Neighborhood Nature

Our Family's Nature Blog

My Favorite Family Nature Blogs, Part 1 June 8, 2009

To my way of thinking, a family nature blog is either (1) written by a family who want to share their natural discoveries with the online world, or (2) written for families to encourage them to get out and discover nature on their own, or (3) both of the above. Our Neighborhood Nature blog strives to be number (3). In my explorations of the blogging world, I’ve found examples of all three kinds of blogs, and they’re worth sharing with you.

So, here are some of my favorite family nature blogs. So I don’t overwhelm you, I’ll spread my selections over several posts. Here are the first three:

5 Orange Potatoes. Want ideas for nature-oriented crafts and activities? Then this blog may be for you. It’s written by Lisa, an Ohio mother with two young daughters. She describes herself as “a stay at home, nature lovin,’ felt lovin,’ vegetarian earth mama.” Like many family nature bloggers, she’s a former teacher. Her reason for blogging? “I have been asked numerous times how I have raised such nature lovin’ and creative little ladies. This blog is dedicated to those questions, this is how I do it!” Here are some of my favorite posts:

Handbook of Nature Study. This family’s blog is an “online nature journal using Anna Comstock’s book, Handbook of Nature Study, as our textbook and the great outdoors as our classroom.” Barb, a homeschooling mother of four, presents more than forty “Outdoor Hour Challenges,” short assignments based on the Handbook. Most of her examples were found near her California home. Some of my favorite posts:

Wild About Nature. Kenton and Rebecca write this blog to share their natural adventures with both children and adults. They focus on the nature they discovery wandering near their home in western Wisconsin. The authors are naturalists and nature educators whose website, kentonandrebecca.com, includes more examples of their writing, photography, and family-oriented classes. Some of my favorite posts:

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Although I’ve only listed three blogs in this post, it would take hours to explore them all completely and many weeks to duplicate  the activities and explorations they describe. I’ll try to post three more of my favorite family nature blogs later this week. If you can’t wait, more family nature blogs are listed in the sidebar on your left.

And if you know of other family nature blogs worth sharing, please link to them in the comments section, below.

 

Our Mad Dash to Missouri: Anhingas at Big Oak Tree State Park April 25, 2009

The boys and I just got back from our Mad Dash to Missouri: 1030 miles in 49 hours. We found 3 life birds (Ruff, Swainson’s Warbler, and Barn Owl), thanks to some very helpful Missouri birders who showed us the way to these special birds through the Missouri e-mail list, in person, or by e-mail. We also got about 40 year birds and about 105 trip birds.

But our most surprising find was seen overhead while we were walking the metal boardwalk at Big Oak Tree State Park. We looked up through the trees and saw a flock of at least 15, maybe as many as 20 Anhingas. This helped us realize just how far south we really were. Previously we’ve seen Anhingas only in the Florida Everglades, although Sibley shows their range extending north and west to the Missouri Bootheel.

The flock circled over the board walk at least twice, giving Ethan time to take a few photos with his Sony DSC-H50 camera (15X zoom lens). Here’s one of the photos:

Part of an Anhinga flock flying over the boardwalk at Big Oak Tree State Park, Missouri.

Part of an Anhinga flock flying over the boardwalk at Big Oak Tree State Park, Missouri. Photo by Ethan Gyllenhaal.

This enlarged view from the above photo shows the field marks that identify it as an Anhinga: Long kinked neck, pointed bill, and broad tail:

Enlarged image of an Anhinga. Photo by Ethan Gyllenhaal.

Enlarged image of an Anhinga. Photo by Ethan Gyllenhaal.

Apparently there are relatively few recent records of this species. A 2003 reference cited on this page says of Anhingas,  “Originally a summer resident of the Bootheel lowlands, but disappeared by the early 20th century and has been casual in MO in recent decades.” Of course, seeing a flock this big at this time of year makes us hope some Anhingas will find suitable nesting habitat in the Bootheel. So we’ve posted these photos and will make the originals available as needed.

