Common Goldeneye Species Dossier

by Carl Strang

This week’s feature species is chosen in celebration of my seeing its close cousin, the Barrow’s goldeneye, as accounted recently.

Goldeneye, Common

Common goldeneyes, black and white males with brown headed females

Common goldeneyes, black and white males with brown headed females

Fairly common migrant and winter resident at Lake Maxinkuckee in northern Indiana, staying as long as open water remained, and appearing as open water appeared in spring. Although they fed in the lake (these ducks dive for food), they also flew to the Tippecanoe River to forage. When only holes remained in the center of the lake ice, the river was their sole food source. Crayfish the principal food taken from the river (gut contents of hunted birds). Usually seen in small groups of 2-7, although larger flocks of >20 occasionally were spotted. Called “whistlers” by hunters because of the distinctive whistling of their wings in flight. Occasional small flock seen at Kokechik Bay, western Alaska, in spring. Courtship display of males includes extreme head throwback, so that bill points up and the back of the extended neck is against the duck’s back.

Observed on the Rock River in early spring 1986.

23JA88. Pair in west branch of the DuPage River at McDowell Forest Preserve.

21FE99. 14, mostly females, and one incompletely molted-in male, actively diving in the Fox River just south of downtown St. Charles, IL.

21MR05. On Lake Maxinkuckee, two male hooded mergansers in separate small flocks of goldeneyes. In one of the flocks, courtship displays began, and the merganser displayed as well, fanning his crest open to the fullest extent. No female mergansers in those groups.

22FE09. A number of goldeneyes of both genders on the Fox River at the park downstream from Batavia’s Island Park. The current is very swift, and carrying a lot of small ice pieces. The ducks are diving repeatedly, and at some point when the current has carried them downstream a distance they fly back up and begin again. Their diving within the fairly dense ice pieces is an impressive sight.

12FE13. A number of goldeneyes at Widewaters on the Des Plaines River at Channahon, and at the rookery at Channahon and at Lake Renwick, evidently wintering there.

Species Dossier: Pied-billed Grebe

by Carl Strang

Grebes are cool. I love the way pied-billed grebes can sink without diving, and come to the surface with just the top of their head showing as they check out whether the coast is clear. They also have proven to have odd and unexpected evolutionary relationships. A recent study confirmed that the grebes are closest to the flamingos. Once you get your head around that one, add this result: among our local birds, the next closest relatives to the grebe-flamingos are the doves. Here are my observations on this species:

Grebe, Pied-billed

Pied-billed Grebe

Pied-billed Grebe

Common migrant on Maxinkuckee and ponds around Culver, generally appearing as individuals either isolated or on the fringes of duck or coot rafts. Breeder at McKee Marsh in DuPage County, IL. By mid-July the young were foraging with the parents, catching newly metamorphosed bullfrogs. Sings from water, a strange pumping song. “Ah-ah-ah…ah-ah-ah’dool-ah’dool-ah’dool…” The “ah” syllable increases in pitch untill it is very high when compared with the lower-pitched “dool” syllable.

4AP99. First of year seen, Culver.

10SE99. A single youngster spent a day on the Willowbrook marsh. This is the first one to stop at Willowbrook, perhaps because this was the first year with significant emergent vegetation along the edge. Still had some pied markings on the face.

30OC99. 3 on a lake at Fermilab.

8NO99. Lots of pied-billed grebes scattered among coot and duck rafts at Lake Maxinkuckee. Horned grebes outside, separate, and a few of the pied-billeds as well.

2AP00. One individual at Lincoln Marsh, Wheaton.

1JL00. An adult with at least 2 swimming small young, Brewster Creek marsh at Pratts Wayne F.P.

24SE00. Several migrants at McKee Marsh.

28OC09. Mayslake. A pied-billed grebe on May’s Lake swallowed a small fish.

23NO09. Mayslake. A dozen mallards diving for food in May’s Lake, coming up with aquatic vegetation after being completely under water 3-5 seconds. The grebe that has been staying close to them for a week still is present, and also diving.

5AP10. Mayslake. In the stream corridor marsh, 6 hooded mergansers and a pied-billed grebe diving for tiny prey, insect larvae and/or chorus frog tadpoles. Two of the mergansers were first-year males, with nearly white, indistinctly defined boundaries, in crests.

