Testing a new camera with a Pileated Woodpecker

Arthur and I went to Gemini Springs yesterday so I could take some test shots with my new camera, a Canon SX40 HS. As we began walking one of the nature paths, I asked Arthur to find me a Pileated Woodpecker. He did.

Pileated Woodpecker

I think the pictures are acceptable, especially considering the distance I was from the bird and the less-than-ideal lighting conditions.

Pileated Woodpecker

Pileated Woodpecker

Pileated Woodpecker

Pileated Woodpecker

It takes HD video, too.

This is the fifth (!!) super-zoom point-and-shoot camera I’ve tried since April 2010 (to replace a Canon S3IS). This may finally be THE ONE. (These were not: Canon SX20IS [APR 2010]; Nikon Coolpix P100 [MAY 2010]; Fuji Finepix S200EXR [MAY 2011]; Nikon Coolpix P500 [MAY 2011]).

I’ve submitted this post to this week’s Bird Photography Weekly. BPW is a regular collection of user-submitted bird photos from all over the world. The new edition comes out every Sunday. Go have a look at this week’s submissions!

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Posted in Bird Photography Weekly, Gemini Springs, Volusia Birding | 2 Comments

Mooseheart Bald Eaglets to be released next week!


Click HERE for larger version of the flyer. Visit the Flint Creek Wildlife Rehabilitation page for details.

I am so excited to be able to join my Flint Creek Wildlife Rehabilitation friends next Saturday, November 12th, at Starved Rock State Park for a very special event. Regular blog readers may remember that back in the early summer, a Bald Eagle nest fell to the ground in Mooseheart, Illinois. The two eaglets inside were unharmed, but the parent birds weren’t caring for the baby birds so the eaglets were recovered, checked for injuries and general health, and later placed back into an artificial nest erected by volunteers.

Eaglet On Ground
One of the Mooseheart babies on the ground

When the parent eagles unfortunately did not accept the new nest, the eaglets were brought to Flint Creek Wildlife Rehabilitation until they would be old enough to survive in the wild. That date is coming up very soon – next Saturday!! I’m flying up to Chicago to be there for the release and I’m just bursting. I miss my FCWR friends so much!

The event should be spectacular. The release is open to the public, with a $10 minimum suggested donation to help defray the huge costs of building a flight chamber large enough for the eaglets. In case you’re wondering what that flight chamber looks like, FCWR posted the below video of the eaglets. Look at them, aren’t they beautiful!? If you watch closely, you might see an adult Bald Eagle in the chamber with the youngsters. The adult is non-releasable due to a permanent wing injury. He’s serving as a role model for the eaglets.

In preparation for the release, the eaglets were recently banded by a licensed eagle bander from Wisconsin. Scott Strazzante from the Chicago Tribune recorded some of that day’s events, which you can find here and here.

Will I see you at the release? The weather report looks favorable, but please note that for the safety of the birds, the release could be postponed due to inclement weather. If you’d like to see more of the eaglets, FCWR has posted photos on their Facebook page.

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Gemini Springs, October 2011

I didn’t get to Gemini Springs too much last month. Early on I was sick for a few days, and then I spent much of my time preparing for and enjoying a two-week visit from my dear in-laws. That said, over three visits I did manage to add 14 new species to my modest Gemini Springs list during October, including Palm Warbler and Blue-gray Gnatcatcher. I also picked up seven new BIGBY birds, all on a long walk on October 1st with Arthur.

I also visited Gemini Springs twice during the afternoon on two different weekends, and I was shocked by how crowded it was at the park. I usually walk the trails close to sunrise, mainly during the week, where I have the park almost entirely to myself. I’m glad the park is well-used, but seeing cars parked in the fields I count among my favorite birding spots and watching big boisterous barbecue bashes in spots I’d previously only seen unused was just a bit strange!

