October 9, 2010

Hawk Watch Strikes Again! AKA: Why I Love Birding

You know, there are just some birds that I love to chase that borderline on masochism.  One of those birds is the Le Conte's Sparrow.  For years, I have pined after this bird and have found myself every fall, waist high in grass looking for them.  Chicago is blessed to be on the migratory path of this mouse-like sparrow.  However, hardly anyone ever has luck when they go out looking for one!  People see them every year, sure.  But NEVER when they are supposed to be looking for one.

I am one of the unfortunate souls who believed that looking for one would actually produce one.  I believed that my pishing was simply too much to bear for these ground huggers.   Boy, was I wrong.  Five years of looking for them intently put this bird in the nemesis camp.

Yesterday, I went out again to Waukegan beach and combed the area: stopping, pishing, looking, cursing as I searched for the Le Conte's.  I had a great list, with numerous First of Season (FOS) birds including Fox Sparrow and Hermit Thrush.  Also had an American Tree Sparrow, which for many is some bad voodoo, heralding cold weather.

American Tree Sparrow (Devil Bird)

Black-bellied Plover

Hermit Thrush

Fox Sparrow

Sure this was all great, but there was no Le Conte's Sparrow.  Felling somewhat dejected, I figured there was no better cure than to head over to the hawk watch.  The winds had been blowing from the NW, which in hawk watch language means movement.

When I got there, I began walking up the small grass path to the pavilion when a small sparrow flushed next to me in the weedy field.  Getting on it, I had a Nelson's Sparrow!  This was another new bird for the year, and one that, though not as bad as Le Conte's, can be difficult to find.  All while I was thinking about Sharpies vs. Coops.

Well, the wind had died down and lake effect winds took over, which is death to a hawk watch.  Getting restless, I decided to find my Nelson's Sparrow again.

Wading into the grasses right off of the trail I found some small brush with juvenile White-crowned Sparrows calling.  Right as I was trying to get a good photo of the White-crowned Sparrows, I saw a small bird with a terribly weak flight come over my shoulder and land on a bare branch in the clump.

My first thought was, "Wow, that's a late Sedge Wren" based on the way it flew.  However, when I looked at the bird I was floored.  There was my lifer Le Conte's!  He had a serious deer-in-headlights look to him.  He decided to toss away his Ammodramus genes and just stayed put in open light for five minutes!  I was shocked. I came looking for Nelson's and was thinking of hawks.  Right when I decided to take a photo of a common bird, not even thinking of Le Conte's anymore...there he was.  This, everyone, is why I love birding.  I love that I watch wild birds, that follow no rules that I set out.  I wouldn't have this lifer any other way.

Le Conte's Sparrow


October 6, 2010

Warbler Quiz

Don't know if this one is too difficult. Saw the bird last week at Waukegan Beach while searching in vain for some Harris's Sparrows.

Heading to the hawkwatch tomorrow.  There are some nice WNW winds coming in, so they day could be productive.  Hope I can actually get some photos!


September 28, 2010

Sparrows of Fall

I went out to Rollins Savanna F.P. today in hopes of Nelson's Sparrow.  Missed on that, but did see some sparrows.  They are picking up in numbers now, including over 100 Savannah Sparrows.  It was a beautiful fall morning and though I missed a lifer, I can't complain at all.

Here's a sparrow compilation from the morning

Swamp Sparrow

Savannah Sparrow

Lincoln's Sparrow

and some non-Sparrows...

Common Yellowthroat wishing it was a Connecticut Warbler

distant Northern Shovelers

Good birding and Bear down, Chicago.  BEAR DOWN!


September 21, 2010

Fall Migration Bird of the Day

I love fall  migration.  It goes on for so long as birds take their time, enjoying themselves on the way to their wintering grounds.  It is quite different from the mad dash these birds are on in spring to make it breeding grounds to set up territories and rear young.  Also, a lot of the weirder birds show up during the fall.  Chicago has already had Sandwich Tern and Black-throated Gray Warbler!  Michigan is proudly sporting a Magnificent Frigatebird (or Frigginbird) as of yesterday!  Crazy.  But in honor of fall migration, I have chosen one of the more dirt common birds.  His familiar "chip" will stick around later than most and for some in the South, he's a regular to the suet feeder.

The Yellow-rumped Warbler (Myrtle)

Also, as many people continue to tell me how much they hate fall because of the drab warblers, here is a fall warbler quiz.  I took shot this bird this morning around the neighborhood. 

Any takers?

Go eat some apples and drink some cider!


September 1, 2010

Photo of the Day: American Goldfinch

A simple bird, yes, but one that holds onto it's bright plumage much later than other species.  This was taken at IBSP North Unit while looking for migrating shorebirds.


July 20, 2010

Photos of the Day

Hello intertubes:  I haven't been able to get out birding much recently, or if I have, it hasn't been anything really blogworthy.  So, to whet the appetites of my (numerous?) readers, here are a few pictures I've taken throughout the year of a favorite bird of mine:  The Red-headed Woodpecker


July 11, 2010

When You Cut Them...they will come?

