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.