Sunday, January 27, 2008

Dark Eyed Junco

I love the slate colored dark eyed juncos that visit me every day. A poofed-out junco hopping around can warm even the coldest of days. With their "hoppy" mannerisms, they always seem to be upbeat, even in dreary weather.

The dark eyed juncos spend most of the year up in Canada, and come down to the US only in the winter, earning them the nickname "snowbirds."

I love my little snowbirds, and not being a fan of winter, at least I've got their visits to look forward to.

Slate colored Dark Eyed Junco

Red Tailed Hawk and Great Horned Owl

It was a big day in the back yard!

I thought the Northern Harrier was back, but it was actually a Red Tailed Hawk! I was able to get a second chance to practice focusing when taking in-flight bird photos. While I didn't get any good shots of the hawk's underside, my focus was much better than yesterday's attempts. I cannot help but marvel at this bird. It's so amazing to watch!

Red Tailed Hawk

Red Tailed Hawk

Then came the big surprise: A Great Horned Owl! I've never seen an owl in the wild before, and to have one visit my own back yard - I was beside myself! It stayed for a good hour, and I was able to get a bunch of photos with the Rebel, as well as digiscope a few with the point-n-shoot.

Great Horned Owl

Great Horned Owl

Saturday, January 26, 2008

FeederWatch Jan 25-26

Weather and Effort: January 25, 2008
When did you watch your feeders?
Day 1: morning afternoon
Day 2: morning
Estimated cumulative time: 4+ to 8 hours
Daylight temperature: -18 to -10° C (0 to 14° F) low
-9 to 0° C (15 to 32° F) high
Daylight precipitation: None - -
Total depth of ice/snow cover: 5 cm to 15 cm (2" to 6")

Checklist for FeederWatch Illinois Birds

Northern Harrier1 Confirmed
Cooper's Hawk1
Mourning Dove18
Great Horned Owl1 Confirmed
Downy Woodpecker1
European Starling17
American Tree Sparrow4
White-crowned Sparrow1
Dark-eyed Junco18
Northern Cardinal1
House Finch24 (1 with eye disease)
American Goldfinch1 (0 with eye disease)
House Sparrow8

Don't blame wild birds for H5N1 spread

Reuters UK reports: Don't blame wild birds for H5N1 spread: expert (bird flu)

There is no solid evidence that wild birds are to blame for the apparent spread of the H5N1 virus from Asia to parts of Europe, Africa and the Middle East, an animal disease expert said on Wednesday.

There was also no proof that wild birds were a reservoir for the H5N1 virus, Scott Newman, international wildlife coordinator for avian influenza at the U.N.'s Food and Agriculture Organization, said at a bird flu conference in Bangkok.


"We recognize that poultry production, trade, both legal and illegal, and other bio-security issues are probably more important as far as being a mechanism that promotes the sustaining and spread of H5N1," he said.

Thanks for the tip on this article goes to 10,000 birds!

Northern Harrier

Another lifer! (It's not hard to find a lifer for me, as my list is only up to 22!)

Yesterday, what appeared to be a large hawk was sitting in the tree in my back yard. I have a small back yard that backs up to a long pond separating me from a golf course. Twiggy brush lines the slope down to the pond, and there is one tree amidst the brush. Within a mile of here, there are several wooded nature preserves and there's a large prairie not far from here.

Northern Harrier

I get frequent visits from Cooper's Hawks and have seen the occasional Sharp-shinned hawk in my yard, but this hawk was different. It was perched on the far side of the tree, just watching the smaller birds as they flew back and forth from my feeders (near my deck) to the tree. The perching wasn't the strange part; the fact that the smaller birds were ignoring the hawk was the strange part! When a Coop flies in and perches, all of the smaller birds disperse immediately and fly away. Yesterday, though, the cardinals, juncos, house finches, and house sparrows were just ignoring the hawk in the tree.

