Neighborhood Nature

Our Family's Nature Blog

Ethan Has Posted Photos from Camp Chiricahua 2009 July 22, 2009

Filed under: Amphibians,Animals,Birds,Bugs,Mammals,Reptiles,Seasons,Summer — saltthesandbox @ 12:25 pm
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My 14-year-old son, Ethan, spent early July at Camp Chiricuhua, an Arizona birding camp for teens. It’s run by Victor Emanuel Nature Tours and co-sponsored by the American Birding Association. (Go here for more information.)

He had a really great time! He saw or heard 69 life birds, plus four kinds of Rattlesnakes, a Black Widow Spider, and a really big Tarantula. He took his camera along, and he’s been posting photos online, including dozens of kinds of birds, snakes, spiders, scorpions, insects, flash floods, and  “a caustic pit of death.”

Here are two samples. First, an Acorn Woodpecker (original here):

Acorn Woodpecker, Portal, Arizona. Photo by Ethan Gyllenhaal.

Acorn Woodpecker, Portal, Arizona. Photo by Ethan Gyllenhaal.

Next, a mother scorpion with babies on its back (original here):

Mother scorpion with babies on its back, Portal, Arizona. Photo by Ethan Gyllenhaal.

Mother scorpion with babies on its back, Portal, Arizona. Photo by Ethan Gyllenhaal.

There are lots more photos in Ethan’s Flickr photostream. Here’s the link to his Camp Chiricahua, Arizona, set: http://www.flickr.com/photos/36997518@N03/sets/72157621780821598/

Ethan’s complete photo stream, including Midwestern and (soon) California photos can be found here: http://www.flickr.com/photos/36997518@N03/

We hope you enjoy them!

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Ethan’s fellow camper, Benjamin, has also posted about Camp Chiricahua, 2009, on his blog: http://warblings.wordpress.com/2009/07/26/camp-chiricahua-2009/

 

On the Road: Gulls with Black Heads, and More April 19, 2009

After two nights with the weather radar showing birds migrating our way, we had to hit the road on Saturday for some Big Footprint birding.

First stop: Montrose Point Bird Sanctuary on the Lake Michigan shoreline in Chicago. Driving into the park we met our friend Paul, who told us he’d seen a Laughing Gull flying towards the harbor. After searching the harbor, harbor mouth, pier, beach, and open lake for more than an hour, we finally found the Laughing Gull sitting on a dock in the middle of the harbor. Here’s the dock, looking west from the entrance of the sanctuary:

The docks at Montrose Harbor, The red arrow shows where we finally found the Laughing Gull.

The docks at Montrose Harbor. The red arrow shows where we finally found the Laughing Gull.

And here’s the bird, resting with some Ring-billed Gulls that sometimes moved and blocked our view:

The Laughing Gull (with black head) is resting in the center of the photo. Photo by Ethan Gyllenhaal.

The Laughing Gull (with black head) is resting in the center of the photo. Photo by Ethan Gyllenhaal.

The bird was too far out for Ethan to get good photos with his Sony DSC-H50 camera. For the record, here’s a digiscoped image, that shows its black head and dark gray mantle (back and folded wings). If you look closely you can also see its heavy, dark red bill and the broken white ring that surrounds most of the eye:

The Laughing Gull is resting in front of a somewhat larger Ring-billed Gull.

The Laughing Gull is resting in front of a somewhat larger Ring-billed Gull.

The time spent searching for the Laughing Gull was not wasted, because we found lots of other great birds. Ethan got a photo of a Common Loon near the entrance to the harbor:

The Coomon Loon sawm close, attracting the attention of both birders and fisher folk along the shore.

The Common Loon swam close, attracting the attention of both birders and fisher folk along the shore. Photo by Ethan Gyllenhaal.

Also during our search at Montrose, I saw my first Barn Swallow of the year. Aaron and I watched a Wilson’s Snipe take flight from the dunes. As we followed it through our binoculars, we saw a Peregrine Falcon chasing it, then giving up half way down the beach. And, as the radar predicted, we saw many recent migrants to our area. Most of these birds we had seen earlier this spring at Columbus Park (like Hermit Thrush, Brown Thrasher, Swamp Sparrow, and both kinglets) or on birding trips to central Illinois (like a Vesper Sparrow near the beach). We couldn’t find the Blue-gray Gnatcatcher that Paul and others had seen earlier that morning.

