Neighborhood Nature

Our Family's Nature Blog

Sites Where We Monitor Birds December 14, 2016

Filed under: Uncategorized — saltthesandbox @ 6:00 am

Here are links to more information about the sites where Eric and his son’s monitor birds on Chicago’s Westside and in Oak Park.

Douglas Park, Chicago

Columbus Park, Chicago

Riis Park, Chicago

Taylor Park, Oak Park

South Oak Park

Our Block in South Oak Park

Here’s the link to a PDF version of Eric’s slides from a talk he gave at the Bird Conservation Network Quarterly meeting on January 23, 2016:

BCN Quarterly Meeting Jan 2016

 

Our Chicago Urban Christmas Bird Count Data 2009 December 20, 2009

The boys and I spent the entire day conducting our part of the Chicago Urban Christmas Bird Count. Nationally, Christmas counts are organized by the National Audubon Society. The Chicago Urban count circle is sponsored by Evanston North Shore Bird Club and Chicago Audubon Society, with Jeff Sanders as the compiler.

Our part of the count covers the following areas in Chicago and Oak Park: Birding on foot in Columbus Park, Douglas Park, and south Oak Park residential areas; feeder watching at our home on South Elmwood in Oak Park; and driving through industrial and residential areas in between these sites.

This year, birding from sunrise to sunset, we found a total of 26 species. The highlights of our day included:

  • Four species of hawks, including a MERLIN at Columbus Park (photo below), 2 AMERICAN KESTRELS, 2 COOPER’S HAWKS, and 2 RED-TAILED HAWKS.
  • A WINTER WREN beside the Columbus Park lagoon (where we saw this species often through the fall — photo below).
  • An AMERICAN PIPIT at Columbus Park, in the same field where we saw a Pipt on December 11 (photo below).
  • A SWAMP SPARROW at Columbus Park (photo of its rump, below), plus 20 AMERICAN TREE SPARROWS (15 at Douglas, 5 at Columbus).

We were also pleased that WHITE-BREASTED NUTHATCHES put in 2 appearances, since we’ve been seeing them much more frequently this year. We also were happy to see a BLUE JAY, because they were common this summer, then mostly disappeared within the last few weeks. We were disappointed that overall sparrow numbers were down at Douglas Park, where the golf-course sanctuary often holds 50 or 60 sparrows this late in the year. And we were very sad that we did NOT see the Great Horned Owl that had been roosting near Austin in late November and early December. (We still hope it returns in time to be registered as a count-week species!)

Here’s our entire list for today, with count numbers:

Canada Goose    280

Cooper’s Hawk     2

Red-tailed Hawk     2

American Kestrel     2

Merlin     1

Herring Gull     1

Ring-billed Gull     5

Rock Pigeon     115

Mourning Dove     45

Downy Woodpecker     4

Hairy Woodpecker     3

Blue Jay     1

American Crow     9

Black-capped Chickadee     9

White-breasted Nuthatch     2

Winter Wren     1

American Robin     55

European Starling    350

American Pipit     1

American Tree Sparrow    20

Swamp Sparrow     1

Dark-eyed Junco     25

Northern Cardinal     21

House Finch     14

American Goldfinch  30

House Sparrow     180

We also have two count-week species so far for our areas:

1 Red-bellied Woodpecker  (seen in Douglas Park 12/17/09)

2 African Collared-Dove and/or African X Eurasian Collared-Dove (seen in south Oak Park 12/18/09).  We are soliciting input on these photos, taken on Dec. 18th — what do you think they are?

Here are some of Aaron’s photos from today:

Merlin, Columbus Park, Chicago, Illinois, December 20, 2009.

The Merlin roosted in several trees around the lagoon, but it was tough to get a good photo because of the distance and overcast skies. Note the back color, streaking on the side of the breast, and minimal patterning on the head (all of which we could see much better through our binoculars). Photo by Aaron Gyllenhaal.

Merlin, Columbus Park, Chicago, Illinois, December 20, 2009.

