Author Archives: Amy

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

Older mother birds in the news

The oldest known wild bird, a Laysan Albatross first banded in 1956 and believed to be at least 60 years old, was spotted on Midway Atoll a few weeks ago. The bird was seen with a newly-hatched chick, making the albatross, known as Wisdom, one phenomenally old mother bird.

Wisdom isn’t the only old mother bird making headlines this week. Research into the breeding success of older versus younger Great Tits was recently published, with bad news for more mature birds:

The offspring of older great tit females are much less successful than those of younger mothers. Things mainly go wrong in the later stages of the upbringing, concludes evolutionary biologist Sandra Bouwhuis.

Great tit
Great tit by chapmankj75, Creative Commons on Flickr

Bouwhuis studied birds in Oxfordshire in the UK and Vlieland in the Netherlands. The research further revealed:

Although great tits can live for nine years, breeding success declines rapidly after the age of two. Nevertheless, older great tits keep on breeding every year, says Bouwhuis: ‘They carry on to the bitter end’. What is remarkable is that at the start of the breeding period there’s very little difference between the nests of older and younger females. Bouwhuis discovered, however, that massive mortality occurs just after the young leave the nest.

The precise reason for the breeding success of younger Great Tit females versus older tits was not clear. Also not clear – the influence the age of male Great Tits has on breeding success.

Great tits also have age-related defects
Oldest known wild bird returns to Midway Atoll to raise chick

Posted in Endangered, Ornithology, Science & Tech | 1 Comment

B-day birds & books

For my birthday last month Arthur and I spent the day doing a little birding and raiding a few bookstore clearance sales. We started out with a very nice walk at Grant Woods, where early Red-winged Blackbirds were singing in the grassland. It was also nice to see a White-breasted Nuthatch, which we haven’t seen around our yard for several weeks, plus a nice flock of Cedar Waxwings and American Robins nomming berries. Both of these were in the parking lot (as we were finishing up our walk, naturally).

Next we stopped at Pistakee Lake to check out the waterfowl. Near our vantage point we saw a small group of Common Goldeneye. Several males were wooing females, dramatically throwing their heads back and then diving after each other. I’d never seen this before and I was totally enchanted.

While I was scanning through huge numbers of Canada Geese, Arthur spotted a coyote on the far side of the lake, trotting along the ice.

Coyote walking on ice

Coyote walking on ice

As I was watching the coyote, Arthur made two more great finds. First, he picked out a Snow Goose between the hundreds of Canadas.

Snow Goose

Then he spotted three Greater White-fronted Geese, first in flight and then refound loitering on the ice (I managed to take just one lousy picture of Greater White-fronted Geese). Other waterfowl included Mallard, scaup, Ring-necked Duck, and tons of Common Mergansers. Eagle-eye Arthur found ANOTHER coyote on the far side of the lake. This time the coyote blended in perfectly with the surrounding grasses and was impossible to see without the scope.

Shortly before we left, something spooked the geese, and many of the birds took flight. The honking was pretty incredible.

Canada Geese

After the waterfowl stop, we loosely followed the Fox River south in search of bird… books. We were looking to take advantage of the unfortunate Borders shop closings in the Chicagoland area. We decided to check out the bird sections at a few of them. It was a successful mission.

Calendars were on sale for $1. I looked for bird calenders and found only one, a wall calender simply titled, “Hummingbirds.” I was amused by the thumbnail photos on the back, one of which shows a bird that is not a hummingbird. Can you tell which one doesn’t belong?

I bought it anyway. At home I noticed this disclaimer on the back…

… and my dreams of suing them for millions of dollars vanished before my eyes.

Posted in Birding Blooper, Books, Illinois | Leave a comment

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

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

There were fewer typos than usual last month. In fact, only one really made me chuckle: starfed rock eagles. Think they were looking for Starved Rock Eagles.

While there were fewer typos of note, there was a plethora of searches related to this blog’s namesake bird that I hadn’t seen before. Are Magnificent Frigatebirds becoming popular? And why haven’t I written that long-overdue post about why this blog is named as it is? The search terms that stood out last month: magnificent frigate bird collectiven noun; Why is the frigatebird considered good luck; frigate bird collection; why are frigate birds endangered; great hawaiian frigate bird stuffed animal; how to help endangered frigate birds; and longest migrating frigate bird.

Head-scratcher of the month: birds of florida nicknamed aw aw. Does anyone know to what bird this might be referring?

Disturbing searches of the month: spoonbill pet (again with wild birds as pets?! Come on, people!) and squirrel in thong.

