Raptorous Encounters

A pair of Bald Eagles at the Portage

It never fails, when I have no expectations of seeing anything unusual, something unexpected occurs. It began last Saturday morning when I decided to visit the Portage. I was on my way out the last leg of the trail when I encountered a perched Bald Eagle. And then a moment or two later, his mate appeared. I took way too many pictures, never having an unobstructed angle, and the birds were distant, but their immense size made up for the lack of proximity.

It also seems no matter how hard I try, I can’t manage a timely blog post. But before I belabor that point, I promise this will be short.

There’s always a bit of a let-down in the fall with the shorter days and colder weather, but the colder months bring a whole new perspective to birding and once you figure out how to stay warm enough, it’s the perfect cure for cabin fever.

When the eagles finally took off they flew north toward Ottawa Trail. I suspect they have a nesting spot somewhere or were shopping for one. I hope to see one or both of them again soon.

Also at the Portage when I first arrived, were two Red-Tailed Hawks, ushered in by Ten Crows. I have never seen so many crows at the Portage. Likely the hawks got their attention and drew them in. But I didn’t even know there were Ten Crows in the vicinity. A Mini Murder.

Ten Crows at the Portage

As it turned out, only one hawk remained to soar around for quite a while, at a reasonable distance for a few photographs. The light was poor but the flight was skillful.

On Sunday morning I went downtown to visit the Lakefront Crows and had a couple raptorous moments there too. Like this juvenile Cooper’s Hawk…and then a Peregrine Falcon.

I will return with a full report on the Lakefront Crows and other recent avian encounters. The pressure of fall passerine migration has been replaced by encroaching holiday commitments. We always seem to be in a hurry. As we rush toward the end of the year… I hope you are finding some moments of peace.

Starved Rock and LaSalle County

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Bald Eagle on ice, Illinois River

As winter wanes (we are experiencing a significant thaw as I write this), I feel compelled to get caught up with the past couple weeks’ photos. On February 24, 2013, I joined two other Elles on a DuPage Birding Club field trip to Starved Rock. It was my last chance to see numerous Bald Eagles, this time on the Illinois River. It was a beautiful day, but because there wasn’t a lot of frozen water, the birds were farther away and harder to photograph.

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Bald Eagle, soaring

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Juvenile and adult Bald Eagles

Bald Eagles, three plumages

Bald Eagles, three plumages

Of course there are always gulls too, although we did not see anything very unusual.

Lock and Dam 13, Illinois Waterway Visitor's Center

Lock and Dam 13, Illinois River

Gull IMG_1721_1

As we moved down the river, we saw more species, some on land, some on water.

Belted Kingfisher

Belted Kingfisher

It was wonderful to see a Pileated Woodpecker, but impossible to get close enough for a decent picture. The quest continues.

Pileated IMG_1959_1

I forget exactly where we were when I got the picture below of the Ring-Necked Pheasant.

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On the grounds of the Starved Rock Visitor’s Center, where there are some feeders, there was a very cooperative Tufted Titmouse. Since I don’t get these guys in my yard and they can be elusive in the woods, I am always thrilled to see them.

Singing Tufted Titmouse

Singing Tufted Titmouse

And of course, there were a few White-Breasted Nuthatches. I like the branch this bird chose to pose on.

White-Breased Nuthatch

White-Breased Nuthatch

On the way back, numerous flocks of blackbirds. Below, Cowbirds in a Bare Tree. It always amazes me to see Cowbirds find their own species after being raised by others.

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Brown-Headed Cowbirds

On the way back the three of us stopped at Gebhardt Woods State Park in Grundy County for a little walk along the I&M Canal.

I&M Canal IMG_2083_1

One species we picked up here was a Winter Wren. He was mostly preening, behind these stalks.

Winter Wren

Winter Wren

At the end of a long but beautiful day outdoors, perhaps the full moon from the parking lot where we’d started was the best image of all.

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Ice and Eagles

Bald Eagle

Bald Eagle

My very first birding field trip six or so years ago was through the Morton Arboretum. It was billed as “Ice and Eagles.” That particular trip entailed a bus drive to Starved Rock State Park where, as best as I can recall, we must have seen a few Bald Eagles. Oddly enough, I remember being more impressed seeing a Red-Bellied Woodpecker for the first time.

Juvenile Bald Eagles on the ice

Juvenile Bald Eagles on the ice

Sunday I joined the DuPage Birding Club on a day trip to the Mississippi River to see eagles, waterfowl, and whatever else was present. At our first stop, Lock and Dam 13 near Fulton, Illinois, it was estimated we had more than 250 Bald Eagles. But all day the weather was the catch. When we got there it was pouring rain. While we escaped the predicted thunderstorms, when it wasn’t raining it was drizzling and foggy. Not exactly ideal conditions for photography.

Eagle on the Ice IMG_0381_1

So I’ve been poring over the pictures I did take, to see if there was anything clear enough to publish. If nothing else, maybe I can convey what a grey, miserable day it was. Nevertheless, it wasn’t all bad.

We saw two Red-Headed Woodpeckers.

Red-Headed Woodpecker

Red-Headed Woodpecker

And a couple Eastern Bluebirds.

Eastern Bluebird

Eastern Bluebird

Hundreds of Gulls, mostly Herring and Ring-Billed, but we did manage to find a Lesser Black-Backed Gull and a Greater Black-Backed Gull mixed in after careful perusal…

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and a Thayer’s Gull or two.

3rd Cycle Thayer's Gull

3rd Cycle Thayer’s Gull

Among other waterfowl, an estimated 7,000 Canvasbacks, too far away to photograph, but here are a few thickening the air.

Canvasbacks IMG_0633_1

And we managed to find Eurasian Tree Sparrows hanging out with House Sparrows where they have been located before, at someone’s feeders. I never did get close enough for a decent photo, but it’s a life bird for me, so this is for the record.

Eurasian Tree Sparrow

Eurasian Tree Sparrow

Above all, wherever we went, Bald Eagles reigned supreme.

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My last chance for Bald Eagles this winter is on the 24th. DuPage Birding Club is featuring a field trip at Starved Rock. I think it will be the first time I’ve been back since, well, my first field trip.

Reminiscing about Bald Eagles

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Four years ago, in January 2009, I took my then new 100-400mm Canon lens to the Mississippi River to try it out on the Bald Eagles that were so numerous that year. I had never used the lens before and I was still shooting on auto with my EOS 40D, but I could not have asked for better test subjects.

Eagles IMG_9612 Eagles IMG_9748

This year we are experiencing rain instead of snow in January (and it is the first precipation we’ve had in far too long). It is also too warm to push down-river hundreds of eagles like we had that year. Like this juvenile honing his hunting skills.

Junior IMG_9658

I’ve never archived these images off my laptop because I guess they hold some kind of sentimental value for me.

Junior IMG_9643

So last night I decided I could share of few of these first pictures with you.

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An ode to snow.

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Junior IMG_9523