Saturday, April 29, 2006

Crows Really Are...Disgusting!!!

I have been pretty busy lately, but at least some of that "busy" has been birding. Today is an overcast day here inChicago, and there are supposed to be some pretty nasty storms the rest of the weekend. (I think the folks doing the "Birding Bitz" in Southern Illinois this weekend are going to be in for some rough weather.) So, since I expect to be rained in most of the weekend, I made sure I got out and hit some of the local hotspots before it started to pour.

Now, there are quite a few blogs that purport to be about "urban birding." I think there's even a blog called "The Urban Birder" from St. Louis or something. I think that St. Louis might be "urban" for a lot of the people reading this blog, but it sure ain't for me. I wake up every day in a 45+ story building, go to work in an even taller building, and some days, if I take the train or the bus to work, the only green I see all day is the tiny little "lawn" on the side of my building.

I have seen some goodies in that yard over the years, including a Chat, a couple rails, and most of the standard sparrows. Because the idiots that run our building can't even grow a lawn, they have re-seeded the dirt (again), and that has attracted a few more sparrows than usual. The Red-winged Blackbirds have left, but the local American Crow family is hanging around more than ever.

Yesterday I have a good laugh because the idiots that run our building (do you sense a theme here?) spent a lot of money to plant some tulips, and the crows were in there ripping them apart and eating them. Pretty funny unless you're Dutch, I suppose.

Anyway, these crows must be pretty hungry, because today I snapped the following photo:

Not a great shot, but yes, that's my local crow eating one of my local sparrows. Now, I have no love for House Sparrows (which I assume this was, but the head was already gone, so???), but still, when you only have a couple dozen birds in your neighborhood, you hate to see any of them go. The amazing thing is, the other crow from this pair, at the same time, was also eating its own sparrow. Double yuck.

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Another Quick Rant About The ABA

OK, I haven't had any reason to complain about the ABA for a few weeks, so I was almost gleeful when I received my ABA member info form in the mail today. That's basically the form you fill out to tell them whether you want to receive mailed copy of the Lister's Report, the ABA Sales Catalog, etc etc.

Well, one of the questions is whether you want to alow the ABA to sell your name and address to other organizations. After each question, they list your default response from last year -- which, in my case, was a big, fat "NO" for this particular question. So, here's my question for all of the folks in Colorado Springs who read this blog: If I marked "no" to the question of whether or not I wanted the ABA to sell my name to other companies, why have I been receiving junk mail from companies that got my address from the ABA?

And oh yeah, still no explanation about why the ABA has been without a President for, what, at least five months? I mean, we're not talking about Exxon here, what's the deal?

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Polls close at 11:59 pm Central

OK, I have kept the Mike Collins/IBWO poll up for a long time, and I am finally going to close it out late tonight or early tomorrow morning. So, in that fine Chicago tradition, stuff the ballot box while you can. There has been a late surge in favor of IBWO, but the results are still pretty spread out.

Not sure what the next poll will be, but I am open to suggestions.

The 2006 America's Birdiest City/County Contest Has Begun!!!

Folks, it's time to strap on your binoculars, grab your scopes, and fill the cooler with Mountain Dew, because the 2006 ABC is now underway!!!!

To my knowledge, the ABC (technically, it should be the "ABCCC", but we'll just stick with ABC) is the only North American birding competition that pits different cities and states against one another. Unlike the World Series of Birding, or the Great Texas Birding Classic, the ABC is not a "team" competition, it's more of a group or regional competition.

This year's rules allow a city or county to count any species seen over a three-day period. One person can go birding all three days and submit any species that was seen on any of the three days. This is a bit of a change from the past rules, and I suspect that this change will hurt Chicago, but will help a lot of other cities, because it will give localities with big areas of habitat more time to "clean up" and count every single bird. Of course, this also gives places like Chicago a longer window to hit on a "jackpot" migration day, so we'll have to wait and see who benefits the most from this rule change.

