posted in Life List | 1 Comment

My visitors came from *where* in April 2011?!?!?

Here are some of the more interesting search terms that brought visitors to this site during April 2011. This is part of an ongoing monthly series on blog search terms.

Falling under the oddly specific category were the following searches:gray jay with wet disheveled feathers; owl at the beleef de lente site is in her box – wait now may be leaving; and bald eagles stealing groceries in alaska.

Typos of the month were pictures of flying cardnil, magnifocent, and eagles live webcam illisnio.

Filed under let’s not go there: cats as bomb guidance; birds have a penis (yes, some do!); twitching tits; and are birders weird (of course — there are weirdos all over, amiright?).

The fortune teller prize goes to the person that came to this site via this search: birding blogs florida. Stay tuned!

Finally, I hope the person who searched for falcon snatching prey early in the month had a chance to see this amazing clip from Massachusetts which was posted to YouTube on April 27th. It shows a Peregrine Falcon taking a white-faced ibis (a rare bird for the state) as prey.

Posted in Search Terms, Video | 2 Comments

Three releases & a lifer

In late March Arthur and I were asked to release three birds after rehab with Flint Creek Wildlife Rehabilitation. A Cooper’s Hawk that was hit by a car in Chicago needed to be released close to where she was first recovered, and a pair of Mallards were to be released at a site Long Grove.

We picked up the birds at the FCWR Itasca facility in the morning, and placed the carefully labeled boxes in the back of our car. First we released the Cooper’s Hawk. With these birds, I learned that you typically just have to open the carrier and they’re gone in a flash. This big girl was no exception.

Next we traveled to Long Grove to release the two Mallards. These were both eager to be on their way, too, although once they were in the water they seemed a lot more relaxed.

It took us a few moments to release the second duck after the first, but as soon as we did, the first duck swam right over to join his friend.

Released Ducks

Released Ducks

With the birds released, we found we had some time to spare before our next appointment. We checked the Illinois birding listserv, IBET, using our iPhone. We learned that a Surf Scoter, first reported the day before, had been refound earlier in the afternoon in Mundelein. That wasn’t too much of a detour between Long Grove and our next destination so we headed over to St. Mary’s Lake in search of the scoter. We found the bird and had some nice looks (despite the lousy photo below). The Surf Scoter was a life bird for both of us.

This was a couple of weeks after we released a pair of birds at Burnham Harbor and found our lifer Long-tailed Duck at the same time. I wonder what we’ll find next time we release rehabbed birds?!

Flint Creek Wildlife Rehabilitation is a non-profit, federally licensed rehab organization with locations in Chicago, Itasca and Barrington, Illinois. You can follow their blog here, follow them on Facebook here, and make donations online here.

Posted in FCWR, Life List | Leave a comment

A little R&R at H&H

In mid-March Arthur and I joined our bird club, Lake-Cook Audubon, on a waterfowl weekend trip down to DeKalb, La Salle and Putnam counties in north-central Illinois. In the weeks prior to the trip we had been feeling overworked and stressed out about some personal issues, so a weekend of birding was just what the doctor ordered.

The weather was seasonably cool with clear skies on Saturday and intermittent rain on Sunday. Overall it was a really nice weekend where we picked up 16 year birds, including American White Pelican flying over Buffalo Rock State Park, Barred Owl (heard only) at Matthiessen State Park, and Pileated Woodpeckers in Putnam County. We also picked up three lifers for the trip, although I’m pretty sure we’d seen Canvasback and Eurasian Tree Sparrow before. The other lifer was Ross’s Goose.

Our itinerary included a lot of area birding hotspots we’d heard of before but never previously had the chance to visit, including Shabbona Lake State Park and Hennepin and Hopper, our main destination on Sunday.

