the Rookie Birder

I have watched birds all my life, but after reading "The Big Year," "Grail Bird" and especially Kenn Kaufman's "Kingbird Highway," plus Santa's timely stocking stuffer of "Sibley's 2003 Eastern & Western Field Guides," I made the decision to become a rookie birder beginning January 1st, 2006.

Thursday, March 23, 2006

Great Horned Owl at Caldwell Woods/Bunker Hill Oxbow area

March 23, 2006, 645pm
North Oxbow field rim at Caldwell Woods/Bunker Hill area, Chicago, Illinois

Lynne wanted to go for a short run tonight, I wanted to get outside after sitting at my desk all day, we decided to head up to the Bunker Hill Forest Preserve area north of Devon off of Caldwell Avenue. Lynne could get a short run, I could take the kids and see if the Oxbow area would yeild an American Woodcock or two for me displaying.

First rule of birding with kids, don't expect too much. Second rule of birding with kids, be ready for anything. It was my daughter Anna Grace who was looking toward the east while I was looking to the south with my glasses that yelled "Here comes a funny bird daddy." I whipped around, and saw what I would guess was an American Woodcock, or closely related species, as it was flying just above tree level from Caldwell Avenue toward the Chicago River. Now I have never seen a woodcock before, so I can't count this as a positive ID, but it was the funniest, silliest looking, stubby-tailed, fat long round-bodied, squat-winged flying bird, with a large bill, that I had ever seen. Hopefully it was an American Woodcock, and I will find some in this area later this spring.

Of course, had I been without kids I would have gone the third of a mile to the river to flush this bird out if I could, but I was with a 3 year old and a 9 month old in a stroller, and going across the open field with this stroller was not in my plans.

So we kept puttering about on the upper edge of the Oxbow area of this woods, listening intently for what we could hear, we heard a Northern Cardinal in the distatnce, an American Robin enthusiastically calling for a mate or marking its territory, and we heard what I thought was a Common Nighthawk call, but after getting back to my laptop and checking out the Birds of North America (BNA) website, I decided it was not a Common Nighthawk call, but probably some type of frog instead.

We also found about a dozen Mallard Ducks, and saw more doing flyovers when Anna Grace spotted her mom running up the path to meet us. Lynne took over watching the kids, and I made one last dash down into the Oxbow area to find some American Woodcocks. All of a sudden, out of the corner of my eye, I saw the large open wings of a raptor moving in from the north to a tall tree on the edge of the field area I was in. As it was the end of dusk, this probably wasn't one of the area Red-tailed Hawks, this was an owl.

Its wings were much broader than a hawk's, and as it settled into a perch at the top of the largest tree on the rim of the field, I could see it's round face and distinctive ears, it had to be a Great Horned Owl. It was. I watched it for 5 or more minutes, and then went back up out of this floodplain field to see if I could find Lynne and Anna Grace quickly enough so they could see this wonder too. I did, and Lynne, who loves owls, was especially appreciative. Anna Grace thought it was so "small." I couldn't quite get her to understand that it was just that it was far away and that we didn't want to get any closer and scare it away. Concept not understood. She saw it, and talked about it all night, probably only because that was what Lynne and I talked about the whole car ride home, and if that is what it takes for her to begin appreciating these wonders, so be it.

Once I pointed it out to them, and we moved a bit closer, we watched for another 10 minutes, and then as silently as it arrived, it spread its wings and very swiftly swooped down from his perch into the field, where it was now almost pitch black, and disappeared from our vision. I don't think I have ever been this close to a flying Great Horned Owl, and it was the first owl I found on my own in the wild, or should I say it found me. Well, anyway, I wasn't following somebody else's directions to find this owl. This one was all ours. Thrilling.
And what a wingspan! All just three plus miles from our home.

No "new" birds (don't feel I can count the flyover of the woodcock-like bird), but if you can't appreciate this kind of birding thrill, then you shouldn't be counting species in the first place.

Monday, March 06, 2006

Only 10 birds, total, and a near fall into the river at Bunker Hill Forest Preserve

Bunker Hill Forest Preserve, Chicago, Illinois
North of Devon, west of Caldwell on Chicago's NW side

Sunday, March 5th, 2006, 1030am-12pm

After yesterday's great day in the field in Lake and McHenry Counties, I thought I would take about 2 hours I had in the late morning to check out a familar Chicago running area and see what it might hold for my new birding interest. Unlike yesterday, today it was cloudy, cold with a humid chill in the air. Snow was in the forecast. I thought this might lead to good bird activity ahead of the snow. Instead, I must have missed my window and had a very quiet birding morning.

I parked right inside the Bunker Hill area off of Caldwell, and decided to head south toward the Bunker Hill open area and then swing along the river to see what I could see. Not much.

An American Robin (photo KC Foggin) was right at the path as I entered the area, but then I didn't see or hear anything in the Bunker Hill prairie area. The most interesting find were the bones, skull and hide of a long dead white-tailed deer. I had heard a woodpecker or two, but they sounded like they were on the river side of the path. I meandered that way.

Quickly, I discovered a Hairy Woodpecker male, and right after that a Red-bellied Woodpecker male. Then, as I was looking up for yet a third woodpecker, I slipped on leaves atop a mud patch and found myself dangling over the river perched precariously on my butt and hands on a 5 foot high river bank. It took 15 minutes of carefully negotiating the slippery bank to keep from falling into cold and swiftly moving the river. My gloves or jeans were terribly mud covered after this little birding mishap.

I walked along the river to Devon, and under the bridge were the expected Mallard Ducks, 5 of them, two females and three males. I walked from here back across the path to the Bunker Hill prairie area and forested area to the east of there, and on the way I found a dead raccoon skull and skeleton. Didn't realize how sharp their teeth really were.

