Bark Birds Big and Small

by Carl Strang

As the season progresses, numbers of passing migrant birds at St. James Farm Forest Preserve have diminished. Residents, augmented by winter additions from the North, increasingly dominate the avian communities. Prominent among these hangers-on are the birds that forage on tree bark. Downy, hairy and red-bellied woodpeckers are year-round residents covering three body sizes and the particular foraging advantages of each. Nuthatches are still smaller, songbirds that have the ability to crawl sideways or upside down on the tree bark, finding hiding insects the woodpeckers might miss. Red-breasted nuthatches have become common in the coniferous forest this fall, while resident white-breasted nuthatches are scattered through the deciduous woodlands.

On Saturday this white-breasted nuthatch caught a harvestman that did not find a sufficiently secure bark crevice.

On Saturday this white-breasted nuthatch caught a harvestman that did not find a sufficiently secure bark crevice.

While photographing the nuthatch I heard in the distance a loud call which was entirely unexpected. Eventually my monitoring route took me into that part of the forest, and the calling resumed close by.

A pileated woodpecker!

A pileated woodpecker!

This huge bird is not one we encounter very often in DuPage County. I know of two resident pairs in the eastern half of the county. Others occasionally wander through, and this male at St. James Farm qualifies as one such traveler.

Continuing to call frequently, he actually flew closer to me. Here he cries from just above.

Continuing to call frequently, he actually flew closer to me. Here he cries from just above.

On Sunday I was in a different part of the same forest, but it was calm. I did not hear a pileated calling in the distance. I hope he moved on, rather than becoming dinner that night for the great horned owl I saw being harassed by crows not far from the woodpecker’s attention-drawing display. On the other hand, it would be nice if the pileated decided to hang around for the winter. As the largest block of old trees in the western half of DuPage County, the forest at St. James Farm is the place most likely to host our largest woodpecker species. Pileateds need lots of big old trees harboring carpenter ant colonies. In any case this was exciting, the highlight to date of my young monitoring program at St. James Farm.

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A Big Winter for Finches?

by Carl Strang

Last week at St. James Farm Forest Preserve I saw a huge flock of pine siskins, quick eyeball estimate count 130.

They were drawn to the preserve’s heavy production of conifer seeds.

They were drawn to the preserve’s heavy production of conifer seeds.

Here one processes a seed it drew from a cone scale.

Here one processes a seed it drew from a cone scale.

A flashing wing reveals some yellow, a reminder that these are close relatives of our resident American goldfinches.

A flashing wing reveals some yellow, a reminder that these are close relatives of our resident American goldfinches.

In some winters, siskins are few to none. Is this early abundance a sign that other northern finches might visit us in good numbers? Though not finches, red-breasted nuthatches are another northern forest bird that populated St. James Farm’s conifer plantings in October.

Introduction to Saint James Farm II: Landscape Architecture

by Carl Strang

The green portions of St. James Farm Forest Preserve are not all wildlands. There are extensive grounds, some of which are paddock and events areas from the farm’s equestrian past, and some of which are designed plantings of various sorts. One prominent feature, borrowed from European design, is a scattered array of allees, paired rows of trees of the same species.

Immediately south of the parking lot is the river birch allee.

Immediately south of the parking lot is the river birch allee.

The pin oak allee is near the east border of the preserve.

The pin oak allee is near the east border of the preserve.

In my preliminary monitoring walks, the pin oak allee area is the only place where I have seen gray squirrels. Elsewhere there have been only fox squirrels so far. The ash allee is history, thanks to the emerald ash borer, but there are several other allees constructed with other tree species.

A variety of exotic woody plants may be found on the grounds. Many of these are concentrated around the former home site.

This magnolia is an example.

This magnolia is an example.

Brooks McCormick’s conservation interests were expressed in ponds and prairie plots at the edges of the grounds.

This pond has produced a brood of hooded mergansers annually the past few years.

This pond has produced a brood of hooded mergansers annually the past few years.

The prairie plots are diverse but small. They host a variety of generalist insects, and in recent weeks have attracted numbers of seed-feeding sparrows and finches.

The prairie plots are diverse but small. They host a variety of generalist insects, and in recent weeks have attracted numbers of seed-feeding sparrows and finches.

There also are significant conifer plantings, which already this fall have attracted pine siskins and red-breasted nuthatches down from the north.

 

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