Monday, May 30, 2011

Eastern Phoebes, March migration to Northern Illinois

As spring progressed into late March, more birds arrived to the Rockford area of northern Illinois. Many of these birds were waterbirds just stopping for a rest before they moved on to their summer homes (Scaups, Ruddy Ducks, Canvasbacks, Horned Grebes, Red-breasted Mergansers, Buffleheads - see my posts from 4/15/2011 to 5/2/2011 to read more about these), but an equal number of birds were here to stay for the summer. These include Pied-billed Grebes, Blue-winged Teals, Wood Ducks, Turkey Vultures, and one of the first songbirds to return were the Eastern Phoebes (Below).
An Eastern Phoebe, Rock Cut State Park, Rockford, IL; 4/17/2011.
Eastern Phoebes are in the flycatcher family and they are quite widespread throughout the eastern half of the U.S. and can be found as far north and west as the Northern Territories, Canada. Once I became familiar with these Phoebes, they are unmistakeable to identify - with their very catchy song and the fact that they like to perch on open tops of branches, posts, or reeds (Above). They possess a dark head and eyes with a black small bill. They have weak wing bars, a white throat and  smudgy brownish / grayish breast which blends into a yellowish (juveniles) or buff-colored (adults) belly. They also like to wag their tails while they sing or perch.
An Eastern Phoebe, South Pond, Lincoln Park, Chicago; 3/30/2011.
I find Eastern Phoebes one of the easier of the songbirds to photograph as they are very sociable, sit out in open views, and tend to let me get fairly close for good photo ops.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Great Blue Herons, Mid March Migration to Northern Illinois

A Great Blue Heron hunting in a marshy area, Rock Cut State Park, Illinois; 4/29/2011
Great Blue Herons are another one of the earliest birds to arrive back to Northern Illinois this spring, returning by Mid-March. At first I saw only one or two, but by the end of March, there were several hanging around the edges of Pierce Lake in Rock Cut State Park (Above). I also saw them in other area water habitat as well: Nygren Wetlands Preserve (Rockton), Bauman Park and Espenscheid Forest Preserve  (Cherry Valley). They are almost always seen in solo, but in the fall they may migrate or roost in flocks. (See my 6/20/2010 post about Great Blue Herons and the "Heron Tree" in Phoenix AZ -

Speaking of seeing Great Blue Herons in Phoenix, AZ, I was able to capture a series of pics of a Great Blue attempting to land in a tree but the branches were too thin to hold it so it more or less crashed into the tree, then took off in an awkward flight. Three of the photos are below:
A Great Blue Heron approaching for landing in a less than sturdy tree ...

... attempting to land, but the branches are too thin to hold it up ...

... then it decides to take off and look for another perch
 - you can see the broken branch in the tree [middle bottom of pic], Phoenix, AZ; 12/26/2009.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

American Coots, Birds returning to Northern Illinois in Mid March

American Coots, Rock Cut State Park, IL; 3/27/2011.
For the past few weekends, I've been highlighting the migration of birds through Northern Illinois this 2011 Spring, specifically those that are only travelling through to more northern (or western) destinations. Now I will take a close look at those birds that not only arrive to our area, but will stay and call Northern Illinois their summer home. The earliest of these arrivals start reaching northern Illinois by late February and early March. These include American Robins, Hermit Thrushes, Eastern Bluebirds, Red-winged Blackbirds, Killdeers, and Common Grackles. The next wave arrivals who came to stay included the American Coots (Above) and the Great Blue Herons, which I started to see in good numbers by mid March.

