Singing Dicks

Well, to slightly tweak an often misquoted Twain quote – “reports of my death are ‘slightly’ exaggerated”. To be honest, I’ve always thought it was “rumors of my demise have been greatly exaggerated” but learned the truth while doing a quick double check ahead of starting this post. Regardless, good news, I’m still alive – dinged up a bit and hoping no other competitors heard me trying to encourage my body to get the hell across the finish line in the middle of the dark, but hey, still kicking. For several posts I’ve been mentioned the upcoming 50 mile ultra trail race. That was last Saturday and to cut to the chase (see what I did there), I finished every one of those god-foresaken miles. I’ll be putting up a full race review on the mothership blog as soon as I am mentally prepared to relive that experience. Without going into too much detail, there are things you do because they are truly fun, things you do because of other compelling reasons and then there are the things you do to test yourself and further define your boundaries. The latter has a tendency to get into a complete at all cost mentality. Yesterday I had x-rays done on my foot and a follow up discussion with a good friend who happens to be a local foot surgeon. Good news on that front, but I’m in for an extended rest to address some “very angry” components. Rather than just sit and stare at my shiny new super cool belt buckle, thought I’d add another (less strenuous) first, this time to my birding list.

Dickcissal found at Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie, Wilmington IL in May 2016

Say hello to tonight’s featured feathered friend! This is one of those +1’s that have been sitting in my queue for many many years. Part of the delay is due to proximity. Although I do feature easily accessible birds from right here in the broke state of Illinois, I tend to focus on those targets we enjoy traveling tin. Doesn’t seem as exciting if I feature a bird I literally walk out into our woods, snap a few pictures and then hit the kitchen for some tasty waffles.

Dickcissal found at Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie, Wilmington IL in May 2016

Hit the jump to read more about our colorful feathered friend.

Hmmm… it is a bit late, but waffles sounds really good. One sec “Honey, my foot is still hurting, can you make me some waffles, I’m sure it will make it fee….” – whoa, I saw my trail shoe whiz past my head … “nevermind!”. I digress, back to our native birdy. This brightly adorned creature is called a Dickcissel. Probably a difficult name to have to carry during its early schooling days. They are supposedly named after their song which Cornell compares to a “dick-dick-see-see-see” series of notes. Years in the field with this Sparrow shaped bird and not once have I ever discerned that interpretation.

Dickcissal found at Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie, Wilmington IL in May 2016

Not from lack of exposure as these Dicks sing like crazy. Instead, when I here two tweets followed by a 3 stroke sewing machine.. I start looking for fence posts. Specifically, fence posts or barbed wire with a bright clump of yellow on them. As you can easily tell from the shots here, the Dickcissel sports a brightly yellowed breast with similar hues through the eyeline and below the cheek. The next key identifier is the dark black “V” shaped patch on the neck. Although much smaller, you can visually check off the similar markings by making sure it doesn’t have that wicked dagger of a bill those Meadowlarks possess (link here).

Dickcissal found at Havana IL, Substation in June 2016

For more detail on the local front, the Dickcissel is considered a long distant migrant. We do not get to see them here during the winter months as they prefer to hang out in Central America and down into South America. During the breeding months, these birds make their way to the middle region of the US to sing their little hearts out in the fields and prairies that make up a lot of that area. They are thicker more to our west, however, we still get our fair share of them in the fields that border our woodlands.

Dickcissal found at Havana IL, Substation in June 2016

Just to give a bit more excitement to the species, the shots here did require a small bit of travel. This set is a series of shots taken at the Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie near Wilmington, IL and another encounter outside of Havana, IL. Ron was the one who introduced me to Midewin when we did some birding there back in the summer of 2016. That is an incredible place and full to the brim with prairie loving birds – a few Bison and one big ass snake. Some of those familiar with the area may be aware of the many ordinance bunkers scattered about the grounds. This used to be home to the Joliet Army Ammunition Plant during WWII.

Dickcissal found at Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie, Wilmington IL in May 2016

The other sighting was at the Havana, IL power substation. That area has had a surprising number of rare visitors over the years. It became the annual home of a pair of Western Kingbirds (link here) and another incredible bird that will be coming your way very soon (I was looking for that bird when I found the Dickcissel shots and then remembered my procrastination in completing the check). Talk about a hotspot in the middle of nowhere … figuratively speaking of course, we love our fellow “flyover” brothers and sisters. This substation is on a rock covered country road surrounded as far as you can see by crop fields.