By now the snow was coming down gently, and the place was terribly quiet. You could hear the snow landing. A Northern Cardinal (photo Richard Fray), a female Dark-eyed Junco (photo KC Foggin) and nothing else. As I got back to the river and woods near were the car was parked, I swear I heard a hoot of an owl, and I heard it again. But it was almost noon and we promised to take Anna Grace to see Curious George at Webster Place, and it was simply time for me to head home. Reluctantly, I did.

Quiet day, 10 total birds, 6 species and nothing new. Sure hope for a better birding trip the next time I head to Bunker Hill, I hear it can be great for birding.

Sunday, March 05, 2006

Glacial Park & Volo Bog finds us Sandhills, Northern Harriers, Northern PIntails, but no Northern Shrikes!

Glacial Park, Wonderlake, Illinois

North of Harts Road, east of 31

Volo Bog, Lakemoor, Illinois
South of Brandenberg Road, west of US12

Saturday, March 3rd, 2006, 815am-3pm

Friday night it was Boy's Poker Night at my friend John's place in Prairie Crossing. It would be the typical cards, beer and really good single malt scotch. There would be no driving the 47 miles home at 1am. Darn, I guess I would just have to stay overnight, and as long as I was that far north, I guess I should just do some birding at Glacial Park and Volo Bog, first thing in the morning, right?

Lynne was fine with this plan, so I shot an email to fellow
IBET birder Matt Fletcher who I met last Sunday at North Point Marina, which is part of the Illinois Beach State Park. I love Matt's bird photos, and he seemed like a guy who I could learn from in the field. He lives near Volo Bog and he was willing to take a rookie like myself into the field near his home turf.

It was a bright sunny morning, and before I even left Prairie Crossing I had seen a Downy Woodpecker, Mourning Doves, Red-bellied Woodpecker, Dark-eyed Juncos, and House Finches in John's backyard. On the way out of Prairie Crossing I had to stop at Lake Leopold in Prairie Crossing, where I saw the usual Canada Geese, Mallards, Herring Gulls, Ring-billed Gulls and one 2nd winter Thayer's Gull, the first Thayer's Gull I had ever spotted on my own and the first 2nd winter juvenile I had ever seen. 10 species before I had gone a mile. I was confident I would find the Northern Shrike I had targeted for the day.

On the drive to Glacial Park I spotted a large Red-tailed Hawk on the side of the road having breakfast. I had to pull over and watch for a few minutes. Of course that made me late, and then I got lost in Glacial Park, which may have bummed out Matt, but getting lost there allowed me to find a new bird for my life list, a male RING-NECKED PHEASANT (photo Matt Fletcher). I never knew how fast they could run. By the time I jumped out of the car to get a better look, it was 40 feet away and moving fast. But you can't mistake Ring-necked Pheasants for much else with his red face, green neck and head, white colar and that tail. He was bird #87 for the year, and #69 for Illinois.

I finally met Matt at the main parking lot at 820am, and he had already spotted an interesting looking white bird mixed in with the Canada Geese and Mallards on the marsh pond. As we were walking down to the marsh for a closer look at this mystery bird, Matt casually mentioned that he saw three SANDHILL CRANES (photo Matt Fletcher) on the far side of the marsh. Whoa, wait, stop right there Matt, WHERE? Sure, I had seen these birds before many times, including a day in November of 2004 at Jasper-Pulaski Wildlife Area in Indiana where we saw an estimated 11,000 Sandhills during one sunset. But that was before I was a birder, and I had to see these first. They became life birds #88 and Illinois bird #70.

We got down to the marsh, and just couldn't figure out what the white necked bird with the dark head was. Before we could, either us, or one of the many raptors in the area sent the lot of the geese and ducks flying to the northwest. We would not ID that bird for now. We decided to walk through an oak savanna on the north of the marsh and then over toward the kames on the east of the Nippersink River, I was keen on seeing that Northern Shrike.

On the way to the kames we saw numerous Red-winged Blackbirds. At the kames we saw at least one (juvenile?) Northern Harrier, who disappeared as quickly as we saw him. From the kames we walked north across the marshy area around the Nippersink to a bridge near the campground at the north of Glacial Park. On the way we had Tree Sparrows, Red-tailed Hawks, Sandhills, with one doing a short mating dance for us (photo Matt Fletcher). At the campground

we heard some more sparrows that we never found, and were startled by BLUE JAY (photo Matt Fletcher) that instead of its harsh shrill call, actually whistled a sharp song that neither of us had remembered hearing before. Though I had seen many Blue Jays before being a birder, this was a new bird for this new avocation, and it was bird #89 for the year, #71 for Illinois. But no Northern Shrikes.

On the way south, we IDed a American Tree Sparrow, were surprised to see another pair of Sandhills, were

impressed with a pair of Northern Harriers (photo Matt

Fletcher), startled to see a Great Blue Heron that was north this early, as it was flushed by a woman walking her dog, spotted a lone American Coot, heard and then saw a Downy Woodpecker, saw several Red-tailed Hawks, had a close flyby of yet another pair of Sandhills, saw numerous Red-winged Blackbirds, watched American Crows in a one large flock at the oak savanna, where we also encountered a Red-bellied Woodpecker and a few European Starlings, and then found ourselves in the midst of several Black-capped Chickadees as we tried to get down to the marsh again to find that mystery bird, but no Northern Shrikes.