Dixon Waterfowl Refuge
The entrance to the Dixon Waterfowl Refuge

Hennepin and Hopper are two backwater lakes of the Illinois River. In the 1800s the area was known as an outdoorsman’s paradise, with legendary prosperity in both hunting and fishing. However, in the late 1800s the land was developed with levees and ditches. A pumping station lifted the water into the river and the land was claimed for agriculture. By 2000 the land was owned by eight private landowners. The Wetlands Initiative (TWI) transferred the lands of the Hennepin Drainage and Levee District to a private nonprofit organization. TWI moved to restore the hydrology of the land to its original condition. After just one season of work, flora and fauna that had been absent from the area since it was first developed began to recolonize the site. In 2005 the site was dedicated as the Dixon Waterfowl Refuge. The site faced another challenge in the late 2000s, when huge numbers of common carp infested the lakes. In 2008, waterfowl numbers were down 90% compared to the peak season of 2004. In 2009 the water was drained in order to remove the carp. Water levels were restored, the lakes were stocked with native fish, and the waterfowl and other native fauna has returned.

A large viewing platform looks over the lakes. Our group climbed to the top and looked over the water through our scopes.

Dixon Waterfowl Refuge
This impressive viewing platform gives birders a great view over the lakes and wetlands

Waterfowl on the lakes included Wood Duck, Gadwall, Northern Shoveler, Northern Pintail, Canvasback, Ring-necked Duck, and Bufflehead.

Dixon Waterfowl Refuge
Hennepin and Hopper on a drizzly March day

After checking out the water from the main viewing platform we walked out to another vantage point along the lakes. Normally we might have chosen to drive out, especially since it was threatening rain, but a truck got stuck in the muddy road and made it impossible for any other cars to pass.

Dixon Waterfowl Refuge
Birders walking to another vantage point

We had a great visit at Hennepin and Hopper, the headline location for the weekend birding trip. I’m looking forward to visiting again. From the site stewards we learned that the marshes usually attract a fair number of nesting Yellow-headed Blackbirds – an extra reason to return!

Posted in Illinois, Illinois Audubon, Lake-Cook Audubon, Life List | Leave a comment

When not to get a flat tire

Last month Arthur and I were asked to release a couple of birds after they were rehabbed by Flint Creek Wildlife Rehabilitation. It was a lovely Sunday morning when we drove out to the northwest suburbs to pick up the birds, a Lesser Scaup and an American Coot. We packed up the carriers and headed to the release site, Burnham Harbor in Chicago. The ride was uneventful until a couple of drivers in neighboring cars on the Kennedy indicated to us that we had a flat tire. We pulled off at the closest service station and were shocked to find the rear passenger tire completely flat. How could we not have felt that?! To avoid disturbing the birds too much, we elected to try filling up the tire and see if it would hold, rather than tearing up the back of our minivan in order to get the spare and tools out. Luckily the tire held… for the next ten minutes or so. Again we limped into a service station and filled the tire. We ended up stopping once more before finally rolling into Burnham Harbor with our fowl friends none the wiser.

The coot in particular was raring to go and was off flying as soon as I opened the carrier. Unfortunately we were a bit flabbergasted at the coot’s sudden departure; we aimed to document the release but only managed this photo immediately prior to the coot’s strong flight the hell away from us.

American Coot release
There’s a coot in there, really!

The scaup release was a bit more typical. I opened the carrier and the duck retreated to the back of the container. I gently lifted him out and placed him before the water. After a booty shake he was happily paddling in the water, not in any particular hurry at all but apparently delighted to be swimming free once again.

Lesser Scaup release
Moving the scaup from the carrier to freedom

Lesser Scaup release
Lesser Scaup shortly after release

Lesser Scaup release
Handsome, healthy Lesser Scaup just after release

With the birds safely released, the next order of business was changing the flat.

