On Sunday morning we had the extreme pleasure to join experienced birder Jim Solum for the Early Spring Migrants program by the Lake County Forest Preserve District. To our surprise, we were the only participants, which meant that we had a private birding guide for the morning – awesome!
We met Jim at Spring Bluff Forest Preserve where we walked down a closed service road to look for birds. Right away we saw Northern Shoveler and Blue-winged Teal in the water through Jim’s scope. Soon an Eastern Meadowlark landed in a nearby tree for great looks. Song Sparrows were back and everywhere. During our walk (also by the lake at North Point Marina) we had Common Snipe, Wood Ducks, Northern Pintail and several Sandhill Cranes flying over.
Since we’re new to the area (sort of – I wasn’t really birding much before I moved to Holland) it was great to be able to ask Jim some basic questions – like when certain migrants can be expected to return, where we can see birds like Yellow-headed Blackbirds, and do Common Loons breed here (because they’re being reported everywhere! They are just passing through on their way to more northerly breeding grounds).
After the walk, we left Jim and had a short walk around the marina and then on a trail in another part of Spring Bluff. Besides lots of Song Sparrows and Red-winged Blackbirds, we saw Bufflehead and one Horned Grebe. Not nearly as many birds as we saw with our guide! 😉
We also saw this a cute black squirrel. We don’t see them too often so it was a treat.
A Ring-billed Gull snacked on a crab along the path.
We saw our first Brown-headed Cowbirds of the season.
Red-winged Blackbirds were everywhere, showing off for the ladies and staking out territory.
The lake was full of waterfowl. You can see American Coots, Redheads, and Common Goldeneye in this photo.
We even saw a Red-winged Blackbird dive-bombing a Red-tailed Hawk.
The last time we went to Independence Grove was on New Year’s Day and it was well below freezing. We barely lasted 10 minutes outside before we ran back to the comfort of the car. Today’s weather was muuuuuch better! 🙂
Nippersink is a 309 acre park with two lakes, woods, wetlands and marshes. Here’s a view we had from the main trail that circles the park.
It was very cold with a biting wind. We couldn’t feel our faces for much of the walk.
Here Arthur’s smiling but you can hardly tell since he’s so bundled up.
And that’s me, bundled up on the boardwalk.
The sun was shining brightly through the bare trees. In just a few weeks the trees will start to be green again.
While walking, we saw few birds. A pair of crows called from across the park. Some juncos foraged in the foliage. And we saw a little brown furball busy at the water’s edge in one of the few places that wasn’t frozen over: a muskrat!
I took this little video when we were a safe distance away. You might want to turn down the audio as the wind was howling:
Flint Creek Wildlife Rehabilitation, a private nonprofit rehab organization in the Chicagoland area, is in trouble. The group has three locations, in Itasca, Barrington and Chicago (Northerly Island), and in the past six month they have suffered through three floods at two locations. The Northerly Island location suffered a burst pipe on January 17th, ruining the center’s flooring.
Since September, flooding twice forced [founder Dawn] Keller and her all-volunteer crew at Flint Creek Wildlife Rehabilitation in Itasca to evacuate 43 birds from outside cages. Then last month, while Keller was still figuring out where she was going to get $15,000 to replace damaged bird habitats, Flint Creek’s bird emergency room at Northerly Island in Chicago flooded.
Repairs to the ER will cost more than $8,000, and Keller fears they won’t be finished in time for the start of migratory bird season. And as the weather thaws, mildew will start to turn the ER into a veritable bacteria farm, she said.
Paintings by artist David Kroll will be on display at the Zolla-Lieberman Gallery until 28 February. The art gallery is at 325 W. Huron in Chicago.
The artist, on his paintings:
Our world has been touched and tended and tamed to such a degree that it often seems we’ve wrested the wild out of the wilderness. As a species, we mistakenly believed that our survival hinged on refining and degrading nature, but it is becoming ever clearer that our actions have led to an increasingly precarious habitat for all living creatures – humans included. As the fragility of nature becomes more apparent, so does its value. My paintings explore the natural world not as an expendable resource but as a past home, once left and forgotten, now longed for and dreamlike.
The works shown on the gallery website look like an interesting mix between still-life and landscape images with birds and nests. My favorite one is Swallows and Grapes.
A new permanent exhibit called “Birds of Chicago” opened at The Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum last Friday. The Nature Museum is located in Chicago at 2430 North Cannon Drive.
Learn about birds native to Illinois, with nearly 100 specimens on display that date back to the early 1900s. The birds range in age, size, color and rarity, showcasing everything from the large Midwest turkey and the common blue jay to the endangered prairie chicken. Touch screen kiosks provide visitors with additional information on the birds.
Starved Rock is in Utica, about 75 miles southwest of Chicago. The park is named for a legend that tells of a band of Illiniwek starving to death after fleeing to the top of the flattopped rock cliff and being trapped by rival Potawatomi and Ottawa tribes.
