Category Archives: Festivals & Events

Celebrating Vultures at Animal Kingdom

Today is International Vulture Awareness Day (IVAD). Did you celebrate nature’s clean -up crew today? Disney’s Animal Kingdom is celebrating vultures all month!

Arthur and I visited Animal Kingdom on Thursday, September 1st, the date highlighted on the Disney Parks Blog as the day the park would be participating in IVAD. We later learned that the celebration would continue through the entire month of September.

We first visited the Rafiki’s Planet Watch part of the park, where we had a look at the educational vulture posters and materials on display. Books about vultures were available for perusing and materials like vulture skulls and feathers were also on display. Cast members played vulture fact games with kids and had a great little presentation to show the strength of vulture stomachs which involved small plastic bones and smoking vulture “acid” stomach juices.

Vulture skulls
Vulture skulls. The one with the huge nostrils in the foreground is a Turkey Vulture.

Vulture information display
Vulture info display at Rafiki’s Planet Watch

Vulture information display
Vulture info display at Rafiki’s Planet Watch

Next we got a big thrill when we checked the activity tables for small kids. Among the coloring pages and vulture masks we found a couple of Birdorable Vulture puzzles!!

Birdorable vulture downloads!
Birdorable goodies at Rafiki’s Planet Watch before being snatched up by thousands of fans

At the Tree of Life area of the park, another information station was set up by the Lappet-faced Vulture exhibit. This included a model vulture nest and a pair of model life-size vulture wings was available for kids (of all ages) to try on.

Lappet-faced Vulture sign
Permanent display sign for the Lappet-faced Vulture exhibit area

Vulture information display
Vulture info display at the Tree of Life

I'm a vulture!
I’m a vulture!

At the Animal Kingdom Lodge, another information booth with more educational materials and a video display was set up and manned by a naturalist.

Vulture information display
Vulture info display at the Animal Kingdom Lodge

Rüppell’s Vultures reside in one of the lodge’s savannas, and there were two sessions of public viewing of vulture feeding and enrichment.

The birds are trained to come feed by a visual cue – the waving of a flag. Now as it was a bit overcast and the wind was picking up, the zoologist interpreter at the viewing mentioned that the birds sometimes won’t feed in high wind or in the rain. I wonder if that’s because they would not normally prefer to fly in such conditions and therefore would not be able to find food to eat. In any case, somehow I ended up with the task of waving the flag. I managed to wave in the birds after some hard work. 😉

Calling in the vultures
Calling in the vultures

We were treated to a family group of three vultures who came out to munch on some raw bones, a special meal for the birds (who usually eat rats or mice).

Rüppell's Vulture
Om nom nom…

Rüppell's Vulture
… nom nom nom…

Rüppell's Vulture
… nom nom nom…

Rüppell's Vulture
Rüppell’s Vulture

Having commemorated IVAD on our own in the past, this year it was special to have a destination where vultures were being celebrated so enthusiastically. I was impressed with the materials and information being shared with visitors of all ages at several different spots in the park and lodge. I think celebrating vultures at Animal Kingdom might become an annual tradition for Arthur and me. 🙂

Turkey Vulture
A Turkey Vulture soars over Disney World

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Posted in Disney, Festivals & Events, Zoo | Leave a comment

Flights of Wonder

“Flights of Wonder” is a live show at Disney’s Animal Kingdom that uses free-flighted birds from all over the world. Arthur and I attended a performance on a recent visit to the zoo / theme park.

While waiting in line outside the outdoor theater, a cast member came out to talk with the crowd along with an avian ambassador, a Great Horned Owl. I spent an inordinate amount of time looking at the handler’s rather thin glove and one of the owl’s talons resting precariously on the cuff of said glove. Eek.

Great Horned Owl with small-gloved handler

The show takes place in the Asia-themed part of the park, and the stage was made to look like an Indian ruin.

Flights of Wonder stage set

The performance began with birds like macaws, hornbills, toucans and others flying across or walking on the stage to a short narration about birds of the world. The birds flew from the sides of the stage and from holes in the stage itself. This first part starred birds alone; it was a few minutes before the human host came out.

