Friday, September 30, 2011

Acorn Woodpecker

An Acorn Woodpecker, Yosemite, National Park, CA; 6/17/2009.
One of our best trips within the past few years took us out to the iconic Yosemite National Park. Within minutes of getting out of the car on our first day in Yosemite Valley, a woodpecker (Above) landed in a dead tree just yards from where we were admiring Upper and Lower Yosemite Falls.  I had no idea what kind of woodpecker it was. Later, after returning to our campground, I pulled out a copy of my National Audubon Society Field Guide to North American Birds, I figured out that it was an Acorn Woodpecker.
The same female Acorn Woodpecker in Yosemite Valley.
As one can see by the numerous tell-tale holes bored into this dead tree (Above), it must have been a favorite spot for this Acorn Woodpecker.  These woodpeckers are found along the Pacicic Coast States of Oregon and California, as well as in Arizona, New Mexico, the extreme Southwest corner of Texas and into Mexico. They are year round residents in these states as they do not migrate. Both males and females have a glossy bluish/black body with a white belly, black breast, yellow/white throat, a white wing patch and rump, and the wide bold white eye ring. Both have red crowns, however, the male's stretch all the way to the its white forehead, while the female's red crown doesn't connect with the white forehead but is separated by a black forecrown.

Upper and Lower Yosemite Falls, the view we were looking at, when the Acorn Woodpecker entered my life; Yosemite Nat. Park, CA; 6/17/2009.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Cliff Swallows and more from Spring Green, WI

Barn and farmland from Taliesin, Frank Lloyd Wright's home property in Spring Green, WI; 7/1/2011.
Val and I visit Spring Green every summer to see plays from the wonderful outdoor theatre, American Players Theatre ( ). This summer we decided to make a long weekend of our visit when we saw three plays in three consecutive evenings. During the day, we visited many attractions in the area: Tower Hill State Park, House on the Rock, Taliesin ( home of and Architect School founded by Frank Lloyd Wright ), and try to get some birding in to boot. It is a beautiful part of Wisconsin, complete with rolling hills, farmland, stone cliffs, woodland, parks, and quaint towns.

A BIF of a Cliff Swallow, Wisconsin River near Helena Marsh, Spring Green, WI; 7/1/2011.
Between birding in Tower Hill State park, Helena marsh, and the grounds of Taliesin and the Spring Valley Hotel (which is a great little hotel in a beautiful rural setting not far from the American Players Theatre), I managed a few decent photos. Among the birds I was able to identify were Chipping Sparrows, Song Sparrows, House Sparrows, Northern Rough-winged Swallows, Mourning Doves, House Wren, Cardinals, Blue Jays, Cliff Swallows (Above), Barn Swallows, Baltimore Orioles, Gray Catbirds, Rose-breasted Grosbeak, Eastern Phoebe, Eastern Wood Peewee, American Robins, Crows, Goldfinches, Chickadees, Ruby-throated Hummingbirds, White-breasted Nuthatches, and a Great Blue Heron.
A juvenile Cliff Swallow, Helena Marsh, Spring Green, WI; 7/1/2011.
Another Cliff Swallow, Spring Green, WI; 7/1/2011.

A Northern Leopard Frog, Helena Marsh, Spring Green, WI; 7/1/2011.

Beautiful summer colors in Helena Marsh, Spring Green, WI; 7/1/2011.
I am not sure what the sign submerged in the water said , but what is visible is " ... --- Carefully In --- Zones..." Wouldn't it be ironic if it said "Drive carefully In Flood Zones." Helena Marsh, WI; 7/1/2011.
As I was searching out birds Helena Marsh near the Wisconsin River shoreline, I noticed a sign lying in some shallow water off the side of the gravel road we were on. I couldn't quite make out what the sign said, but it seemed like a possible interesting story. I looked further for a submerged automobile, but couldn't find one - maybe it was underneath the sign.

