Our Sand Ridge CBC Locations for December 31

The Gyllenhaal family has been assigned these locations. The site names are linked to eBird location lists for December 2022 (when possible)

Wolf Lake/Powers State Recreation Area, Chicago

Calumet Park

Lakefront Park and Sanctuary, Hammond

Hammond Marina (no one reported from here in December)

Whihala Beach Co. Park (no one reported from here in December)

Whiting Park

BP Warm Water Outlet

Our Results for the 2021 Illinois Spring Bird Count

Saturday, May 8th, was a very big day for Illinois birders. It was the 2021 Illinois Spring Bird Count, Global Big Day, and World Migratory Bird Day in the United States and Canada.

My son, Aaron, and I celebrated by counting birds on the west side of Chicago and just west of Chicago, in Oak Park and along the Des Plaines River. We found 84 species of birds in all, which was a pretty good total, considering that migration seems a bit behind schedule this year.

This table lists the parks we covered for the Illinois Spring Bird Count, with species totals and eBird links:

Park and location:# Species:eBird list:
Douglas Park, Chicago60https://ebird.org/checklist/S87445885
Garfield Park, Chicago59https://ebird.org/checklist/S87483203
Columbus Park, Chicago53https://ebird.org/bcn/checklist/S87627390
Riis Park, Chicago30https://ebird.org/bcn/checklist/S87614089
Taylor Park, Oak Park8https://ebird.org/bcn/checklist/S87599481
Fullerton Woods, River Grove42https://ebird.org/checklist/S87524954

This table lists all the birds we found in our Spring Bird Count areas on Saturday, May 8, 2021:

Canada Goose228
Wood Duck29
Pied-billed Grebe1
Rock Pigeon15
Mourning Dove7
Chimney Swift262
Ruby-throated Hummingbird1
Spotted Sandpiper2
Solitary Sandpiper2
Ring-billed Gull44
Herring Gull4
Double-crested Cormorant2
Green Heron2
Black-crowned Night-Heron5
Turkey Vulture1
Cooper’s Hawk2
Red-shouldered Hawk1
Red-tailed Hawk1
Red-bellied Woodpecker2
Downy Woodpecker13
Hairy Woodpecker1
Northern Flicker8
American Kestrel2
Least Flycatcher6
Eastern Phoebe2
Great Crested Flycatcher1
Eastern Kingbird1
Yellow-throated Vireo2
Blue-headed Vireo2
Warbling Vireo19
Red-eyed Vireo1
Blue Jay6
American Crow7
Black-capped Chickadee13
Northern Rough-winged Swallow7
Tree Swallow14
Bank Swallow1
Barn Swallow61
Ruby-crowned Kinglet12
Red-breasted Nuthatch4
White-breasted Nuthatch3
Blue-gray Gnatcatcher24
House Wren4
European Starling191
Gray Catbird12
Swainson’s Thrush4
Hermit Thrush1
Wood Thrush1
American Robin214
House Sparrow185
House Finch9
American Goldfinch25
Chipping Sparrow12
Field Sparrow3
White-crowned Sparrow43
White-throated Sparrow28
Song Sparrow9
Lincoln’s Sparrow1
Swamp Sparrow1
Baltimore Oriole22
Red-winged Blackbird161
Brown-headed Cowbird14
Common Grackle68
Northern Waterthrush17
Black-and-white Warbler17
Orange-crowned Warbler4
Nashville Warbler14
Common Yellowthroat10
American Redstart8
Northern Parula4
Magnolia Warbler5
Yellow Warbler24
Chestnut-sided Warbler2
Black-throated Blue Warbler1
Palm Warbler90
Pine Warbler2
Yellow-rumped Warbler30
Black-throated Green Warbler8
Northern Cardinal29
Rose-breasted Grosbeak2
Indigo Bunting4
Total species count:84

The places where I monitor birds

Here are a list of links to places where I post photos and stories about the birds I find as I monitor parks and neighborhoods on the west side of Chicago:

Columbus Park (far west side of Chicago):

Douglas Park (near west side of Chicago):

Riis Park (northwest side of Chicago):

Taylor Park (north Oak Park):

South Oak Park (I walk a route through neighborhoods west of Ridgeland and south of the highway in south Oak Park):

I have also been posting photos from all the places where I monitor birds on Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/chicagowestnature/

Birds in south Oak Park: 2020 year in review

NOTE: This post was originally published on the South Oak Park Neighbors Facebook group, on February 24, 2021.