I heard throught the grapevine that some southern locales (like Dauphin Island in Alabama) have already held their competition, while a number of other cities (including San Diego, and probably any Texas and Florida entries) will pick this coming weekend for the three-day window.

So, all Chicago and Cook County IL birders should contact me ASAP so we can get ourselves organized. I think that we will be choosing May 19-21 as our window, but that is open for debate.

A bit of competition is always a good thing, so, since BINAC is read by birders all over the country, I am going to throw down a challenge: E-mail Phil Pryde (see below) and enter your damn city or county this year. It will be a lot of fun, and with a purpose, too, since you can use the ABC as either a fund-raising tool for your local bird club, or as a gereral awareness-raiser by using the local media. Or both.

So listen up, if you're in Duluth, or D.C., or NYC, or Houston, or Tampa, you need to get your lazy asses off of the couch and start planning. Kern County, Monterey County, Kings County, St. Louis County, San Diego County, are you guys ready to go, or what? I predict that the competition in the "Large Inland City" and "Inland Eastern County" categories will be especially heated this year.

Trash-talking is not only allowed, it is encouraged, so let the games begin!!!

Special thanks to Phil Pryde for organizing the competition again this year.

Thursday, April 20, 2006

Saturday, April 15, 2006

BINAC Does Dixie: Birding Waaaaaay Down South in Illinois

Well, it has been a long time coming, but the man, the myth, the legend himself has returned...BINAC HAS RETURNED TO BIRD THE DIRTY SOUTH!

If you want to build up your Illinois state list, you really have to head south. Fish Crow, Black Vulture, Purple Gallinule, Mississippi Kite, Barn Owl, Swainson's Warbler...they're all in Southern Illinois pretty much every year. I haven't been down south in a few years because I have pretty much seen all of the regularly occurring specialties, and it's a hell of a drive from Chicago. (I put exactly 400 miles on the car today.) So I save my trips for the mega-rarities that are found pretty regularly.

I will be staying in the East St. Louis area for about two weeks on a work assignment. This will give me time to chase a few rarities, see a few of the local breeders, and generally get a jump-start on migration.

So here we go...

STATE BIRD=Cinnamon Teal! On Wednesday I flew into St. Louis for a quick one-day trip, in preparation for my longer trip. I was lucky enough to bird the beautiful marshes near Gateway International Raceway:
See the Arch in the background? That proves I was in East St. Louis! That photo is taken with my back to the marsh. Here's the marsh itself:

I almost missed the teal because the light was bad and I didn't have my scope with me. But, it was still there, close enough to see with binoculars. Hoo-rah, I don't get too many state birds these days. But I am going to try for at least one more: Burrowing Owl.

Crested Caracara sighted in Kankakee County, Illinois!!!

There was a Crested Caracara sighted in Kankakee this morning, a county just south of Chicago.

There will be a lot of discussion about the origin of this bird.

However, I think it would be a mistake to automatically assume the bird is an escapee. The link provided by Tom Kelly on the Illinois birding list (from Don Roberson's web site) is quite informative, and refers to at least a couple of vagrant Caracara records that appear to be legitimate. The one problem with a theory of natural vagrancy for this bird is that the time period is not really right, the other vagrant records were summer birds.

This species is undergoing a range expansion, and it would be important for other observers to try to relocate this bird and take photos that would show any indication of captivity or falconry.

As far as zoo escapes are concerned, it is pretty easy to use ISIS to determine that there are only three known Caracaras currently being held in the Midwest (two in Grand Rapids and one in St. Louis) and it would only take a couple of calls to confirm that those birds have not flown the coop, so to speak. And while a Caracara could certainly be kept by a falconer, that would seem fairly unlikely, since Caracaras are partially carrion eaters. So hopefully someone will relocate this bird.

Monday, April 10, 2006

Spring has arrived (finally!!), in Chicago and elsewhere

After a few stops and starts, it looks like Spring has finally begun here in Chicago. There has been a big push of migrants down in Florida as well, so those warblers are on their way.