Changing the tire
Arthur changing the tire

This went off without a hitch, more or less, and with that out of the way we decided to see who else was out on the water. A Long-tailed Duck had been seen in Burnham Harbor, on and off, for several days prior to our visit. We found some other birders who let us know a female Long-tailed Duck was on the north side of the harbor. We couldn’t relocate her and decided to go back to the car to get the scope and check the birds on the south side. There we found lots of ducks, including Redhead, Common Goldeneye, lots of Lesser Scaup (some of which greeted our old charge shortly after his release), mergansers, plus this handsome fellow:

Long-tailed Duck
Lifer Long-tailed Duck

There was also a group of eight Horned Grebe, which was the most I’d ever seen at once.

Horned Grebes
Six of the eight Horned Grebes

Despite the flat tire it was a great morning out and we were thrilled to be able to release the rehabbed birds and score a lifer at the same time. Believe it or not, the next time we released birds for Flint Creek we were able to find another life bird on the same trip! Stay tuned for that story…

Flint Creek Wildlife Rehabilitation is a non-profit, federally licensed rehab organization with locations in Chicago, Itasca and Barrington, Illinois. You can follow their blog here, follow them on Facebook here, and make donations online here.

Posted in FCWR, Life List | 1 Comment

My visitors came from *where* in March 2011?!?!?

Here are some of the more interesting search terms that brought visitors to this site during March 2011. This is part of an ongoing monthly series on blog search terms.

There seemed to be a greater-than-usual assortment of searches related to Magnificent Frigatebirds. In case the searchers didn’t find what they were looking for, here are the searches and the probable answers they were seeking.

Whats the red thing hanging from the frigate bird? Male Magnificent Frigatebirds have a bright red inflatable gular sac. This is used as part of the courtship ritual.

What humans have done to magnificent frigatebird? Like many bird species, the population of Magnificent Frigatebirds has been negatively affected by humans. Various colonies have been devastated by development and by predation and habitat destruction by non-native species introduced by humans.

Scientific name for magnificent frigate birds? Fregata magnificens

How frigate bird are born? Not sure what this searcher was after; no birds are born. Birds are hatched. Magnificent Frigatebirds lay one egg per breeding season. The egg is incubated by both parents for a period of about 56 days. Both parents care for, brood and feed the growing chick.

Long distance migration frigatebird? Unfortunately, little is known about the movements of Magnificent Frigatebirds outside of breeding season. The birds generally are thought to disperse rather than migrate.

Magnificent frigatebird song? Magnificent Frigatebirds are generally silent. Chicks do have a food-begging call, and adults will call when coming in to land. They don’t really have a song.

Besides these Magnificent Frigatebird inquiries, there was a small selection of mildly amusing typos and spelling goofs: storaks in alsace region of france; berds trading in nethrland; and a variation on an old classic: funny pics of squrls.

Most disturbing searches for March: cormorant abuse; foto van pigeons how to poop on cars; testosterone from america; and why do stunned birds lie on the ground for hours (Hours? Really? Call a rehabber! Come on!).

And finally, the March search term voted most likely to inspire a t-shirt design: falcon candy. 🙂

Posted in Search Terms | 4 Comments

Finding Loons in Lake County

Common Loons migrate through Lake County here in northern Illinois in early spring. I grew up in the northern Chicago suburbs, but until I became a birder I had no idea that loons passed through our lakes during migration. It wasn’t until 2009 that I saw loons for the first time.

Common Loons by Gary J. Wege
Common Loons by Gary J. Wege by U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service – Midwest Region, Creative Commons on Flickr

Judging from some of my blog visitor statistics, there are more locals interested in finding loons during the brief time they visit our part of the state. I’m no expert but I do have some tips for finding loons in Lake County, Illinois.

When can birders find Common Loons in Lake County? The time to look for Common Loons in Lake County is right now. At least two area bird clubs offer annual loon-finding trips. These trips are free to everyone – you don’t have to be a member. The trips run as caravans and you can end your day after any stop on the route. Last week we joined Lake-Cook Audubon on their Loons of Lake County trip. Dave Johnson leads a Looney Trip each year for the Evanston North Shore Bird Club (we joined the Looney Trip in 2009). This year’s trip will take place April 2nd. These trips generally occur during the last week of March or the first week of April. With migration, anything goes, but generally this time period will be your best bet to find loons.

