Category Archives: LCFPD

Lake County Forest Preserve District

Press, award, hiatus

In just over two weeks, two events where I volunteered got some local press coverage. First, in July I handled at an owl program at a library in Lake Zurich. There were four of us there, with three handling. I had Pip the Barn Owl, who ended up being very photogenic, keeping his wings outspread much of the time. Lucky for me, I’m in half of the pictures. 😉 The event didn’t generate a story, but the photos are posted on the Pioneer Press website.

Then, last week, two local papers visited the banding station at Rollins Savanna. The Herald ran the story on their website the same day. The story is front (web) page news today on the Pioneer Press site. They even had a video of the team! There was a photo album as well, but the links are no longer available [as of March 2012 – ed].

Late last month this blog was honored as a Top 50 Bird Blog by I’m humbled to find myself listed among so many top bloggers. Go check out the list: 2010 Top 50 Bird Blog Awards Winners. Nominations for the 2011 award can already be submitted. [OnlineSchools has discontinued their blog award program as of June 2012 – ed]

Arthur and I are traveling to the Netherlands this month. We will be visiting with family and friends, taking a short break in Paris, taking care of some business, and marveling at how much has changed since we were last in Holland (September 2008 – how time flies!). Hopefully we’ll be able to squeeze some birding in, as well, but I have a feeling blogging will be difficult. I have a few posts scheduled to run while I’m away, so this blog won’t drop off the radar completely during this mini-hiatus. I’ll be back with minty fresh blog posts in a few weeks! Until then, dear readers, please enjoy these last days of summer!

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July 22 banding notes

The sixth MAPS banding session at Rollins Savanna this season took place on Thursday, July 22. It was a bit birdier than last time, with several Common Yellowthroats, a pair of House Wrens, the first Eastern Phoebe of the season, a couple of Song Sparrows, one Field Sparrow, and one American Robin. It was a good, solid, somewhat routine day of banding. Again the skies threatened rain all morning, but this time it actually did rain eventually. Fortunately, we were able to keep the nets open long enough for a full MAPS session, although most station volunteers did end up drenched from taking the nets down.

Weighing a bird; photo by Janice Sweet

A House Wren pauses before leaving the banding area; photo by Janice Sweet

The seventh and final MAPS ‘regular season’ banding took place at Rollins Savanna on Thursday, August 5th.

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Fort Sheridan’s prairie

On Sunday we walked a newly-accessible prairie trail at Fort Sheridan with Lake-Cook Audubon. Part of the former army property is managed by the Lake County Forest Preserve District, and the land is deeded to become a golf course. Locally, there is some opposition to the development, which has been on the books for years. It’s a complicated issue, and I urge local readers to learn about what’s happening at Fort Sheridan. You can also send a comment to be added to the public record by sending an email to Following our walk yesterday, I also strongly urge local birders and naturalists to visit this property before it is too late.

About 70 people, split into 4 or 5 groups, joined the bird club on the walk.

Prairie Trail
A group of birders enjoy Fort Sheridan’s newly-opened prairie

The highlight of the morning was seeing at least 10 Red-headed Woodpeckers, both adults and juveniles – easily the most RHWOs I’ve ever seen in one place.

Red-headed Woodpecker
Red-headed Woodpeckers were everywhere!

We also had great looks at a pair of American Kestrels. They were hunting huge numbers of dragonflies and being dive-bombed by Barn Swallows – what a show!

Lake Michigan
Kestrels had this view of Lake Michigan from Fort Sheridan’s prairie

There were also screaming Red-tailed Hawks, fly-catching Eastern Kingbirds and Eastern Wood-Pewees, and plenty of grassland species like Bobolinks, Savannah Sparrows and Eastern Meadowlarks.

Eastern Meadowlark

The great birds, perfect company, sunny skies and break in the recent heat and humidity made it a fabulous morning out in the field!


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July 13 banding notes

The fifth MAPS banding session at Rollins Savanna this season took place on Tuesday, July 13. We had 12 people working at the station – the most ever. And we had a total of 9 birds – the fewest ever. I didn’t lay hands on any birds, although I took a fair amount of data down. There was a bit of excitement came from a juvenile Common Yellowthroat who proved difficult to identify. Otherwise, there was a lot of butterfly-watching and sitting around.

Examining the wing of the Common Yellowthroat, photo by Janice Sweet

Common Buckeye, photo by blogger

Tiger Swallowtail, photo by Janice Sweet

The next session was on 22 July – notes soon!

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July 2 MAPS banding highlights

The fourth MAPS banding session at Rollins Savanna this season took place on Friday, July 2. We could not have asked for better weather! It was clear and remained relatively cool all morning, only reaching into the upper 70s just as we were finishing up.

