Category Archives: LCFPD

Lake County Forest Preserve District

My last two life birds

My last two life birds, and owl and a sparrow, came in two different states.

Back in June, Arthur and I took a little sightseeing trip to southwestern Florida. We were based in Bonita Springs and spent a couple of days visiting nature centers and local beaches. A visit to the Pelican Boulevard ball fields in Cape Coral was on the agenda. We hoped to see the Burrowing Owls that live on the park grounds. Their burrows were roped off to protect the area.

Burrowing Owls

Burrowing Owls

There were babies as well as adults in the bunch. It was pouring rain when we pulled into the parking lot, but the owls didn’t seem to mind.

Burrowing Owl

Well, maybe they minded a little.

Burrowing Owl

In July I had high hopes to finally pick up a long-overdue lifer. Dickcissels aren’t all that uncommon around where we used to live in Illinois, but somehow I had never managed to see one. That was rectified on July 20 at Fort Sheridan FP. When we first found the male bird, he was singing with his mouth full.



It seemed no one answered him, so he ate his lunch alone and looked around the prairie before flying off.


Maybe, just maybe, my next life bird will be found in the Bahamas! Stay tuned…

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Posted in Florida, Illinois, LCFPD, Life List | Leave a comment

Red-heads and orange leaves

Fort Sheridan Forest Preserve in Highland Park, IL, is a pretty reliable spot for Red-headed Woodpeckers. There were several flying about during my visit back on October 15th. At least two striking crimson-topped adults were caching acorns.

Red-headed Woodpecker

Red-headed Woodpecker

Red-headed Woodpecker

I also noticed a juvenile making sorties from the path in front of me to a certain tree over and over. It was picking up acorns from the path and then using the tree trunk to work on them.

Red-headed Woodpecker

Red-headed Woodpecker

Red-headed Woodpecker

This youngster has some red coming in; look at the lower cheek in the last picture above.

The trees were kind of pretty, too.

fall foliage

fall foliage

fall foliage

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A delicious, nutritious moth makes a nice meal for a migrating Yellow-rumped Warbler. Photos taken 17 October, 2012, at Fort Sheridan Forest Preserve in Lake County, Illinois.

delicious moth

delicious moth

delicious moth

Since we’ve been back in Florida, we’ve been spending a lot of time away from home. I haven’t seen any butterbutts in the yard, but I haven’t had much opportunity to look. Hopefully that will change very soon! It’s always a pleasure to see Yellow-rumped Warblers in the yard!

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Posted in Illinois, LCFPD, Migration | Leave a comment

Delicious dandelions

I’ve been spending a lot of time fretting over the health and happiness of this old man lately, which has put me on an unexpected birding hiatus.

Arby sees starlings
Arby watching starlings, December 2008

So here’s a dip back in time and another installment of blog catch-up. Back in May, when I visited family and friends in Illinois, I took a few walks at my old favorite, Rollins Savanna.

Rollins Savanna
Rollins Savanna on May 10, 2012

Male Bobolink

In mid-May Rollins was hopping with Bobolinks. Their robotic calls could be heard from nearly every step along the 3.5 mile main loop trail.

Bobolink eating dandelion seeds
Bobolink eating dandelion seeds

Bobolink eating dandelion seeds
You’ve got a little something stuck to the side of your beak there, Bob.

Bobolinks normally first arrive in Lake County around the beginning of May, so the birds I observed chowing down on dandelion seeds along the path may have been new arrivals, refueling after a long leg of their migration (they come from as far south as Argentina). Bobolinks breed in northern Illinois, but their breeding range goes as far north as the Canadian border and beyond.

female Bobolink
Female Bobolink

Bobolinks pass through Florida on their journey in both directions, but I have not been able to add one to my state list so far. Maybe, if I’m very lucky this September…

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Posted in Behavior, Illinois, LCFPD, Migration | Leave a comment

Up to no good


Sandhill Cranes are omnivorous. They feed on grains, berries, small reptiles, invertebrates, aquatic plants, and more. They will feed on nestling birds, if the opportunity arises.


At Rollins Savanna last month I observed a small group of Sandhill Cranes foraging in a marshy area. A male Red-winged Blackbird was giving them a hard time, dive-bombing and attacking the backs of the large birds.




The blackbird may have thought the cranes were up to no good, but during my stay I didn’t see the cranes discover any tasty nestlings. The blackbird eventually left the cranes alone.


This wasn’t the first time I’d seen a blackbird attacking cranes at Rollins Savanna. Back in June 2009 I saw a small mob working together to drive away a pair of cranes.


