December 4, 2017 – Experts are calling the increased number of sightings of Snowy owls this year a possible irruption as large numbers of these Arctic visitors are showing up in the lower 48. There are reports of sightings here in the Midwest about every day as they continue to spread south out of Canada. I found this beautiful Snowy owl in Iroquois county hunkered down and using the utility pole and the thick grasses around the base to block the strong 27 mph winds that were gusting out of the south Monday morning. Snowy owls move into Illinois every year from the north during the winter months but in an irruption year, about every four years, the increased presence can show that the Snowy owls had a good breeding season and research indicates it coinciding with an increase in their food supply of Arctic rodents.
December 5, 2017
November 27, 2017 – A Northern Harrier swoops low across the tallgrass prairie at the Kankakee Sands on a late November morning as it searches for a vole or a mouse that might be spotted sneaking through their secret trails deep in the winter grasses. A quick mid-air pause, with a sudden turn, and the harrier quickly drops down on the small mammal in the thick tangle of the dried cover. Northern Illinois and Indiana are at the northern edge of the harrier’s winter range where you can see them gliding low across grassy waterways, prairies and roadside ditches. Keep an eye out for the bright white patch at the top of the tail on the harrier’s backside and those long wings of this slow glider.
November 20, 2017 – The last count posted for Sandhill crane numbers at Jasper-Pulaski Fish and Wildlife Area was November 14 showing 7,706. On Monday, numbers most certainly have grown with hundreds of new arrivals daily feeding and resting in the surrounding agricultural fields. Many hundreds can be seen at the Goose Pasture Viewing Area in the park. We are now in the peak viewing season for these noisy travelers with their unmistakable chorus of rattling and croaking sounds that fill the chilled November skies. I also spotted a juvenile and an adult Golden eagle patrolling the very windy skies Monday near the Goose Pasture. One photograph shows two adult Sandhill cranes foraging in bean stubble and the other photo shows a young Golden eagle with the bright white tail feathers and the distinct white parts under the wings, the adult Golden eagles being mostly dark.
May 4, 2016 – A male Peregrine falcon named Donovan that was hatched on May 21, 2014 at UIC – Chicago as part of their Peregrine nesting program in cooperation with the Field Museum and banded June 13, 2014 was spotted atop a church bell tower in downtown Kankakee on Wednesday May 4, 2016 at 5:06 PM. Even though it was somewhat of a dark and cloudy afternoon I was able to get some photographs of the leg bands on the bird showing b/r H/46 L. The Peregrine was perched on the roof part of the bell tower on the church on the northwest corner of Indiana Ave. and Court St. The bird at times was being quite vocal and I was hoping perhaps there was some kind of interaction going on with our local Peregrine that is often seen on the buildings in downtown Kankakee.
November 1, 2016 – Our local Peregrine falcon was perched on the Kankakee library building north ledge near the top of the building at 9:30 am. Around 9:45 am the Peregrine began feeding on a Yellowlegs sandpiper, maybe a Lesser, that it had on the ledge. The falcon begin pulling out feathers and I could see some of the feathers floating to the landscaped shrubs and pavement below on their last sad flight.
By 10:15 am the bird seemed to be finished as it cleaned its’ beak on the metal that sticks up on the rim of the ledge. I left at about 10:30 am but returned to find the bird still perched at about 2:10 pm. I watched the bird rest and at times sleep until about 2:30 pm when it begin to stretch its’ wings and legs.
It continued to preen and stretch until about 3:20 pm when the bird seemed to get very excited walking back and forth on the ledge with its’ wings spread.
Picking up the head of the unfortunate sandpiper the falcon spread its’ wings continuing its’ walk on the ledge back and forth with the head in it’s beak. As I watched it walk the edge it seemed like a tight rope walker and was showing a strange excitement.
I felt as though I was observing some kind of pre-hunt ritual. This bird became very much alive as it stared off to the north with its’ wings out and then with a quick launch like a little rocket it was gone on its’ afternoon hunt.