Blue-gray Gnatcatcher
Blue-gray Gnatcatcher; October 1, 2011

Blogger
Your blogger; October 1, 2011

good snags
Good snags; October 1, 2011

Palamedes Swallowtail (I think)
Palamedes Swallowtail (?); October 1, 2011

(mushroom)
Beautiful mushroom; October 1, 2011

Sign + Mocker
Obey the mockingbird; October 1, 2011

Table Conference
Table conference; October 1, 2011

Boat-tailed Grackle
Boat-tailed Grackle; October 2, 2011

Pileated Woodpecker
Pileated Woodpecker; October 2, 2011

Great Blue Heron
Great Blue Heron; October 30, 2011

Palm Warbler
Palm Warbler; October 30, 2011

Tree
Tree with belly button; October 30, 2011

Gemini Springs
My favorite birding spot in the park; October 30, 2011

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Western Treat

Saturday was a busy day. Arthur’s family had just left us the day before, following an excellent and busy two-week visit. We had been to theme parks, nature preserves, restaurants, beaches, historical sites, shopping malls, and more. So Saturday was a day for a bit of relaxing, but also laundry, straightening up, and getting settled back into our offices, which had been turned into guest rooms.

The day also included a bit of yard birding, as you do. When chickamice are cheeping, the impulse to rise and check the feeders is automatic. Cheeps called us to the window at about 4:30PM. While I was watching Tufted Titmice, Arthur found a yellow bird that he didn’t immediately recognize. He tried to point it out to me, which shouldn’t have been too hard, considering the modest size of our yard, but I couldn’t find his bird. He speculated what it might be while I remained clueless, searching for movement about 10 feet too high from where I should have been looking.

Western Tanager

Finally I spotted a tanager-like bird in our orange tree. I’m not overly familiar with tanagers, but my first thought was that it was a female Summer or Scarlet Tanager. I noted it was a yellowish bird with dark wings and strong whitish wing bars. During this initial viewing I didn’t notice (or remember) the color of the beak, but I must have registered the general shape, because that’s what would scream “tanager” versus “oriole” or something else to me. I observed the bird for a minute or so before I lost it. I reached for Sibley while Arthur kept watch on the yard.

Western Tanager

So Sibley clearly lets me know immediately that both Scarlet and Summer Tanagers don’t show strong wing bars. But Western Tanagers, far out of their normal range here in Florida, do. Holy crap! This was getting exciting. I went for my camera and hoped the bird would be spotted again. Arthur to the rescue. He found the tanager again and I managed to take some photos. Now I noticed the pinkish beak. Western Tanager! Lifer! In OUR YARD! Boo-yah!

Western Tanager

Boy, am I glad I got photos! Obviously the bird is well out of range, but I had no idea how often they visit Florida. When I posted to the Florida listserv, birders replied to me privately that our Western Tanager might be a first for Volusia County. Whoa. I later learned from Michael Brothers that there are just two previous records: January 1957 in Ormond Beach and February-March 1968 in New Smyrna. I was also urged to report the sighting to the Florida Ornithological Society, so it might be officially recorded (like the 1957 and 1968 birds), a process which I have started.

Western Tanager

We saw the Western Tanager late in the day on Saturday. After dark, we went on a food run, picking up oranges and grape jelly. Apparently Western Tanagers will feed on the same types of food as orioles; I saw the tanager eat at least two large insects Saturday afternoon. Sunday morning we placed the jelly, two orange halves, and an oriole feeder with sugar water at one of our feeding stations, along with a camera.

Treats for a Western Tanager

As of Wednesday afternoon, the camera hasn’t recorded a single visitor to the feeders. We did have a second, extremely fleeting sighting of the Western Tanager on Tuesday afternoon. Arthur spotted it (natch) and got me on it, but it flew off after less than a minute. I know there are several local birders that would love to see the bird. I would love for it to stick around! We’re keeping our eyes peeled!

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Posted in Florida, Life List, Rare / Vagrant, Yard Birds | 1 Comment

My visitors came from *where* in October 2011?!?!?

Here are my favorite search terms that brought visitors to this site during October 2011. This is part of an ongoing monthly series on blog search terms.

