Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Northern Parula

Another bird that is rarely seen in Northern Illinois, but is abundant in the Southern Appalalachian states is the Northern Parula. I head their song often, and finally caught this Parula (below - 6/19/10) catching a snack, while hiking in the Congaree National Park in South Carolina.  Congaree is the newest formed National Park and is a delight. I loved the hardwood trees, the swamp, and the the abundance of birds - only (as I stated yestreday), very few found their way into my view finder. I need to do a better job locating and focussing on birds in the thick forest and dark environment such as the Congaree Swamp.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Hooded Warbler

I recently returned from a two week vacation to the Southern Appalachian States (Tennessee, Georgia, and North & South Carolinas). I was hoping to get some pics of the many warblers found in that area that we don't see often around Northern Illinois.  I heard and saw many birds, but was very disappointed in my picture opportunities. Those Southern Appalachian birds are very tricky and hide very well. I did manage a few decent pics. The one below is of the very striking Hooded Warbler; I spotted in the Great Smoky Mountain National Park (Tennessee side) near Abrams Falls.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Bald Eagles

Continuing the raptor theme, the first time I saw a Bald Eagle was in Ketchakan, Alaska (2004). I was very excited, and figured after our trip to Alaska I wouldn't see another one until I return to Alaska ... some day. Well ... a few years ago, I was driving to school (work) on a January morning and a Bald Eagle flew over the road in front of me. At first I didn't believe it, but no other bird remotely resembles a Bald Eagle. I immediately called my girlfriend and said, "Guess what I just saw!"  Would you believe it - Bald Eagles in Illinois?

A few days later after some research, we learned that in just the past few years, Bald Eagles have returned to the Rock River and Illinois River areas for their winter grounds. We took a trip down to Starved Rock State Park (an hours drive south of Rockford) and were pleasantly surprised by the numbers of Bald Eagles making Illinois their winter home. Above and below are a few of the pics I took at Starved Rock State Park.

Sunday, June 27, 2010


Speaking of Raptors, Ospreys are found all over North America - anywhere there is large bodies of water that harbor fish.  In the summer they are usually found in the higher elevations of the Rocky Mountains and along both sea shores as well as the Great lakes and Canada. In Northern Illinois they can be seen along Lake Michigan and sometimes along the Illinois and Rock Rivers. In winter they will migrate south to the shores of the Gulf of Mexico and the Baja Peninsula and surprisingly enough - Arizona. Last Winter, while I was hiking near Saguaro Lake (near Phoenix, AZ), I was able to capture an Osprey swooping in on a fish, catcing it in its talons and taking off with its dinner. (Above) the Osprey locating its prey. (Below top) It catches the fish; (Below bottom) it pulls the fish out of the water. These photos were the first time I put my Canon Rebel T1i's "burst mode" to good use.

Below is another good capture of an Osprey as it was soaring above (of all things) a golf course water hazard (in Phoenix) looking for its meal.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Red-Tailed Hawk

I was driving into Bauman Park in Cherry Valley, when I saw a a hawk land in the middle of a soccer field. I quickly parked, hoping that it would still be there to get close enough for a photo op. Not only did he stay put, but he let me approach as close as 20 feet.  I actually completely circled him while I took photos from all sides. But as you can see in the photo below (5/1/10), he kept his eye on me.

On 5/22/10, hiking in Kishwaukee Springs Forest reserve, I kept my eye on a Red-Tailed Hawk circling overhead. It never did get close enough for a great picture, but I liked how the sun back lit his feathers to make his red tail glow.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Wild Turkey

Early morning on 5/2/10,  I was biking through Rock Cut State Park, hoping to park somewhere, and hike my favorite birding hike, with the rising sun in my eyes I saw something big sitting in the road about 50 feet in front of me. As I closed in, I recognized a huge Wild Tom Turkey, gobbling away as if he was putting on a concert.  I slowed my pace and came to a stop hoping not to scare him away. I had to put my bike on the ground, take off my backpack and dig for my camera. The turkey stayed put and continued his fierce gobbling, was wary of me, but didn't move away very far.  I had time to get my camera set and just as I was on focus, a car drove by and the turkey fled into the bushes on the side of the road. I thought I had blown my chance, but as I was looking to see where he went, the Turkey appeared back onto the side of the road again gobbling away.  He not only gave me time to take some photos with the rising sun as a backlight, but also let me walk to other side of him and take some photos with the morning light head on.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Green Herons

I was hiking at Rock Cut State Park and noticed this Green Heron sitting in a tree above my head, so I backed up to get a better angle, and he stayed put to let me take his photo (below, 5/2/10).