By the way, we heard the Swainson’s Warbler at Big Oak Tree State Park at the same place it was reported from last week.

We’ll post some more about our trip on Sunday or Monday. Now it’s time to go to bed!

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Note added Sunday, April 26, at 10:25 a.m.: We just got e-mails from Josh Uffman and Charlene Malone, Missouri birders. Josh said that another birder had seen an Anhinga earlier this month at Otter Slough. However, it seems that the flock we saw was the largest group of Anhingas reported for Missouri in more than 100 years! That may be a tribute to the strong south winds we’ve been having the past few days. However, we’re still hoping some Anhinga stick around the Bootheel and nest. Big Oak does have some really great habitat — we’d love to have another excuse to go back.

 

On the Road Again: Golden-Crowned Sparrow and One Good Tern April 19, 2009

Filed under: Animals,Birds,Other People's Neighborhoods,Seasons,Spring — saltthesandbox @ 10:02 pm
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As soon as we arrived home after yesterday’s trip, the Ethan and Aaron checked IBET and went to work on me. They pleaded that they hadn’t added a single bird to their life lists since January, so I really, really had to take them to see the Golden-crowned Sparrow that birders have been seeing in a small town west of Rockford, Illinois. After blackmailing them to do extra chores and to shower without complaint, I relented — after Sunday School we headed west in the rain. It rained all during the two-and-a-quarter hour drive there, it rained for the whole two hours we looked for the bird, and it rained for the whole trip back.

But we did find our lifer Golden-crowned Sparrow! Unfortunately, all I have to show for it is this photo of the boys and Dave Johnson looking at the bird. (Thanks for finding it, Dave!):

The boys and Dave watching the Golden-crowned Sparrow.

The boys and Dave watching the Golden-crowned Sparrow in the rain.

You can see other people’s photos here (we saw the sparrow at the exact same place marked on the map) and here (second photo down, below the ads).

We also found one other year bird near Freeport: A medium-sized tern, initially seen flying over a flooded area on both sides of U.S. 20, about three-quarters of a mile west of Springfield Road:

We first saw the Forster's Tern flying over the water, but then it landed on a post so we could get a closer look. Photo by Ethan Gyllenhaal.

We first saw the tern flying over the water, but then it landed on a post so we could get a closer look. Photo by Ethan Gyllenhaal.

When we first drove past this bird at 65 miles per hour, we got the impression that its wings were solid gray, and thus thought it was a Common Tern. On the way back we were prepared and stopped briefly along the road. We could then see the tern’s white outer wing features, long tail, and orange-red bill with a black tip. That clinched the identification as Forster’s Tern:

This closer view shows some key features that distinguish Forster's from Common Tern:

This closer view shows some key features that distinguish Forster's from Common Terns: The tips of the wings were white, the tail was longer than the wings, and the bill was orange-red with a black tip. Photo by Ethan Gyllenhaal.

We were soaked, but we agreed it was a great day! We also agreed that we had learned two important life lessons:

  1. Persistence will be rewarded, at least some of the time. (Despite lots of looking we still haven’t found a Surf Scoter this year.)
  2. Don’t try to identify terns at 65 miles per hour in the rain. (One good tern does not deserve to be identified as another.)
 

On the Road: Gulls with Black Heads, and More

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?

 

Early Spring Migrants: Watch for these Birds April 14, 2009

Spring migration for smaller birds is just getting started, so it’s a good time to get started with watching birds. There’s a good variety of birds flitting through the trees and shrubs, but not so many that you’ll be overwhelmed. With that in mind, here are Ethan’s photos of some birds that arrived in our area during the past month. Most of these birds will continue north to nest — watch for them now, because you might not see them again until fall.

