Black Terns

Black Tern

Black Tern

June 10, 2018 – A small number of migrating Black terns have been reported recently at the Black Oak Bayou of the LaSalle Fish & Wildlife Area adjacent to the Kankakee river in Newton County Indiana. The Black terns could be seen flying low over the water as they hunt. With their silver wings spread wide they gracefully swooped from side to side, at times stopping to hover. The small terns would stretch their neck as they would look down towards the water to focus on the movement of a potential prey while their aerodynamic skills kept them suspended in one place. They would take insects off the water or out of the air or from a protruding limb of a submerged snag with remarkable precision.

Black Tern

Black Tern

They would glide with the sun to their back slowly working their way from east to west over the glimmering sparkles of the shallow waters of the bayou. Suddenly with a decision only they understood they would swiftly turn and fly quickly back toward the east and start over with their slow and methodical hunting technique which would repeat many times before they would find a small tree stump barely showing just above the water line to perch and rest a short time before the next hunt. The drainage of wetlands along with dangerous agricultural chemical runoff have had significant negative impacts on the nesting areas of the Black tern. Loss of migratory wetlands from drainage and pollution has added to a steep decline of the North American population of Black tern along with many other species. Overfishing of the Black terns coastal tropical winter range is also believed to have contributed to the somewhat sharp decline of this species.

Black Terns Hunting

Black Terns Hunting

The Spiny Softshell Turtle

Spiny Softshell Turtle

Spiny Softshell Turtle

May 29, 2018 – For thousands of years these magnificence creatures have a had a place in the life and lore of the ancients. Their image hammered in stone, shaped ground and smoothed from slate and constructed into large effigy mounds by the great mound builders, the turtle is a powerful spirit animal with significant symbolism. Recently at the edge of the Kankakee river a Spiny Softshell turtle momentarily stood like a statue stretching its’ neck and raising its’ head trying to determine where those clicking sounds were coming from as my cameras shutter fired. Giving a rare close look at those spines, from which the turtle gets its’ name, they are visible on the front top edge of the shell behind the head. The Spiny Softshell turtle is common in our area and is often seen along the river bank, creeks or ponds edge basking on a log with other species of turtles. These long-snouted, surprisingly agile and extremely wary Spiny Softshell turtles can grow up to 17 inches, the female being the larger of the two. They reach sexual maturity between and 8 and 10 and can live over 50 years.

Wilson’s warbler

Wilson's warbler

Wilson’s warbler

May 21, 2018 – A yellow and olive colored Wilson’s warbler with its’ tiny black cap holds fast to a small branch as it momentarily surveys for the next stem to continue its’ hunt for insects. Quickly moving through the understory it disappears for a time. Emerging out of the shadows the small bird hovers at the edge of a bush to catch its’ prey. The little warblers only give brief glimpses, lingering at any one branch for mere seconds, a flitter perhaps to the observer but with a definite purpose to the tiny bird. Wilson’s warblers are a very small warbler, only slightly larger than a Ruby-crowned Kinglet. The little warblers migrate through our area of the Midwest heading north into Canada for the nesting season from their winter home on the Gulf coast from Louisiana, Texas, Mexico and Central America.

The Yellow Warbler

Male Yellow-warbler

Male Yellow-warbler

May 22, 2018 – The Yellow-warbler is considered an early long distance migrant that winters along the coasts of Mexico, the interior of Central America, and south to the equatorial countries in the Amazon basin. Widely distributed, the Yellow-warbler is also found throughout the islands of the Caribbean. A trepidation of these small bright yellow spring migrants can appear without notice as they hunt insects amongst the vivid green leaves of new growth at the edge of a thicket. The little songbirds nest from Mexico north into the northern third of the United States and most of Canada and Alaska. The bright yellow male has bold red-orange brown streaks on the breast sides, the female lacks or may have just a very slight hint of those streaks.

Female Yellow-warbler

Female Yellow-warbler

Summer Tanager

Female Summer Tanager

Female Summer Tanager

May 2, 2018 – A mostly yellow colored, female Summer Tanager was perched and focused on hunting insects, most likely a bee or wasp, at the edge of a wooded thicket recently in Iroquois county. The Summer Tanagers are neotropical migrants and have arrived in Northern Illinois for the nesting season from their wintering range in southern Mexico south to the the Northern half of South America. The male Summer Tanager, striking in color, is the only fully red bird in North America and is more easily noticed in the green canopy of the trees than the female.

