Raptor Internship Week 1

Last Tuesday I began the 12-week Raptor Internship program at Flint Creek Wildlife Rehabilitation in Itasca. The class meets through the end of March and we’ll cover topics like equipment, handling, training and rehabilitation, as well as raptor natural histories. The class has six students, although only five were in attendance for the first meeting. We come with different levels of experience and various reasons for taking the course. One classmate is looking for a new career. Another is looking to enhance her volunteer opportunities. I am the only birder.

Part of this first meeting was spent getting to know each other and learning about Flint Creek and their work. We also got to meet many of the education birds at Flint Creek. The organization has three facilities so we saw the birds in residence at the Itasca facility – but we learned the history of sixteen of the Flint Creek education birds.

This is Pip, a Barn Owl hatched as part of a captive reintroduction program. Pip was held back to be used as an education bird and was hatched in 2002. (photo taken during the open house a few weeks ago)

Here’s Meepy, a Barred Owl. Like many of the education birds at Flint Creek, Meepy was being raised as a pet illegally before joining the education birds. Barred Owls are my favorite so I am looking forward to getting to know Meepy. She has a beautiful enclosure (to my untrained eye) complete with a mural painted on the wall. (photo taken during the open house a few weeks ago)

One of the most interesting education birds at Flint Creek is Zen, a Cooper’s Hawk. Zen has an unusually calm disposition for his species – Cooper’s Hawks are rarely used as education birds. Here is a video of Flint Creek founder (and our instructor) Dawn Keller, with Zen.

We rounded out our first day with a short tour of the facility. We also observed (and helped a little) a couple of the regular volunteers with some basic chores at the mews. This first day was a great introduction to the class and I am really looking forward to the next 12 weeks of learning and working. Now I’ve got to go read my homework. Next week: Equipment!

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Fluffy deer, cold me

I took a walk at Rollins Savanna in the late afternoon on January 1st. The only bird I saw was my FOY American Robin. I also noted a Baltimore Oriole nest I remembered finding earlier in the year on bird walk with Lake-Cook Audubon, back on a cool day in June.

Part of the trail I took passes through a cattail marsh, which was naturally frozen over. I was really surprised to count over 30 muskrat lodges in the marsh. The mounds are nearly completely covered by the cattails during the summer and I would never have guessed the amount of muskrat activity in this water!

I remember being cold on that June walk, but it doesn’t compare to the below-freezing temperatures we’ve had since the year started. The savanna was covered in snow which crunched beneath my feet. I was joined by at least nine White-tailed Deer.

The cold snap that’s hit most of the country looks to stick around for a while. I’m no cold weather hero, so I think that walk at Rollins will have to satisfy my birding bug for a while.

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The lifer that wasn’t

January 1st we visited a few lakefront sites, starting with North Point Marina and Spring Bluff Forest Preserve. A Northern Shrike had been reported there by other birders, and we were happy to find it, too. It perched along the trail before us and we stopped to observe it a few times as we approached.

Eventually it flew to a small tree further off the trail. As we passed the tree I looked for any prey items impaled on thorns. I didn’t find any but I can see why the shrike might like this tree.

Once we had passed it returned to its preferred perch to resume its watch over the field. I was sure this was a life bird for us but I underestimated the range of the Northern Shrike – I mean Great Grey Shrike (Lanius excubitor). These birds live throughout much of the temperate and subarctic regions of the Northern Hemisphere, and we actually saw our first one in Portugal in 2007. This wasn’t the first time we saw a bird and thought LIFER! when in fact we had seen the species before, and I’m sure it won’t be the last. Ever happened to you?

This post has been submitted to Bird Photography Weekly, hosted by Birdfreak. Check out this week’s submissions – and while you’re at it, why don’t you submit your own BPW post?

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Posted in Birding Blooper, LCFPD, Life List | 5 Comments

Blackbird tops Dutch favorite birds

About 5000 people voted for the favorite bird song of Holland and the Blackbird (Merel) came out on top. Rounding out the top five were Nightingale (Nachtegaal), Song Thrush (Zanglijster), Robin (Roodborst) and Winter Wren (Winterkoning). The survey was done by the VARA radio show Vroege Vogels (Early Birds) and they have the entire top 100 list on their website. The neat thing is that it shows a picture of each bird and even includes the song. Among the top birds are the most common back yard birds in the Netherlands, so it’s a great overview of the everyday birds of that part of the world. Let me tell you, listening to those songs made me feel homesick for Holland! Check out the site and do some online international birding!

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My visitors came from *where* in December?!

Here are some of the more interesting search terms that brought visitors to this site during December. You can see previous editions of this monthly post here. I started this monthly round-up post last year, and with this 12th entry I’m retiring the series.

For a change there weren’t too many funny or weird typos or misspellings. I only found two: is the frigate bird endaged and fummy google autocompletes (gosh, the Firefox spellchecker doesn’t like any of those last three words).

