Saturday, April 30, 2011

Red-breasted Merganser; Late March Spring Migration through Northern Illinois

Red-breasted Merganser, Lincoln Park, Chicago, IL; 10/30/2010
Another diving duck that migrates through northern Illinois during the great spring migration is the Red-breasted Merganser. During the winter this duck can be found along all the saltwater coastal states of the Atlantic, the Gulf and the Pacific. It will spend its summers in northen Canada and Alaska. To get there, they need to cross through Illinois, but since they prefer saltwater over fresh water, they don't stay long. So it is not easy to spot these Mergansers on their northward trek. I haven't yet seen any in the Rockford area, but last fall I did see a few in the South Pond of Lincoln Park in Chicago. Unfortunately, by that time they already lost their breeding plumage, which is very beautiful with a black head with a shaggy crest and bright red bill, gray flanks with black and white wings and reddish brown breast (Below courtesy of Marie Read). In their non breeding plumage (Above) their head becomes tannish brown and their wings are less dramatic, but they keep their crest. A flock of these Mergansers are known as a "brace", "flush", "paddling", "raft", and "team" of ducks.
A Red-breasted Merganser in its breeding plumage. Photo courtesy of & Marie Read.

Friday, April 29, 2011

Horned Grebes:Late March Spring Migration birds through Northern Illinois

A trio of Horned Grebes taking a rest stop at Rock Cut State Park, Rockford, IL; 3/31/11.
I added a new bird to my "Life List" in late March when I spotted three Horned Grebes (Above) on Pierce lake in Rock Cut State Park.  These very brightly marked grebes are another diver, and they spend the winter on both the Pacific and Atlantic coasts and southeast U.S.  During the Spring migration they will make their way to their summer grounds in western Canada and Alaska. So it is fortunate that in late March this trio appeared on Pierce Lake in Rock Cut State Park and stayed for two straight weeks. Since then, others have joined them (or replaced them). In fact last week there were still many of these Grebes at Rock Cut State Park. A flock of Grebes is known as a 'water dance.' I don't know who comes up with these names, but they are very entertaining.

In their breeding plumage, Horned Grebes have a very striking black head and bill with a bright yellow mask that stretches across to the back of the head and feathering out into a pair of "horns." Its red eyes and lores match its reddish body that contrasted with dark gray scaled back. Its colors give them some unusual names in bird folk lore; including "Devil-diver", "hell-diver", "pink-eyed diver", and "water witch."

A good look at the Horned Grebe's striking colors, Rock Cut State Park, Rockford, IL; 3/26/11.
The Horned Grebes winter plumage is less striking as it loses its yellows and reds. So it is very cool to see them in their glory. They will show off their "horns" to attract a mate (two photos Below). Last weekend while hiking in Rock Cut State Park, I saw an unusually large water dance of between 20 and 30, and several were showing off their "horns" (Below 2nd photo).
A water dance of Horned Grebes, Rock Cut Sate Park, Rockford, IL; 3/27/11.

A good look at this Grebe's "Horns" as it is in its heightened state of attracting a mate for the spring, Rock Cut State Park, Rockford, IL; 4/23/2011.

I caught this great reflection pic of these turtles, while stalking birds at Rock Cut State Park; 4/9/11.
 When I saw two turtles sunning themselves on one log sticking out of a pond at Rock Cut State Park, I inadvertently startled another turtle who was on a log closer to me. The closer turtle then swam out and climbed onto the back of the other two (Above). Someday when I have a slow birding day, I'll show you the series of photos of the 3rd turtle swimming out and climbing onto the log and subsequently onto the back of the middle turtle.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Ruddy Ducks: Late March Spring Migration through Northern Illinois

A small flock of Ruddy Ducks in winter plumage; Phoenix, AZ; 12/26/09.

Ruddy Ducks (female left, male right) in breeding plumage, Rock Cut State Park, IL; 4/23/11
Ruddy Ducks are a unique little diving duck with a large head for its size (only 15" in length). Ruddies travel in tightly clustered flocks and are a common sight in Northern Illinois ponds, lakes, and sheltered bays during spring Migration. They usually do not mix or travel with other species. They winter in the southern half of the U.S., along all the coastal regions and into Mexico, Central and South America (Top photo while they were intheir winter home in Aizona). They will migrate to their summer homes of the North Central Plains States, into Canada and parts of Alaska. They reach Northern Illinois around late March. Flocks of Ruddies have been on Pierce Lake in Rock Cut State Park (Above)  for a several of weeks this Spring. In fact I was there yesterday, and was lucky to get some nice shots of the Ruddies. They usually stay well away from the shore if they see people, but yesterday a couple of them didn't shy away as I approached.