Dickcissal found at Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie, Wilmington IL in May 2016

Post is getting a bit away from me (blame it on the exhaustion and constant fear another shoe will go whizzing past my head at any moment). So, for clarity, it is the males that sport the black “V” on their throats. The females have the similarly placed although slightly duller yellow markings on head and chest, but lack that heavy black splotch. I was able to get a shot of the female – see directly above. There were no immatures around that I could find. Those will have additional streaking on their breasts and do not appear to have the gray highlighting found on the adults.

Dickcissal found at Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie, Wilmington IL in May 2016

There are two additional characteristics I always try to get a gander at during our encounters. First of all they have a very heavy conical shaped bill. Not rare in the birding world by any means, but I always find it intriguing when they open their bills to sing. They open the bill so wide you can see the large triangle that makes up their lower bill. Take a look back at shot 3 and especially shot 5 in this post and you will be able to see this quite clearly. I can’t remember seeing that on other bird species and just one of those things I feel that sets it apart. The other cool field feature is their wicked long feet. There are some Sparrows out there that have some major paws, but these Dicks can hold their own. Add to that a nice long set of claws and you have yourself the makings of a good Freddy Krueger movie. Managed to get a decent shot of them in the image directly above.

Dickcissal found at Havana IL, Substation in June 2016

Laughed when I saw the shot above and had to make sure it was in the post. I didn’t know whether to caption it as “Look at me, I’m a goofy Pelican” or “Damn, did that human just say he was going to run 50 miles.. he craaaazzzzy”. Getting to the end of the images and I should really think about treating my injury to some cold peas. First let’s see if there are any interesting facts I can pass along.

Dickcissal found at Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie, Wilmington IL in May 2016

Surprised to learn from Cornell’s site, these birds can flock upwards to millions of birds during their winter months. Wow – I cannot imagine how deafening their song would be at that quantity…yes, I almost went with a “that many Dicks in one place reminds me of ….” joke, but took the high road for once hehehe. Now this was fascinating. Apparently this species has been bouncing around the various bird families over the years. It is currently in the Cardinal family which I can see (kidding, NOT). Previously it was part of the Sparrow family (definitely more intuitive) and even in the Oriole and Blackbird family (not feeling that either). Personally think it would be hilarious if they put them in the Aegithalidae family so we could make clever adult jokes with the Psaltriparus minimuses.

On that note, time to tend to the foot. With the race out of the way, hoping I can finally get caught back up on all my fellow blogger posts.

Stay safe everyone!

24 thoughts on “Singing Dicks”

  1. Hurrah! You ARE alive and kicking (maybe not kicking). Congrats on finishing, now perhaps you should concentrate on more genteel pursuits us retired folk are requested to do.
    Great looking bird, me, I’d put it in the Bunting family. Brilliant shots on the fence post!

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    1. Definitely not kicking… at least for another week or likely two, but still breathing at least. This is probably the first time I wasn’t thinking about the next distance after a race. I had the chance to run with a number of the 100 milers that were taking on the course at the same time and it was easy to see their pursuit had a whole different level of torture. When I was on my final loop 5th loop at 8pm I ran.. shuffled.. with a guy on his 6th loop who wasn’t planning on being done with the 100 miler until 9am the next day. Still trying to figure out if that is in reach for me or not for next year (shhhh, don’t tell Linda).
      I think the Bunting family is an excellent observation. That bill would fit perfectly with the other members of that family and definitely aligns size wise. Appreciate you dropping in B., and I’ll let you know about the 100 miler decision as soon as I come to consensus with the voices in my head.

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  2. Is that belt buckle the dinner plate kind that Rodeo Champions wear? I know from experience that you must polish those things to keep them shining and to the point of blinding other opponents. Ahhh … the knowledge of a lifetime of experiences that I can now pass on.πŸ˜‚πŸ€£ Here’s to your quick and full recovery.πŸ₯ƒ

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    1. Definitely not literally at the rodeo size, but in my eyes it might as well be a heavy welt boxing belt hehehe. Although it does not have the shiny reflective (apparently strategic ha) properties, I do wake up every morning, retrieve it from under my pillow and break out the cleaning cloth and give it a really good polishing before putting it in its velvet lined box to carry around with me the rest of the day! I have to be a little careful who I brag to about it as I might run into one of those 100+ miler crazies that will whip out their larger buckles and shame me with it…hmmm, but next year I could do the itsy bitty 5 additional 10 mile loops and bring home a BIGGER buckle.. must start working on Linda now – she put a heavy foot down while I was trying to hobble back to the RV after finishing. Good to hear from you CJ and hope you are all mended up now as well.

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      1. Funny stuff! Made my day, I can only imagine Linda putting her foot down plus she most likely has those pups on her side. You better sleep with one eye open.πŸ˜‚πŸ™„πŸ€£πŸ€£ Feeling better but not 100% but then who is at this age? πŸ˜‚

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      2. Good to hear! (I try to hang in the 93.87% these days). Yes, she has the pups definitely on her side – pretty sure she secretly trained them to continually run up and jump on my injured foot whenever they can and they keep trying to drag off my running shoes at her encouragement. Evil I tell you .. pure evil.