The blog ranks fairly high for the topic “google autocomplete” on a variety of searches. A couple of odd ones last month were crazy google autofill about pterodactyl and dirty google autocomplete.

My favorite search of the month was for mini kingfishers. Second favorite goes to ancient murrelet illinois. On that last one — maybe if we’re super lucky.

Odd merch searches included whimsical bird feeders made in texas; unisex boxer shorts; the curse of the squirrel book; birds (ornamental); and stocking paradise nylon.

Queries that weren’t answered here (sorry, blog visitor): mchenry birder wanting to bird with others; are there any laws to protect the red-shouldered hawk; how people harm the frigate bird; what the state bird of washington looks like (here ya go); are there bald eagles in the netherlands and holland (not in the wild); strange bird behavior december 14, 2009 (specific & spooky!).

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Birding Goals for 2010

The new year is coming fast – just about four and a half hours to go here – and I’ve been thinking about setting a few birding goals for 2010.

I’m not really a hard core lister at this point, but one of my goals for the new year is to start using eBird. Every time I try to navigate the site I get frustrated because I can’t find what I am looking for. And it’s slow. I also can’t stop comparing it to the system we used in the Netherlands, waarneming.nl, which was so easy and intuitive. Right now I’m trying to make a birding route for tomorrow and I can’t find the birds reported at our local hotspot, aargh! I want to search by location, not species. I guess if I start using it more, I’ll get the hang of it, right? So my first goal for 2010 is to use eBird for recording my sightings, and for exploring data. And I want to answer these questions: Can I find all the sightings by a certain user? Can I see what species were seen on a specific date at a specific location?

Another goal I have is to read these.

At least most of them. More bird-related natural history books are on the way (thanks to bookmooch and paperbackswap) but the shelf is filling up fast. And I’m trying to not hoard so many books any more. The idea is to read them and pass them on. I should be able to manage a book a month, right? Geez. First I have to finish The Beak of the Finch and then I’ll be on my way!

I suppose a list of birding goals should include species targets. We only managed 194 species for 2009. I think we should be able to get 200 in Illinois. Beyond that I’m reluctant to make a goal, although it would also be nice to get 13 lifers as that will get us to 500 total. We’re still missing quite a few local birds and I think we’ll pick up a bunch in Holland when we visit in the summer.

Did you make any biridng goals for 2010?

Happy New Year to all my birding friends and fellow bird bloggers! To a great and bird-filled 2010!

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My top birds of the decade

I was very lucky to be able to travel during my years living in the Netherlands, which means I’ve seen some really neat birds. Even though my interest in birds was not too great during most of those years, my keen enthusiasm for travel was fueled by a desire to explore the unknown, so new wildlife sightings were routinely noted, especially later in the decade. It was hard to come up with this list of my favorite birds from the last 10 (really 6) years. I kept the list short at 10 – if I compiled the list next week I might pick 10 different birds. These are in no particular order.

White-tailed Ptarmigan

When I was a kid we spent a few summer holidays in Colorado, and I remember we would always look for ptarmigans. I don’t think we ever saw one. In April 2004 Arthur and I visited my parents and we all took a road trip to Colorado. At Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park we finally saw one. We weren’t yet ‘birders’ but I remember this bird made an impression on Arthur and me.

Common Kingfisher

We saw our first Kingfisher in the Netherlands on 25 August, 2007, during the Vogelfestival (Dutch Bird Fair). It was also Arthur’s birthday, and earlier in the day he had said he wanted to finally see a Kingfisher. His wish came true when we arrived at a bird hide in Oostvaarderplassen and fellow birders quietly pointed out a hunting pair to us.

Little Auk

We used to take walks along the pier at IJmuiden, and spot shorebirds like Ruddy Turnstone, Purple Sandpiper, and Eurasian Oystercatchers. One day in November 2006, we knew from looking at Waarneming.nl that a Little Auk had been seen there. The bird was easy to spot, because it had its own paparazzi. This was the first time I had seen twitchers honing in on a special bird. I loved it! The bird was pretty great too. A real cutie.

Exclamatory Paradise-Whydah

This bird makes the list mostly because of its cool name. This is one of many neat birds we saw in the Gambia in January 2007. On our guided birding trip we were joined by three hard-core Finnish birders who knew their Gambian birds backwards and forwards. We were so unprepared, we didn’t even know what kind of bird to look for when the guide called out “Green-backed Eremomela” or “Bronze Mannikin.” I knew what to look for when this bird was called out, though, since the name made an impression on me when I was thumbing through our Gambian bird guide. I was so excited that we got to see a male with the long tail feathers, since it was past breeding season and no guarantee.

Black Heron

We saw a lot of awesome birds in the Gambia, many of which were pointed out by our guide during our short birding tour. Our favorite birds, however, were the ones we found on our own. We watched a Black Heron hunting in the Kotu rice fields close to the coastal resort area. They hunt by using their wings to shield out the sun. Fish are attracted to the shade which the heron then hunts. Here’s a clip from Life of Birds showing the bird in action.