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Although most year-in-review articles are published in December or early January, this one will be a little different. With photos and text, this post reviews some of the birds I saw in south Oak Park during 2020.  I’m both looking back, of course, and but I’m also thinking ahead, because many of these same birds will grace our lives during 2021. Surprisingly, I saw one of my least common birds of 2020 less than two weeks into January. It was a Merlin, a falcon a little larger than our local American Kestrels, perched atop the Lincoln School antenna tower. I guess it was an omen, since 2020 turned out to be my “Year of the Raptor” in south Oak Park, with lots of hawk and falcon sightings and even some nesting hawks! (photographed on January 9, 2020)

(photographed on January 9, 2020)

Mourning Doves were found in south Oak Park year-round during 2020.  But, if you had a bird feeder, you may have noticed that we had more Mourning Doves during the winter months, as doves from farther north migrated to our area in search of reliable winter food supplies. This dove, under a bird feeder, was here during the winter peak in dove numbers. By late February, doves had begun to move north again. By the end of March, we just had the local warm-season doves stopping by our feeders for a snack between nesting duties.

(photographed on February 4, 2020)

Speaking of raptors, we had at least two pairs of Cooper’s Hawks nest in south-central and southwest Oak Park during 2020.  The hawks were already acting amorous by late February, when I saw a pair of Cooper’s Hawks calling and flying between trees at Scoville and Fillmore (a half block west of two previous nesting sites).

(photographed on February 23, 2020)

By early March, a different pair of Cooper’s Hawk pair was already working on a nest in a backyard along Fillmore, just east of Maple Park. The larger female hawk carried sticks and worked them into her new nest, while the smaller male sat in nearby trees and watched. This pair wound up abandoning this nest and using one they build in a large elm tree a block and a half north, along Wisconsin Avenue.

(photographed on March 10, 2020)

By mid March, large numbers of American Robins had migrated north to south Oak Park. On one Monday morning I saw 13 American Robins hunting for worms on the Rehm Park soccer field plus 16 robins on the south ball field at Maple Park. My morning total was 60 robins, twice as many as I counted the previous week in south Oak Park. 

(photographed on March 16, 2020, at Rehm Park)

A couple of Red-winged Blackbirds established nesting territories by ditches along the Eisenhower Expressway. In mid March, this recently arrived male was singing from a light fixture near the East Avenue bridge.

(photographed on March 16, 2020)

By late March, at least 11 House Finches were singing on their south Oak Park nesting territories. This male was perched in a backyard elm tree. He would sing, eat an elm bud, then sing again (but with a messy beak).

(photographed on March 25, 2020)

Where there are nesting territories, there are boundaries to defend. This Black-capped Chickadees was engaged in a territorial dispute with its neighbors, with lots of chickadee shouting.

(photographed on March 25, 2020)

By mid April, Chipping Sparrows were back in Maple Park, ready to nest. This male was singing in a treetop north of the playground. Chipping Sparrows have nested in Maple Park almost every year for at least the last 10 years.

(photographed on April 18, 2020)

By mid April, two Cooper’s Hawks nests had been completed in trees high above south Oak Park streets. I could see hawks on the nests, but I wasn’t sure what they were doing there. Had they laid eggs yet? Had they started incubating the eggs? Because this hawk was riding kind of high on her Wisconsin Avenue nest, I could not be certain.

(photographed on April 18, 2020)

While many local birds had their south Oak Park nesting territories by April, other migrants were still working their way north. This Hermit Thrush stopped by a backyard garden along Lexington to rustle some bugs from the dead leaves.

(photographed on April 8, 2020)

A Brown Creeper scooted up a tree trunk along Wisconsin Avenue in search of tiny insects on the bark.

(photographed on April 8, 2020)

This Yellow-bellied Sapsucker had pecked holes in a tree in Rehm Park. He was revisiting the holes to drink sap and eat insects that had been drawn to the sweet liquid.

(photographed on April 18, 2020)

This male Yellow-rumped Warbler took advantage of the sapsucker’s work, stealing a meal of sap and bugs to help power his own journey to northern nesting grounds. 