Grey Crowned Crane
A free-flighted Grey Crowned Crane wowed the crowd

Throughout the rest of the program, different bird species were introduced, and we got to see more amazing free-flying (or free-running) birds, as well as some (somewhat) natural behaviors. For example, a Seriema came out and smashed a plastic figure on the ground several times. In the wild, these birds will beat prey like lizards on rocks before consuming them.

A couple of audience participation bits were cute but an added cast member for comedic relief really fell flat with me; the beautiful birds were enough “entertainment” for me. The audience seemed to like it, so if they get the show’s message of conservation, it’s all fine with me.

Scarlet Macaws & Spectacled Owl
Free-flighted Scarlet Macaws and handler with Spectacled Owl

The final bird of the show was a Bald Eagle (who stayed on the glove). Handlers also came out with a Bateleur and a Spectacled Owl, who remained on stage for the audience to have a closer look.

Handler with Bateleur (a species of eagle)

“Flights of Wonder” is a sleek show with a great variety of beautiful birds and a clear message of conservation. If you don’t mind some cheesy entertainment with your birds, you’ll probably enjoy this show, as I did.

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Posted in Disney, Festivals & Events, Florida, Zoo | Leave a comment

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!

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

Starved Rock feeder birds

I haven’t been able to get out birding as much as I’d like lately, so I was really happy that Arthur and I could visit the 14th Annual Bald Eagle Watch Weekend at Starved Rock State Park on Sunday. We hiked a short trail but the most bird activity we saw (off the river) was at the feeders by the visitor center. We were happy to see Tufted Titmice for the first time in over a year. There were also lots of Brown-headed Cowbirds and a few White-throated Sparrows, two species we haven’t seen since last fall. It was nice to just chillax and watch the activity at the busy feeders for a while. Here are some of the birds we saw.

Black-capped Chickadee
Black-capped Chickadee

White-breasted Nuthatch
White-breasted Nuthatch

White-throated Sparrow
White-throated Sparrow

Tufted Titmouse
Tufted Titmouse

Pine Siskin
Pine Siskin

Northern Cardinal
Northern Cardinal

Starved Rock Feeders
The feeders at the Starved Rock Visitor Center

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Posted in Festivals & Events, Yard Birds | Leave a comment

The Amazing Journey

Today, a very special hawk made his first public appearance as an education bird with Flint Creek Wildlife Rehabilitation. Veteran education birds were part of the FCWR display at Northerly Island’s Polar Adventure Days today, but for about a half hour, a Ferruginous Hawk named Journey was the star of the show.


Journey was discovered in the plow of a train at a Chicago train yard in the fall of 2009. A western North American species, the hawk is thought to have collided with the train somewhere in western Canada! It is estimated that Journey was stuck in the train plow, in a painfully awkward position, for at least 1400 miles. The hawk was carefully removed from the train plow and began a long and difficult recovery, from injuries including a badly dislocated shoulder and severe head trauma. Nursed back to health but left with a permanent wing injury, Journey has been in training in order to join the FCWR education program.


Today was his official public debut, and he was an absolute STAR! The Polar Adventure Days crowd was large and loud, so Journey and handler Dawn stood just behind an open door inside a small, safe space, with an adoring crowd able to take photos and admire the beautiful western raptor. Despite being new to the program, the young bird was a champ during the short viewing and even roused* twice!

*Rouse (v): [Falconry term] To ruffle the feathers and cause them to stand briefly on end (a sign of contentment)

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Posted in FCWR, Festivals & Events | 1 Comment

Upcoming Local Events

I want to let my readers know about a couple of interesting local events that are coming up. One is this week and the other is in March.