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  3. Glad to hear you survived your 50-mile vision quest. Sorry to hear you were “winged” a bit. Try the mushrooms next time, they cause less physical damage. Usually. Pretty little bird, whichever family it is in. Wilmington isn’t that far away for a day trip, once you have running shoes stop whizzing past your head.

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    1. Thanks! Another boundary expanding life event I can memorialize with a magnet on the back of the truck. Definitely winged (I see what you did there ha). Speaking of mushrooms, I spotted some very scary invasion of the body snatcher looking shrooms while traversing the course in the dark. Talk about creeping you out while absolutely alone in the middle of a dark black forest, with just a beam of light separating you from the rustles, shrieks and groans that seam to permeate those settings. Oh, and it didn’t help to almost be knocked down by a spooked Doe that blasted across the trail in front of me – my headlight managed to get the illuminate the hooves and the blinding white tail as they crossed me about chest high.

      We should definitely head up there and meet Ron there sometime – the prairie birds are starting to wind down up there, but not sure what other targets that may call home up there.
      Thanks for coming by Brad and hope you are enjoying your adventures.

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    1. Thank you Reed! Likely due to their availability I often under appreciate these colorful birds and enjoyed going back and finding these shots. Not as much joy as finally putting the 50 mile magnet of my truck of course ha! Appreciate you coming by Reed and hope to get caught up on all the posts I’m assuredly behind on.

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  4. Indeed, congrats on finishing in one piece and on two feet. Glad you landed on this colorful bird for your recovery post. I agree that the bill is really interesting, making his jaw almost look dislocated.

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    1. Thank you!. Took a lot more than I had originally assumed before heading out on the trail at 5am – definitely didn’t expect to end in the dark as well, but the foot needed extra rests until it decided to become outright belligerent at mile 45 – hope nobody heard me talking to it “bad foot, very bad foot”. On the bill, you are exactly right – seems like there is the standard opening and then low and behold it goes even wider when it belts into its song. Always intrigues me and enjoy trying to spot that feature in the field. Appreciate you coming by Sam.

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  5. Beautiful singing Dick. Congratulations on finishing that masochistic 50 miler. Sorry about the agony of di feet. I hope it all turns out well.

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    1. Thank Tim – one of those experiences that I’ll probably never forget for sure. Must say very clever pun there hehehe. Things are progressing well and the swelling is starting to subside. The problem is more me allowing it time to heal as I do not do well when the days pass and I do not get a run in – the crazies start taking hold. Linda is holding pretty firm on that this time so I doubt I will be able to even sneak the shoes out of the house without here knowing ugh. Appreciate you coming by Timothy, really enjoyed/ing the balloon picks.

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  6. Hello, here’s Queen from Italy. How are you now? I hope you’re fine. I love your birds 😍😍😍 Which kind of race you’ve done? Trail or what? You like competitions? Have a good day πŸ˜‰πŸ€—πŸ€—πŸ€—

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    1. Thanks for dropping by all the way from Italy. I am an ultra-trail runner and as noted above finally crested over the 50 mile mark. The thing I enjoy the best about this sport is the competition is with yourself – spent many a year running the pavement worried about catching the people ahead of me and keeping ahead of the ones behind me. Eventually grew to love the trails more and all the fun nuances that laid back community has to offer. Just takes a bit longer to get the body recovered before going out and doing it all again.

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      1. I have been trekking and trail running for a period of my life, here in the surroundings of my area, where I know many suitable places and paths. But then I had a muscle tear, in the buttock, so I had to stop and started with water sports and swimming. Now I am going to walk in the paths that do not have much difference in height because I always risk going back to having excruciating pain. I was motionless for 4 months before recovering and I was taken to the hospital twice and I had to have vortisone shots, even though I am diabetic, because the pain was very strong.

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    1. Ha, I always like to have my titles have a little bit of a bite. They definitely like to put their full mouth into their song, wonder if they get bugs flying in there similar to when I’m running and gasping for air. Thanks for the congrats – that one took a bit more out of me than I was expecting and that is before the foot issues. It is still aggravated, but not nearly as swollen as before – fingers crossed I’ll be back at it soon. I’m taking Linda down to compete in the Poodle Agility Nationals in a couple of weeks so I get to respond in kind for all the help she gave during the run… unless my foot is still hurting and I probably shouldn’t sherpa on that …hmmm hehehehe. As always, Lisa appreciate you dropping in to see my latest birds.

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