A young Mourning Dove on the trail in Tower Hill State Park, Spring Green, WI; 7/1/2011.
While hiking in Tower Hill State Park, near Spring Green, we saw a flightless bird (Above) trying to escape to safety when we almost stepped on it on the trail. I wasn't sure immediately what it was, but after some research, concluded it was a young Mourning Dove that either fell out of its nest or made its initial flight out of the nest but wasn't strong enough to go any further. There was a 100 foot cliff next to the trail that was the most likely origin of its nest  I hope it learns to fly quickly otherwise it will surely become a meal for a local fox or badger.

More wildlife from Helena Marsh, Spring Green, WI; 7/1/2011.
A Chipping Sparrow, on the grounds of Spring Valley Hotel, Spring Green, WI; 7/1/2011.
A Song Sparrow on the Taliesin grounds, Spring Green, WI; 7/1/2011.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Purple Martins

A colony of Purple Martins at Rock Cut State Park, Rockford, IL; 8/3/2011.
The only time I have seen Purple Martins was in and near man-made bird houses, so in early August, I was pleasantly surprised to observe a moderate sized colony of these martins in the more natural state  of Rock Cut State Park. They were swooping down over Pierce Lake gleening insects off the water surface and roosting in a couple of nearby trees (Above).  This is also the first time I have seen Purple Martins in Illinois. During the summer months, they are found throughout the Eastern half of the U.S. and in spotty regions out West as well as in Canada. In winter they will migrtae as far south as the middle of South America. In the East they most exclusively nest in man-made Martin Houses; however, in the West they are more likely be found in natural cavities such as holes in trees and in the sides of cliffs.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Sharp-shinned Hawk, Rockford, Illinois

A Sharp-shinned Hawk, Rockford, IL; 8/29/2011.
As I was busy searching out and taking photographs of the Mississippi Kites (yestreday's post) who have called Rockford home for the past four or five years, I saw another rather good-sized bird land in a low branch of a nearby tree. Initially I assumed it was another Mississippi Kite, so I zoomed in on it and saw that it wasn't one of the Kites. It was darker and a bit smaller, about the size of a dove or pigeon. It stayed on its perch for quite some time to allow me to get some photos, but unfortunately it stayed in the dark shadows of the tree (Above). It was too small to be a Red-tailed Hawk, which is the most common raptor in our area. It had the look of a juvenile Cooper's Hawk, but also seemd too small for that.
The same Sharp-shinned Hawk, Rockford, IL; 8/29/2011.
After researching and looking at photos, I concluded it must be a Sharp-shinned Hawk, which is a smaller version of the Cooper's Hawk. Fantastic, I never identified a Sharp-shinned before, so It became #328 on my Life List.
Also I noticed several swallow-shaped birds flying back and forth high in the sky above the the trees. They behave like a swallow, but were too large to be a swallow and had white bars on the undersides of their wings, which no swallow that I knew would have.  My initial thought was a Nighthawk. Upon returning home and looking at my photos, which were distant, blurry, grainy, and unworthy of a blog pic, but had just enough definition in them for me to confirm my initial guess of a Common Nighthawk, which became #329 on my Life List. It was a good day - three great birds.

Another local neighborhood resident lounging on its deck, Rockford, IL; 8/29/2011.

Sunset of the Day
A jet trail adds to a great sunset, Rockford, IL; 4/24/2006

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Mississippi Kites in Northern Illinois

Mississippi Kite, hanging in Rockford, IL; 8/29/2011.
Last fall (2010) a good birder friend and former teacher colleague of mine, John Longhenry, who takes awesome bird pics, told me about a pair of Mississippi Kites hanging around the Bloom Elementary School neighborhood.  I thought it was unusual for a southern raptor to be in Northern Illinois, and wondered where it was migrating from ... certainly not from north of here. Well, at the time I didn't find the time to go out to get a look at them. Then earlier this past summer I finally did see my first Mississippi Kite on my sister's property in Texas ( ). Then just a couple of weeks ago I heard that the Mississippi Kites were back in Rockford in the same neighborhood as last year, and this time I made the effort to drive out to find them. 