Wondering what is bird poop made of? Fertilizer! No, not really. Next!

To the person searching for golden eagle for pet: STOP IT.

A tip for the people searching for birds with long tail feathers, juvenile herons of florida pictures, what does a steller jays egg look like, biological drawing of a fly, and red bellied woodpecker range map: try a straight-up image search next time! Easy peasy.

To those searching these gems, I hope you found what you were looking for, cuz I know you didn’t find it here: how bodies were impaled and bird organs penguin (ew).

In the category of oddly specific: Oct 18, 2011 saw summer tanager in central florida!; pink flamingo at Lincoln park zoo (in a enclosure); a bird sleeping with one eye open; L DON’T DISPLAY MY FARM ANIMALS IN DIORAMA; a kenyan swarm of crows and a belgian swarm of crows; and (Netherlands) and (Grebe).

And oddly vague: birdwatcher shirt i have seen.

Several searches for unknown birds came by: little bird with long beak in north carolina (lots of shorebirds are possible?); migratory yellow bird florida October (many possibilities); SMALL BIRDS THAT LIVE IN ALABAMA (ditto); cute birds in south texas (ditto again); and two different backyard doves central fl (not ambitious enough… there’s at least three).

These made me homesick: rollins savannah temperature differences; chicago field museum diorama; and prairie world forest preserve lake county.

And finally, my two favorite searches of the month: the wishful-thinking cardinal bird killing a wild cat brings an interesting image to mind; and animals not caring sums things up quite nicely, don’t you think?

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Not too late for Birding the Net!

Audubon’s social media campaign-competition Birding the Net began on October 11th. Participants add the app to Facebook and then scour the web for free-flying javascript birdies on various websites, even including this one! Since Arthur and I were entertaining family for the last two weeks, we were pretty much unable to participate. However, with a few Google searches and some mad clicking skills, as of this afternoon we both have 20+ birds. We may or may not have a shot at any of the fabulous prizes, but since I received the following press release just last Friday, it seems Audubon would be more than happy to have more people participating. So, it’s not too late! You’ve got through November 7th to find as many birds as you can. See the full press release below for more info, and check out Audubon.com for more details.

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Audubon releases virtual birds
all over the Internet

‘Birding the Net’ campaign will challenge people to find birds throughout the Internet

The first players to collect all the birds will win prizes, including a voyage to the Galapagos Islands

NEW YORK – Birdwatching hit the Internet in a big way when Audubon launched its groundbreaking social media campaign, Birding the Net, on October 11. Visitors to over 100 websites — including AOL, Slate, Discovery Channel and more will encounter unexpected avian visitors – each inviting them to find more birds to add to their lists. The campaign, created by Goodby, Silverstein & Partners, will bring the excitement of birds and birding to a broad new audience in a new and unexpected way.

“Birds are the best possible ambassadors for the environment, and this will help people see them in a whole new way,” said David Yarnold, President & CEO of Audubon. “This is about fun – but it’s also about getting more people involved in taking action to protect birds and the planet we share with them. And with this unprecedented use of social media and the web, we’re also making it clear that this is not your grandmother’s Audubon.”
In the recently release film The Big Year, characters compete to see the most North American birds in one year. Birding the Net brings to the Internet the thrill of the chase found in real-world birding, challenging players to spot dozens of species that will be released from Oct. 11 through Nov. 7. Web surfers will observe virtual birds doing the same things that birds do outdoors: animations of birds will fly across homepages, perch on mastheads, and flock to birdhouses that anyone can install on personal websites and blogs. Clicking on the animated birds on the many participating websites takes players to an Audubon Facebook page to collect and trade “bird cards” which feature recordings of birdsongs, bird facts, and video. The first players to collect all the birds will win prizes, including a voyage to the Galapagos Islands.

