Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Red-headed Woodpecker and Red-breasted Sapsucker

Red-headed Woodpeckers were a common sight at the Rowe Wildlife Sanctuary in Nebraska; 7-11-10.
One of the most beautiful sights in the bird world (in my humble opinion) is the flight of a Red-headed Woodpecker. Its white feathers on its wings and tail contrasting with its black body and completely red head is very striking. For the first time I saw a Red-headed Woodpecker while driving to the Rowe Wildlife Sanctuary this past July. I was so excited that I yelled at Val (who was driving) to pull over so I could try to get a picture. It was sitting on a road sign and I hoped that by the time I dug out my camera, put in the settings, got out of the car, and focussed on it, that it would not fly away. Indeed, it stayed put and gave me time for several shots, inching closer with each photo, before it finally decided I was too close for comfort and flew away. Little did I know that once we started hiking inside Rowe Sanctuary a few minutes later, that I would have many oppurtunities to see more Red-Heads (Above and Below, 7-11-10). According to bird guides, the Red-headed Woodpecker does live year round in my neck of the woods (Northern Illinois), but I have never seen nor heard it.

Red-headed woodpecker in Rowe Sanctuary, Nebraska; 7-11-10.

I thought I saw one last summer while hiking to Tokopah Falls in Sequioa National Park, California. However, that would have been quite a rare sighting, as the Red-headed Woodpecker has never been seen in that part of the country. In fact Nebraska and parts of Eastern Wyoming and Montana is the farthest West it has ever been sighted. The bird that I saw in Sequoia was a Red-breasted Sapsucker (Below, 6-24-09).

A Rd-breasted Sapsucker in Sequoia Nat. Park, CA; 6-24-09.
You may see why, by this photo (which doesn't show a clear look at the bird), that I might have guessed it was a Red-headed Woodpecker. It behaved like a woodpecker. But after I really saw a Red-headed WP, I relooked at this older photo and upon further research concluded that it's a Red-breasted Sapsucker. These Sapsuckers have obviously less white on its wings, and it seemed to be the only tree-clinging species of bird that has an entire red head and face that lived out as far as California.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Spotted Towhee

Yesterday, while highlighting the Dickcissel,  I mentioned the Rowe Wildlife Sanctuary near Kearny, Nebraska, and that it is a prime birding area. I am not over emphasizing this place, when I say you will see a dozen of different types of wild birds within minutes of being there. At least that is what happened to Val and me. We weren't walking their trails for more than two hours and identified at least 30 different birds within the first hour. And this was in the middle of summer, not a prime migrating time. Of the 30 birds I identified, five were first timers for me: Dickcissel, Red-headed Woodpecker, Orchard Oriole, Western Kingbird, and the Spotted Towhee (Below, 7-11-10).

I spotted a Spotted Towhee at Rowe Wildlife Sanctuary, Nebraska, 7-11-10.
Rowe Sanctuary is world famous for it being the prime stopping area for the majority of the Sandhill Crane population migration route.  In October and March of each year thousands of Sandhill Cranes can be seen here.  Val says she has seen the large flocks several times while making her annual spring break ski trip to Colorado.  I for one, would love to witness this. I have seen photos of this spectacle at the Rowe website: http://www.rowesanctuary.org/ and urge you to take a look. It's an awesome sight and site. Someday I will make this trip.  It seems that both the peak of Fall and Spring migrations are always the busiest time of my school year and can never get away for such events.

Deer running across the Platte River, Nebraska; 7-11-10.
The Rowe Wildlife Sanctuary boundary runs along the Platte River, and not long after I took one of the trails that led to the river, I heard splashing and saw three deer crossing the river. I didn't get very clear shots of them, but it was a fun sight to see. Having grown up in Wisconsin and living adjacent to a Forest Preserve, I have seen way more than my share of deer in my life, but not often running across a river. I kind of liked the moment and snapped a couple of blurry photos.  Val would laugh at me because I always complain about other people who hold up traffic when they stop in the middle of the road to take a picture of a deer, I scold them, "It's a deer! There's millions of them all over the world! Why do you need a picture?" My photography code seems to be if you're going to hold up traffic to take a picture of wildlife, it had better be of something that isn't seen very often - like a moose or a bear or a wolf (or a bird - ha!), something of that nature - but not a deer or a bunny! So there's my deer picture.  At least I didn't hold up any traffic.