They will be found year round in the Rockies to the Pacific Coastline and down into the Baja Peninsula as well as much of Mexico. However, there are pockets along the Midwest and Great Lakes where Ruddy Ducks will stay all summer and not even bother migrating further North or West. North Pond in Chicago, and Horicon Marsh National Wildlife Preserve in Wisconsin are two such areas. I am planning on travelling north to Horicon Marsh today (Easter Sunday), perhaps I'll see some more Ruddies there.

A male Ruddy Duck in its winter plumage, Phoenix AZ; 12/27/09.
The first time I saw Ruddy Ducks was while I was in Phoenix, Arizona, in the December of 2009, and they were in their winter plumage (Above).  At the time I didn't know what they looked like in their summer breeding plumage. They turn a beautiful; reddish "ruddy" brown, contrasted dramatically with a black head and tail (which is often lifted in a vertical position), snow-white cheek and a bright blue bill (very appropriate Easter color). The first time I saw this was this Spring while exploring the North Pond in Lincoln Park, Chicago (Below).  Then several times at Rock Cut State Park (Below 2nd photo).
The male Ruddy Duck in all its breeding plumage glory, with its signature
 lifted black tail, North Pond, Lincoln Park, Chicago; 3/30/11.
Male Ruddy Duck, Rock Cut State Park, Rockford, IL; 4/23/11.

A female Ruddy Duck, North Pond, Lincoln Park, Chicago, IL; 3/30/11.

A female Ruddy Duck just reemerged from a dive, Rock Cut State Park,IL; 4/23/11.
Female Ruddies (Above) are less colorful with a brownish gray body, and a darker back, head, and tail. They will also have a whitish cheek, but not as snowy white as the males, but will have an added dark stripe across its cheek. Their bills do not turn bright blue as the males.

 Next weekend I will continue my series featuring Spring Migration birds of Northern Illinois: Buffleheads, Red-breasted Mergansers, and Horned Grebes. Hope you can visit.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Canvasbacks: Late March Spring Migration through Northern Illinois

The beautiful male Canvasback in its winter home, Phoenix, AZ; 12/29/09.
The Canvasback (Above) are another waterbird that uses Northern Illinois as a stop through while migrating from its wintering grounds to its summer home in Northwestern U.S, Western Canada and Alaska. It spends winter along both the Atlantic and Pacific coasts, as well as the southern third of the U.S., Mexico and Central America. It's a beautiful white-bodied bird with a striking red neck and head. The very top of the head and long bill are black as is its tail. Its bright red eyes shine brightly against its darker head. The females' bodies are light grayish brown and its neck and head are pale tannish color, but keeps the long black bill as its male counterpart.

I have seen Canvasbacks as early as late March through late May in several lakes: Rock Cut State Park, Bauman Park, and Nygren Wetlands Preserve.  Each time I have seen a Canvasback it's always been by itself or sometimes travelling with another species of duck. Yesterday, I posted a pic of a Canvasback hanging with some Greater Scaups. In the photo (Below) this female was hanging with a group of Mallard ducks.
This female Canvasback was seen with a flock of Mallards in Bauman Park, Rockford, IL; 5/16/09.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Lesser & Greater Scaups: Late March Spring Migration through Northrn Illinois

A sunset at Rock Cut State Park in Rockford; A great place to go birding in Northern Illinois; 4/9/11.

A mix of Greater Scaups and Lesser Scaups on Pierce Lake; Rock Cut State Park, Rockford, IL; 3/26/11.
By late March another wave of birds were making appearances throughout Northern Illinois. The vast majority of this group were waterbirds arriving on area ponds, lakes, and marshes. Within the last week of March, I have seen lots of new arrivals: Hooded Mergansers, Wood Ducks, Blue-winged Teals, Scaups* (both Greater & Lesser), Ruddy Ducks*, Canvasbacks*, Buffleheads*, Pied-billed Grebes, Horned Grebes*, Double-crested Cormorants*, Black-crowned Night Herons, and Red-breasted Mergansers*. Non-water birds also showing up were Ospreys*, Eastern Phoebes, Chipping Sparrows, and Turkey Vultures.
* These birds are migrating through, not making Northern IL their summer home.