“This campaign amazingly combines bird preservation, education and alluring animation in an addictive experience that spreads across the Internet,” said Jeff Goodby, Co-Founder and Co-Chairman of Goodby, Silverstein & Partners and long-time supporter of Audubon. Says Goodby, “the game turns the cold digital world into a resonant reminder of what we love about the warm and fragrant natural world around us.”

All that is required to play is to visit Audubon on Facebook at www.facebook.com/NationalAudubonSociety. The game will go viral, since trading bird cards helps a player’s chances of winning; the more Facebook friends that compete in Birding the Net, the more opportunities for trading birds. And for exclusive hints on where to find birds on the Internet, Audubon followers on Twitter (@AudubonSociety) can interact and follow campaign “spokesbirds” @FloridaScrubJay and @RufHummingbird.

In addition to the grand prize voyage for two to the Galapagos Islands courtesy of Lindblad Expeditions, prizes include Canon cameras, Nikon binoculars, gift cards to Woolrich and downloads of the Audubon Birds – A Field Guide to North American Birds mobile app from Green Mountain Digital. All 200 winners also receive one-year membership to Audubon.

# # #

About Audubon
Now in its second century, Audubon connects people with birds, nature and the environment that supports us all. Our national network of community-based nature centers, chapters, scientific, education, and advocacy programs engages millions of people from all walks of life in conservation action to protect and restore the natural world. Visit Audubon online at www.audubon.org.

About Goodby, Silverstein & Partners
Goodby, Silverstein & Partners, a unit of the Omnicom Group, is one of the world’s most respected and most awarded advertising agencies. Founded in 1983, the company is based in San Francisco and has over 700 employees serving a broad array of national and international accounts, including Hewlett-Packard, Frito-Lay, Haagen-Dazs, California Milk Processors Board (“got milk?”), Adobe, Sprint, NBA and many others. For more information on GSP, please visit goodbysilverstein.com.

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Posted in Contest, Social Media, Websites & Blogs | 1 Comment

Wild Turkeys aren’t made of sugar

I first heard the expression that I assumed was a Dutch specialty “Are you made of sugar?” (Je bent toch niet van suiker) in the Netherlands, but apparently the phrase is also used elsewhere in Europe to tease those who rather not go outside in the rain. When I balked at heading out in dismal weather to Blue Spring State Park yesterday for a bird walk with a local club, Arthur teased me into going anyway – I’m not made of sugar, after all. The unexpected lack of rain at the park didn’t prevent the club’s walk from being cancelled, a fact only realized after we called the trip leader to double-check we had the right meeting point. We had a nice walk anyway, the two of us, and though I secretly and uncharitably hoped we’d find a rare bird during our visit to the park, I was very satisfied with our best bird of the morning: a dozen or so Wild Turkeys foraging in the grass near the parking lot.

Wild Turkeys

I’m still not used to having such great views of these big birds. I come across them quite often along the Spring-to-spring Trail on my regular bike rides, and I just love seeing them. The flock at Blue Spring yesterday was our first sighting of the species at that park.

Wild Turkeys

Wild Turkeys

By the way, we did end up seeing a fantastic, somewhat rare bird yesterday, it just wasn’t at Blue Spring. More on that sighting in a future post!

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Confiding Ruddy Turnstone

Birding and blogging have taken a back seat for a couple of weeks as Arthur and I host his family here in central Florida. We are having a blast visiting all the touristy places as well as showing off the natural beauty of our neighborhood and county. Visiting Daytona Beach last week, we watched Brown Pelicans and Laughing Gulls soaring over the ocean. A few Sanderlings scooted about at the shoreline, along with one bold Ruddy Turnstone.

Ruddy Turnstone

Ruddy Turnstone

Ruddy Turnstones are relatively cosmopolitan, breeding across northern Europe, Russia, Canada, and Alaska. They winter along coastal South America and Africa, as well as parts of Australasia. In Florida, this species may occur all year, though birds that remain during the summer aren’t breeders.

Ruddy Turnstone

Ruddy Turnstone

eBird tells me I first recorded Ruddy Turnstone on my life list in January 2007 in the Gambia. We often saw this species along the North Sea in the Netherlands, especially when we went birding at Zuidpier in IJmuiden.