Sunday, August 29, 2010


A Dickcissel singing away at the Rowe Wildlife Sanctuary, Nebraska; 7-11-10.
I have always heard and read that Dickcissels live here in Northern Illinois, but despite all my attempts to locate one, I never encountered one until one day on a bike ride I finally heard one in the tall grass along Blood Pt. Rd (yes that's a name of a road - and I have bled there). I didn't see it, but I definitely recognized its distinctive song.  Now I am not so sure I would have even recognized its song if I didn't see and hear plenty of them (Above) this summer at the Rowe Wildlife Sanctuary (An awesome birding venue) in Nebraska, while passing through on our way back to Illinois from our Colorado trip. Dickcissels come in two types - one a drab brownish bird that can be confused with a sparrows, but the other type has a very colorful yellow and black pattern on its face, throat, and breast as well as reddish wing markings (Below, 7-11-10)

The Dickcissel's colorful yellow, black and reddish markings make it a fine capture for a photograph.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Pine Siskin

Notice the yellow markingss on the Pine Siskin's wings and tail; Silverthorne, CO; 7-6-10.
A member of the finch family that can easily be confused with a sparrow is the Pine Siskin.  They have the brown streaks on their breast, belly and flanks much like several varieties of sparrows. Distinct yellow markings (Above, Silverthorne Bike Path, Colorado; 7-6-10) on the wings of male Pine Siskins set them apart from sparrows. And the streaks will set them apart from the American Gold Finches and Lesser Goldfinches. However I have always had a hard time distinguishing between female Pine Siskins and female House Finches, until I get a good look at their beaks. The Pine Siskin's beak is more slender than the House Finch's stubby thick beak.

A Pine Siskin feeding at a bird feeder in a Silverthorne, CO, neighborhood; 7-6-10.
Pine Siskins will spend the winter in the U.S. pretty much from coast to coast, but as the weather warms up, they will migrate North and spend summers in Canada and the Southeast section of Alaska.  However some will stay year round in the cooler altitudes of the Rocky and Sierra Nevada Mountains (Below, Yosemite NP, 6-18-09).  As a matter of fact, it was in the Rockies of Colorado where I saw a small flocks of Siskins in both open forests as well as in towns feeding at bird feeders (Above, Silverthorne, CO, 7-6-10) where there were plenty of trees.

The first time I was able to identify a Pine Siskin was in Yosemite National Park, CA, on the Cathedral Lakes Trail; 6-18-09.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Black-throated Sparrow (#11)

A Black-throated Sparrow giving me a wary look; Siphon Draw Trail, Lost Dutchman State Park, AZ; 12-26-08.
My 11th and last in my blog series of Sparrows is the Black-throated Sparrow, which I think has one of the most distinctive looks of all the Sparrow species. The first time I saw a Black-throated Sparrow (Above) was in December of 2008. Again, like most of my pics of Sparrows before this year, I didn’t know it was a sparrow until after I looked up what kind of bird was on my memory stick.  This might have given me an unconscious notion that not all sparrows are uninteresting little brown birds. Ach! Those tricky sparrows!

I saw a few more the very next winter we visited Arizona. They like an arid brushy scrub as their chief habitat which in winter is mostly in Arizona, Texas, New Mexico and Mexico. In summers they will migrate further north to California, Utah, Nevada, and even up to the high desert of Eastern Oregon. I have only seen them Arizona and it seems in all the pictures I have of Black-throats, they always look like bandits up to no good with their black mask hiding part of their eyes (Below) which gives them a sort of a menacing look - luckily they are small.

Another Black-throated Sparrow keeping an eye on me; Butcher Jones Trail, Saguaro Lake, AZ; 12-29-09.

This photo of a Black-throated Sparrow (McDowell Mountain Regional Park, Phoenix, AZ; 12-30-09) was actually a lucky accident. I was focusing on a Cactus Wren which was in the same bush just above it and didn't even know he was there until after I downloaded my photos on the computer and looked at my pics.