We were also pleased to meet many of our birder friends exploring Montrose, plus a few followers of this blog. It was great to see lots of beginning birders, including some on a bird walk sponsored by Science Chicago. (Like many new birders, we still carry our field guide almost all the time, but it’s really worn, and we open it less often).

After a quick stop at North Park Village Nature Center to buy me some new binoculars at the Eagle Optics special sale, we headed south, then east to Indiana. This part of our trip was inspired by posts by Jeff McCoy on the Indiana birders e-mail list. Our first stop, south of I-80 in Gary, Indiana, produced an Eared Grebe, plus many ducks. The Grebe was a year bird for us, but it was way too far out to get a photo. Our next stop was on U.S. 30, a mile or so east of its intersection with Indiana 39. We looked at a series of flooded farm fields along the highway and nearby gravel roads:

Ethan and Aaron scanned the field for shorebirds -- finding hundreds of them!

Ethan and Aaron scanned the field for shorebirds -- and found hundreds of them!

We finally had the mass shorebird experience we’ve been searching for all spring — hundreds of Pectoral Sandpipers foraged at the margins of the “fluddles” (as birders tend to call them):

Can you find all seven Pectoral Sandpipers? We found several hundred of them. Photo by Ethan Gyllenhaal.

Can you find all seven Pectoral Sandpipers? We found several hundred of them. Photo by Ethan Gyllenhaal.

Here’s a closer view, showing the distinctive pattern on the chest:

Birders use size, bill shape and color, leg color, steaking on the chest, and several other features to distinguish Pectoral Sandpipers from similar, related species. Photo by Ethan Gyllenhaal.

Birders use size, bill shape and color, leg color, steaking on the chest, and several other features to distinguish Pectoral Sandpipers from similar, related species. Photo by Ethan Gyllenhaal.

There were four other species of shorebirds nearby: Least Sandpiper (another year bird for us), Lesser Yellowlegs, Greater Yellowlegs, and (of course) Killdeer. We also found our second species of gull-with-a-black-head swimming in the fuddles near the sandpipers — Bonaparte’s Gull:

The smaller overall size, paler mantle, and smaller black bill help distinguish this resting Bonaparte's Gull from the Laughing Gull we saw earlier today. Photo by Ethan Gyllenhaal.

The smaller overall size, paler mantle, and smaller black bill help distinguish this resting Bonaparte's Gull from the Laughing Gull we saw earlier today. Photo by Ethan Gyllenhaal.

We still had several hours until sunset, so we headed south and then west through Indiana. We didn’t find any new birds at first, but we did see some really beautiful pigs grazing along the road. We also got our first bug spatters on the windshield, and Ethan got his first mosquito bite of spring.

We ended up at Willow Slough, near Morocco, Indiana, just before sunset, where we heard our first Bobwhite of the year. After sunset we drove near a marsh, just sat in the car, and listened. We heard Spring Peeper peeping, American Toad trilling, and American Woodcock mating calls. Then, finally, the boys heard what we had been listening for — the grunt of a Virginia Rail in the distance. (I, unfortunately, was on the wrong side of the car.)

We finally reached home at about 10:30 p.m. And when Aaron gets home from Sunday School, we’ll probably hit the road again, despite the threat of rain.

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So, tomorrow the kids go back to school, and I’ll have a week of Big Green birding to catch up with new birds near our home and at Columbus Park. This morning I heard White-throated Sparrows singing from the neighbors’ backyards. I wonder what the warm winds later this week will send our way?

 

Catching up with Spring April 17, 2009

Spring is about change, and right now change is happening so fast that it’s hard to keep up. Yesterday we showed one Dwarf Iris flower and two buds — today there were three flowers:

All three Dwarf Iris buds have opened!
All three Dwarf Iris buds have opened!

The Trout Lily bud we showed two days ago has not yet opened, but more flower buds have appeared, and most bud stems are no longer nestled in protective leaves:

Most Trout Lily buds were standing free, not wrapped in protective leaves.
Most Trout Lily buds were standing free, not wrapped in protective leaves.

