The Amazing Journey

Today, a very special hawk made his first public appearance as an education bird with Flint Creek Wildlife Rehabilitation. Veteran education birds were part of the FCWR display at Northerly Island’s Polar Adventure Days today, but for about a half hour, a Ferruginous Hawk named Journey was the star of the show.


Journey was discovered in the plow of a train at a Chicago train yard in the fall of 2009. A western North American species, the hawk is thought to have collided with the train somewhere in western Canada! It is estimated that Journey was stuck in the train plow, in a painfully awkward position, for at least 1400 miles. The hawk was carefully removed from the train plow and began a long and difficult recovery, from injuries including a badly dislocated shoulder and severe head trauma. Nursed back to health but left with a permanent wing injury, Journey has been in training in order to join the FCWR education program.


Today was his official public debut, and he was an absolute STAR! The Polar Adventure Days crowd was large and loud, so Journey and handler Dawn stood just behind an open door inside a small, safe space, with an adoring crowd able to take photos and admire the beautiful western raptor. Despite being new to the program, the young bird was a champ during the short viewing and even roused* twice!

*Rouse (v): [Falconry term] To ruffle the feathers and cause them to stand briefly on end (a sign of contentment)

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Upcoming Local Events

I want to let my readers know about a couple of interesting local events that are coming up. One is this week and the other is in March.

Profiles of Nature Exhibit & Fundraiser

Local photographer Jerry Goldner will be having a photo exhibit at the Whole Foods in Deerfield. The event, which takes place on Thursday, January 20th from 6pm to 9pm, benefits Flint Creek Wildlife Rehabilitation. The exhibit of Jerry’s fine wildlife photography will include wine and snacks provided by Whole Foods. Education birds from Flint Creek Wildlife Rehabilitation will also be in attendance. UPDATE 20-JAN-11: Due to predicted extreme cold & windchill, education birds will not be in attendance at this event. The photo exhibit will take place as scheduled. A $10 minimum donation is requested for this event. RSVP on the FCWR Facebook page or by contacting FCWR directly.!/event.php?eid=177321112288960

Wild Things coming to Chicago

The fourth biennial Wild Things conference is coming to Chicago this March 5th. Attendees have a huge selection of workshops, lectures and panels from which to choose. From the official website:

Wild Things will feature the region’s best conservationists in a variety of large and small-group sessions drawn from real-life experiences with everything from the nitty gritty of habitat management, botany, and zoology to advocacy, education, art, culture, history and back yard and neighborhood ecology. This will be a great day for anyone who likes nature, conservation, gardening, restoration or who cares about the environment.

The day will kick off with a keynote speech by Curt Meine: “The Legacy of Aldo Leopold in the Chicago Region.” Six breakout sessions follow, with 10 or more different choices for each session.

A variety of topics are covered, from community gardening to land stewardship to effective environmental lobbying. There are plenty of sessions to keep keen birders interested. I’ll be attending “Breeding Birds of Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie,” “Why do yellow-breasted chats sing at night?,” and others.

Register for the conference by the early bird deadline (the reason for this early blog post) of January 30th and pay just $28 per attendee. After that, the regular registration fee is $40. The conference will take place at the Student Center East at the U of I at Chicago. See the Wild Things website for more details.

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2011: The Year of the Bird Movie?

This year, birders are looking forward to a big screen adaptation of a popular birding book. The Big Year looks to be a big comedy, with stars like Steve Martin, Jack Black, Owen Wilson, Rashida Jones, and others. Birdchick got a great scoop back in December when she heard from someone who saw an early preview. Check out her post here: Big Year Movie News & Rumors. It was recently revealed the film will have an October 14th release date. (h/t Greg Miller via Facebook)

But The Big Year isn’t the only movie coming out in 2011 that may interest birders. IMDb shows another intriguing title, A Birder’s Guide to Everything, with a 2011 release date, though the director’s personal website shows the film to still be in development. This looks to be a coming-of-age-with-rare-birds family film. Bryan Cranston and Ben Kingsley are named as stars.

An animated feature which looks to have a conservation theme, Rio, will come on out on April 15th. The story follows the last two Blue Macaws on Earth, one a household pet living in Minnesota and the other living in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. The two are brought together and mayhem ensues. Here’s a trailer:

Finally, another animated movie, Rango, will come out on March 4th. This doesn’t focus on birds, but looks to be a standard animated family flick, centering on a chameleon and a posse of desert misfits. I just thought it was worth noting some of the birds I’ve seen in the trailers: a Burrowing Owl mariachi band; Greater Roadrunners doubling as horses; and a Red-tailed Hawk depicted as the ultimate villain. Learn more at the official Rango website.