Below is the original photo of the Cactus Wren and the Black-throated Sparrow together.

Cool! Is this known as one bird photo in hand is as good as two birds in a bush?

Thursday, August 26, 2010

White-throated Sparrow (#10)

The striking White-throated Sparrow sitting on our front porch stoop one spring morning; 4-24-10.
In April, this Spring, I was surprised to see a White-throated Sparrow rummaging around the ground in our backyard. It stayed and fed at our feeders for about an hour and then must have moved on because I didn’t see it again. It is the only time I have ever seen one. It has very bright yellow lores, that stuck out against its white eyebrow and black eye-line and crown stripes. The yellow lores are what helped me identify it fairly quickly, otherwise I might have thought it to be a white-crowned Sparrow. Of course, the “white throat” was a good indicator as well – hence the name. The photo (Above, 4-24-10) was taken as it hopped up on our front porch in front of the window. (Bottom, 4-24-10) It moved to the backyard to feed on birdseed that other birds had kicked to the ground beneath our feeders. White-throated Sparrows do spend their winters in Illinois (its most northern winter grounds), so I hope to see more of them in the future. Maybe this one will remember where he got food and will return next spring as it migrates north to its breeding grounds in Northern Wisconsin, Upper Michigan, and throughout Canada. Or if I am lucky, spend part of the winter here.

A White-throated Sparrow with its very striking yellow lores, foraging on the ground for spilled feeder seed in our backyard; 4-24-10.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

White-crowned Sparrow (#9)

White-crowned Sparrow singing its familiar song along a bike path in Silverthorne, CO; 7-6-10.
I first observed a White-crowned Sparrow in 2009, while hiking in Cedar Breaks National Monument, Utah, in June, and then again in December, in Arizona. Both times the birds were foraging on the ground in a dry brushy habitat. I thought I was lucky to spot these birds as they are not very common in Illinois. However, Sibley’s Guide to North American Birds does list them as spending winters in Illinois. I have not noticed them in our area, but this past summer while spending time in Colorado, White-crowned Sparrows were all over the place: in trees along bike trails (Above, 7-6-10) in town, out in open fields, and even around alpine lakes in the higher altitudes. I had many photo ops with this bird and learned to recognize their song as I heard them singing continuously during the week I was in Colorado. Their orange beak was a great contrast to their black and white crown colors (Below, 7-6-10).

The bright orange beak is an identifiable trait of the White-crowned Sparrow; Summit County, CO; 7-6-10.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Lincoln's Sparrow (#8)

A Lincoln's Sparrow feeds on insects along a creek in Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado; 7-8-10.
Another Sparrow that I was very lucky to see in Rocky Mountain National Park this summer was the shy Lincoln’s Sparrow (Above, 7-8-10), which shared the same habitat as the Savannah Sparrow (discussed on my 8/23 Post), in a grassy, marshy area.  It was fun to explore this marsh, sloshing through the bog, and crossing creeks . The Lincoln’s Sparrow is not common in Northern Illinois nor the Midwest as a rule, unless it’s migrating through to its Canadian and upper Michigan breeding grounds. They are more common out West especially in the higher elevations of the Rockies and the Sierra Nevadas in meadows usually near water. However they are considered very shy hiding in the brushy bogs and often mistaken for Song Sparrows. They are bit smaller in size and have more slender beaks than Song Sparrows, and the dark streaks on their breasts are finer than the Song’s (closer to that of the Savannah’s) and have a more buffy or beige color underneath the streaks (Below, 7-8-10).

You can see the buff or beige coloring beneath the streaks on the breast of a Lincoln's Sparrow; Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado; 7-8-10.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Savannah Sparrow (#7)

Savannah Sparrow enjoying a meal of a worm in a weedy marshy area of Rock Mountain National Park in Colorado; 7-8-10.

