Thursday, March 31, 2011

Northern Illinois Winter Birds

A winter scene from Rock Cut State Park, Rockford, IL; 1/30/11.
On my 3/19/11 post I listed several birds that migrate south to the Northern Illinois to spend their winter months in our warmer climate. It's time to say goodbye to these species after we have invited them into our yards and forests for the winter. Here are few more pics of these visitors:

The Dark-eyed Slate-colored Junco is a frequent visitor to our area, Rockford, IL; 1/14/11.
The Slate-colored Dark-eyed Junco spend their summers throughout Canada and Alaska, but will be found year round in the Appalachians and the Northeast  States. In winter they will spread out throughout the U.S. except for the Florida peninsula, southern California, and the southern tip of Texas.
Bald Eagles at Starved Rock Sate park, Illinois; 1/31/09.
Bald Eagles spend their summers throughout Canada and Alaska and will be found year round along both coasts, the Great Lakes, fresh water lakes in mountains, and along major rivers. And Actually I spotted a Bald Eagle (Below) at our own Rock Cut State Park on 3/27/11. In winter they'll be found throughout the U.S. and along the Rock River, Illinois River, and Mississippi River in Illinois.

This is the best capture I could get of a Bald Eagle before it flew away out of sight, Rock Cut State Park, Rockford, IL; 3/27/11.

Snow Buntings looking for food in a field in Rockford, IL; 1/30/11.
Snow Buntings (Above) migrate south to northern half of the U.S. after spending their summer in the Arctic tundra of Alaska and Canada. While in our region of Northern Illinois, they can be found in large flocks with Horned Larks and Lapland Longspurs usually in farm fields.

A Rusty Blackbird in Lincoln Park, Chicago, IL; 3-30-11.

Rusty Blackbirds (Above) who spend their summers in Canada and Alaska can be found in the eastern half (save the southern half of Florida) of the U.S. in winter.

I'll spend the next week talking about birds who stay in Northern Illinois all year round.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Common Merganser, Northern Illinois Winter Visitor

A male Common Merganser taking flight at Nygren Wetlands Preserve, Rockton, IL; 3/19/11.

Common Mergansers are among the waterfowl that will spend its winters in the Northern Illinois Area, as attested by the (Above) at Nygren Wetlands Preserve, just a few miles north of Rockford, IL. In the summers they will migrate north into canada and Alaska, but can be found year round in both the Northeast and Northwest States, as well as the northern shores of the Great Lakes. Because the (Above) pic was taken in March, the male is already in its breeding plumage: White neck and secondary coverts contrasted greatly witha black head and primaries (wing tips) and a bright red bill and feet.  Its winter plumage is more lke the female (Below): drab grayish body, with a rusty head, but keeps the red bill and has white coverts and secondaries.

Two female Common Mergansers, Nygren wetlands reserve, Rockton, IL; 3/19/11.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Red-breasted Nuthatch & White-breasted Nuthatch, Nothern Illinois Winter Birds

Fire & Ice: A Valentines Day Sunrise
glinting off icicles hanging
off the eves of our front porch,
Rockford, IL; 2/14/10.

With Spring arriving and winter in its last gasps, I am in the midst of a series of posts saying goodbye to our winter visitors of the bird world. Many people who don't care for winter often miss out on the natural beauty that is created by what cold weather has to offer, such as the morning sunlight reflecting off the icicles of our front porch (Left), and of course, the many birds that migrate to our area for the winter - which call Northern Illinois their winter home.

You may refer to my post on 3/19/11 (with link below) to find a list of these birds:

Another bird is frequently seen in our area during the winter is the Red-breasted Nuthatch (below). This little bird, which only grows to 4 1/2 " in length spends its summers in Canada and Alaska, but migrates south to the warmer climates of Wisconsin, Minnesota, Illinois, and actually much of the contiguous U.S.  It's very rare that it will be found as far south as Florida, the southern tips of Texas, California or Arizona.  However, these hardy little guys can be found year round in the mountainous regions of the Rockies and Appalachians as well as the northern sections of the Great Lakes and both the Northeast and Northwest States where the climate does not get too hot. They can also be found year round in the southern section of Alaska.