I did have a few favorite searches for the month. First, someone probably searching for the Ruby-crowned Kinglet typed in the query full name of bird called ruby crown? Next, I wonder what the searcher who typed in giant wood duck call was really looking for. Probably not the Wood Duck Clock they found on this site. Oh, well. Finally, someone searched for bandermen, which kind of sounds like a roving gang of bird-banding superheroes. Sign me up!

Posted in Search Terms | 2 Comments

60 million cats can’t be wrong: birds are delicious

My Cat Catches a Bird
My Cat Catches a Bird by EvanLovely, Creative Commons on Flickr

Outdoor cats, whether feral or part of a household, are a big problem for our wild birds. Scientists estimate that cats kill hundreds of millions of birds each year.

La buena o la mala vida
La buena o la mala vida by Akassia, Creative Commons on Flickr

There are an estimated 60 to 100 million feral cats in the United States, according to Stray Pet Advocacy.

thekiller by lincoln-log, Creative Commons on Flickr

The average lifespan of a feral cat living on her own is less than two years.

Cat & Bird
Cat & Bird by feverblue, Creative Commons on Flickr

While a cat who is being cared for has a longer life expectancy, pet cats who are allowed to roam outdoors face many of the same dangers as short-lived feral cats: predation by dogs, coyotes, and other animals; traffic collisions; contracting FIV or other diseases; becoming lost; and other dangers.

Presents by Andrew Currie, Creative Commons on Flickr

Cats have been domesticated for at least 9500 years. They are thought to have been domesticated in ancient Egypt.

Bird Bib Fail
Bird Bib Fail by feverblue, Creative Commons on Flickr

House cats are not native to North America. A cat taking any prey here is not nature in action.

20100924_101_7878 by Uli H., Creative Commons on Flickr

Keep your cats indoors, please.

Posted in Conservation, Invasive / Non-native, North America | 8 Comments

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

Two years ago I started a fun series of monthly posts sharing strange and funny search terms that I found in my Statcounter log. The series was on hiatus last year but I’m bringing it back for 2011. Here are some of the more interesting search terms that brought visitors to this site during January 2011. You can see previous posts in this series here.

As usual, some typos made me chuckle. Some of these are probably genuine errors in spelling, which kind of makes me sad. Is “squirrel” really so difficult? Apparently so, judging from these search terms: funny squrls; sqiurel pictures; funny squirles; funy squerrl; and funny squrel pictures. Pigeon is also a tough one, but Google was able to direct pigeion; pidgeons; pegions to the right search. Did you mean pigeon? Other goofy typos of note: magnicient frigatebird and stylealised bird.

Following last month’s aflockalypse (mass bird die-offs), about which I did not blog, several visitors arrived via related searches anyway: amsterdam dead birds; 100 penguins dead; birds found dead in argentina; dead birds in argentina; birds dead in netherlands; and dead birds in india.

I know this visitor did not find what s/he was looking for here: what movie saidwhere do birds go when it rains?. I know where the birds go, but I don’t know what movie is being sought. Another (I’m assuming) disappointed visitor came via the search museum in united states with display in january of 2011,of world class stuffed birds,also artist from other countries?where. I’m disappointed too – I couldn’t find anything about this in Google but it sounds like an interesting exhibit. Finally, I hope the person searching for exhibition of pigeons in chicago eventually found what they were looking for, because I know they didn’t find it here.

On the other hand, I was delighted to see a lot of visitors coming after searching for information about the Bald Eagle Watch at Starved Rock State Park, which inspired an updated and modestly popular informational post. These searches also made me smile, because they certainly did come to the right place for what they sought: tufted titmouse and chicago area and crow behavior in snow.

Searches related to Magnificent Frigatebirds were represented as usual: frigate bird testosterone; frigat bird in oil; friends in danger frigate bird; are magnificent frigatebird threatening; food chain of a magnificent frigate; and magnificent frigatbird banding.

Last month had two disturbing, related searches: golden eagle as pet and where can i [buy] a northern cardinal bird. Uhm, please don’t search for that. You can’t have either of these birds as a pet, for a lot of reasons. One being it’s illegal.

And as for my favorite search of the month, that goes to difference between shrike and carolina chickadee pictures. Seriously? Chickadees and shrikes aren’t really that hard to tell apart, are they?

Posted in Offbeat, Search Terms | Leave a comment

Snowy Owl!!!

This afternoon, Arthur and I drove out to Ogle County, where a Snowy Owl was spotted a couple of days ago. A note posted earlier in the day on the state listserv indicated the bird was being seen this morning. She wasn’t too hard to find once we reached her favorite field – as a birder on the listserv mentioned yesterday, “my keen birding instincts told me I was close when I saw the line of six SUVs on the side of the road with a half-dozen spotting scopes mounted.”

Snowy Owl
The scene as we pulled the car over. Yes, there’s a Snowy Owl in this picture.

