Category Archives: Festivals & Events

Birding’s star turn

The film version of The Big Year is progressing, with filming to begin next month. Local birders even have a chance to be in the movie — there is a May 1st casting call for extras in Tofino, BC. I was an extra in a movie many years ago, and it was a lot of fun. I would LOVE to be able to be an extra in The Big Year! Producers are looking for “local men and women of all shapes, sizes and ethnicities who are interested in working as paid Extras on the movie.” I wonder how many birders will show up for the casting call?

In other entertainment news, Los Angeles Audubon will be celebrating their 100th anniversary in May and as part of the festivities, birders can join several Star Trek cast members on a birding field trip. The Bald(ing) Eagles of Star Trek is one of several teams competing in a Birdathon over the first week of May. It’s a fun chance to go out birding with Armin Shimerman, Robert Picardo, Ethan Phillips and John Billingsley, and contribute to Los Angeles Audubon’s activities, too.

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Birding America VIII

Last Saturday Arthur and I attended Birding America VIII, sponsored by the Chicago Audubon Society. The event was a kind of symposium, beginning with a keynote address by Joe Lill, former president of CAS.

When we arrived I got the thrill of my life seeing one of ‘my’ bumper stickers on a car in the parking lot. I just had to take a picture!

Following the morning keynote, attendees could choose from several hour-long sessions. Generally these break-out sessions or workshops fell into three categories: Near Chicago Birding Areas; International Birding Trips; and Skill-Building Workshops. This was a nice mix and we attended sessions of all three types through the course of the day. Before the lunch break we learned about the local specialties of southern Arizona and “Birding the Frozen North” (Wisconsin). The Wisconsin presentation was by Steve Betchkal, author of All of This and Robins Too: A Guide to the 50 or so Best Places to Find Birds in Wisconsin.

Clair Postmus answers questions about the birds of Arizona. His wife Bev gave the presentation.

During the lunch break, birds of prey from three area centers were on display. One of the groups was Flint Creek Wildlife Rehabilitation, and the Saturday class of Raptor Interns was on hand to handle the birds. Yes, I was jealous! There were also birds from the Wildlife Discovery Center in Lake Forest and Stillman Nature Center in South Barrington.

A Great Horned Owl from Stillman Nature Center

Dawn with 0511, the Red-tailed Hawk. 0511 will make another appearance on this blog very soon!

In the afternoon we attended Dave Willard’s lecture on hazards of migration through Chicago, and a group presentation on bird conservation opportunities in the Chicago region. The final keynote address, by Kevin Karlson, was about the wonders of migration. It featured fabulous photographs by the Shorebird Guide co-author and noted birding trip leader.

Dave Willard answers questions about bird collisions in Chicago

It was a fun day and I learned a lot. Ironically the weather on Saturday was the most spectacular for several days before and since, yet 100+ birders were inside for their hobby! Anyway, I look forward to attending the next Birding America – hopefully on a rainy day! 😉

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Gull Frolic 2010

Today we spent a few hours at the Illinois Ornithological Society Gull Frolic at the Winthrop Harbor Yacht Club.

Alvaro Jaramillo talked about Slaty-backed Gulls and his own road to becoming a larophile. Alvaro is a great speaker and I really enjoyed his presentation. I still need some work on my gull-love, though.

Well over 200 birders were in attendance and the gulls did not disappoint with at least seven species identified.

It was cold and snow fell for most of the morning and early afternoon. Larophobes like me could ask IOS members for assistance in locating and identifying gulls. They were easy to spot in hot orange hats.

It was warm and cozy inside the yacht club. Birding facilities should be so comfy.

There was a spread of pastries and doughnuts for breakfast, and a nice lunch buffet to warm up cold birders.

It was our first Gull Frolic and we heard it was more crowded than recent years. Kudos to the sponsors for organizing a great gathering!

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Posted in Festivals & Events, Illinois | 1 Comment

Raptors at Hawkwatch

On the weekend of 10-11 October, the Illinois Beach State Park Hawkwatch celebrated their 10th year with an open house weekend. As part of the celebration, education birds from a new group, The Northern Illinois Raptor Center, were on hand. The birds wowed the crowd with their beauty while their handlers told us about them and answered our questions.

The NIRC was formed after the raptor program at the Springbrook Nature Center was discontinued due to lack of funds. This is their (western) Red-tailed Hawk.

Red-tailed Hawk1

Red-tailed Hawk (western)

Red-tailed Hawk (western)

The NIRC now has four birds which are currently housed with NIRC team members while construction of their new facility at Vogelei Park in Hoffman Estates is underway. This is their American Kestrel.

American Kestrel

American Kestrel

American Kestrel

The birds are used for education programs. The group eventually plans to also rehabilitate birds in need when their facilities are completed. This is their Great Horned Owl.

Great Horned Owl

Great Horned Owl

Great Horned Owl

I love Great Horned Owls, but I love Barred Owls even more. Look at this beauty, the NIRC’s fourth bird.

Barred Owl

Barred Owl

Barred Owl

Barred Owl

It’s always so great to see raptors like these up close, and to hear their stories. I so admire everyone that works with these beautiful raptors and their dedication to both their birds and to educating the public. Big kudos to the NIRC and everyone else involved with caring for birds of prey. Thank you for all you do.

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Posted in Festivals & Events, Hawk Watch, Illinois, Rehabilitation | 1 Comment

Quickie from the MBS

A quick post from the MBS! We made it to the Midwest Birding Symposium, but I have been suffering from lack of web access.

Lakeside is a perfect location for birding camp, and we’re having loads of fun. The birding is great, the speakers are awesome and the organization is impressive.

The pier at Lakeside from which we boarded the Goodtime I for Thursday night’s cruise

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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

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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.

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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

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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!

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