A juvenile Mississippi Kite ruffling its feathers, Rockford, IL; 8/29/2011.
When I pulled up to the Bloom School parking lot to begin my search, another former teacher friend of mine, who happened to live in the neighborhood was walking his dog and spotted me. I told him why I was there (I supposed a weird middle-aged man with a big camera might look suspiscious at an elementary school), and he told me that people with cameras are always camped out taking pictures of these southern raptors, since they started arriving and nesting here 4-5 years ago. That answered my question about where on earth they might be migrating from. It also seems to point out how global warming has changed many birds' migration and nesting habits. Mississippi Kites are traditionally a southern bird, found in Texas, Oklahoma, Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia and along the Southern Atlantic Seaboard States as well as along the Southern Mississippi River in Tennessee, Kentucky and Southern Illinois (hence its name).  So their nesting in Northern Illinois for the past half decade is clear indication about the change in climate and temperature and how it affects wildlife.
My friend told me that this summer the M. Kites raised two young and also what tree they like to perch in. After he continued his dog-walking chore, I started to scout out the place, and within minutes I caught sight of a large bird with a high-pitched whistle fly low over the school's playground and alight in the exact tree. This was indeed a Mississippi Kite - in fact a juvenile (Above). It was fairly high up in the tree and was only able to get a few underneath shots. It flew off and a few minutes later I spotted two adult M. Kites hovering in the sky. One of them landed in the same tree (Top and Below) that the juvenile vacated, while the other flew out of sight.
"Only the Shadow knows" pose by a Mississippi Kite, Rockford, IL; 8/29/2011.
Mississippi Kites are a small to medium sized raptor, only growing to be about 14" in length. They have a very unique appearance as they are light grayish on the head and wing tips, with darker wings and belly, and a black tail. Their pale gray head is offset by a dark eye mask and red eyes which help with the mysterious "Shadow" appearance (Above) as I caught it posing like the old 1930's radio and comic book hero, The Shadow, ( ).  Juveniles are less clean in their look as they have coarse dark reddish streaks on their breast, belly, back and neck (two photos Above).

Another look at an adult Mississippi Kite ready to take off from its perch, Rockford, IL; 8/29/2011.
I am glad I took the time to find these magnificent birds, not only because they are rare in Northern Illinois and it allowed me to get better pics of them than the one I photographed in Texas, but it also opportuned me to see two new birds that happened to be in the area: The Common Nighthawk and a Sharp-shinned Hawk (which became #'s 328 & 329 on my Life List), which will be the subject of my next post.

Sunset of the Day
Migrating birds resting in a tree at dusk near our home, Rockford, IL; 4/1/2011.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Whooping Cranes in the Necedah National Wildlife Refuge, Wisconsin

Val's photo of a pair of endangered Whooping Cranes find a home in the Necedah National Wildlife Refuge, WI; 8/13/2011.
On our way home from our trip to Lake Superior and the Boundary Waters in Northern Minnesota, we stopped at the Necedah National Wildlife Refuge in Central Wisconsin, to see if we could find any interesting birds in mid August. In our two hour exploration of the 44,000 acreage, I identified 26 different species, but the best of the bunch was our first look at Whooping Cranes in the wild (Above - Val's photo of two Whooping Cranes making a landing in the distance). Last summer we saw Whooping Cranes at the International Crane Foundation in Baraboo, WI, but these were in captivity (below), albeit in a very nice habitat.  But seeing them in the wild a month ago was a treat, especially since they are an endangered species. They became #327 on my Life Bird List and my 52nd new bird added to the list this year - 2011.
A Whooping Crane at the International Crane Foundation, Baraboo, WI; 7/31/2010.