Two fruit trees have burst into bloom along Garfield Street, east of Ridgeland Avenue:

I'm not sure what kind of tree this is, but it did attract the first honey bee I've seen this spring.
I don’t know the name of this tree, but I think it’s an ornamental fruit.

So, some flowers are already blooming; others are catching up with their first buds of spring. Here’s a Lily of the Valley from the Oak Park Arts District, along Harrison Street:

As usual, the first Lily of the Valley buds formed along a south-facing wall.
As usual, the first Lily of the Valley buds formed along a south-facing wall.

After watching for more than a week, I finally spotted the first Virginia Bluebell of the year in Columbus Park:

Virginia Bluebell is a native wildflower, although these may have been planted by the Park District.

Virginia Bluebell is a native wildflower, although these may have been planted by the Park District.

Now let’s move from flowers to fruits, and the animals that eat them. In late February we posted photos of Staghorn Sumac fruits, which added color to the winter woods. We saw squirrels eat some sumac fruits this winter, but most remained on the trees until last week. That’s when I noticed Northern Flickers and Downy Woodpeckers eating sumac fruits. By today the sumac trees were stripped bare:

It seems the Flickers and other woodpeckers had eaten all the sumac berries. Perhaps it was for wood, but the may have also used the red sumac pigments to brighten the colors of their feathers.

Flickers and other woodpeckers ate all the sumac berries. Perhaps it was for food, or maybe they used red sumac pigments to brighten up their feathers.

Here’s more news of animals in our neighborhood: I heard my first Columbus Park Bullfrog of the spring — it croaked as it jumped into the lagoon, too fast for me to see. I also watched Painted Turtles sun themselves on lagoon logs, and I spotted my first Cabbage White Butterfly of 2009 in a meadow near Austin Boulevard. And my first Honey Bee of 2009 was feeding on the fruit tree flowers on Garfield.

Finally, back in early March we started following hummingbird migration on hummingbirds.net. According to the online map, the first Ruby-throated Hummingbirds reached our area more than a week ago. We finally put out our hummingbird feeder yesterday:

Our backyard hummingbird feeder. We use a mix of one part sugar to 4 parts water, and we don't add any dye.

Our backyard hummingbird feeder. We use a mix of one part sugar to four parts water, heated to boiling, and we don't add any dye.

Why the wait? No matter what we see on hummingbirds.net, we don’t know any birders who’ve seen Ruby-throats this year in Illinois. There have been no reports on IBET, and none on eBird, either. According to eBird, last year’s earliest Ruby-throat for our County was April 27. Last year we saw our first in Columbus Park on May 23.

So, these days we don’t have much faith in hummingbirds.net. It’s possible those folks are seeing a different species — perhaps Rufous Humingbirds, which wander here in colder weather — or maybe something else is going on. Anyway, our feeder’s out, and we’ll keep it filled and fresh until next fall.

And that’s the news. We’re caught up — until the next time we walk outside. There’s sure to be some new sign of spring tomorrow!

 

Weekend Report: Wild Things and Birding Other People’s Neighborhoods February 9, 2009

On Saturday, February 7, I took the Blue Line to University of Illinois at Chicago and spent the day at the 2009 Wild Things conference. There were about a thousand attendees and more than a hundred presentations, posters, and booths to choose from.

I picked the sessions that would most support my interests in neighborhood nature and took down names of other speakers, so I could look up their work at a later date. I learned a lot about urban wildlife, like squirrels, cottontail rabbits, and Canada Geese. I also found out more about citizen science efforts to monitor local birds, mammals, and frogs, including some initial findings and recommendations from this research. I heard about people’s changing relationship with nature and discovered local grassroots groups dealing with environmental issues like one that south Oak Park faced in Barrie Park. And I made contacts in the Chicago Park District that may deepen my family’s involvement at Columbus Park.

I learned way too much to put in one post, plus I need to do more research — online and on the ground — before I write about what I learned. So, stay tuned.

On Sunday, the family split up: Aaron went to Starved Rock State Park with his friend, Matt, where he saw Bald Eagles and added five birds to his year list. Dad and Ethan headed to the Indiana shore in search of other year birds. And Mom stayed in the neighborhood to do her homework and work out at Pav YMCA. Go here to read more about the birding part of our adventures.