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.

Monday, February 13, 2006

A Raptor Day; Cooper's Hawk & American Kestrels

Wilson Street Bridge, Chicago
at the Chicago River in Ravenswood

& Northerly Island on Chicago's downtown lakefront
formerly Meigs Field

Friday, February 10th, 2006, 9-11am

Ever since I was a kid, I loved Kingfishers. Until recently I didn't know that there were several species of them, and so when I read that a Belted Kingfisher had been spotted by another urban birder looking south along the Chicago River at the Wilson street bridge, I had to go check it out.

I looked south, I looked north, I looked south again. Nothing. Okay, I shouldn't be so dismissive of Mallards, Rock Doves and Mourning Doves, they use to make me smile. Well, not the pigeons. I also wanted to get down to Northerly Island, and I had a lot of work to do today. No Kingfisher today.

As I began walking toward the car when something stopped me from the corner of my eye. A slight movement, something not quite right on a branch of a tree. I looked and didn't see anything. Why? Because it was right there in front of me, 15 feet away from me, eye level on a large branch sticking out over the river, a COOPER'S HAWK (photos Jeff Skrentny), eating the still steaming remains of a Rock Dove. He wasn't happy about me watching him, he was even less happy about me getting the camera out, but eventually he got use to me and let me watch him eat his tasty dove breakfast. This was a great way to see life bird #63, Chicago bird #26.

Man, I was really excited to have found this treat. Yeah, the first Red-tailed Hawk I saw this year caught a mouse or vole as I was observing him, neat. Here I could see the blood still dripping from the carcass, and the hawk's bill. This was a great metaphor for my work week. I watched for 20 minutes and then decided I would head off to Northerly Island to see if I could continue my raptor day by seeing the American Kestrel and Peregrine Falcon that had been reported wintering there.

This was already a great Monday, maybe it could get even better.

I had never been to Northerly Island, and I had no idea how big this open space was. After I parked I walked south along the inside of the harbor and saw Canada Geese, Common Goldeneye, a Bufflehead and a pair of Red-breasted Mergansers until a low flying helicopter chased them all into flight. At this point I was as far south as I could go before the sewer work that was being done on the south end of the island. I walked over to the path and began walking north when I saw raptor number one. Then number two, then number three.

I didn't know what to focus on first.

One was definitely a male AMERICAN KESTREL (photo Matt Fletcher), you can't miss those colors in the field, even from far off. This wasn't my first time IDing a Kestrel, just the first time since becoming a birder. One of the other three looked kind of like a Kestrel in size and shape, and I after watching her later, I would get a great field observation of the difference's between a male and female American Kestrel, as this couple let me watch them for 30 minutes, from a distance. A distance roughly equal to about a half a football field. Even at this distance they became bird #64 for me, #27 for Chicago.

But the excitement now was the third bird. He moved up off his perch suddenly and as fast as I have ever seen a bird move, he flew toward an American Crow that was flying over the island from east to west toward the convention center. My bird went right at him and the two made contact right over the water. Then another crow I did not see came down to swoop in on my bird. In an instant they all went their seperate ways, the crows to the west, my bird to the south.

I am pretty sure it was a Peregrine Falcon, it and the crow were about the same size, it led its final approach to the crow with its wings bent forward, the head looked capped, the bib was white and the underparts were patterned dark brown and white. I will never know if it was a Peregrine Falcon or not. I just couldn't get a good look at it as fast as it was moving, and it was moving away from me. Still, it was thrilling to watch, I almost got my second kill of the day!

After this intense mo
ment of birding, could I ask for more?

I could. American Kestrels, up close, trying to make a catch, hovering in the air surveying the island, flying playfully with oneanother. I could have watched them all day. But I had to work, and I had to leave now. It was a raptor day, and I had two new birds:

#64 AMERICAN KESTREL male and female


  • At 7:17 AM, Blogger Spindrift said…

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