A Red-breasted Nuthatch feeding on a Suet cake in our backyard, Rockford, IL; 1/5/11.
The Red-breasted Nuthatch sports a grayish back, a black crown and eye stripe with a bold white eye brow, and of course its namesake - a reddish breast and under belly. 

A Red-breasted Nuthatch looking for the perfect seed, Rockford, IL; 2/3/11.
Closely related to the red-breasted Nuthatch is its cousin, the White-breasted Nuthatch (Below) which is bigger at 5.75" in length and also is a resident of  Northern Illinois year round. Both of these nuthatches are regular visitors to our backyard feeding stations.

A White-breasted Nuthatch, Rockford, IL;11/29/09.
White-breasted Nuthatches have a white head and breast with black crown and bluish/grayish back, tail and wings with fine white and black striping on the wings.  These tree-clingers are found year round throughout the U.S. and into the southern regions of Canada. There are pockets in Southern U.S. (Florida, Texas, the Gulf Coast states, parts of Oklahoma, Kansas and Colorado, and strangely enough the southeast corner of Oregon and southwest corner of Idaho where they are not found.  Both the Red-breasted and White-breasted nuthatches are often found clinging to tree trunks upside down.

A White-breasted Nuthatch, Rock Cut State Park, Rockford, IL; 9/4/10.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Brown Creeper, Northern IL Winter bird

A winter scene from Rock Cut State Park, Rockford, IL; 1/30/11
Another visitor to the Northern Illinois area in the winter is the Brown Creeper (Below). I see this cute little bird both in my yard (mostly gleening food off the tree trunks, never actually on my feeder stations) and in the nearby forest preserves and parks. Like the House Finch (my 3/19/11 post) the Brown Creeper is considered a year round resident in parts of Northern Illinois, I only witness its presence from Fall through Spring. In winter months it can be found throughout the entire U.S. except for the southern reaches of Florida and Texas. In summer it will migrate into Canada, but will stay in the U.S in the colder climates of the mountains - Rockies and Appalachains, and the Northeast and Northwest states. Strangely enough there are other pockets where they can be found year round - Northern Illinois being one of them along with the Southwest corner of South Dakota and along the Mississippi River and Ohio River valley.

A Brown Creeper looking for spiders and insects on a backyard tree, Rockford, IL; 1/31/10.
The Brown Creeper clings to tree trunks and thicker branches by starting at the base of the tree and "creeps" its way up, then flies to another tree or branch working its way up.

A Brown Creeper in Blackhawk Springs Forest Preserve, Rockford, IL; 2/12/11.
As you can see in the photos above, the Brown Creeper has a long thin curved bill which it uses to probe into the cracks of tree bark looking for insects and spiders. It has a brown back, head and tail feathers with white spotting, and white breast and a large white eyebrow.There are two morphs of Brown Creepers - the brown version (that are in my pics) and there is a more reddish brown version.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Golden-crowned Kinglet; Winter bird in Northern Illinois

Ice creating a Jack-Frost type of texture on a small creek in Blackhawk Springs Forest Preserve, Rockford, IL; 2/19/2011.
Another bird that spends its winters in Northern Illinois is the Golden-crowned Kinglet (Below) which I saw at the Blackhawk Springs Forest Preserve last October.

The golden crown of the Golden-crowned Kinglet is very visible in this pic, Blackhawk Springs Forest Preserve, Rockford, IL; 10/3/10.
Golden-crowned Kinglets winter in much of the U.S. save for the Northern plains states of the Dakotas, and the eastern halves of Montana and Wyoming and the western half of Nebraska. It will spend its summers mostly across Canada, but can be found year round in the Northeast States, along the Appalachians, and in the Rockies and North Pacific Coastlines.

Golden-crowned Kinglets are a very cute little bird growing only to about 4" in length. They like to hang around mature conifers, especially Spruce trees. They have very distinct coloring on their heads, sporting black and white stripes across their face and a very bright gold crown which can be raised into a crest. The rest of their bodies is generally drab gayish and greenish, lighter below. Their wings have bolder black and greenish edges with a single white stripe.

