Sunday, November 28, 2010

White-throated Sparrow

A White-throated Sparrow with its bright yellow lores hanging around the Alfred Caldwell Lily Pond, Lincoln Park, Chicago; 10/30/10.

Another bird that I saw plenty of while meandering through the Alfred Caldwell Lily Pond was the White-throated Sparrow (Above) and (Below) while walking around the Jarvis Migratory Bird Sanctuary in late October. I featured this Sparrow species on my 8/26/10 post.

I saw another White-throat at the Jarvis Migratory Bird Sanctuary, Chicago Lakefront; 10/30/10.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Purple Finch, Alfred Caldwell Lily Pond

A male Purple Finch showing off its colors at the Alfred Caldwell Lily Pond, Lincoln Park, Chicago; 10/30/10.
Also found in Lincoln Park, adjacent to the Zoo, is the Alfred Caldwell Lily Pond. It is a great little secluded pond that has an abundant of species of birds: In particular on our late October visit, as we walked through this small area, I saw lots of Purple Finches and white-Throated Sparrows. I have seen many House Finches at my backyard feeder, and occaissionally a female Purple Finch (Below) is among the House Finch crowd, but this is the first time I recall spotting a male Purple Finch (Above) at a close enough range for a decent photo.

Although not a clear pic, a female Purple Finch was flocking around with House Finches last fall at my backyard feeder; Rockford; 10/25/09.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Trumpeter Swans

A pair of Trumpeter Swans enjoying the warm afternoon of late October, South Pond, Lincoln Park, Chicago; 10/30/2010.
Another great water bird we saw swimming in the South Pond in Lincoln Park were a pair of Trumpeter Swans. 
As I stated in my Oct. 10 post on this blog ( ), Trumpeter Swans have been revived from near extinction and are now found in healthy populations in and around many of the Great Lakes.  The Zoological Society of Lincoln Park has been very active in helping the Trumpeter Swans be reestablished in Illinois. Two Trumpeter Swans were bred and released into the wild by the Zoo which was founded in 1868 when the Lincoln Park Commissioners were given a gift of a pair of these majestic swans. In 1874, the swans were joined by a bear cub, the first animal purchased for the zoo.

 Check out the link below that details information about Lincoln Park's activity dealing with Trumpeter Swans:

The Trumpeters get their names because they (both males and females) give off a loud and deep honking calls that sound like a bugle or trumpet. Sometimes they trumpet once, and sometimes twice. When two trumpeter swans greet each other they set off a great, loud display of honking and spreading their wings. All this noise is produced in its voice box - called a "syrinx." - which is so long it coils around the swans’ breast bone.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Duck, Duck, Goose (and Turkey and Chicken too!) - Greater White-fronted Geese?

What better day than to turn our thoughts to all of the fowl that have given up their lives for our pleasure at the Thanksgiving Table - geese, turkeys, ducks and chickens.  All of the photos on today's post are actually of wild birds - believe it or not.

Are these Greater White-fronted Geese or Graylag (barnyard) Geese? North Pond, Lincoln Park, Chicago; 10-3-10.

A closer look at this goose - the white-tipped tail and the white patch at the base of its bill suggests a Greater White-fronted Goose, North Pond, Lincoln Park, Chicago; 10-3-10.
I'll start with a trio of handsome geese that Val and I saw on the North Pond, while visiting Lincoln Park in Chicago.  When I first saw these birds (Above) I thought they were Greater White-fronted Geese (GWFG), but upon research I found that they would be on edge of the farthest eastern fringe of their migration route.  As I noted in the caption of the 2nd photo above, they seemed to fit the description of a GWFG, but as I researched photos of both the GWFG and the Graylag Goose - they are both so close in appearance - I became more and more inconclusive. According Sibley's Field Guide to North American Birds, the Graylag is more common in farm ponds and city parks (Lincoln Park, North Pond, hmmm...) and some also sport a small white patch at the base of their bills, and some had white-tipped tails and some didn't.  The Graylag is a bit bigger (6" longer than the GWFG), but without both of them being next to each other I would not be able to tell its size. Are there any bird experts out there that can help me with the identification? Let me know. Regardless of what species they were, they certainly were photogenic.