An American Coot, Rock Cut State Park, Rockford, IL; 4/23/2011.
Coots are fairly common on ponds, marshes, lakes and even golf course water hazards. They'll feed on lawns and grassy areas, but will take to the water if feel threatened. They will dive to grab some underwater vegetation, then bring it to the surface to eat. Coots are dark gray with a very prominent white bill and red frontal shield. Their deep red eyes are a great contrast on their black head. They also have small white marks on their tails. Coots have been very common on Pierce Lake at Rock Cut State Park both last fall and this Spring. Northern Illinois is more in their southern boundaries of their summer range, so as the spring turns to hot summer months, we'll see less of them in our area. But I have seen them from mid-March through late May.
A large flock of American Coots mixed with American Wigeons,
Phoenix, AZ; 12-26-2009.
When I was in Arizona in the winter of 2009, American Coots were by far the most common water bird I saw on small lakes and lagoons. The largest codgery of Coots I saw were actually on the Ocotillo Golf Course (Phoenix) water hazards. A flock of Coots has many interesting names, including a "codgery", "commotion", "fleet", "shoal", and "swarm" of Coots. I would still like to know who comes up with the names of collective nouns of birds. They are also nicknamed a "marsh hen" or a "mud hen" because their heads bob like a chicken (or pigeon) when they walk or swim.

According to, Coots are kleptoparasitic - when they don’t feel like hunting for their own food, they’ll steal their meal from other birds.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Blackpoll Warbler; May Migration through Northern Illinois

A female Blackpoll Warbler, Colored Sands Forest Preserve, Shirland, IL; 5/15/2011.
On May 15, 2011,  I checked out "Bird Fest" at the Colored Sands Bird banding station in the forest preserve of the same name. This Festival has been going on for several years, but being a novice / rookie birder, I never really paid attention to it before this year, so this is the first time I attended and it was very worthwhile. I was able to tag along while one of the volunteers hiked down to one of their many bird nets put up in the variety of habitat in this preserve. In a 20 or 30 yard stretch of netting, we found 4 different birds caught in the nets: a flycatcher that no one could identify, a Blackpoll Warbler, a Magnolia Warbler, and a Common Yellowthroat. It was very interesting process how the birds get caught in the nets and then how they are taken out, bagged, banded and released.  When the male Blackpoll Warbler was caught (Below), this was the first time I have ever seen (or at least identified) this type of warbler, but since I didn't see it "free" in the wild, I didn't think I could count it on my Life List.  But as it happens later while I was hiking on one of the preserve's trails, I did get a picture of a female Blackpoll Warbler (Above). So this became #291 on my Life List - my 20th new bird of 2011.
The male Blackpoll Warbler caught in one of the bird nets of the
Colored Sands Bird Banding Station, Shirland, IL; 5/15/2011.
Blackpoll Warblers like the cooler climates of mountain tops near the treeline. As a result, they spend their summers in Northern Canada from coast to coast as well as in Alaska. I was happy to finally see one in our area before they migrated north. They have quite a long migration as they spend their winter months in the northern countries of South America.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Nashville Warbler: Early May Migration through Northern Illinois

A Nashville Warbler, Rock Cut State Park, Illinois; 5/8/2011.
Nashville Warblers (Above) are one of many warblers migrating through Northern Illinois making their way to more northern summer homes. Nashvilles spend the winter in Mexico and Central America and their summers in the northern Great Lakes shores, Central and Eastern Canada, and much of the Northeastern states. There is a pocket in the northwest as well where Nashvilles can be found in the summer (Northern California, Oregon, Washington and northern Idaho). 

A Nashville Warbler, Rock Cut State Park, Illinois; 5/8/2011.
Identifying marks of the Nashville Warbler are its gray hood, yellow throat and breast, greenish back and wings with no wing bars, and a complete bold white eye-ring. The Nashville (Above) is likely a female as the males have more yellow underneath and have a small red patch on its crown; however, it is rarely visible.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Palm Warblers; Early May Migration through Northern Illinois