Northern Harrier

I watched with amazement, trying to tell the birds telepathically (from inside my house), "Turn around! There's a hawk RIGHT THERE!" but they weren't listening :)

After a good half hour or so of perching in the tree, the hawk took flight and treated me to some awesome maneuvers. As soon as the hawk took flight, the smaller birds flew away. The hawk hung low over the brush, making long laps back and forth and back and forth. It seemed to glide, hovering over the trees, searching for a meal. I've never seen anything like it.

Northern Harrier

I was able to snap a few photos, which I then tried to use for bird ID purposes. The tail of this hawk in flight was nothing like the shape of the Cooper's or Sharpie. But alas, I couldn't figure out what bird this was, and had to leave for an appointment.

I posted a photo to the Bird ID Help Group on Flickr and left for the night. As I was driving, I thought to myself, some of the photos looked like the bird had an owl face. I figured I might come home to find out that I'm the laughing stock of the bird world, as I posted the photo as "Mystery Hawk" - but what if it really was an owl?! I'd certainly look like a dufus!

Northern Harrier

When I got home, the owner of had replied with an ID of Northern Harrier. Sure enough, that was it! Wow!

What a cool bird! (I was relieved to read of the harrier's "owl-like facial disk" - I wasn't crazy after all!)

The IL Raptor Center web site lists the northern harrier as endangered in Illinois because very few nest here. Has it always been this way, or were there once more northern harriers here? Is the northern harrier an unusual bird to see around here? The Sibley guide lists it as a year-round resident, but the IL Raptor Center web site said that most sightings here are during migration.

Northern Harrier

The northern harrier was in my yard again this morning - again, just perching in the tree while the other birds went about their business of eating. It flew away without any of the spectacular show it had given me yesterday, but I was glad for the visit anyway. Now, if only it would perch on the near side of the tree so I could get a good look at it!

Here's a link to the photos I was able to capture. I have yet to master the art of focusing on flying birds, but I'm glad I've got these shots to remember the event by!

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Homemade Peanut Butter Suet

I've been wanting to make some homemade suet for the birds, but wasn't keen on some of the recipes I've seen. I found one that looks perfect, thanks to Corey at 10,000 Birds:

Homemade Peanut Butter Suet

1. Melt 1 cup shortening (crisco or bacon fat). Add 16-20 ounces of crunchy peanut butter. Heat and stir until melted.
2. Add 1 cup of raisins, 1 cup of black oil sunflower seeds, 6 cups of cornmeal and 4 cups of flour.
3. Spoon into a 13X9 pan. Chill until it is hard. Cut into chunks for suet feeders (or stuff into cracks and crevices in logs).

Check out Corey's post, as it includes pictures and the story behind this recipe :)

Digiscoping for Beginners

Stokes Birding Blog has a great little digiscoping tutorial for beginners. I sure wish I'd have had this when I started digiscoping! It's all basic stuff, but it includes photos and explains the process well. I had to visit 10 different web sites and piece together info from this one and that to figure out this much!

Digiscoping: Beginner Tips

Monday, January 21, 2008

Bad news

The finch I rescued didn't make it. :(

Bad news

Thank you to Willowbrook for trying to save this bird. The people at Willowbrook were kind and understanding. They provide an invaluable service to the community through wildlife education and rehabilitation.

Who knew?

Who knew we had pigeons this far into the suburbs?

Rock doves (pigeons)

I wasn't sure these were pigeons at first, as I couldn't find ones that looked quite like these in my field guides. Then, I found the PigeonWatch page, which describes a variety of the pigeon color morphs. It looks like I've got some checker pigeons here, with a few spreads and a couple whites.

Rock doves (pigeons)

I took a drive down to Gougar & Laraway Roads this afternoon. I've driven past the farms there dozens of times, and always think to myself that it would make a good photo. I'm not sure I captured what I see in my mind's eye, but at least I have proof of existing wide open space, until the land gets sucked into the vacuum of residential and commercial development.

Farm on Laraway Rd.

