Wetlands and Bottomlands

Hennepin-Hopper

Hennepin-Hopper

Last Sunday my friend Lesa and I joined Jeff Smith’s DuPage Birding Club outing to the Dixon Waterfowl Refuge at Hennepin-Hopper Lakes in Bureau County, Illinois.  The weather was cooler than predicted and cloudy, but it was good to get out. As you can read the link, the refuge is fairly new. Twenty years ago the water was still drained out of it for soybean and corn fields. Since restoration, Hennepin-Hopper has attained Audubon Important Bird Area status and in February of 2012 was listed as a wetland of international importance.

Red-Winged Blackbird

Red-Winged Blackbird

On the map, Hennepin-Hopper inhabits an area to the south and east of the crook in the Illinois River when it changes course from west to south. In addition to marshes and lakes, there are a lot of bottomlands close to the river as well. We walked a trail through the marshes that border the lakes, and there we saw and heard plenty of Red-Winged Blackbirds and Song Sparrows proclaiming their territories.

Song Sparrow

Song Sparrow

I believe we had all seven woodpecker species: Downy, Hairy, Northern Flicker, Red-Bellied, Red-Headed, Yellow-Bellied Sapsucker and Pileated, which is the rarest of all, but for some reason the Pileated was the only one I got representative pictures of, and it was far away.

Pileated Woodpecker

Pileated Woodpecker

Pileated Woodpecker

Pileated Woodpecker

We had a couple Red-Tailed Hawks and Northern Harriers. One Red-Tail was close enough to photograph. Click on the picture to see a larger image.

Red-Tailed Hawk

Red-Tailed Hawk

At one point we heard Blue Jays harassing something and it turned out to be a Barred Owl, distant and well-hidden behind several trees. The only thing making this photograph possible, I suppose, is the absence of leaves.

Barred Owl

Barred Owl

Also a bit rare, Rusty Blackbirds. We’re always on the lookout for them as they pass through. The drab backlighting doesn’t do them justice unfortunately.

Female Rusty Blackbird

Female Rusty Blackbird

Male Rusty Blackbird

Male Rusty Blackbird

This Great Blue Heron blended in, even in silhouette.

Great Blue Heron

Great Blue Heron

So where are the lakes and the waterfowl, you say? A lot of pictures like the one below, but hardly ever close enough to take pictures of the several species we had.

Waterfowl at Hennepin-Hopper

Waterfowl at Hennepin-Hopper

A few species hung a bit closer to the edges, like Bufflehead…

Bufflehead

Bufflehead

and Northern Shovelers.

Northern Shovelers

Northern Shovelers

And our only shorebird species was a Killdeer.

Kildeer

Kildeer

American White Pelicans were a presence. Below, several flew over shortly after we arrived.

American White Pelicans

American White Pelicans

Later we caught up with them or some others on the Illinois.

Pelicans on the Illinois River

Pelicans on the Illinois River

Here’s a closer view of one that flew overhead.

American White Pelican

American White Pelican

Perhaps the bottomlands left the greatest impression on me. The reflection of the tree trunks in the water is mesmerizing.

Bottomlands

Bottomlands

Turning homeward, we stopped by some bottomlands to see Wood Ducks and Mallards, but were eventually distracted by a Little Brown Bat hunting over the water.

Little Brown Bat

Little Brown Bat

It’s been a hellishly busy week but I will be back.

 

Shivering in the Snow and Sunshine

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Yesterday three of the Four Elles joined the DuPage Birding Club outing to Starved Rock in LaSalle County, Illinois. Although the fourth Elle could not join us, she participated in the same field trip with two of us last year. We met a large group of birders at the Lock and Dam across the river from the main entrance to Starved Rock State Park, where we watched birds on the Illinois River from the comfort and convenience of the deck behind the visitor’s center.

Common Mergansers flying on the Illinois River

Common Mergansers flying on the Illinois River

Common Mergansers L&D 1-19-14 1753.jpg-1753The Bald Eagle pictures are from this location. The birds were not always close enough, but they were active and in general viewing them turned out to be the highlight of the trip.

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There were not many species of waterfowl, but we did have a couple Great Blue Herons, one of which is flying below.

Great Blue Heron

Great Blue Heron

We then caravanned across the river to the visitor’s center adjacent to the lodge at the state park, where they have well-stocked bird feeders. There were many Blue Jays, not willing to sit still for the most part; this one looks pretty cold.

Blue Jay

Blue Jay

On and around the feeders, White-Breasted Nuthatches were common, like the one below.

White-Breasted Nuthatch

White-Breasted Nuthatch

And invariably, we saw Downy Woodpeckers. And Tufted Titmouse, Dark-Eyed Junco, American Tree Sparrow and Black-Capped Chickadees, although less available for good shots.