15OC. Mayslake. Two pied-billed grebes in the NW corner of May’s Lake. One flew when I came up on them, the other dove.

7SE12. Maylake. In the SE corner of May’s Lake, 25 mallards accompanied by a single immature pied-billed grebe that at times appeared to be dabbling.

 

Wetland Concerns

by Carl Strang

A continuing theme in my regional survey of singing insects is the paucity of wetland species. The only one that is present in good numbers in many wetlands is the black-legged meadow katydid. Other species common in wetlands are habitat generalists such as the Carolina ground cricket and short-winged meadow katydid, which don’t truly count as wetland insects. One clear cause of this problem is the loss of high quality habitat to four invasive plant species (purple loosestrife, reed canary grass, common reed, and cattails). All four are capable of completely taking over a wetland, and examples of this can be found for all four. Small numbers of the singing insects mentioned above can be found in such places, but not the other wetland insect species.

This female long-tailed meadow katydid was a rare wetland species holdout in a small pocket of surviving diverse wetland plants surrounded by cattails, reed canary grass and common reed at Waterfall Glen Forest Preserve in DuPage County, Illinois.

This female long-tailed meadow katydid was a rare wetland species holdout in a small pocket of surviving diverse wetland plants surrounded by cattails, reed canary grass and common reed at Waterfall Glen Forest Preserve in DuPage County, Illinois.

On the other hand, there are some good wetlands out there. Many are small, and this along with their isolation may limit them.

This beautiful little fen at Richard Young Forest Preserve in Kendall County is completely surrounded by woodland.

This beautiful little fen at Richard Young Forest Preserve in Kendall County is completely surrounded by woodland.

Many of the interdune swales at Miller Woods in the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore have been taken over by the common reed. This one was an exception, but I found only black-legs there.

Many of the interdune swales at Miller Woods in the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore have been taken over by the common reed. This one was an exception, but I found only black-legs there.

This fen-like wetland at Bluff Creek in Wisconsin’s Kettle Moraine State Forest looks very good. I will want to check it earlier in the season next year.

This fen-like wetland at Bluff Creek in Wisconsin’s Kettle Moraine State Forest looks very good. I will want to check it earlier in the season next year.

Still, I have not given up hope. I found a third good population of mole crickets this year, in a swale at Miller Woods.

Mole cricket tunnels look like miniature mole tunnels. They occur around wetland edges, and occasionally have holes to let out the males’ deep chirping calls, and to provide access for attracted females.

Mole cricket tunnels look like miniature mole tunnels. They occur around wetland edges, and occasionally have holes to let out the males’ deep chirping calls, and to provide access for attracted females.

I also found melodious ground crickets at two new sites in Berrien County, Michigan. Though I did not find dusky-faced or delicate meadow katydids at the Indiana Dunes’ Great Marsh this year, I felt curiously encouraged by this.

Both species were there last year, but with the water level higher in 2013, the vegetation was arranged differently and I did not find them in the same place.

Both species were there last year, but with the water level higher in 2013, the vegetation was arranged differently and I did not find them in the same place.

Maybe the populations of many wetland species took a hit in last year’s drought, and were thinly dispersed in the expanded wet areas of 2013. This is, after all, the first year in which I have surveyed many of these sites. If they need a couple years to recover from the drought, maybe I will find the missing species in the future. Still, how to account for the lack of nimble meadow katydids? This species I have yet to find, anywhere. In the heart of the singing insect season I took my sea kayak into an area where they historically were known.

The channels at the south end of Lake Maxinkuckee in Marshall County, Indiana, have become heavily invaded by purple loosestrife.

The channels at the south end of Lake Maxinkuckee in Marshall County, Indiana, have become heavily invaded by purple loosestrife.

Even the patches of emergent water-dwelling knotweeds, a habitat specifically mentioned in some sources as good for nimble meadow katydids, had none as far as I could tell.

Even the patches of emergent water-dwelling knotweeds, a habitat specifically mentioned in some sources as good for nimble meadow katydids, had none as far as I could tell.

So the bottom line is a disappointing season for wetland species, with a few positive points and hope in the possibility that populations are at a low point from which they will recover.

Northern Shoveler Species Dossier

by Carl Strang

In honor of the shovelers we saw during our Christmas Bird Count on Saturday, here is my somewhat paltry dossier of observations on this duck, which is strictly a migrant in our area. According to researchers their main direction of travel through northern Illinois is unusual: east-west, between the Atlantic coast and prairie breeding grounds.