A Palm Warbler "Western Population" in the grass next to the Kishwaukee River,
Espenscheid Forest Preserve, Rockford, IL; 5/1/2011.
With the return of many warblers along with the nice weather of the first week of May, Palm Warblers (Above) seemed to be one of the most abundant. I saw them anywhere their was open grassy areas - especially near water. Palms have two populations which have varying amounts of yellow on their breasts. Both populations have a reddish crown with a yellow face and dark eye-line and are relatively plain brown / gray on the wings and back. The "Eastern Population" Palms have a bright yellow throat, breast, and belly which have red racing stripes along their flanks and breast. None of my photos seemed to have these guys with completely yellow undersides, so my guess they are the "Westren Poulation" which have less yellow on their breasts and bellies, but keep the yellow throat, partial yellow eyebrow and yellow near the rump. But they lack the bright red stripes on their flanks. They sport more of a muted brown stripes. In their non-breeding plumage  (Below), they lose their red crown and all yellow except near the tail.

A Palm Warbler in its non-breeding plumage, Black Hawk Springs Forest Preserve, Rockford, IL; 10/3/2010.

A Palm Warbler ("Eastern or Western Population"?), Rock Cut State Park, Rockford, IL; 5/8/2011.
Palm Warblers spend their summers in Central and Eastern Canada as well as Michigan's Upper Peninsula and northern Wisconsin and the Northeastern States. So when we see them in northern Illinois, they are travelling through from their winter grounds in the southeast as well as Mexico (where I saw them last December).
Another "Western Population" Palm Warbler, Espenscheid Forest Preserve, Rockford, IL; 5/1/2011.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Solitary Sandpiper; Early May Migration through Northern Illinois

A Solitary Sandpiper, Blackhawk Springs Forest Preserve, Rockford, IL; 5/10/2011.
Along with the Spotted Sandpiper which arrived in Late April, the Solitary Sandpiper (Above) is one of the first of shorebirds I have seen this spring. I am just learning to identify the many different types of shorebirds there are, so I am hoping I will add many new Lifers this spring and summer as I identify more of these. I have seen the Solitary Sandpiper in three different areas within the first week of May: Blackhawk Springs Forest Preserve, Espenscheid Forest Preserve, and Rock Cut State Park. They can be found searching for insects and insect larvae, spiders, worms, and tadpoles in mud flats of freshwater creeks and shallow waters of marshes near wooded areas. When we see them in northern Illinois, they are in the midst of their migration to Canada and Alaska where they will spend their summers.

A Solitary Sandpiper,exploring a marsh in Rock Cut State Park,
Rockford, IL; 5/8/2011.
These sandpipers are very similar to the Lesser and Greater Yellowlegs, but their legs aren't as bright yellow and their size is much smaller at 8.5 " in length. Solitary Sandpipers have dark wings with white spots on its wings and back, and have a very clean white belly and under the tail, but have fine brown streaks on its breast.
A Solitary Sandpiper checking out its reflection,
Espenscheid Forest Preserve, Rockford, IL; 5/4/2011.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Swainson's Thrush; Early May Migration through Northern llinois

A Swainson's Thrush, Blackhawk Springs Forest Preserve, Rockford, IL; 5/1/2011.
While hiking through Blackhawk Springs Forest Preserve on May 1, I saw three different types of Thrushes. Two I have seen before (Wood and Hermit) but the 3rd type was a Lifer for me (#286) - the Swainson's Thrush. These guys look an awful like their cousins, Hermit Thrushes, but the characteristic which identified it for me was its buff-colored spectacles and eye-ring. The Hermit's eye ring is white and their tail is more reddish. Swainson's Thrushes make northern Illinois a stopover as they travel through to their summer grounds of Canada, Alaska, northern Wisconsin and Michigan, the northeast states, as well as the Rockies and the northern Pacific coastal states.

Monday, May 16, 2011

White-crowned Sparrows; Early May Migration through Northern Illinois

A White-crowned Sparrow, Espenscheid Forest Preserve, Rockford, IL; 5/1/2011.
The first week of May and finally nice weather brought an entourage of migrating birds into Northern Illinois. After a cold slow moving April, the May Migration started with a bang. The first week of May brought in 4 new Lifers for me and 28 FOYs. In fact, the very first day of May I spent a couple of hours in Espenscheid Forest Preserve near Cherry Valley, just southeast of Rockford, I counted over 50 different bird species - a good day's birding for me. Then a week later (May 8) I counted over 60 species at Rock Cut State Park in my 5 hour hike.