Another goose that I had trouble ID'ing earlier this spring was a pure white goose (Above). While hiking around the lake at Bauman Park, there were the usual abundant flocks of Canada Geese, but in the midst of one small flock was this pure white goose, which upon my investigation and creeping slowly closer, it became very defensive and protective of its goslings; whereas the adult Canada Geese within the same flock ignored me. I hoped the white goose was a Snow Goose. It had the wrinkly feathers on its neck and its trademark "grin," a small dark section of its bill which makes it look like it's smirking or grinning. But it lacked the black tipped wing and it's highly unusual that a Snow Goose would be flocking with Canadas. However, it is not unusual for an escaped white domestic goose to travel with and mate with Canadas. I have seen that before, and this white goose was definitely the mother of the goslings which appeared to have Canada markings but with some unusual white markings.  (Below) is definitely a domestic white goose that was swimming in Saguaro Lake near Phoenix AZ.

The setting of this white goose was very eye-catching as it contrasted with the black reflection of the bridge swirling together with the pure blue water, Saguaro Lake, Phoenix, AZ; 10/27/07.
Canada Geese are the most common and abundant of all geese in North America. Below are a few of my favorite photos of the Canadas:

A lone Canada Goose rests in the sunset lit lake at Bauman Park. Just before I snapped the picture, it moved enough to create the rings that was caught by the sunlight , Rockford IL; 5/14/10.

I loved how the heads of these goslings glowed in the morning sunlight, Rock Cut State Park, Rockford, IL; 5/18/08.

Val captured these two adult Canadas with a brood of over 20 goslings (you can't see all of them in the photo) as they swam towards us in the Seney Wildlife Refuge, Upper Peninsula Michigan; 5/27/07.

Val took this fantastic shot of a flock of Canadas flying past a full moon at Bauman Park, Rockford, IL; Oct., 2007.
Other than Canada Geese, another very abundant waterfowl species are the Mallard Ducks. Mallards are found coast to coast year round, and travel all the way to the northern reaches of Alaska and Canada in the summer months and all the way south into Mexico during the winter months. below are some of my favorite Mallard pics:
One evening while hiking around Pierce Lake in Rock Cut State Park, I captured these Mallards silhouetted against the sunset reflecting in the lake. Because of the landscape orientation of the photo and that Mallards are so common around here, I ended up choosing this photo as my Logo for this blog, Rockford; 6/15/07.

A Mallard doing a balancing act on a rock in a pond at Anderson Gardens. I loved how the green trees reflecting in the pond created a perfect background for the Mallard to "pop out" as the focal point in this composition. Rockford, IL; 6/16/08.

The duck in this photo had me perplexed for a year as I couldn't find any pictures to help me with its ID. However my friends at informed me that this most likely the result of a Mallard mating with another duck species. The offspring is known as a "Manky Mallard," a name coined by Charles who is the forum leader at his website ; Photo taken in Phoenix, AZ, 12/29/09.
Well, one can't highlight birds on Thanksgiving Day without the mention of the Turkey. (Below) is a reprise of a Wild Turkey photo that I posted on one of my earliest posts (6/24/10) on this blog.

This Wild Turkey gobbled at me while I was riding my bike in Rock Cut State Park early one morning. I loved how the rising sun backlit its red wattle and tail feathers; Rockford, IL; 5/23/10.
My last photo is of a bird that you may be surprised is wild. In the summer of 2008, while val and I were in Hawaii, we noticed a lot of chickens roaming about, and roosters crowing at all times of the day, including in the middle of the night.  I wondered why the locals allowed their chickens to run free. Val was fascinated over these chickens and took several photos.  Me - being a sensible Midwestern boy, born and raised around farms which had many chickens, I just didn't see them as an interesting item - especially since we were in Hawaii. One day while perusing a book about Wild Birds of the Hawaiian Islands, it had included these chickens and they were called Wild Jungle Fowl (Below). Apparently they are descendants of many generations of domesticated chickens that escaped their pens during typhoons, cyclones, and other storms.

Val took this photo from a safe distance of a Wild Jungle Fowl terrorizing the island of Oahu, Hawaii; 6/8/08.
Happy Thanksgiving! And remember, whatever fowl you may be serving this year at your Thanksgiving table, it is most likely a distance relative of one of the fine birds that I have highlighted in this post. Give it its proper respect before devouring it. I have heard of a "Turducken," but what about a "Turdugoosken?"