This weekend was still pretty damn cold up here in Chicago. I spent the weekend in Bloomington, Indiana, where along with my non-birding responsibilities, I tried to pad my Indiana list a bit. Didn't really see much in the limited time available, but I did check out some nice habitat at Fairfax S.R.A. on Lake Monroe. It was almost as cold in Bloomington as it was in Chicago, a front had gone thru on Thursday/early Friday, complete with 2-inch hail, and a high of 77 degrees was followed by frost warnings and temps in the upper 30s.

We headed home and got back in time to watching the Cubs crush the Cardinals (cold). One of the few birds I truly hate.

This morning, there was a lot of bird activity around my building. Since there are no nesting species on my block, anything I hear (other than the usual urban bird chatter) is going to be a "good" bird. This time of year, I can gauge migration on my way to the bus or to catch a cab, even without my binoculars. There was enough activity this morning that even my heavy metal-damaged eardrums could pick up a lot of new songs. There were warblers and sparrows making noise, but I had to run off to work and all I could definitively pick out over the din of the lingering Red-winged Blackbirds were a few Yellow-rumps. Hopefully I will get back soon enough tonight to see what hung around my "yard" all day.

This will be a strange migration for me, since it will be the first migration since I started birding 10 years ago that will see me outside of Chicago for a significant period of time. I always try to avoid foreign birding trips during late April and early May, but this year work obligations and the resulting reorganization of some birding trips may force me to miss four entire May weekends.

The tragedy!!!

I am actually a little sad, but at least I will be in some birdy places. My trip to La (and my planned IBWO mini-excursion in the Pearl) has been cancelled, replaced by a week or two? three?) in the St. Louis area. Now, that might sound like a poor trade, but for an Illinois birder/lister from Chicago, a week or two in mid- to late-April in far Southern Illinois is a really great opportunity. Right now there are two potential "gettable" state birds for me in that area; I have most of the "southern specials" in Illinois, but there are two great vagrants down there right now that I have never seen in Illinois. And some of those "southern specials" (Painted Bunting, Mississippi Kite) are so cool that I will probably be forced to see them even if they aren't state ticks. The Monterey trip is up in the air right now, it might end up being cancelled, or pushed back into May. Decisions, decisions.

Thursday, April 06, 2006

From the Archives, Part I

Sometimes, there are tons of things I want to talk about, and I just don't have the time to do it. (I still have half-finished posts from December and January that will hopefully eventually see the light of day).

But this week, I have had some extra time, and there just hasn't been anything interesting enough to have caught my attention and prompt me to write something.

That should change -- and soon -- since I have an insane amount of travel scheduled for the next month or two, right as spring migration is starting to heat up. Right now the plan is Bloomington IN -Baton Rouge LA -Monterey CA -Orlando FL -Richmond and the Shenandoah Valley VA all in the next month.

Until then, here are some photos from....hmmmm, let's see if anyone can guess where, from November 2000.

We started out in a very urban area, but the birding was very good (as were the steaks):

We also met a man who needs no introduction-- but I will give him one anyway. He is one of the most entertaining bird guides the world has ever know, the world's finest snipe finder, a connoisseur of fines wines, and perhaps the only man who has ever been kicked out of Formula One for driving too fast:


After spending only one day in the city, we headed south. Before this photojournal continues, one thing needs to be made clear:


Part II will resume with the next stop on our intinerary... headed south... way down south...

Monday, April 03, 2006

From the Field: Birding Northerly Island on April Fool's Day

Well, the birding on Saturday was definitely better than it was yesterday. Sparrow migration is in full force, so we headed over to our favorite former airport at Northerly Island.