A BIF shot of a Golden-crowned Kinglet; Blackhawk Springs Forest Preserve, Rockford, IL; 10-3-10.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

American Tree Sparrow, Illinois Winter Bird

The Kishwaukee River running through Blackhawk Springs Forest Preserve, Rockford, IL; 2/12/11
A common winter visitor to Blackhawk Springs Forest Preserve (Above) in Northern Illinois, is the American Tree Sparrow (below).

American Tree Sparrow, Blackhawk Springs Forest Preserve, Rockford, IL; 12/28/10.

You can read more about American Tree Sparrows from my 8/22/10 and 11/13/10 posts:

Saturday, March 19, 2011

House Finch, Northern Illinois winter birds

In the dead of winter, sunset light glints off the snow at Blackhawk Springs Forest Preserve; 12/28/10.
In winter months (November through March), there are many birds that call Northern Illinois their home away from home. I'll divide these winter birds into three categories:

Winter Birds that I regularily see:
American Tree Sparrows, Red-breasted Nuthatches*, Snow Buntings, Bald Eagles, Ring-billed Gulls, Herring Gulls, Brown Creepers, Slate-colored Dark-eyed Juncos*.  (*=Abundant)

Winter Birds that I occaissionally see:
Winter Wrens, White-throated Sparrows, White-crowned Sparrows, Golden-crowned Kinglets, Rusty Blackbirds, and Purple Finches.

Winter Birds that migrate to our area that I very seldom or never see are:
Trumpeter Swans, Common Goldeneyes, Buffleheads, Common Mergansers, Rough-legged Hawks, Long-eared and Short-eared Owls,  Northern Shrikes, Gloden-crowned Kinglets, Lapland Longspurs, Evening Grosbeaks, Pine Siskins, and Common Redpolls.

Two male House Finches enjoying the safflower seed, Rockford, IL; 1/5/11.
Although House Finches pretty much are ubiquitous from coast to coast, the Canadian border to the Mexican border year round, I only see them in our neighbrhood in winter. They flock to my feeders (they especially like the safflower seed - although they'll eat any of the seed I put out) in winter and the male's red head, breast and back are a great contrast to the drab colorless winter environment (Above). But from April to November, although they live here, I do not see them at all.

House Finches flock to my backyard feeder, Rockford, IL; 12/4/10.

A male House Finch's red breast and head are a bright spot in the white environment of winter, Rockford, IL; 2/9/10.
A female House Finch is not as colorful as its male counterpart, Rockford, IL;  

A male and female House Finch, Rockford, IL; 11/7/09.
A House Finch looking for a perch to land on the feeder, Rockford, IL; 10/25/09.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Cancun, Mexico

Turtles looking for a place to soak up some sun, Cancun, MX; 12/25/10.
It's time to say goodbye to my photo series about birding in Mexico. I'll part with a few final pics.

A member of the Mexican Air Forse, the Brown Pelican, resting on the shores of a Cancun beach, MX; 12/19/10.

This is either an Altamira Oriole or an Orange Oriole; I never got it positively ID'd, Cancun, MX; 12/25/10.
Magnificent Frigatebirds perched on what else? a frigate, Cancun, MX; 12/19/10.
A Cancun Marina at night, MX; 12/24/10.
A crocodile looking for a handout, Cancun, MX; 12/23/10.
A Cancun sunset. I like how the light plays off the pylons, MX; 12/24/10.
A Northern Watrethrush, Puerto Morelos, MX; 12/24/10.
A Great Blue Heron, Cancun, MX; 12/21/10.
I love how the shadows of the tree give this Yellow Warbler texture, Cancun, MX; 12/25/10.

A pier leading out to the blue waters of cancun, MX; 12/19/10.
Tomorrow, I'll will start a feature of birds spending their winters in and around Rockford and Northern IL.