Another Sparrow which is common around Northern Illinois is the Savannah Sparrow, although, I’ll readily admit, I am not sure if I have ever seen one around here, I could very well have seen one, but probably mistook it as a Song Sparrow. However, I do know that I saw a lot of them while camping and hiking in Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado this summer. The reason I knew that they were Savannah’s is because I read a sign describing them and their habitat while I was actually in their habitat – a grassy, weedy, marshy area. The streaks on their breasts (Above, 7-8-10, RMNP) are a bit finer than the Song Sparrows’ thicker streaks. Also Savannahs aren’t as reddish on the crown as Songs and their lores (the area between the corner of the upper bill and the eyebrow) are bit yellowish and contrast with the rest of their white eyebrow (Below, 7-8-10, RMNP). Also the eye-line behind the eye of the Savannahs aren’t as thick as the Songs'. And then there are their songs. The Song Sparrow’s song is more melodic, while the Savannah’s have a more buzz-like sound to it.

Savannah Sparrow in Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado; 7-8-10.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

American Tree Sparrow (#5) and Field Sparrow (#6)

American Tree Sparrow digging in the snow looking for birdseed fallen from the front yard feeder; 1-10-10.
All spring I was misidentifying Field Sparrows as American Tree Sparrows, until I realized two main differences. First, at about the same time the Field Sparrow is returning to Northern Illinois from its winter home just a bit south from here, the American Tree Sparrow, which spends the winter here is already on the move to its tundra breeding grounds in Alaska and Northern Canada. To me they look very much alike which caused my misidentification of the two. Secondly, other than understanding when they should be in our territory, I now also rely on the color of their bill. The American Tree Sparrow (Above, 1-10-10, in my front yard) has a bicolored bill, dark upper mandible and yellowish lower mandible, which is barely visible in the photo above. One of my goals this coming winter is to try to get a better photo of this guy.
The Field Sparrow’s bill is all one pinkish color (Below top, 6-26-10).

Field Sparrow hanging around in ... what else? ... a field; Blackhawk Springs Forest Preserve; 6-26-10.

Field Sparrow singing away in Rock Cut State Park; 5-23-10.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Chipping Sparrow (#4)

Chipping Sparrow at our backyard feeder, 4-2-10

In late March / early April, I can always tell when the Chipping Sparrows (Above, 4-2-10, at our backyard feeder) have returned back to Northern Illinois from their winter grounds in Mexico and the Gulf Coast. For the past 3 years there has been a pair nesting in the big oak tree in the front yard. It greets me with its persistence long trill of a song (chipchipchipchipchipchip...) early at sunrise, when I go out to get the morning newspaper, and will keep it up until late in the morning. Chipping Sparrows are very pretty with its bright reddish crown contrasting sharply with its white eye brow and dark eye line. Chipping Sparrows are another abundant widespread sparrow with its habitat stretching from the East to West Coasts and from the Southern states to as far north as the Yukon and Northern Territories of Canada. They were also very common at higher altitudes while we were hiking in Colorado this summer.

Chipping Sparrow in Rock Cut State Park; 5-2-10

Chipping Sparrow in Rock Cut State Park; 5-10-09

Friday, August 20, 2010

Song Sparrow ( #3)

Song Sparrow huddling to keep warm on a cold January day in Northern Illinois; 1-31-10.

Song Sparrow gleening scattered seed that had fallen to the ground from my backyard feeder; 3-20-10.

After the House Sparrow, perhaps the most abundant sparrow species around Northern Illinois is the Song Sparrow. Aptly named, this species has a sweet complex song made up of short notes and longer varied trills. I have seen Song Sparrows perched in trees, foraging in brushy areas, and hopping around in grassy areas, both in busy towns and suburbs as well as forest preserves well away from people. They seem very easily adaptable in any habitat. They also are one of the few sparrows which will live here year round (Above, 1-31-10). Its very heavily streaked breast (which converge into one central spot) and flanks are easily recognized. Although there are several sparrow species with this trait (that I am now familiar with: Savannah, Vesper, and Lincoln), I am never completely certain which one it is until I see its photo or, of course, if I hear the Song Sparrow’s song (Below, 5-2-10, Rock Cut State Park). More often than not, it is a Song Sparrow that I encounter. If anyone thinks any of these photos that I have attributed as Song Sparrows are actually another species of sparrow, I would love to be corrected.

Song Sparrow doing its "name sake" thing in Rock Cut State Park, IL; 5-2-10.