Early May new arrivals included several types of sparrows [White-crowned Sparrows (Above), Lark Sparrows, and Swamp Sparrows], a few thrushes [Veery, Swainson's Thrush (Lifer #286), Wood Thrushes, Louisiana Waterthrush (Lifer#285)], Bank Swallows, Rose-breasted Grosbeaks, Indigo Buntings, Ovenbirds, Warbling Vireos, Baltimore and Orchard Orioles, House Wrens, a couple more Sandpipers [Upland and Solitary], several Flycatchers [Least, Great-crested, Eastern Kingbirds], and a boatload of Warblers [Tennessee, Palm, American Redstarts, Northern Parulas, Magnolias, Common Yellowthroats, Yellows, Prothonotary, Black & Whites, and Nashvilles]. These are the new arrivals that I either saw or heard.  I am sure there were a lot more that I missed or couldn't identify ... yet.

White-crowned Sparrows invaded my yard during the first week of May, Rockford, IL; 5/3/2011.
The White-throated Sparrows finally left my yard on May 1, to go to their summer homes further north, but were immediately replaced by dozens of White-crowned Sparrows (Above) who appeared on May 1 and stayed for more than two weeks. They became the 32nd different species of bird that has appeared in our yard this year.

White-crowns are just one of the new arrivals that will only stay for a brief visit in Northern Illinois before they continue their spring migration to their summer homes in the far north of Canada and Alaska and the Rocky Mt. States. Other temporary visitors from the list above include: Tennessee Warblers, Palm Warblers, Nashville Warblers, Swainson's Thrush, and the Solitary Sandpiper. The others on the list will call Northern Illinois their summer home.

A White-crowned Sparrow gleening food from a sandy bank of the Kishwaukee
River, Espenscheid Forest Preserve, Rockford, IL; 5/4/2011.
A couple very identifying traits of the White crowns are their black and white striped crowns, very broad white eyebrow, and their bright orange bill which contrasts with its plain gray nape, throat and underparts. Their rumps and flanks are a light brown, while thier wings are darker brown with white wingbars.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Eared Grebes; Late April Spring Migration through Northern Illinois

A somewhat grainy pic of an Eared Gebe, Rock Cut State Park, Rockford, IL; 4/29/2011
Eared Grebes are not a usual sight in our part of the country of Northern Illinois, as their territory is generally west of the Mississippi River. So I was both surprised and delighted to see a couple of these Grebes in Pierce lake at Rock Cut State Park in the last week of April. At first when I saw them I thought they were Horned Grebes, which I saw for the first time a month earlier. They are very similar looking from a distance. And on a cloudy day with very flat light, heck - even up close, they are similar. The main indicator for telling them apart is the yellow feathering on the sides of their heads. Eared Grebes feathers fan out in wispy plumes from the back edges of their eyes (Above); whereas the Horned Grebes have a more solid patch of yellow that extend to the back of their heads (for more about Horned Grebes, see my 4/29 post ...

The Eared Grebe's neck and head is completely black which makes their firey red eyes glare out in an almost maniacally evil manner. Eared Grebes Spend their summers from about Nevada, Utah and Colorado in the southern edge of their range up to southern half the Canadian territories of British Columbia, Alberta and Manitoba. Since they winter in the Southwest stretching towards the western shores of the Gulf Coast, the Grebes that leave the Louisianna coast to travel to Manitoba, could find themselves travelling through northern Illinois if winds sent them too far East.