In my series about birds migrating through Illinois (not spending the summer in N. IL) on their way to their summer haunts, this weekend and next weekend, I'll features photos of some of these birds*: Scaups, Canvasbacks, Ruddy Ducks, Horned Grebes, Buffleheads, Red-breasted Mergansers, and Ospreys.
A Lesser Scaup can be distiguished from its Greater cousin by its smaller size,
its smudgy flanks, and taller head, Suguaro Lake, AZ; 12/29/09.

Another look at the Lesser Scaup, Suguaro Lake, AZ; 12/29/09.
I am not exactly sure about making positive identifications between Greater and Lesser Scaup, as they look almost identicle, especially from a distance. Lesser Scaups are smaller at 16 1/2" long; whereas the Greater Scaups are larger at 18" long. Unless they were next to eachother for comparison, I would not be able to tell them apart. However, two other traits that one can look for is that the Lesser Scaup's flanks (Above) are smudgier and the barring is more coarse. The Greater Scaup's flanks are clean white with no marks.The Lesser's head is taller and narrower than the Greater's, which appear to be lower and a flatter arc. Otherwise both birds have blackish heads and breasts, bright yellow eyes, blue bills, and white flanks and belly. In flight the Lesser Scaup has less white on its wings (Below). Both female species (Below) also look similar with brownish/grayish bodies, darker brown breast, head and wings, blue-gray bill and white along the base of the bill.

A pair of Lesser Scaups (male on left, female on right),
Rock Cut State Park, Rockford, IL; 3/31/11.

Lesser Scaups in flight, Rock Cut State Park, Rockford, IL; 3/27/11.
Greater Scaups and a female Canvas Back, Nygren Wetlands, Rockton, IL; 4/10/11.
In the photo (Above), two traits make me think these are Greater Scaups and not Lesser's. The flanks of the Scaups are cleaner with no smudges on the white flanks, and the tops of their heads seem to be slightly flatter than the Lesser's head (2nd & 3rd pics from top). Plus the size of these Scaups is closer to the size of the Canvasback (which can grow to 21" long) that is swimming with them, so the Greater's length of 18" is more likely than the Lesser's 16.5" length.

Lesser Scaups are far more commonly seen than the Greater Scaups. During winter months, Lessers can be seen throughout most of the southern half of the U.S. as well as along both coasts. In summer they will be found throughout  most of  Alaska, Western and Central Canada, most of Ontario, and parts of extreme northern Quebec and Newfoundland. Greater Scaups can only be found along the Pacific and Atlantic Coasts in winter ( and a strange pocket along the southern Mississippi River in Arkansas). In summers they migrate to the very northern sectons of Canada (Yukon, Northwest Terrirorries, Nunavit) and Alaska. Greater Scaups are more likely to be found on saltwater than Lesser Scaups.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Cinnamon Teal at North Pond, Chicago

This male Cinnamon Teal has been hanging around North Pond,
Lincoln Park, Chicago, IL; 3/30/11.
Since early spring a Cinnamon Teal has been spotted at North Pond in Lincoln Park, Chicago. This is quite rare, since it is a western bird, and is well out of its typical migratory range of the southern plains states (Texas, Oklahoma, Nebraska) and its summer territories of the Rockies and and west to the Pacific Coast. It does spend its winters in Mexico and Central America, so speculation is that it lost its way during a storm. As you can see (Above) it is a beautiful bird - the male with its dark reddish head, breast, and flanks, contrasted with dark brown and light brown wings and tail and large bill for its overall size. If you would see it in flight, it would have pale blue coverts (on the wings). The Teal seems somewhat confused about where he is and perhaps who he is, as he has been witnessed chasing after a female Mallard, which is quite comical as the Mallard is quite a bit larger (23" long) than the Teal (16" long).
Another view of the Cinnamon Teal, North Pond, Lincoln Park, Chicago; 3/30/11.
In the photo (Above) you can see the blue color on its coverts. Even with the tail in a shadow, I liked this picture because The Cinnamon Teal's bright red eyes are glowing in the sunlight.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Sandhill Cranes migrating through Northern Illinois; Nygren Wetlands Preserve