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Posted in Behavior, Illinois, LCFPD | 1 Comment

Fort Sheridan’s ginormous nest

Back on April 12th Arthur and I visited Fort Sheridan with my parents. This was their first visit to the site since it had become a Lake County Forest Preserve.

Mom & Dad birding
Mom & Dad woodpecker watchin’

The walk itself was rather cold and we didn’t have a huge amount of birds, but my mom was especially delighted to see a number of Brown Creepers, a species she hadn’t seen for a long time.

Brown Creeper
Brown Creepers were creeping all over the preserve

We also had good looks at a Red-headed Woodpecker, a target species for this preserve.

Red-headed Woodpecker
Red-headed Woodpecker; notice the fresh cavity below the bird

Fort Sheridan has a fun, larger-than-life display of a Red-tailed Hawk nest. It’s like a mini-amphitheater complete with observation telescopes and interpretive signs about avian architecture, Red-tailed Hawk family life, predator adaptations, and more.

Fort Sheridan sign
Beware: giant Red-tailed Hawk nest ahead

Giant Red-tailed Hawk nest
Ginormous nest!

Raptor-eye-view (telescope inside head)

Little amphitheater inside nest

Fort Sheridan is a special preserve with unique habitat along the shores of Lake Michigan. A golf course has been proposed for part of the land for some years, with no firm decision made on the land dispute so far. You can learn more by following this blog or this Facebook page.

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Finding Loons in Lake County

Common Loons migrate through Lake County here in northern Illinois in early spring. I grew up in the northern Chicago suburbs, but until I became a birder I had no idea that loons passed through our lakes during migration. It wasn’t until 2009 that I saw loons for the first time.

Common Loons by Gary J. Wege
Common Loons by Gary J. Wege by U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service – Midwest Region, Creative Commons on Flickr

Judging from some of my blog visitor statistics, there are more locals interested in finding loons during the brief time they visit our part of the state. I’m no expert but I do have some tips for finding loons in Lake County, Illinois.

When can birders find Common Loons in Lake County? The time to look for Common Loons in Lake County is right now. At least two area bird clubs offer annual loon-finding trips. These trips are free to everyone – you don’t have to be a member. The trips run as caravans and you can end your day after any stop on the route. Last week we joined Lake-Cook Audubon on their Loons of Lake County trip. Dave Johnson leads a Looney Trip each year for the Evanston North Shore Bird Club (we joined the Looney Trip in 2009). This year’s trip will take place April 2nd. These trips generally occur during the last week of March or the first week of April. With migration, anything goes, but generally this time period will be your best bet to find loons.

Where is the best place to find Common Loons in Lake County? You don’t have to join a club outing to find loons (although both clubs mentioned above are a lot of fun!) in Lake County. While there are a few glacial lakes that are probably good bets year to year, if you’re limited in time it’s a good idea to keep an eye on what other area birders are seeing before venturing out on your own. There are a few great resources for this. One is the Illinois birding mailing list (listserv) IBET. You don’t necessarily have to subscribe because recent posts are archived to the public online: Recent Postings from The Illinois List. At the time of this writing, I see posts from other birders reporting loon sightings in Cook, Jasper, and Winnebago counties, plus a few posts about a “Loonapalooza” in the Chain-o-Lakes area (Lake & McHenry counties).

Common Loons
Breeding plumage Common Loons on Diamond Lake, photo by blogger

Another great place to check is eBird. A quick look at the eBird entries for Common Loon in Lake County, Illinois in March and April over the last five years reveals a few hotspots and recent sightings: Fox Lake; Long Lake; Independence Grove; Butler Lake; Lake Zurich; and Diamond Lake. If you’re going out on your own, keep in mind that loons (also known as Great Northern Divers) prefer larger, deeper lakes.

Why do birders look for Common Loons in Lake County during spring migration? Loons are considered medium-distance migrants, spending the winter in coastal areas of North America and breeding across much of Canada and far northern areas of the Great Lakes in the United States. In the spring, they take on their beautiful, striking black-and-white breeding plumage. Loons are typically easier to find in Lake County during the spring migration; fall migration is more protracted so you’re less likely to find them in quantity during the fall. And while loons can be vocal all year, you’re more likely to hear their haunting wail calls during the spring as breeding season approaches.