As for me, I am happy to add two species of Grebes on my Life List ( Horned #277). Eared Grebes (#283) were a real bonus this spring.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

White-throated Sparrows: Late April Spring Migration through Northern Illinois

A White-throated Sparrow, Rockford, IL; 4/27/2011.
A year ago on April 24, 2010, I was pleasantly surprised to see an unfamiliar bird (of my young birding life)sitting on the front stoop of our house. I looked it up to find out it was a White-throated Sparrow (at the time it was #154 on my life list). It foraged around for about a half a day in my yard and I never saw it again.  I told Val that I hope it remembered where it obtained  food and rest during its Spring migration, and returns again next year. And sure enough, a year to the day, on 4/24/2011, a White-throated Sparrow appeared in our back yard and spent the entire day feeding on the ground below our feeders. I was wondering if was the same sparrow from a year ago.  The next day a couple more White-throats were in our yard, and a few days later we had a flock of about a dozen feeding dayly for a span of about two weeks. Not only did it return, but it brought its friends.

A White-throated Sparrow, Blackhawk Springs Forest Preserve, Rockford, IL; 4/25/2011.
 I have seen more White-throated Sparrows this spring than I ever have in my life. Not only have I have seen them in our yard, but also in Rock Cut State Park, and Blackhawk Springs and Espenscheid Forest Preserves (Above). But I think now they have finally moved north. I think the last time I heard one singing from our yard was back on May 6. I would think with the nice Spring weather finally arriving in the first week of May, the White-throats decided it's time to continue their migration to its summer homes in Canada, the northern shorelines of the Great Lakes and the Northeastern States. Supposedly they spend the winter in our area (as its most northern edge of its winter range), I have never seen them around until late April.

White-throated Sparrow, Rockford, IL; 4/27/2011.
White-throated Sparrow, Rockford, IL; 4/27/2011.
Along with the White-throated Sparrows, late April brought another wave of migratory birds through Northern Illinois. The new birds that either saw or heard in late April were Eastern Towhees, Blue-Gray Gnatcatchers, Gray Catbirds, Brewers Blackbirds, Green Herons, Eared Grebes, Brown Thrashers, and Spotted Sandpipers. Of this group, only the White-throated Sparrows, Brewer's balckbirds, and Eared Grebes will be passing through. The other species will spend their summer in Northern Illinois.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Ring-necked Ducks: Mid April Spring Migration through Northern Illinois

A pair of Ring-necked Ducks, Horicon Marsh National wildlife Refuge, Wisconsin; 4/24/2011
Ring-necked Ducks are another diving duck that migrates through northern Illinois from its winter home in the southern half of the U.S. to its summer homes in Canada, Alaska, Northern Midwest and Northwest states as well as the cooler climates of the Rockies. These ducks like the shallow freshwater ponds and nest in marshy areas near woods. The Horicon Marsh in Wisconsin is such a place, and is where I saw this pair (Above) swimming about. In the photo above you can see the faint rings around its neck that gives them their names. In low light or at a far distance, it is difficult to see these rings.

Another pair of Ring-necked Ducks in their winter home, Phoenix, AZ; 12/26/09.
From a distance, male Ring-necked Ducks look much like male Scaups (see my 4/22 post about Scaups at ) and are similar in size (17" long). But as you see them at close range, you can see their backs are black (Scaups' backs are lighter) and their grayish bills have a white outline and a larger black tip than Scaups, which have a bluish bill with less white and a tiny black tip. Another good identifying characteristic of the Ring-Necks is between its black breast and gray flanks is a small white "spur" (Above). The crown of a Ring-Neck also looks like it has a bit of a "hairdo", whereas, the Scaups are smoother. females are brownish all over, with a dark gray cap and a white eye-ring, and have less of a white outline on their bills.

Another pair of Ring-necked Ducks,
Seney Wildlife Refuge in Upper Michigan; 5/27/2007.

Ring-necked Ducks travel through Northern Illinois usually around mid April. If you miss them while they are travelling through our area, you can probably catch them up around the Horicon Marsh National Wildlife refuge, only a couple of hours north of Rockford. Or if you want to travel even further north you most assuredly can see them in the Seney National Wildlife Refuge in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, which is the first time I remember seeing Ringed-necks (Above).