November 10, 2017 – A steady and chilly wind reminds us that another winter is approaching the prairies of Illinois and now, just ahead of that stark and frozen season, the Rough-legged hawks have returned. High over the fallow fields, pastures, and the dormant prairies, appearing suspended like tethered kites hovering and maneuvering in the gusts are the arctic birds of prey that have migrated to their less forbidden winter range. There are no ptarmigans or lemmings here, a food source on the tundra during the hawks nesting season but there are plenty of other small mammals and birds that will sustain these wonderful hunters for the next five or six months before they return to their nesting areas on the cliff faces and outcroppings overlooking the vast and open country of the arctic.
October 25, 2017 – Perched on a branch low to the ground or scratching the leaf litter below a bush in search of insects is the lovely Hermit Thrush that can silently slip from branch to shadow with little notice. Migrating south out of Canada and the northern most parts of the lower 48 the Hermit Thrush is considered a short-distance migrant and can be seen during its’ south bound travels at the edge of a forest opening while feeding on insects and berries in the shrubs and trees in the company of other migrating species. If not actually seen you may hear the exquisite but melancholy songs that can easily send one down an introspective path when experiencing those delicate notes heard in the woodlots on an early autumn morning here in Illinois. This unassuming bird, the Hermit Thrush, has become the subject and inspiration for poets and authors. Walt Whitman includes the Hermit Thrush in his lament for the death of Abraham Lincoln in the poem “When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom’d”. Keep your eyes and ears open for a visit by the Hermit Thrush as it passes through northern Illinois heading south where it will winter in far southern Illinois and the southern United States and south into Central America.
October 25, 2017 – A large stocky and vibrant rufous Fox Sparrow momentarily strikes a pose on the branch of a thick bush were it had been spending the morning on the ground below scratching the earth and kicking leaf litter in search of insects. Fox Sparrows spend the winter in the southern parts Illinois and the states south from Texas to the east coast. There are four groups of Fox Sparrows that are seen in North America but in Illinois we have the red group which nests during the warm months from Alaska to eastern Canada. This bird with its’ impressive size and red color really catches a person eye and is easy to distinguish between other heavily streaked sparrows and thrushes.
October 26, 2017 – Golden-crowned Kinglets have migrated south from their northern summer nesting range of Canada and have been quite busy feeding on insects in the bushes and in the dense canopy of the deciduous trees of their winter range, which Illinois is part of. The tiny Kinglets are not much bigger than a hummingbird and have been known to get themselves caught on the little hooks of cockleburs and burdock bracts as they search for insects through the branches and leaves of a thicket. An example is the Kinglet in the photo that needed my assistance this past week. These amazing little hunters can be seen launching off of a branch to hover in midair at the edge of a leaf and pluck off an insect with an astonishing determination, at times making more than one attempt when necessary. One photo shows a successful catch of a small winged insect moments before the prey was consumed and then with little hesitation the Kinglet was off to continue its’ hunt spending only a fraction of a second in any one spot. The quick moving subject was certainly a remarkable challenge for this photographer.
October 27, 2017 – As I was leaving and going past the area where I had discovered the trapped kinglet earlier in the week, I found an unfortunate kinglet deceased and stuck in the burdock. A close up look shows the tiny hooks of the burdock latched to the wings feathers. Hooking the wings probably did seal the birds fate the more it thrashed about trying to escape.
October 13, 2017 – A flash of white caught my eye as I was driving past a partially harvested field of soybeans in Iroquois county this past Friday the 13th. A flock of over 50 European Starlings were feeding on the ground near the edge of the field when I noticed the leucistic bird of the same species. Leucism is genetic condition that prevents melanin pigments to be deposited into the feathers properly. The lack of melanin pigments can cause a range of visible abnormality in the plumage color of birds. The results of this condition can manifest from an faint washed out look barely showing any semblance to a birds normal strong color patterns, to showing just small patches of white feathers lacking pigment. In some cases the affects of leucism can even produce a white bird that appears completely devoid of any plumage color.