Downy Woodpecker

Downy Woodpecker

After lunch, the field trip took off for Lee County instead of further down the river this year, a change driven as much by the weather as the opportunity to search for a previously reported Snowy Owl. We scanned field after field like the one below. Unable to keep up with the 4-wheel drive vehicles in the blowing snow on the roads, after an hour or two we turned homeward and did not see the eventual Snowy. Luckily there are still opportunities closer to home.

Lee County farm field

Lee County farm field

(Last weekend on another field trip, I saw a Snowy in Bolingbrook but could not get a decent picture. Three individual birds have been spotted near this location, so there may yet be a chance to return and try again.)

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Bolingbrook Snowy Owl

Juveniles

Juvenile Sedge Wren, Springbrook Prairie

Juvenile Sedge Wren, Springbrook Prairie

I’m entertaining a quick post here while I still have so many pictures to go through from maybe three weeks, wondering how I will ever do anything with them…as I archive months past onto the external hard drive to leave room for photographs to come on my trip next month.

Over the weekend I encountered two juvenile birds that proved interesting. The first was from Saturday morning, on Joe Suchecki’s DuPage Birding Club walk at Springbrook Prairie. Conditions were not ideal for photographs (birds buried in the grasses at a distance), but this very cooperative juvenile Sedge Wren was only a couple feet away from us, making us wonder if it was his first encounter with people. He had a very much “What do I do now?” look about him.

Juvenile Segde Wren2 1I2A3254

The second bird nearly stumped me when I was going through the pictures until I realized it had to be a juvenile European Starling. I took these at the Chicago Portage yesterday morning. I have seen my share of juvenile Starlings – indeed they used to visit me back in Oak Park on the window ledge, and I always found them fascinating because I could still see their eyes (the adults’ eyes, recessed into black feathers, often seemed to totally disappear). Juvenile Starlings always appeared brown to me, but I have never seen an evenly black and white one – leading me to think that this is a molting bird and/or somewhat melanistic. On the other hand I never saw its back which may have been browner, because I was distracted by something else by the time it left.

Molting Juvenile Starling IMG_8263_1Juvenile Starling IMG_8264_1

Anyway I will try to be back soon with more birds from a very interesting time of year. I love fall, and the weather has just turned abruptly cooler reminding me of it.

Juvenile Starling IMG_8270_1

European Starling

The Starling pictures are coming up darker from some reason – click on them and the bird appears a bit lighter but I may have to come back and fix this later.

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…

Gulls on Thin Ice IMG_0651_1

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.

Eagles IMG_0541_1

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.

Owls on an Afternoon

Great Horned Owl

Great Horned Owl

I’ll spare you some really bad puns I had for the title of this post.

Sunday afternoon, three of us Elles went on a DuPage Birding Club field trip led by intrepid Jeff Smith. The purpose of the trip was to see owls that Jeff had located previously. Owl etiquette also dictates that owl locations not be widely publicized.

Isle de la Cache IMG_0218_1

Our first stop was at Isle a La Cache in Will County, a new spot for me. I can only imagine what it looks like in warmer weather; it was beautiful and a bit mysterious under snow and ice. There were times we were walking on the ice, retreating when we heard  creaking beneath our feet.

We might have found the Great Horned Owl eventually on our own, but five or six crows noisily called our attention to it, and they kept at it for a long time – I estimate five to eight minutes. And here I had been musing about crows finding owls the previous weekend; it’s as if I got my wish. Crows are expert owl spotters, and they also make real nuisances of themselves. Every time this owl perched, the crows harassed it until it moved again. Eventually, it flew close enough into an open space where I got the photograph below, much to my surprise.

GHO2 IMG_0183_1

Some other birds of the day, a Black-Capped Chickadee…

Chickadee IMG_0100_1

One of a few Red-Bellied Woodpeckers…

Red-Bellied WPIMG_0206_1

One of two Bald Eagles…

Bald Eagle IMG_0245_1

One of many American Tree Sparrows…

Tree Sparrow IMG_0260_1

but no more owls. We moved on to a location where we might have at least heard a Barred Owl, but no luck there.

We wound up at Goose Lake Prairie, if a bit early, expecting to see a Short-Eared Owl hunting at dusk. Before dusk we had several Northern Harriers hunting over the grassland.

Harrier IMG_0272_1

Much of the field trip had been akin to a forced march, and now we stood shivering in the cold on a platform that overlooks the preserve. Our patience did finally pay off. We saw a Short-Eared Owl floating mothlike over the grass just as it began to hunt. It was way too dark by then to take pictures, the light disappearing quickly.

Goose Lake Prairie

Goose Lake Prairie

Highlights from a not-too-birdy bird walk

Juv RB WP IMG_9180_1

A young Red-Bellied Woodpecker

I joined ten hardy souls of the DuPage Birding Club on Sunday, venturing to get acclimated to the cold front we’ll be dealing with it all week. We met at Waterfall Glen which is in DuPage County surrounding Argonne National Laboratories. While the bird sightings were few, there were some nice surprises, and even though I didn’t get many pictures, it was still worth the effort.

