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!

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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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Eagle Dancer Bear

Back in early October, Arthur and I passed through Cherokee, North Carolina, on our way to Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Throughout the town there are life-size statues of bears.

Eagle Dancer Bear

There are 25 statues in the Bears Project. Each fiberglass black bear statue has been individualized by an artist from the Eastern Band of Cherokee. The designs tell a story; this wonderful blog post showcases many of them.

Eagle Dancer Bear

Eagle Dancer Bear

Eagle Dancer Bear

I especially liked “Eagle Dancer Bear” by Lora Powell. I bet you can guess why. It stands in front of the Mountainside Theatre right along Tsali Boulevard, Cherokee’s main drag.

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Birding Gemini Springs November 2012

I’ve missed doing my regular round-up posts about Gemini Springs, my local patch, since my last report for May 2012. I didn’t get out too much during the summer and I was gone for the entire month of October, but I managed six checklists for November. So it seems like now is a good time to start up once again.

During the month, I saw 57 different species at Gemini Springs, compared to 48 species during November last year (also six checklists). I’m up to 102 species for the year at Gemini Springs. During November I added Sharp-shinned Hawk, Northern Flicker, American Kestrel, and Loggerhead Shrike to my patch year list. The complete list is below.

On November 10th I saw a large pile of scat along the path I call “warbler alley.” I took a photo with my keys in it for some scale and posted on Facebook using my smartphone. Within minutes some online friends confirmed that it was indeed bear poop, my first at Gemini Springs. The next time I went out, I found a bunch more. I don’t know if bears are suddenly hanging around the park (they are certainly in our town but I thought there were more on the other side of US17/US92) or if I just never happened to notice piles of bear scat around before last month. I also noticed two raided nests in the area, which I suspect may have been raided by bears.

bear poop
Florida Black Bear scat, 10 November 2012

Eastern Phoebe
Eastern Phoebe, 10 November 2012

On November 21st I saw one of the Bald Eagles fly in to land on a utility pole. Her (guess) talons were empty but as soon as she landed on the pole, she started to eat something. Maybe a gift cached there from her mate? Later that morning I saw her perched on a different pole. Her mate flew over and I was hoping very badly that they might fly together, because I’m just dying to see this.

Bald Eagle noms
Bald Eagle eating cached food, 21 November 2012

White Peacock
White Peacock, 21 November 2012

Sharp-shinned Hawk
Sharp-shinned Hawk, 21 November 2012

Fiery Skipper
Fiery Skipper, 21 November 2012

Limpkin ballet
Preening Limpkin, 21 November 2012

Bald Eagle
Bald Eagle, 21 November 2012 | I edited out a utility wire from the background of this picture

hummingbird impression
Blue-gray Gnatcatcher hummingbird impression, 26 November 2012