Monday, May 9, 2011

Ruby-crowned Kinglets: Mid April Spring Migration through Northern Illnois

April, 2011,  had been colder than normal for northern Illinois'Aprils, and the migration of birds reaching northern Illinois has been slow this entire spring. But slow or not, migrants have been trickling in. Mid April brought the next wave a birds to our area. Of these birds the species I saw the most included both Kinglets (Ruby-crowns and Golden-crowns), Barn Swallows, and two more types of Ducks - Red Heads and Ring-necked Ducks.
The first Ruby-crowned Kinglet I saw this April, Rock Cut State Park, Rockford, IL; 4/17/2011.
The first time I ever identified a Ruby-crown was last summer in Colorado, so I was very happy to finally see one in our area. From mid April until early May, Ruby Crowns have been swarming the thickets of Rock Cut State Park. They hide quickly in the underbrush, but I found if I stand still for a bit they will not be afraid to get close. So I was able to get some nice close up shots of these little guys.  I saw a few with their ruby crests blazing, but I was tooo slow to get them in my viewfinder for a great picture. (Below) is the best photo I took this sping of a Ruby-Crown with its red crest visible.
You can see a touch of the red crest showing on this Ruby-crowned Kinglet,
Rock Cut State Park, Rockford, IL; 4/23/2011.
Ruby Crowns are on their way to Canada, Alaska and the higher cooler elevations of the Rocky Mountains. They spend their winters in the southern half of the U.S. as well as Mexico, but you can find them Year Round between the Rockies and Sierra Nevada Mountain ranges.
This little RC Kinglet was bold enough to stay close while I was snapping pictures,
Rock Cut State Park, Rockford, IL; 4/29/2011.
Ruby Crowns are a pale yellowish/olive bird with darker green and white wings and lighter underneath. They have very small bills which is effective in gleaning tiny insects off of branches. Two very good identifying marks for this Kinglet is their wide black and white wing bar across the secondaries, and its white eye-ring which is narrow at the top and bottom edges and wider in the front and back of the eye, giving it an oval shape.
Another Ruby-crowned Kinglet, Rock Cut State Park, Rockford, IL; 4/29/2011.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Yellow-rumped Myrtles: Early April Spring Migration through Northern Illinois

A Yellow-rumped Myrtle Warbler; Rock Cut State Park, Rockford, IL; 4/17/2011.
Another early April arrival in Northern Illinois is the Yellow-rumped Warbler (also known as the Myrtle) as it is on its way to northern Wisconsin, Minnesota, Upper Michigan, Canada and Alaska. It will also spend its summers in the Northeast states (New York, New hampshire, Vermont and Maine).  They winter not too far south from our area in southern Illinois and southern Indiana as well as the entire southestern U.S. as well as all the coasts. I saw several of them in Mexico last December. They will also spend the winter on the southern shores of Lake Erie in Ohio, and are most likely (as is the case) the first warbler to be seen in the spring.

A BIF pic of a Myrtle showing its yellow flanks and streaky breast,
 Nygren Wetlands Preserve, Rockton, IL; 4/10/2011.
The first Myrtle I saw this year was at the Nygren Wetlands Preserve (Above), and since that time they have been all over. At Rock Cut State Park, Bauman Park, and Blackhawk Springs Forest Preserve in Rockford, as well as in Horicon Marsh National Wildlife Refuge in Wisconsin. They are not hard to miss, with their bluish/gray body set off with a bright yellow rump (Below), crown and flanks with contrasting black and white streaks on its breast. Another great identifying trait is its black mask with white eyebrows and throat.
A good look at the Myrtle's namesake yellow rump,
Horicon Marsh National Wildlife Refuge, Wisconsin; 4/24/2011.
A Myrtle showing off its contrasting dark bluish/gray and black colors
with its bright yellow and white markings, Horicon Marsh NWR, WI; 4/24/2011
Another Myrtle, Rock Cut State Park, Rockford, IL; 4/17/2011.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Fox Sparrows: Early April Spring Migration through Northern Illinois