Last year (5/17/09) was the first time I was able to get a Green Heron in my view finder - the photo below also at Rock Cut State park.

A month ago I was crossing a foot bridge over the Kishwaukee River in Kishwaukee Springs Forest Preserve, when I saw an unusual color in the brush next to the river.  I focussed in on it, knew it was an animal, but still couldn't tell what it was.  Soon the animal lifted its head - it was a Green Heron struggling to capture a frog. He would lift the frog into air, shake it, then dunk it back into the water. This went on for more than ten minutes. It gave me time to walk back and forth on the bridge until I could find a clear angle for a picture. I probably had already took 20-30 shots , when the heron looked staright at me with his dinner in his mouth, as if to say, "Hey, do you mind? I'm eating!" I took the photo and was happy.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Great Blue Herons

A Great Blue Heron in a landing pattern, Phoenix, AZ; 12/26/09.

Keeping with the theme of water birds and the Great Blue Herons, I took the photos below while spending time in Phoenix, AZ last December, 2009.  I was following the flight pattern of this particular Great Blue when he attempted to land in a tree. I took this photo (Above) of him in his landing pattern. He actually struggled with the landing, broke a branch off the tree and then kept flying. He looks elegant, but in reality it was a clumsy unsuccessful landing attempt. (Below) is the "Heron Tree."  I counted no less than a dozen (10 in this pic) Great Blue Herons perched in this tree with a couple of nests.

The "Heron Tree", Phoenix, AZ; 12/26/09.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Great Blue Herons

Talk about a bad hair day for this Great Blue Heron, Rock Cut State Park, Rockford, IL; 5/2/10.

Getting a little too close for comfort, the same Great Blue Heron took off, Rock Cut State Park, IL; 5/2/10.

Great Blue Herons are probably one of my favorite birds to photograph. They're big ( can grow up to 4'-0" tall), easy to spot, and slow to take off, but very graceful and elegant. (Above top) Talk about a bad-hair day - the Great Blue in Rock Cut State Park. The same Heron (above bottom) took off and I snapped this photo of him flying away.

The photo below, also taken in Rock Cut State Park (5/18/08) on a very calm day reflects the image of a Great Blue in the lake.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Forster's Tern

Another group of photos from the Horicon Marsh wildlife Refuge (5/29/10). Below (top photo) is a conglomeration of three photos into one showing a Forster's Tern getting ready to dive into the water.  It disappeared into the water and then came up flying upside down (bottom photo).

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Black-Crowned Night Heron

Again, keeping the theme of Wading birds at the Horicon Marsh Wildlife Refuge (5/29/10), below is a photo of a Black-Crowned Night Heron sitting in a tree. Then the middle photo below is the same Heron flying away.

The photo (7/8/08) below is another look at the Black-Crowned Night Heron, taken in Kauai, while we were in Hawaii in the summer of 2008.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Great Egret

Great Egrets are common at the Horicon Marsh Wildlife Refuge in Wisconsin. The top photo (5/29/10) below shows how far they can stretch their long bodies over 3 feet.  The bottom  photo shows a nice reflection of a Great Egret with its feathers ruffled.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Blue-Winged Teals

On 5/29/10, I decided to try my birding luck at the magnificent Horicon Marsh Wildlife Refuge in Southern Wisconsin. Almost immediately I spotted this pair of Blue-Winged Teals (above).

Later as we were hiking through another section of the Marsh, we accidently flushed out another pair of Teals. I hit my burst mode and got lucky with this decent photo (above).

This nice close-up photo (above) of a Blue-Winged Teal was taken last winter (12/27/09) while I was visiting Tuscon, AZ, where they migrate south.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Gray Catbird

Gray Catbirds are good at skulking around thick brush, and usually I don't get a good view of them in the open. I hear them all over in all the places I hike. I hear them much more often than see them. I was lucky enough to catch a couple sitting in the open. Top photo (5/10/09) and bottom photo (5/15/10), both at Rock Cut State Park.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Rose-Breasted Grosbeaks

Hiking in the Kishwaukee Forest Preserve, I heard an unfamiliar bird call, that sounded at first like a Robin, but I knew wasn't.  I spotted the bird high in a tree close to the hiking trail, but until I zoomed in on it and focussed it in my viewfinder, I wasn't sure what it was. As soon as I spotted the red triangle on the breast, I knew it was a Rose-Breasted Grosbeak - below (5/15/10).