Tricolored Heron
Tricolored Heron, 26 November 2012

Levitating Pileated Woodpecker, 26 November 2012

Northern Flicker
Northern Flicker silhouette, 28 November 2012

Loggerhead Shrike
Distant Loggerhead Shrike, 28 November 2012

Northern Mockingbird
Desaturated Northern Mockingbird, 28 November 2012

Gemini Springs bird list, November 2012
Pied-billed Grebe – Podilymbus podiceps
Wood Stork – Mycteria americana
Double-crested Cormorant – Phalacrocorax auritus
Anhinga – Anhinga anhinga
Great Blue Heron – Ardea herodias
Great Egret – Ardea alba
Snowy Egret – Egretta thula
Little Blue Heron – Egretta caerulea
Tricolored Heron – Egretta tricolor
Cattle Egret – Bubulcus ibis
White Ibis – Eudocimus albus
Black Vulture – Coragyps atratus
Turkey Vulture – Cathartes aura
Osprey – Pandion haliaetus
Sharp-shinned Hawk – Accipiter striatus
Cooper’s Hawk – Accipiter cooperii
Bald Eagle – Haliaeetus leucocephalus
Red-shouldered Hawk – Buteo lineatus
Red-tailed Hawk – Buteo jamaicensis
Common Gallinule – Gallinula galeata
American Coot – Fulica americana
Limpkin – Aramus guarauna
Sandhill Crane – Grus canadensis
Killdeer – Charadrius vociferus
Caspian Tern – Hydroprogne caspia
Mourning Dove – Zenaida macroura
Belted Kingfisher – Megaceryle alcyon
Red-bellied Woodpecker – Melanerpes carolinus
Yellow-bellied Sapsucker – Sphyrapicus varius
Northern Flicker – Colaptes auratus
Pileated Woodpecker – Dryocopus pileatus
American Kestrel – Falco sparverius
Eastern Phoebe – Sayornis phoebe
Loggerhead Shrike – Lanius ludovicianus
White-eyed Vireo – Vireo griseus
Blue Jay – Cyanocitta cristata
American Crow – Corvus brachyrhynchos
Fish Crow – Corvus ossifragus
Tufted Titmouse – Baeolophus bicolor
House Wren – Troglodytes aedon
Marsh Wren – Cistothorus palustris
Carolina Wren – Thryothorus ludovicianus
Blue-gray Gnatcatcher – Polioptila caerulea
Ruby-crowned Kinglet – Regulus calendula
American Robin – Turdus migratorius
Gray Catbird – Dumetella carolinensis
Northern Mockingbird – Mimus polyglottos
Common Yellowthroat – Geothlypis trichas
Palm Warbler – Setophaga palmarum
Yellow-rumped Warbler – Setophaga coronata
Swamp Sparrow – Melospiza georgiana
Northern Cardinal – Cardinalis cardinalis
Painted Bunting – Passerina ciris
Red-winged Blackbird – Agelaius phoeniceus
Common Grackle – Quiscalus quiscula
Boat-tailed Grackle – Quiscalus major
American Goldfinch – Spinus tristis

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Super Shield

Zen and me

Back in October I got to spend just a bit of quality time with Zen, FCWR’s education Cooper’s Hawk. Due to their high-strung nature, Cooper’s Hawks aren’t often kept as glove-trained education birds.

Cooper's Hawk feather beauty

Sitting with beautiful Zen, I couldn’t help staring at his piercing eyes and his super-cool superciliary ridges.


The superciliary ridge is also known as the supraorbital ridge. It’s that bony shield above the eye, kind of like a brow line on steroids, that gives many raptors a sort of “angry bird” look. The ridges serve to block out glare from the sun. They also provide protection to the eyes. Pretty neat to see close-up, yes?

Zen's superciliary ridge

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Key West’s Audubon House

Audubon House, Key West
Audubon’s Brown Pelican detail

The Audubon House in Key West is a bit of an odd attraction. The home was built in the late 1840s by Captain John Geiger, a pilot who became rich by salvaging vessels that wrecked along the Florida Keys. The home was saved from demolition in the late 1950s and eventually became a public museum, dedicated to commemorate John James Audubon’s visit to Key West. That visit took place in 1832, when the artist apparently met with Geiger and other Key West notables. He could not have visited the house, but he may have been on the grounds.

Audubon House, Key West
Audubon House exterior from the garden

It’s a lovely home, restored to how it may have been during its prime in the mid 1800s. The rooms are furnished with period furniture and Audubon prints. The link to John James Audubon may be a bit tenuous, but we did enjoy our visit back in September. It’s always nice to see original Audubon prints, anyway.

Audubon House, Key West
Dining area, ground floor

Audubon House, Key West
Arthur looks at prints

Audubon House, Key West
VIP first guest

Audubon House, Key West
Upstairs bathroom

Audubon House, Key West
More prints

Audubon House, Key West
Audubon’s American Coot

We had a brief guided tour of the first floor of the house, with a self-guided tour of the upstairs gallery rooms and of the lovely gardens.

Audubon House, Key West
Audubon’s Florida Keys birds are on display on the third floor

Audubon House, Key West

Audubon House, Key West

If you are planning to visit the Audubon House, be sure to print out this coupon to save $1 on your admission. Hours and prices can be found at the link, too.

