Birding

We love to travel to find new birds and participate in a lot of bird counts. We also created a Guide to Birding Field Guides and host a collection of over 200 birding links from all over the globe.

Conservation

While our main focus continues to be birds, we promote other areas of conservation as well. Conserving land not only benefits wildlife, but is hugely beneficial to people as well.

Year of the Young Birder

2013 is officially The Year of the Young Birder! We plan on spending the whole year promoting young birder clubs and sharing ideas on how to help student naturalists become lifelong conservationists.

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New Dekalb County Forest Preserve: Prairie Oaks

October 22, 2012
Article in: Birding

This past weekend we visited a newly opened preserve in DeKalb County, Illinois called “Prairie Oaks Forest Preserve”.

Prairie Oaks Forest Preserve

Immediately we were impressed by the variety of habitat which included some wetlands, large stately oaks, and some restored prairie/savanna.

Prairie Oaks Forest Preserve

There is also a fairly large, older forest that is far removed from the road.

The preserve is located in the middle of farm fields so we bet that during migration, the place will be hopping with warblers and more.

We found mostly sparrows: Fox, White-throated, and White-crowned. Plus tons of Dark-eyed Juncos and a hunting Red-tailed Hawk.

Fox Sparrow
Fox Sparrow

White-breasted Nuthatch
White-breasted Nuthatch

We startled a group of around four deer as well.

The entire time we were there we noticed how quiet it was other than natural sounds.

There are many trails that criss-cross which we covered in about an hour. The terrain is easy and nearly flat and the time hiking/birding could be shortened by not doing all the loops.

There are also many picnic tables so you could have a picnic after a good hike.

Overall, we really enjoyed this new preserve and the work they did to restore the habitat. I plan on returning a number of times as it is on my alternative route home from work.

The one drawback is that dogs are not allowed at all at the preserve!

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Red Admiral and a Shooting Star

April 4, 2012
Article in: Outdoors and Travel

Just a few shots from a recent hike to Blackhawk Springs Forest Preserve. Didn’t bring my big camera lens so these are just with the sturdy point and shoot.

Here is a Red Admiral:

Red Admiral

And a shooting star:

Shooting Star

Finally, a small spider (not sure if it is a “baby” or not):

Spider

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Review of Icebreaker Hiking Wear From Natureshop Clothing

June 29, 2011
Article in: Product Reviews

I was recently contacted by Natureshop in New Zealand to review some of their Icebreaker hiking clothing. Here is what I think.

L to R: GT Run Tracer Pant, SS Sprint Crewe shirt, and Hike + Mid Crewe socks
New Hiking Clothes to Review

Icebreaker GT Technical 200 – SS Sprint Crewe shirt

At first I was worried about the sizing of the shirt as I’ve worn “form-fitting” before and they can be uncomfortably tight. But this shirt in medium fits wonderfully; a perfect balance of close-fitting but not restrictive. Immediately I loved how the merino wool felt. The construction feels solid and durable and after wearing the SS Sprint Crewe for awhile it felt almost like I wasn’t wearing it.

Me in New Hiking Gear

I did some hiking in 80-85 degree weather and I sweated a lot. The shirt wicked the sweat to the outside and was soaked pretty good. But underneath I was pretty dry and after hanging the shirt up to air out, it too was dry and like new.

I have also been wearing the shirt when I workout at the gym and it is perfect for running and biking. Again, I sweated profusely but kept dry underneath. Besides the high level of comfort, the shirt rocks because no matter how hard I work out it never smells!

Icebreaker GT Run – Tracer Pant

The Tracer Pant also fits perfectly (medium) and is better than I expected from running/hiking pants. The material has some stretch to it and the merino wool is not itchy. Again, the material wicks the sweat away like magic and dries super quick.

Me in New Hiking Gear

I’ve been dog-walking, hiking, and running in these pants and they work great. There are two zippered pockets that provide enough room for keys, wallet, phone, etc. and I don’t have to worry about them falling out. The material does not smell at all after a long, fast-paced workout or hike. Truly incredible!

We highly recommend both the GT Run Tracer Pant and GT Technical 200 – SS Sprint Crewe for all types of outdoor and athletic activities. They are a bit pricey but the quality and workability make them worthwhile. I will review them again along with the hiking socks in the winter to see how they handle the extreme cold of northern Illinois.

Disclaimer: I received the above items for free to review on Birdfreak.com but do not get any payment for your purchase.

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Hiking the Pihea and Alakai Swamp Trails in Kauai, Hawaii

June 11, 2011
Article in: Outdoors and Travel

Stacia was still not feeling well so I ventured into Waimea Canyon and Koke’e State Park by myself. The long, twisting mountain road went from sea level to over 5,000 feet. The goal was to find native forest birds above “the mosquito line” where they were more abundant.