Profiles of Nature Exhibit & Fundraiser

Local photographer Jerry Goldner will be having a photo exhibit at the Whole Foods in Deerfield. The event, which takes place on Thursday, January 20th from 6pm to 9pm, benefits Flint Creek Wildlife Rehabilitation. The exhibit of Jerry’s fine wildlife photography will include wine and snacks provided by Whole Foods. Education birds from Flint Creek Wildlife Rehabilitation will also be in attendance. UPDATE 20-JAN-11: Due to predicted extreme cold & windchill, education birds will not be in attendance at this event. The photo exhibit will take place as scheduled. A $10 minimum donation is requested for this event. RSVP on the FCWR Facebook page or by contacting FCWR directly.!/event.php?eid=177321112288960

Wild Things coming to Chicago

The fourth biennial Wild Things conference is coming to Chicago this March 5th. Attendees have a huge selection of workshops, lectures and panels from which to choose. From the official website:

Wild Things will feature the region’s best conservationists in a variety of large and small-group sessions drawn from real-life experiences with everything from the nitty gritty of habitat management, botany, and zoology to advocacy, education, art, culture, history and back yard and neighborhood ecology. This will be a great day for anyone who likes nature, conservation, gardening, restoration or who cares about the environment.

The day will kick off with a keynote speech by Curt Meine: “The Legacy of Aldo Leopold in the Chicago Region.” Six breakout sessions follow, with 10 or more different choices for each session.

A variety of topics are covered, from community gardening to land stewardship to effective environmental lobbying. There are plenty of sessions to keep keen birders interested. I’ll be attending “Breeding Birds of Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie,” “Why do yellow-breasted chats sing at night?,” and others.

Register for the conference by the early bird deadline (the reason for this early blog post) of January 30th and pay just $28 per attendee. After that, the regular registration fee is $40. The conference will take place at the Student Center East at the U of I at Chicago. See the Wild Things website for more details.

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Posted in Charity, FCWR, Festivals & Events | Leave a comment

More magic at Magee

Friday morning found us back on the boardwalk at Magee Marsh. The Biggest Week in American Birding was starting to wind down, but the birds were still spectacular. Late Thursday afternoon we noticed a sudden temperature increase, and the murmurs among festival participants was that Friday would be the day. Indeed, warm southerly winds overnight brought in tons of warblers and other migrants to the preserve, and birders were loving every minute. We were about halfway through the boardwalk path when a Chicago birding acquaintance of ours, Eric Gyllenhaal, quickly passed us. He was talking on the phone, and it was obvious he had some news. He was kind enough to interrupt his call momentarily to tell us: “Check your tweets!” Good advice. [Thank you, Eric!!]

At this time we were completely unaware of Magee Marsh outside of the boardwalk, but we followed Eric’s direction and headed east off the boardwalk. Another tweet came in.

By the time we crossed the road towards the beach, we were among several dozen birders heading towards a thicket of trees separating the eastern parking lot from the beach.

Magee Marsh Wildlife Beach Trail

Emerging onto the beach, we found ourselves among hoards of people heading towards a growing group of birders. Since this was our fourth try to see this bird (in Ohio, even!), I tried to keep my expectations low. I asked a birder heading back to the parking lot if she had seen it. With her enthusiastic “YES!” I allowed my hopes to rise.

When we approached the birders staking out the rarity, a very kind woman beckoned us over and told us where to look. We could see the Kirtland’s Warbler with our naked eyes. In our binoculars he was larger than life.

What a gorgeous bird – such a great thrill to see. He was singing, and foraging out in the open.

The crowd of spectators grew and grew, and we in turn helped new arrivals get their binoculars on what was surely a life bird for most visitors.

Kirtland's Warbler crowd

It was really uplifting to be among so many happy birders. People were laughing, doing the lifer dance, high-fiving, and most of all thanking Kenn Kaufman for the amazing sighting.

The bird stayed on the beach nearly all day, and wasn’t refound the next day. Friday was definitely the day!

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Posted in BWIAB, Endangered, Festivals & Events, Life List, Ohio | 2 Comments

Seven acres of magical birding

Last week, during the Biggest Week in American Birding, we spent a great deal of time on the boardwalk at Magee Marsh. We missed birding here during last fall’s Midwest Birding Symposium, so it was our first visit.

Magee Marsh East End Sign
East entrance to the boardwalk.