(photographed on April 18, 2020)

A White-throated Sparrow foraged under a large elm tree on South Euclid Avenue, finding beetle larvae that had fallen from the newly opened leaves.

(photographed on April 27, 2020)

And this White-crowned Sparrow ate dandelion seeds on a lawn just north of Euclid Square Park.

(photographed on May 8, 2020)

Those of us with backyard feeders had a somewhat closer look at migrating birds. This male Rose-breasted Grosbeak was eating black-oil sunflower seeds on my platform feeder.

(photographed on May 13, 2020)

And this female Baltimore Oriole was eating pulp from halved clementines I had staked out above the platform feeder.

(photographed on May 14, 220)

Yes, the Red-eyed Vireo is upside down, not the photo. Vireos will do anything necessary to catch small insects among newly opened honey-locust leaves.

(photographed on May 25, 2020)

Back to those birds that nest in south Oak Park: By late May this American Robin nest, near Rehm Park, already had at least three hungry nestlings waiting to be fed.

(photographed on May 25, 2020)

From late April through the end of May, all I saw when I looked at the Cooper’s Hawk’s nest was a tail sticking over the edge of the nest. Through most of May the hawks must have been incubating their eggs. By late May, the eggs had probably hatched, but the nestlings were so small that I could not see their heads above the edge of the nest.

(photographed on May 25, 2020)

This may seem like a digression but remember the cicadas that emerged in south Oak Park during early June of last year? The wingless Periodical Cicada nymphs had sucked on tree roots underground for at least 13 years. Then, when the soil temperature was right, they dug out of the ground and climbed trees, fences, trash cans, or whatever was available to molt into winged adults. They probably never realized that they came out four years earlier than the major Periodical Cicada emergence in this area, expected in 2024.

(photographed on June 4, 2020)

That last photo wasn’t really a digression, because plump, juicy cicadas made good meals for crows and other birds. This young crow was begging for the cicada that its parent just plucked off a fence along Fillmore Street.

(photographed on June 4, 2020)

Back to those Cooper’s Hawks nests. Once the babies hatched, their parents feed them frequently, day in and day out, so they grew fast. By June 14th, the young hawks on the Wisconsin Avenue nest were big enough to climb to the edges of their nest.

(photographed on June 14, 2020)

By June 23rd, the nestling hawks at Wisconsin Avenue had grown flight feathers and practiced stretching their wings.

(photographed one June 23, 2020)

By June 27th, one young hawk was more interested in stretching its wings that in eating the meal its parent had just brought to the nest…..

(photographed on June 27, 2020).

…and one of its siblings had already left the nest and was perched on a nearby branch.

(photographed on June 27, 2020).

And by July 5th, the young Cooper’s Hawks had left their Wisconsin Avenue elm tree. This youngster was calling on an alley wire just east of Maple Park, probably expecting a parent to bring it a meal.

(photographed on July 5, 2020)

Our other south Oak Park nesting birds had also been busy. Here’s a nestling House Wren peeking out of its gourd near Maple Park. Its parent scolded me, then flew off in search of more bugs to feed her babies.

(photographed on July 5, 2020)

This mother House Sparrow found bugs in someone’s lawn to feed her fledgling.

(photographed on July 5, 2020)

This young Mourning Dove was already on its own. I heard several Mourning Doves singing nearby, so it seemed that the young doves’ parents already were starting a new family.

(photographed on July 5, 2020)

Some bird parents did not get a break this summer. This young Brown-headed Cowbird was raised in a Northern Cardinal nest on our block, and its foster parents had to scramble to keep it fed. One pair of Maple Park Chipping Sparrows raised both a cowbird and a young bird of their own species.

(photo taken on July 17)

The young Cooper’s Hawks stuck around south Oak Park at least through mid August. I found this young Cooper’s Hawk in an alley on August 18th.

(photo taken on August 18)

When I found this hawk in an alley in early September, I thought this was another Cooper’s Hawk. Then I noticed that the tail was much too short. This was actually a young Broad-winged Hawk that was raised in a forest somewhere to the north. It had spent the night roosting near Maple Park before continuing its migration to Central or South America.

(photographed on September 5)

I saw fewer Blue Jays than usual in south Oak Park during 2020, and as far as I know, no jays nested in our neighborhood. However, several Blue Jays returned to the neighborhood in late August. This jay was in a backyard near Rehm Park.