Snowy Owl
Using binoculars or scope we could see her much better

We got to watch the Ogle Co. Snowy Owl for almost two hours. She stood in a field north of Rte 72 and west of N. Fork Creek Road from the time we got there at around 2pm for about 90 minutes. She did a little bit of preening, and at one point she stretched out one of her legs behind her, showing off a gorgeous fluffy limb. Most of the time she was on the ground her eyes were nearly closed, either horizontal slits or impossibly cute upside-down U-shapes, making her look like a cartoon of contentedness.

Snowy Owl
Happy Snowy Owl

There were several cars parked along Rte 72 while we were there, and occasionally a driver would slow down and ask us what we were looking at. Once, a woman asked “hoot owl?” when I told her we were looking at a Snowy Owl. I repeated myself, and then answered her blank stare with “the white owl!” As she drove off, I heard her tell the others in her car that it was a “hoot owl.” WTH?

A lot of the other owl watchers had binoculars and cameras, and I was happy to let them look at her through our scope. I would be staring through the scope for a while and someone would come up and ask hopefully, “Have you seen her yet?” It was really nice to give several fellow birders a good scope view of their lifer Snowy Owl.

It was cold and she wasn’t moving much, so I went inside the car to warm up a few times while we were waiting. We saw her flap her wings once while on the ground and Arthur and I leaped out of the car to get a better view. Looking through the scope we could finally see her beautiful big yellow eyes, open and alert. We could sense she would fly soon, and we were right!

She flew towards the road and then over the road. It was a beautiful, strong, silent flight, and I think everyone was just standing there completely awestruck. She flew right over us! She made a U-turn over the field and flew back towards the road, landing on a utility pole about a half block from where we were standing. Arthur and I started walking towards the owl, but just at that moment another viewer came up to US (of all people there) and asked US to tell her all about Snowy Owls. WTH? As I was telling her why the owl was thought to be a young female bird, and why she might be here instead of further north, the owl flew off the pole back into the field north of the road.

I had followed her flight through my binoculars and seen her land kind of awkwardly. We were able to pick her up again through the scope. She hadn’t landed awkwardly, she had pounced on prey! We got to watch her swallow it whole! After about 10 minutes she flew back to a utility pole along the road, about a block away from where we were standing. Arthur ran down the road along with a bunch of other viewers while I ran back to the car with the scope and drove towards the bird. We all approached slowly and about a dozen owl fans got to watch her on the pole for about 10 minutes before she flew far off into the field once more.

Snowy Owl

Snowy Owl

Snowy Owl

Snowy Owl

What a fantastic bird for my ABA lifer #249. I took some more pictures, which you can see here: Snowy Owl photos. There are some more amazing photos of this bird, taken by very talented photographers: Joan M’s Snowy Owl (amazing flight shot!); Illini Images’ Snowy Owl (look at the feet!); Rattlin Antler’s Snowy Owl (those eyes!).

Bird Photography Weekly is a regular collection of user-submitted bird photos from all over the world. The new edition comes out every Sunday. Go have a look at this week’s submissions!

Posted in Bird Photography Weekly, Illinois, Life List | 4 Comments

Other raptors at Starved Rock

Last Sunday, Arthur and I drove down to Starved Rock State Park for the 14th Annual Bald Eagle Watch. Although the Bald Eagles that winter at the Starved Rock Lock & Dam are the big draw, one of the highlights for me was a raptor awareness program by the World Bird Sanctuary. We attended the same program two years ago, but this time I enjoyed the program with a very different perspective.

Like last time, an exciting part of the program was free-flying raptors, swooping over the amazed crowd. This time, four birds flew for us: Harris Hawk; Eurasian Eagle Owl; American Kestrel; and Barn Owl. If I understand it correctly, many of the birds that WBS uses in programs are reared from hatching by the sanctuary, meaning they are extremely accustomed to humans. I guess the training process for these birds is different than that for older birds who come into education after an injury sustained while living wild and free.

Eurasian Eagle Owl
Eurasian Eagle Owl (possibly Bogart)

The program’s Bald Eagle, Liberty, came to the Sanctuary after sustaining permanent injuries as a juvenile wild bird in Florida. I was interested to learn that as a southern bird, Liberty is smaller than the average male Bald Eagle living up here in Illinois.

Bald Eagle
Liberty and handler Jennifer

I was really impressed that the program was put on by just two handlers, one of whom spoke the entire time while occasionally handling and flying birds across the room. The whole operation was really smooth and the program was filled with great information, extremely impressive and beautiful birds, and a lot of humor. Right on cue, Tsavo the Bataleur even took a bow as his portion of the program ended!

Posted in Festivals & Events, Illinois, Illinois Audubon | Leave a comment