A pair of Sandhill Cranes flying over Nygren Wetlands Preserve, Rockton, IL; 3/27/11.
 From mid March to mid April you have a good chance of seeing Sandhill Cranes in northern Illinois as they migrate farther north into Wisconsin, Minnesota, Michigan, much of Canada and Alaska, and also into western Montana, Idaho and eastern Oregon. I have seen these beautiful birds in a multitude of places: in marshy areas near Crystal Lake, IL, at Rock Cut State Park, Rockford, the Nygren Wetlands, Rockton IL, and Val, has even seen them in farm fields along I-39, while driving southward towards Rochelle, IL.
Another Sandhill Crane browsing through the grass at
Nygren Wetlands Preserve, Rockton, IL; 4/10/11.

If you are looking for Cranes, Nygren Wetlands Preserve is an excellent area to try to find them and is great for birding in general. It has more than 700 acres of wetlands, prairies and forests, with trails that lead you to many of the areas.  Click the link below to a great website about the Preserve:

I have been there three times in the past three weeks have seen Sandhill Cranes each time as well as many other waterbirds including American White Pelicans, Northern Shovelers, American Coots, Mallards, Canada Geese, Ring-billed Gulls, Killdeers, Greater Scaups, Common Mergansers, Canvasbacks, Great Blue Herons, Blue-winged Teals, Green-winged Teals, and small flock of Sandpipers which flew off before I could ID them. I have also seen the usual Song Sparrows, American Crows, Northern Cardinals, American Robins,  Red-winged Blackbirds, Black-capped Chickadees, Northern Flickers, Tree Swallows, Yellow-rumped Myrtles, Eastern Meadowlarks, Downey Woodpeckers, Red-bellied Woodpeckers, Brown-headed Cowbirds,Vesper Sparrows, White-breasted Nuthatches, Blue Jays, European Starlings,  and Mourning Doves. Val saw a Brown Thrasher that I missed last weekend.

A typical scene at Nygren Wetlands: Geese, Northern Shovelers, Coots
and Blue-winged Teals in the foreground, and a pair of Sandhill Cranes
walking behind,  Rockton, IL; 4/10/11.

For more information about Sandhill Cranes, see my post from last August 5, 2010 (Link below):

We also saw this herd of young White-tailed Deer running across a grassy field
at the Nygren Wetlands Preserve, Rockton, IL; 4/10/11.

Tommorrow I will post pictures of a rare sighting of a Cinnamon Teal that has been hanging around North Pond in Lincoln Park, Chicago.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Early Spring Migratory Birds in Northern Illinois: Northern Shovelers & Common Loons

It's that time of year, when the birds that have been gone all winter start appearing  - initially, one or two sightings at a time, then suddenly they are all over the place. This spring I have been trying to keep a record on which migrant birds I have seen first (As birders put it FOY birds - "First of Year").

For the past couple of weeks, I have been highlighting those birds which spend the entire year in our parts of Northern Illinois. Before that, I featured those birds who just spend the winter here. Now its time to concentrate on those birds who are passing through from their winter grounds somewhere south of here to their summer digs - somewhere north or west of here.

The first sign of migrants already started appearing in late February. Eastern Bluebirds, American Robins, and Hermit Thrushes seemed to be in that first group. Some of the first two species could very well have been here all winter, but definetely the numbers increased everyday until they were both quite common by the first couple of weeks of March, and of course, will stay all summer. The latter of the three, The Hermit Thrush (Below), is historically an early arriver, on its way to Northern Wisconsin, Minnesota, Canada, the Northeast States and the mountain states of the Rockies and the Appalachians.

The Hermit Thrush is one of the first migrants to appear travelling through Northern Illinois
The next wave of birds that I noticed were the Red-winged Blackbirds, Killdeers, and Common Grackles. These three started showing up in early March little by little, but by the 2nd week of March, they were here by the droves.  All three of these species will spend the entire summer here; some will be travelling further north, but many will stay.