Could we find that mystery bird from the morning? Eventually, Matt did. We decided it was a duck of some sort when the whole group of Mallards was flushed into the sky. This time it wasn't us, we just weren't close enough. Why did only the Mallards flush, and not the geese? It was because a large hawk we could not ID flushed them. As quickly as it appeared though, it was gone. As it flushed the ducks, Matt, who is one of the best field spotters I have been out birding with, picked up those two ducks among hundreds of Mallards, one had a long tail, white neck, dark head, it had to be the NORTHERN PINTAIL (photo Matt Fletcher) that we thought it might be.

It was indeed. The flock came back, and we got to look at both the male and female Northern Pintail (photo Mike Powell) from both sides of the marsh. Matt even got a few photos of them, including at least one in flight (see above). We went around to the other side of the marsh and got to get a better look, but not before noticing three Red-tailed Hawks on a thermal to our south, a pair of which did the falling mating dance thing, I think it is a mating ritual anyway, I was excited because this was the first time I had ever witnessed this. With a new view on the other west side of the marsh, we were now sure of Matt's ID of the pair of Northern Pintails. He got me yet another bird, number 90 for the year, #72 for Illinois. It was new bird for us both.

Unfortunately, the flock was flushed yet again, this time I got to see both Northern Pintails in flight, and Matt also noticed a pair of
Americn Black Ducks, which I did not see. We had a good ID, we decided to head off to Matt's backyard nature area, Volo Bog. Maybe I could find my Northern Shrikes there. But before we left, we saw an American Kestrel make a catch, and watched a pair of American Kestrels at the railroad tracks on the way out of Glacial Park. What a treat this visit had been. We saw 19 species here, 4 of which were new birds for my list. But now it was off Volo Bog for Northern Shikes we go.

On the way, Matt pulled over to watch and listen to a female Horned Lark on Harts road, always a treat. Once at Volo Bog, it just seemed quiet. They had just done an extensive burn there, and the smell of stale burn still hung in the air. It didn't take long for us to hear some Tree Sparrows, Black-capped Chickadees, and a treo of American Crows (photo Matt Fletcher), two preening each other, something I had never seen in the wild.

As we continued walking we spotted a pair of Sandhill Cranes foraging in the recently burned bog, heard and then spotted an Eastern Bluebird, hear and then Matted spotted more Tree Sparrows, followed by some Black-capped Chickadees. As we rounded the back side of the bog, we saw yet another Red-tailed Hawk. Coming back around the floating bog path we found a White-breasted Nuthatch near some pines, a Red-bellied Woodpecker, and then heard some very loud Sandhill Cranes. But there wasn't a Northern Shrike to be found. Ugh! Time was running short!

We were just about back to the parking lot, on the very short elevated path, when I spotted those loud Sandhills. They were 30-40 feet from the path, in an open area where a burn had recently been done, and they were all but posing for us. It was so wonderful to see right into their eyes from that close distance. As we were getting done watching them, we spotted another hawk of some sort, but did not ID it, nor could we find it again.

Matt had to head home to get ready for a wedding, I wanted to take a quick tour on the inside bog walk, and then I had to head home too. I didn't see those pesky to find Northern Shrikes, but I did see 30 species for the day between Prairie Crossing, Glacial Park and Volo Bog, including 4 new life birds:

#87 Ring-billed Pheasant
#88 Sandhill Cranes

#89 Blue Jay

#90 Northern Pintails
male & female

Thursday, March 02, 2006

Belted Kingfisher, Common Grackle and two types of hawks

LaBagh Woods & Sauganash Prairie, Chicago, Illinois
North of Foster, east of Cicero & I94

& Ronan & West River Park, Chicago Illinois
Along the Chicago River beginning at Lawrence to Argyle and north

Thursday, March 2nd, 2006, 915-1115am

My neighbor Karen was kind enough to take me out today to take a tour of her warbler route in the LaBagh Woods and Sauganash Prairie areas on Chicago's Northwest side east of I94 and north of Foster Avenue. Her experience suggests that if the warblers are seen at Montrose Beach & Harbor in the Magic Hedge, then they will also be at LaBagh, and no doubt there will be less birders, though there will be more ground to cover in one of Chicago's most unknown urban oasis.

We parked in the east side of the park and immediately walked up to the railroad tracks. Almost as soon as we were up on them we heard and then spotted a Northern Cardinal, two American Robins, a Ring-billed Gull flyover and a COMMON GRACKLE (photo Robert Houde). Okay, it was only a Grackle, but it was a sign that the migration was beginning, and it was bird #85 and Chicago bird #43. Was never quite so happy to see a Grackle, Karen just laughed quietly at my enthusiasm.

During my tour she showed me a number of great areas for warblers, pintails, teals, shorebirds. We spotted a two separate packs of Dark-eyed Juncos, and with her ear and eye, she helped me find American Goldfinches (photo Doug Greenberg) which became bird #44 for Chicago. We also had the unfortunate experience of watching a possum expire from drowning in the river. How the heck did he get himself into that fix? The answer would remain a mystery, and there was really nothing we could safely, or maybe, should have, done, to help it. Still, this just didn't feel like a good nature experience for me.

Before we got to Cicero Avenue, Karen spotted a raptor flying near the river, but we could not find it. We made our way to along the path on the north side of the river until we got to Cicero, where we crossed over the bridge and began a tour of
LaBagh Woods.

We walked south to the wetland marsh area and found numerous Mallards in the now very wet marsh area. I heard a whistling bird call we were unable to locate, and though we did not find what was making this call, we did spot the resident Red-tailed Hawk perch slightly to the north of the marsh at the top of a tree. It stayed long enough for us to give it a great look, though at a distance.

