Author Archives: Amy

Peering poorly at peeps

Last week we visited Horicon Marsh. First we drove down Dike Road, which was busy with birders looking for shorebirds.

View of Dike Road

View From Dike Road, Horicon Marsh

We lucked out when a fellow birder pointed out a distant Black-necked Stilt which we could view through our scope. We also flushed a Black-crowned Night-heron and got great looks at the bird in flight. Besides these we saw lots of American Pelicans and several, uh, peeps. Shorebird newbies are we. I’m pretty sure this is a Lesser Yellowlegs.

Lesser Yellowlegs

Dike Road ends (for visitors, anyway) at Main Ditch. We parked by the fishing pier and relaxed a while, enjoying the view.

Main Ditch along Dike Road

We then drove on the northern part of the marsh to the Horicon Ternpike auto tour. Along the way we saw these young Hooded Mergansers in a pond.

Hooded Merganser Babies

We took a short walk along the boardwalk trail about halfway through the auto tour. Here we saw lots of swallows and Black Terns, including the juvenile pictured below, who was crying for attention.

Boardwalk trail on the Horicon Ternpike

Black Tern Juvenile

It was a great morning out at the marsh and we’re looking forward to visiting again in the fall to view migrating waterfowl.

Posted in Wisconsin | Leave a comment

My visitors came from *where* in July?!

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

Typos and spelling mistakes were plentiful (and sometimes hilarious) in the search results last month: long sleave t shirts from hawaii; bird siloutte designs; scoreched yard; bondige pictures; pictures of styalized owls; tinest birds of ma; srarrow resisence blue bird house; and images of western oriale nests.

I’ve got my birder gift shop under the same statcounter account as the blog so of course I’m very interested in search results having to do with t-shirts or novelties. However, I don’t think I’ll be offering any anti-pigeon shirt or underwear picture of turkey soon. I think falonry beer steins (another typo!) sounds like a good idea though. And I think I need to come up with a design for the sexy birder, too.

Searches related to the name of this website were magnificent frigate bird sanctuary, frigate bird good luck (works for me), magnificent frigate bird skeletal structure, giant frigate bird image and magnificent photography!!!!! (which they’re not really going to find here, haha).

Pigeons keep bringing in the visitors too, although as usual most searches are anti-pigeon (like the shirt search mentioned above). Others last month were anti pigeon feeder, how to stop pigeons feeding from under bird feeder, and the less negative-sounding a dictionary of pigeons in indiana.

Finally, I think someone made a big discovery they need to share with the world: unknown large birds of the raptor family.

Posted in Search Terms | 2 Comments

Banding at Rollins Savanna

If you have found this page via the Halt Bird Banding site, welcome. I do not agree with the mission of that website and I am dismayed that my words are being used to further an anti-banding agenda. The text in the post below has not been edited in any way. However, I would like to make the following statements. (1) While I am mortified by my own cavalier words regarding the unfortunate deaths of birds by deer, I understand that in scientific work, unfortunate instances may occur. On future visits to the banding station, I noted that the net in question was not raised or more carefully monitored to eliminate the possibility of deer accessing birds in the nets. (2) Bird banding helps birds. There are many specific examples, but in general if you understand that humans destroy bird habitat, then you must understand that gaining knowledge of bird activity, habitat use, movement, etc, is beneficial to birds. Suitable habitat is destroyed or modified by human activities ALL THE TIME, but there are people working to mitigate this, and to HELP BIRDS. When we understand how birds interact with different habitats we can better save or restore that which will be of most use to the birds most in need. If people were not ruining the planet, I think the Halt Bird Banding movement might have more support, but IN THE WORLD WE LIVE IN, this is not the case. This is not the only purpose of bird banding, but it’s a big one. (3) I am not and have never been a master bander. I volunteered at and observed during banding activities. Please keep that in mind as you read through any of my posts regarding bird banding. Thank you for reading this addendum to my original post.