Shoveler, Northern

Pair of northern shovelers, western Alaska

Pair of northern shovelers, western Alaska

I have seen these ducks regularly on Lake Maxinkuckee and Hawk Lake in Indiana during migration. Usually they travel as singles, pairs or in small groups. Males have a peculiar zipping call, noted in western Alaska, where occasionally I saw widely scattered individuals and pairs. There also was a call reminiscent of a flipped strip of metal. Usually they feed by sifting the surface of the water with sideways movements of their extraordinarily large bills.

15MR87. Shovelers were in a temporary pond along Geneva Road east of West Chicago.

20MR99. First shoveler of the year, IL.

26MR00. I observed 5 males and 1 female shoveler at McKee Marsh, 20 yards offshore, sticking their beak and sometimes their heads fully in the water and swinging them back and forth, but not tipping up.

24SE00. Several shovelers in small groups feeding at McKee Marsh, skimming the surface of the water.

Shovelers on May’s Lake

Shovelers on May’s Lake

14OC00. About 20 shovelers at McKee Marsh, all feeding by tipping up in contrast to their usual feeding style. No floating algae, and the water area still is large, though the entire corridor to the outlet is dry. Mainly they are in the center of the pool, though a few near the edge also are tipping up.

15DE12. A number of late-migrant shovelers were tipping up in the large pond in Timber Ridge Forest Preserve on the north side of Geneva Road.

American Coot Species Dossier

by Carl Strang

This week’s featured species is a water bird that was an iconic migrant in my childhood, appearing in huge, raft-like flocks on Lake Maxinkuckee during the spring and fall migration seasons. Then, we often referred to them by the old hunter’s name: mudhens.

American coot

American coot

Coot, American

This rail relative is a migrant and rare summer resident on Lake Maxinkuckee at Culver, Indiana. They migrate at night, spending time on the lake in large rafts of up to hundreds of birds. Occasionally some come onto shore to graze, but usually they dive for aquatic plants in water 1-15+ feet deep, close to or far from shore. They run on the surface to take off, and their landings are not particularly graceful: they fly to within a couple feet of the surface, stop flying, and plunk into the water. Coots breed in cattail marshes with some open water, making nests in the cattails. Their vocalizations in migration consist of simple soft, high-pitched peeps or chuckling sounds. On breeding grounds they produce a louder, raucous multisyllabic call, commonly in early evening.

Rafting coots, Lake Maxinkuckee

Rafting coots, Lake Maxinkuckee

29NO86. Culver. Coots didn’t steal from canvasbacks, but they weren’t diving, either. They followed the cans around, occasionally reaching for dropped scraps of aquatic plants.

7MR87. Coots have arrived at McKee Marsh, Blackwell Forest Preserve.

27FE00. One seen at McKee Marsh.

Coot on Deep Quarry Lake, West Branch Forest Preserve

Coot on Deep Quarry Lake, West Branch Forest Preserve

12MR00. Several at McKee Marsh.

9NO01. A flock of perhaps 100 coots on Red Rock Lake in Iowa, just above the dam, was in an odd-looking, very tight group with none diving. They stayed that way, appearing to touch or nearly so, for the greater part of an hour. Bald eagles were in the area and may have inspired this unusual formation. It looked especially odd since the lake is very large, and they were far from shore with no other birds on the water nearby.

Coot and gadwall in a Nevada marsh

Coot and gadwall in a Nevada marsh

11NO01. Large numbers of coots were on the Mississippi River and flooded areas beside it, just north of Lock and Dam 13.

20OC02. Many coots have been on Maxinkuckee for weeks. This morning, 2 engaged in an agonistic encounter well off shore, paddling with their feet so as to lift the front parts of their bodies high out of the water, perhaps 60 degrees, facing one another, lifting heads on extended necks in an apparent effort to get beaks above the other, close together, uttering rapid high-pitched clucks.

Coots, Maxinkuckee

Coots, Maxinkuckee

27NO10. Coots had been feeding near shore all afternoon, but as dusk deepened they all moved far off shore.