For some reason, I have time to write another small blog.  Just a few weeks ago, I was at 10,000 ft. enjoying the beautiful birds of the Colorado Front Range.  My aunt and uncle have a condo up there that, when you cross the road from their place, dumps you straight into Eagles Nest Wilderness Area.  Needless to say, I've become quite familiar with the bird life there over the years.

As a younger kid, I always loved crossing the street and immediately entering a pine forest.  It was place filled with the song of Swainson's Thrush, the "chuk-chuk-chuk" of Steller's Jays and the hoarse Black-capped call of Mountain Chickadees. Yet, when I showed up with my friends, bragging about how awesome my childhood trail was, I was nearly floored when I saw that they had clear cut nearly all of the beginning of the trail.  I couldn't even find the original trailhead.

These pictures don't even come close to doing it justice.  Especially how I remember it.  I was so upset.

 Apparently, the trees had to be cut down, as there was a massive beetle infestation taking over the pines that needed to be contained.  The dead trees were chopped down and as an earlier post shows, most were piled up in large stacks.

I understood it was necessary and many of the areas I loved to bird were still in tact.  It was just that the original "wow!" moment was lost; a piece of my childhood wonder taken from me.  To get to the areas I wanted to bird, I had to hike through this "wasteland."  And the first morning, I grumbled, head down, just trying to get to the creek and what I thought was better habitat.

Yet, as the days went by, I began to realize that the birdlife in this section was still pretty good.  In fact, this clear cut had created a new, open habitat that was supporting a lot of birds!  I even saw a life bird, a Sage Thrasher, in this burnt and cut down area!  It would be one of two life birds, so it was a real shocker, considering I have seen most birds you could see in the Colorado Rockies.  It was like God himself was reminding me that, where I might see destruction, the world sees opportunity for new life and I shouldn't complain, but explore and learn.

 Sage Thrasher at 10,000 feet?!

After my grumbling was over, I began to spend more time hiking off trail in this area.  I was pleasantly surprised!  First, because Aspen weren't infected by the beetles, there were a few stands left, where I found a Hairy Woodpecker.

They were guarding a nest, so I left ASAP...or should I say I was chased out.

I also heard many "Gray-headed" Dark-eyed Juncos, the soft downward tapping of Red-naped Sapsuckers and Dusky Flycatchers singing on the newly created edges.  But, the coolest was to come...

The second to last morning, I was out near dawn, exploring around the area, when I heard an unfamiliar call flying over.  I looked up just in time to see 4 Red Crossbills fly in and land on a long-dead pine snag.   I hurried over and even caught one singing!

Even when I was going to Colorado every year, this bird was always one of my favorites and one of the harder to find, so I was satisfied with that look.  On the way back to the condo through the clear cut area again, I heard the now familiar chirping coming not from overhead, but on the ground!

Suddenly, I realized that all around me were Red Crossbills!  I heard them flying overhead and singing in trees, and foraging on the ground.  I had never seen this behavior before.  I finally realized what was going on...

The felled trees had left a large pine cone crop on the ground and the crossbills saw it was easy pickin's.  I must have sat for an hour just watching them.  They were skittish, so I had to sit still, but when they got used to me, they didn't seem to mind my presence.

I learned my lesson.


Photos of the Day: Henslow's Sparrow

Went out looking for shorebirds at Rollins Savanna.  Whiffed on them as there still aren't any open flats, but did find a good looking Henslow's Sparrow.  The Henslow's Sparrow is still an Illinois Endangered Species , but definitely growing in abundance thanks to growth in conservation.

These aren't DSLR quality, but I can't get over how well one can do with a Panasonic Lumix FZ-35 and a teleconverter lens.  This is from a good distance.
  For the money, it can't be beat!  Too many words...more photos.


Obviously not a Henslow's.....a juvenile Red-winged Blackbird.


July 7, 2010

Illinois Beach State Park North

In an effort to bolster my year list for Illinois, I went out to Illinois Beach State Park North.  As usual, I set my alarm for 4:30 AM, so I could get there around sunrise.  I awoke to the sun hitting my face, my phone across the room and the clock reading 7:00AM.


The main reason I was bummed was because the temp today was in the high 80's with humidity near the same as the temp! 

 IBSP is one of the most unqique biospheres in N. Illinois.  It's dry habitat with scattered Black Oak on sandy ground has brought up a rare breeder for the second year in a row: Blue Grosbeak.  Though I could drive a few hours south and pick one up, there is something about seeing this bird on good habitat outside of it's normal range.  Also, this park has beautiful wild flowers.

Anyone know the ID on this flower?  Wild Rose?

The morning was sticky as all hell, yet this little road just can't seem to disappoint!

Got out of the car and was immediately greeted with the sound of two Yellow-breasted Chat's dueling it out on territories on either side of the road.  What a unique bird...

Perfect Chat habitat...no chat picture :(

Besides the chats, the bird song was pretty active.  There were gobs of Orchard Orioles, Warbling Vireos and Yellow Warblers.  Yet, the heat was opressive!  I love that the birds were singing through it.

