Neighborhood Nature

Our Family's Nature Blog

Aaron Has Reached His Goal! April 5, 2009

Filed under: Uncategorized — saltthesandbox @ 11:29 am

Late this morning Aaron, Ethan, and I birded Columbus Park on the far westside of Chicago. While exploring the woods and edge of the lagoon, Aaron saw first year bird #149, a Hermit Thrush, and then year bird #150, a Ruby-crowned Kinglet. He has reached his goal of seeing 150 year birds before the end of spring break!

And there’s still almost seven hours of daylight left. Where shall we go next? Aaron is arguing for Kane County, with a chance for a Black-necked Stilt, which was seen there yesterday. Ethan is arguing for Montrose Bird Sanctuary in Chicago, where rare birds often show up in the spring. Stay tuned…..

 

Friday’s Trip: Lots of Sparrows, Lots of Distractions

Friday, April 3rd, was our seventh day of Big Break Birding. The boys and I were trying to see how many kinds of birds we could see during spring break, while also lengthening our year lists for 2009. We decided to leave our neighborhood and head south in search of rare sparrows and early shorebirds.

The shorebirds were a bust — Killdeer was the only kind we saw. However, we saw 15 different kinds of sparrows — including rare ones like Harris’s Sparrow and Le Conte’s Sparrow — at some unlikely sounding places, including a sod farm, an organic basil farm, a swine research facility, and a graveyard fencerow. (See the bottom of this post for details.)

Unfortunately, most sparrows don’t sit still to get their photos taken. Ethan was lucky to get this photo of a Vesper Sparrow out the car window:

Vesper Sparrow posing on a stalk of corn stubble in a field near Clinton Lake, Illinois. Photo by Ethan Gyllenhaal.

Vesper Sparrow posing on a stalk of corn stubble in a field near Clinton Lake, Illinois. Photo by Ethan Gyllenhaal.

This Eastern Towhee was less cooperative — it’s partially blocked by twigs:

This Eastern Towhee was watching us from a small tree at the University of Illinois Swine Research Unit.

This Eastern Towhee was watching us from a small tree at the University of Illinois Swine Research Unit. Photo by Ethan Gyllenhaal.

Eastern Meadowlarks are a kind of blackbird, not a sparrow, but they pose well for a camera:

Eastern Meadowlark in a sod farm field near Momence, Illinois. Photograph by Ethan Gyllenhaal.

Eastern Meadowlark in a sod farm field near Momence, Illinois. Photograph by Ethan Gyllenhaal.

By late afternoon we had reached Clinton Lake in central Illinois. We were running out of new birds to see, so we allowed ourselves to be distracted by other things, like plants and mammals. We found lots of beaver-chewed stumps and logs near the spillway:

Beavers cut this tree and then ate the bark off the fallen log. Photo by Ethan Gyllenhaal.

Beavers cut this tree and then ate the bark off the fallen log. Photo by Ethan Gyllenhaal.

The beavers here cut down trees for food but live in the river banks below the human-built dam, rather than building a dam of their own.

One advantage of traveling south is you get to see spring flowers days or weeks before they bloom near our home. These Dutchman’s Breeches were particularly beautiful:

Whoever named this plant thought the flowers looked like a Dutch man's pants, hanging upside down.

"Breeches" are pants -- whoever named this plant thought the flowers looked like a Dutchman's pants, hanging upside down. Photo by Ethan Gyllenhaal.

I taught the boys a trick with a woodland plant called Bedstraw — it sticks to almost anything:

Bedstraw stuck to Aaron's shirt. Photo by Ethan Gyllenhaal.

Bedstraw stuck to Aaron's shirt. Photo by Ethan Gyllenhaal.

Bedstraw stuck to Aaron's hair. (Aron looks like he's deciding where to stick the Bedstraw next.) Photo by Ethan Gyllenhaal.

Bedstraw stuck to Aaron's hair. (Aaron looks like he's deciding where to stick the Bedstraw next.) Photo by Ethan Gyllenhaal.

