January 27, 2018 – At first I wasn’t sure what all the Red-headed woodpeckers were doing flying out of the woods to the middle of a gravel parking lot. As I pulled in I could see them picking up something and quickly flying back to the woods. My thoughts were, what are they doing with those stones? After getting into position I was then able to observe them with my binoculars and I could see that they were getting bits of what appeared to be cracked corn from between the rocks. They would swiftly fly back to the woods but it wouldn’t be long until they would swoop in once more, three or four at a time. A mix of juvenile and adult birds would quickly locate more corn, sometimes moving stones that looked relatively large. While watching the Red-headed woodpeckers I saw Blue birds, Nuthatches, Blue Jays and a Tufted Titmouse working their way around the edge of the woods. Goldfinches are starting to show some yellow and high overhead the sounds from large flocks of Canada geese and those unique sounds of the Greater White-fronted Goose echoed. There were five Trumpeter Swans moving fast just above the black and gray leafless woods, their white feathers seemed to glow against the blue sky in the bright sunshine.
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 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.
May 2, 2017 – Little baby Killdeer covered in their soft downy feathers hurry to the protection of their mother as she gives the warning call. Five tiny plover chicks could be seen already hunting insects as they moved across a mud flat next to a rural road in Kankakee county Monday. Killdeer are a ground nesting bird and after an incubation of 24-28 days the newly hatched wide eyed Killdeer chicks begin foraging with their parents as soon as their feathers are dry.
March 17, 2017 – A small flock of Rusty Blackbirds work the muddy edge of a pond, moving quickly with a focused intensity as they turn over leaf litter and sticks looking for insects on a cold and cloudy wet March morning in Kankakee county. It is the time of year that these birds, with a conservation status of vulnerable, migrate north to the boreal forests where another breeding and nesting season will begin around the Beaver ponds and bogs in the wet woods of the north.
The Rusty Blackbird, upon close examination, looks very different than most blackbirds with their rusty colored edges that highlight their dark feathers. The female has more of a colorful look with lighter shades of earth-tones and a mixture of that rusty color edging on the feathers and a grayish underside. Like the Common Grackle, the Rusty Blackbird has bright yellow eyes that are rather conspicuous and seem to penetrate ones imagination as you notice a look coming your way.
The Rusty Blackbird is a bird on the edge. It has been a mystery to scientist and ornithologist why there has been such an alarming decline of this species. “North American Breeding Bird Survey and Christmas Bird Count suggest that Rusty Blackbird numbers have plummeted a staggering 85-95% since the mid-1900’s” (Greenberg and Droege, 1999) . Among other possible causes are climatic change and high levels of mercury that have been found in the birds from pollution. Some speculate that the large scale draining of Beaver ponds and clearing of wooded wet lands for agriculture and development throughout its wintering range is a large part of this devastating impact on a bird that relies on a healthy ecosystem and wetland habitat. Many other migratory bird species suffer from this loss of habitat along with local flora and fauna that can vanish from the landscape seemingly in the blink of an eye with such a negative impact on these natural areas.
An organization called International Rusty Blackbird Working Group (IRBWG) was founded in 2005 to aggressively gain understanding by collecting data and monitoring the Rusty Blackbirds on both summer and winter ranges. The goal, through their research, is to lead to conservation methods and programs that help reverse the rapid decline of this species. http://rustyblackbird.org/
February 23-24, 2017 – While on a visit to Southern Illinois this past week I came across over 30 beautiful Bonaparte’s gulls in their winter plumage fishing in the Kaskaskia River at Carlyle in Clinton county. These gulls are small and can be seen over most of North America during the winter but breed in the remote coniferous forest of the high northern latitudes nesting mostly in spruce trees. It was amazing to watch these little gulls, which have been described as more tern like, fly in a tight formation, making quick turns and then hovering and diving head first into the swirling waters below the rapids. When a small fish was caught the gull would fly up and away from the action and quickly swallow the catch but would get right back to the business of fishing in less then five seconds. At recently as January 20th over 800 were reported on Carlyle Lake.