Another Whooping Crane at the International Crane Foundation, Baraboo, WI; 7/31/2010.
The best photo I could manage of a wild Whooping Crane, Necedah NWR, WI; 8/13/2011.
While I was searching out other birds, I heard some Sandhill Cranes cackling in the distance. Their sounds were soon joined by some other bugling that I knew weren't Sandhills and was hoping were Whooping Cranes, which are sometimes sighted at this Refuge. I was probably over 100 yards away when I heard the Whoops of the Whooping Cranes and I saw a pair of them flying low over the grassland prairie I tried to follow them with my camera and snapped a few photos before they landed out of sight. Coupled with a cloudy day and far distance, and me not having the capability of auto focus (which I prefer to do with BIF shots), the photo quality was not very good (Above was probably my least worst of the bunch). When my 1.4x extender is on my 500mm Sigma Lens (5-6.3), my auto focus becomes disabled, which, of course is a huge disadvantage when trying to get pics of birds in flight (BIF). I am not quick enough to manually adjust my focus on a moving target, especially when my subject is over a hundred yards away.

Val's photo showing a boardwalk trail in one of the marshes of the Necedah NWR, WI; 8/13/2011.
Necedah National Wildlife Refuge (Above) is a fantastic place to do birding. It has a great variety of habitat: woodland, marshes and bogs, meadows and prairie, open water, and boasts that it is not only a nesting ground for Whooping Cranes but home for other rare species such as the Blanding Turtle and the Gray Wolf.   For more info about Necedah NWR, here is a link:
Brown Thrasher, Necedah NWR, WI; 8/13/2011.
Identified Birds from Necedah NWR on 8/13/2011: Great Blue Heron,  Sora rail (heard several), White Pelicans (two squadrons adding up to 4 dozen), Sandhill Cranes (at least 4), Whooping Cranes (2), Mallards, Canada Geese, Ring-billed Gulls, White-breasted Nuthatch, Downy Woodpecker, American Robins, Blue Jays, Eastern Phoebe, Eastern Wood Peewee, American Goldfinch, Cedar Waxwings, Brown Thrasher (Above & Below), Barn Swallows, Tree Swallows, Mourning Dove, Song Sparrows, Savanah Sparrows, Tufted Titmouse, Gray Catbirds, American Crows, and a Red-winged Blackbird (juvenile female).  Also we saw a mother White-tailed Deer with twin fawns. Below are more photos:
Brown Thrasher, Necedah NWR, WI; 8/13/2011.

A juvenile female Red-winged Blackbird, Necedah NWR, WI; 8/13/2011.

A squadron of White Pelicans, Necedah NWR, WI; 8/13/2011.

Val's photo of White Pelicans coming in for a landing, Necedah NWR, WI; 8/13/2011.

Twin White-tailed Fawns, Necedah NWR, WI; 8/13/2011.
Sunset of the Day
Although it's not technically a sunset, this dramatic sky was taken from my brother's front porch, after a tornado threat swept through Poynette Wisconsin; 6/6/2006. 

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Sandhill Cranes, Black River State Forest, WI

Now that I am busy with school again, I will limit my posts to one or two  on weekends, instead of my daily summer posts. Thank you to all who follow my blog.

Sandhill Cranes, Horicon Marsh National Wildlife Refuge, WI; 5/29/2011.
On our way to Rockford, IL, from the Boundary Waters, MN, we split up the 9+ hour drive with a stop in Black River Falls, WI. Approaching the exit to Black River Falls, I saw a Bald Eagle getting harassed by a flock of  what I thought were Eastern Kingbirds and I immediately saw that as a good sign for birding in the area. Indded, There was a fantastic 67,000 acre State Forest only minutes away from town. It was already fairly late afternoon on a cloudy day, so I knew bird photography would not be at its premium, but I decided to take the 15 minute drive to check it out.  Black River State Forest ( ) turned out to be quite nice - a good number of hiking trails, forest, grassland and lots of flowages, so the varied habitat made for good birding. Within minutes of hiking down a grassy trail leading to a flowage, I came across three Sandhill Cranes, which took off as soon as I crested a hill and they startled me as much as I startled them. They flew right over my head bugling their rattling cackle. I didn't even have time to raise my camera.  Upon further exploration of different areas of the State Forest, I ran into no less than two more pairs of Sandhills. In less than an hour, I counted seven Sandhills and heard several others that I couldn't see. Because of bad light, my photos of these creatures were not very good, but (Above and Below) are photos of a couple of Sandhills that were on a trail I was hiking at the Horicon Marsh National Wildlife Refuge (not far from the Black River State Forest) in late May of this year. This pair of Sandhills were very close and didn't scare off very easily. I took a few photos and left them alone, suspecting they might have had a nest nearby.