I've got my camera set to capture in Adobe RGB 1998 again. Recall my experience over the summer, where I thought the colors were too muted. However, if I'm capturing more color data with Adobe RGB, then that's the way I want to go. It seems silly not to. I'm exporting as PhotoPro RGB, which is supposed to be an even larger color gamut. Exports in sRGB still look more vibrant to me, but not much different from PhotoPro RGB. This color management thing is quite frustrating, because it seems you need to export in one profile for viewing on a monitor (sRGB) and another for printing (PhotoPro). What if you want to be able to do both? You either suffer mediocre results on one medium or the other, or have to export everything twice, in two different formats. If anybody has figured out the path to color management enlightenment, please let me know, as I'm still struggling with it.

Seeing the smoke billows in the winter cold always make it seem colder outside.

Billows in the cold

Snow makes it seem colder, too.


As do dead twigs.


Fly away, pigeons. It will be warm again someday.

Rock doves (pigeons)

Saturday, January 19, 2008

FeederWatch Jan 18-19

Weather and Effort: January 18, 2008
When did you watch your feeders?
Day 1: morning
Day 2: morning
Estimated cumulative time: 1 to 4 hours
Daylight temperature: Under -18° C (under 0° F) low
-18 to -10° C (0 to 14° F) high
Daylight precipitation: None - -
Total depth of ice/snow cover: Under 5 cm (under 2")

Checklist for FeederWatch Illinois Birds

Cooper's Hawk1
Mourning Dove18
Downy Woodpecker1
European Starling20
American Tree Sparrow2
White-crowned Sparrow1
Dark-eyed Junco12
Northern Cardinal1
Brown-headed Cowbird20
House Finch18 (1 with eye disease)
American Goldfinch1 (0 with eye disease)
House Sparrow12

Friday, January 18, 2008

Moonwalking Bird

If you haven't seen this yet, it had me in stitches!

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Preparing for the Big Chill

Oh, birdies, get ready. The temperature is about to change. BIG time.

This weekend's highs will be in the single digits, with possible wind chills of 30 below zero.

I prepared by running to the store to stock up on bird seed. I cleaned out a couple of the feeders really good and refilled them. I put out an extra plate of seed on the deck for the juncos and mourning doves, who prefer to stay low, and hung a couple seed bells in the tree. The woodpeckers prefer to hang out by the tree instead of in the finch/sparrow traffic by the deck. I also put out two suet cages in the tree, as Walmart finally stocked them! I've been meaning to buy them online, but hadn't gotten around to it.

Then I made up a couple peanut butter and seed acorns, and chopped up an apple for the starlings.

There's a lot of food out there, and I hope it's enough for the birds to stock up for this brutal weekend we're about to have. I'm glad my sick finch is inside safe and warm at Willowbrook instead of out in this. I think about her a lot and keep checking my mail for a post card from Willowbrook, announcing her fate. I hope she's OK.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Rescuing the sick finch

This morning, I went downstairs to feed the cats. At that time, I usually pull back the curtains so I and the cats can look out the window at the birds. As I pulled back the curtain this morning, the sick female finch that I posted about a couple weeks ago was sitting right there, at my patio door, trying to squawk at the glass. She was shaking and sort of hopping/falling over, and I swear she was trying to get my attention. I couldn't believe what I was seeing.

I've been watching her for a couple months. She's blind in one eye, and I'm guessing that she has house finch eye disease, mycoplasmal conjunctivitis. While it is possible to recover from the disease, most birds end up becoming blind and then dying of starvation or predation. A while back, this finch's flock started abandoning her, and I'd see her sitting alone in the brush even after the rest of the birds had been spooked away by a person or a hawk or a neighborhood dog. At that time, though, she was still able to fly. Last week, I noticed she was perching on the ground all week, and wouldn't ever fly up into the tree. Today, she hobbled around my deck and I just thought, that's it. She's sick and she's not getting better - she's getting worse. She looked like she was having trouble breathing. This disease can be treated, and I needed to help her before she starved or was eaten by a hawk, or worse, got more birds sick at my feeders.

I ran upstairs and got on the internet. I couldn't find a recent list of licensed wildlife rehabbers, so I called the vet's office that we took my mom's cat to last year. They were wonderfully nice and gave me the number to Willowbrook Wildlife Center, a state funded wildlife rehabilitation clinic and education center. I called Willowbrook, and they gave me the names and numbers for two local privately licensed rehabbers, but said that if I couldn't get a hold of either of them that they could take the bird.