This shot, from even further away, gives another view of the Merlin's head. Photo by Aaron Gyllenhaal.

Winter Wren, Columbus Park, Chicago, Illinois, December 20, 2009.

Although it was hard to get a clear shot at the Winter Wren, a few times it hopped into the open, possibly to get a better look at us! Photo by Aaron Gyllenhaal.

American Pipit, Columbus Park, Chicago, Illinois, December 20, 2009.

There was a large, if late, migration of American Pipits to inland parts of Chicago earlier in December. We were happy that one stuck around Columbus Park for the Christmas Count! Photo by Aaron Gyllenhaal.

American Pipit, Columbus Park, Chicago, Illinois, December 20, 2009.

Here's a front-on view of the American Pipit. It was hanging out at the north end of the large ball field that fills the southeast corner of Columbus Park, sometimes visiting a seepage area that has some unfrozen water. Photo by Aaron Gyllenhaal.

Swamp Sparrow, Columbus Park, Chicago, Illinois, December 20, 2009.

Although we got good binocular views of the Swamp Sparrow's gray-patterned head, Aaron only got photos of its butt! Photo by Aaron Gyllenhaal.

We’ll post links to Ethan’s photos once he gets them online.

 

A Baby Blue Jay in Our Back Yard! July 5, 2009

Filed under: Uncategorized — saltthesandbox @ 10:26 am

Remember the baby Blue Jay that Dad rescued down the street? It looked like this:

Here's a photo of the baby Blue Jay that Dad rescued from our street more than two weeks ago (on June 19).

Here's a photo of the Blue Jay that Dad rescued from our street more than two weeks ago (on June 19).

Go here to read more about it. That day we said we hoped the fledgling Blue Jay would eventually join the other Blue Jays that visit our backyard feeders to eat peanuts in the shell. Well, this morning Aaron spotted a young Blue Jay on our back fence. He grabbed Ethan’s old camera and took these photos:

The young Blue Jay saw us watching it thorugh the back window, but it didn't fly away.

The young Blue Jay saw Aaron through the back window, but it didn't fly away. Photo by Aaron Gyllenhaal.

Instead, the young Blue Jay turned away and spread its tail. Photo by Aaron Gyllenhaal.

Instead, the young Blue Jay turned away and spread its tail. Photo by Aaron Gyllenhaal.

The young Blue Jay calmly preened (cleaned its feathers with its beak). Photo by Ethan Gyllenhaal.

The young Blue Jay calmly preened (cleaned its feathers with its beak). Photo by Aaron Gyllenhaal.

A crowd gathered in our kitchen as all four family members came to watch. The young Blue Jay took notice. Photo by Aaron Gyllenhaal.

A crowd gathered in our kitchen as all four family members came to watch. The young Blue Jay took notice. Photo by Aaron Gyllenhaal.

Unfortuantely the Blue Jay took off before Ethan could focus his telephoto lens, so our photo series ends here.

However, Blue Jays kept coming through the morning until the peanuts were all gone. We’re glad we’ve been helping the local Blue Jay population recover from West Nile Virus.

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Too true not to pass on: “Why Young Blue Jays Are Like Teenagers

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To learn more about Blue Jays, check these websites:

  • All About Birds – Basic information about Blue Jays.
  • Wikipedia – Encyclopedia-style information about Blue Jays.
  • Birdscope – An article about West Nile Virus in birds. For a related article, go here.
 

Our Pet Water Scorpion and a New Kind of Mosquito Problem June 23, 2009

Filed under: Uncategorized — saltthesandbox @ 8:38 pm
Tags: , , , , , ,

When we dropped Aaron off at his friend’s vacation cottage in Michigan, we brought home a new pet: A Water Scorpion.