I was the first hiker to begin at the end of the road trailhead for the Pihea Trail. Almost immediately (and often) I was rewarded with this vista:
Pihea Trail

Eddie (Birdfreak) Along Pihea Trail

The trail was one of the roughest I’ve ever hiked; I carefully calculated each step as it was steep, rocky and slippery. Without cell phone service, deep in the Hawaiian forest, my goal was to avoid a twisted ankle or worse.

Pihea Trail

Native birds were difficult to find but I was serenaded by Japanese White-eyes most of the time. The Pihea Trail eventually merged with the Alakai Swamp Trail after two miles. Most of this part was boardwalk, although some of the planks were in desperate need of repair.

Alakai Swamp Trail

Pihea and Alakai Swamp Trail Crossroads

I found this bird, which I believe to be a female White-rumped Shama (non-native).
P1000557

Eventually I reached a stream that I decided to not cross so headed back up the way I came.
Alakai Swamp Trail

As I hiked I heard an interesting sound and discovered a pair of ‘Anianiau that were courting. One kept following the other and then I saw him feed his mate. I managed this sub-par photo of one of them.
'Anianiau

I could have hiked all day but wanted to get back to check on Stacia and I still had a one and a half hour drive back to the hotel. In all I hiked about 5 miles in one of the most beautiful, native forests in all of Hawaii.

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Skechers Shape-ups 1,000 Mile Project Update – 150 Mile Mark

April 13, 2011
Article in: Product Reviews

For the next year I will be putting a brand new pair of Skechers Shape-ups AT Diamondback Trail through the gauntlet of “birder abuse”. I have passed the 150 mile mark! Here are my thoughts thus far.

I have been walking Bella nearly twice a day at 1-2 miles each time. I love that the shoes force me to stand up straighter and also make me feel taller. (The cushioning gives me about a half inch of height.)

Good posture is an overlooked but important point when teaching a dog to heel. If you are slouching the dog will take advantage that you are not walking confidently as a leader.

I have also been able to get out on some dirty trails to do some birding. The shoes are comfortable on uneven paths but do take some getting used to. A couple times I felt like I was going to roll my ankle to the side on a tree root. But the support held strong and my ankle was fine.

The shoes look nearly brand new with just a few scuff marks (and a little dirt). The tread is in perfect condition still.

The only thing I’ve noticed negatively of the Shape-Ups is when the terrain is wet they make a squishy sound even well after the wetness has dried. In fact, my left shoe still makes a squeak with each step so I don’t know if moisture is trapped in there or not.

Here is the weekly breakdown of mileage:
Week 1: 38.35 miles
Week 2: 42.15 miles
Week 3: 37.70 miles
Week 4: 34.10 miles
Total: 152.30 miles (as of April 11, 2011)

Most of the miles are done on pavement, the majority during my morning, lunch, and afternoon breaks at work. View the complete breakdown of miles walked by day.

Please note: We are not doctors; if you wish to follow anything we say please consult your doctor first. Walking is still one of the safest and easiest ways to get in shape but we don’t want anyone to injure themselves!

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Skechers Shape-ups AT Diamondback Trail Review – 1,000 Mile Project

March 21, 2011
Article in: Product Reviews

For the next year I will be putting a brand new pair of Skechers Shape-ups AT Diamondback Trail through the gauntlet of “birder abuse”. I received this pair of shoes from Skechers to undergo this endeavor. At the end of the year (365 day period) I will see how the shoes hold up to my crazy amount of walking. This is the beginning of the adventure.

The Specs

Skechers makes an ever-growing line of Shape-ups® and the model I am wearing is the AT (All-Terrain) Diamondback Trail.

I went with the black and yellow model for two reasons: (1) black should show less dirt than silver or white and (2) the yellow will show better during early morning or late night dog walks. The listed price is $95.00.

My Specs

I am 5 feet 10 1/2 inches tall and weigh 173 pounds. The shoes are size 10.5 and medium width (the only option).

I am an avid walker besides hiking to find birds. Now that the weather is improving daily, my walks are getting longer as well. I rarely miss a day of dog walks, usually in the morning and evening. I walk 5 to 10 miles almost daily and in most conditions. Usually, I avoid heavy rain or extremely icy sidewalks.

1,000 Miles in 1 Year

I chose 1,000 miles as a solid number to shoot for. But I anticipate exceeding this total.

