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Good backyard bird week

Posted on October 17th 2009 by Arthur in Birds, Illinois, Life in America, Nature

We’ve had a good week for backyard birding. Not only did the White-crowned Sparrows and Dark-eyed Juncos return for the winter, we also had five new song birds! Since we moved to this house in February we’ve been keeping track of all the birds we’ve seen in our backyard. This week we added five new species.

It started last Monday with a Yellow-rumped Warbler that was hanging out in the back and the next day Amy spotted the first Chipping Sparrow at our feeder. On Wednesday we heard a thump against the window and found a little Golden-crowned Kinglet laying on the roof, knocked out. We picked it up and put it in a box in a warm place. A half hour later it started to scratch around in the box so we let it out in the backyard. The kinglet immediately flew to our tallest tree and we watched it for a while as it was flitting around the tree top looking for bugs. Yesterday we saw our first Red-breasted Nuthatch flying back-and-forth between a feeder and a tree and just a few minutes later a Ruby-crowned Kinglet was hopping around the big tree where we had earlier seen the recuperated Golden-crowned.

Wow, that makes 30 different species in our yard so far! I never guessed we’d get so many in our suburban neighborhood! Especially the beautiful warbler and kinglets were a huge surprise. We’ve also been seeing a Cooper’s Hawk almost every day, terrorizing our song birds. Last week we saw him eat a House Sparrow and Amy caught it on video (gruesome!). He likes to sit on the lightest slat of our fence, which is the same color has himself, so he blends right in.

Here’s our complete backyard species list:

  1. Ruby-crowned Kinglet (16 October 2009)
  2. Red-breasted Nuthatch (16 October 2009)
  3. Golden-crowned Kinglet (14 October 2009)
  4. Chipping Sparrow (13 October 2009)
  5. Yellow-rumped Warbler (12 October 2009)
  6. House Wren (3 August 2009)
  7. Blue Jay (31 May 2009)
  8. Northern Flicker (25 May 2009)
  9. Red-tailed Hawk (24 May 2009)
  10. Ring-billed Gull (19 May 2009)
  11. Baltimore Oriole (18 May 2009)
  12. Common Grackle (6 May 2009)
  13. White-crowned Sparrow (6 May 2009)
  14. Tree Swallow (May 2009)
  15. Brown-headed Cowbird (April 2009)
  16. Common Starling (30 March 2009)
  17. American Tree Sparrow (30 March 2009)
  18. Downy Woodpecker (20 March 2009)
  19. American Robin (18 March 2009)
  20. Song Sparrow (15 March 2009)
  21. Red-winged Blackbird (15 March 2009)
  22. American Crow (March 2009)
  23. Northern Cardinal (15 March 2009)
  24. House Sparrow (12 March 2009)
  25. Mourning Dove (6 March 2009)
  26. House Finch (6 March 2009)
  27. Black-capped Chickadee (3 March 2009)
  28. Cooper’s Hawk (March 2009)
  29. Dark-eyed Junco (26 February 2009)
  30. American Goldfinch (22 February 2009)

Blue Jay

Na na na na na na na na Batfest!

Posted on August 6th 2009 by Amy in Events, Forest Preserves, Nature

Last Saturday we attended Batfest, a celebration of bats by the Lake County Forest Preserve District held at Lakewood Forest Preserve.

Quiet Please. Bats Sleeping!

Years ago two large picnic shelters were built at the preserve, which local Little Brown Bats found to be great places to roost. Picnicking humans were not happy to find guano on their picnic tables and dropping into their food, so the district decided to rezone the shelters – one for people and one for the bats. The picnic shelter was modified to be less appealing to bats and the bat shelter was cordoned off so people would not disturb the roosting bats.

Bat Shelter

The large colony of Little Brown Bats at Lakewood made it a perfect spot for Batfest. There were several tables set up at the preserve with exhibits about the bats of Illinois, making bat houses and other neat bat information. There were also two presentations by bat experts, one of whom brought a couple of her rehabilitation and education bats to show to attendees. During these presentations we learned a lot of neat facts about bats, including:

  • There are over 1000 species of bat
  • A bat’s claws are naturally in a curled state. They use their muscles to uncurl the claws in order to grab onto a perch, and then relax to remain clamped on
  • All bats can see
  • Vampire bats’ saliva contains a substance which prevents clotting
  • Vampire bats will share their food with other bats who are hungry and unable to get food for themselves
  • Bats are an important pollinator for one of the ingredients used to make tequila (when this was mentioned, the crowd murmured ‘thank you, bats’)

After the two informative presentations, darkness began to fall and it was time to look for bats. Everyone gathered around the shelter. It was a huge crowd: bats are popular here in Lake County!

Huge crowd at Batfest

Researchers set up a mist net to capture bats as they left the shelter for the evening. Since the crowd was so large they had live camera which was projected onto a huge screen to capture the action in case a bat was caught. Soon after the first bat was spotted leaving the roost, another bat was caught in the net. She was brought in front of the camera and the brief examination was shown on the screen. It was neat to see the bat expert show features of the animal that helped her determine the age and sex of the bat. The exam reminded me of the bird ringing we observed recently, but the image on the screen reminded me of MST3K:

MST3K Bat

Batfest was another great program put on by our Lake County Forest Preserve District. If you want to learn more about bats, visit Bat Conservation International.