Song Sparrow in Blackhawk Springs Forest Preserve; 5-15-10.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

House Sparrow (#2)

A pair of House Sparrows (3-20-10) at my backyard feeder.

I'll begin my series about sparrows with the most common - the House Sparrow. They are undeniably the most prolific of all sparrows and can be found nearly in all parts of the continent: in the mountains, in the plains, in the dessert, North, South, East and West, and especially in large metropolitan areas. They seem to thrive being near humans and like to nest on man man-made structures. About the only areas they are not common in are in the extreme North - Alaska, , and Northern Canada.  House Sparrows are not native to North America but were imported in the early 1850's from England for the purpose of controlling pest caterpillars, unfortunately, at the detriment of other songbirds especially Bluebirds, Swallows and other cavity-nesting birds which were driven away by the House Sparrow's aggressive nest stealing habits.  In less than 50 years they spread throughout the country, even seen on freight train cars heading West. Another negative aspect of the House Sparrow is its monotonous chirping, with no variation of pitch or rhythm. No doubt when my Mother or Grandmother would complain about sparrows being a nuisance, they meant the House Sparrow. Actually the male House Sparrow (Below top, 1-31-10 at my backyard feeder) is quite handsome with contrasting black, gray, white and a various shades of brown. The female (Below, bottom, 11-15-09) has the same browns minus the black and gray colors.

Male House Sparrow

Female House Sparrow

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

"It's just an old sparrow!" & Lark Sparrow (#1)

"It's just an old sparrow!" or "Ach! those dirty little sparrows!" are some of the recurring statements I remember my mother and grandmother uttering when they'd encounter a sparrow building a nest in an undesirable location such as on a porch or barn rafter.  Undoubtedly the culprit was a House Sparrow. So for most of my life sparrows didn't count as anything interesting to me - just a little boring brown bird - not worth the time to investigate.  Even when I decided to start taking bird pictures a few years ago, I still held the mentality - sparrows don't count. After several hours of traipsing through forests and fields stalking and photographing birds, I'd return home eager to put my memory stick into the computer to see what I had captured. Then I'd see a picture of a sparrow and be dissappointed that it wasn't something more interesting or colorful. "Ach! just a sparrow!" There was a span of time when I didn't even bother clicking the shutter if I saw it was a sparrow that showed up in my viewfinder.  I think I finally started condescending to taking sparrow photos when I went off on a bird hunting jaunt and couldn't find anything else, or it was just too close and irrisistable not to take a photo.

Well, one day this past May, while I was out searching out Indigo Buntings (now there's a colorful bird worth my time - not a boring little brown bird) at Blackhawk Springs Forest Preserve near Rockford, I snapped a photo of a bird that was rummaging around in a brushy field next to the tree line that I often spot Indigos. I couldn't identify the bird at first, hoping perhaps it might be an Indigo.  Then as I crept closer, I could see it wasn't an Indigo Bunting, but a sparrow looking type bird - "Ach! stupid sparrow!"  So I kept moving and didn't bother taking any other pictures of that bird.  Eventually I found and photographed my desired Indigo and happily went home with the victorius feeling of a successful hunt.  When I popped my memory stick into the computer and scanned through my pics, I came upon that unidentified sparrow type bird. I saw that it wasn't one of the usual four sparrows I encounter: House,  Song, Field or Chipping Sparrow. Because I was a fair distance away when I zoomed in on this bird, the pic was soft but still clear enough to research its identity. I soon identified it as a Lark Sparrow. I had never heard of a Lark Sparrow and it had a very interesting head pattern of reddish, black and white. I thought, "This is a beautiful bird." and I wished I had taken more time to get a better photo. I'll include the photo of this Lark Sparrow (Below, 5-16-10, Blackhawk Springs Forest Preserve), not because it's a good photo (it's not), but because it's this bird that has transformed my a bad attitude about sparrows. This bird is like a sparrow therapist, or the Dalai Lama of Birds, which made me see the light and adjusted my bad attitude toward sparrows. If only the world worked as simply as this.