A Sandhill Crane patiently but warily waiting for me to vacate the area of a probable nest, HMNWR, WI; 5/29/2011.

A Field Sparrow, Black River State Forest, WI; 8/12/2011.
Other birds that I heard or spotted in the Black River State Forest were Song Sparrows, Field Sparrows (Above), Barn and Tree Swallows, a Downy Woodpecker, Canada Geese, Mallards, Wood Ducks, a Tufted Titmouse, an Eastern Towhee, Blue Jays, Rose-breasted Grosbeaks, American Crows, and American Robins.  This area also boasts as one of its signature residents, the Timber Wolf. I think I will definitely take a trip up here in the future in better birding circumstances. But a word of warning for anyone hiking here or anywhere else for that matter, watch out for ticks. After my first 100 yards hiking the grassy trail where I saw the first sandhills, I pulled no less than a dozen ticks off of my legs. That is by far the most ticks I have ever had on me at one time.

Friday, September 2, 2011

Birds at Blue Fish Bay, Minnesota

Morning clouds over Lk. Superior, Blue Fish Bay, MN; 8/12/2011
On our way back south from the Boundary Waters, we made few stops that looked promising for some early morning Lake photos. One of the stops was Blue Fish Bay (Above), where the sun was rising over a cloudy Lake Superior horizon.  While taking in the view, I noticed a sparrow rummaging around the grass near the beach. Everything pointed to it as being a Vesper Sparrow (below); the only trait I wasn't sure about was its bill seemd too dark.

Vesper Sparrow, Blue Fish Bay, MN; 8/12/2011.

Mist over the coast of lake Superior, MN; 8/12/2011.
A bit later we found an overlook (Above) which gave us a great view of the mist rising over the Lake Superior coast. There was a nice little hike through a forest to get to the overlook, which was teeming with White-throated Sparrows, Swamp Sparrows (Below), Cedar Waxwings and a Downy Woodpecker.

Swamp Sparrow; 8/12/2011

A Cedar Waxwing and its young; 8/12/2011.

I am not sure what she was saying to her young one, but it sure took off quickly; 8/12/2011.
Sunset of the Day
Sunset at Miner's castle, Lake Superior, Upper Michigan's Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore; 5/25/2007.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Lincoln Sparrows at Lutsen Ski Resort, MN

Lots of Lincoln Sparrows were hanging around the wet grassy slopes of the Lutsen Ski Resort, Mn; 8/10/2011.
In early August, we spent three days at the Lutsen Ski Resort. We used it as our base to go on day trips in the area. One late afternoon, after spending the day hiking in the Boundary Waters and then exploring the Grand Marais Marina, I explored the ski slopes at Lutsen. There was some bird activity, mostly sparrows, especially Lincoln Sparrows (Above) who were hanging around the wet grassy slopes. There also seemed to be a fair number of White-throated Sparrows, Song Sparrows, and Chipping Sparrows. I was hoping to see my first Clay-colored Sparrow, but none that I could identify. Other birds that graced the grounds of the ski slopes were American Crows, Blue Jays, Downey Woodpeckers, Nuthatches, and Cowbirds.

A creek in the Lutsen Ski Resort grounds, MN; 8/10/2011.
I hiked down a steep slope and bushwhacked through some thick brush in a heavily forested valley and came upon a very pretty stream (Above) cutting through the trees - but no birds. By the time I hiked back up the hill to the resort, the moon was up and I decided to try to use my new 1.4 extender with my 500mm Sigma lens to see if I could get a good shot of the almost full moon. I couldn't remember the correct settings to get a crisp moonshot that detailed its terrain, so I experimented until I came up with the capture (Below).

Moonrise of the Day
An almost full-moon rising above the Lutsen Ski slopes in Minnesota; 8/10/2011.
A couple of days later, Val used my same extender and lens to shoot a full moon, which she posted on her photo blog. Link below...