Author Archives: Amy

Green Herons out and about

For most of the summer we only manage to spot Green Herons in flight. I know they’re here, hunting in ponds and streams, even nesting and roosting in trees, but they’re kind of secretive.

Green Heron

Last week at Rollins we saw three juvenile herons acting very un-heronlike, perching out in the open. They flew from snag to snag and one even landed on a utility wire.

Green Heron

Green Heron

The streaked necks would give them away as juveniles, if their behavior didn’t tip you off first.

Posted in Behavior, LCFPD | 1 Comment

Late summer morning

Dewey spider web

Dewdrops shine on spidey’s place
Blinding me at certain angles


Birds hop-hop on old dead space
Flicker stands while warbler dangles


Meadow, bramble, water, reed
A female king surveys her lands

Belted Kingfisher

Itchy Egret feels a need
Scratches head with feet (no hands)

Great Egret with an itch

Rollins Savanna, September 3rd.

Posted in LCFPD | Leave a comment

New viewing platform at Prairie Wolf Slough

When we were staying with my parents last year, we visited the Lake County Forest Preserve District’s Prairie Wolf Slough quite a lot, as it was practically right across the street.

We visited Prairie Wolf on January 1st and afterwords I tweeted to the LCFPD that an elevated hide would be a great addition to the site. To my delight, LCFPD tweeted back a few days later: “Just learned a raised observation deck at Prairie Wolf is one of this summer’s proposed projects for Youth Conservation Corps.” How’s that for service? 😉

The project was started this summer. Here is what it looked like on July 22nd.

Viewing platform construction

Viewing platform construction

Although we couldn’t climb up onto the platform at that time, through the clearing we had a good look at the water, where we spotted this Great Blue Heron.

Great Blue Heron

Later, LakeCookAudubon shared this photo via Twitter:


When we visited again on August 14th, a team was working on the platform, but allowed us to step on. The slough was fairly dry but busy with Killdeer and one Great Blue Heron. Here’s what the view looked like:

And one of the Killdeer on the mud:


By that time the viewing scopes were in place.

wildlife viewing scope

And holes were being dug for the signs.


During our most recent visit, on August 29th, the platform was completed and open for business. Yay!

Viewing platform construction

Viewing platform construction

Prairie Wolf Slough platform scope

View of the slough

Slough Sign

Posted in LCFPD | Leave a comment

My life’s vultures

Where I live now, in northern Illinois, there is only one normally occurring species of vulture: the Turkey Vulture. I see these birds flying on thermals quite often here in Lake County during the summer. In honor of International Vulture Awareness Day, taking place on Saturday, September 5th, I’ve been thinking about all the vultures I’ve had the privilege to see. These are the eight species of vulture on my life list, in random order.

White-backed Vulture

I saw this bird on a week-long trip to the Gambia in January 2007. My husband and I spent 4 days with some very experienced birders from Finland, with whom we shared our Gambian guide. We were totally out of our league with these guys, who had spent months before the trip preparing, learning the calls of the local birds and practically memorizing their Gambian field guides. We had a great time and tried our best to stay the heck out of their way. Unfortunately this is the one vulture on my life list of which I have no photo.

Turkey Vulture

Turkey Vulture

The Turkey Vultures I see here seem to love flying, because that’s all I ever see them doing. When I’ve seen these birds in Florida, it was a different story. There, TVs seem to be everywhere, hanging out in groups along the roadside or in open spaces in nature preserves.

Palm-nut Vulture

This is another vulture we saw in the Gambia. I’m embarrassed to admit I don’t remember the circumstances under which we spotted this extremely striking bird. Yes, the trip was a bit wasted on us – there was a lot of running around and nodding as we looked at the birds that were pointed out to us. We would have a different experience making the same trip today, that’s for sure.

Egyptian Vulture

Egyptian Vultures

When we visited Rajasthan in March 2006, we saw Egyptian Vultures several times. We even saw them at the Taj Mahal. I remember we were starting to be interested in birds, especially since we were seeing so many that were unfamiliar to us. We saw this large bird perched on one of the outbuildings by the Taj and wondered what it could be. I took a few photos and we looked it up later – eureka, an Egyptian Vulture! [Photo is of a pair at a nest near Kota, India]

Rueppell’s Vulture

Another beautiful vulture we saw in the Gambia, near Tendaba. Unfortunately I cannot remember much about this sighting either. 🙁 Shame on me!

Black Vulture

Black Vultures

My second North American vulture is another Florida favorite. These guys also seem to hang out nearly everywhere we’ve been. On our last visit to Florida in June we spotted this large group milling about at NASA.

Griffon Vulture

This is another bird I spotted in India. This photo was taken in Jodhpur but we also saw these birds on several other occasions during the trip.

