Author Archives: Amy

Hawk Watch starts tomorrow @ IBSP

Tomorrow the 10th season of hawk watching will begin at Illinois Beach State Park. Last Saturday I attended a very informative Hawk Watching Seminar at Volo Bog State Natural Area. During the first part of the seminar, IBSP Hawk Watch founder Vic Berardi shared a great presentation on identifying hawks in flight. I took several pages of notes but clearly the best way to improve hawk ID skills will be to sit with the team, watching, which I hope to do some time before the Hawk Watch finishes at the end of November.

In the afternoon Vic shared some (more) of his wonderful photography and gave us attendees lots of great tips on taking pictures of raptors in flight. Vic has a new blog, The Raptorphile, as well as a super photography tips website along with his son at Photo Naturalist. You should check them out!

Later, other founding members of the IBSP team, Janice Sweet and Paul Sweet, shared data and analysis of the data the team has gathered over the last 9 years, like season records and trends in age data and period of migration for the different species. For instance, most of the Bald Eagles observed at the IBSP Hawk Watch are juveniles. Adult birds tend to congregate around the Mississippi River, but the local juvies don’t know that yet.

Do you volunteer at a hawk watch in your area, or have you ever visited one?

Posted in Citizen Science, Hawk Watch | Leave a comment

More Bathing Beauties

As I mentioned in the last post, I see mostly Mourning Doves and House Sparrows at the ground birdbath during the day. The Mourning Doves like to park in the water for a long time and rarely seem to splash around, unlike the robin who just got down to business right away. Sometimes the doves have a party. It usually starts with one bird lounging in the bath.

One bathing Mourning Dove

Soon another joins the fun. This one started blowing bubbles to liven things up a bit.

Mourning Dove blowing bubbles

Then a third dove will join in, but the bath might be too crowded so she has to wait on the side. Sometimes it might get a little awkward.

Third wheel Mourning Dove

At this point one of two things might happen. 1) The party gets crashed by House Sparrows.

House Sparrows & Mourning Doves bathing

Or 2) dove orgy. A female Red-winged Blackbird walked in on this threesome.

Blackbird breaks up dove orgy

Shocking, I know!

Shocked Red-winged Blackbird

Posted in Funny, Wingscapes Birdcam, Yard Birds | 1 Comment

Mad Cedar Waxwing won’t leave

Keeping with the waxwing theme today… Yesterday I observed the bird banding team again at Rollins Savanna. It was the last MAPS session for the season. Like last time, it was quite busy when I arrived, with over a dozen birds having been pulled from just one net.


Most captures were Common Yellowthroats. They were pretty calm while being handled for the most part. The mosquitoes were flying all over and once a yellowthroat tried to grab a mosquito in its beak while it was being processed, which was extremely cute.

Common Yellowthroat

Many of birds were going through molt and were missing head feathers. They were very difficult to age and sex. The bird books were consulted for each bird and there was a lot of discussion among the team.

Two Cedar Waxwings were also caught in the nets. They were both juveniles who did not yet have the red wingtips for which the species is named. Neither bird was happy to be there.

Waxwings In Hand

Waxwing In Hand

The bird above was especially feisty, locking its feet together to make the bander’s job extremely difficult. It was biting the pliers, the bander’s hands, everything in sight during the entire process. When it came time to be released, it was so intent on biting the bander’s finger it didn’t realize it was time to go, until it got a tap on the rear:

MAPS will start up again in the spring and I hope to join the team as a volunteer. So hopefully that was my last visit to the team as an awkward bystander. 😉

Posted in Banding | 2 Comments

Cedar Waxwings in our yard!

I witnessed a fun encounter with a waxwing yesterday (post forthcoming), and the next day they show up in our yard for the first time. Yard bird #23 is this Cedar Waxwing! A small group of them checked out the trees in the back of our yard. They didn’t stick around too long and mostly lurked within the leaves, but this guy popped out at the top of the tree for a couple of backlit photos.

Cedar Waxwing

Cedar Waxwing

Posted in Yard Birds | Leave a comment

Just another day at the finch sock

A typical day at our back yard finch sock goes something like this. Birds arrive…

Arriving at the finch sock

… and depart…

Leaving the finch sock

… sometimes in the same moment.

Arriving & departing birds the finch sock

Finches mirror each other’s movements

Finches mirror each other

To get at the best seeds, some birds stretch this way…

Stretching sparrow

… and some stretch that way.

House Finch stretching

Sometimes birds look at the camera suspiciously.

Suspicious Goldfinch

Suspicious House Finch

The birds get along with each other…

Feeding finches get along

… or they don’t.

Finch fight!

Some know when it’s best to just wait in the background for their turn at the sock.

Goldfinch waiting in the background

Just a typical day hangin’ out at the finch sock!

Upside down finch

Posted in Funny, Yard Birds | 1 Comment

Neighborhood gang

A gang of 8 crows has been cawing around our neighborhood. I first noticed them about a month ago in a field about a block from our house. Now they make themselves known almost every morning, nice and early. I love to hear them cawing, because I know they’ve been in trouble from West Nile around here for the past few years. The other day the gang paused outside our window, making a racket while posing for these shots.

American Crow

American Crow

American Crow

The gang shares the honor of being the 22nd species of bird found in our yard.

The yard list so far:

1. American Goldfinch
2. Dark-eyed Junco (slate-colored)
3. Black-capped Chickadee
4. House Finch
5. Mourning Dove
6. House Sparrow
7. Northern Cardinal
8. Red-winged Blackbird
9. Song Sparrow
10. American Robin
11. Downy Woodpecker
12. Brown-headed Cowbird
13. European Starling
14. American Tree Sparrow
15. Common Grackle
16. White-crowned Sparrow
17. Baltimore Oriole
18. Northern Flicker
19. Blue Jay
20. Cooper’s Hawk
21. House Wren
22. American Crow

Posted in Yard Birds | Leave a comment


Last Sunday we rented a canoe for some paddling at Chain O’ Lakes State Park. It was a beautiful morning and an easy paddle.

Chain O Lakes State Park

One of the highlights was seeing large groups of swallows hunting for bugs over the still water and congregating on snags along the shore.

Swallows on a snag

Lots of swallows

Big bunch of swallows

Among them was a very light bird, a possible leucistic Tree Swallow. Leucism (sometimes incorrectly called partial-albinism) is a condition characterized by reduced pigmentation. I’ve never seen a leucistic swallow before, but they’re definitely out there.

Leucistic Tree Swallow?

Leucistic Tree Swallow on snag

Have you ever seen a leucistic bird?

* The original title I wanted to use for this post is apparently the name of a porn movie. That’s some traffic I don’t need on this blog. Hirundididae is the Latin name for the Swallow family of birds. 😉

Posted in Illinois | 1 Comment