Beaver Species Dossier

by Carl Strang

The species dossier idea came from my realization in the 1980’s that much of what I “knew” about wildlife came from the scientific and popular literature rather than personal experience. I went species by species, writing what I could remember about each one from memories of my own observations. Then I built the dossiers with added notes. The dossier begins with the initial paragraphs, followed by notes dated by a code that uses two-letter combinations to signify months.

Beaver

Beaver, Salt Creek at Fullersburg Woods

This aquatic rodent lives in ditches, rivers, and lakes. Observations to date have been in the Culver, Indiana, area (Maxinkuckee, Tippecanoe, Yellow River, Fish Hatchery), southern Ontario, and DuPage County, Illinois. The signs are seen much more often than the animals themselves; they are crepuscular/nocturnal for the most part, although the Canadian ones occasionally appeared in daytime, and I have seen them during the day in northern Lake Michigan and the West Branch of the DuPage River (mid-winter). Alarm signal: dives noisily, augmenting the splash with its flat tail.

Stand-alone lodge, Canada

They feed on bark and twigs of willow and other woody plants, storing large underwater piles of branches in fall for winter use. They also stripped bark from the 1-4″ diameter X 1-3′ long sticks used in building dams and lodges. The den can be in a bank or in a stand-alone built lodge. Bank dens are used in larger, deeper rivers and lakes, although built lodges also can be seen in such places. I have seen built lodges in Canada, Lake Maxinkuckee (Venetian Village), DuPage Co. (e.g., Churchill F.P.), Isle Royale. They have a distinctive appearance because of the white sticks, though some lodges on riverbanks are not rounded and so at first glance resemble piles of drift from the last flood. Mud also is used in construction. Lodges have been 8-15′ in diameter, 2-4′ high, usually on a bank.

Beaver dam, Tri-County State Park

Small streams may be dammed to create a pool (the most ambitious dam I’ve seen was on the West Branch of the DuPage River at Blackwell in mid-winter). Dams, like lodge coverings, are built of stripped sticks, mud, vegetation, usually have a slight U-shaped bend pointing downstream, and are not particularly high above the contained water level, though some on Isle Royale were taller than me on the downstream side. Very long dams can have a more sinuous shape; I’ve seen them more than 50′ long.

High beaver dam with trail, Canada

Beavers will carry branches from other bodies of water to the home pool. Cut trees are distinctive with large tooth marks and pointed (cone-shaped) ends. Beaver tracks are large, and have the rodent formula (4 toes front, 5 back), the webs of the hind feet not always making noticeable marks.

Beaver front footprint

31AU86. Beavers at Culver’s fish hatchery have reinforced the base of their dam with a heavy plastering of marl.

18DE86. Month-old beaver sign, Willowbrook Back 40: several black cherry trees had their bark chewed off on the stream side of the trunk. No others in the vicinity (willow, box elder) were damaged.

11JA87. At the mouth of Sawmill Creek, Waterfall Glen F.P., beavers this morning fed on bark of a box elder 7″ dbh, they had cut down earlier. They had made a trenchlike single path in 6″ snow between stream and trunk.

8MR87. 2 ash trees 8″dbh cut down but only some bark removed from trunk. Otherwise untouched, for months.

Beaver-felled tree, Fullersburg

28MR87. Beavers at Waterfall Glen cut three 8″ dbh bur oaks, ate much of the bark from 2 of them, in an area with much willow.

23JA88. McDowell F.P. Beavers built a long winding dam on Ferry Creek, 20-30 yards long

15MR90. McDowell. Beavers were active in the evening dark during my night hike program. We heard one chewing: identical to the sound of a squirrel gnawing a nut, and as rapid, but much louder. Several of us shined lights on it. It was on the opposite side of the river, standing up on its hind feet, against the tree. After at least 30 seconds of being illuminated, it abruptly ran into the river. It swam for another 20-30 seconds, still in lights, then walked up the bank back to the same tree, and resumed gnawing. The alarm splash is like a big rock being thrown in. I didn’t detect a tail slapping component.

13NO99. A beaver dam has been built across the very low West Branch of the DuPage River, Elsen’s Hill at the eastern horse ford.

29MR00. While running past the borrow pit at McDowell Grove Forest Preserve, I frightened a beaver into the water. It swam under the surface for 20 feet or so, a stream of bubbles revealing its position, then surfaced. Immediately it dove again, but as it did so I saw it deliberately lift its tail and slap it on the water. I could detect the sound of it, but the splash made by the posterior part of the body (spread feet?) was the louder sound. Perhaps the double sound makes it a communication for beavers, to distinguish it from other splashes.