Once we completed our tour, Karen humored me with a quick stop at Ronan Park and West River Park to see if I could find the Belted Kingfisher reported there, as well as the Black-crowned Night Herons that were spotted there last night my MJ who posts on IBET.

Two thirds of the way from Argyle toward Lawrence on the east river bank I spotted the BELTED KINGFISHER (photo Robert Hughes) female just as she was about to swallow a crawfish. What a treat to see this. I was spell bound with this bird. I have always had a fascination with kingfishers, this one was no different. How did I know it was a female? Unlike many birds, the female Belted Kingfisher has the color, a unique redish or rufous breast marking. Her crest was impressive and with the irregular clattering rattle she made as she flew along the river, it felt like she was the punk rocker of the Chicago birding world. She would be life bird #86 and Chicago bird #45.

As we moved north, we heard woodpeckers, saw Mallards, a Common Goldeneye, a pair of Herring Gulls in breeding plumage, a Ring-Billed flyover, and Canada Geese. But no Black-crowned Night Herons. And we really looked. Because we did, once we crossed north over Argyle into West River Park, Karen immediately spotted a juvenile Cooper's Hawk (photo Bob Lankford) on the east bank. Long tail, brownish coloring, streaked with brown on a white breast, slight white stripe over the eye. It just let us watch him. I don't think, nor do I know, that this bird would take a Goldeneye for lunch, but I did note that the last two times I had been here there were 15-20 Goldeneyes in the water, including just yesterday. But today there were only three in the river. Did they leave because of the Cooper's Hawk?

While we were watching the Cooper, I spotted a beaver in the water four feet from where we were standing on the bank of the river. There were signs of beaver activity all along the river north of Argyle, but now he was right there for a minute or so before he dove and disappeared. Great to have such a visitor taking up residence in Chicago, gives you faith the river is cleaning itself up after all the years of neglect, BUT, he was wreaking havoc on the small trees and landscaping in this newly planted park area, AND he had begun working on a 40 foot willow on the east river bank, since yesterday, how long would the Chicago Park District put up with this "guest?" Time would tell.

Though I wanted to head back to the Wilson Street Bridge just to our south to see if I could get another look at the American Black Duck x Mallard drake hybrid I spotted there yesterday, but I had to get back to the office and get some work done. It was a good day, two new birds and one new Chicago bird, PLUS the beaver. This birding thing is getting me out to see more wildlife than I had ever noticed in my urban existence, and it put a smile on my face. For today we had found:

#85 Common Grackle

#86 Belted Kingfisher female
and that Chicago River Beaver north of Argyle

Sunday, February 26, 2006

Surf Scoter at North Point Marina

North Point Marina
Winthrop Harbor, Illinois

Sunday, February 26, 2006, 1115am

I overslept this morning after watching a movie late with Lynne last night. So instead of getting a reasonable start to my birding day, I only had until about 2pm, I didn't get out the door until 945am. The plan for the day was to visit Van Patten Woods, North Point Marina and Independence Grove. I was especially interested in seeing the larger groups of Snow Geese that had been reported in these areas, as well as the Surf Scoters at North Point Marina, and Sandhill Cranes moving north that had stopped over at Van Patten.

It was a beautiful morning and instead of the very cold weather predicted earlier in the week, it was clear, sunny and not impossibly cold. On the way north, I needed gas, so I thought I would swing by the Skokie Lagoons to see what I could see; Ring-billed Gulls, Canada Geese, a single male Hooded
Merganser and three or four Common Goldeneye. I was focused on getting north, so instead of tromping around there, I kept moving north.

On the way I was optimistic about what the day would hold as I saw three Red-tailed Hawks, and one other hawk that likely wasn't a Red-tailed between the I94/294 merge and my exit at 173. I wasn't even really looking. I had never been to Van Patten Woods, so I drove around the whole place with occasional stops to survey the landscape; Canada Geese, Snow Geese and a group of gulls. It looked like a ground burn was recently done in some areas at Van Patten, and I wondered what that would mean for the woods later in the summer.

From there it was a short drive to Winthrop Harbor. Now to find the Surf Scoters. As I was pulling up, a few guys with scopes were packing up, and I caught them in time to ask if they had seen anything of note I should keep an eye out for. They were birders who had attended the Gull Frolic there a few weeks back, and though they weren't overly detailed in their feedback, I did learn that the reported Snow Buntings had not been seen for a few days, and
that the Surf Scoters were across the harbor with a group of ducks.

A duck hunting we will go. I love North Point Marina, and that doesn't even include the gulls which I didn't even try to look at today as I don't yet have a scope. Immediately I saw American Coots, Redheads, Common Goldeneyes, Hooded Mergansers, Buffleheads, Mallards, Canada Geese and scaups in more or less four different groups. Though I was looking for the Surf Scoters, it was great to watch the Common Goldeneye males displaying, and the Buffleheads were very active. The Redheads seemed so brilliantly colored with the sun on them from the south.

Once I got to the group of ducks out at the mouth of the harbor I began looking over this, the largest group of ducks, more carefully. Ugh, these ducks were just a bit too far away. I could pick out the Goldeneyes and Scaups, but where were the Surf Scoters (photo Matt Fletcher)? After 30 minutes with my 8.5x44 Swift Audubons, I could pick out two birds that were not like the others. Dark, bodies, one had a white patch on the back of its head/neck, and both had tail feathers pointed upward in a manner that was distinctly different than all the other birds out in this group.