Following the banding demonstration we attended earlier this month, last week we were able to observe at the MAPS team banding station at Rollins Savanna for a while. The team has 10 mist nets set up in one part of the preserve; the nets are checked at least every half hour. When we arrived we joined team members as they checked nets 9 and 10. Everyone was very excited to see that a Ruby-throated Hummingbird was caught in #9.

Hummingbird in the net

Very few people are permitted to band hummingbirds in the United States so the objective here was to safely remove the bird from the net, perform a quick examination and then set the bird free. When hummingbird banding is the objective, special feeder traps are set rather than using mist nets to capture the birds. Vickie Henderson has a great post about the banding of hummingbirds at her blog: Hummingbird Mysteries Uncovered through Banding.

Hummingbird in the net

As you can imagine the process of removing a hummingbird from a misting net is a delicate process. In this case it took about 5 minutes and we could hear the juvenile male Ruby-throated Hummingbird crying during part of the procedure. The bird was not harmed and was released shortly after we all arrived back at the banding station.

We went on the next net run but no birds were recovered. We learned that earlier in the morning two birds were lost to deer – the deer ATE two birds that had been caught in the nets. This was shocking to hear and even more shocking to discover for the banding team members! We were glad we missed that bit of ‘excitement.’ Can you imagine coming upon such a scene? ::shudder::

A later net run yielded over 10 birds and by the time they were brought back to the banding station it was time to go check the nets all over again.

Birds waiting to be banded

This left the two remaining banders at the station extremely busy. They were processing birds very quickly and there was not much time for photography poses or even to explain everything that was going on to us observers.

It was still a total treat to observe and I did manage to take a few banding action photos. Here’s a Field Sparrow being banded and processed:

Field Sparrow being banded

FieldSparrow2“What are you lookin’ at?!

Here’s a Common Yellowthroat being processed, along with a rare photography pose.

Common Yellowthroat examination

Common Yellowthroat in the hand

Common Yellowthroat in the hand

Several juvenile Bluebirds were also banded, including one recapture from earlier this year who was processed rather quickly and then sent on his way. A Red-bellied Woodpecker provided some comic relief when it fiercely pecked at the bander’s thumb while in the hand. The most common bird found in the mist nets were Song Sparrows.

It was great to be able to observe the banding team doing their work, and I hope we didn’t get in the way too much! I’m really interested in bird banding and hope to learn more about it.

Posted in Banding, LCFPD | 2 Comments

Cardinal feeding a cowbird

Earlier this year I asked my parents if they ever saw any juvenile cowbirds in their yard being tended by a host parent. The answer was no, but they never really thought to look. This year my mom was on the lookout and whattaya know, she saw this:

Baby cowbird begging cardinal for foodFeed me!
Mom took this video of the baby begging and being fed by ‘dad.’ Thanks for sending the video, mom!

I’ve never seen this myself. We have two pairs of Northern Cardinals visiting our feeders but I have not seen any of them with juveniles of any species. We had a lot of cowbirds in our yard until about a month ago, when I changed the mix of food we offer to mostly finch favorites. We’re visiting my parents tomorrow so maybe I’ll have a chance to see this firsthand. Have you ever seen baby cowbirds being tended by a host species parent?

Posted in Yard Birds | 4 Comments

Trash birds in trouble

I read an article earlier this week about the European Starling’s decline in the Netherlands. The number of starlings has been in decline there since the 1990’s. Unsurprisingly, the reason is habitat destruction.

The House Sparrow has also been suffering population loss in Europe due to habitat loss; there is a program to stimulate House Sparrow populations in the Netherlands and studies in Britain over the decline of the House Sparrow (and how about that nice logo?!). logo by Birdorable

The fact is that while these birds might be in trouble in Europe, where they are native species, starlings and House Sparrows are pests here in the United States. Non-native sparrows use up nest boxes and deny native cavity-nesting birds suitable habitat. A letter in the current issue of Bird Watcher’s Digest urges anyone who does not “have the heart to remove house sparrows’ [nests …] to take down the nest box. The house sparrows will find another place to nest, and you’ll give our native cavity-nesting birds a fighting chance to compete for survival.”