Where is the best place to find Common Loons in Lake County? You don’t have to join a club outing to find loons (although both clubs mentioned above are a lot of fun!) in Lake County. While there are a few glacial lakes that are probably good bets year to year, if you’re limited in time it’s a good idea to keep an eye on what other area birders are seeing before venturing out on your own. There are a few great resources for this. One is the Illinois birding mailing list (listserv) IBET. You don’t necessarily have to subscribe because recent posts are archived to the public online: Recent Postings from The Illinois List. At the time of this writing, I see posts from other birders reporting loon sightings in Cook, Jasper, and Winnebago counties, plus a few posts about a “Loonapalooza” in the Chain-o-Lakes area (Lake & McHenry counties).

Common Loons
Breeding plumage Common Loons on Diamond Lake, photo by blogger

Another great place to check is eBird. A quick look at the eBird entries for Common Loon in Lake County, Illinois in March and April over the last five years reveals a few hotspots and recent sightings: Fox Lake; Long Lake; Independence Grove; Butler Lake; Lake Zurich; and Diamond Lake. If you’re going out on your own, keep in mind that loons (also known as Great Northern Divers) prefer larger, deeper lakes.

Why do birders look for Common Loons in Lake County during spring migration? Loons are considered medium-distance migrants, spending the winter in coastal areas of North America and breeding across much of Canada and far northern areas of the Great Lakes in the United States. In the spring, they take on their beautiful, striking black-and-white breeding plumage. Loons are typically easier to find in Lake County during the spring migration; fall migration is more protracted so you’re less likely to find them in quantity during the fall. And while loons can be vocal all year, you’re more likely to hear their haunting wail calls during the spring as breeding season approaches.

Common Loon at Gloucester Harbor
Common Loon at Gloucester Harbor by Dendroica cerulea, Creative Commons on Flickr

Posted in Illinois, Lake-Cook Audubon, LCFPD, Migration | 5 Comments

Falcons, Herons & Owls, oh my!

It’s March, which means it’s again the time of year when I give a little plug for my favorite nestcam website. Earlier this month, the nestcams over at the Dutch site Beleef de Lente started up for the spring nesting season.

Storks sleeping on one leg at the nest site.

For the 2011 season the site will have live streaming cams on the following Dutch nesting bird species:

Little Owl (Steenuil)
Eurasian Eagle-owl (Oehoe)
White Stork (Ooievaar)
Barn Swallow (Boerenzwaluw)
Eurasian Nuthatch (Boomklever)
Common Kingfisher (IJsvogel)
Purple Heron (Purperreiger)
Peregrine Falcon (Slechtvalk)

The kingfisher, heron and falcons are new for this year, although Common Kingfishers and Peregrine Falcons have been featured on the site before.

Remember the time difference (the Netherlands is GMT +1) when you have a look at the cams. The owl cams will probably be more active at night. Just this afternoon I had a look at the cams and saw a Peregrine Falcon snoozing outside the nest box, and both White Storks asleep on the nest. The Eurasian Eagle-owl began incubating just today. The swallow and heron cams have yet to start up, but all of the other cameras have seen birds visiting the nest sites, though no eggs have been laid so far.

Eurasian Eagle-owl incubating at her nest

I love these cams for a few reasons.

1. There are eight different cams available via one website.
2. Several of the nests have multiple cameras on them, so you can follow the birds as they move from view to view.
3. The cams are live streaming, with sound! None of this picture-refreshes-every-10-seconds nonsense. You see it all!
4. Archived clips of nestcam highlights. You don’t have to be fluent in Dutch to click through the clips to see amazing captures from the cams.
5. If you can read Dutch, the written regular updates by species-specific experts are great at explaining what is going on at each nest site.

If you have the chance, visit the Beleef de Lente site and visit some European nesting birds!

Posted in Netherlands, Webcams | Leave a comment