It was colder than it looked, and pretty windy, but the birds made up for it. We saw about 30 species:

2 Pied-billed Grebe
5 Horned Grebe
Canada Goose
7 Northern Shoveler
15 Lesser Scaup
1 Common Goldeneye
2 Bufflehead
1289 Red-breasted Merganser
1 American Coot
8 Killdeer
2 Wilson's Snipe
Ring-billed Gull
9 Mourning Dove
3 Northern Flicker
1 Eastern Phoebe
8 Tree Swallow
1 American Pipit
3 American Crow
European Starling
15 American Tree Sparrow
5 Field Sparrow
3 Vesper Sparrow
3 Savannah Sparrow
1 Henslow's Sparrow
9 Fox Sparrow
121 Song Sparrow
11 Swamp Sparrow
39 Dark-eyed Junco
14 Eastern Meadowlark
Brown-headed Cowbird

The Henslow's Sparrow is very early; without checking very past issue of the Meadowlark, I would guess that April 1 is probably a record early date for Cook County, or very close to it. The average arrival for the whole state is right around April 13-14, so this bird was about two weeks early even for Southern Illinois.

Sunday, April 02, 2006

From the Field: Birding Olive Park or Blame it on the Rain

I made a typical birder mistake and relied on the local weather forecasters to plan my birding for today. I had intended to hit the Palos area for waterfowl and early migrants; one of the local birding clubs even had a field trip in that area today, although you wouldn't know it since there was no message to the local birding listserves, and the info on the club's web site is wrong. But all of the weather forecasts predicted rain, strong thunderstorms, and even hail for today, so I decided to just stay in.

Well, wouldn't you know it, it rained downtown for only about 15 minutes and that was it. With the local roads being a mess, and the White Sux having their Opening Day today, it really didn't make sense for me to try to head out to Palos after the rain passed through.

So, to console myself, I took a nice walk around the neighborhood, and hit
Olive Park for a bit. In Chicago, spring can mean everything from shorts and a t-shirt to winter coats, hats, and gloves. Today I had all of those conditions in the same walk. When I started my walk it was in the 40s, overcast, and very windy. The temperature is slowing rising, and by the end of my walk it was sunny and about 55 degrees. Of course, as soon as the sun came out it started to rain again. Very strange, even for Chicago.

The birding was really pretty slow, especially compared to Northerly Island yesterday. Olive Park has been really disappointing since it was "restored", and since parking is difficult, on one really birds there anymore anyway. It's really a shame, because that used to be one of the better spots along the lakefront.

There have been 3 Saw-whets and one Snowy Owl reported from downtown Chicago in the last week or so, and of course I didn't see any of them. We did try for the Snowy and one of the Saw-whets on Friday night, but had no luck, and the "habitat" where the Snowy was sighted (a very urban area with the only space being an abandoned gas station's parking lot) seemed questionable...but that's what city birding in Chicago is all about -- sometimes you find great birds is the most unlikely spots.

I did make an effort to look for Saw-whets in some arbor vitae-ish hedges but came up empty. At least I didn't see any naked people, or homeless people, and didn't get attacked by any of the aggressive resident Red-winged Blackbirds. I'd say that about half the time I check those hedges one of those three things happens.

Speaking of blackbirds, a flock of about a dozen Red-winged Blackbirds has taken up residence around my building. I live in a very urban area, so this is quite a treat for me. I think they were attracted by the seed that some kind soul (not me--usually when I say something like this that is code for "I did it" but I really didn't this time) threw in front of the parking garage. This is the same parking garage where the local S.W.A.T. teams was searching for a carjacker a few months ago.

I'm sure the Red-wingeds will move on soon, but their constant calling really makes it feel like spring in the city.

Since there were so few birds, it was pretty easy for me to keep track of everything I saw today:

Canada Goose 1
Mallard 3
Common Goldeneye 1
Ring-billed Gull 30
Rock Dove 2
Eastern Phoebe 3
American Robin 1
Brown Creeper 2
Eastern Towhee 1
Fox Sparrow 3
Song Sparrow 7
Swamp Sparrow 8
Dark-eyed Junco 6
Red-winged Blackbird 11
House Finch 4
House Sparrow 32