Category Archives: Illinois

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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Back home

In May I paid a short visit to my parents and spent some time relaxing in their suburban Chicagoland back yard, observing their winged visitors.

American Robin
American Robin post bath | 20-MAY-13

Blue Jay
Blue Jay | 18-MAY-13

Common Grackle
Common Grackle | 20-MAY-13

Red-winged Blackbird
Red-winged Blackbird | 18-MAY-13

Red-bellied Woodpecker
Red-bellied Woodpecker | 18-MAY-13

I was delighted to see a Gray Catbird visiting the grape jelly feeders. I think this was my first sighting of this species in their yard.

Gray Catbird
Gray Catbird | 19-MAY-13

The number of orioles visiting the grape jelly and oranges on offer was ridiculous. An embarrassment of orioles. Also, really good plumage study opportunities.

Baltimore Oriole 5
Baltimore Oriole | 18-MAY-13

Baltimore Oriole 2
Baltimore Oriole | 18-MAY-13

Baltimore Oriole 1
Baltimore Oriole | 18-MAY-13

Baltimore Oriole 3
Baltimore Oriole | 18-MAY-13

Baltimore Oriole 6
Baltimore Oriole | 19-MAY-13

Baltimore Oriole 7
Baltimore Oriole | 20-MAY-13

My dad made the grape jelly feeders from rejected Sweet Tomatoes ice cream bowls. He noted that some of the orioles would perch on the bowl, while others would stand next to it and stretch their neck to reach the jelly. Maybe the bird’s position depended on the volume of jelly in the bowl? This individual had a half-half wide stance.

Baltimore Oriole 4
Baltimore Oriole | 18-MAY-13

One afternoon I watched an Orchard Oriole poking its head into probably hundreds of blossoms on a very large apple tree. I observed the bird on and off over the course of about six hours. That’s one busy oriole. He left no blossom left unsucked!

Orchard Oriole
Orchard Oriole | 18-MAY-13

A while back Arthur and I gave my dad a peek-a-boo birdhouse that has a plexiglass-protected hinged side for nest vieiwing. The idea is that observers can lift open up the wooden outside panel and quickly view the inside with minimal disturbance to the birds. My dad isn’t interested in disturbing the birds at all. I appreciate that, but I just couldn’t resist taking a peek during my visit. I looked once early on my week-long visit, and once more just before I left. Both times I found a Black-capped Chickadee sitting on eggs. In this very quickly-snapped photo you can see the tail feathers of the incubating adult pressed against the plexiglass wall. To the right you can see her beak as she turns her head to the side. Look at the soft moss bed that makes up the base of the nest.

Black-capped Chickadee nest
Black-capped Chickadee on nest | 16-MAY-13

During all of this bird-watching I had to contend with the overpowering odor emanating from a blooming lilac bush. It was tough, let me tell you.

stinky lilac

Soon Arthur and I will head north to visit my parents once more. I think I’ll see many of the same birds this summer as I saw during late spring, but believe it or not, migration is underway (it kind of always is, actually).

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A B-A-D ending!

On April 10th, the 100th day of the year, I figured I had 23 “easy” birds left in the Bird-a-Day challenge. And with birding prospects bleak (house guests coming, a move to complete and new home to work on), I wondered if I would even make it that far.

Since the number of expected possible birds was relatively small, I used that handy prognosis list as the days wore on.

Birds #101-110, April 11-20

Nine of these were on my prognosis list. The one unforeseen species was a Least Tern. At least one LETE was seen at Ponce Inlet during a trip there with Arthur and my friend Kim who was visiting from Illinois. That left just 14 gimmes from the prognosis list. Lasting until May 23rd, to at least match my 2012 performance, seemed unlikely.

Common Gallinule
Common Gallinule | 17-APR-13

Birds #111-120, April 21-30

I lucked out here; half of this bunch weren’t on the ‘easy’ list, even though a couple of them kind of were easy. When we went to Kennedy Space Center with Arthur’s parents on the 28th, I knew before we even left the house that my bird would be Laughing Gull. I always can count on finding a Mallard at Disney, so it isn’t so remarkable that it was my bird when we visited Animal Kingdom. A pair of unexpected Spotted Sandpipers at Audubon Park was a great bonus. And I was extremely excited to finally, finally get my FOY Limpkin on April 24th (!!). Finally, during a visit to Merritt Island with Kim, a marathon birding-by-car excursion yielded a very welcome Peregrine Falcon. With just five ‘easy’ birds used, I still had nine left. Could I make it another 23 days?