Starved Rock is about 2630 acres in size and is a great place for camping, hiking and boating. During winter the park is home to hundreds of Bald Eagles.
We arrived at the Illinois Waterway Visitor Center at about 9am and joined other Bald Eagle watchers on the viewing area. Several Audubon Society members offered use of their scopes to get an up-close look at the Bald Eagles perched on trees on Leopold and Plum Islands.
Besides the many perching eagles, dozens of juvenile and adult birds were flying and hunting over the Illinois River at the Starved Rock Lock & Dam.
Bald Eagles were on the brink of extinction in the lower 48 in the early 1970’s. The banning of DDT and additional federal protection has helped the species recover to a status of Least Concern today.
Our next stop was Starved Rock Lodge, where several vendors and bird organizations had tables explaining their causes. We spoke with the International Crane Foundation representative. They are not too far away in south central Wisconsin so I’m sure we’ll pay them a visit soon.
At noon we attended the Raptor Awareness Program by the World Bird Sanctuary of St. Louis. Two handlers showed us several different birds of prey while telling us about each species.
The first bird was a Harris Hawk. We recently made a Birdorable Harris Hawk so we had read about them. These birds live in the desert. Since perches (often cactus) are sparse in the desert, Harris Hawks will stand on top of one another when there is no other available perch. I would love to see this! The program’s Harris Hawk flew low across the audience several times which was fun to see.
Other birds in the program were Turkey Vulture, Barn Owl, American Kestrel, Great Horned Owl (who gave us some great hoots), Bataleur, and Bald Eagle. The American Kestrel also flew during the demonstration. The Barn Owl should have flown over the audience but got a piece of meat skewered on the beak after the first leg and flew no more.
Check out these powerful Bald Eagle talons.
The last bird of the demonstration was no raptor. One of the sanctuary’s White-necked Ravens came out and accepted donations from the audience.
After the program we looked down at the Illinois River valley from the Lodge. A Red-shouldered Hawk was perched on one of the Lodge’s trees in the viewing area.
Next we went back to the Illinois Waterway Visitor Center to attend the 2pm Live Eagle Program by the Illinois Raptor Education Center. This program was a bit smaller scale and took place in the basement of the Visitor Center. Here we were shown five birds: Turkey Vulture; Red-tailed Hawk; Golden Eagle; Bald Eagle; and Great Horned Owl.
The Bald Eagle was just 4 years old and didn’t have its full white head yet.
We had a great time at the Eagle Watch at Starved Rock and I’m sure we’ll attend more such events in the future.
The Illinois Endangered Species Protection Board will have a public hearing in Springfield on January 23rd at 12:00pm. The purpose of the meeting is to take public comments on proposed changes to the Illinois List of Threatened and Endangered Species.
Several changes are proposed, including removing three bird species from threatened status: Bald Eagle; Henslow’s Sparrow and Sandhill Crane.
Participants must register if they would like to make a statement. More information, including registration instructions and a full list of proposed changes, can be found here.
Today we visited Jarvis Migratory Bird Sanctuary in Lincoln Park. I read on the local listserv that a Great Horned Owl has been sighted there the last few days so we went to look for it. Unfortunately we came up empty. Came home and read another note on the listserv that the GHO was still there and easy to spot. Grr.
We did see at least three furbirds of unknown variety, holed up in trees (literally). Here’s one of them.
Jarvis is an 8 acre area close to the lakefront that is protected by an 8 foot perimeter fence.
Visitors may not enter but there is a path around the sanctuary and an observation platform on the east side.
Around the sanctuary we did see a couple of Hooded Mergansers in the lake, like this lovely lady.
We also spotted a few pigeons huddling against the cold. It was about 25F. There was a bit of a breeze but the sun was shining.
Jarvis is a stop on the 20-mile-long Chicago Lakefront Birding Trail.
Yesterday we participated as Team Birdorable in the 14th annual Big Sit birding event. The Big Sit involves observing as many different bird species as possible while remaining basically in the same place. Big Sit participants find a good birding spot and remain within a 17 foot diameter circle during the event.
We are lucky enough to live within walking distance of a county preserve: Prairie Wolf Slough in Lake County, Illinois.
Prairie Wolf Slough in Lake County, Illinois
Our view of the slough from our Big Sit circle
Amy looks for birds during the Big Sit
Arthur explores the slough outside our Big Sit circle
We arrived at our ‘circle’, a picnic table, shortly before sunrise. Our first bird was a Mallard flying over, and then the first of many flocks of Canada Geese leaving the slough for the day. Other flyovers included Herring Gull, American Crow, Great Egret and Great Blue Heron. American Goldfinches and Red-winged Blackbirds were the most abundant species.
Canada Geese leave the slough for the day
An American Goldfinch snacks on seeds
A White-crowned Sparrow poses for the camera
Our total species count was 16, nowhere near fellow Illinois Big Sitters Birdfreak’s impressive total of 42. We had a lot of fun during our first Big Sit and we are looking forward to participating again next year!