Author Archives: Amy

BPW: Song Sparrow

It’s been a while since I participated in Bird Photography Weekly. I took these photos of a Song Sparrow while at Volo Bog last week.

First, the warm-up. I love how he’s standing on two different branches, like he’s got to brace himself for his own powerful voice.

Song Sparrow 1

Then, full song mode!

Song Sparrow 2

For more photos of birds from all over the world, be sure to visit Birdfreak’s Bird Photography Weekly.

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Volo Bog bird walk

On Saturday we visited Volo Bog State Natural Area. I visited the park on a grade school field trip but I don’t remember it very well. This was Arthur’s first visit to the bog.

A bog is a type of wetland habitat where ground level water is acidic. Bogs are very common in parts of Europe and especially in the Netherlands (peat bogs). I’ve seen several peat-harvesting exhibits when visiting museums in Holland. Volo Bog is a quaking bog and is maintained by the Illinois Department of Natural Resources. It is the only remaining open-water quaking bog in Illinois and is the home to several rare and/or endangered species for the state.

We joined the Volo Bog State Natural Area Bird Walk which was a free guided bird walk co-sponsored by McHenry County Audubon. Group leader Joel took our group of about 10 participants on the Tamarack View Trail which is a 2.75 mile loop trail around the bog.


Bird Walkers at Volo Bog

The trail was lined with Bluebird houses in the open areas.


Almost all of the houses we saw were being claimed by a pair of Tree Swallows.

Tree Swallow Pair

The walk overlooks a couple of ponds from several vantage points.



Nearby one of the ponds we were very surprised to find a bird hide.

Bird Hide at Volo Bog

They are not common here in the U.S. but the abundance of hides in the Netherlands was one of the sparks that helped get us into birding. I’ll have another post about bird hides in the future. This was a nice little hide with enough built-in benches to hold about 8 birders.

Close to the hide we spotted this Eastern Phoebe.

Eastern Phoebe

We also spotted a group of three Northern Flickers tussling between some trees. Joel speculated this was probably a female and two males. Here are two of them:

Northern Flickers

A part of the trail was flooded about a half mile from the start of the loop (or in our case, from the end). We had to climb over a fence and walk on the road for a bit.

Flooded Trail at Volo Bog

A part of the Tamarack Trail was also floating boardwalk.


We walked behind most of the group and it felt like the boardwalk was buckling violently, although I suppose it probably felt worse than it actually was. It reminded me of the Tacoma Narrows Bridge.


After the bird walk, Arthur and I walked the much shorter Interpretive Trail, which is almost entirely floating or fixed boardwalk.



The boardwalk goes into the heart of the quaking bog. Part of the trail was lined with Tamarack trees, which are unusual because they are deciduous pines. They are a threatened species in Illinois and the Tamarack Zone at Volo Bog is close to the southern edge of their North American range. Every fall the needles of the Tamarack trees fall into the water, releasing tannic acid.

Pitcher Plants are another endangered plant species that can be found along the Interpretive Trail. These carnivorous plants absorb decomposed insects that fall into the plant’s water cups.



I had no idea there were carnivorous plants here in Illinois so I was really amazed to read about and then see these pitcher plants!

Posted in Illinois | 1 Comment

First attempts at digiscoping

I’ve had my scope for a few weeks now and I’m really loving it. So far the most action it’s seen was last weekend on the Looney Trip. I’ve brought it out a few other times but mostly I use it every day to check out the birds hanging out in our back yard.

Now that I’m getting the hang of it, I want to try digiscoping. We got a universal adapter and tried out our old Canon A95 on it.



I’m in the market for a new camera, though. The A95 is heavy (especially with four AA batteries) and bulky.

Meanwhile, I’ve tried digiscoping “by hand” a few times. Here’s a Dark-eyed Junco and our resident squirrel.

Side note: When we first moved in we were kind of bummed about the big warehouse behind our yard. But now that we’re peeping on the birds through binoculars and scope almost every day, we’re grateful for it. No neighbors back there thinking we’re spying on them!

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Skywatch Friday: Chicago from IBSP

Last Saturday on our Looney Trip we were very lucky with awesome weather. The sky was clear and temperatures were seasonal, in the 50’s F. Wind was minimal.

From our viewing area at Illinois Beach State Park, we could see the Chicago city skyline, 50 miles to the south.

Chicago from Illinois Beach State Park

The moon was visible in the late afternoon sky from the beach.

Illinois Beach State Park

Broken Pier at IBSP

We went to the park to look for Red-throated Loons, which had been sighted there earlier in the day, but we were skunked. We did see lots of gulls resting on the beach.

