December 18, 2006
Article in: Birding
I stopped by Rock Cut today after stopping by work for a little while. (I had to make sure everything was going to be ready for the holiday.) The lake was only about 10% frozen thanks to the unseasonably warm weather. There was a decent smattering of waterfowl Canada Geese, Cackling Geese, Mallards, Coots, Great Blue Heron, Common Goldeneye, Ring-billed Gull, Herring Gull, and Hooded Mergansers. Also of interest was a Muskrat munching on some water grasses near the Lion Den fishing pier. I briefly stopped by the beach on the other lake at the park. It was frozen solid, but that is ok since I wanted to check the praire area there for possible Meadowlarks. I was rewarded with a Rough-Legged Hawk perched on some sort of tower. He/She stayed for about 10 mins as I watched until the Crows started to move in.
December 18, 2006
Article in: Bird Conservation
I’m sure everyone knows where Azerbaijan is, but for the few out there who don’t it’s located just north of Iran along the coast of the Caspian Sea.Â Of course I’m kidding.Â The first I’ve heard about this country was after reading about it from BirdLife International.
This country is making a great effort to increase visitors through ecotourism.Â The nation has 52 Important Bird Areas (IBAs) in their tourism plan.Â Not only that but the country has the Azerbaijan Ornithological Society, but unfortunately their English version does not work.Â It is excellent to see places all over the world putting in an effort to promote ecotourism and conservation!
December 17, 2006
Article in: Bird Conservation
All over the country and world are large expanses of land that are virtually worthless to wildlife. There are many examples of wasted space: industrial parks, retail parking lots, school grounds, church land, and backyards. These lands are “landscaped” to provide a pristine look of neatly trimmed bushes, ornamental trees, and grass so precise you’d think it was carpet. To a bird (minus European Starlings, House Sparrows, and maybe a few American Robins) this land is worthless. To a birder it is wasted space.
As I travel around the county I live in, Winnebago, in northern Illinois I see a lot of things – bad drivers, ugly cars, cool birds, and some landscapes that really need some work. There are schools with wide areas of lawn that even the children find boring. There are churches with large areas of land with no other use than providing someone with the task of mowing. And backyards watered and fertilized endlessly just to make grass grow so it can be cut.Just imagine how much the world we live in would be improved if people got together and altered these wasted spaces to provide a diversity of plants, trees, and shrubs to benefit birds (and other wildlife for that matter). Thousands of backyards linked together forming one large blanket of habitat. School kids playing in forests and prairies at recess, seeing birds nesting, hummingbirds coming to wildflowers, and just providing a nicer look on a warm spring day.
The great thing is that it doesn’t take much to change wasted space into something great. Our backyard has always had birds because we have a nice diversity of trees. However, it had too much grass so we did something about it. Gradually we dug up the grass and replaced it with flowers, fast-growing trees, and shrubs – all native to our area. Our front yard, once an open area of grass now has over 20 species of prairie plants and a warbler-magnent of a tree. We added feeders and water features (simple ones to start and a pond in the works) to attract even more wildlife.
Has our work been beneficial? Over the last three years we have spent probably a total of $1000 or less total (less than a dollar a day). Some of the projects have worked and others have not – our water features look a little odd with hoses and garbage can lids and some of the trees we’ve planted died. But the net result has been over 80 species of birds sighted, including some awesome warblers like Black-throated Blue and Cape May and we even had a Scarlet Tanager. Not exactly typical backyard birds, especially in a city of 150,000 people.
I will continue to post ideas and projects to help promote CAWS as well as many other ideas in the future. If you have some ideas, let me know by adding a comment or emailing me!
Also, please check out Bird Advocates to read some great information about the ongoing problem with feral cats. This is a huge issue and more important than many birders realize.
December 16, 2006
Article in: Birding
Today was Rockford, Illinois’ Christmas Bird Count. We started the day at around 7, hiking through tall grass and rousing up a Ring-necked Pheasant. The weather was in the 30s to start and remained cloudy all day with a bitter wind. We saw a load of American Tree Sparrows and Dark-eyed Juncos. We heard a Pileated Woodpecker laughing in the woods but did not see him. We spotted a Sharp-shinned Hawk and about a hundred Canada Geese (no Cacklers).
A few of the mighty Pecatonica River which feeds into the Sugar River, two of the four great rivers we have in Winnebago County.
Next, we made a quick pitstop and spotted a young Cooper’s Hawk. The cool thing was that the Cooper was chasing a squirrel round and round the base of a tree. He kept this up for awhile before flying off a ways.
Cooper’s Hawk after tiring from a squirrel chase.
Our next stop brought us to a pine forest on one of our local congressman’s conservation easement. The area was overflowing with Juncos, Northern Cardinals, and Mourning Doves. We split up and combed the pine trees where I surprised a Great Horned Owl. Owls fly in silence but their take-off is sometimes noisy. This owl made a huge crack as he sprung from his perch. We spotted two Red-tailed Hawks, some Blue Jays, and the like.