Ruddy Turnstone

We haven’t birded the coast very often in Florida since we moved here, and indeed this was the first Ruddy Turnstone I’ve seen since our scouting visit back in April.

Ruddy Turnstone

I’ve submitted this post to this week’s Bird Photography Weekly. BPW is a regular collection of user-submitted bird photos from all over the world. The new edition comes out every Sunday. Go have a look at this week’s submissions!

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Posted in Bird Photography Weekly, Florida, Volusia Birding | 3 Comments

(My) Owls of Illinois

I get a lot of blog visitors from Google searches for “Owls of Illinois” or similar. Not wanting to disappoint all those readers who end up at my totally non-comprehensive Snowy Owl!!! post, here are the owls you can find in Illinois, with a focus on the Chicago area and suburbs, and my own experiences.

Barred Owl

Meepy and me
My second time handling beautiful Meepy, February 2010

Although probably not the most abundant owl found in Illinois, I had to start with my personal favorite bird species, the Barred Owl. They range throughout the entire state, where they can be found in riparian and swampy habitat. They were hard to come by up in Lake County, where we lived, but more common in other parts of the state. Barred Owls are non-migratory. I was lucky enough to see one on an “owl prowl” at Lake County’s Ryerson Woods in November, 2010. Barred Owls are distributed widely across the eastern part of North America and into northern parts of western North America. Because of their spread into the Pacific Northwest, they have been identified as a threat to the endangered Spotted Owl.

Great Horned Owl

Great Horned Owl
Pennsylvania and me, May 2011

These birds are abundant across much of North America, and can be found all over Illinois. They are highly adaptable and live successfully in a wide variety of habitats, including suburban yards and urban forests. I saw my first Illinois Great Horned Owls (an adult and two chicks) at Grant Woods Forest Preserve in Lake County in April 2011, although I had heard them many, many times before. Great Horned Owls don’t build their own nests; instead, they may use old squirrel or hawk nests, or tree cavities; they may even nest on or in deserted buildings.

Eastern Screech Owl

Eastern Screech Owl
Kotori at the Flint Creek Wildlife open house, December 2009

Eastern Screech Owls range across the eastern part of North American and are common throughout Illinois. This species has two distinct color morphs: Eastern Screech Owls are either rufous or gray in plumage. Despite their relative abundance, I have only heard these little nocturnal predators, the first one at McHenry County’s Glacial Park at a December 2009 “owl prowl”.

Barn Owl

Barn Owl
Flight training with Pip, March 2010

Despite being a fairly cosmopolitan species (breeding on every continent but Antarctica), Barn Owls are an Illinois endangered species. Although I was fortunate to be able to spend time with FCWR’s Pip, so far I haven’t seen a wild Barn Owl in Illinois. Last year, Lake-Cook Audubon hosted a very well-attended talk by Steve Bailey about Illinois owls. Bailey’s presentation sparked the club to start a Barn Owl box program, which is ongoing after finally obtaining all the required permits for placing boxes in certain Lake County preserves. If the program is successful, maybe it won’t be so hard to find Barn Owls in Lake County, Illinois in the future.

Long-eared Owl

Long-eared Owl
Spirit at an informal program, October 2010

Long-eared Owls, a bird missing from my life list, irregularly visit parts of Illinois during the winter. They frequent open fields with nearby woodlands and if undisturbed will often hang out in the same place for weeks at a time, which makes them fairly twitchable. Unfortunately, a story I heard quite often from other area birders was of a roost of Long-eared Owls at a park in Chicago’s South Loop. Though the birds were comfortable in the urban setting in which they chose to winter, the hoards of birders who came in trying to add them to their lists was a disruption and the birds eventually left. I did get to see one special Long-eared Owl, FCWR’s Spirit, up close several times. I even got to handle her once at a program, which was a real treat.