Illinois Beach State Park gulls

Starting on Sunday, the next day, temperatures dropped into the 30’s and we had heavy cloud cover with sleet, hail and snow, and strong, cold winds.

For more photos and stories of the sky, check out the other submissions for this week’s Skywatch Friday.

Posted in Illinois, Skywatch Friday | 6 Comments

Looney for Loons

Yesterday we went on the Looney Trip outing led by Dave Johnson and sponsored by the Evanston North Shore Bird Club. Our group of 16 visited several sights in search of Common Loon and other waterfowl and migrants. We met a lot of local birders and got to see a bunch of great birding locations that were new to us.

We met by Diamond Lake, where we started off with several Common Loons swimming on the calm water. After viewing the loons and other waterfowl on the lake, Dave distributed walkie talkies to the 8 cars in our group and we headed to our first stop at the north side of Long Lake, where we saw 5 Common Loons, some at very close range.

Common Loon

Common Loon

Our next stop was at Lake Marie, where American White Pelicans had been reported in recent days. We had great looks at 13 pelicans, a first for the Looney Trip (which Dave has been leading for over 15 years!). Here are two on the water, in the distance.

American White Pelican

Arthur also counted 27 loons here, which were also giving great looks (not too much diving). Here some of our group checks out the action.


Next we stopped briefly at Chain O’ Lakes State Park where we saw some pelicans flying. We saw two Sandhill Cranes landing at a shallow pond by the main road. Some of the group (including us) got nice looks at a Golden-crowned Kinglet and a Yellow-bellied Sapsucker. These were much too fast for photos, unfortunately, because both of these were lifers!

Next we made a brief stop by Grass Lake to view an active Bald Eagle nest. We learned that this nest is the first recorded Bald Eagle breeding in Lake County in well over 100 years. Wow!

Bald Eagle

Bald Eagle

The other nests surrounding the eagle’s are abandoned Great Blue Heron nests. The herons left when the eagles moved in. Not too far from the eagles there was a separate heronry with lots of GBH nests and tons of Double-crested Cormorants.


Around lunchtime we headed to Pistakee Lake to look for birds from the marina at Bald Knob. Here we saw more Common Loons, plus thousands of Lesser Scaup, an immature Bald Eagle flyover, and this Killdeer by the piers.


Next it was time for lunch, which we had at Castaways at Sunset Bay. It was a treat for us to get to talk with other birders. We heard of fun tales of neat birding adventures and learned of even more great places to check out for birds in our area and beyond. The restaurant was really accommodating for our large group, too – we were a group of 11 people with at least six separate checks.

After lunch some of the group headed for home while the rest of us drove to Illinois Beach State Park on Lake Michigan to search for Red-throated Loons which had been reported there earlier in the day. This was an area of the state park we had not visited before so it was nice to check it out. We were skunked on the loons but did see several Red-breasted Mergansers, a pair of Eastern Bluebirds and we heard a Field Sparrow singing. And the view sure was nice. Here’s Arthur looking for loons.


Looking south from IBSP

We decided our day was over after IBSP, but Dave and a few others drove down to Kane County to search for a Black-necked Stilt reported there. I saw later on the Illinois listserv IBET that they got the stilt. Way to go, guys!

We had a great day and we look forward to going on Dave’s Looney Trip next year! I really thought Dave was an outstanding and knowledgeable leader, making sure everyone got to see the birds and picking a great route. The more experienced birders on the trip were also wonderful, open to share their knowledge with the newer members of the group and answer all of our questions. If you went on the trip too, please leave a comment!

Posted in Illinois | 1 Comment

Skywatch Friday: Woodcock Walk

Tonight we went looking for Woodcocks at Crabtree Nature Center in Barrington, Illinois. The nature center is part of the Cook County Forest Preserve district.

We met the naturalist leading the Woodcock Walk at the nature center at 6:30pm, as the sun was setting.

Crabtree Nature Center

Woodcock walks are a popular excursion for nature centers and birding groups each spring because these secretive birds are hard to find outside of breeding season, when the males do an elaborate flight display.

Because the sky was clear, the naturalist thought we should wait until closer to dark before looking for the Woodcocks. So we first went to some ponds near the entrance of the park to look at waterfowl.

Crabtree Nature Center

There we saw Blue-winged Teal, Bufflehead and Northern Shoveler swimming in the shallow water.

Crabtree Nature Center

As the moon rose higher into the sky, we headed to the meadow where the male Woodcocks would soon be performing their unique song and aerial display.