Laughing Gull
Laughing Gull | 28-APR-13

Birds #121-130, May 1-10

Another ten days, and another five “unexpected” birds. On a couple of day trips with my in-laws I managed to pick up Sandwich Tern and Royal Tern. An evening at Downtown Disney brought a flyover peenting Common Nighthawk, and a very quick visit to Mead Garden after a volunteer shift got me Northern Waterthrush. I also used Muscovy Duck in this group but I should have included it in the ‘easy’ list. That’s a given at Gemini Springs lately, unfortunately.

Barred Owls
Barred Owls | 03-MAY-13

It was during this period that I booked a flight for a quick trip up to visit my parents in northern Illinois for May 16-21. I had four easy birds left before my flight… four days later. Yikes.

Florida Scrub-Jay
Florida Scrub-Jay | 05-MAY-13

Birds #131-140, May 11-20

Right off the bat I used a super-easy gimme: Red-shouldered Hawk. On May 12th Arthur and I took a walk at Lake Woodruff NWR and I heard a Clapper Rail which was the best bird of the day — even though I got my first Florida Bobolinks on the same walk. This was followed by the super-easy Boat-tailed Grackle and then a totally unexpected Caspian Tern flyby at Lake Monroe Boat Ramp. I had driven to the ramp to look for Barn Swallows but after the tern I didn’t mind missing them.

I had thought to go to Lyonia Preserve on the 15th to look for, or rather listen for, Northern Bobwhites. I had second thoughts and ended up going to my trusty patch, Gemini Springs, hoping that something good might turn up there. As I was wrapping up a pleasant but unremarkable walk, I heard a Northern Bobwhite calling from a part of the park I would not expect to find them. The bird called twice more so I could confidently call the ID. All hail the patch, long live patch birding!! ๐Ÿ™‚

On May 16th I flew to Chicago and for the next six days I had easy pickings for the challenge. Birds I wouldn’t expect to see in Volusia County made the list: White-crowned Sparrow; Mourning Warbler (lifer!!); Olive-sided Flycatcher; and Black-capped Chickadee were joined by Yellow Warbler. That last bird isn’t unexpected in Volusia but I missed them during spring migration. Plus I got a nice picture, so…

Yellow Warbler
Yellow Warbler | 19-MAY-13

After this group of ten birds I had one more day in Illinois and three days total to reach my target of May 23.

Birds #141-143, May 21-23

A Swainson’s Thrush in my parents’ back yard on my last day in Illinois was a good find. On May 22nd I again drove to Lake Monroe Boat Ramp to look for Barn Swallows. Again I struck out on my target, but a totally unexpected pair of Black-bellied Whistling Ducks saved the day — they flew by just as I was about to leave. My FOY BBWD too! On May 23rd I tried one last time to find Barn Swallows at the boat ramp, and struck out for the third and final time. I was happy to have made it as far as I did — after all, I had gimme Osprey left, and it was May 23rd. I used the same last bird from 2012 for this year’s challenge, on the same date. I never thought I would make it so far, so I was actually well pleased. That is, until I realized that last year was a leap year. So I was out of the game on the same date, but one day short of last year’s final. Yeah, that stings.


I am not yet sure if I will try again next year. In April I will (if all goes to plan) be spending 8 days at sea on a transatlantic voyage from Miami to Barcelona. I doubt I will be able to find birds each day during the crossing, so that may be a good excuse to forgo the challenge next year. We shall see! Meanwhile, tomorrow is June 1st and that means a new challenge awaits!

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Chilly Cooper’s Hawk noms

My parents had a back yard treat last month — a Cooper’s Hawk having lunch in the snow.

Cooper's Hawk
Cooper’s Hawk with prey, 27-FEB-13 | Chicago area, IL | photo by Mary Evenstad

Look at how the Mourning Doves on the left side of the below photo aren’t bothered at all (actually I would guess they are totally oblivious) as the Cooper’s Hawk eats away on the other side of the yard.

Cooper's Hawk and Morning Doves have lunch
Cooper’s Hawk and Mourning Doves, 27-FEB-13 | Chicago area, IL | photo by Mary Evenstad

I think the prey item is a Hairy or Downy Woodpecker based on the striping on the plucked feathers. It’s not a Mourning Dove… maybe that’s why the other doves didn’t head for the hills? Here’s a short video of the Cooper’s Hawk with its lunch.

Cooper’s Hawk with lunch, 27-FEB-13 | Chicago area, IL | video by Mary Evenstad

Thanks, Mom!!