Armed with that knowledge, I went downstairs to check on the bird, and she was gone. So I kept the numbers handy and kept an eye out.

A couple hours later, a hawk flew in and scared away all of the birds - all but one. She was sitting on the ground under the feeders. I grabbed a small box and went outside. Since she could only see from one eye, I approached her from the other side. I was able to go out through the sliding glass door and walk all the way up to within a foot of her before she knew I was there. That is NOT normal. When she saw me, she tried to hop away, and hopped over alongside the deck. I cornered her there and picked her up. She barely put up a fight. She couldn't fly away. I put her in the box and brought her inside, careful to lock the cats out of the room I was in.

I called the two local rehabbers. One is at the TLC animal shelter 5 minutes from my house, but they're closed Sundays and Mondays. The other is out in Monee, and I was able to get a hold of him, but he recommended I go up to Willowbrook, since I'm about the same distance from both, and they've got a vet on staff every day. He wouldn't be able to get the bird to his vet until tomorrow. I thanked him and headed up to Willowbrook.

The people there couldn't have been nicer. With the new 355 extension, it only took 20 minutes to get there (whereas google maps had it as a 50 minute drive - the extension isn't on the map yet). They have a ton of stuff to look at and animals to visit. I want to go up there when I've got more time to check it out. As it was, I had to get back home to meet up with some girls from work.

I gave the bird to the people at Willowbrook, and they said they'd send me a postcard to let me know if they are able to rehab and release the finch.

While this all should be happy stuff, I've been completely wracked with emotion over it. I can't figure out why, exactly. Am I sad that the finch is sick, and concerned for her welfare? Am I prematurely mourning her death? Am I worried that I've done the wrong thing, interrupting nature and all? Am I personalizing the whole thing, with thoughts like, "what if she had a family here and I just took her away from her family?" (Yeah, I know... birds don't have the same sort of social structures we do). I guess it's a combination of everything.

I hope she'll be ok.

Unobstructed Hawk Goodness

Yesterday, I had probably the most unobstructed view of a hawk yet in my back yard. I'm tempted to launch into a soothing meditation a la birdchick - breathe in the hawk. Breathe out. But breathing in the hawk makes me feel all riled up and ready to fight, so I guess the hawk isn't a good meditative bird.

Young Cooper's Hawk

Young Cooper's Hawk

I also got a couple shots of the Downy Woodpecker. He's a little peeved that I haven't replaced the seed bell in the tree. I know, I know - I'll run out today and get some more! I know the colder weather is on its way. I've tried to tell him that there's suet closer to the house, but he just won't bite.

Downy close-up

I so prefer the green grass as a nice bokeh background versus snow. It's a lot easier to shoot sans snow cover. I'm sure we've still got some snow coming between now and March, though I've enjoyed this temporary break in the blinding whiteness.

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Is it spring yet?

This American Goldfinch looks ready to burst into bright yellow for spring! Too bad it's only January here in Chicago. We just finished 2 days of record breaking warmth, though. I'd be confused if I was a bird!

American Goldfinch

Saturday, January 5, 2008

Feeder Friends

The downy woodpecker and northern cardinal shared some seed bell yesterday:
Downy Woodpecker and Northern Cardinal

They were mostly polite in sharing... mostly.

The woodpeckers are such cool looking birds.
Downy Woodpecker

Here's the red-bellied woodpecker visiting again:
Hungry Red-bellied Woodpecker

Of course, I can never resist a cardinal shot. I wouldn't mess with this guy if I were you! He looks like he could whoop some arse.
One bad ass cardinal!