Along with the American White Pelicans (yesterday's post) among the early April arrivals that I have seen are Green-winged Teals, Yellow-rumped Myrtles, Brown Thrashers, Eastern Meadowlarks, Rough-winged Swallows and Tree Swallows, and a slew of sparrow species including Fox Sparrows, Vesper Sparrows, Chipping Sparrows, and Field Sparrows. Of this group, the Green-winged Teals, Fox Sparrows, and Myrtles are just travelling through toward more northern territories, while the rest will call northern Illinois their summer home.

A Fox Sparrow, Rockford, IL; 4/7/2011.

I was able to add to my Life List (#280) one afternoon as I returned home from school, and saw an unfamiliar sparrow-like bird scratching in the dirt and leaves in the backyard. As soon as it came into better light, I recognized it as a Fox Sparrow (Above) because they are larger and have more red on it than the usual sparrows that hang around here. I was very excited since it is the first time I have seen one close enough to identify. I hoped it stayed put long enough for me to get camera-ready, and fortunately it did. I was able to fire off several pics before it finally flew off into the bushes. The unfortunate part was that it was already late in the day and somewhat cloudy, and there wasn't good light for better photography.

Fox Sparrows' migration takes them from their winter grounds in the Southeastern States (as well as Southern California and along the Pacific Coast) through the Midwest and onto their summer grounds of extreme northern Canada and Alaska. They will also spend their summers in the Rockies extending all the way to the Pacific Coast.

A look at the Fox Sparrow's rufous coloring, Rockford; 4/7/11.
Fox Sparrows get their name from their reddish coloring which as you can see from the photo (Above), it has reddish stripes alternating with gray on its back, and much of its wings are red with black tips. Its tail is red along with heavy streaking on its breast and flanks. Its gray head is usually capped off with a red crown (though the red cap on the sparrow in the photos hasn't come in yet - you can see the beginnings of it appearing), red cheeks and eyeline extending to the back of the head. Its breast and belly are lighter (Top photo).

I was hoping it would stick around for a few days to get better pictures in better light, but I didn't see it again. It was fun while it lasted.

Friday, May 6, 2011

American White Pelicans; Early April Spring Migration through Northern Illinois

The black wings are very visible on this American White Pelican coming
 in for a landing, Nygren Wetlands Preserve, Rockton, IL; 4/10/2011 
By early April another wave of birds start arriving into Northern Illinois. Among this wave are the American White Pelicans. Northern Illinois is on the eastern edge of their migratory route, so it is always a treat to see them in one of our lakes, ponds, or rivers. American White Pelicans often use the Mississippi flyway as a prime route for both their Spring and Fall migrations, and can be found in large squadrons (check my 8/11/10 post ) on the Mississippi River. Once in a while they venture a few more miles east and can be seen on the Rock River and at Nygren Wetlands Preserve, IL, which is where we saw a few small pods (or pouches, or scoops, or squadrons as flocks of Pelicans are often called) in early April (Above).  In winter, these Pelicans will be found along the Gulf Coast States as well as the southern Pacific Coast and into Mexico and central America. When we see them migrate through our area, they are on their way to their summer homes in shallow ponds, lagoons, and marshes of the North Central Plains States (Minnesota, Montana, North & South Dakota, and parts of Nebraska, Colorado, Idaho, Nevada, and Oregon) as well as the Central Canada. They can also be seen spending their summers in Northern Wisconsin and along sheltered bays of Lake Superior. They find lake islands where they will build a primitive nest of debris and a low mound of earth.