The next wave of migrants seemed to happen by mid-March.  Waterbirds such as American Coots, Northern Shovelers, Common Loons, Sandhill Cranes, and Great Blue Herons were appearing on the lakes at Rock Cut State Park and the marshes of Nygren Wetlands Preserve, both near Rockford, and both excellent birding spots in our area. Of this group, the Coots and Herons will stay all summer, but the Northern Shovelers (Below) and Common Loons (Bottom) are passing through to more northern territories, and the Sandhill Cranes are on the very edge of the southernmost summer range. They don't often spend the summer in Northern Illinois (however, they are frequently seen at the Nygren Wetlands Preserve); however, they will spend the summers just north of here in Wisconsin.

A Northern Shoveler, Nygren Wetlands Preserve, Rockton, IL; 4/10/11.

A pair of Northern Shovelers coming in for a landing at the Nygren Wetlands Preserve, Rockton, IL; 4/10/11.
Northern Shovelers (Above) are aptly named beacuse of how they use their bills to "shovel" up the weeds of muddy ponds and marshes looking for plankton and seeds. They use their unusually shaped bills to skim the surface of the water straining off the water and keeping the food in their bills. They travel through our area on their way to their summer grounds in Western Canada, Alaska, and much of the North West quadrant of the U.S. Even though they spend their summers west of here, we get to see them in Illinois because they winter in the southern third of the U.S and throughout the Atlantic Coast, Gulf Coast. So they use the Mississippi flyway as their route. Often many N. Shovelers will stay in the Horicon Marsh Wildlife Preserve in Wisconsin all summer long. The male Northern Shoveler has a very striking breeding plumage: a dark green (almost black) head and bill, white breast, and  reddish flanks. The females are less colorful with their pale buffy body spotted with darker brown feathers and a large orange bill. If not for their long bills, that gives them a unique profile, from a distance they could be mistaken for the Mallards. The first time I saw Northern Shovelers (Below) was in the winter of 2009, while we were in Arizona, and they were in their winter grounds.
This pic of  a pair of Northern Shovelers shows their uniquely shaped bill and profile; Phoenix, AZ; 12/26/09. 

Another water bird travelling through the area are the Common Loons. I remember being surprised to see one in the lake at Bauman Park a year ago, especially in a park that is very busy - knowing Loons like solitude and tend to stray away from people.  This early spring of 2011, has been Loon heaven at Rock Cut State Park. I have seen as many as 12 loons on the same day on Pierce Lake (March 26). It's always a treat to hear them yodeling their haunting calls. They have been at Rock Cut State Park for the past three weeks. Even last weekend when boats were allowed on the lake, I still counted no less than 5 Loons.
A Common Loon on Pierce Lake, Rock Cut State Park, Rockford, IL; 3/31/11.
Common Loons will spend their summers on fresh water lakes in Canada and Alaska, as well as throughout Great Lakes and the Northeast corner states of Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont and the Adirondaks of New York. Go out and try to spot these two great birds (Loons & Shovelers) before they are gone North.

Tomorrow I will feature the Sandhill Crane.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Year Round Birds in Northern Illinois & "The Capture of the Sparrow Hawk"

There are many birds that not only spend the year in northern Illinois (see my 4/1, 2011,  post for the complete list: ). Some of these feathered friends will migrate a bit south during the winter or spread further north during summer months, but more or less, a good percentage will be here all year. On this post, I'll feature a few more of these birds:
A Song Sparrow showing off its tail feathers, Rock Cut State park, Rockford, IL; 4-9-11
A Song Sparrow trying to keep warm, Blackhawk Springs Forest Preserve, Rockford, IL; 12/28/10.
A House Sparrow, Rockford, IL; 3/20/10.
A Mourning Dove, Rockford, IL; 1/21/11.

A Black-capped Chickadee,
Rockford, IL; 10/9/10.

A Black-capped Chickadee braving a snow storm, Rockford, IL; 2/9/10.

A Tufted Titmouse shows up at our feeders at least once a year, Rockford, IL; 11/14/09.
There are many raptors that will spend all year in northern Illinois. I am not particularly good at IDing Raptor type birds, but (Below) are a few pictures of some that I did know:

An American Kestrel (Known as a Sparrow Hawk when I was a kid)
showing its sharp talons, Tucson, AZ; 12/27/09.