Blurry Lark Sparrow (Dalai Lama) at Blackhawk Springs Forest Preserve

For the rest of the spring and summer, I made it a point not to ignore sparrows or sparrow-like birds, but even to actively seek them out.  I even went back to the site of my enlightenment hoping to get another glimpse of my beloved Dalai Lama of Lark Sparrows, but Alas, I never saw it again.

Identifying sparrows is very challenging because there are such subtle differences between many species, and for many of my photos I am still not altogether certain of my identification between one or another species.  And I am just a novice at recognizing and remembering the many Sparrow songs. Nevertheless, for the next few days I'll showcase the result of my Summer Sparrow hunt.  I felt proud that I have photographed and identified eleven different Sparrow species... That was until I found out that in The Sibley Field Guide to Birds of Eastern (and Western) North America there are listed 36 different species of Sparrows (32 in the Eastern Guide and 30 in the Western Guide - but had 4 not in the Eastern Guide) that exist on our continent. So that leaves me only ... um ... 25 more to go. 
Ach! Stupid Sparrows

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Cattle Egret

Cattle Egret in the fields on Oahu, Hawaii

When I was in Hawaii in the summer of 2008, I saw flocks of Cattle Egret (Above, 6-25-08, Oahu) , especially in fields on the islands of Oahu and on Kauai. This is the first time I have run across these Egrets. They are the smallest of the White Heron family, only growing up to 20" tall compared to the Great Egret (39" tall). Since I have learned that they are common along the southern coasts of Florida and throughout the Gulf as well as along the Pacific coast stretching from Mexico all the up to Northern California. In the summer they will be found inland in the Southern states and as far up as Kansas, Missouri, Southern Illinois, and believe it or not, the grasslands of North Dakota. This is not all that surprising, because when I saw them in Hawaii, they seemed to be more of an open field and grassland bird than a shorebird.  They have mostly white plumage with feint yellowish-pinkish feathers on its crown, back and breast during mating season. In both photos (Above and Below), you can see those colorings. Although their feet are not visible in the photos, they are yellow during breeding (Mar - July), and turn dark during off breeding months (Aug - Feb).

Cattle Egret in the jungle brush near Hanakapai Waterfall, Kauai.

In Kauai, while hiking the Kalalau Trail we were surprised to find a solo Cattle Egret (Above, 7-10-08, Kauai) foraging among the jungle brush at Hanakapai Falls. All of our other obsevations seemed that this bird stayed in small flocks and in open fields. However, this guy either knew something that the other Cattle Egret didn't, or he was very lost.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Snowy Egret

This past week as I was showing photos from a weekend on the Mississippi River between Illinois and Iowa, I saw plenty of Great Egrets.  Another common Egret, although not common in Northern Illinois, is the Snowy Egret (Above, 12-29-09), which I saw a few last winter while staying in Phoenix, AZ for a week. The Snowy Egret will spend summers in the southern range of the Mississippi River from Lousianna to as far north as Southern Illinois, as well as along sea coasts of the Atlantic, Pacific, and Gulf. The Snowy Egret has more black in its bill and a unique feature is its yellow feet (as you can see in the photo Below, 12-29-09) with black legs while they are in their breeding months from Feb. - July (The Great Egret has fully black legs and feet). Since these Egrets were not breeding (Aug. - Jan.) their black legs are more of a greenish color.

The same Snowy Egret in flight showing its yellow feet.

Another Snowy Egret, a Double-crested Cormorant, and an American Coot hanging out together at a water hazard at the Ocotillo Gulf Course in Phoenix.  Maybe they formed a mixed threesome.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Ring-billed Gull

Ring-billed Gull looking for a fishy handout

Ring-billed Gulls were very common along the Mississippi River, last weekend while was on a boating outing with friends near the Palisades State Park of Illinois. In the past on trips to the Apostle Islands or Isle Royale National Park, I remember huge flocks of gulls following commercial fishing boats on Lake Superior (hoping for a handout of unwanted fish that were cast from the boats. So while we were cruising the Mississippi in the speedboat, every once in a while a Ring-billed Gull (Above, 8-7-10) would fly up behind the boat and follow, probably checking us out to see if we were a fishing boat with handouts available. When the gull decided that we weren't giving out fish treats, it would fly off. A couple of times the gulls flew so close behind us, I was able to get some good photos without using my zoom at its maximum level. Using the Sports mode on my Canon Rebel T1i made it possible to capture the gulls in flight to stop action.