Foto Friday: Waiting for a band

Posted on July 24th 2009 by Arthur in Birds, Forest Preserves, Foto Friday, Illinois, Nature

Can you guess what’s in the bags hanging in this tree?

Bird bags hanging in a tree

Those bags have different birds inside them, ready to be banded. There’s Common Yellowthroat, Bluebirds, Song Sparrows and Red-bellied Woodpecker. Doesn’t it look a little surreal?

We visited a group of bird banders last Tuesday morning at Rollins Savanna Forest Preserve and observed their work for a couple of hours. They told us about bird banding and showed us how they handle and band the birds. They had ten mist nets set up that they use to catch birds and every half hour they walked past all the nets to take out the birds that got caught. After carefully removing each bird from the net it was put in a little bag and then hung in this tree until they were ready for banding. It was an interesting experience.

Common Yellowthroat
Common Yellowthroat

Field Sparrow
Field Sparrow

Bird banders at work
Bird banders at work

Putting a new field guide to good use

Posted on July 10th 2009 by Amy in Nature, Travel

On the drive home from Florida last month, we stopped at the Jackson County Waterfowl Area in Alabama. While we were hoping for birds, we mostly saw lots of skittish turtles who jumped into the water even when we approached from hundreds of feet away.

We also saw this lovely dragonfly.

Male Widow Skimmer

It’s a Male Widow Skimmer. I wouldn’t have known this if it wasn’t for our trusty brand new field guide I picked up just a few days before: Kaufman Field Guide to Insects of North America. Thank you, field guide.

Surprise mammal on July 4th

Posted on July 9th 2009 by Amy in Nature

On Independence Day, we took a little drive and stopped at two state parks: Chain O’ Lakes & Moraine Hills. It was overcast and drizzling at times, but we still had a very nice walk at Chain O’ Lakes, where we had a really good look at a bold Indigo Bunting in a grass field. Then at Moraine Hills we were surprised to find this guy:

Super-cute thirteen-lined Ground Squirrel at Wolfstad.com

That’s a Thirteen-lined Ground Squirrel! OMG cute! I don’t believe I’ve ever seen one in Illinois before and it was a life mammal for Arthur.

Super-cute thirteen-lined Ground Squirrel at Wolfstad.com

Fermilab’s Bison

Posted on May 27th 2009 by Amy in Environment, Illinois, Nature

Today we visited the Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory (Fermilab). Besides being home to the world’s largest particle accelerator currently in use (LHC is out of commission until at least this fall), Fermilab maintains much of their 6800 acre site with a variety of natural habitats for wildlife. This includes restored grassland prairie – once a major habitat across much of Illinois and the midwest, and former home to tens of millions of American Bison. Today, Fermilab is home to a small herd of bison.

Today over 70% of extant American Bison have been raised for human consumption. Large herds of free roaming wild bison can only be found in a few protected areas in North America, including Yellowstone National Park and Alberta’s Elk Island.

Five bison were brought to Fermilab by the first director, Robert Wilson, in 1969. In 1971 the herd increased by 21; today’s herd at the lab are descendants of those first 26 animals.
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Our 18th Backyard Bird: a Northern Flicker!

Posted on May 25th 2009 by Arthur in Birds, Illinois, Life in America, Nature

We moved here in early February 2009 and our first bird to visit our feeders was an American Goldfinch on February 22nd. Today, just over 3 months later, we saw our 18th species: a Northern Flicker! So far we’d only seen these beautiful large woodpeckers in woods and nature reserves; it was the last bird we’d expected to see in our suburban backyard! She was sitting on the ground under our feeders, probably eating the ants that we’ve been seeing there since we put up a bowl of grape jelly for our Baltimore Orioles. She was only there for a few minutes and this was the best picture I could get:

Northern Flickr

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Eager Beavers

Posted on May 17th 2009 by Amy in Birds, Environment, Forest Preserves, Nature

We went out birding with the Lake-Cook Chapter of the Illinois Audubon Society this morning. We had a great time, saw lots of birds and met some really nice people.

While walking near the Des Plaines River at Ryerson Woods, we saw this tree.

Eager Beaver (1/2)

Eager Beaver (2/2)

Now that’s one eager beaver! The tree looks about ready to fall, don’t you think?

Foto Friday: Tiger at Ranthambore

Posted on May 8th 2009 by Arthur in Nature, Travel

This week’s foto friday and my entry to today’s photo friday wildlife challenge is this picture of a tiger at Ranthambore National Park in India. We visited this amazing park in 2006 and were extremely lucky to see this tiger walk right in front of our jeep, about 5 meters away from us.

Tiger at Ranthambore in India

Our Visit to Niagara Falls

Posted on May 6th 2009 by Arthur in Nature

Last week we went to see the Niagara Falls. We drove from our home in Illinois down to Indiana and through Michigan to cross the border at Port Huron. Then we drove through part of Ontario to Niagara Falls. It had rained the days before and even during our 9 hour drive it was pouring down most of the time, but as we approached the waterfalls the sky cleared up and it was mostly sunny the whole time we were there. We spent the night at a Days Inn on the Canadian side and crossed the border into New York state the next day to check out Niagara Falls State Park on Goat Island. We had a wonderful time and were very impressed with the magnificent falls.

Niagara Falls 014 (29-Apr)

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