"The Capture of the Sparrow Hawk"
When I was a kid living on an old farm homestead, we had an old bird roosting box attached to the side of the barn. It had two sections each with its own opening in the side of the barn leading to a perch. This roosting box was high at the rafter level and we could not access this box unless we scaled up the side of the hay mow, which was not an easy task. Well, after the alfalpha season, our hay loft would be filled to the brim with hay bales, so we could get to this box a lot easier by just climbing up the many layers of hay bales which would be packed to the rafters and above.  The birds that usually nested in this box were Pigeons. I used to raid pigeon nests to stael the young squabs and raise them myself. I would let the pigeons raise her little squabs, and then just before the squabs were strong enough to fly, I would reach in the box and take them out and feed them meal, corn, gravel and water until they were adults. Over time I learned when the time was right to take the squabs. If I waited too long, the young pigeons would grow strong enough flee the nest before I could capture them, but if I took them too soon, they wouldn't be able to survive without their mother, and would die in captivity. I also used to climb up the old silo and raid Pigeon nests there as well. At one point, I had at least a dozen pigeons captured - all raised from their nests. My siblings and parents never did see my attraction to raising my own roost of pigeons. I guess I never knew why I did it either. I guess, I just liked birds.
     Anyway, one spring we noticed a Sparrow Hawk (now known as the American Kestral) was flying in and out of one of the perches of this bird box in the hay loft. I kept tabs on this hawk and checked the box everyday. One day we found nine pinkish eggs with brown spots on them in one of the sections of the roosting box. I thought "How Cool! This is better than an old pigeon, anyday." My little brother wanted to pick up the eggs, but I had to slap his hands and tell him not to touch the eggs, because the hawk would abandon the nest if it knew humans touched her eggs. I didn't want to just observe this hawk, being the 12 year old farm boy, I wanted the hawk as a pet. So I made my plan - capture her and raise it along with its young. I cut a square out of some old wire mesh, and planned on waiting until the Hawk was in the box laying on its nest, then I'd slip the wire mesh in between the roosting box and the side of the barn and trap the hawk inside the box.  For the next several days everytime I went up to check on the box, I found that the hawk would fly out as soon as I came within a few yards of its nest.  I soon figured out that I was too noisy in my approach, but no matter how stealthy I thought I was, it still sensed my presence and flew out. 
     My next plan of attack was that I'd have to already be present when the hawk arrived to lay on its eggs.  So I camped out up in the hay loft laying next to bird box - waiting... waiting... and waiting. I spent a lot of time up there laying on my bed of hay bales, waiting for the Sparrow Hawk to return. I was ready for her; I had the wire mesh on the roosting box just above the slot where I could slip it in fast before the hawk had a chance to escape.  After  it seemed like hours, I heard her land on the perch sticking outside of the side of the barn. It sat out on the perch surveying the area, probably listening for me. I was frozen still, holding my breath, not wanting to give away my presence. I could see her out on the perch through the slots of the siding of the barn. She was finally satisfied that she was safe and returned to lay on her eggs. I could see her sitting on the nest through the cracks of the corners of the wooden box.  I held my breath and hoped I wouldn't tip her off. I waited silently for the right moment. I didn't want to act too soon. I let her settle in on her nesting duties. When I felt I waited long enough, I reached over the top of the box and grasped onto the wire mesh and as quickly as I could slipped in front of the hole of the perch. I got it! The hawk went crazy inside trying to get out beating its wings against the sides of the box and crashing into the wire mesh that covered her escape route. It was trapped. I was excited - I had my very own pet hawk!  I imagined all the cool things I would teach it. I ran down to the shed in which I had a portion of it caged off in a 12' long by 6' wide by 7' tall area.
     "Plenty large," I thought, "to keep the hawk." Inside the cage I nailed an old chicken coop roost, with 12 cubicles where 12  different chickens could nest at the same time.
      I would go up to the roosting box, open the small trap door at the top of the box, reach in grab the hawk and bring it down to the shed where I would release it in the cage. Then I would bring down the eggs and put it in one of the chicken coop roosting cubicles, where the hawk would eventually find her eggs, and then sit on them and raise her young. A perfect plan, and I would have ten cool Sparrow Hawks. I figured I would catch mice to feed her or if that was too hard, I could always feed it some of the multitude of cats that were on the farm (at one point I think we had over 30 cats roaming the farm). No one would miss a couple of cats. I was ecstatic.  I readied the cage for my hawk, then ran back up the hay loft, climbed up the many layers of bales, and reached the roosting box. Perfect! the Sparrow Hawk was still in the box. All I have to do is open the hinged trap door, grab the hawk and bring it down to its new home. I held my breath, opened the lid, and reached in.
     The only flaw to this plan was that Sparrow Hawks are not like pigeon squabs. Pigeons are somewhat docile and allow me to grab them. This is not the case of a hawk, which is a born predator with weapons of that of a predator. I soon learned it had very sharp talons and beak.  I opened the trap door flap and reached in. The sounds of the hawk screeching and the sound of wings beating against the sides of the roosting box was deafening. She attacked my hand with a fierceness of a wild animal protecting her babies and herself. It wasn't a pretty sight and very much a one-sided battle. My hand  was only in the box for a couple of seconds, but surely seemed longer. When I was finally able to pull my hand back out of the box, it was pretty much scratched to a bloody mess of loose skin and puncture holes. I managed an "Ow!" and scolded myself for not thinking of wearing gloves.  I closed the lid of the box and sought medical help - namely my mother, who also scolded me for such a foolhardy stunt. All my inflated plans of having a cool Sparrow Hawk family as pets were soon deflated by a mother who had a little more sense than a 12 year old boy - funny how that happens.  After I was bandaged up, she made me go back up the hay loft and take the wire mesh out of the slot so the hawk could fly free.  The saddest part of this whole affair was that the hawk never returned to the nest and the nine beautiful pink eggs with brown spots turned cold, never to be hatched.  I felt guilty for being the villain - for causing the needless death of a future generation of American Kestrals. I vowed never to get in the way of wild nature rearing its young ever again.