Tricks aside, sometimes all you need to enjoy the outdoors is a few dead leaves floating in a lake:

Leaves on Lake. Photo by Ethan Gyllenhaal.

Leaves on Lake. Photo by Ethan Gyllenhaal.

We ended the day with 112 species on our Big Break Birding list and 145 species on Aaron’s 2009 year list.

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Just for the record, here’s a post we submitted to IBET, the Illinois birders’ email list. It provides details about where we went and what we saw:

Subject: IBET HARRIS’S and LE CONTE’S SPARROWS still at the U of I swine farms
From: Eric Gyllenhaal
Date: Sat, 04 Apr 2009 14:04:08 -0000

The boys and I headed south from Oak Park in search of sparrows and early shorebirds. We got 15 species of sparrows, but no shorebirds other than Killdeer.

The fields near H & E Sod Farms, east of Momence, Illinois, held 3 VESPER SPARROWS (along 1250N) and a dozen LAPLAND LONGSPURS, plus a few AMERICAN PIPITS (in the bare field northeast of the intersection of 1250N and 13500E).

The Urbana Swine Research facility, on Hazelwood just east of 1st St., held the greatest diversity of sparrows. The HARRIS’S SPARROW was in a large brush pile just east of the buildings, and the LE CONTE’S was in a brushy field north of the road. Other sparrows here: Eastern Towhee, American Tree, Field, Savannah, Fox, Song, Swamp, plus lots of White-crowned and Dark-eyed Juncos, plus several Brown Thrashers. To get Chipping and White-throated Sparrows, we drove what Google Map’s calls Grffith Drive, south of St. Mary’s Rd. on the northwest side of the research park. There were also lots of other sparrows along this lane, including an Oregon-type Junco and more Towhees.

We then headed west for our first-ever visit to Clinton Lake. Best finds: First-of-year Rough-winged Swallows south of the spillway, and dozens of Bonaparte’s Gulls and a few Common Loons seen from westside access points. There were also a few hundred ducks seen in the far distance, along and east of the dam. They looked like mostly Scaup, with some Bufflehead, Redheads, and probably other species.

Our species count for Spring Break so far: 112 species.

Eric, Ethan, and Aaron Gyllenhaal
Oak Park, Cook County, Illinois

 

Birds Heading North into the Storm

Filed under: Animals,Birds,Seasons,Spring — saltthesandbox @ 6:15 am
Tags: , , , ,

A lot has happened during the two days since my last post. We took one trip south and found 15 kinds of sparrows, and then one trip north and found a Winter Wren, Barn Swallow, and our first warbler of spring. We’ve seen 115 kinds of birds so far during spring break, and we have one day left to boost Aaron’s year list to 150 species before the break ends. He needs two more kinds of birds. Will he make it? Here’s an encouraging radar image from last night:

The moving green and yellow are rain storms -- the stationary green wash in Illinois and Indiana is a radar image of birds migrating north.

The moving green and yellow are rain storms. The stationary green wash in Illinois and Indiana is a radar image of birds migrating north. The blue and purple up north are snow and sleet predicted to spread south to Chicago later today.

As we’ve posted before, we use the Chicago Tribune’s overnight weather radar to tell when birds are migrating to and through our area. Last night’s radar tells us to expect new arrivals in our Oak Park neighborhood this morning. Some birds that Aaron needs to reach his goal — like Ruby-crowned Kinglet and Hermit Thrush — might show up in our yard between the storms.

With snow and rain in the forecast, I’d rather not travel far today. The boys, of course, will want to chase rare birds no matter where they’re found. I’ll let you know what happens.

I will also try to post about our earlier trips, plus I need to catch up on our eBird lists for the past week. It will be a busy day for me, even if we don’t leave home.

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Note added at 7:40 a.m. the same morning: Other birders also use weather radar to track bird migration. Go here to see another radar image of birds moving north last night. (MinnesotaBirdNerd posts images from the National Weather Service’s radar website.)