(photographed on August 31)

Once nesting season was over, it was time to fatten up for the coming fall and winter. This female American Goldfinch was eating Common Sunflower seeds in a backyard along Lexington.

(photographed on September 1)

And this American Robin was finding lots of ripe fruit in Rehm Park.

(photographed on October 2, 2020)

And, of course, birds that had migrated north in spring headed back south during fall migration. Migrant Yellow-rumped Warblers found small insects in the Rehm Park soccer field turf.

(photographed on September 24, 2020)

And Golden-crowned Kinglets foraged for tiny insects on this hackberry trunk and in a nearby pine tree. (

photographed on October 19, 2020)

Red-bellied Woodpeckers nest along the Des Plaines River and in other forested areas. They usually arrive in south Oak Park during fall migration, and sometimes one spends the winter here. This Red-bellied Woodpecker was hiding a peanut for later consumption.

(photographed on November 12, 2020)

Dark-eyed Juncos migrated south from Canada to spend the winter in our neighborhood. By December, I could usually find at least a couple of juncos in Rehm Park and in my nearby backyard.

(photographed on December 4, 2020)

The junco joined the birds that live in south Oak Park year-round. This chickadee plucked a seed from someone’s backyard feeder and was looking for a place to hide it for a later meal.

(photographed on December 9, 2020)

Downy Woodpeckers usually find their own food on trees in south Oak Park, although they will also visit suet feeders.

(photographed on December 9, 2020)

This male House Finch was eating seeds in a Katsura tree at Rehm Park playground.

(photographed December 20, 2020)

Rounding out my “Year of the Raptor” in south Oak Park, an adult Cooper’s Hawk hung out on my block for a couple of weeks during late October and early November. It mostly perched in trees and kept an eye on my backyard, on other yards with feeders, and on Rehm Park.

(photographed on November 1, 2020)

And here’s a photo of a male American Kestrel that I saw several times a month through fall and early winter. I usually saw him perched in tall trees or atop the antennae at Lincoln School or the old Mohr concrete plant.

(photographed on December 9, 2020)

And finally, this beautiful adult Red-shouldered Hawk visited south Oak Park several times during the fall and early winter. I saw it hunting mice along the highway and, in this case, hunting squirrels in Rehm Park.

(photographed on December 22, 2020)

Now it’s 2021, and the birds keep on coming. During the last two weeks of February, I saw both adult and juvenile Red-shouldered Hawks on my block, American Robins in several Oak Park backyards, and big flocks of American Crows in Columbus Park.

As the year progresses, I hope I can keep posting photos of my finds on this blog.

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Birds in Taylor Park: 2020 year in review

NOTE: Taylor Park is on the northeast side of Oak Park, Illinois. This post was originally published on the Northeast Oak Park Community Facebook group, on February 19, 2021.

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Most year-in-review posts are written in December or early January. But, after a couple of rough weeks of winter, now seems like a good time to review the birds I saw in Taylor Park during 2020. It’s fun to recall the many beautiful birds I saw there last year, but it’s even more fun to anticipate the many birds I hope to see in the park once spring migration begins in a few weeks.

Birdwatchers recorded 67 species of birds on the Taylor Park’s eBird page during 2020. Six kinds of birds were spotted in the park for the first time that year: Red-shoulder Hawk, Sora, Eastern Kingbird, Willow Flycatcher, Philadelphia Vireo, and Canada Warbler. That brought the park’s all-time species list to 108 species!

The year started slowly. Most days I visited during January had only a couple of species, like House Sparrow, Northern Cardinal, or American Robin. But the park had one special visitor during January, and bird life started picking up in late February and March.

Scroll down through this page to see birds that visited, nested, or just plain hung out in Taylor Park during 2020.

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Here’s the special visitor to Taylor Park from January 2020. Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers are woodpeckers that drill shallow holes in tree bark to tap the tree’s sap supply. I guess sap was already running in late January, because I found this Yellow-bellied Sapsucker on January 22nd. The ice frozen to the bark is sap from holes higher on the trunk.

(photographed on January 22, 2020)

Here’s a closer look at some freshly drilled sapsucker holes.