Egyptian Plover

This is another Gambian bird, and another one we saw with the guide. This bird is the target species for the Gambia, and it was the first time we went looking for a specialty like this. We got great looks of this really beautiful bird. The reaction of the Finns was priceless, too.

Egyptian Vulture

Here’s another bird with Egypt in the name that we didn’t see in Egypt. When we visited India in spring 2006, we traveled independently and stuck mostly to the popular backpacker sites like Jaipur, Agra and Delhi. One kind of off-beat place we visited was Kota, on the Chambal River. We took a cruise with a boatman in his simple motorboat and were pretty stoked to see a pair of Egyptian Vultures in a scrape on the rocky wall of the river. This was one of the coolest places I’ve seen a bird, ever. We were skunked on our target species, gharial (crocodile-like reptile), but this sighting made up for it.

Eurasian Spoonbill

Another bird I always loved to see in the Netherlands, where they were summer breeders. In late summer we could see them fairly reliably at our favorite local patch, Starrevaart.


Hoopoes are crazy-looking birds and I just love them. We’re lucky enough to have seen them in the Gambia, India, and in Spain, where they visited the neighboring woods of the house we rented for a week in Andalusia. I think we saw our first Hoopoe back in 2003 in Egypt at the temple of Karnak. We had no idea what the wild-looking bird was, but later I recognized it from our European field guide.

White Stork

I have two fun memories of this species. When we spent a week in Andalusia we stayed in a house far from almost everything, and we would drive along a major highway almost every day. On huge utility poles along the highway there were giant stork nests, all active. Some poles had several nests each. It was so neat. The other memory I have is seeing thousands and thousands of migrating storks coming down to the Sinai Peninsula when we went birding at a water treatment facility in Sharm El Sheikh. They just kept coming and coming, it was incredible.

Wow, I can’t believe I only picked one North American bird! We’ve been living here for just over a year and the last months birding here have been a blast. We’ve just barely started to scratch the surface of local birding and I’m looking forward to the next decade of birding which I expect will be primarily in the USA.

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Owls of McHenry County

The county forest preserves around here host some really great programs. We’ve attended a few with our home county, Lake County Forest Preserve District, and we’re not too far from the Forest Preserve District of Cook County to take advantage of the programs they offer (like the Woodcock Walk last April). On December 12th we attended an Owl Walk at Glacial Park forest preserve hosted by McHenry County Conservation District. During the first part of the evening, our group of about 15 participants walked a trail in the preserve, through snow-covered prairie to snow-covered woods. There we made several stops to listen for the likely suspects: Great Horned Owls and Eastern Screech-Owls. Late in the hike we were able to hear a Screech calling when the ranger played the call on her iPod.

After the walk, the program wasn’t over. First we viewed a slide show about the owls of McHenry County (Barred, Short-eared, Long-eared and Barn are also possible county birds).

The presentation continued with a naturalist speaking about owls in general and showing us or handing around things like owl skulls, feathers, and even a little display of a dissected owl pellet. Finally two education owls were presented: a Short-eared and a Barred (yay, my favorite). This was a really fun program geared towards adults and we enjoyed it very much. I wasn’t even expecting the indoor portion of the program as the last “owl prowl” we attended was strictly an outdoor affair. Plus it’s always a treat to see education birds up close. I’m sure we’ll attend more McHenry programs in the future.

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Merry Christmas!

Oh my gosh, is it Christmas already?

I wish you a joyous feast, if that’s your fancy…

… and harmony in your gathering…

… be it small, or large!

My best wishes to all on Christmas!

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Some favorite photos

I’ve been looking through my bird photos, trying to come up with my favorite birds of the last decade. I’m saving that list for another post, but I managed to pick out some favorite photos of birds that didn’t make my top ten list.

These twelve photos were taken in four different countries between 2006 and 2009 (since I haven’t been birding all that long and have only had my (super-zoom point-and-shoot) camera since ’06).

Can you guess what they are? They all link to Flickr where you can find out, or scroll to the end for a list.

Indian Pond Heron


Common Coot chick

Black-headed Ibis

Blue-winged Teal

Rufous Treepie


Red-breasted Nuthatch

Great Crested Grebe on nest


Red-vented Bulbul

Tufted Ducks

Indian Pond Heron: Kota, India;
American Robin: Great Smoky Mountains National Park USA;
Common Coot chick: Starrevaart, Netherlands;
Black-headed Ibis: Ranthambhore, India;
Blue-winged Teal: Viera Wetlands, Florida USA;
Rufous Treepie: Ranthambhore, India;
Chaffinch: Munster, France;
Red-breasted Nuthatch: Illinois USA;
Great Crested Grebe: Voorschoten, Netherlands;
Red-shouldered Hawk: Viera Wetlands, Florida USA;
Red-vented Bulbul: Jaipur, India;
Tufted Duck: Flevoland, Netherlands.

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Posted in Florida, France, Illinois, India, Netherlands, Travel, Viera Wetlands | 1 Comment