But neither would pick their head up so I could see their faces and bills. How long could I wait them out? Shortly helped arrived in the form of fellow birders Matt F and Kanae H. Kanae had her scope, and after she set it up, we got a great look at the birds, but they still wouldn't show their faces. We exchanged introductions, stories and plans for the day, and waited for them to show their pretty faces. I was the lucky one that got to see them through the scope for the 8-10 seconds they lifted their heads, showed their faces and bills, and gave me the confirmation necessary to add bird #84 to my list, bird #66 for Illinois. It was worth the wait. I felt thrilled to see both the male and female.

As we were all leaving and getting in our cars, I noticed my neighbor Karen was on the other end of the parking lot about to leave too. I thanked her for the guidance on the Screech Owls the day before. She was heading off to see some Pine Siskins at Illinois State Beach. We stopped at Sand Pond, and then the Nature Center at the south entrance, to which I had never been before. It was very quiet except for an American Robin, and I must say the best sighting of the day was the skyscrapers of the Chicago skyline from 50 miles away while we were down at the beach.

Unfortunately, that would pretty much be it for the day. Independence Grove was empty save for gulls and Canada Geese. On the way to the Grove I spotted a Red-Shouldered Hawk which I pulled off to the side of the road to watch for 5 or so minutes until it flew away. From the Grove to home, I saw 7 more Red-tailed Hawks on the side of the interstate including one all the way down at Peterson, something I don't typically see. Usually the last ones I see are on the spur right before 94 merges with 41. Today, I saw two after that point, the second was at Skokie Lagoon.

It wasn't the day of racking up a few new species I had hoped it would be, but I did add one new find;

#84 SURF SCOTER both male and female

Saturday, February 25, 2006

Eastern Screech Owl at Morton Arboretum with a Northern Goshawk bonus!

Morton Arboretum
Thornhill area on Alternate Route near parking area P-20A

Saturday, February 25, 2006, 915am & again 1pm

Lynne and I had an appointment to test drive a new car in Elmhurst Saturday mid-morning. As Lynne at least has an interest in owls, I asked if we could head out early and attempt to find the EASTERN SCREECH OWL that had been noted at Morton Arboretum earlier this winter. She was game!!! So we got the
kids packed up and drove out to Morton.

Armed with a Morton map my birding neighbor Karen shared with me, we drove over to the Thornhill area to see what we could find. Karen's map and notes made it seem so obvious, but we found nothing. Red-bellied Woodpeckers calling and flitting about, White-breasted Nuthatch, Black Capped Chickadees, American Robins and the obligatory Canada Geese on the drive in, but no owl. I could even find the hole that she said was easy to find in the tree she indicated would have the owl 20 feet off the ground. Nothing.

As we drove away disappointed, we noticed some people with scopes and cameras near Sterling Pond, and I asked one of the gentlemen if he was a birder. He answered an enthusiastic yes. Hopeful, I asked him if he knew where the Screech Owl had been sighted, and again he said yes. Long pause. He offered no help. So I asked him if he could offer me any suggestions to find the owl, and he said he could not, as he promised not to tell anyone where the owl was so it would not be disturbed. How annoying. If you are going to be such an elitist, just lie to me and tell me you don't know. Don't take such an air of superiority, especially after telling me you were shown the bird and did not find it yourself, because you know something I want. What a jerk.

I told him, fine, but that I had a map, I was going to look for the bird, and he could either help me make a low impact sighting, or he could let me meander about and see what I could find, possibly disturbing the very owl he wanted to keep undisturbed. He simply responded by telling me my map looked accurate and that he had seen the owl the last three days after noon sunning itself. Lynne and I left for the car dealership determined to come back when we were done.

Once we left, we drove up 53 and turned right on Butterfield Road to drive east. As we approached a small creek and a bridge that crossed it, I noticed a raptor in a tree on the north side of the road in a large tree on the south end of the Western Acres Golf Course. It was just too big for a Red-tailed Hawk, and I couldn't see a red tail, this bird was gray. A Northern Harrier? Lynne commented that we had a few minutes before our appointment, let's turn around and look she said. I didn't need any more encouragement than that, we did a u-turn and headed back to an access road to a electric utility station and pulled over 50 yards from the subject bird's tree.

This was a big bird. Gray, faint, but distinct narrow barring on the chest and belly, distinct white stripe above the eye, the eye itself was deep red. We watched him in the tree, he watched us and the traffic going past. I grabbed my copy of "A Photographic Guide to North American Raptors," Lynne the "National Geographic Complete Guide of North American Birds." As we looked, debated, looked and debated, I remembered some IBET postings about a NORTHERN GOSHWAK in this area. Was this our treat for not seeing the owl? If only we could see this bird in flight. I no sooner thought it and my wish was granted as he lazily moved up and slowly moved south toward the Morton Arboretum area. The view in flight made us pretty sure I had seen bird #82 for my life list, and #64 for Illinois.

That was a great find, it almost seemed too easy to find, but it was difficult for a rookie like me to ID this bird with 20 minutes of time. Most raptors are still hard for me. At least I have learned to look for red tails, then for brown or gray coloring and general size, and ID from there. Don't know if that is the way I am suppose to do it, but so far it has been working fine for me. And though I will add this to my list, there is always that little bit of doubt because I have never seen this bird species before. Still, as we discussed what we saw, and compared that to our guide books, we felt 95% sure what we watched for 20 minutes was a Northern Goshawk (photo Cheryl Johnson). Hopefully I will see it again soon with someone who is a better birder than I, and I can feel 100% sure I IDed this bird correctly.

It was time to test drive that Prius.

We got done at the dealership by 1115am, then went to Lynne's cousin's house in Elmhurst to pick up the kids. After a short visit, we decided to head back over to Morton for one more try for the Screech Owl (photo Jeff Skrentny) before heading back into the city for an afternoon appointment Lynne had. Glad we did.