Hooded Vulture

Another Gambia bird! This time I remember exactly where we were when we found this lovely. Our hotel in the coastal resort area was a short walk from the beach. The walk took us down a sand-covered alley between the backs of several other resorts, and there was trash everywhere. Besides this bird we also saw Cattle Egrets feeding on the piles of garbage and a few unlikely birds like Red-cheeked Cordonbleus and Red-billed Firefinches.

What vultures are on your life list? I’d love to hear about them, so please leave a comment!

This post is participating in the International Vulture Awareness Day 2009 Blog for Vultures. You can click on the badge below to see the other participants in this meme.

IVAD09 Badge

Posted in Festivals & Events, Florida, Gambia, India | 5 Comments

Hummingbird groupies

After learning about hummingbirds, watching how they are captured for banding, and learning about the process and tools involved, we finally got to see a hummingbird in the hand, being banded. While we were at the Hummingbird Festival at Camp Sagawau, nine different Ruby-throated Hummingbirds were banded.

The bander, Vern Kleen, handled every bird with care and speed. You could tell he has banded many thousands of hummingbirds throughout the years.

In the Hand

Banding a Hummer

In this short video, Vern bands a hummingbird and measures its wings.

After the bird was banded and the measurements were recorded, Vern allowed spectators to feel the birds heartbeat. A hummingbird’s heart can beat up to 1200 times per minute! The hummingbird groupies stood and held their hands out, hoping to have a chance to feel the precious bird’s heartbeat. Vern took each visitor’s hand and placed it gently on the chest of the little bird.

Hummingbird Groupies

At first I thought this was a rather charming part of the festival. However, after a while I felt uncomfortable on behalf of the poor bird being passed around and felt up by dozens of groupies. I know Vern has been doing these festivals for many years and I believe in the work he is doing to educate the public about these birds, but the fact is that one of the birds banded that day at the festival died. This was discovered when the spectator who was allowed to release the bird was still holding the lifeless bird in her open hand several minutes after it was given to her. Vern tapped under her hand, fully expecting the bird to awaken and fly off, but instead it fell lifeless to the ground. This was rather a shock to see and I wasn’t keen to see any more birds being passed around so everyone could feel a hummingbird’s heartbeat.

Later we learned from other (non-hummingbird) banders at the festival that it was typical to lose about 1 bird in every 1000 that is banded. I am not sure what Vern’s record is but I imagine losing a bird at a festival must not happen too often, or he wouldn’t do it.

To end on a happier note, here is another of the Ruby-throated Hummingbirds being released.

Posted in Banding, Festivals & Events | 1 Comment

Tools for banding a hummingbird

Here’s a bit more on the Hummingbird Festival we attended on Saturday (previous posts are here and here). The tools used for banding hummingbirds are similar to those used for banding passerines, only smaller. A lot smaller.

Here is a very organized bander’s toolbox. These are the tools an ‘ordinary’ bander uses – these are not the tools used on hummingbirds. The second photo is zoomed in on a container of bands from the first image.

Banding Tools

Bird Bands

Those number 2 bands are about 7mm tall and would be used on a bird like an American Robin or a Mockingbird. Here’s a hummingbird band:

Hummingbird Band

That speck in the middle of the card I’m holding is a band for a Ruby-throated Hummingbird. It is about one and a half millimeters tall. Here are some of the tools Vern used during the banding demonstration.


The pliers are used to open the bands in order to place them around the bird’s ankle and close it again once it is in place. The magnifying glass is used to read the bands, while the ruler is for measuring the bird’s wings. The sheet of aluminum on the left of the photo is an uncut sheet of hummingbird bands. Hummingbird bands don’t come from the USGS already assembled like other bird bands – the hummingbird bander has to prepare the bands himself.

Sheet of Bands

This means cutting the bands to the proper size (different species require slightly different cuts) and sanding the rough metal edges. Once the bands are ready Vern placed them on a safety pin, in the right numerical order, until they were needed. There are 20 bands on the safety pin pictured below.

Safety Pin

safety pin with hummingbird bands

Posted in Banding, Festivals & Events | 1 Comment

My visitors came from *where* in August?!

Here are some of the more interesting search terms that brought visitors to this site during August. You can see previous editions of this monthly post here.

I guess this one was looking for photos when they searched for naked yard. Someone else searched for So sorry to disappoint. In unrelated news, the search for butts foto returned, and I’m proud to say this site is still #1 in Google for this term!

Typos of the month: magnifficent shirts design; birds of north anerica book; owl thorw pillows; identifying minnesota waterfoul; fatest women; and pinguine. Luckily Google is pretty good about bringing these searches to the appropriately spelled results.

