Category Archives: North America

Birds of the Field Museum

On September 26th we visited the Field Museum in Chicago to attend a free lecture given by the author of The Curse of the Labrador Duck. As a gift to the birding community, early registrants of the lecture were allowed free admission to the museum for the day, so we took the day off and arrived early for our first visit to the Field in several years.

Stanley Field Hall
The Stanley Field Hall at the Field Museum. You can see Sue in the foreground.

We spent most of our time on the lower level, visiting several of the outstanding wild animal and bird displays, including Bird Habitats, World of Birds, Nature Walk and North American Birds. Here are some of my favorites from the day.

Several large displays showed world birds in native habitat. Since I’ve got a thing for birds that build weaver-type nests, I especially enjoyed seeing the Village Weaver display. From the accompanying text: “This weaver-bird gets its name from its habit of nesting near native villages. Its own colonies or “villages” sometimes contain 100 nests.”

Village Weaver
Village Weavers

The Montezuma Oropendulas became my new favorites. What a wonderfully-named bird! From the accompanying text: “In common with many related species, Oropendulas breed in compact colonies. The carefully woven nests of grass are destroyed and entirely re-built each year. Oropendulas are inveterate thieves. Even the birds of a single colony must guard against robbery of nesting material by their neighbors.” Cheeky.

Montezuma Oropendula
Montezuma Oropendulas

There were also smaller cases showing other bird species in their (sometimes former) habitat.

Golden Eagle
A Golden Eagle brings prey back to the nest

Flamingos tend to their young on impressive mound nests

Passenger Pigeons
Passenger Pigeons. There’s a photo in of a huge flock of these once-abundant birds in the background.

The Field also has cases and cases showing birds of the world as well as a huge selection of the birds found in North America.

>Birds of the World at the Field Museum
Birds of the World displays

Birds of the World
Birds of the World display, including kingfishers, hornbills and hoopoes

Birds of the World
Birds of the World, including a Horned Guan

North American Birds at the Field Museum
North American Birds displays

Woodpecker display case
Acorn Woodpeckers on display

A mirror is mounted on the back of the case to show all sides of the Flicker’s plumage

This display, Variation is the rule in nature, presented several different study skins of the same bird species to show how birds vary depending on factors including geography. The bottom of the display holds 12 different subspecies of Song Sparrow. Downy Woodpeckers, Towhees and Canada Warblers are also used. An accompanying informational sign explained study skins: “Birds used in this exhibit are made into study skins. These study skins, in which the head is in line with the body, wings folded, and feet crossed, are conventional for museum study. The method permits easy filing of specimens, available for study. The label, tied to each specimen, is very important. On it should be written the place and date of collecting and other available data.”

Bird variations
Variation is the rule in nature

Notice the white throats of these Towhees

Variation is the rule in nature

After visiting the bird and wild animal galleries, we enjoyed Glen Chilton’s Labrador Duck lecture and got our copy of his book signed. It was a great day out at the Field Museum!

Share the birds, share the love!
Posted in Illinois, Museum | 1 Comment

Foggy morning @ IBSP

Last weekend the Illinois Audubon Fall Gathering was hosted by our local Lake-Cook Chapter. Unfortunately (or not, depending on how you look at it!) we joined late in the birding season last spring and were not at all involved in the planning, which was absolute perfection. We were embarrassed to have been praised on the organization by birders from other chapters who read our name tags. I only wish we could have taken credit, because the Lake-Cook chapter really rocked it.

For our first field trip Saturday morning we arrived at Illinois Beach State Park, which was covered in fog. From the Hawk Watch pavilion we looked out over the meadow before our morning walk started.

foggy meadow

Our walk on the north side of the state park was not too birdy, but the fog did lift and we did have a pleasant stroll.

Path at Illinois Beach State Park


Clear sky

We returned to visit the hawk watchers at their pavilion. The fields were no longer foggy.


The IBSP Hawk Watch is lucky to have a large pavillion they use during the season, which provides shelter from rain, snow or sun.


We visited for a bit before it was time to head out to our afternoon appointment — with lunch taken on the run!

Share the birds, share the love!
Posted in Illinois, Illinois Audubon, Lake-Cook Audubon | 1 Comment

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

Share the birds, share the love!
Posted in Festivals & Events, Florida, Gambia, India | 5 Comments


Last Sunday we rented a canoe for some paddling at Chain O’ Lakes State Park. It was a beautiful morning and an easy paddle.

Chain O Lakes State Park

One of the highlights was seeing large groups of swallows hunting for bugs over the still water and congregating on snags along the shore.

Swallows on a snag

Lots of swallows

Big bunch of swallows

Among them was a very light bird, a possible leucistic Tree Swallow. Leucism (sometimes incorrectly called partial-albinism) is a condition characterized by reduced pigmentation. I’ve never seen a leucistic swallow before, but they’re definitely out there.

Leucistic Tree Swallow?

Leucistic Tree Swallow on snag

Have you ever seen a leucistic bird?

* The original title I wanted to use for this post is apparently the name of a porn movie. That’s some traffic I don’t need on this blog. Hirundididae is the Latin name for the Swallow family of birds. 😉

Share the birds, share the love!
Posted in Illinois | 1 Comment

Peering poorly at peeps

Last week we visited Horicon Marsh. First we drove down Dike Road, which was busy with birders looking for shorebirds.

View of Dike Road

View From Dike Road, Horicon Marsh

We lucked out when a fellow birder pointed out a distant Black-necked Stilt which we could view through our scope. We also flushed a Black-crowned Night-heron and got great looks at the bird in flight. Besides these we saw lots of American Pelicans and several, uh, peeps. Shorebird newbies are we. I’m pretty sure this is a Lesser Yellowlegs.

