A Successful Nest

by Carl Strang


Nesting birds early in this season had been experiencing nothing but tragedy at Mayslake Forest Preserve. I was somewhat relieved, therefore, to see the product of a successful nest on Monday.




Even this success was tempered by the fact that only one tiny duckling remained from what would have been a larger clutch of eggs, probably half a dozen at least.




The presence of the male is a reminder that our suburban ducks have a significant amount of domestic mallard in their genetic background. In fully wild mallards the male would be long gone, saving the well camouflaged female and duckling from the predators his brighter colors might attract.

American Robin Dossier

by Carl Strang


Today’s post is another in my series of species dossiers. It begins with the summary paragraph written when I established the dossier in late 1986 or early 1987. I have edited out some less informative entries.




American Robin. Familiar bird of natural and artificial savannas. Primarily a summer resident, although small numbers remain in northern IN and IL around fruit-rich areas as long as winter weather is not too severe. Waves of migrants seen each spring and fall. Nest typically on branches of broadleaf trees, or in shrubs. Nest of grasses and mud, with deep inner cup. Sometimes grasses dipped in mud before delivery to nest. Eggs deep sky-blue. Young may get out of nest a short distance a couple of days before fledging, but after early-morning departure from nest they tend to travel some distance and do not return. Young scattered, tended individually by parents, who swoop and may peck at people or mammals which approach the young. Fledglings have dark spots on breast. Worms and insects hunted on ground in summer; fruit the winter food. Mulberries eaten by both adults and young in early summer. Winter berries include buckthorn, mountain ash. Song dominates habitat in early morning and dusk. A musical series of phrases, each composed of 2-3 clear, slurred whistling notes sung from mid to high perches in trees, on aerials, etc. Alarm call “cheet’-der-der-der-der.” Occasional battles, presumably territorial, take place. Striking white spots on tips of tail feathers may be “follow-me” signals. Preyed upon by cats, on occasion. When hunting worms, run 2-20 feet over the ground, stop, then may move a short distance, lean down with side of head turned toward Earth, then possibly reach down and pull up worm with beak.

26AP80. Pennsylvania. Robins, when startled into flight across the path of an approaching car, appear to use body-twisting and turning tactics more appropriate to flight from a hawk.

14JE87. Young-of-year eating mulberries at Culver Fish Hatchery.

9SE87. Large flock in Willowbrook Back 40. One ate grapes.

16SE87. In the evening, within a half-hour before sunset, robins were migrating south over Willowbrook. They flew just above treetop level, in flocks of 3-30, occasionally perching to rest for a time in the treetops, then moving on. The birds occasionally called to one another in flight, alternately flapping in short bursts, and gliding.

29AP88. A robin on a nest at Pratts Wayne Woods Forest Preserve, 6 feet up in crotch of a 15-foot, 3″dbh fencerow box elder.

7AU88. Young robin, apparently independent but still with spots, eating black cherries in Willowbrook Back 40.

30AU88. Lots in Back 40, mostly on ground but 1 in black cherry going after fruit.

5OC88. Robins eating grapes, Back 40.

6OC88. Robins eating gray dogwood fruits, Back 40.

12OC88. Robins eating honeysuckle fruits, Back 40.

17JE89. A broad-wing calling repeatedly, in north end of Maple Grove Forest Preserve. Robins definitely disturbed, with nervous dee-dee-dee’s every 20 seconds or so.

28AU89. Robins eating gray dogwood fruit, Back 40.

21OC89. Robins eating buckthorn berries, West DuPage Woods Forest Preserve.

3JA90. A robin singing very softly at Herrick Lake Forest Preserve. Temperature ~40F, sun.




14JA90. A large robin flock, scattered in woods on ground, moving as they do when hunting worms. Ground frozen. Saw occasional reaches to turn over a leaf, but no feeding.

7AP90. Robins in forest at Winfield Mounds Forest Preserve, throwing leaves with beaks to find food.

2JE90. Culver. A robin foraging on lawn (20 feet from nearest shrub) singing, 7:30am.

14SE90. Willowbrook, robin ate a couple small grapes, swallowing them whole.

JA99. Robins present on Willowbrook preserve all winter. Heavily fruiting asiatic bittersweet (Celastrus vine) a particular attraction.

6FE99. At Morton Arboretum, in an area thick with honeysuckle beneath a mesic forest, many robins feeding on the ground, vigorously throwing leaves aside and eating very small things too quickly to identify. I dug, found a mix of insects and fruit-like items.

9SE99. 2 robins eating buckthorn berries at Willowbrook.

13OC99. Robin occasionally singing at Willowbrook.

8FE00. Robin eating buckthorn berries at Willowbrook. They are fewer and more intermittent than last winter, 1 or 2 at most at any time.