11MR01. A beaver lodge is on the shore of the old gravel pit on Timber Ridge Forest Preserve (at the intersection of County Farm and Geneva Roads). There has been much recent gnawing of nearby woody plants.

8AP01. At around 8:30 a.m. at Red Oak Nature Center I heard a gnawing sound down near the edge of the Fox River. It was a beaver, sitting in the shallow water and feeding on the twigs of a shrub or small tree overhanging the river (intervening brush too thick to get an ID of the plant). The beaver was reaching up, biting off a branch, then consuming the twig. Less than about 3/16″ in diameter, the twig was consumed by the beaver holding it like a piece of stick candy and nibbling on it with gnawing sounds reminiscent of a squirrel working on a nut but more rapid. After 2-3 seconds of biting off the end, the beaver chewed with its molars for a few seconds, swallowed, then worked on the end some more. When the diameter of the remaining twig became greater, approaching 1/4″, the beaver turned it sideways (always holding it in the front feet) and quickly stripped off the bark.

22OC01. Beavers have been very busy in recent days at the marsh beside South Blackwell’s Heron Trail (marsh full of water thanks to heavy rains in recent weeks). They have trampled a path through the cattails all the way to Heron Trail, and have been cutting the small willows and cottonwoods into pieces, eating the bark from some of the bigger chunks, and hauling the tops into the water (drag marks visible in the mud).

6JL07. Fullersburg. A beaver swimming up the main channel along Sycamore Peninsula went to the shore at 8:30 a.m. and ate some root bark and twig bark from American elms. It continued upstream past the Visitor Center.

Killdeer Dossier

by Carl Strang

As in past winters I have been sharing my collected observations on various vertebrate species over the years. While this may have some value in providing information, and revealing how there can be a difference between one person’s experienced knowledge and the collective accumulation of information available through references, the main point is to encourage you to pay more attention to the familiar and to build your own knowledge base of personally gained information.

Killdeer

Killdeer

This plover generally occurs in large, short grass fields and pastures. It produces a loud “killdee” call, often repeated in clusters. Small downy young can produce this call at surprisingly loud volume. The parent has broken-wing distraction display. Practically all of them depart from northern Illinois and northern Indiana for the winter, but a few remained through the winter near open streams in pastures in south central Pennsylvania. Mudflats also are frequented for feeding purposes and in migration. Killdeers have a very smooth, rapid run over the ground.

Killdeer nests are simple scrapes in the ground, containing 4 mottled eggs. The nest site generally is chosen such that the eggs are well camouflaged.

4JL86. Jeffersonville, Indiana. A pair on a golf course ran ahead of me. They stopped about 20m away from me, and settled into small depressions in the lawn (small bare soil patches) exactly as though settling onto eggs. If I approached, they quickly got up and ran ahead of me; no eggs or young were there. If I approached very slowly, the bird slightly spread its wings and tail, and went into the broken-wing display.

15MR87. 3 calling killdeers flew high over Meacham Grove, west to east, the first of the year.

4AP99. First killdeer of the year I’ve seen in DuPage County.

1AU99. Swenson’s Road pond, Fermilab. A couple killdeers walked at the water’s edge in an upright posture, only occasionally reaching down to the surface.

Killdeers seldom enter the water.

30OC99. Several killdeers still are at Fermilab.

26DE99. A killdeer was on the shore at Lake Maxinkuckee, Culver, Indiana. Broken ice sheet pieces were floating along the shore, and there was some snow on the ground.

20OC00. Killdeers flew over the Maxinkuckee Wetlands, calling loudly as they flew over the area for an extended period of time. The flight seemed to be a display.

22OC00. Many killdeers were at the marsh in south Blackwell Forest Preserve (and only 1 at McKee Marsh in north Blackwell). Two appeared to be involved in an agonistic display, standing a few inches apart and bowing forward until their breasts nearly touched the ground, calling, holding their tails straight and sometimes fanning them, sometimes pacing around. Once one appeared to bite or peck toward the other.

The killdeer’s long tail, folded here, is largely a bright reddish color.

21JL01. Fermilab. Half a dozen killdeers at the Swenson Road pond are mainly staying well back on the drier mud.