1,000 miles / 365 days = 2.74 miles/day

In northern Illinois we have excellent walking weather from March to November or about 9 months. I plan to do most of the walking during these months. All mileage will be estimated but should be fairly accurate as I use Google maps for road walks and most trails have their mileage marked.

I will try to regularly update the mileage total in a graphic on the sidebar as well as post about the progress and condition of the shoes.

I will be keeping track of the miles, weather, and trail conditions in a Google Spreadsheet which you can view here.

Initial Opinion of the Diamondback Trail

Style-wise, these shoes are sweet! The yellow highlights stand out but are not gaudy. The silver mesh looks cool and the black offsets the yellow perfectly.

After trying them on for the first time the fit was snug but not too stiff. I still haven’t broken them in fully.

The shape is definitely different looking and feels different on your feet. But it is this shape and “Kinetic Wedge Technology” that according to Skechers is designed to:

The shoe is supposed to simulate walking on sand and thus burn more calories than walking with other shoes.

The entire shoe is designed for trail use from the antibacterial, breathable “sockliner” to the “motion control cage” that adds to stability over rocks and mud. The outsole has “high-abrasion rubber ‘lugs and treads’” that add cushioning and improve traction.

The Skechers Shape-ups AT Diamondback Trail come with a workout DVD and booklet that explains the best way to use the shoes. It also suggests you start using them in moderation: “25 to 45 minutes [per walk] for your first two weeks”.

First Walk

March 15th, 2011; 9:51 to 10:10 am
Walked in the industrial park at work for 19 minutes and covered 1.1 miles. The shoe’s feel is noticeably different from other shoes but I quickly got accustomed to it. My pace was slower than usual but I could feel my posture was better (I was also consciously trying to keep my back straighter). Calves and legs felt like they were worked but felt great!

American Robins and Red-winged Blackbirds were chirping and calling all over. Despite being in the low 30s, it almost felt like spring!

I’ll try to hit the trails soon but that will be in an upcoming post!

Please note: We are not doctors; if you wish to follow anything we say please consult your doctor first. Walking is still one of the safest and easiest ways to get in shape but we don’t want anyone to injure themselves!

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Searching for the Best Hiking Footwear

April 30, 2010
Article in: Outdoors and Travel

Besides being an avid birder, I’m an obsessive walker and hiker. I’ll go in any weather and over any terrain. The only prerequisites for trekking in any condition: comfortable clothing and excellent footwear. Wearing out my current walking shoes and seeking more support for my hiking boots, I am in search of the best hiking footwear (and thus seek the opinion of other birders and naturalists.

My history of hiking boots is fairly limited (or at least my memory of what I wore is). Back in 2001 prior to going on a great western adventure with my dad and our two dogs, we purchased identical boots: Rocky Sport Utility Max Insulated Waterproof Boot (or at least something fairly similar).

These boots lasted five years of heavy use before they began breaking down and were no longer waterproof. They more than paid for themselves providing footing in every state west of the Mississippi River and on countless local hikes.

Left to right: Adidas, Keen, Irish Setter
Birding Footwear

Sometime in 2008 I decided to replace these battered boots with a new pair: Irish Setter (by Red Wing Shoes) 3856 Aerotracker [size 11 1/2]. These sturdy, comfortable boots are breathable yet waterproof. I can confidently walk in just about any terrain, through muck and flooded paths, without worrying about losing my footing. I even use them as a winter boot although they aren’t the warmest boots for some really cold walks.

Besides boots I like to walk at work during my lunch hour (even if I’m not birding). Plus I walk/run two Dobermans (separately) so I like comfortable yet long-lasting walking/running shoes. I have a pair of Keen Ridgeline that are now retired to gardening or other dirty jobs and a new pair of Adidas Yukon Trail that are for walking/running.

I am really happy thus far with the Adidas. I took them on a muddy trail and they cleaned off nicely. Plus, I can run with the dogs on sidewalks and they are comfortable.

Unfortunately, I also own a pair of Keen Newport (hard-toed sandals) that were of poor quality. They were comfortable and I loved wearing them on trails. They were breathable and you could throw them in the wash. But after only a few seasonal months of wearing them, the main strap ripped making them unwearable. Worse yet, Keen’s support has been terrible. One email was ignored completely and the other one was rather ho-hum and said in a roundabout way that they may or may not honor the warranty (1-year). It is technically now more than a year but when I first contacted them (and was ignored) it was well within it.

I sent all my information for a warranty claim but have not received a new pair nor a response. Such a disappointment considering I had been bragging up Keen to all birders (and hikers) I talked to.

What hiking footwear do you recommend? I would love to hear what other birders wear and swear by. Birding footwear is pretty vital gear for successful birding yet it can often be overlooked.

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