We went right back to where neighbor Karen told us to go at Thornhill, and this time, just like she said, the owl was visible from the car as we drove up. Amazing. It was sunning itself quietly in the hole of a big tree that I must have looked at 10 times earlier that morning. In fact it was the third tree I really examined first thing this morning. It simply must not have been out then. Even though I was still upset with Mr Know-It-All-But-I-Am-Not-Sharing-With-You-Birder, at least he shared the tip about being out after noon each of the last three days; that tidbit was probably what tipped the balance for us to go back and try one more time this afternoon. Because we did, we saw the EASTERN SCREECH OWL, bird # 83, and #65 for Illinois.

It was a fruitful morning and early afternoon; we bought a car, visited with family, and saw two great birds:


Thursday, February 23, 2006

First trip to Sauganash Prairie & Edgebrook Woods

Sauganash Prairie & Edgebrook Woods
Northwest side of Chicago south of Peterson east of Central

Thursday, February 23, 2006, 230-4pm

It was a tedious day at my desk, and when I had to run out to do two errands, I grabbed by Sibley's and bins and decided to head to a new birding location, for
me, Sauganash Prairie. My new copy of "A Birders Guide to the Chicago Region" gave me the impression it might be a good place to know along the Chicago River just north of our home in West Walker Park. Once there, I remembered being here once in the past on a Nature Conservancy day in the field to help restore the prairie.

It wasn't a good birding trip. After hiking about, all I heard, and then saw was a Northern Cardinal for sure, and a Dark-eyed Junco, I think. Of course there were Mallards on the river, but it was quiet everywhere until I came back to the car. Once back at the car, I could hear birds everywhere north of the woods and prairie in the neighborhood to the north of this natural area. But I could see nothing. I was about to jump in the car determined to check out at least one more neighborhood woods before heading back to the office when to the west,
over what is the Edens Expressway, I spotted a Red-tailed Hawk doing aerial maneuvers that were fun to watch. At least I was able to tally this bird for the city, #39 for Chicago.

Frustrated by less than great birding on a great day, I headed over to Edgebrook Woods on the east side of Central Avenue, north of the Chicago River and Indian Road Woods. I drove all the way in, and hopped out to see what I could find on the flats and mature trees by the river. Immediately I found a large group of Dark-eyed Juncos. There had to be 20 or 30 of them, and they were flitting about the whole flat in the lower branches and brush in this area.

While watching them I also saw three Mallards on the river, 3 or 4
Downy (probably) or Hairy Woodpeckers in the trees, plus I heard at least one Red-bellied Woodpecker to the west. I was really excited to tromp around. I eventually found at least 6 Downys, one Hairy, and two Red-bellieds, plus I heard two more calling loudly. And that wasn't all. While I was listening for the woodpeckers, I noticed a large group of 30-40 American Robins move into the woods from the south side of the river, Indian Road Woods. Over on that side of the river I also noted three large White-tailed Deer keeping an eye on what I was doing.

While watching one of the Red-bellieds, I had a good look at a first for me since listing, a WHITE-BREASTED NUTHATCH (photo Jamie MacArthur). It would be bird number 80 for the year, and number 40 for Chicago. Not a big find, but one I did not yet have on my list, and I didn't find it at a bird feeder, which always seems like a bit of a bonus to me.

Finally, on my way out I heard very thin high note of a bird I did not recognize. Where was it? What was it? A Brown Creeper, then another, moving up and around two of the tall trees in the river flats right as the ground rises to the parking lot. I had seen one of these at Skokie Lagoons on January 31st, but again, these birds would count as Chicago bird #41. At this pace I could have 240 species in Chicago by the end of the year...possible? We will see. For the day, two new Chicago birds and the new find:


The first Red-winged Blackbirds of the year

Humboldt Park on Chicago's west side
1400 North Sacramento Avenue

Wednesday, February 22nd, 2006, 915am

I had to take Lynne to work today so I could use our car to meet a client this afternoon. After dropping her off I thought I would swing by Humboldt Park on the way home and check out the cattail marsh and lagoon area there to see what was new since my last stop there February 5th.

The marsh area
was completely quiet. Nothing but an American Crow in the distance, a few European Starlings high in the trees and a few Rock Doves close to the park district building. Right before I walked under Humboldt Avenue using the pedestrian underpass to view the lagoon, I found one lone White-throated Sparrow on the north end of the marsh.

At the lagoon, like my last visit, there were plenty of Canada Geese, Mallard Ducks and a few Domestic Ducks on the lagoon. I also found a group of American Tree Sparrows in the high br
ush on the west side of the lagoon near the small lagoon island, but then I heard a very familiar sound, early I thought for the spring, the unmistakable song of a RED-WINGED BLACKBIRD (photo Alejandro Tabini). I spotted two, and heard at least 2 others. I was able to walk up close to one male singing in a tree on the east side of the lagoon pavilion on the south of the lagoon. Spring is coming, and I would imagine soon there will be many other early migrants coming through Chicago. For today, I had my 80th bird of the year, #38 for Chicago, the:


Monday, February 20, 2006

Volo Bog bust, Greater White-fronted Goose at Diversey

Volo Bog
Lake County, north of Route 120 west of Hwy 12 on Brandenburg Road

Sunday, February 19th, 2006, 4-6pm

Once again this morning I tried to find that darn Harlequin Duck male that had been reported at Belmont Harbor and North Avenue at the Chess Pavilion. After seeing the Snow Geese at Montrose, I thought maybe I should check in between. I went to Diversey Harbor to see what I could find there. No Harlequin Duck, but I did find a Greater White-fronted Goose (photo Jeff Skrentny) swimming in the water close to the rock beach, and that was at least a new Chicago bird, #36 for my Chicago life and year list.