13NO01. A couple killdeers still are at Rice Lake, Danada Forest Preserve.

1AU04. Greene Valley. A shallow large pond at 83rd Street and Rt. 53 has attracted many shorebirds. Pectoral sandpipers nearly all are feeding in the shallowest water with the vertical sewing-machine bill motions. A number of lesser yellowlegs are in slightly deeper water. On the mudflats are many killdeers, a couple spotted sandpipers and a solitary sandpiper. Between mudflats and the very shallowest water, several peeps (appear to be mainly least sandpipers).

The killdeer nest mentioned on April 18, 2009.

18AP09. Killdeer incubating a nest in mulch around a tree in the picnic area, Tri-County State Park.

Mallard Species Dossier

by Carl Strang

Today I share my dossier on one of our most familiar birds, the mallard duck. This is one case in which my initial entry in the 1980’s was large enough that it remains the bulk of the file.

Mallard

Adult male mallard

Widespread, common marsh bird, also frequenting suburban ponds, lakes and streams. Singles and pairs occasionally appeared in western Alaska, but the mallard was not a common species there.

Adult female mallard and ducklings

Courtship begins in September in Illinois and Pennsylvania, as drakes come out of eclipse, but (at least in northeast Illinois) may not peak until January. The male has a large variety of courtship displays, generally preceded by preliminary shakings of the head from side to side, tail shaking, and lifting and shaking the entire front half of the body (the last seems to represent a higher intensity). The most common of the male’s displays is the Grunt Whistle, beginning with lifting the front half of the body (note similarity to the most intense form of the Preliminary Shake). While the body is lifted the neck is arched forward and down, and the tip of the bill is used to flick out an arch of water drops. As this happens the bird emits a high-pitched peeping sound. Frequently several males Grunt Whistle together, and in fact courtship displays generally occur when several males plus at least one female are close together on the water.

Mallard Preliminary Shake

Down-Up is another display, in which the male lowers the front of his body into the water while lifting the tail end. The bill points down as the bird dips, then it is pointed upward. This is an especially beautiful display when several males, facing one another, bow simultaneously.

In Head-Up-Tail-Up, the body is contracted while the neck stretches upward (bill kept level). This always ends with a bout of Nod-Swimming, with the bird swimming rapidly low in the water, neck stretched low and forward, pumping slightly as the bird swims.

Sometimes several courtship displays may be performed simultaneously. Here, the two males on the left are performing the Down-Up display, the one on the far right is performing a Grunt-Whistle, and the one just left of him appears to be in a Head-Up-Tail-Up.

Males and females can be seen together more and more in pairs as winter and spring pass. The female continues to test the drake with Inciting, a display in which she mechanically waves her bill back and forth to point toward another nearby mallard. The male commonly responds by chasing that bird away. Rarely and inexplicably, drakes perform the Inciting motion.

Female mallard performing the Inciting display.

Copulation begins usually with the male performing an exaggerated vertical pumping of his neck with the bill held parallel to the water surface. If the female is receptive, she identically pumps her head. After the two have done this together a few seconds, the male swims behind her, then climbs onto her back. Head pumpings cease as the male achieves a grip on the back of the hen’s upper neck with his bill. She sinks low in the water, he swings his tail around to the side of hers as she pulls hers out of the way, and genital contact is made. Post-copulatory displays are bathing motions by the female and Nod-Swimming by the drake.

The presence of a male with the brood may be a sign that these birds have some domestic mallard in their ancestry.

Pairs appear on land in mid-spring, usually with the female leading the search for a nest site. The nest is built of grasses mixed with down. Generally one pale blue-green egg is laid per day until the 8-13 egg clutch is complete, then the female incubates the eggs and usually raises the young alone. After the ducklings hatch and dry, they follow the hen on an early-morning trek to water, sometimes a mile or more distant. On 8JE86 I saw a drake with a female and large downy ducklings on land, an exception to the rule that males stay away from broods which females raise alone. This was in DuPage County, where ducks are unusually dense because of artificial feeding, and there is considerable domestic mallard in the gene pool. Single failed-nest females sometimes become injured from rape attacks by multiple males. Possibly this male was insuring against the loss of the brood. Young ducklings are distinguished from those of wood ducks by a dark line between the eye and bill, and a darker yellow base color.