A scoop of American White Pelicans sunning on a shallow sandbar,
Nygren Wetlands Preserve, Rockton, IL; 4/10/2011.
American White Pelicans are one of the largest of the boreal birds. They can weigh as much as 30 pounds and their wing spans can exceed nine feet. While standing or swimming., they appear all white, but in flight (Top) their black primaries and outer primaries are very evident. During breeding their legs, bills and pouch get a bright orange and they grow a rounded keel on their culmen (upper bill) (See Below). During non-breeding months (Sept - Feb), their bills and legs get a duller yellow as seen on my 8/11/10 and 8/12/10 posts about these magnificant birds.

The "keel" on the American White Pelican's culmen is prominent while in their
breeding plumage, Nygren Wetlands Preserve, Rockton, IL; 4/10/2011.
American White Pelicans are excellent fishers and often capture fish cooperatively by swimming in a long line, beating their wings and driving the fish into shallow water where they scoop up the fish in their large pouches, which can hold up to 3 gallons of water. Val and I saw a small pod of these Pelicans at Horicon Marsh National Wildlife Refuge, WI, ( ) on Easter morning, where we witnessed them make a circle facing inward,surrounding a school of fish, then all dunking their heads simulataneously to scoop up the fish they trapped. After the fish have been caught the bill is pointed downward allowing the water to drain, and then the bill is raised and the bird swallows its meal. This is unlike their cousins, the Brown Pelican which catch fish by dive bombing from great heights.

I loved this capture of an American White Pelican just about to make its landing in Nygren Wetlands Preserve, Rockton, IL. Wouldn't it be awesome to have this magnificent bird nesting in Northern Illinois? 4/10/2011.
I have read in some sites that because of pesticides, human disturbance, and the draining of wetlands, the American White Pelican is in decline as the number of active colonies has dropped sharply in recent decades. However, I have also read that their population in Wisconsin is growing and in the future their breeding grounds may extend to include the upper Mississippi River, which for now serves only as a migratory route.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Ospreys;Late March Spring Migration through Northern Illinois

An Osprey soaring overhead looking for its next meal, Phoenix, AZ; 12/26/09.
While hiking through Rock Cut State Park in late March, I was surprised to hear a sweet whistle and before I knew it, an Osprey flew over carrying a fish in its talons. I thought, "Cool! An Osprey in our very own State Park." When I notified E-bird, Illinois, I was asked for proof since at that time of year this was apparently the first sighting of an Osprey in our area. The best picture I had for proof  wasn't a quality photo (Below top), but it was proof enough of what it was. I returned a day later, hoping to see it again, which I did (Below bottom pic). Well, since then, others have spotted the Osprey as much as two weeks later; however, I don't believe it has been seen since early April, undoubtedly moving on to its summer hunting grounds. Through April Ospreys have been sighted more often in northern Illinois as it is migrating through on its way to the Northern shores of the Great Lakes and on into Canada and Alaska.  Ospreys also will spend the summer along the Atlantic coast as well as the Northwest and the northern Rockies. I have seen Ospreys in Rocky Mountain National Park as well as in Montana and Idaho.
The best pic I was able to get of an Osprey with its catch at Rock Cut State Park, Rockford, IL; 3/26/2011.

The same Osprey a day later at Rock Cut State Park, Rockford, IL; 3/27/2011.
In winter Ospreys will migrate south to the South Pacific coasts of California, the Baja Peninsula, as well as Florida, and the Gulf states. In December of 2009 while hiking the Butcher Jones Trail at Saguaro Lake, Arizona, I was fortunate enough to not only see an Osprey make its dive and catch a fish, but was able to capture it with a burst of photos (see my 6/27/10 post with link below...
Below are a few more photos from that series:
An Osprey locating its prey on Saguaro Lake ...

The same Osprey pulling its catch out of the lake ...

...and taking off with its prize; Saguaro Lake, AZ; 12/29/2009.
Just a week ago, while we were hiking around Horicon Marsh National Wildlife Refuge in Wisconsin, Val saw an Osprey flying off carrying a fish that she said was almost as big as he was. By the time she got my attention to try to take a picture it was gone, and I missed the opportunity. Ospreys are always fun to watch, and I hope someday I get another chance to capture one in its dive catching a fish.