But today was going to be dedicated to a 50
mile trip to the north. After reading a posting about another birders great Sunday afternoon trip a week earlier, I decided to head up to Volo Bog this afternoon to see if I would have any luck seeing the Long-eared, Screech and Great-horned Owls he had seen, plus hope to catch a glimpse of the illusive Northern Shrikes up in that area.

But today was going to be dedicated to a 50 mile trip to the north. After reading a posting about another birders great Sunday afternoon trip a week earlier, I decided to head up to Volo Bog this afternoon to see if I would have any luck seeing the Long-eared, Screech and Great Horned Owls he had seen, plus hope to catch a glimpse of the illusive Northern Shrikes up in that area.

Good thing I like nature and walks. That was all I got. I didn't see or hear a bird of any sort on this beautiful Sunday afternoon and dusk until I did the whole walk around Volo Bog and was heading back to my car. Then with the light too dark to make any positive ID, I saw what might have been a Northern Shrike zipping through the air with some prey in its talons. Why do I think it was a shrike; size and coloring. But I am way too much a rookie to ever know.

So it was 104 miles of driving for a good 3 mile walk. Could be worse, though a cold day, it wasn't the frigid temperatures of yesterday. No owls today so it looks like another trip before I can see those glorious birds at Volo Bog. How bad could that be?

FUN SIDE NOTE...I reported my sighting of the Greater White Fronted Goose at Diversey on IBET, and my posting became my FIRST report that was included in the Chicago Audubon Rare Bird Alert:

Chicago Rare Bird Alert

Downloaded from BIRDCNTR, a service of the National Birding Hotline Cooperative (NBHC), and processed by an automatic mail processor.

Posted on this server Friday, February 24, 2006


* Illinois
* Chicago
* February 22, 2006
* ILCH0602.22

- Birds mentioned


A WHITE-FRONTED GOOSE was seen at the mouth of Diversey
Harbor February 19th and 21st.

Ring-Necked Duck at Diversey...FINALLY see the Harlequin males!

Diversey Harbor
Chicago on the lake front at Diversey, north end of harbor near inlet

Monday, February 20th, 915

Was on my way to see the Harlequin Duck male that had been eluding me the last few weeks at North Avenue when I thought I would stop at Diversey Harbor on the way to see if I could see the RING-NECKED DUC
K (photo Jeff Skrentny) that had been seen there yesterday. I saw the same duck with a large group of Canada Geese and Mallard Ducks yesterday, but took a quick look at it with it's bill tucked into it's feathers and assumed it was a scaup. It wasn't.

I found it alone in a small open area of water right away, but once again it had it's bill tucked into its feathers. Still, I noted the gray flank, NOT WHITE flank like I should have noted yesterday, which would have clued me in that it wasn't a scaup. After a while it moved away from the moorings and into the water, and I got an excellent look at it's white ringed bill and long neck. Let's hope I learn the lesson to LOOK for the birds I see in the future so I don't miss any more new species I could add to my life list. This would be #79 and #37 for Chicago proper.

After the RING-NECKED I was hoping my luck would hold as I went down to the North Avenue Beach area to see if I could see the Harlequin Duck male that everyone else has seen but me. I did see the two females associated with this group on a stormy Wednesday afternoon, February 8th, but in several attempts to see the prized male Harlequin, I had struck out.

At the beach I did not find them near the Chess Pavilion, but I saw another birder out near the break water with a scope. It was noted area bird photographer and birder Kanae H. She was looking to see the same birds, but she didn't see a thing. After a few short words of introduction, I had to get back to the office, and I left. About 2 hours later I read in IBET that she had seen the duck, however distant, and lamented I missed her sighting by about 2 minutes! If only I could bird all day.

So today, just one new bird, the:


North Avenue Beach Breakwater

Chicago on the lake front at North Avenue

Tuesday, February 21st, 2006, 415pm

FINALLY! After trying Saturday evening at Belmont Harbor, twice Sunday at North Avenue Beach Chess Pavilion, and after having an unsatisfactory look at 5 Harlequin Ducks in a 80mm scope this morning (2 males and 3 females...I thought), I finally saw the Harlequin Duck males this afternoon. I read an IBET post by Greg N that he had JUST seen two males inside the hook of breakwater, and also
seen another male and two females (so I didn't get this AMs look quite right...they were a long way off) outside the breakwater with 5 Buffleheads.

As fast as traffic would allow, I zipped back over to the lakefront to see if I could get a look at these impressive birds. As soon as I parked I noticed another birder intently
using a scope on the breakwater looking toward its hooked end, he had to be looking at the Harlequins. He was. It was Bob H, a noted birder extraordinaire watching two male Harlequin Ducks at the end of the breakwater.

They were so beautiful. Bob let me look through his scope, and that was a wonderful close up view. It was what I wanted. After he left, I watched the birds for another 30 minutes or so as they dove, and surfaced, dove and surfaced. Were they were there was also a Lesser Scaup and eventually 4 Buffleheads (3m 1f). It was a warm Chicago February, and it just looked like all 7 birds were just having fun before sunset. I would have stayed longer, but I had to get home to be daddy so our nanny could go home, but this time the walk back to the car was one where I had a spring to my step, as I had finally seen the impressive and distinctive beauty of the males of my life bird #62, #25 for Chicago, the Harlequin Duck (photo Ed Teune). It was worth the wait and all the troubles.