What I love about CBCs are they take you to places you normally wouldn’t go. We dropped in on a hunting club (Pheasants) to check out their well-stocked feeders. They were swarming with Black-capped Chickadees, American Goldfinches, White-breasted Nuthatches, Downy Woodpeckers, Tufted Titmice, and a Brown Creeper. It was hard to count the birds because they zipped in and out so fast.
We had a quick lunch and stopped at a “campground” that actually is just a junky place where people park their RVs for the winter and then hangout in the summer. The owners of this RV Resort (not much of resort if you ask me) have demolished tons of trees to make room for more lots. The funny thing is that these lots are on sandy soil that will most likely erode in a few years. Steal of a deal at $20,000.
We ended the main part of the count at an excellent forest preserve called Sugar River. We combed more forest and discovered at least two Barred Owls. Some feeders in the preserve were exploding with much of the same as we saw earlier, but also had a Red-breasted Nuthatch. The rest of the preserve was eerily quiet. Maybe it was the cloudy weather or the time of day.
On some of the roads we covered we saw several more Red-tailed Hawks and two Bald Eagles, one of which was a juv. All in all, we tallied almost 40 species. I’ll post a grand total of all of the Rockford count circles when that is available. We hiked some 10 miles, my legs are sore, but it was a great day as all CBCs are. My next count is a week away! I can’t wait!
December 15, 2006
Article in: Product Reviews
It is time to choose my three favorite bird guides.Â Why three?Â Because one won’t do and I need to narrow down the dozens I have.
My favorite is “The Big Sibley”, better known as The National Audubon Society Sibley Guide to Birds.Â Big and bulky this book has changed the way birders bird much like the great Roger Tory Peterson did in 1934.Â The drawings are spectacular and offer tons of different views of birds (even though they are all positioned alike).Â Some birds are missing but this is one of those books that EVERY birder should own.Â The book might not work as well as a true “field” guide but I’ve used it as one and have not been disappointed.
My second favorite is the one I actually bring on all my hikes, especially when trying to cut down on bulkiness.Â This would be the Kaufman Field Guide to Birds of North America.Â This guide has pictures instead of drawings but they have excellent detail and the organization of the guide is superb.Â It is the easiest field guide to use and fits nicely in a good-sized pocket.Â Another great thing about Kaufman’s book is that it is also available in Spanish, a first and only thus far.
My third favorite bird guide would have to be National Geographic’s Complete Birds of North America.Â This book definitely does not qualify as a field guide but is an excellent “bird guide”.Â I purchased the special edition book that had a leather cover and try to keep it in pristine condition.Â The contents of the book are outstanding.Â I believe EVERY SINGLE bird that has EVER been sighted in the U.S. is in this book (minus anything super recent, but including info about the Ivory-billed Woodpecker in Arkansas).Â This book will provide any birder with hours and hours of pure joy just thumbing through.Â Try to watch your drool!
I literally own countless bird related books and am always looking for more.Â I have even begun to collect old-school bird guides including an attempt to get every printing of Peterson’s Field Guides.Â The American Bird Conservancy has a guide as to the Stokes plus there are numerous state specific guides.Â These are just my favorite three.
December 14, 2006
Article in: Photography
This Whooping Crane with chick photo was taken at the International Crane Foundation, a great place where you can see all 15 (?) species of cranes from all over the world. The ICF is an awesome place to visit and actually has pretty good birding on their land. We saw all 15 species of cranes and photographed each, but alas, they do not count for our lifelist. That’s OK with me, cranes rule!
December 14, 2006
Article in: Birding
Located in South Central Wisconsin, Baxter’s Hollow, near Baraboo, provides for excellent birding in a hidden away place. The preserve is just shy of 5,000 acres and has some 40 species of breeding forest birds. The most sought after birds at Baxter’s Hollow are the rare (for Wisconsin) Worm-eating Warbler and the Hooded Warbler.
The last time I visited (also the first time) we did not see either rare warbler but were delighted by a gang of Blue-winged Warblers that nearly danced on our heads with warbler delight. We walked up a large portion of the narrow road leading into the actual trail and were inundated with birdsong the entire time.
The best time to visit would be early morning in spring to find nesting and migrating birds. An afternoon at the International Crane Foundation north of Baraboo would make for a wonderfully complete day. I plan on returning to Baxter’s Hollow in spring of ’07.
Hooded Warbler – from Flickr photo sharing
((Side note – a few pictures I was linking in from Cornell but thought better of it…so I put them on my site and kept copyright and all that. The more I thought about it, I figured I shouldn’t do that either so I got a couple of photos from Flickr. I don’t sell anything on this site but just want to show viewers the beauty of birds.))