Rollins Savanna banding station, photo by Janice Sweet

Unfortunately, we could have asked for better numbers of birds. On several net runs we came up empty or had just one or two birds. Once a single net caught 7 Song Sparrows; the rest of the day was extremely slow.

Juvenile (left) and adult Song Sparrows, photo by Janice Sweet

Cedar Waxwing reads Pyle
Cedar Waxwing reads from the Pyle guide, photo by blogger

I banded two male American Robins and one male Common Yellowthroat. Other than that, I did a lot of sitting around that morning. It certainly was a lovely day for it. 🙂

Skulling an American Robin, photo by Janice Sweet

We did have the first Blue-gray Gnatcatcher of the season, but the rest of the birds were the usual suspects.

Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, photo by Janice Sweet

Black-capped Chickadee release, photo by Janice Sweet

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June 20 MAPS banding highlights

The third MAPS banding session at Rollins Savanna this season took place on Sunday, June 20th. Yet again skies threatened rain during the morning, and yet again we were lucky with no drops falling during the time the nets were up.

This time, the nets were slow as the day began. The second half of the morning was very busy and there were almost constant net-runs while some of us remained at the table to process the large amount of birds that were coming in.

I did a lot of paperwork and often left the banding to others. I banded just seven birds in total. When I visited the team last year I was amazed that some people were handling and examining the bird and also doing the paperwork themselves. During the busy moments of the morning, I learned that writing down your own data really isn’t too tough. For two of the birds I banded, a juvenile Orchard Oriole and a Song Sparrow, I also took the data down myself. Additionally I banded two Baltimore Orioles, a Cedar Waxwing, an Eastern Wood-Pewee and a juvenile Eastern Bluebird.

Eastern Wood-Pewee, photo by Janice Sweet

Click to enlarge Releasing a Cedar Waxwing, photos by Janice Sweet

We had a lot of Cedar Waxwings in the nets. Here’s one that someone else banded. Check out those wax tips in the second photo.

Cedar Waxwing
Cedar Waxwing in the hand, photo by blogger

Cedar Waxwing rear view, photo by Janice Sweet

We had a few more juvenile birds too, including this baby Northern Cardinal.

Juvenile Northern Cardinal, photo by blogger

One of the coolest birds we had was a female Brown-headed Cowbird who was obviously gravid – with egg! She was processed very quickly and sent on her way to do her deed!

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June 11 MAPS banding highlights

The second MAPS banding session at Rollins Savanna this season took place on Friday, June 11. Again we lucked out with the weather; rain was threatening for most of the morning but nothing came down until after the nets were put away.

This session was a bit more relaxed than the first time, with a higher ratio of banders to birds. I banded five birds: COYE [Common Yellowthroat]; AMRO [American Robin]; BRTH [Brown Thrasher]; TRES [Tree Swallow]; and SOSP [Song Sparrow]. Again Janice Sweet was taking photographs of the day’s activities, and I was delighted to find she had captured shots four of the five birds I banded!

Common Yellowthroat, photo by Janice Sweet

We band the birds on their right legs. Here you can see I am holding the bird and controlling the right leg as the pliers approach the leg with the band.

American Robin, photo by Janice Sweet

Brown Thrasher, photo by Janice Sweet

Tree Swallow, photo by Janice Sweet

Here’s an image of me transferring the Tree Swallow from the photographer’s hold to the bander’s hold. See my right index and middle fingers are spread apart, ready to hold the bird’s head and neck gently but firmly.

Tree Swallow, photo by Janice Sweet

By the way, you might notice I’m wearing the same shirt as last week – I Put Out For Birds. It got stained (ruined) the first week, so it’s now my banding shirt forevermore.

We had the first juveniles caught for the season: a WBNU [White-breasted Nuthatch] and a DOWO [Downy Woodpecker]. The DOWO was extremely cute, as you can see:

Baby Downy Woodpecker
Baby Downy Woodpecker, photo by blogger

Since it wasn’t too busy for most of the day, we had more time for photos. I managed to post a picture of the baby Downy Woodpecker to Facebook while in the field.

Shooting a Downy Woodpecker with an iPhone, photo by Janice Sweet

Late in the morning we were treated to a visit by a Great Spangled Fritillary, who posed on all sorts of objects on our banding table.

Great Spangled Fritillary, photo by Janice Sweet

Great Spangled Fritillary, photo by Janice Sweet

Finally, a Blue Jay provided comic relief when it held tightly onto some prized seeds while it was being processed. Those tasty seeds may have saved the bander from a bite or two.

Blue Jay bites seeds while being examined, photo by Janice Sweet

Blue Jay with seeds in beak, photo by Janice Sweet

Many thanks again to Janice Sweet for the use of her photos. The third session took place on June 20th — with highlights coming soon!