Although I was quite far away, as evidenced by the poor quality of this pic, I
was able to get this American Kestrel in my viewfinder just yesterday,
Rock Cut State Park, Rockford, IL; 4/9/11.

Other raptors who live in northern Illinois year round are:

This Coopers Hawk landed in the tree behind our house,
and allowed me get a picture before it flew off, Rockford, IL; 1/9/11.

This Red-tailed Hawk landed in the middle of a soccer field at Bauman Park,
and let me get close enough for this great pic, Rockford, IL; 5/1/10.
Though far from being raptors, I found this beautiful pair of Mute Swans
in Pierce Lake one morning, Rock Cut State Park, Rockford, IL; 5/10/10.
This ends my series about birds that spend all year in Northern Illinois. I am hoping next weekend I can start a new series of posts dealing with the birds that use Northern Illinois as a temporary stopping point during their spring migration to other destinations north of here. Hope to see you here next weekend.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Northern Cardinal - Illinois' State Bird - "Beauty & the Beast" versions

The red Northern Cardinal male is a bright spot of color
 in the otherwise drab winter and early spring of Illinois,
Rock Cut State Park, IL; 3/31/11.
Our beloved State Bird - the Northern Cardinal can be found throughout Illinois all year round. Cardinals can be seen foraging in thick brush, picking up seed off of lawns, perched singing on a high tree branch, in the deep woods of a forest preserve, in open spacious city prks, and at your backyard feeder. The males (Above) are unmistakeble with their bright red overall color and tall red crest set off with its black face and throat and bright red thick bill. Females (Below) are less red overall - somewhat a drab brown, but sports a red crest, wings, tail and bill. Its black mask is more around the eyes and less on the throat as its male counterpart. Northern Cardinals can be found mostly of the east of the Rockies, spreading to the southwest and into Mexico.

A puffed up female Northern Cardinal staying warm
in a Northern Illinois winter, Rockford, IL; 1/20/11.
In the late summer, these beautiful birds can transform themselves into the birdworld version of "Beauty and the Beast." When they begin to molt into their winter plumage, they can become quite hideous, looking rather like they have contracted some unusual disease. The photos (Below) show both the male and female in their molting appearance.

A "Beast" of a male N. Cardinal, molting, Rockford, IL; 9/5/10.

A female N. Cardinal in its "Beast" molting form, Rockford, IL; 9/5/10.
 But we don't want to leave you with these off-putting impressions, so here is one last photo of our proud "Beauty" Illinois State Bird (Below):

A Northern Cardinal, Blackhawk Springs Forest Preserve, Rockford, IL; 2/19/11.