Female incubating a nest

General vocalizations include peeps of ducklings, loud call of adult females (series of quacks, first one long and successive ones shorter), and a chuckling continuous call occasionally performed by flocked birds on the water. Mallards winter in DuPage County. Occasional large flocks spent the early winter in the center of Lake Maxinkuckee in Indiana, flying out to harvested corn fields to feed. Mallards feed on the surface of water or tip up to take food from the bottom.

Occasionally an incubating duck leaves the nest for a time. When she does so, she covers it with the mixture of down and grass for camouflage.

Once a hen had a nest in my fenced-in yard in Warrenville, but abandoned before incubation was complete.

Mallard eggs are a pale green in color.

19AP99. Mallard nest at Willowbrook under a columbine, against east wall of garage/bird nursery building (was gone, abandoned or destroyed, by 30AP).

14MY99. Mallard female with 7 young ducklings in stream at Willowbrook.

17SE99. Some mallards at Willowbrook appear to be in eclipse plumage, or perhaps young are molting into their first adult plumage.

29OC00. McKee Marsh. A green-headed male with a group of black ducks has a very dark gray body, no curly tail feathers, and no white neck band, apparently a hybrid.

4MY09. Mallard male with female and duckling chased away another male that showed interest in the female.

Mallard ducklings approaching maturity

23NO09. Mayslake. A dozen mallards were diving for food in May’s Lake, coming up with aquatic vegetation after being completely under water 3-5 seconds. A pied-billed grebe was with them, also diving.

Parade Marshal

by Carl Strang

Today I step aside from the usual content of this blog (mostly; see below) to celebrate the ongoing traditions of small town America, particularly my home town of Culver, Indiana. It is prompted by pride in my father’s selection as co-marshal for the annual Lake Fest parade.

Ted Strang, settled into his jeep seat and ready to go.

Along with another surviving World War II veteran, Jim DeWitt, Dad eschewed the parade wave for a more manly straight wave to the crowd.

Though I am sure he was not fond of being a center of attention, Dad understood his symbolic role, kept his smile going and never uttered a mumble of complaint.

I was relieved that these two senior gentlemen were given chairs in the shade to watch the following train of the parade from the review stand.

Best seats in town.

The parade was a long one; it seemed that half of the town of 2000 was in it, and the other half spread out along the route to watch.

Bands, such as the local high school marching band, are a necessary ingredient.

Culver’s location on Lake Maxinkuckee is the inspiration for the annual festival.

Golf carts have become a common form of transportation in small towns. This one was dressed in a nautical theme.

The summer school at the Culver Military Academy contributes several units to the parade. The Black Horse Troop has been a part of the Academy for the greater part of a century.

As you might imagine, the horses were placed toward the end of the parade.

The festival is more than just the parade. There are footraces and other competitions.

I had to sit out the 5-mile run as the neuroma in my foot undergoes treatment.

I do have a token natural history note. I found, in a flowerbed behind the parade review stand, a number of large wasps behaving in a territorial manner.

This is not a species I have ever seen in DuPage County, Illinois. Cicada killers specialize in feeding Tibicen cicadas to their young, and live only where the soil is sandy enough for them to dig their natal tunnels.

An ex-girlfriend once delightedly, and perhaps with some accuracy, referred to Culver as “Mayberry.” Such towns still are out there.

What Could Be Cuter?

by Carl Strang

Birds were my first serious natural history study as a 7-year-old, but reptiles and amphibians always fascinated. Catching turtles was just a part of growing up within a block of Lake Maxinkuckee. We’d keep some for a while, then let them go. The best were the babies, the hatchlings or tiny ones, especially the little painted turtles, stinkpots and eastern spiny softshells. All this came back a few days ago when Janneke placed this little guy on my desk.

This painted turtle is roughly the diameter of a quarter.

He had been picked up some distance from the nearest water, a hatchling trying to find his way. I was happy to oblige, in exchange for a few portraits.

Janneke Fowers, Mayslake Forest Preserve’s heritage interpreter who held the turtle for the photos, remarked at the strength of the tiny testudinate.

The easiest way to determine the baby’s species was to look at the underside.

The simple dark patch against the yellow plastron reveals that this is a midland painted turtle.

We admired him, then I took him down to the edge of Trinity Lake to begin his aquatic career.

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