The ring on the tip of the bill of this Ring-billed Gull is more evident.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Great Egret

Another tall wading bird that I saw last weekend, on my trip out on the Mississippi River, is the Great Egret (also posted pics of the Great Egret on my  6-13-10 post).  Great Egrets will spend its summers along the Mississippi River in large numbers. They usually are solitary bird, but where prey is abundant, they will gather in large numbers. I saw many nesting on "Bird Island" (8-10-10 Post). This would conclude that the Mississippi has an abundant of snakes, frogs, fish and crayfish - its favorite foods.  In the photo (Below, 8-7-10), is a Great Egret ready to land in the reeds along the Illinois side of the Mississippi River.

The Great Egret's combination of a yellow bill and black legs is unique among egrets and herons.

A Great Egret fishing at Horicon Marsh National Wildlife refuge in Southern Wisconsin (5-29-10)

Friday, August 13, 2010

Double-crested Comorant

When a friend of mine gave me tour of the Mississippi River (Near Palisades State Park) on his boat last weekend, the number of Double-crested Comorants that I saw on "Bird Island" was astounding. On Tuesday, 8-10, I posted a picture of some trees on "Bird Island" with it seems like hundreds of Comorants nesting. We couldn't get close enough to the island to get a good close-up of the Comorants, but below is a photo of a Comorant that I accidently flushed out of the reeds while hiking around a section of Horicon Marsh National Wildlife Refuge in Southern Wisconsin.

Double-crested Comorant in flight at Horicon Marsh National Wildlife Refuge (5-29-10)

On the far right of the photo (Above, 8-7-10, Mississippi River), a Double-crested Comorant has its wings spread to dry.

In the photo (Above, 8-7-10) you can see a few Comorants with this flock of American White Pelicans on a sandbar in the Mississippi River. Comorants will grow to almost 3 feet tall with a 5' wingspan and you can see how small they are in comparison to the Pelicans. This species of Comorant is the only type that you will find inland away from the Atlantic, Pacific or Gulf coasts.
The Double-crested Cormorant swims low in the water, often with just its neck and head visible, and dives for its food from the surface. It uses its feet for propulsion and is able to dive to a depth of 2 -10 feet for up to 30–70 seconds. When it resurfaces, it spends long periods standing with its wings outstretched (Above, 8-7-10) to allow them to dry, since they are not fully waterproofed. This species flies low over the water, with its bill tilted slightly upward, sometimes leaving the colony in long, single-file lines (Below, 8-7-10, Mississippi River). 

Double-crested Comorants flying in single-file (8-7-10, Mississippi River)

Thursday, August 12, 2010

American White Pelicans

White Pelicans have one of the largest wingspans of any North American bird at nine feet long. They need large strong wings to carry them airbourne as Pelicans can grow up to 5' tall and an average weight of 16 pounds ... I have read that some Pelicans may weigh as much as 30 pounds.

(Above and Below, 8-7-10, Mississippi River) American White Pelicans flying in a synchronized pattern.

Pelicans in flight are a majestic sight. They seem to fly in a synchronized pattern as each bird takes its cue from the one in front of it, flapping or gliding in unison. Although the pictures aren't the best in quality, they will show pairs of Pelicans in synchronized flight. It is a beautiful sight when they do this larger flocks.

American White Pelicans flying in unison (Horicon Marsh Wildlife Refuge, WI, 5-29-10)

Did you take yesterday's Pelican Challenge (Below)? Which one is not like the others?
My answers:
1. There is a Double-crested-Comorant tucked in between the Pelicans in the lower left of the photo - about a third of the way in from the left edge of the pic.
2. In the Center Top of the photo, there is one Pelican facing the opposite direction with its bill pointing left (and another one just below the obvious one - with the middle of its bill hidden behind the Pelican in front of it) , instead of the others pointing their bills to the right. Rebels!
3. About one fifth of the way in from the middle of the left edge of the photo, there is one Pelican facing directly front and you can only see its pink top bill, and not the yellow bottom bill as all the others.

Can you tell I'm a teacher?