Common Loon at Gloucester Harbor
Common Loon at Gloucester Harbor by Dendroica cerulea, Creative Commons on Flickr

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Posted in Illinois, Lake-Cook Audubon, LCFPD, Migration | 5 Comments

Birds of the Year

Earlier this month, the Barn Owl was named Audubon California’s 2010 Bird of the Year by popular vote. Although not one of the six birds nominated by group, the Barn Owl won as a write-in candidate with nearly 70% of the total vote. The species probably got a boost via an extremely popular Barn Owl nest cam that ran over the spring. Molly the Owl got worldwide attention. The Barn Owl is doing relatively well in California; local populations suffer from habitat loss. The species is endangered here in Illinois for the same reasons.

Meanwhile, Dutch bird research partners including the Dutch branch of BirdLife International named 2011 the Year of the Barn Swallow. The population of Barn Swallows in the Netherlands has been cut in half over the past 40 years. Researchers are asking for the public’s help in reporting Barn Swallow sightings as well as previous and potential nest sites. Dutch friends can visit this site to learn more.

While I can’t predict what my bird of the year for 2011 will be, I can say that 2010 was the year of the Barred Owl. I got to meet a very special education Barred Owl named Meepy, and I am looking forward to spending more time with her in 2011.

Meepy the Barred Owl

And one of my most exciting bird sightings of the year took place on November 13th, when Arthur and I attended an Owl Prowl at Ryerson Woods in Lake County and saw our first Illinois Barred Owl! The owl was a lifer for many on the trip and a county tick for everyone except the trip leader (I think), including a friend who has been birding in Lake County for over 40 years. It was so exciting and I regret that I didn’t blog about it at the time (because I didn’t have any photos to share).

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Posted in FCWR, Illinois, Lake-Cook Audubon, LCFPD, Netherlands | Leave a comment

BPW: White-crowned Sparrow

Went looking for Short-eared Owls at Rollins Savanna the other night. We weren’t the only ones looking around. Found this friendly juvenile White-crowned Sparrow in the parking lot.

White-crowned Sparrow

White-crowned Sparrow

White-crowned Sparrow

No luck on the Short-eared Owls, but the sunset did its best to make up for it.



Bird Photography Weekly is a regular collection of user-submitted bird photos from all over the world. The new edition comes out every Sunday. Go have a look at this week’s submissions!

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Posted in Bird Photography Weekly, LCFPD | 5 Comments

August 5 banding notes

The seventh MAPS banding session at Rollins Savanna this season took place on Thursday, August 5. This was the final session in the ‘regular’ MAPS season, although the team did run the station one additional day (when I was unable to attend – August 17).

Bird awaits banding; photo by Janice Sweet.

We had a bit of excitement in the form of several members of the press stopping by to observe us, interview a few of the banders and Lake County Forest Preserve personnel, and take lots of photos. Stories were published by the Pioneer Press (which also posted a very nice video) and Daily Herald.

Photographer shoots juvenile and adult Common Grackles. Photo by Janice Sweet.

The other non-bird issue of note that morning was the utter misery brought upon everyone from the mosquitoes. They were the worst I have ever seen them (I could have said that on each session; they got progressively worse as the season wore on, culminating in the total mosquito nightmare on August 5th), and were attacking us even while we stood in the normally relatively bug-free parking lot before we headed to the banding station. We all sprayed bug repellent on ourselves but it was of almost no use. The back of my legs were especially tasty (or not especially covered in bug spray) judging by the amount of welts found there later in the day. In fact, area mosquito populations exploded in early August and continue to abound locally.

Although the nets were not particularly busy, we did have some firsts for the season, including a Yellow Warbler and a Warbling Vireo. I banded a juvenile Common Yellowthroat and an extremely cute juvenile American Robin. We also had juvenile Common Grackles and a couple of recaptures.

Removing juvenile American Robin from bag. See the mosquito photobomb? Photo by Janice Sweet.

Warbling Vireo
Warbling Vireo poses for newspaper photog, photo by blogger

Another first for the season was a Tennessee Warbler, an early migrant that breeds further north. The MAPS program is primarily for recording breeding bird data, so when the migrants start coming through again, the MAPS season is winding down.

As it was the last session I would be attending, I brought a few small gifts for the banders and my fellow volunteers. I gave this iBand tote bag to our permit holder, Dr. Cynthia Trombino. Here’s a picture of the bag on the banding station table at the end of the day.

iBand novelty bag
iBand tote bag, photo by blogger. Find iBand merch including this bag here

Finally, I geeked out a bit when someone found this deer skull along the mist net trail. Very cool!

Deer Skull
Deer skull found at Rollins Savanna, photo by blogger

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