Are you planning on seeing any of these movies? Are there any other films you’re looking forward to seeing in 2011 (bird-themed or not)?

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Streaming Dutch back yard birds

Last week the Dutch branch of BirdLife International, Vogelbescherming, introduced a new website featuring four different bird cams. Beleef de winter is the non-breeding season’s answer to the hugely popular series of nest cams run by Vogelbescherming each spring, Beleef de Lente. Viewers from around the world can watch Dutch feeder visitors on four different cameras.

Like the springtime nest cams, the live streaming winter cams are available 24 hours. Highlights from the cams are archived, so if there isn’t any action when you take a peek, you can still see some resident Dutch winter birds.

My favorite is cam 3, which is pointed at an open water source. The bubbling water is pretty popular bathing site for birds like Great Tits, Blackbirds, and European Robins. The clip “02-01 Populaire badplaats” shows a robin having a quickie bath and a cute Blue Tit who seems content to just wash its face in the water. Another great clip features a pair of Long-tailed Tits, which are like chickadees only fluffier, bigger-headed, and sporting little white Mohawks and super-sized tails: “05-01 Staartmezen.”

Nest cams are popular in the spring breeding season, which for most local birds is still months away. These feeder cams from Holland are fun to watch while we wait for those nest cams to fire up again. Do you have any favorite winter bird cams that are running right now?

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Milestone birds

Holy cowbird, I fulfilled one of my 2011 goals already! I planned to work on updating my life list by entering old checklists into eBird over several days, possibly spread out over several weeks or even months. Somehow, though, when I got started on January 1st I really felt an urgent need to finish, which I did on January 3rd. My life list tops out at 543 species. I thought it would be fun to look at what some of my milestone birds were.

World 100: Common Pochard (Flevoland, NL)
World 200: Gray Woodpecker (Gambia)
World 300: Long-tailed Tit (Flevoland)
World 400: Brown Creeper (Lake Co, IL, USA)
World 500: Thayer’s Gull (Lake Co, IL, USA)

My ABA list is at 248. I’m still at that newbie-ish stage of birding and listing where it’s not too hard for me to pick up lifers locally. I think I’ll be able to hit world lifer 550 and Illinois lifer 200 (12 to go) this year.

I also had a look at birds I’ve seen in more than one country. The winner seems to be the House Sparrow, seen in six countries: India, Spain, USA, Canada, Belgium, and the Netherlands. This pathetic list is a testament to my poor list-keeping skills in my early years of birding. Are House Sparrows a good enough excuse to (re)visit much of Europe?

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Raptor Internship 2.0

This week the new classes of raptor interns started their 12-week course with Flint Creek Wildlife Rehabilitation. I wrote about my experience on my own first day exactly one year ago: Raptor Internship Week 1.

Today I helped out a bit as the Saturday group had their first class, along with my new good friend Kim. We did some (icky poo) cleaning up after showing the interns six of FCWR’s education birds. I handled spry 0511 (Red-tailed Hawk), lovely large lady Pennsylvania (Great Horned Owl) shortly, and the distinguished senior Darwin (American Kestrel).

While I was waiting to “go on” with 0511 and Darwin, I waited in another room and took the chance to snap a few pictures with my Android phone.



Check out this extremely cool plumage adaptation in American Kestrels – a false face! As Darwin is looking the other way you can see his extra pair of “eyes” on the back of his head. The illusion of a face is even aided by the beak-shaped dark triangle in between the eyes. Pretty neat, right?

False Eyes

This plumage adaptation is found in other bird species, too. Mr. David Sibley writes more about false faces in birds here and here.

Unfortunately I won’t be able to help out each week of the internship. For most of the day today I was sure it was Tuesday, so that may be for the best. 😉

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Birds of the Year

Earlier this month, the Barn Owl was named Audubon California’s 2010 Bird of the Year by popular vote. Although not one of the six birds nominated by group, the Barn Owl won as a write-in candidate with nearly 70% of the total vote. The species probably got a boost via an extremely popular Barn Owl nest cam that ran over the spring. Molly the Owl got worldwide attention. The Barn Owl is doing relatively well in California; local populations suffer from habitat loss. The species is endangered here in Illinois for the same reasons.

Meanwhile, Dutch bird research partners including the Dutch branch of BirdLife International named 2011 the Year of the Barn Swallow. The population of Barn Swallows in the Netherlands has been cut in half over the past 40 years. Researchers are asking for the public’s help in reporting Barn Swallow sightings as well as previous and potential nest sites. Dutch friends can visit this site to learn more.