The boardwalk is the stuff of birding legend, and the stories are all true. Birds perched in front of your nose, great looks at 20+ species of warblers in under an hour, and hundreds and hundreds of birders.

Boardwalk @ Magee Marsh
Crowds of birders everywhere!

We arrived at the Marsh late Wednesday afternoon, after a long day of driving. The first thing we saw on the boardwalk was a small group of birders staring into the foliage. One of them said matter-of-factly, “There’s a Black-throated Blue right there.” Expecting to peer deep into the vegetation, it took me a moment to find the bird. I didn’t expect it to be within 7 feet of my nose.

Black-throated Blue Warbler
Black-throated Blue Warbler on the boardwalk.

Later, we entered the boardwalk on the west end, where the railing marker numbers start.

Numbers are provided for bird location purposes only
What do the numbers mean?

There must have been millions of dollars worth of binoculars and camera equipment on the boardwalk during any daylight hour. One morning, we saw the previous day’s losses waiting to be reclaimed.

Lens caps
Home for wayward lens caps.

Most of these photos were taken with my trusty Canon S2IS, a 5MP “superzoom” point-and-shoot camera.

American Redstart
American Redstarts were everywhere, too.

Scarlet Tanager
Scarlet Tanager.

Black-throated Green Warbler
Black-throated Green Warbler.

The boardwalk passes by swampy water in several places, where waterbirds skulk for prey.

Green Heron
Green Heron seen through thick foliage.

Great Blue Heron
Great Blue Heron out in the open.

While many of the warblers are passing through Magee during their migration north, some birds like Prothonotary Warblers and Yellow Warblers breed at the Marsh. Birders were delighted to watch them bringing material to their growing nests. All at eye level, mind you. No warbler neck required.

No Warbler Neck
Crouching Birder, Hidden Warbler

Magnolia Warbler
Magnolia Warblers were all over the place.

Chestnut-sided Warbler
Chestnut-sided Warblers were abundant as well.

Prothonotary Warbler
Prothonotary Warblers were busy nest-building.

Prothonotary Warbler feeding for the birdarazzi.

At one point we noticed a pair of Yellow Warblers madly chipping. Arthur spotted a snake in the tree between the birds; we guessed the predator was “disrupting” their nesting activity.

Although the birding on the boardwalk was phenomenal, the search for birds usually began in the parking lot. Here’s a typical scene – full parking lot, birder tailgate party, birdwatchers clumped along the entrance of the boardwalk in the background.

Parking Lot @ Magee Marsh
Magee Marsh parking lot.

One morning a roosting Common Nighthawk caused some excitement.

Common Nighthawk
Roosting Common Nighthawk.

Of course, Magee Marsh is not ALL about the boardwalk. Especially on Friday, May 14th, when a very special bird was spotted on the beach. More on that in the next post!

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Posted in BWIAB, Festivals & Events, Ohio | 2 Comments

BWIAB Banding @ BSBO

We returned home yesterday from spending five days in northwest Ohio, birding at Magee Marsh and Ottawa NWR, and enjoying programs during the Biggest Week in American Birding. We had heard from many birding friends that Magee Marsh was amazing, but we still managed to underestimate the birding there… it was truly PHENOMENAL. We can’t wait to go back! This is the first of several posts on our time there… starting with some bird banding.

Baltimore Oriole
Baltimore Oriole

On Saturday morning we spent some time at the Black Swamp Bird Observatory banding station (which we also visited last fall) and got to see some beautiful birds in the hand.

Indigo Bunting
Indigo Bunting

Nashville Warbler
Nashville Warbler

The audience was large and several banders and volunteers showed the birds while explaining the process and what we learn from bird banding.

Alder or Willow Flycatcher
Traill’s Flycatcher

Magnolia Warbler
Magnolia Warbler

BSBO director Kim Kaufman explained that birds have a preen gland which secretes oil used in preening. And then she showed it to us, using a Gray Catbird she had in the hand, which was very cool.

White-crowned Sparrow
White-crowned Sparrow

Yellow Warbler
Yellow Warbler

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Posted in Banding, BWIAB, Festivals & Events, Ohio | 1 Comment