A week later I thought I'd try finding it again, and sure enough I was lucky enough to photograph both the female (top below - 5/22/10) and the male (bottom). I was able to get sharper photographs this time round.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Indigo Buntings

Indigo Buntings are one of my favorite birds - the males' very striking blue stands out in a forest setting. I found a nice area in Blackhawk Springs Forest Preserve where I often spot them; however, I have yet to get a sharp photograph of the male (when I do, I'll be sure to post it). The top pic of the male was taken on 5/15/10. The bottom pic of the female was taken on 5/3/09., both in the Blackhawk Springs Forest Preserve.
A male Indigo Bunting; Blackhawk Springs Forest Preserve, IL; 5/15/10.
A female Indigo Bunting; Blackhawk Springs Forest Preserve, IL; 5/3/09.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Red-Bellied Woodpecker

The photo (below top, 1/31/10) of a female Red-Bellied Woodpecker was taken in our backyard this past winter.  You can see the holes in the tree to the right of her where the rascal had drilled previously. The bottom photo below (Blackhawk Springs Forest Preserve, 5/16/10) is of a male. The male's red cap covers the entire top of the head all the way to the beak; whereas, the female just has a red nape.

A female Red-bellied Woodpecker in our backyard, Rockford, IL; 1/31/10.
A male Red-bellied Woodpecker; Blackhawk Springs Forest Preserve, IL; 5/16/10.

Red-Winged Blackbirds

The ubiquitous Red-winged Blackbirds dominate the grass lands, open fields, and marshes in the Midwest. Below are photos taken in Rock Cut State Park : top male (5/2/10) and bottom female (5/9/10).
A Red-winged Blackbird singing in Rock Cut State Park, IL; 5/2/10.
A female Red-winged Blackbird; Rock Cut State Park, IL; 5/9/10.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Eastern "Rufous-sided" Towhee

Very slow husky single notes caught my attention, and I spotted the Towhee - my National Audibon Field Guide book calls it a Rufous-sided Towhee, but my new "Sibley Field Guide to Birds" (compliments from my girlfriend for my birthday) calls it an Eastern Towhee.  The top photo below is a female (5/31/09) at Rock Cut State Park, and the two photos at the bottom are a male (5/15/10) at Blackhawk Springs Forest Preserve.
A female Eastern Towheein Rock Cut State Park, IL; 5/31/09.
An Eastern Towhee, Blackhawk Springs Forest Preserve; 5/15/10.
An Eastern Towhee, Blackhawk Springs Forest Preserve; 5/15/10.

Friday, June 4, 2010

Common Loons

I have always associated Loons with Northern lakes. I have seen and heard loons in Canada, Alaska, Maine, Northern Michigan, Northern Wisconsin and in the New York Adirondaks. So it came as a surprise on 4/1/10, when I was walking around Bauman Park in Cherry Valley, IL, that a Loon was in the lake. This is a very busy Park and Loons generally like solitude.  Over two weeks later (4/17/10) after I returned from a trip to London, it was still there (assuming it was the same Loon). I thought how cool it would be for a pair of Loons to nest in Cherry Valley, but a couple of days later there was no sign of it, in all probability it continued its migration North after scouting out Bauman Park as a possible nesting area, and rejecting it. Too bad for us Northern Illinoians.

The top picture below was the Loon at Bauman Park on 4/17/10. The bottom photo was taken at Seney Wildlife Refuge in the Upper Pininsula of Michigan (5/27/07).
An unusual sight of a Common Loon checking out the lake at Bauman Park, Cherry Valley, IL; 4/17/10.
A Common Loon, Seney Wildlife Refuge, Upper Michigan; 5/27/07.

Eastern Phoebes

Below are photos of Eastern Phoebes. The top photo was taken in Rock Cut State Park on 5/23/10 with my Canon Rebel; the bottom photo was taken at Kishwaukee Forest Preserve on 5/3/09 with my SONY DSC-H7.
Eastern Phoebe, Rock Cut State Park, IL; 5/23/10.
Eastern Phoebe, Blackhawk Springs Forest Preserve, IL; 5/3/09.