I find the problems the House Sparrows are both suffering (over there) and causing (right here) interesting. Having lived on their native continent for nearly a decade and knowing they are in serious trouble there I doubt I would have the heart to remove one of their nests (it’s a good thing I don’t have any nest boxes to look after) – even though I understand the serious threat they pose to native birds here.

I wonder what the reaction would be if a declining American bird was treated as a pest in another part of the world. Earlier this year (on April 1st, actually) a joke-rumor was spread on the internet that a population of Carolina Parakeets was found living in Honduras. What if the parakeet story were true but that Honduran farmers considered the fruit-eating birds to be a pest and were destroying their nests? Okay, this is a really bad example, because the House Sparrow is not in such dire straits in Europe (at this time). It’s just something I’ve been thinking about lately – every time I hear sparrows and starlings referred to as ‘trash birds.’

Posted in Endangered, Netherlands, North America | 1 Comment

Banding a Song Sparrow

This morning we attended a bird banding demonstration held at Nippersink Forest Preserve. Two mist nets were set up by researchers from CLC including professor and bander Cindy Trombino. Her team is working at Rollins Savanna this season as part of the MAPS (Monitoring Avian Productivity and Survivorship) program. We actually saw them from a distance the other day on a walk, where they had set up signs to announce their presence.

Banding Sign

At the demonstration today we first learned about the banding process and why birds are banded as an aid to research. We also got to see tools of the trade, including detailed guide books, pliers and the bands themselves.

Banding Tools

The first couple of times the nets were checked, there were no birds. It was decided to move one of the nets to a different location and soon thereafter a Song Sparrow was caught. Here’s a photo of the net before it was moved:

Mist Net

Cindy showed us how the birds are removed from the net. Carefully removing the bird from the tangles of the net is usually the most difficult part of the process. In the video you can hear her mention that Northern Cardinals are notorious biters when being handled.


The Song Sparrow was brought to the work table in a bag where it was then banded and processed. After banding the next step is to try to age and sex the bird. To age the bird, feather wear and skull condition are two of the criteria checked, and these were the factors Cindy used to determine the bird was a hatch year bird.


Next Peter Pyle’s Identification Guide to North American Birds was consulted to determine how to sex the bird. According to the book, sexing a first year Song Sparrow is not possible. The sparrow was then weighed and measured.


Lastly it was time for a close-up (using the ‘photography hold’ as opposed to the ‘bander’s hold’ shown above).


Then the bird was released, with the help of two girls that attended the demonstration.


We learned from Cindy that they will be banding at Rollins again on Tuesday and we are welcome to observe – which we really look forward to!

Posted in Banding, LCFPD | Leave a comment

Cattle Egrets gathering nest material

The shuttle Endeavor finally launched mission STS-127 yesterday, and we weren’t there to see it. We’ll try again with another of the remaining 7 shuttle launches – we really want to see one! On that note I found one last video from the trip last month to share with you. At Viera Wetlands we watched this group of Cattle Egrets gather branches from a dead tree to use as nesting material. The egrets would work at the dead branches and once they had one they were satisfied with, they would fly over the road to a large heronry.

When we first noticed this behavior, we stopped the car to watch them. Unfortunately this spooked the birds – but they were on a mission! They just moved to the nest dead tree down the road. When we slowly approached on foot they did not seem to mind as much, but we still kept our distance. It was fun to watch them!

Posted in Florida, Travel, Video, Viera Wetlands | 1 Comment

Random videos from Rollins Savanna

When we visited Rollins last Friday it was overcast and threatening rain the entire time. Luckily we finished the loop trail just as the drizzle turned into full-on rain. Along the way we spotted these two young Eastern Kingbirds calling to their parents.

Later we saw this Mallard female leading eight ducklings through the overgrown stream.

This Sedge Wren teased us in the field. We were unsure of the ID until we came home and could compare the song.

Posted in Illinois, LCFPD, Video | 1 Comment