The hunt was on for the grosbeak.  They are a medium sized bird, just bigger than their closest ID problem, the Indigo Bunting.  They also have longer tails and of course, a GROSbeak.  They have a soft, warbling song similar to a Painted Bunting (dont I wish...)

I was certain I'd see one, or at least hear it.  Today, the birding gods decided its been too long since I've worked hard for a bird to no avail.  I went up and down the road, sweated it out, got some sunburn, and pulled a big whiff on the bird.  Oh well.  I wouldn't be birding if I always showed and the bird was there.  A little frustration adds to the chase!  Besides, not seeing the grosbeak wasn't a total loss.  It was a good morning of birding!

First fake out!

Second Fake out!

Eastern Kingbird with nesting material

 Juvenile Sparrows in the Genus Spizella (Clay-colored, Chipping, etc.) look very similar to eachother.  I got a shot of one that is most likely a Chipping, but still can be a ID stump.   Staring at birds like this that can make you a better birder and give the occasional headache.

The road dead ends into the beach front, where I went left on an East-West road, sill looking fruitlessly for the Blue Grosbeak.  The lakefront had some thick humidity fog that was there to taunt me as I cursed my sticky Levis.

For my consolation, I was near shocked to hear two Sandhills calling relatively close.  I didn't see any young with them, unfortunately.

Video courtesy of Sir shakes-a-lot.

Please note the heat shimmer and fog :(

On the way back, feeling the bittersweet taste of a good birding day with out the target bird, I met up with one of my non-avian friends.

Later, I went almost to the Wisoncon/Illinois border, making a stop at North Point Marina and Spring Bluff Forest Preserve.  Always optimistic after Subway, I whiffed on my imaginary White-faced and Glossy Ibises, but was rewarded with great views of another pair of Sandhills, this time right next to the road.  Also, heard singing Swamp Sparrow and some "fitz-bew"ing Willow Flycatchers.

It was a good day birding despite the late start and the fact that I sweat enough to fill a reservoir.

Other birds of interest included:

Fly-by Black-billed Cuckoo

All the swallow species you can get here (Tree, Rough-winged, Bank, Barn and Cliff)

Singing Least Flycatcher at IBSP, which I'm hoping found a mate!

On one sad note...I saw this American Redstart, which is a hard-to-get Lake County breeding bird, feeding this "brood" along the road at IBSP.



June 25, 2010

Salt Lick Trail

Every morning, I've had the opportunity to bird right across the street from where I'm staying.  I just found out today that this trail is Salt Lick.  It's filled with childhood memories and great birding.

The trail has unfortunately been plagued, as has much of the front range, by a wood boring beetle that has killed most of the pine.  At the beginning of the trail, they just last year took down all the pine and left the timber in piles.

I thought this would be a huge problem, which is certainly is, but birds have adapted and in fact, some of the best birds of the trail were seen in this area.

The trail wind down from here to a beautiful creek that's filled with the sounds of Lincoln and White-crowned Sparrow, as well as Wilson's Warblers.

Wilson's Warbler Habitat

White-crowned Sparrow

Wilson's Warbler

Every where I went, I was followed by the high-pitched trill of Broad-tailed Hummingbirds.  I also had a   Rufous Hummingbird but couldn't get a shot of it. 

Broad-tailed Hummingbird

The trail continues West into some higher elevation and ultimately into a Wilderness Area that goes on forever.  I followed the river most mornings, and found a trail that went through some nice Aspen.

This area is filled with birds.  I found this guys near the edges.

And one of my favorites.

Red-naped Sapsucker

I'm off to cook some breakfast for the crew.  Eggs, sausage and steel-cut oats are sounding better than posting.  More to come.


June 22, 2010

Colorado Roadtrip 2010

At 4AM on Sunday, an idea that came to mind during a boring lecture last semester came to fruition.  I hit the road with 4 of my closest friends to the high country on the Front Range.

I'm writing this at 10,000 ft after my first long hike into the local wilderness area, which is conveniently across the street from where I'm staying!  None of these friends bird.  Luckily, they're okay with me nerding out at all times.  I don't think they have the slightest clue as to how much I'm going to be birding and how annoying it will be when I stop to listen (muahaha!)  While they dream of sweet day hikes, I'm going to be out at the crack of dawn, seeing all of my mountain favorites, and hopefully some nemesis birds.  I'll chronicle the adventure here...

The trip started well.  We took two cars, which is luxurious for 5 people.

Somewhere in Iowa...

For the most part, I heard my friends complaining about driving through what they considered the ass-crack of the US of A.

The heart of the ass-crack.

Mind you, I drove the whole way...  Yet, how can you be bored when you have to look out for the first Western Kingbird?!?  I got mine going 70 somewhere in central Nebraska, and couldn't get enough of them in Eastern Colorado.  It's always nice to see the transition.  Other Western goodies on the road included Swainson's Hawk, and Western Kingbird.  I tried to convince the gang to make a quick stop at a certain prairie a few hours north after we first made it to Colorado, but they weren't buying it.

There aren't many pics through the drive until we (finally..) could see the mountains at sometime around 9PM.


At 11PM after 15+ hours of driving and a pint of some local brew, I hit the sack in Thornton Colorado.

More to come.