Sunday, March 13, 2011


The striking markings of a Killdeer, Puerto Morelos, Mexico; 12/24/10.
Killdeers are one of the very first birds I remember as a child, and one of the very first that I could identify by its flight, its looks, and especially by its distinctive call - from which its name is derived. My parents rented a house that was on a working farm, and Killdeers were always hanging around the cow pastures and the freshly plowed fields surrounding our house.  Killdeers are found both near water as is the one (Above) that we saw in the marshes of Puerto Morelos, and on dry land quite a distance from water sources. They lay their eggs on bare ground - often times in relatively high traffic areas such as on bare gravel along sides of roads or even along the edges of parking lots. Because they lay their eggs in highly suseptible areas, whenever a predator may venture too close to their nest, they will put on their "broken-wing display" by acting as if they are a vulnerable prey to lure the predator away from the nest.

a Killdeer t the Horicon marsh Wildlife Refuge, Wisconsin; 5/29/10.

Killdeers are found throughout the U.S. They are year round residents of the southern half of the U.S. as well as along both coasts. in the summer they can be found throughout all of the lower 48 contiguous states, most of Canada, the southern half of Alaska, as well as into the northern half of Mexico. In winter they will migrate as far south as the Southern half of Mexico, Central America, and Columbia and Venezuela in South America.

A Killdeer in Rockford, IL; 5/18/09.

A Killdeer in Phoenix, AZ; 12/25/09.

Can you spot the crocodile hidden in this photo of the Great Kiskadee; Puerto Morelos, Mexico; 12/24/10.
In my final crocodile pic (Above), I was taking a photo of a Great Kiskadee - in the tree in the top right of the pic- and again, it wasn't until I was looking through my photos on my memory card, did I realize there was a crocodile present in the picture. It was well-camouflaged in front of the base of the tree trunk and the muddy bank it was sitting on. It looked like it was ready to pounce on something. This little island with the tree on it was adjacent to the muddy bank of land that the killdeer was sitting on (top photo), which also had a crocodile on it (yesterday's post). I am totally amazed how such a large creature can be so well-hidden in plain sight.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Black-necked Stilt

A Blck-necked Stilt, Puerto Morelos, Mexico; 12/24/10.
We had a very clear look at a couple of Black-necked Stilts (BNS) wading through the marshes of Puerto Morelos. They are very elegant birds with very long legs - hence its name "stilt." These tall waders have beautiful black and white markings with bright red legs in breeding season. But as seen in its non-breeding plumage (Above) their legs are of a more pale pink. They use their long needle-like bill to search the muddy bottoms of the marshes that they like to inhabit (Below).

A Black-necked Stilt using its long bill to probe the muddy bottom of the marsh to find food; Puerto Morelos, Mexico; 12/24/10.

Black-necked Stilts are year round residents of Mexico and parts of Central America and the northern fringes of South America. Although during my research about their occurances in the US, I found a wide range of information. According to Sibley's Field Guide to Birds of North America, BNS are fairly common throughout much of southwest US during summers, as well as permanent residents of the Pacific Coasts of California and the Gulf Coast states. Other sources do not list them as being as common in the US as year round residents, but in the summer months, BNS certainly migrate as far north as into western Canada, up the Mississippi River into southern Illinois, as well as he southern Atlantic coast.
A Black-necked Stilt, Phoenix, AZ; 12/26/09.
The first time I saw a BNS was in the winter of 2009, while visiting Phoenix (Above). I thought they seemed very exotic with their long legs. There was a small flock of three hanging around a water hazzard of the Ocotillo Gulf Course. As I slowly approached them to get photos they moved pretty quickly in the water, but flew away as I came too near. As they flew, instead of tucking their legs underneath them as other tall wading birds do, they let their long legs hang straight out behind them (Below).
Black-necked Stilts in their flight pattern, Phoenix, AZ; 12/26/09.
A pair of Black-necked Stilts; Puerto Morelos, Mexico; 12/24/10.

I took this pic of the scene with a black-necked Stilt in the background (upper left) and a Killdeer and a couple of Least Sandpipers in the foreground. I didn't know at the time, but there was a crocodile lying on the muddy bank in the lower left of the pic, Puerto Morelos, Mexico; 12/24/10.
In my ongoing commentary about the commonality of crocodiles in and around Cancun and Puerto Morelos, the photo (Above) is another example of a crocodile definitely present, but its colors were so well camouflaged by the muddy banks it was lying on, that we didn't even know it was there until later when I was perusing through my photos.