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Red-breasted Merganser

A female Red-breasted Merganser just emerged from a dive, Lincoln Park, Chicago: 10/30/10.
As promised, the third of four additions to my life list also came from our late October visit to Lincoln Park, Chicago. We saw a couple of female Red-breasted Mergansers floating and diving in the pond just south of the Lincoln Park Zoo. Unlike the Hooded Merganser which will spend the entire year hear (11/20 Post), the Red-breasted Merganser is more likely to be passing through while on its southern migration from its summer home in Northern Canada (also the shores of Lake Superior) to its winter home along the Atlantic Coast and south to the Gulf Coasts of Louisiana, Texas, and Florida.  As much as I searched, I couldn't locate a male Red-breasted Merganser which sports a dark head and of course a red breast.  The female Red-breasted is very similar to the female Common Merganser, but is distinguishable with a color contrast from the darker brownish top of the head with the pale reddish cheek and neck; whereas the Common's head is mostly all one brownish red color. The Red-breasted's bill is more slender and not as deep red as the Common's. I thought I'd post a photo of a Common Merganser to show the contrast, but, alas, my photos of the Common Merganser were too gray and didn't show the colors very well.

Two more pics of a female Red-breasted Merganser, Lincoln Park, Chicago: 10/30/10.

In honor of the upcoming Thanksgiving, I plan on four posts (Thur - Sun) to show off my pics of four other birds observed during our Chicago Lincoln Park and Jarvis Migratory Bird Sanctuary visit.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Hooded Merganser

A Hooded Merganser with raised crest or "hood", North Pond, Lincoln Park, Chicago; 10/30/10
With all my excitement about finally seeing a Wood Duck (11/19/10 Post) in the wild (as wild as Chicago might be), there was another very attractive looking water bird swimming in the midst of the Mallards and Wood Ducks, that I barely noticed it until Val pointed it out. - a Hooded Merganser - Cool! Another first for me - and in the same setting.  Its black (face, scapulars and neck) and white (side of the head and breast) upper body is attractively set off by its reddish brown sides.  When raised (Above), the crest of this Merganser looks like a "Hood" - hence its name. The white spot is enlarged when the hood is raised, and looks like a stripe when the crest is lowered (Below).
A Hooded Merganser with lowered crest, North Pond, Lincoln Park, Chicago; 10/30/10
Hooded Mergansers are a yearlong residents of Northern Illinois - often found in sheltered ponds and bays. They seem to prefer ponds near a wood setting where they nest in the cavities of standing dead trees. In the summers, Hooded Mergansers will migrate as far north as the Hudson Bay, Canada; while winters are spent as far south as the Gulf Coast.  We are lucky that they will spend the entire year in the southern Great Lakes regions.
Another Hooded Merganser, North Pond, Lincoln Park, Chicago; 10/30/10
Tomorrow I will highlight another first for me - the Red-breasted Merganser. The North Pond was good to me in late October.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Wood Ducks, North Pond, Lincoln Park & Jarvis Migratory Bird Sanctuary, Chicago

A pair of Wood Ducks (male & female) at North Pond, Lincoln Park, Chicago, IL; 10/30/10.
Even in a large urban setting like Chicago, there are still places that one can go to observe wildlife, and of course, birds.  A couple of weeks ago, I spent a few hours at two such places: Lincoln Park and the Jarvis Sanctuary.
Lincoln Park is well known for its Zoo, but also has two large ponds that attract waterfowl during their migratory routes: sensibly named "The North Pond" and "The South Pond."  While hoofing around the North Pond, I observed, not only the usual Mallard Ducks and Canada Geese, but also several other species: Mergansers (both Hooded and Red-Breasted), American Coots, Ruddy Ducks, a pair of Trumpeter Swans, a trio of Gray-Fronted Geese, and the bird I went there in hopes of seeing - Wood Ducks (Above). Believe it or not, I have never seen the colorful Wood Duck in the wild before, and I heard that they are often seen in at the North Pond. So off we went in search of Wood Ducks and more - we were not disappointed.  We saw several small flocks of Wood Ducks mixed in with Mallards, Coots, and Mergansers. Wood Ducks are found largely in the Midwest, Northeast, and the southern portions of Canada in the summer months and will migrate down to the Southeast section of the country in winter. They also live along the Northwest Pacific Coast year round.  They are so beautiful to observe that even after I knew I had some very good pictures of them, I kept taking more (Below)
Male Wood Duck, North Pond, Lincoln Park, Chicago; 10/30/10

Female Wood Duck, North Pond, Lincoln Park, Chicago; 10/30/10

Male Wood Duck, North Pond, Lincoln Park, Chicago; 10/30/10

Pair of Wood Ducks, North Pond, Lincoln Park, Chicago; 10/30/10
I was told by a grounds keeper that some of the Wood Ducks found at the North Pond are actual permanent residents, but many are also wild. I really couldn't tell which were wild or not, and then wondered if I could add them to my Life List. But my dilemma was later satisfied when I visited the Jarvis Migratory Bird Sanctuary (off of Lakeshore Drive and Addison Street) and spotted a young male Wood duck sitting quietly in a marshy area (Below).  Initially I thought it was a female Wood Duck, but its pinkish white bill, white verticle stripe on its cheek, and yellow eyes told me it was a male without its full regalia of plumage.