While I can’t predict what my bird of the year for 2011 will be, I can say that 2010 was the year of the Barred Owl. I got to meet a very special education Barred Owl named Meepy, and I am looking forward to spending more time with her in 2011.

Meepy the Barred Owl

And one of my most exciting bird sightings of the year took place on November 13th, when Arthur and I attended an Owl Prowl at Ryerson Woods in Lake County and saw our first Illinois Barred Owl! The owl was a lifer for many on the trip and a county tick for everyone except the trip leader (I think), including a friend who has been birding in Lake County for over 40 years. It was so exciting and I regret that I didn’t blog about it at the time (because I didn’t have any photos to share).

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Goals for 2011

So all of my 2010 birding goals were not exactly met. So what? That’s not going to stop me from making goals for 2011!

In 2011 I shall update my eBird checklists to include ALL of MY OWN sightings – in other words, get my life list in order!

Again with the books! In 2011 I shall read, review AND cycle out at least 20 books (not necessarily the same 20). I reviewed 15 titles in 2010. I have a couple of book reviews waiting in the wings already, plus a couple of ringers (in the form of novelty books) to review.

One thing that was totally not on my goal list last year was anything to do with raptor handling or bird banding, two things I got involved with during 2010. I have some goals in mind for both of these, but a lot depends on opportunities that come up with the groups I volunteer with, which I don’t have much control over. But I would like to try and increase my skills in both. So the following goals are more like nice-to-haves.

In 2011 I would like to improve my raptor handing skills by performing the following tasks: handle birds into and out of travel crates; handle a bird during flight training; and have one of my bird pals eat a meal while on my glove.

In 2011 I would like to improve my bird banding skills. I helped out at a small MAPS station here in Lake County last summer and I hope to do so again this summer. I was happy to have the chance to learn from a relatively large group of experienced volunteers and banders. I hope to get some more hands-on experience this year, by safely removing at least five birds from a mist net (last year I only completely removed one bird!) and by banding at least 25 birds (last year I banded ~20). I would also like to attend a training session at the Sand Bluff Bird Observatory in the spring, but given the distance, that might be tough (if it’s even offered).

I’ve got to have at least a couple of actual birding goals on this list, right? So I’m going to keep a BIGBY list in 2011. I hope to reach 75 species on my 2011 BIGBY list.

I am going to take the Bird-a-Day Challenge 2011. I’ll be lucky to make it two weeks into January, but it should be fun to try.

Finally, a blog-related goal. In 2011 I shall not fall over a month behind in blog reading. I can’t believe I missed Blog for the Gulf! 🙁

What are your bird-related goals for 2011?

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Results: Birding Goals for 2010

Last December I came up with a few birding-related things I hoped to accomplish during the coming year. My targets weren’t too lofty, really: use eBird; read some books; see some birds. So how did I do with my 2010 Birding Goals?

I started using eBird regularly right from the start, but on repeat visits to regular birding spots, I didn’t keep regular lists as the year wore on. In my initial blog post I expressed some frustration in understanding certain nuances of eBird, especially when it came to bringing up reports. Happy to say I got the hang of it enough to be able to find what I’m looking for, mostly, but sometimes it’s still a small struggle to find what I need. I can use it, but it doesn’t come naturally just yet. With a total of just 122 checklists entered for the year, representing an estimated 85% of my birding trips, I’d say the eBird goal I set for myself was met, but just barely.

Another goal I had was to read most of my birdy natural history books. Total failure! What once took up just over a shelf in my office now occupies an entire case plus. I did end up cycling out quite a few books out (see Book Reviews Revisited), but I took in far more. Book shelf space is a small issue, though, and I am happy with some great titles I managed to snag this year, even if I didn’t manage to read everything I wanted to.

Lastly, I hoped to see 200 birds in Illinois AND get my life list up over 500 birds. This was kind of a wonky goal, seeing as how my life list isn’t really recorded very well in the first place. I share most sightings with Arthur, who keeps a list with Birdstack. He has a bird or two on me, but I was using his list as a basis, saying at the end of last year that 13 new lifers were needed to hit 500. Together we got 44 new species which brings Arthur’s life list up to 545. Yeah, something’s not right with the math, I know. I can say with certainty that MY OWN Illinois list for 2010 only reached 165 species, and MY OWN world list for 2010 was 235 species. So, another big all-around fail.

Of course two failures and one just-barely met birding goal don’t mean all that much, really. I certainly don’t feel like the birding I did in 2010 was any kind of failure, especially since I learned a lot (!!) and had a lot of fun (!!). Those are the only goals that matter, anyway, and they will remain year after year.

Did you have any birding goals for 2010? How did you do? I’ll post my own goals for 2011 tomorrow.

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