Mayslake Avian Update

by Carl Strang

With the frantic migration season fading away, birds have entered the frantic breeding season. Indeed, some birds already are on their second brood.

I took this photo of a robin fledgling back on May 22, and saw some second nests under incubation last week.

Birds continue to wander, however, and unexpected individuals pop up from time to time.

This coot showed up on May’s Lake one day last week, for example.

There always is something new to learn. On Thursday of last week I saw a female orchard oriole in the north savanna. She seemed to be at home, and so I returned there on Friday, mixing plant survey work with a wish to gain more information on the orioles’ presence.

It didn’t take long to find the male.

He was fairly vocal, but his song and call were more similar to those of the Baltimore oriole than other orchard orioles I have observed in the past (though lacking the loudly whistled “hey batter batter batter” call of that baseball-oriented bird). I had no record of this species at Mayslake last year, but now I wonder if I was hearing this male and labeling him a Baltimore oriole. There always is something new to learn.

Christmas Bird Count 2010

by Carl Strang

Saturday was the DuPage Birding Club’s Christmas Bird Count, which centers on Fermilab, the famous physics research facility that straddles western DuPage and eastern Kane Counties. Here my group pauses attentively as yet-to-be identified birds call and flutter in the brush.

Group leader Urs Geiser, far right, is very good at pishing, a method for calling in small birds.

For a group portrait go here to the account of the 2008 outing. The weather has been very cold, most bodies of water are frozen, and for the most part the count was unremarkable. One exception for our group was this purple finch that Linda Padera spotted just before our lunch break.

The heavy facial stripes distinguish the female-plumage purple finch.

In the afternoon we stopped at West Branch Forest Preserve, home to one of the county’s major Canada goose roosts until it freezes over. Some birds had kept a hole open in the ice.

Most of the birds around the hole are Canada geese.

While we watched, the main swimming activity keeping the hole open was provided by 14 common goldeneye ducks and a coot.

Here, 8 of the goldeneyes rest on the surface between foraging dives.

On the ice fringing the nearby West Branch of the DuPage River, we noticed these remarkable traces in the snow.

What do you think would make marks like this?

A close look revealed distinctive footprints of a great horned owl close to the bank. It looks like the bird came in for a landing at speed, with most of the lines drawn by the bird’s tail feathers as it put on the brakes. Undulations suggest the owl made two strong backsweeps with its wings as its tail feathers dragged. It stood for a moment before springing back into the air.

Coots and Snow Buntings

by Carl Strang

On a brief trip to Culver, Indiana, last week I took some time to visit the town park and look for migrant ducks on Lake Maxinkuckee. There were coots aplenty, diving for water plants and quibbling as coots do.

There were thousands of coots, a few grebes and a loon, but no ducks other than local semi-domestic mallards.

The highlight came, not from waterfowl but from a trio of small birds that popped up along the shore of the lake.

Snow buntings! I never had seen one in all my childhood years of birding that town.

They were looking for seeds along the shore. It’s worth going out even on the dismal days of November. You never know what you may discover.

CBC 2009

by Carl Strang

One annual highlight as the end of the year approaches is the Christmas Bird Count. Last year I introduced the group to which I belong. Here our party proceeds along the Prairie Path in the 4-mile hike that filled Saturday morning.

Urs Geiser, our leader, is on the left. Behind him, Frank Padera converses with Marcia Nye (who walks behind a smiling Linda Padera). Lee Nye’s clipboard reveals that as recorder he had the challenge of keeping the data sheet dry. A very light snowfall was a constant through the day. Judy Morgan was with us, too, but doesn’t show in this photo. Chuck Drake couldn’t make it this year.

As you can see, the accumulated snow made the landscape beautiful.

The beauty had to compensate for a relative absence of birds. Nearly every species was down in numbers compared to last year, and to the area’s average. One species that was present in typical numbers was the American tree sparrow.

Among the 29 species we found were a few robins.

On the other hand, there were a few highlights. We saw our area’s first tufted titmouse in years (but no photo). Also, the area’s first-ever hooded merganser and coot (the latter shown below) cheered us in the afternoon.

I should clarify that when I refer to “area” I mean the bit of geography assigned to our little group. Our area was part of a much larger circle centering on Fermilab and covering significant parts of DuPage and Kane Counties. Ours was one of eight groups collectively covering that circle. Circles like this are one part of the continent-wide standard that allows CBC data to have some merit in long-term monitoring of birds across North America.

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