We did a post about Brown Creepers back in mid March, but now we’re seeing more of them than ever (six on our last visit to Columbus Park). Watch for Brown Creepers on tree trunks and larger branches. They’re tiny, but they aren’t too shy — you sometimes can get within 10 or 20 feet of them:

Brown Creeper... Photo by Ethan Gyllenhaal.

Brown Creepers typically fly from one tree to the base of another, then work their way up the trunk searching for bugs to eat. Photo by Ethan Gyllenhaal.

Tiny kinglets explore smaller branches in search of bugs. They are fairly bold around humans, but they rarely sit still for long. Golden-crowned Kinglets arrived first in our neighborhood about a month ago, and they still are the more common kind:

Golden-crowned Kinglet.... Photo by Ethan Gyllenhaal.

Golden-crowned Kinglets have obvious yellow-to-orange crowns and black stripes on their faces. Photo by Ethan Gyllenhaal.

Ruby-crowned Kinglets arrived in Columbus Park in early April, and they’ll stay a bit later in the spring:

Ruby-crowned Kinglet.... Photo by Ethan Gyllenhaal

Ruby-crowned Kinglets have a white ring around their eyes, and their red crowns are small and often hard to see. Photo by Ethan Gyllenhaal

This Ruby-crowned Kinglet turned away and fluffed its head feathers, so you can see its namesake crown:

Ruby-crowned Kinglet, The Grove, Glenview, Illinois, April 12, 2009.

Ruby-crowned Kinglet with its crown fluffed up and visible. Photo by Ethan Gyllenhaal.

We saw our first warbler this spring on April 5th. It was a Yellow-rumped Warbler, and we watched it flit from branch to trunk to ground and back in Columbus Park. Our friend Ari calls this bird “butter butt,” for an obvious reason:

Yellow-rumped Warbler... Photo by Ethan Gyllenhaal.

This male Yellow-rumped Warbler displays its "butter butt," plus yellow patches at its shoulders and crest. Photo by Ethan Gyllenhaal.

We saw our second warbler of spring at The Grove in Glenview, Illinois. Although its name, coloration, and behavior suggest another kind of bird, the Louisiana Waterthrush really is a warbler. It’s most often seen near water, bobbing its butt as it walks along the bank:

Louisiana Waterthrush.... Photo by Ethan Gyllenhaal.

Louisiana Waterthrush exploring the edges of a pond. Photo by Ethan Gyllenhaal.

Its cousin, the Northern Waterthrush, arrives a bit later in the spring. We see them both at Columbus Park, often at the base of rockwork that surrounds the pool behind the Refectory. (Telling waterthrushes apart can be a challenge — go here to get some hints.)

Spring is also a season for sparrows, which are slight larger that most kinglets and warblers and often harder to identify. We’ll post photos of common sparrows later this month. For now, here’s a kind of blackbird that looks like a giant sparrow. Male Red-winged Blackbirds arrived here weeks ago to set up territories in marshy spots — now the females are showing up to choose their mates:

Female Red-winged Blackbird... Photo by Ethan Gyllenhaal.

Its longer, sharper bill helps identify this bird as a female Red-winged Blackbird, not a giant sparrow. Photo by Ethan Gyllenhaal.

That’s it for now. We’ll be keeping track of bird arrivals and depatures this spring, and Ethan will take lots more photos. As always, we’ll use this blog to let you know what’s happening with our neighborhood nature.

You can read about our most recent bird sightings at Columbus Park on this page. We track the birds we see on our block on this page, and the other neighborhood birds we see are listed here.

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Note added April 17, 2009: This post was our contribution to the I and the Birds #98 blog carnival. Go here to see more examples of the diversity of birds across the globe.

 

Friday’s Trip: Lots of Sparrows, Lots of Distractions April 5, 2009

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

 

Big Break Birding Total Reaches 100! April 2, 2009

It’s spring break, and the race is on to find new first-of-year birds and to see how many kinds of birds we can find during the break. We’re calling it Big Break Birding, and it includes both Big Footprint Birding (long trips from home) and Big Green Birding (birding in the neighborhood).