Compare this Red-Bellied Woodpecker to the one at the top, it appears to be more of an adult.

Red-Bellied Woodpecker

Red-Bellied Woodpecker

YB Sapsucker IMG_9016_1

Yellow-Bellied Sapsucker

We counted 6 of 7 possible woodpecker species, including the Yellow-Bellied Sapsucker above. I did not get a picture of the beautiful Pileated Woodpecker that flew directly overhead after responding to a tape, but it was well worth the look. The only woodpecker we did not have was a Red-Headed.

Tree Sparrows were out and about. The abundant sunshine warmed our spirits.

Tree Sparrow IMG_9093_1

American Tree Sparrow

My most cooperative subject, in the parking lot when I arrived, a legendary pair of shoes.

Shoes IMG_8996_1

The highlight of the trip’s end was an adult Bald Eagle, judged to be a female, who flew over the Des Plaines river and then perched far from us on the other side. I was blocked by a lot of tree growth but did not want to harass her to the point where she would have to move again. She was well aware of our presence and kept her stern eye on us. I’m planning to take a couple trips to see Bald Eagles in February where I hope to get more definitive shots, but it was worth documenting her presence.

Bald Eagle IMG_9253_1-2

The most cooperative bird of the day turned out to be one of two White-Breasted Nuthatches who flew into a tree right in front of my car when I returned to the parking lot to head home. So I’m including this little study of a nuthatch going about his job.

WB Nuthatch IMG_9301_1

White-Breasted Nuthatch

Depending on the light and the angle, these birds can look simply black and white, or suddenly offer bursts of unexpected color. I’ve been intrigued by the rosy-colored vent lately, which I first noticed getting closeup views of these birds on my peanut feeder at home.

WB Nuthatch IMG_9292_1

Then there’s gray on the back and even some brown…

WB Nuthatch IMG_9275_1

WB Nuthatch IMG_9287_1

WB Nuthatch IMG_9258_1

But most surprising to me about this bird is the base of its upturned bill which has an indentation I’ve never seen before.

WB Nuthatch IMG_9288_1

Down home with Climate Change

Thursday evening I attended a presentation at the DuPage Birding Club given by Doug Stotz, who is a Conservation Ornithologist with the Environmental Conservation Programs at the Field Museum in Chicago. Specifically the topic was climate change and its effect on Chicago birds. Ironically his talk was rescheduled due to a weather event.

We have all been so distracted by the abrupt changes in weather, it’s easy to forget how climate change is affecting everything else, and the interconnectedness of earth’s biological systems. For instance, Doug pointed out that because we had the early heat wave in March and the trees had leafed over, by the time the tropical migrants pass through Chicago in May, the normal abundance of early-leafing insects will be gone as the trees develop their natural immunity against them. So Doug predicted a less colorful spring migration. He also had a list of birds we could expect to not see after a while. I already remember thinking the last two years were not as birdy on the lakefront, so even in my casual observation, change was already occurring.

I’m thinking the disappearance this past winter and spring of American Goldfinches in my yard at my feeders, replaced by an unprecedented population of House Finches, must be due to climate change. The United States Department of Agriculture has a webpage with predictions of climate change effects on numerous species, the goldfinches among them. I didn’t expect the change to be so abrupt, but goldfinches have a varied seed diet, and apparently a year-round supply of niger in my yard isn’t all they require. I can remember talking to someone five years ago in Kansas City when I went down for orientation at the new firm where I work. He said he missed seeing goldfinches. I thought he must be crazy, they were all over my yard. Now I know he wasn’t crazy.

Henbit or Purple Deadnettle

I’ve definitely noticed a difference in the plant life this spring. There’s an enormous amount of Henbit, also known as Purple Deadnettle, in my yard. While it is not considered an invasive species in Illinois, it’s certainly become invasive in my yard!

While I was out digging up weeds and cleaning up the dead stems a bit, I took a few pictures of the birds that were in the yard.

I have a pair of Robins who were attracted to my digging. Sadly, their numbers are predicted to decline from our area as well.

The Mourning Doves are numerous as ever. This is definitely evidence of a species that keeps creeping north. I can remember when I first started paying attention to birds that someone told me Mourning Doves never used to be in the Chicago area. That cooing song of the male still sounds like something out Tennessee Williams or Faulkner to me.

Mourning Doves

And of course the ubiquitous House Finches. It makes sense that a warmer climate is just what they need. I believe they originated in California.

Female House Finch

Male House Finch

I took a brief walk over at the Portage this afternoon to see if the strong southern winds had blown in anything new yet. I was unable to detect anything but the same suspects as in the past two weeks. I did hear a couple goldfinches singing, and later when I came home a bright flash of yellow darted in toward my feeders for a moment, so they’re not gone yet. But I already miss their cheerful abundance.

American Goldfinches 4-16-2009

And one more picture taken during our last big snow storm, in February of 2010.

American Goldfinches - Winter 2010