FeederWatch Jan 4-5

Weather and Effort: January 4, 2008
When did you watch your feeders?
Day 1: morning afternoon
Day 2: morning
Estimated cumulative time: 1 to 4 hours
Daylight temperature: -9 to 0° C (15 to 32° F) low
-9 to 0° C (15 to 32° F) high
Daylight precipitation: None - -
Total depth of ice/snow cover: Under 5 cm (under 2")

Checklist for FeederWatch Illinois Birds

Cooper's Hawk1
Mourning Dove8
Red-bellied Woodpecker1
Downy Woodpecker1
European Starling10
American Tree Sparrow2
Song Sparrow1
White-crowned Sparrow2
Dark-eyed Junco12
Northern Cardinal3
Brown-headed Cowbird11
House Finch32 (1 with eye disease)
Common Redpoll1 Confirmed
American Goldfinch3 (0 with eye disease)
House Sparrow8

Thursday, January 3, 2008

Can't Get Enough of Cardinals

The 3 Northern Cardinals were back today, and I just can't get enough of them, particularly the Mrs.!

We have lift-off!
We have liftoff!

Warming up in the sun (if that's possible at 9 degrees F)
Basking in the winter sun

Brrrr! She looks cold!
Hoppity Hop Hop

A Woodpecker Day

Wow! Out of nowhere, I had not one, but TWO woodpeckers in my yard today! They're so much fun. I'd never seen a real woodpecker before I started bird watching. (My dad would argue, but Woody Woodpecker doesn't count).

The Downy woodpecker has visited me once before. He stopped back today for a nibble on the nut/fruit/seed bell that I hung out last night.

These first two shots were digiscoped with the Canon PowerShot A570IS point-n-shoot camera.

Downy Woodpecker

Look at that head go!!
Look at that head go!!

This next one was taken with my Canon Digital Rebel XTi and the 300mm lens.

Downy Woodpecker

I was pretty excited to see the Downy - I mean, who wouldn't be? I'd have called it an awesome back yard birding day as it was, but as I randomly scanned my tree with the binoculars, a red head popped out at me - and it wasn't a cardinal!

Red-bellied Woodpecker
Digiscoped - point n shoot

A red-bellied woodpecker!! Woohoo, new bird! These shots were taken with the Rebel and the 300mm:

Red-bellied Woodpecker

Red-bellied Woodpecker

Red-bellied Woodpecker

Pretty exciting bird day for me - and I didn't even have to leave home :) That's good, because it was pretty darn cold out today. It has been warming throughout the day, but it was hardly in the teens when these photos were taken.

Aside from the fun birds, I had a mouse in my house today. That was a first! Slightly traumatic, but I caught the mouse and let him free outside. He was a cute little mouse, but I'd rather he and his friends stayed outside.

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

Happy New Year!

It's my first birding new year! :)

We're on cold weather lockdown for the new year here in Chicagoland, but the days leading up to 2008 gave us a temporary thaw:

Mallards enjoying the temporary melt

The cold and snow of 2008 has everybody scrambling for a meal - even 'Coop. There's something bone-chilling about a Cooper's Hawk's stare:

You lookin at me, punk?

Eyeing a potential meal. He was not successful this time... this time.

Eyeing a meal

I finally got a glimpse of the female cardinal! I've had a male cardinal visiting occasionally for a few weeks now, and this cold snap brought out his mate, AND another male! I love seeing the cardinals at my feeders. They're gorgeous birds and I'm glad to be able to help them get by this winter.

Isn't she gorgeous!
Female Cardinal

She never sat still for very long, but I did snap this picture of her jumping from the deck rail to the black oil sunflower seed Cedar feeder. It makes me giggle!

Jumping Female Cardinal!

The less frequent visitors of the Sparrow Mob have spent a lot more time here the last couple days. Here's my Song Sparrow friend - haven't seen this one in a little while!

Song Sparrow

And here's the local American Tree Sparrow, who now visits with a friend:

American Tree Sparrow

Had to include this shot - see the snow whooshing by?

American Tree Sparrow

Here are my two least common sparrows, hanging out in the same feeder!

Tale of Two Sparrows

I had 3 American Goldfinches here today too - up from the usual 1. Hungry Hungry Finches! (You know, instead of Hungry Hungry Hippos)

American Goldfinches

There's a bunny rabbit nibbling on brush in my yard now. It's funny how the birds will hop right around the rabbit, not even blinking at his presence. They're completely comfortable knowing he's not a threat. I'm glad, because I don't mind watching him, either! :)