Young male Wood Duck; Jarvis Sanctuary, Chicago; 10/30/10.
It is worth noting that the Bill Jarvis Migratory Bird Sanctuary ( )  is an excellent place to spot birds. It is a haven of approximately 8 acres of woodland and wetland habitat located smack dab in the middle of a very populated busy lakeshore recreation area. Fortunately for the birds but unfortunately for birders, it is enclosed by a protective fence. However, there is a wood chip path leading around the perimeter of the sanctuary and on the East side, a large viewing platform which provides a heightened perspective of the two lakes on this side of the park, along with information to identify the many species of birds that visit or live here. The number and variety of species of birds that use this small parcell of land during migration is astonishing. I took the pic of the Wood Duck above through the fence, so it is fairly easy to get photographs even if we are not allowed inside the sanctuary. That is a true meaning of a sanctuary.

Tomorrow and the next couple of weekends I will highlight other birds that I photographed at Lincoln Park: Trumpeter Swans, Hooded Merganser, Red-Breasted Merganser, Purple Finch, Gray-fronted Goose, and the White-throated Sparrow.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Purple Martin

A Purple Martin hanging around their summer home in the Horicon Marsh NWR, WI; 5/29/10.

Although the Purple Martin was no longer present at the Horicon Marsh Wildlife Refuge in my October visit, it was very abundant there when I visited last May.  At the Visitors center and at the Headquarters of the State run section of the Horicon Marsh Refuge in Wisconsin, there are several Purple Martin Houses on poles that attracted an abundant of resident Purple Martins. Purple Martins are a member of the swallow family but are a bit larger at 8" long compared to 5"-6" length of other swallows. The adult male (Above) has a dark bluish - purplish back, head and belly with brownish-black wing tips and tails. They almost exclusively reside in man-made housing complexes, much like miniature apartment buildings (Below).

Purple Martins roosting in their "Apartments" at the State of Wisconsin Horicon Marsh State Wildlife Refuge; 5/29/10.

Female Purple Martins (Below) have a lighter underside appearing almost yellowish in contrast to their male counterparts.

A female Purple Martin in flight, Horicon Marsh Wildlife Refuge, Wisconsin; 5/29/10.

A close up look at the Purple Martin's deep blue feathers; Horicon Marsh Wildlife Refuge, WI; 5/29/10.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Sparrows of the Horicon Marsh NWR

I identified four types of sparrows at the Horicon Marsh National Wildlife Refuge: Savannah Sparrow, White-crowned Sparrow, American Tree Sparrow and Song Sparrow. Of these four only one (Savannah Sparrow Below) is hanging around in its summer range before migrating south to its winter range from the southern tip of Illinois to the Gulf Coast.

A Savannah Sparrow still hanging around Horicon Marsh, WI,  before migrating south; 10/16/10

Another Sparrow (Song Sparrow, Below) is one of the few sparrows who call Southern Wisconsin and Illinois home year round.
The Song Sparrow stays in Southern Wisconsin and Illinois year round; 10/16/10.

The White-crowned Sparrow (Below top) and American Tree Sparrow (Below, Bottom) spends its summers in the very far north of Canada and throughout Alaska. These guys call the Horicon Marsh area and Illinois their winter home.  The White-crowned is at its northern most edge of its winter range and will fly south as far as the Gulf Coast.
A White-crowned Sparrow in its northern edge of its winter range, Horicon Marsh NWR; 10/16/10.

The Horicon Marsh, Wisconsin, and northern Illinois is a typical winter home for the American Tree Sparrow; 10/16/10.

It's interesting how four different species of Sparrows overlap their ranges during their fall migration.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Kildeer, Great Egret, Pied-billed Gebe, Sandhill Crane

Here are some more photos of shorebirds and wading birds from our Horicon Marsh National Wildlife Refuge excursion near Horicon, Wisconsin...

A Kildeer at Horicon Marsh Wildlife National Refuge.

Two photos of a Great Egret at the Horicon Marsh National Wildlife Refuge; 10/16/10.