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More MAPS bird banding highlights

Shortly after we set up for the second banding session at Rollins Savanna last week, I was handed a CD full of photos from the first week. Janice Sweet took photos of the banding team all morning, and I requested permission to share some of them here on the blog. All of the following photos are from the May 31st session.

The first thing we do when processing a bird is to determine the species. For most birds this is not a problem. Although not all of the bird banders in our group are also birders, there are enough team members that can quickly and confidently identify the birds. When we catch an Empidonax flycatcher, ID can get a bit tricky.

After the bird is identified, a band is placed around the leg. The band sizes for each species are listed in the Pyle guide. For example, a band size of 2 or 3 is mentioned for the Blue Jay. Here the bands are being held up by the bird’s leg to determine the appropriate size for this individual.

Finding the right size band for a Blue Jay; photo by Janice Sweet

Next the band is carefully pulled apart using a special pair of pliers. The band is then transferred to the appropriately-sized hole in another special type of pliers to be placed onto the bird. Here are some photos of bands being applied.

Me banding an American Goldfinch; photo by Janice Sweet

Banding a Song Sparrow; photo by Janice Sweet

Me banding an American Robin; photo by Janice Sweet

Banding a Common Grackle; photo by Janice Sweet

Next we determine the sex and age of the bird. For sexually dichromatic species, like Northern Cardinals, Baltimore Orioles or American Goldfinches, determining sex is easy.

Me holding a male American Goldfinch; photo by Janice Sweet

For other species, we look for things like a brood patch or a cloacal protuberance to determine sex. To view these, we blow gently on the bird’s abdominal area to clear away feathers. You can see that the feathers of this Brown Thrasher are being blown up away from the body.

Thrasher belly check
Checking a Brown Thrasher for brood patch; photo by blogger

Without getting too technical, age is often determined by looking very closely at certain feathers. We also look at the level of bone growth in the skull, viewed by clearing away head feathers with a bit of water. Eye color, other plumage clues and even bill color are also used to help determine age.

Skulling an American Robin; photo by blogger

Next, more measurements may be taken, including wing length, feather wear, feather molt, and fat level.

Measuring wing length of a Common Grackle; photo by Janice Sweet

Examining a Red-winged Blackbird’s wing; photo by Janice Sweet

Throughout the entire process, the safety of the bird is foremost in our minds. Part of this is keeping a firm but gentle grip on the bird during the procedure, and processing the bird quickly for a timely release.

Blue Jay; photo by Janice Sweet

Red-winged Blackbird; photo by Janice Swee

Field Sparrow; photo by Janice Sweet

My heartfelt thanks to Janice Sweet for allowing the use of her photos. Thanks, too, to the rest of the team. I am learning so much and having a lot of fun! Our second session was on June 11, and our third is planned for June 20. I will have more to share about these soon!

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Birds, art at Ryerson Woods

Last Wednesday I joined the Lake-Cook Audubon walk at Ryerson Woods. Ryerson is a hot local birding spot, named recently in Birder’s World magazine as a top location for watching warblers. Leading the walk was Nan Buckhardt, The Lake County Forest Preserves’ Environmental Education Manager. As we began the walk, she mentioned that the trees and other area vegetation are one to two weeks ahead of their normal schedule, due to warm weather we had in early April. Over several nights it did not dip lower than 50°F, which triggered the plants to start doing their spring thing. That means warbler-watching will be extra tough in the coming weeks.

A trail at Ryerson, a bit too green for the time of year

Unfortunately the morning’s walk was rather quiet, having come just days before a huge south wind brought up migrants by the truckload. We did have nice looks at a Swamp Sparrow and Wood Ducks in a tree; a male Eastern Bluebird shone brightly in the sunshine for everyone. A few lucky birders also got to see a lone Black-throated Green Warbler, but I missed it.

Illinois listserv reports from Ryerson in the following days named many more migrants than we. For the morning I saw 25 species, including a few I picked up on another go round the trails after the group walk. My morning’s highlight was a close encounter with a deer, who crossed the trail towards the river right in front of me.

Later, when the Brushwood building at Ryerson opened up, I finally got to see an art exhibit I’d been wanting to see for several months. AVIARY, Artists’ Passion for Birds ran at Brushwood from March 7 through April 28 (I was JUST in time). There was a nice mix of bird art, from photos to paintings to sculptures, tastefully arranged in the small multi-room space.

The art joined permanent fixtures at Brushwood, which includes several Audubon prints and a great collection of 20 small bird dioramas. The dioramas are part of a larger collection of 900 bird displays, most of which are housed at the Field Museum.

I was surprised to learn that members of the public as well as educators could borrow the dioramas as part of the Harris Educational Loan Program. I wonder how often they are loaned out, and I wonder how often it is done by a non-educator.

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Posted in Lake-Cook Audubon, LCFPD | 1 Comment