Lesser Yellowlegs

Dike Road ends (for visitors, anyway) at Main Ditch. We parked by the fishing pier and relaxed a while, enjoying the view.

Main Ditch along Dike Road

We then drove on the northern part of the marsh to the Horicon Ternpike auto tour. Along the way we saw these young Hooded Mergansers in a pond.

Hooded Merganser Babies

We took a short walk along the boardwalk trail about halfway through the auto tour. Here we saw lots of swallows and Black Terns, including the juvenile pictured below, who was crying for attention.

Boardwalk trail on the Horicon Ternpike

Black Tern Juvenile

It was a great morning out at the marsh and we’re looking forward to visiting again in the fall to view migrating waterfowl.

Share the birds, share the love!
Posted in Wisconsin | Leave a comment

Trash birds in trouble

I read an article earlier this week about the European Starling’s decline in the Netherlands. The number of starlings has been in decline there since the 1990’s. Unsurprisingly, the reason is habitat destruction.

The House Sparrow has also been suffering population loss in Europe due to habitat loss; there is a program to stimulate House Sparrow populations in the Netherlands and studies in Britain over the decline of the House Sparrow (and how about that nice logo?!). logo by Birdorable

The fact is that while these birds might be in trouble in Europe, where they are native species, starlings and House Sparrows are pests here in the United States. Non-native sparrows use up nest boxes and deny native cavity-nesting birds suitable habitat. A letter in the current issue of Bird Watcher’s Digest urges anyone who does not “have the heart to remove house sparrows’ [nests …] to take down the nest box. The house sparrows will find another place to nest, and you’ll give our native cavity-nesting birds a fighting chance to compete for survival.”

I find the problems the House Sparrows are both suffering (over there) and causing (right here) interesting. Having lived on their native continent for nearly a decade and knowing they are in serious trouble there I doubt I would have the heart to remove one of their nests (it’s a good thing I don’t have any nest boxes to look after) – even though I understand the serious threat they pose to native birds here.

I wonder what the reaction would be if a declining American bird was treated as a pest in another part of the world. Earlier this year (on April 1st, actually) a joke-rumor was spread on the internet that a population of Carolina Parakeets was found living in Honduras. What if the parakeet story were true but that Honduran farmers considered the fruit-eating birds to be a pest and were destroying their nests? Okay, this is a really bad example, because the House Sparrow is not in such dire straits in Europe (at this time). It’s just something I’ve been thinking about lately – every time I hear sparrows and starlings referred to as ‘trash birds.’

Share the birds, share the love!
Posted in Endangered, Netherlands, North America | 1 Comment

Cattle Egrets gathering nest material

The shuttle Endeavor finally launched mission STS-127 yesterday, and we weren’t there to see it. We’ll try again with another of the remaining 7 shuttle launches – we really want to see one! On that note I found one last video from the trip last month to share with you. At Viera Wetlands we watched this group of Cattle Egrets gather branches from a dead tree to use as nesting material. The egrets would work at the dead branches and once they had one they were satisfied with, they would fly over the road to a large heronry.

When we first noticed this behavior, we stopped the car to watch them. Unfortunately this spooked the birds – but they were on a mission! They just moved to the nest dead tree down the road. When we slowly approached on foot they did not seem to mind as much, but we still kept our distance. It was fun to watch them!

Share the birds, share the love!
Posted in Florida, Travel, Video, Viera Wetlands | 1 Comment

Random videos from Rollins Savanna

When we visited Rollins last Friday it was overcast and threatening rain the entire time. Luckily we finished the loop trail just as the drizzle turned into full-on rain. Along the way we spotted these two young Eastern Kingbirds calling to their parents.

Later we saw this Mallard female leading eight ducklings through the overgrown stream.

This Sedge Wren teased us in the field. We were unsure of the ID until we came home and could compare the song.

Share the birds, share the love!
Posted in Illinois, LCFPD, Video | 1 Comment

Chasing blogged buntings

Waterfall Glen is a DuPage County Forest Preserve, located southwest of Chicago and about 90 minutes driving from our home in the northern suburbs. We visited this odd-shaped preserve today after reading Owlman’s post about his recent visit. Go read his post Indigo bunting oasis! to find out why we were so intrigued (and to view better photos than below!).

Prior to reading Owlman’s post, I had never heard of Waterfall Glen. I had, however, heard of Argonne National Laboratory. The forest preserve property surrounds the lab’s property, making the preserve doughnut-shaped. Argonne is a U.S. Dept of Energy research facility focused on national security, energy and biological & environmental systems.

The main trail at Waterfall Glen is a nearly ten-mile loop. There are several parking areas around the preserve and smaller looping trails are available. We walked about 3.5 miles on the northwest side of the park, taking the Tear-Thumb trail shortcut from the main trailhead parking lot.

First, as expected, we were eaten alive on the grass path.

Waterfall Glen trail

The gravel main trail was much better – no mosquitoes but plenty of birds and other creatures.

Waterfall Glen main trail

Grey Catbird

The main trail was virtually crawling with these slugs and tiny thumbnail-sized frogs.

Slug at Waterfall Glen FP

Tiny Frog

And we also saw & heard Indigo Buntings, yes! Unfortunately most of our views were like this:


After this little hike we drove to another area of the park to see the waterfall.

Waterfall Glenn FP

Waterfall Glen FP

Waterfall Glen FP

We had a lovely morning there and will surely visit this preserve again. Many thanks to Owlman!

Share the birds, share the love!
Posted in Illinois | 1 Comment