Female Summer Tanager

Female Summer Tanager

Orioles

Male Baltimore Oriole

Male Baltimore Oriole

May 4, 2018 – Of the nine species of orioles in North America, springtime brings us the rich songs and beautiful colors of two of those species. From the tree tops of our natural areas and throughout the neighborhoods and rural country homes with backyard feeders they suddenly arrive. The branches come alive with the black and bright yellow/orange Baltimore orioles along with the smallest oriole in North America, the black and chestnut colored Orchard oriole. Although less often seen with their darker colors they are no less beautiful. The two species nest in most of the eastern half of the United States. The Baltimore orioles’ nesting range also extends into the southern part of Canada. The Baltimore oriole spends the winter from Florida and the Caribbean south to Central America and the Northern most edge of South America. The little Orchard oriole spends its’ winter in southern Mexico and Central America. Keep your eyes and ears open for the sight and sounds of some our most spectacular visitors, the migrating spring orioles.

 Male Orchard Oriole

Male Orchard Oriole

Red-breasted Mergansers

Red-breasted Mergansers

Red-breasted Mergansers

April 30, 2018 – We get a good look at those red eyes, orange bill and those unusually long feathers on the head as a pair of female Red-breasted Mergansers pause momentarily from their search for fish, frogs and crayfish. The Red-breasted Mergansers breed from Alaska south across Canada to the Great Lakes. The mergansers winter along the east coast from the Maritime Provinces south to Florida and along the Gulf Coast. On the west coast these diving ducks spend the winter from Alaska to northern Mexico. In the Midwest we see them every year, usually in small flocks during their migration.

Bonaparte’s gulls

Adult Bonaparte's gull in full breeding plumage

Adult Bonaparte’s gull in full breeding plumage

April 19, 2018 – Good size flocks of Bonaparte’s gulls have been reported in Kankakee county and throughout Northern Illinois in recent weeks as they are working their way north to the boreal forests of western and central Canada and the southern half of Alaska where they will nest in the conifers. The small gulls prefer trees separated from the dense growth that are at the edges of marshes and bogs. A flock of 50 of these small and elegant tern like gulls was spotted in a flooded area of an agricultural field busily feeding on insects and worms, certainly to bulk up for their long journey north. The winter plumage of these gulls is mostly white, with a light gray on the tops of their wings and black wingtips, plus a dark spot on the sides of the head behind the eye. During the nesting season the adult birds’ head transitions to a slaty black as they get that wonderful dark hood that stands out in a beautiful contrast to their white body. This flock was made up of adult birds in full breeding plumage with some that were at different stages of transition, plus a number first year birds.

Bonaparte's gull not in breeding plumage

Bonaparte’s gull not in breeding plumage

American White pelicans

American White pelicans J.C. Murphy lake at Willow Slough FWA

American White pelicans J.C. Murphy lake at Willow Slough FWA

April 14, 2018 – Numbers of American White pelicans have been reported in our area for the past month. East of Momence near the Illinois/Indiana state line in Newton county Indiana, small and large flocks have been observed at the Black Oak Bayou of the LaSalle Fish & Wildlife Area. The pelicans are using the local small lakes, cooling lakes, and the backwaters of the Kankakee river as staging areas where they can rest and feed while waiting for that moment when that strong hormonal drive pushes them to head further north for the nesting season. Fifty of the large white birds have been counted at Black Oak with similar counts for J.C. Murphy lake at Willow Slough FWA. A flock of these great birds have been using a small rocky island in the Kankakee River State Park with a number of 25 birds reported on April 7th. Even larger numbers exceeding 100 have been reported near Braidwood and north to the Des Plains river.

Pelicans swimming at Black Oak Bayou of the LaSalle Fish & Wildlife Area

Pelicans swimming at Black Oak Bayou of the LaSalle Fish & Wildlife Area

Traveling Tree Swallows

Tired Tree Swallows

Tired Tree Swallows

April 5, 2018 – Most had their heads cocked with their faces tucked deep into their feathers as they perched sleeping side-by-side on this cold April morning in a springtime where winter was refusing to yield. Their long extended wing feathers, their primaries, appeared like little brown scabbards hanging from the belts of tiny soldiers that were dressed in their finest blue jackets. The weather was right for the snow that was predicted for later in the day and they seemed reluctant to leave their bivouac even well after sunup. There were more then 150 of these tired travelers roosting in a small tree at the edge of some flooded timber in the backwaters of the Kankakee river. Tree Swallows are known as short-distance migrators even though some travel as far as Alaska for the breeding season and nest in most of Canada and much of the United States. The Swallows winter along the South Eastern coast of the United States, the Gulf of Mexico and south into Central America. Some Tree Swallows have arrived even earlier and have been in our area for at least a month and they have already paired up and staked out their territory. This flock appears to be a recent arrival and may have traveled many miles in the last few days. They may still have some distance to go before they reach their destination, hopefully a more temperate weather pattern will soon take hold for this sleepy flock of traveling Tree Swallows.

Tree Swallows sleeping

Tree Swallows sleeping