Audubon House, Key West
John James Audubon and blogger reflection

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Mystery Leftovers

Arthur spotted something on the railing as we were walking along the boardwalk at Lake Ashby the other day. “What’s that red thing?”

mystery pellet
Click on any of the photos to embiggen via Flickr.

A pellet, that’s what! I wanted a closer look so I picked up a stick and went back to the pellet for a little dissection. It was reddish-orange. It looked like there was some shell or exoskeletal-type material. And crab legs?

mystery pellet

There were two tiny round white shells. At first it seemed like the bulk of the red-orange stuff was plant-based, but as I sifted through it seemed more like it all consisted of crustacean exoskeleton. That makes sense… plant stuff would more likely just pass on through, I suppose. There were quite a few tiny crab legs.

mystery pellet

mystery pellet

mystery pellet

mystery pellet

I wish I had taken a photo with a coin or something to show scale. I guess the intact pellet was about 5cm long.

The pellet was in a very exposed area, on boardwalk railing over Lake Ashby. I took this picture after opening up the pellet — see the reddish area on the railing?

Lake Ashby boardwalk

Here’s another view of the boardwalk at Lake Ashby.

Lake Ashby boardwalk

So my big question is: what bird cast this pellet? I had a few guesses so I looked up some species accounts on Cornell’s Birds of North America Online (BNA). In many species, information regarding pellet-casting is not mentioned or it is acknowledged as being unknown. What would eat a bunch of crabs and then hang out on an exposed boardwalk railing long enough to produce a pellet?

After checking the species accounts of several duck species (not much data or no pellet-casting), various water birds (Double-crested Cormorants tend to cast pellets at roosting sites), and a bunch of waders (Great Blue Heron pellets tend to have hair in them; Tricolored Herons eat mostly fish; etc), the pellet-casting data of the White Ibis kind of jumped out at me: Non-digestible hard parts, such as fish bones, arthropod exoskeletons, and crayfish gastroliths are cast in pellets.. Did someone say crayfish gastroliths? That’s what those little white “shells” in the pellet appear to be. I can’t be sure, but White Ibis seems to be good candidate. We saw a few Little Blue Herons during our walk, so that species was my first guess, and I still think that is also a likely candidate. Both species of Night-Heron are also possible. I would love to hear suggestions from anyone else, though. Have you ever found a pellet like this one? Do you know who cast it?

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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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Too Full To Fly

Because vultures are never sure where their next meal is coming from, they are known to gorge themselves — sometimes, so much so that they become too heavy to fly. I’ve never witnessed this myself, but a lucky tourist visiting the Hoedspruit Endangered Species Center in South Africa captured some interesting footage of a vulture in trouble. The bird appears to play dead in order to avoid being attacked by a pack of wild dogs. Once the dogs move off, the vulture works to unload some of its extra weight so it can finally fly away from the dogs.

Video posted by HESCCheetahCentre

Have you ever witnessed something like this? Hat tip to K. Wolfram for sharing the video on Facebook.

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Down with Red Tape, Up with Barn Owl Boxes!

I’m so proud of Lake-Cook Audubon for getting Barn Owl boxes installed at Illinois Beach State Park! I know it took a long time to get there, but the boxes have been installed thanks to the hard work of club members. Here are a few photos of the installation. All photos by Sonny Cohen, posted with permission.

Barn Owl Box at IBSP Lake County
Roomy box!

Barn Owl Box at IBSP Lake County
Adding wood shavings to box #1

Barn Owl Box at IBSP Lake County
That’s the idea!

Barn Owl Box at IBSP Lake County
Box #2 going up

Barn Owl Box at IBSP Lake County
Box #2 installed

Sonny also posted a video of the box installation, which you can view here: Barn Owl Nest Box Raising. Barn Owls are an Illinois state-endangered species. A nearby county has a reintroduction program and it is hopeful that Barn Owls will find and use these boxes, which have been placed in ideal Barn Owl habitat. Yay!

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