13AP00. Willowbrook. One robin chasing another in the savanna. Could robins have nested in prairie savannas in years when fire burned off the tall plants beneath the trees? They might have fledged an early brood before the new plants got too tall for them.

16AP00. Willowbrook. A robin carrying nesting material.

1JE00. Arboretum. Along the Joy Path, a robin was perched in the lower branches of a maple, well concealed from above by leaves, sitting absolutely still and barely opening its beak at intervals to give a high-pitched note, somewhat waxwing-like but louder, better defined, that was difficult to locate.

15JE00. Arboretum. Near Parking Lot 7, when I arrived around 8am, 3 robins were giving the high‑pitched thin call repeatedly, and the forest otherwise was relatively quiet. After 10 minutes, a Cooper’s hawk started calling nearby, then flew out away from the forest edge until an eastern kingbird started to chase it. It immediately turned around and flew back the way it had come, and kept going. The robins then were quiet.

16JE00. Willowbrook. In the afternoon, a Cooper’s hawk perched near the west edge of the prairie, drawing alarm calls from a robin (the hawk‑whistle warning call) and a cardinal, and a chorus of 7 loudly mobbing jays.

5JL00. Willowbrook. Many robins, adult and first‑year, on the preserve today. A young one, and also a red‑bellied woodpecker, sally‑foraging for insects, possibly flying ants, from the top of a tall dead tree near the stream. (One passing insect was observed for a few seconds before the robin flew out and caught it).

11MR01. A robin singing loudly, Timber Ridge Forest Preserve.

28JL01. A newly on-its-own robin chased a cicada through the air, the insect giving its predator-discouraging call, but broke off the chase and flew back the way it came. The robin was never close to the cicada during the part of the chase I saw.

13MR02. First morning of robin (or any) dawn chorus at my house.

Culver Seedling Check

by Carl Strang


I was back in Culver, Indiana, over the weekend, and stopped by the little skunk cabbage seep to check on the seedling that appeared there in February. Here is its April 25 appearance.




It proves different from the herbaceous plants I noticed nearby a month ago. Those are not quite flowering yet, but appear to support Scott’s (of the Handlens and Binoculars blog) suggestion of one of the Cardamine cresses, probably C. bulbosa, the bulbous cress.




It has smooth stems, the flower buds look like their petal color will be white,




it will be flowering later in the spring, and this species is listed by Swink & Wilhelm as an associate of skunk cabbage and of marsh marigold, the latter of which was blooming nearby on April 25.




As for the mystery seedling, its leaves are different in shape and venation pattern from those of the Cardamine, and had an opposite arrangement along the lengthening stem. Furthermore, the persistent cotyledons, which always have been relatively thick and large, have me thinking shrub, now, rather than herb. Could it even be (gasp of disappointment) a bush honeysuckle (Lonicera sp.)? Some of those were present, and one of the reasons they are so successful at displacing our native plants is their extended growing season. I don’t think it is usual for their seedlings to appear so early, though, if the one I am following should prove to be a Lonicera.

April Day-Flying Moth

by Carl Strang


Last Thursday I saw a beautifully colored lepidopteran at Mayslake Forest Preserve. Its rapidly fluttering wings and thick body, absent the swift flight of a skipper butterfly, suggested that this was one of our few day-flying moths (I described another, Trichodezia, last winter). A quick check of the references confirmed this late April moth to be a member of the Noctuidae (a moth family), Psychomorpha epimenis, the grapevine epimenis.




This individual appeared to be landing on buckthorn, not grape, and holding its wings in odd positions.




But a close look at this second photo shows that a grape vine was present (notice the tendril). The wing posturing likely is a visual display intended to attract a mate.

Bird News

by Carl Strang


In my last update of bird arrivals at Mayslake I didn’t have photos of a couple of the species I mentioned. Here is the loon, which stayed for 4 days but left when the weather got nice and the May’s Lake shores became sprinkled with fishermen.




Here the loon takes a peek to see if there are any particular fish to chase.




I also mentioned the season’s first barn swallow. The next day there were three.




Lately the most abundant migrants have been yellow-rumped warblers.




A new warbler on the scene on April 23 was this palm warbler.




That same day, the lakes enticed an osprey to stop.




Later, the osprey caught a bullhead.


New arrivals I haven’t gotten a chance to photograph are field sparrow, swamp sparrow, chipping sparrow, Swainson’s thrush, blue-gray gnatcatcher, and eastern kingbird. For now, the rush of migration and seeing familiar birds for the first time in this new place is enough for me. These records provide a foundation from which potential future inquiries may grow.

It was a dark and stormy night

by Carl Strang


It must have happened at night, the night of Tuesday, April 22. Otherwise, the goose probably would have escaped. Otherwise, the rains that had fallen earlier would have washed the blood away.


This post was going to be an update on new bird activity at Mayslake Forest Preserve. It was going to include a Canada goose nest under incubation on a low island in the middle of the parking lot marsh.