Water Scorpions are insects. They look like a cross between a Walking Stick Insect, a Preying Mantis, and a vampire. Their bodies and legs are long and skinny like a Walking Stick, to camouflage them in aquatic vegetation. Their front legs are like Preying Mantis legs, designed to quickly reach out and grab bugs and fish. And they jab their sharp beaks into their prey to suck the juices, like vampires:

X

A Water Scorpion looks like a cross between a Walking Stick Insect, a Preying Mantis, and a vampire, but it's a kind of insect called a True Bug. The long tail is used to get oxygen from the air while the Water Scorpion hides in underwater plants. Photo by Ethan Gyllenhaal.

Our Water Scorpion lives in a gallon jar, and it’s always hungry. One of its favorite foods is Mosquito larvae. If you’ve been following this blog for a few months, you may remember that we’ve been keeping baby Mosquitoes (called larvae) as pets. (You can see posts about them here and here.) Well, for the last two weeks we’ve been feeding our former pets to our current one. It looks like this — but turn away if you love Mosquito larvae!

The Wtare Scorpion is sucking the juices from one Mosquito larvae while holding its next meal in its Prey Mantis-like front leg. Photo by Ethan Gyllenhaal.

The Water Scorpion is sucking the juices from one Mosquito larvae while holding its next meal with its trap-like front leg. Photo by Ethan Gyllenhaal.

Here’s the problem: Our Water Scorpion eats five or more Mosquito larvae a day, and our Mosquito supply can’t keep up with its appetite! We’ve been using our backyard pools as Mosquito traps. We lure adult Mosquitoes to lay their eggs in the stagnant water, then we capture and raise the newly hatched babies. Fortunately, the hot, wet weather has been good for Mosquitoes. Ethan found about a dozen egg masses this evening, and in a week or so we’ll have another big batch of larvae ready to feed to the Water Scorpion.

Until then, please check any buckets, bird baths, and other water sources in your yard. If you find them filled with wriggling Mosquito larvae, please let us know. We’ll pick them up if you live within five miles of our home in south Oak Park. If you live farther away, you’d better dump the water out, or you’ll soon have a different kind of Mosquito problem in your yard!

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To learn more about Water Scorpions, please visit these websites:

 

Bad News Birds: Brown-headed Cowbirds April 8, 2009

Filed under: Animals,Birds,Uncategorized — saltthesandbox @ 3:09 pm
Tags: , , ,

Cowbirds are back, and that’s bad news for other songbirds in our neighborhood. A male Cowbird stopped by our feeders earlier this spring, then moved on. Thus time a pair of Brown-headed Cowbirds fed on the ground, then started searching the brushy margins of our yard, and then the neighbor’s yard:

The male Borwn-headed Cowbird is glossy black with a brown head. The female is dull grey-brown.

The male Brown-headed Cowbird is glossy black with a brown head. The female is dull grey-brown.

They probably were looking for a nest where they could lay their eggs. Cowbirds don’t build their own nests, and they don’t take care of their own young. Instead they trick other birds into raising baby Cowbirds. Last summer Cowbirds’ strategy succeeded in our neighborhood — I watched our male Cardinal feed a fledgling Cowbird in our yard.

When you think about it, it’s an amazing way of life. Cowbirds once followed American Bison herds across the prairie, so they could not afford to stay in one place long enough to nest. Since Bison almost disappeared, Cowbirds have spread east, tricking new kinds of birds and endangering some rare species, like the Kirtland’s Warbler.

When birds are endangered, conservation biologists trap and kill Cowbirds to save the threatened species. But I know I can’t do anything about the Cowbirds in our neighborhood. It’s one of those things I just have to accept about nature.

Here’s some comfort: There are still lots of Cardinals in south Oak Park. Today I heard ten Cardinals singing during my morning walk. (Go here to listen to their song.)

Here’s a blog post from eat more cookies with more information about Cowbirds: Cowbirds or bisonbirds — what’s their deal?

Go here to read more about the birds we’re seeing in our yard.

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Note added the next day at 8:40 a.m.:  The news isn’t getting any better, because this morning there were two pairs of Cowbirds in our yard!

 

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…..