Saturday, February 18, 2006

Snow Geese & Ross's Geese at Montrose Harbor

Montrose Harbor
Chicago on the lakefront at Montrose

Thursday, Friday & Saturday, February 16-18, 2006

It has been a good week for birding, one that seemed like it would only get better when Thursday afternoon it was posted on IBET (http://BirdingOnThe.Net/mailinglists/IBET.htm) by Kanae H that her neighbor Pamela M had tipped her off that there were some 20 SNOW GEESE at the beach house at Montrose Beach with some 50 CANADA GEESE. Earlier today I had tried to find a half a dozen Snow Geese that were reported in the Chicago River at Addison, but I was unable to find them, so I was hopeful I would get a chance to see this group instead.

As soon as Lynne got home, which was late, I headed off to Montrose Beach & Harbor area. Even though it might be late when I got there, I knew the area had lights and I might still get to see them even though it would be late dusk. I couldn't find them anywhere, and I went home without a sighting. I did have a nice walk around the Montrose Bird Sanctuary for the first time, and I can't wait to see what is there some morning.

Friday morning I read that Bob H, one of Chicagoland's most renowned birding experts, had not only reconfirmed more than 20 SNOW GEESE of both the light and dark morph, including some juveniles of each, but even more unusual for Chicago, two ROSS'S GEESE as well. You can clearly see the size difference with the smaller middle bird, a Ross's Geese, here in flight with Snow Geese (photo Kanae Hirabayashi). I called my neighbor to see if I could borrow her car, and off to the lake front I hurried as I had a lunch meeting with some clients at 1145am.

I got down to Montrose and checked by the beach house, nothing. But while I was there, I heard them, and then saw them in flight behind me. I raced over to the Montrose Harbor, it looked like they landed outside the Harbor in the lake or on the Marovitz Golf Course. I was so excited to see birds number #76 and #77 for the year.

It wasn't that easy.

The group of 30 individuals was in the lake, and though I could easily see the SNOW GEESE, I was having no luck picking out the Ross's Geese. Need to get a scope. As I was walking away, I noticed a lone Snow Goose with a group of 50 or so Canada Geese that had moved into the harbor. I watched him for 5 or so minutes and took some photos of him. Something about his bill and small size just didn't seem right. As they turned around and moved back into the open water of Lake Michigan, it occurred to me that this could be a ROSS'S GOOSE (photo Jeff Skrentny). Bill meeting the feathers at base in straight line, blue-ish bill at back, and no grin patch. This was a Ross's Goose, right here in front of my nose, close to the rocks and an easy study. I took a few more photos through my Swift Audubon 8.5x44 bins with my Cannon Digital and was on my way home to get to that client lunch.

After lunch, early that evening, I had a chance to read what everyone had been posting that day about these birds, and it turns out that in addition to Snow and Ross's Geese with this pack, there was probably one hybrid of the two as well. How fun. It was possible the one I took photos of was that bird. But after sharing it with several birders more experienced than I, most of us concluded that my photos were of a ROSS'S GOOSE, so I did indeed get to see both and that made bird #77 for the year.

But I wasn't satisfied after sleeping on it over night. I wanted to see the Ross's Goose with the Snow Geese to really notice the size difference. Back to Montrose I went on what was the coldest morning in Chicago in years...2 degrees with a wind chill of -18. COLD, cold day to look at birds, my wife Lynne thought I was nuts. In this photo in the lower left corner, you can see both a Ross's and Snow Goose, note the size difference of the smaller Ross's Goose behind the front most Snow (photo Jeff Skrentny).

Once I got down to Montrose, I drove out to the point of the harbor for a first look. They were across the way in the water outside the harbor close to the rock beach behind the Marovitz Golf Course. While I was discussing them with another birder, they took flight and moved to the golf course. I was on my way back. The other birder told me they had counted 27 birds, including one Ross's Goose. That was my target bird. If I could just get a view of the geese together I could be confident I had seen both.

I got over to the golf course, jumped the fence (and slightly ripped my jacket...not as young and spry as I once was I guess) and walked up behind the birds making sure trees blocked me from their view. I got behind a pine tree about 50 yards away and counted 27 birds, and found what seemed like a Ross's Goose with the Snow Geese. But I was too far away for a positive ID. There was one pine tree even closer, so I walked a long way around to get behind it without spooking them and got to within 20 yards of them. What a sight. I was so cold, but I couldn't believe what a good look I had. There were two white morph juveniles, two dark (blue) morph juveniles, 3 dark (blue) morph adults, and several white adults with the distinctive yellow/orange/rusty head. They were all sitting down, eating, then getting up for a step or two before sitting down to eat more. They looked cold.

Where was the Ross's Goose? That is why I was braving this cold. I looked at each bird, and about 8 into it, I found him, significantly smaller, say half or 60% of the size of the Snow Geese, had the short bill with the straight vertical line between the bill and the feathers, as well as the very straight lower bill. I had my Ross's Goose (photo by Ed Tuene), and I could confidently say it was bird #77. Additionally, there was one more bird that sort of looked like a Ross's, but it was too big, with a neck too long, still the bill was distinctly shorter with that vertical line where it met the feathers. Several IBET posters had been talking about a Snow & Ross's hybrid, was this that bird? Probably.

I was too cold for any more detailed observing. My fingers were permanently frozen wrapped around my bins, and I was shivering so much I couldn't hold the bins still despite layers and layers of clothes. I attempted a few digiscope shots with my camera before the battery died, and then hurried to my car to warm up before heading out to count some birds at for the "Great Backyard Bird Count."

A good day, as I confirmed I had seen a Ross's Goose today, and yesterday, which means I saw:

#76 SNOW GOOSE, both dark (blue) and white morph w/juveniles of each
& a likely ROSS'S & SNOW hybrid