Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Crossbills

After birding the Indiana lakefront on Lake Michigan without many highlights other than two Northern Shrikes my brother Rob and I went into bird the Illinois lakefront on Lake Michigan for the first time. We started early as the sun just reached over the horizon at Illinois Beach State Park. This state park comprises large inland marshes and miles of lakeshore. Our main objective for the day was to find White-winged Crossbills and other winter finches.

This was taken as the sun rose over Lake Michigan on a windy day at Illinois Beach State Park.


Our first bird after getting out of the car was a large flock of Pine Siskins calling as they flew over. We didn’t have a single siskin the day before in Indiana so it was a good bird to start off our day. Overall there were very few birds in the park so we headed to our next stop at Lyons Woods in Lake County Illinois. After getting out of the car we entered this large stand of pines and spruces. After just a few steps in we heard crossbills flying over, lucky for us they settled down on the edge so we were able to see them after hiking back to the edge. They didn’t stay long but we were able to see smaller groups flying over and sitting in the spruces for the next hour and a half. Unlike the Red Crossbill the White-wings feed on spruces because they have weaker bills than the Red Crossbills. After finding many crossbills we stopped along the lake a few more times without any highlights.

Today I had a Yellow-bellied Sapsucker come to our feeders in Indianapolis. This is the first time I have seen one at the feeders although I have had many in the yard in the past just never at the feeders.

Have a Great Thanksgiving

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

#3 Whooping Crane vs. #14 Wilson's Phalarope

#3 - Whooping Crane

  • Whooping Crane populations have been rising over the past few years. While there were only 100 Whooping Cranes left in the world in 1987, that number had grown to 468 by 2004.
  • Whooping Cranes are territorial on both their wintering and breeding grounds.
  • Whooping Cranes are the tallest North American bird.
  • Whooping Cranes live between 22 and 24 years in the wild.
  • While many people believe that cranes dance to attract a mate that is not true. Dancing is a normal part of crane development that thwarts aggression, relieves tension and strengthens crane pairs bonds.

#14 - Wilson’s Phalarope

  • Unlike most other bird species, females are larger and more colorful than males.
  • After laying their eggs, the females leave the males to incubate the eggs and they begin their migration.
  • Once they hatch, the young catch food on their own and are not feed by the adults.
  • The Wilson’s is the largest of the phalaropes.
  • The Wilson's Phalarope swims in circles to stir up food but does not swim in deep bodies of water like the other phalaropes.
  • Wilson’s Phalaropes face a huge threat from the draining of the wetlands where they nest.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Waterfowl Identification: The Basics

Geese, swans, dabbling and diving ducks, and mergansers are all included under the title of waterfowl. These species of waterfowl are very easily identified if they are at close range. The difficulty with the identification of waterfowl comes when trying to identify them at a long distance. Many times you will not be able to identify everything you see and this is especially true with the waterfowl. Many times you will just be able to get a glimpse of a duck when it is flying when it is a long way away.

What to Look For on a Sitting Duck

Plumage Pattern: The pattern is very important and easily used on most species of waterfowl. It is very distinctive and easily used for identification on almost every species of waterfowl.

Shape: Shape can be very useful to separate between different families. Each family, a group of closely related species, can be separated from other families by shape. Many times identifying to species using shape is not possible but it does help in many cases.

Size: The size can be very useful to use when trying to rule out some species of waterfowl. Many times size is hard to judge but with practice and patience it becomes much easier to judge.


Female Mallard. Many times female ducks can be much harder to identify than the males.


Many species of waterfowl are migratory making their way from the northern United States and Canada to the southern and central states. During breeding season these species of waterfowl usually nest on small bodies of water and marshes. During migration most species use large bodies of water including the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans, large and small lakes throughout the inland, and the Great Lakes. Many species use these same areas for wintering as well as migration.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

SkyWatch Friday

These photo were take in July in the Outer Banks of North Carolina. The sunrises in the Outer Banks are amazing. I like the rainbow shot because the whole rainbow is visable. Both shots were taken from the balcony at the beach house that we rented.


Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Green Jay vs. Wood Thrush

#3 Green Jay
  • The young from the year before help their parents raise young the year after they are born.
  • Green Jays are very bold and will often allow close approach.
  • They will visit feeders that have oranges and jelly like an oriole.
  • Green Jays are known to use tools such as sticks to find bugs to eat.
  • There are two populations in Central and South America seperated by 900 miles that may represent seperate species.

#14 Wood Thrush

  • Many people consider the song of a Wood Thrush as one of the most musical of all birds.
  • Wood Thrushes return to their breeding grounds year after year.
  • Brown-headed Cowbirds parasitize the nest of the Wood Thrush as much as any other species.
  • It is the official bird of the District of Columbia.
  • Forest fragmentation is a primary concern for conservationists studying the decline of the population

The first upset of the bird bracket occured last time with Anhinga beating Common Loon.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Watery Wednesday: Sunrise


It has been a while in Indiana when there have actually been clouds in the sky during the sunrise or sunset so I was very happy on this morning when we had a good sunrise. This photo was taken on the first day of November even though it felt like it was summer as it was in the 60's.

Check out other Watery Wednesday Posts here.

Monday, November 3, 2008

#3 Common Loon vs. #14 Anhinga

#3 - Common Loon

  • Common Loons are flightless for a few weeks after they lose all of their wing feathers at the same time.

  • Loons occasionally land on wet roadways and become stranded because they need a large amount of open water to be able to takeoff.

  • Common Loons can dive up to 200 feet under the water.

  • Loons eyes can focus both in the air and in the water.

  • Loon chicks ride on their parents backs until they can fly at approximately 11 weeks of age.

For more information on Common Loons click here.

#14 - Anhinga
  • Anhingas must spread their wings and dry themselves in the sun after swimming because they do not have oil glands for waterproofing as many other waterbirds do.

  • Anhingas typically swim with only their neck and head out of the water while the rest of their body is submerged beneath the surface.

  • Anhingas spear fish with their long bills.

  • Anhingas are often seen soaring high in the air. They are great fliers and can go for long distances without having to flap their wings.

  • The Anhinga is also known as the Water-Turkey because of its large wide turkey like tail.

For more information on Anhingas click here.