Wednesday morning there was no goose on the nest, and through binoculars I could see broken eggs scattered several feet away from it.




The water was shallow enough that I could reach the island in my knee boots. I saw a bunch of wing feathers, an indication that the predator had taken the incubating bird as well as the eggs.




This, and the indications of relatively large teeth marks on the broken eggs, pointed to the preserve’s coyotes as the predators. It is not so unusual for coyotes to wade shallow water to reach goose nests. Usually, though, the goose simply abandons the nest. The nest itself had a bloody area at one edge, indicating that the bird was taken there by surprise.




You also may be able to see a couple depressions made by a coyote’s foot.


The male goose still was present.




Coyotes have slowed goose population growth in the Chicago area by some degree that, as far as I know, has not been measured. For the most part, though, they get only eggs.


A predator also took out the mallard nest in the same marsh .




This happened either the same night or the previous night. The mallard, like the goose, was incubating on Monday. There was no sign that the incubating duck was caught, perhaps because the surrounding water was deeper and not so easy to cross stealthily. I found 6 eggs, again carried a distance and consumed by a predator with large teeth.




I think coyote again, though I cannot entirely rule out raccoon. A coyote is more likely to make the repeat trips necessary to manage 6 eggs. A raccoon, I think, would be more likely to sit on the nest and eat them there.

First Flowers Update

by Carl Strang


Less than two weeks after trout lilies sent up their leaves at Mayslake, their first flowers opened.




That same day brought the first creeping Charlie and dandelion flowers.




The following day, April 17, masses of spring beauties revealed themselves as the first beneficiaries of the brush clearing below the friary.




Released from the impeding honeysuckle and buckthorn shade, a variety of other native wildflowers are showing their leaves on that hillside, and will be blooming later in the season.

Flower Feeders

by Carl Strang


Earlier  I described squirrels and a few bird species as occasional bud feeders. Last week, as the cottonwoods began to flower at Mayslake Forest Preserve, squirrels including the fox squirrel below began to feed on these fresh sources of protein and other nutrients.




Earlier I had noticed squirrels sniffing around the highly swollen cottonwood buds, but did not see any feeding. Either I missed it, or they were assessing how soon their flower dinner would be served.

A Visit to JPPSP/Tri-County

by Carl Strang


Its official name is James Pate Philip State Park, but I prefer the shorter, more descriptive original name, Tri-County State Park. The park contains the point where Cook, DuPage and Kane Counties meet, though most of it is in DuPage. The park is remote enough that it has the capacity for unusual events. Arguably the most unusual this year so far is a growing osprey nest.




When I stopped by the park for a brief visit on Saturday, the ospreys were present but not at the nest.




Later they both flew to their nest, their size revealing how huge is the platform provided by the utility tower.




With that elevation and exposure, I wonder about the hazards of lightning and the winds that accompany thunderstorms. This almost certainly is the same pair that nested just northwest of the park last year, as I mentioned in an earlier post on the species.


There were no great blue heron nests in the dead trees that still stand in the marsh on the island that bears one of the beaver lodges. Earlier  I mentioned the tiny nesting colony that was sited there for a few years. Here is one of the nests in 2005.




Elsewhere, I found the beavers’ dam just above the trail’s bridge in tidy order.




This actually is one of a series of dams along this stream. There has been an ongoing tug-of-war between the beavers’ instinctive drive to maintain their pools, on the one hand, and peoples’ need to prevent the resulting overflow from washing out the trail. On Saturday there was at least a temporary equilibrium, with both dam and trail intact.


A final note from that visit was a killdeer nest, placed where the nervous parent is bound to be flushed many times, at least on weekends, by passersby.




The incubating bird was quick to jump up and run away, but at least in my presence did not perform the famous broken wing act.




I did not bother the nest, and left after taking a few quick photos. The park does not get huge volumes of visitors, so I’m hopeful the eggs have a chance.

First Dragonfly

by Carl Strang


Each year the first dragonfly species to appear in northeast Illinois is the common green darner. I saw my first ones this year at Mayslake Forest Preserve on a warm, sunny April 17 (this photo of a female I took in 2002).




Males have blue abdomens. The bull’s eye pattern in front of the eyes is distinctive for this large dragonfly. Green darners we see in April are thought to have flown up from the south rather than to have emerged locally. This is a migratory species, though the ones that return probably are different from those that flew south in the fall. The leading current hypothesis is that migratory species like the green darner extend their breeding season and spread their genes over a wider geographic area. This makes sense of the fact that green darner nymphs also spend the winters in our ponds, and it appears that there easily could be a self sustaining local population. These early spring arrivals are getting a head start on the locals, which could include their own siblings, left by their parents before heading south.


So, this sighting does not allow me to list the common green darner as a breeding species at Mayslake Forest Preserve, but I will be surprised if it does not prove to have that status.

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