Pied-billed Grebe at Horicon Marsh National Wildlife Refuge; 10/16/10

Sandhill Cranes flying overhead through the trees; 10/16/10.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Lesser Yellowlegs

A Lesser Yellowlegs wading around one of the many miles of shoreline in the Horicon Marsh National Wildlife Refuge, Horicon, Wisconsin; 10/16/10.
There were two more birds that I added to my Life List as we hiked in the Horicon National Wildlife Refuge a couple of weeks ago: The Lesser Yellowlegs (Above and Below) and the Green-winged Teal of which I didn't get very good photographs.
The Yellowlegs is another bird that is in the middle of its southward migration. In the summer it resides in the northern half of Canada and throughout most of Alaska, but seems to stay south of the Arctic Circle. In the winter it will fly all the way to the South Atlantic Coast along the Carolinas, Georgia, Florida and along the entite Gulf Coast and also in the West in the Baja Peninsula and south into Mexico. They grow to be about 10.5" tall and prefer to wade in shallower and more grassy sites. There is also A Greater Yellowlegs which is about 3" taller and has a much longer bill.

A Lesser Yellowlegs, Horicon Marsh NWR, Horicon, Wisconsin; 10/16/10.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Tundra Swans

Tundra Swans enjoying a swim at Horicon Marsh National Wildlife Refuge, Horicon, Wisconsin; 10/16/10.
 We decided to drive a three mile Nature Loop that was at the northern end of the Horicon National Wildlife Refuge to see what we could see. At our very first pull out, there was an overlook with a view of a small section of the marsh where there were several dozen waterfowl swimming. Among these were three beatiful Swans, which I at first thought were Trumpeter Swans, but turned out to be Tundra Swans- what luck! I have never seen a Tundra Swan before. They were undoubtedly taking a rest stop in the Marsh while migrating from their summer home in the Arctic Circle - the Northern reaches of Alaska and Canada - to their winter homes on both the Atlantic and Pacific coasts. Tundra Swans will grow to about 52" tall with a wingspan of five and a half feet.  As more people stopped to see what we were looking at, the Swans must have sensed too many humans around and suddenly took to flight. Val photographed them on their take off. See the link below to her Photo blog for 10/18/10:

And I took several shots of them in flight (See below) as they cicled over head and out of sight. We were fortunate enough to get there before they flew away.

Tundra Swans in flight, Horicon National Wildlife Refuge, Horicon, Wisconsin; 10/16/10.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Horicon Marsh National Wilflife Refuge

Horicon Marsh National Wildlife Refuge, Horicon, Wisconsin; 10-16-10
A couple of weeks ago Val and I spent a few hours hiking around the trails at Horicon Marsh National Wildlife Refuge  near Horicon, Wisconsin - less than a two hour drive north of the Illinois Border.  This refuge is a very important hub for thousands of Canada Geese and other waterfowl flying south for the winter or north in the spring. Other than Geese, over 220 bird species along with white-tailed deer, red fox, river otters, muskrats, snapping turtles, garter snakes, and other animals call the Marsh home.
In our 4 to 5 hour hike, we saw hundreds of birds (mostly Canada Geese and Mallard Ducks) of which we identified no less than 30 species, as well as muskrats, squirrels, chipmunks, and several types of turtles. The following is the list of birds we identified:
Sparrows: Savannah, Song, White-crowned, American Tree, Dark-eyed Slate-colored Juncos
Wading Birds: Sandhill Cranes, Great Egrets
Shorebirds: Lesser Yellowlegs*, Killdeer, Least Sandpiper, Ring-billed Gull (and others I couldn't identify)
Swimming Birds: Mallards, Canada Geese, Pied-billed Grebe, American Coots, Green-winged Teals*, Tundra Swans* (and I'm sure others that were too far away to identify or because of my lack of knowledge).
Scavanger Birds: American Crows, European Starlings, Brown-headed Cowbirds.
Tree Clinging Birds: Downy Woodpecker, White-breasted Nuthatch, Red-breasted Nuthatch, Black-capped Chickdees, Northern Flicker.
Perching Birds: Hermit Thrush, Goldfinches, American Robins, Northern Cardinal, Blue Jay
Other: Ring-necked Pheasant, Mourning Doves.

*The birds I marked with an asterik were new sightings for me (#'s 217, 218 and 219 on my "Life List").

In the next few weekends, I will highlight some of the birds that I managed to photograph there, but for today I'd like to show off how beautiful Horicon Marsh National Wildlife Refuge is!

Cattails on the Marsh; 10-16-10.
A cattail that looks like a fox head; 10-16-10

Horicon Marsh is the largest fresh water Cattail Marsh in the United States - over 32,000 acres: 10-16-10.

Grass turning a menagerie of Autumn colors: 10-16-10.

A floating boardwalk to let hikers get closer to the waterfowl out in the marsh: 10-16-10.