(photographed on January 22, 2020)

At least a few American Robins spent the winter in the Taylor Park neighborhood. As of late February, the local robins could still find a little dried fruit in the trees by the tennis courts. (photographed on February 19, 2020)

(photographed on February 19, 2020)

Some Mourning Doves also spent the winter in the Taylor Park neighborhood. They probably ate seed from backyard bird feeders, and they sometimes perched in the park to soak up some sun.

(photographed on February 19, 2020)

Male Red-winged Blackbirds arrived at Taylor Park in early March and immediately started singing to claim their nesting territories.

(photographed on March 8, 2020)

By mid March, Mallards were hanging out in the Taylor Park wetlands. I heard rumors that Mallards nested somewhere in the neighborhood, but I never saw their ducklings.

(photographed on March 14, 2020)

Once American Robin’s spring migration began, Taylor Park’s robin counts increased from three robins on March 3rd to 75 robins on April 2nd. The robins also switched their diets, from the sparse fruit remaining on the crab apple and hawthorn trees to worms yanked out of soccer field turf.

(photographed on March 18, 2020)

Sparrow migration also began in March and continued into May. This Song Sparrow was hanging out in the fenced wetland in late March. I keep hoping Song Sparrows will stick around and nest in Taylor Park, but so far, no luck with that. Maybe we need more meadow habitat.

(photographed on March 22, 2020)

Migrating Swamp Sparrows found the park’s marshy wetland habitat in April. I found eight Swamp Sparrows on April 24th, and at least one stayed until May 11th before heading north to nest. 

(photographed on April 10, 2020)

Ruby-crowned Kinglets and their Golden-crowned cousins were some of the first insect-eating migrants to explore the park’s trees during mid April.

(photographed on April 14, 2020)

By late April, some American Robins were already building nests in Taylor Park.

(photographed on April 24, 2020)

A Mourning Dove was also building a nest in Taylor Park in early May.

(photographed on May 1. 2020)

At least two Chipping Sparrow pairs claimed nesting territories in the park during spring 2020, but I never found their nests.

(photographed on May 6. 2020)

Female Red-winged Blackbirds had joined their male mates by late April, so their nesting season was underway by early May. This female Red-winged Blackbirds was hunting for insects on the park lawn, perhaps to feed her newly hatched nestlings.

(photographed on May 11, 2020)

While a few bird species had started nesting in the park by early May, other species, like this male Rose-breasted just stopped by for a meal before continuing their spring migration.

(photographed on May 6. 2020)

May was peak migration time for warblers. This Magnolia Warbler was one of seven warbler species I spotted in Taylor Park during May 2020.

(photographed on May 16, 2020)

The Taylor Park wetlands also attracted birds during May, including the Solitary Sandpiper lurking behind the out-of-focus Mallard’s head.

(photographed on May 11, 2020)

The Taylor Park wetlands were a stop-over for the park’s first-ever Sora during May migration. Sora are a kind of rail, a secretive group of marsh birds. Another Sora stopped by the wetlands during fall migration.

(photographed on May 26, 2020 – the Sora’s head is on your left)

All the birds in Taylor Park attracted the attentions of this adult Cooper’s Hawk. At least one pair of Cooper’s Hawks nested elsewhere in northeast Oak Park.

(photographed on May 26, 2020)

Many of the Cedar Waxwings seen in Taylor Park during May were migrating through, but some years they also nest in or near the park.

(photographed on May 26, 2020)

When I found this male Baltimore Oriole during mid May, I assumed he was just stopping over for a meal during migration.

(photographed on May 16, 2020)

Then, on June 20th, I saw a Baltimore Oriole flying to its nest high in an elm tree in the northeast corner of Taylor Park.

(photographed on June 20, 2020)

The next time the oriole approached its nest, it had a beak full of bugs to feed its babies.

(photographed on June 20, 2020)

Then I noticed that a fledgling Baltimore Oriole had already left the nest! This was my first-ever oriole nest in Oak Park. Baltimore Orioles often nest in Chicago parks with large lagoons. I guess the small Taylor Park wetlands, plus the insects living in the park’s native trees, were enough to support at least one oriole family.

(photographed on June 20, 2020)

When I saw the Taylor Park’s first-ever Eastern Kingbird. I assumed it was just another stop-over migrant. Then, all through June and July, I kept hearing kingbird calls and seeing adult kingbirds flying between treetops.