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Favorite Photos from 2012

Here are some of my favorite photos taken over the course of 2012, in random order. Click on image to see details and view larger on

Black-crowned Night Heron

Laughing Gull
Laughing Gull

baby Red-shouldered Hawks
Baby Red-shouldered Hawks

Double-crested Cormorants
Double-crested Cormorants

Sedge Wren
Sedge Wren

Indigo Bunting
Indigo Bunting

Green-winged Macaw
Green-winged Macaw (captive)

Barred Owl
Barred Owl

Red-headed Woodpecker
Red-headed Woodpecker

Great Crested Flycatcher
Great Crested Flycatcher

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The Field Museum’s newly refurbished Hall of Birds

The Field Museum’s fabulous Gidwitz Hall of Birds reopened after a long refurbishment back in September. I visited in October with my family. This was just about three years after our previous visit, and the exhibit looked fantastic.

seabirds with wall projection behind

birds & projection


Paradise Tanager
Paradise Tanager

world raptors
vultures, kites and falcons of the world


The birds were all cleaned up, and the exhibit was modernized with interesting wall projections, interactive screens, and a great short video about birdwatching, featuring local birders and some birding celebrities.


American eagles
Golden Eagle & Bald Eagle

world birds
waders and Andean Condor

owls; notice Snowy Owl skeleton at bottom center

Bird of Paradise
Birds of Paradise displaying

wall projection

new touch screen
new touch screen

video screen shot

A Passion For Birds video from The Field Museum

The birds all looked great, but it’s always more interesting to see them in a natural kind of pose or surrounded by the type of environment you’d expect to find them.

Chimney Swift nest
Chimney Swift nest

Horned Lark at nest
Horned Lark at nest

Piping Plover nest
Piping Plover nest

rest & reflect
benches at the end of the exhibit

The Field is a spectacular museum with a lot of interesting exhibits, but we usually linger in the bird hall the longest. It’s always great to see Sue, too.


Yep, everything about the Field is outstanding!

no comment!

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Just over the border (county birder blues)

On October 19th, while Arthur and I were visiting my parents in northern Illinois, a Scissor-tailed Flycatcher was reported at the Willow Hill Golf Course in Northbrook. As this was just about 30 minutes from my parents house, we hopped in the car and headed out for the bird, which would be a lifer for us both. The bird proved easy to find, and though the sun was close to setting, I managed to take a record shot.

just an eBird record shot

I had set a little goal to try to find 100 species of bird in Lake County for the year. I had gotten to 83 in May and by October 19 I still needed two more birds. As we set off for the Northbrook flycatcher, I had it in my mind that I’d be adding not only a lifer, but a county bird, too. Northbrook borders Lake County but as we drove across Lake-Cook Road on our way to the golf course I realized the flycatcher was firmly in Cook County. Three miles firmly. A crazy county-birder thought, yes, but I was a little bummed as we crossed into Cook.

We returned home at the end of October, and on November 2nd I was happy to learn that a Scissor-tailed Flycatcher was seen in a Volusia County portion of Merritt Island NWR. Arthur and I headed out late in the afternoon the next day. We didn’t know exactly where to go but thanks to some help from a pair of extremely nice birders who were on the same twitch, we were able to see the flycatcher. Again it was late in the day and the light was poor, but I managed a record shot.

just an eBird record shot

I had been using BirdLog to enter my bird sightings as we walked from the parking area to the spot where the flycatcher was seen. In the end my list had 21 species on it. I asked Arthur to mark the spot where we saw the flycatcher using his iPhone map. ARGH!! I had to split my eBird list. Twenty for Volusia. The flycatcher was .4 miles over the border, in Brevard. Bummer x2.

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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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Caching In Plain Sight

We don’t have any back yard nuthatches at our home here in DeBary, Florida. I sure wish we did, because they are so much fun to watch! Boogieing up and down trees, calling out like little squeeze toys, zipping around the yard…

Last month, while visiting my parents in northern Illinois, I thoroughly enjoyed checking out their feeder birds, which included a group of at least three White-breasted Nuthatches. One bird in particular was busy caching sunflower seeds. Often it would grab a seed and fly out of the yard to caches unknown. But a few times it worked on sticking seeds into a nearby stretch of old wooden fence. It was a lot of fun to watch this bird grab seeds

Ghost of White-breasted Nuthatch
The ghost of White-breasted Nuthatch strikes again

and fly the short distance to the fence at the back of the yard, seeking the best possible location to stash its precious seed.

Where shall I cache my seed?

If the seed fits...

Put my seed between them? Are you crazy?

Once the perfect spot was found, the nuthatch had to cram the seed in place. Sometimes this required minor body contortions.

Perfect crevice

More leverage

After caching several seeds in the fence, the nuthatch tried out a new spot. Pressing a hard seed into gnarly bark was a much quicker affair.

Good caching spot?

Classic pose

Brown-headed Nuthatches are the only nuthatch species we usually expect to find here in central Florida. This fall, great numbers of Red-breasted Nuthatches have been moving south. This afternoon, a Florida birder reported seeing one in my county (Volusia). I hope to add a second nuthatch species to my county list very, very soon.

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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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