Strange product searches last month: turkey golf headcover; i love water bottles; golf spoon; pigeon whistles; naked clock; spoon ornament; rain day greeting cards; pigeon travel accessories; vulture culture greeting cards; and my favorite, owl teddy toy. I suppose they were searching for a stuffed owl toy, but I’m picturing an owl wearing a teddy.

No comment searches of the month: panty lovers paradise and pecker merchandise.

Spookiest search of the month: highland park, illinois man killed by red wing blackbird. This actually happened, I totally forgot about it. Be careful out there, people!

Posted in Search Terms | Leave a comment

Capturing fast fliers

As we were migrating to Camp Sagawau, we heard that Vern Kleen was starting his talk on hummingbirds. When we arrived, there was already a crowd of hummfans listening to Vern.

Vern Kleen speaks

Vern Kleen is one of two licensed hummingbird banders in Illinois. Throughout the summer he has conducted banding demonstrations – after the last fest on September 5th he will have done sixteen hummingbird festivals throughout Illinois!

Vern told us all about hummingbirds, from banding and how to attract hummingbirds to back yard feeders to facts & figures and all about hummingbird behavior, as well as taking questions from the crowd. We learned that there are approximately 340 species of hummingbird. 25 of these have been seen in the United States, but just the Ruby-throated is a regular in eastern North America. Ecuador is home to over 160 different species!

As Vern was speaking, members of Illinois Audubon were busy with two hummingbird traps. Normally there are 10+ hummingbird feeders set up at Camp Sagawau, but during the festival they were all removed except for two which were used for trapping the hummingbirds for banding. Spectators watched the feeders, waiting for a bird to fly inside. The traps are hanging on either side of the large tree just left of center:

Waiting at the traps

The doors on the mesh traps were rigged to close on a remote control similar to remote lock devices for cars. Here’s a closer look at an open trap:

Open hummingbird trap

Because there were normally so many feeders at the preserve, there was no shortage of hummer activity. However, the trappers had to be careful and not trip the door until the bird perched on the feeder. Hummingbirds flap their wings up to 100 times per second and fly 25-30 miles per hour on average. Male birds can reach speeds of nearly 60 mph during courtship display dives!

Once the bird entered the trap and was actually perched on the feeder inside, the chance of them flying into the trap door as it was closing was greatly reduced. Here’s a male bird (notice the ruby throat) caught in one of the traps:

Trapped hummingbird

After capturing a bird in the trap, the next step was to remove the bird from the trap. A net ‘sleeve’ allows the trapper to get his or her hand into the cage without the bird escaping. Still, it’s a delicate procedure and patience is needed in order to avoid extra stress on the bird. Here’s a video of a bird being removed from the trap:

Next, banding a hummingbird!

Posted in Banding, Festivals & Events, Yard Birds | 1 Comment

I was a migrating hummingbird!

On Saturday we visited the Hummingbird Festival at Cook County’s Camp Sagawau.

The press release for the fest mentioned that “as you enter Camp Sagawau, you will experience the hummingbird migration route.”

As we signed in at visitor orientation, we were given power bars. We needed the energy, because we were about to migrate from the Yucatan Peninsula all the way to northern Illinois. Phew!

Our ‘migration’ led us through 5 steps, starting at the Yucatan and eventually ending at Camp Sagawau. At each station we learned about the stage of migration and about the tough journey our little Ruby-throated Hummingbirds endure during their own migration every spring.

At the first station, as we munched on our power bars, we read: Today you are a Ruby-throated Hummingbird on your spring time journey to North America. It is February 28th and you have spent several weeks feeding and preparing for the most challenging part of the trip – crossing the Gulf of Mexico.

Hummingbird Migration

The next stop was arrival in the United States. You have made it to shore in the state of Alabama. The beaches are crowded with exhausted migrants. […] The migrants must immediately find food. The birds search every nearby thicket and field for insects. Hummingbirds look for flowers and feeders for nectar and sugar water. Once their fat stores have been replenished, the birds resume their northward movement.

Hummingbirds arrive in Alabama

At each station we had to spin a dial to see our fate for that stop on the migration route. Each dial had several fates that could befall our hummingbird selves, such as (totally paraphrased): “You found food! Eat up and continue your migration” or “You arrive at your intended destination but all suitable nesting territory has been claimed. You continue your migration northward” or “You are injured by a window strike. A wildlife rehabilitator takes you in and restores you to full health. You continue your migration” or “You are eaten by a roaming pet cat and die.” At each step the chance of death was pretty high – about a third of the dial. My dad didn’t even make it to Alabama!

After arriving in Alabama we were still 900 miles from Camp Sagawau and had yet to make stops at a Tennessee wildlife refuge and Shawnee National Forest where we again spun the dial to see our fate.

We made it! Coming soon, more about hummingbirds, including banding!

Hummingbird Festival

Posted in Festivals & Events | 1 Comment