Crabtree Nature Center

Clear skies are beautiful to see, but not perfect conditions for Woodcock watching. Soon darkness fell and the time for photos was over. We heard peenting in the distance and crept slowly into the meadow. The Woodcock finished his last peent before bursting into the air in a wild circular flight over our heads.

For more stories of the sky from all over the world, visit the other posts at Skywatch Friday.

Posted in Skywatch Friday | 5 Comments

Hummingbirds are coming, hummingbirds are coming

I’ve been checking out this map every day to see how far north the migrating Ruby-throated Hummingbirds have traveled so far.

Every time I look at the map, I think about that Coca-Cola holiday commercial with the jingle ♫ Holidays are coming ♫ but I’m singing ♫ Hummingbirds are comingHummingbirds are coming

When I looked at the map this morning, sightings close to our home from the last couple of days were suddenly on the map! We just ran out to put up our feeder. According to previous year maps, hummingbirds typically reach our area in the second week of April. has a lot of great information on feeding hummingbirds and maintaining your feeders. Are you (going to be) feeding hummingbirds in your yard this year?

Hummingbirds are coming!Hummingbirds are coming!

Posted in North America, Yard Birds | 1 Comment

My visitors came from *where* in March?!

Here are some of the more interesting search terms that brought visitors to this site during March. This follows the recaps done in January and February.

  • endangerbirds Sounds like a band of superheroes.
  • pigeon fanciers in the carrribean I am so going to make a t-shirt based on this search!
  • I’m also going to have to offer a prairie chicken hat in the shop based on this search term.
  • The person that searched for pillow pillow pillow birdy was surely looking for this site, but ended up here instead.
  • At least three different people (from 3 different countries!) searched for butts foto. Today I’m #1 on Google for this search. w00t? Meanwhile, someone in Italy searched for poop foto. Conclusion: write more poop- and butt-themed posts to increase traffic.
  • dog pishers and adult pishing also brought readers to the site. I’ll be looking for fish pishing next month.
  • A couple of fun typos came up: birds are magnicent and www.billed a bear work
  • Pigeons were big too, with hits from searches for greatest pigeon of the world, endangered t-shirt squirrel pigeon, and pigeons eating rice.
  • Posted in Funny, Search Terms | Leave a comment

    Two surprise lifers

    Common Loons have been reported on several lakes in Lake County (where we live) and nearby Cook County. We made a lame attempt at getting loons late last week but were skunked. The lakes we tried, where birds were reported, are very difficult to access as they are surrounded by private homes.

    American White Pelicans have also been reported in the last few days, and today a report came in on a sighting that was almost too good to be true: pelicans and loons on a lake about 10 minutes from our house – with a detailed description on how to access a viewing area. We grabbed our scope and headed out minutes after reading the report.

    The birds were sighted on Fox Lake, and could be seen from the parking lot of Mineola Marina, a restaurant and marina facility on the southeast side of the lake.

    We arrived at the parking lot under heavy rain. We scanned the water for birds and could see three loons and several pelicans, all very far away, with the naked eye. You might be able to make out a few white spots – pelicans – in this one (click to view full size).

    Fox Lake from Mineola Bay

    Before getting the scope, we took photos of the closest loon. This is the best photo and a short video. You can hear the rain coming down in the video. The sound like thunder is actually wind – no thunder or lightening here today.


    The loons were very hard to photograph or get in the scope as they were constantly diving. Well, that is what they do.

    We also took a few photos of the pelicans. They were a bit more slow-moving. In the second photo you can see the fibrous plates on their upper bills, which are grown during breeding season. The plates are shed after the eggs are laid. Pretty wild, huh?

    American White Pelicans on Fox Lake

    American White Pelicans on Fox Lake

    Next we brought out the scope to get better looks.

    Looking through the scope in the rain

    We tried our hand at digiscoping but it didn’t go too well. We’ve ordered a universal adapter to attach our camera to the scope, but it’s on backorder.

    American White Pelican, badly digiscoped

    That’s okay, I’m still getting used to handling the scope and tripod on their own. I still reach down towards the tripod when I want to move the scope laterally – the knob for that is much higher up, on the head. D’oh!

    The weather couldn’t have been more miserable – the pileup of snow we got on Sunday was melting, making the ground soft and muddy. The sky was a dark grey curtain spilling down a constant stream of rain. True duck weather. But you know what they say – the weather’s always perfect for birding! Especially when there’s a prospect for lifers involved. Both of these were new birds for us!

    Posted in Illinois, Life List | Leave a comment