Short-eared Owl

Glacial Park, McHenry County Illinois
Short-eared Owl habitat at Glacial Park, December 2010

Short-eared Owls are another species that visits parts of Illinois during the winter. They are frequently found in the same habitat as Northern Harriers, and share their low-flying butterfly-like flight pattern. I remember these birds being reported at Rollins Savanna quite frequently, but I never lucked out to see them there. I added Short-eared Owl to my life list in December 2010, during an owl program at Glacial Park in December 2010.

Snowy Owl

Snowy Owl
Lifer Snowy Owl, Ogle County Illinois, January 2011

Snowy Owls visit Illinois during some winters, depending on food supplies (lemming population, mainly) up north. Usually solitary, lone birds may be found hunting in agricultural fields. That’s where I got my lifer Snowy Owl last winter in Ogle county.

Northern Saw-whet Owl

Northern Saw-whet Owl
Me and a just-banded Northern Saw-whet Owl, Sand Bluff Banding Station, October 2010

Northern Saw-whet Owls are extremely cute little owls that come through northern Illinois during migration. A few birds may spend the year in forested habitat. Science has learned a lot about the migration habits of Saw-whet Owls from banding programs. Though I have never seen a Northern Saw-whet Owl in the wild, I was amazed to see them up close at a banding program in October last year. I even got to hold one of these precious cuties before it was released back into the wild.

Burrowing Owl


Three Burrowing Owls

Burrowing Owls are a southern species, and only very rarely visit the state. This is another species that I have yet to add to my life list. An unfortunate story about this species, too, was brought up a lot in local birding circles. A lone Burrowing Owl was found at Montrose Beach in October 2008, and became a huge attraction to local birders. Birders trying to flush the bird may have contributed to its eventual demise by the claw of a Cooper’s Hawk.

Here in Florida I don’t expect to find several of the species mentioned above, including Snowy Owl and Northern Saw-whet Owl. Burrowing Owls are relatively common so I hope to add them to my life list soon. And I am still waiting for a Barred Owl, very very common here, to show up in our back yard. 🙂

Since so many of the photos in this post are of Flint Creek owls, here’s a bit more information about them: Flint Creek Wildlife Rehabilitation is a non-profit, federally licensed rehab organization with locations in Chicago and Barrington, Illinois. You can follow their blog here, follow them on Facebook here, and make donations online here. This post reflects my own experiences as a volunteer with FCWR. Any errors are purely my own, and opinions here do not necessarily reflect those of FCWR.

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Posted in FCWR, Illinois | 32 Comments

Celebrate Migration at IBSP this weekend!

Here’s an event I wish I could attend! The Illinois Beach State Park Hawk Watch will celebrate their third annual “Migration Celebration” on Saturday, October 15th – and all are welcome! I attended last year as a handler with FCWR and I had so much fun. The weather looks perfect for raptor migration this weekend, so head out to IBSP this Saturday!


Turkey Vultures migrate over the IBSP Hawk Watch. Here’s Turkey Jr at the Migration Celebration last year.

If the prospect of hot hawk migration action isn’t enough to excite you, though, the “Migration Celebration” has more to offer visitors.


Scopes lined up at Hawk Watch during last year’s Migration Celebration

There will be an hour-long bird walk starting at 7:30am. Birding at Illinois Beach State Park is usually excellent, and if raptors are on the move, chances are other migrants are also around.

There will also be things to keep children busy – fun and educational raptor-themed activities.

And of course, like last year, Flint Creek Wildlife Rehabilitation will be in attendance with education raptors on the glove. The Ferruginous Hawk Journey will be there. If you don’t know about Journey’s amazing story, it was covered by ABC Chicago earlier this year: Hawk travels 1,500 miles by train.


Beautiful Journey. This photo was taken during his first public appearance in early 2011.

So pack up your binoculars and head to IBSP this Saturday! I really wish I could be there!


0511 and me in the wind during last year’s Migration Celebration

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Posted in FCWR, Festivals & Events, Hawk Watch | 1 Comment