Two male Purple Finches showed up in our yard at lunchtime to push our Big Break total to 100 species. Here’s what happened when one visited our sunflower feeder:

A pair of House Finches try to chase a male Purple Finch from our sunflower feeder. They did not succeed. (Those are American Goldfinches in the background.)

A pair of House Finches try to chase a male Purple Finch from our sunflower feeder. They did not succeed. (Those are American Goldfinches in the background.)

A close-up view shows the Purple Finch has just husked a sunflower seed. Note that, in male Purple Finches, the raspberry color extends over the top of the head:

The male Purple Finch has just cracked through the seed coat and is holding a sunflower kernel.

The male Purple Finch has just cracked through the seed coat and is holding a sunflower kernel.

In the enlargement below, the female House Finch, with her plain brown face, is in front. The male House Finch, with with a reddish face but brown on the top of his head, is behind her:

The female House Finche's bill is open and ready to attack.

The female House Finch's bill is open and ready to attack.

Within a split second the Purple Finch dropped its seed and struck back — it drove off the House Finches and reclaimed its perch at the feeder.

Other Big Break Birds today included a male Eastern Towhee feeding and singing in our yard at sunrise and three adult Black-crowned Night-Herons sleeping in a tree at Columbus Park, seen on my morning walk.

Yesterday — a Big Footprint day — was only moderately successful. We birded the Lake Michigan shoreline in Indiana, searching for a rare Glaucous-winged Gull that had been reported the day before. We walked the windy, wave-swept shore for hours looking closely at every gull:

We hiked a mile to look closely at the four immature gulls in the center of the photo. The foreground is blurred by wind-blown sand. Photo by Ethan Gyllenhaal.

We hiked a mile to look closely at the four immature gulls in the center of the photo. The foreground is blurred by wind-blown sand. Photo by Ethan Gyllenhaal.

We had no luck finding the gull (which may have been misidentified anyway). However, we did add a year bird — Caspian Tern — plus three additional Big Break Birds (Black Scoter, White-winged Scoter, and Merlin).

We also headed south to look for birds in flooded fields along the Kankakee River in Indiana. We saw neither year birds nor Big Break birds, but we did see some pretty spectacular sights. Thousands of birds were feeding in the flooded farm fields, including hundreds of Northern Shovelers (more than we had ever seen before). Every 10 minutes or so something would scare the birds and many would take flight:

Frightened ducks take flight from a flooded field in Jasper County, Indiana. Photo by Ethan Gyllenhaal.

Frightened ducks take flight from a flooded field in Jasper County, Indiana. Photo by Ethan Gyllenhaal.

Other birds got nervous as we drove close, but they swam away slowly, so Ethan got some better photos:

Male Canvasback (upper right), pair of Ring-necked Ducks (center right), and three American Coots (in foreground).

Male Canvasback (upper right), pair of Ring-necked Ducks (center right), and three American Coots (in foreground). Photo by Ethan Gyllenhaal.

Pair of Redheads (female facing away from the camera).

Pair of Redheads (female facing away from the camera). Photo by Ethan Gyllenhaal.

American Coots head for open water in a flooded field near the Kankakee River.

American Coots head for open water in a flooded field near the Kankakee River. Photo by Ethan Gyllenhaal.

On Wednesday, our four Big Break Birds cost us 12 hours of birding and 300 mile of driving. Today’s three Big Break Birds were seen in 6 hours (so far), with 4 miles of walking to see the Night-Herons.

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Note added same day, Thursday, at 6:20 p.m.: Ethan and I just got back from a drive to Columbus Park. I took him there to see the Black-crowned Night-Herons, a year bird for him. We found them roosting in a Weeping Willow tree. Ethan also found a Hermit Thrush in the woods — another year bird for him, and also our Big Break Bird number 101.