(photographed on May 26, 2020)

Finally, on the last day of July, I saw a kingbird parent feeding an insect to a fledgling kingbird. I never found the kingbird nest, but it was probably somewhere in the park or in a neighbor’s yard.

(photographed on July 31, 2020)

Speaking of bird food, remember the Periodical Cicadas that emerged in early June?

(photographed on June 5, 2020)

Cicadas and other insects were good food for fledgling Red-winged Blackbirds and many other bird species.  

(photographed on June 10, 2020)

American Goldfinches don’t nest until thistle seeds ripen in mid to late summer. This male goldfinch was singing in Taylor Park in early August, so it may have had a nest nearby.

(photographed on August 12, 2020)

September was a slow month for birds in Taylor Park, but things started picking up once hawthorn and crab apple fruits ripened. These House Finches were enjoying ripe fruit in the northwest corner of the park in early October.

(photographed on October 1, 2020)

This American Robin was eating ripe fruit by the tennis courts.

(photographed on October 1, 2020)

And, late in October, these Cedar Waxwings were resting in a tree east of the restroom building. They had just eaten a large meal of bright red fruit.

(photographed on October 28, 2020)

The park’s lawns held more than worms for robins. This Palm Warbler was finding tiny insects on the Taylor Park soccer field in early October. Energy from insects helped power its southward migration.

(photographed on October 1, 2020)

And in late October, once the morning frost had melted in the bright sun, this Yellow-rumped Warbler hopped onto the soccer field, looking for tiny insects. Now the warbler is holding its latest catch in its beak.

(photographed on October 28, 2020)

Taylor Park’s native trees also provided insects for migrating birds. This Blackpoll Warbler was busy hunting insects in an oak.

(photographed on October 1, 2020)

And this Ruby-crowned Kinglet also found insects in the park’s trees.

(photographed on October 17, 2020)

This Red-bellied Woodpecker also stopped by to eat Taylor Park insects, digging them out of dead wood on one of the park’s trees.

(photographed on November 13, 2020)

Black-capped Chickadees also visited Taylor Park to pick tiny insects off twigs and branches. Chickadees can switch to backyard bird feeders when the weather gets cold, which helps them make it through the winter.

(photographed on November 13, 2020)

Many hawks migrate through our area each fall. This young Red-shouldered Hawk was spotted at the west edge of the park during mid October. It was 108th species recorded on Taylor Park’s eBird page.

(photographed on October 13, 2020)

Turning to seed-eating birds, this Pine Siskin posed in a small tree near the playground. Pine Siskins migrated through our area in large numbers last fall, because there were not enough conifer seeds for them up north.

(photographed on October 28, 2020)

Many migrating sparrows stopped by to eat Taylor Park seeds last fall, including this Savannah Sparrow, perched on the wetland fence.

(photographed on November 1, 2020)

Remember Taylor Park’s first special visitor back in January 2020? Another Yellow-bellied Sapsucker stopped by the park in late November, this time drilling into a pine tree near the southeast corner of the park. 

(photographed on November 28, 2020)

This American Robin could still find fruit on Taylor Park trees in December of last year, which helps bring us full circle. During 2021, Taylor Park will attract most of bird species recorded in this 2020 year-in-review, but I’m sure the coming year also will include some bird surprises. If all goes well, I will share my sightings this coming year, as I did in 2020.

(photographed on December 2, 2020)

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Restarting the Neighborhood Nature Blog

I started this Neighborhood Nature Blog back in 2009 as a place to tell stories about my family’s adventures in the yards and parks of Oak Park, Illinois, and the west side of Chicago, using narrative text and photographs. Several years ago I started telling those stories on Facebook, instead, especially in Facebook groups like Nature in Riis Park and Nature in Columbus Park.

Recent changes to Facebook albums have made it harder to tell stories that interweave text with photos. So, I’m going to restart Neighborhood Nature and resume telling my stories here. I will still post links to my stories on Facebook, as well as other short-form content, but at least some of my longer my photo stories about birds and other nature in Oak Park, Riis Park, and Columbus Park will be posted here.

My stories about nature in Douglass Park will be posted on a different website called Nature in Douglass Park.

Our Chicago Urban Christmas Bird Count Data 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!

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.


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


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

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:

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!


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

Bad News Birds: Brown-headed Cowbirds

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.


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!