They Who Suck Sap

I put my blogging hobby in jeopardy tonight.  Linda and I checked out a German Christmas Market (Christkindlmarket) in downtown Chicago or as I like to refer to it as – Ron’s neighborhood (cue comment ha).  Really nice German/European themed market full of cultural foods and gifts.  We took a special liking to the cider and hot chocolate in souvenir mugs and an amazing amount of really cool glass ornaments.  Show me a colorful glass bird ornament and I switch into “here, take my money” mode.   Problem was it was an OUTSIDE market.  Start with the windy city’s namesake, add in a heaping amount of plunging temperatures gives you some mighty bitter conditions.  Somehow made it back to the hotel without my fingers falling off – still tingle while I type.  In an attempt to bring them back to room temperature, thought I would feature a bird found in much warmer conditions.

Yellow-Bellied Sapsucker found at International Crane Foundation, Baraboo, Wisconsin - April 2014

Actually this post features specimens found in multiple locations over multiple years and in different months of the year (yes, all warmer than the tundra conditions we experienced tonight).  This featured bird is a member of the Sapsucker species.  It is pretty easy to tell the Yellow-Bellied Sapsucker is a member of the Woodpecker family.  Long, powerful bill, well clawed to support hanging on the sides of trees/branches and adorned in the common colors of black, white and red.

Yellow-Bellied Sapsucker found at Kentucky Lake - April 2015

Hit the jump to read some more about Mr. Sappy Sucker!

Continue reading They Who Suck Sap

Another Bird List Add

Good news everyone – back today with a brand new addition to my birding list.  This particular bird was extremely elusive and took everything I had to get it in the tin.  Unlike most of the bird species, this particular one was quite adept at navigating the Chain O’ Lakes underbrush.  It was as if it knew that the Beast would be handicapped in this setting making it nearly impossible to get a bead on it.  Only option was to go in after it – braving life and limb to add another notch in the camera strap.  Even deep in enemy terrain, it was tough to locate.  Missing was a familiar chirp or soothing song that would allow me to home in on the location.  Even the rustle from its stealthy movement left very little for the ears to focus on.  A rustle of leaves to the right… a rustle of leaves to the left… wait, there it is.  Evolution had adapted it well to the forest floor, but the human eye has a higher power when it comes to distinguishing slight disturbances in the force – this one was a yellow streak that showed up between the leaves.  Now I had it, but only a split second to get the focus on target, the manual settings dialed in and the shutter snapped.

Hit the jump to see my latest addition

Continue reading Another Bird List Add

A Northern In Perfect Light

Last day of March so one last bonus round for the month.  Been doing a bit of Spring cleaning in the digital darkroom to get a bit more caught up.  The hope is I can get to processing all those trips that we have taken since 2013 – which was the time most of the posts as of late have been originating out of.  There are so many +1’s in the tin just sitting there waiting to get processed and counted!  I’ve had this post ready go for over 6 months now and never got around to getting it out of draft mode.  Today we remedy that.

Northern Flicker Shot at Chain O' Lakes State Park

These shots of the Northern Flicker came from a birding outing my brother Ron and I took at Chain O’ Lakes State Park back in April 2014.  That would be the same outing where the shots came from in my previous post of Ring-Neck Ducks.  Main difference is those pictures were crap and these are some of my favorite.  In fact, the shot above was worked up for the Heart of Illinois Fair competition last year and ended up preserving my no-UB status for the year thanks to pulling in an Honorable Mention (which in or books a huge victory for reasons I will not go into right now).

Northern Flicker Shot at Chain O' Lakes State Park

Ron and I were hiking a hidden trail I had found the year before which takes you into a fairly remote area of the park.  We ended up getting trapped thanks to flooding waters on this particular hike, but we were able to get some good shots in the tin.  It was later in the day when we came upon this Northern Flicker hanging out in a dead tree.  Unlike the Ring-Necked ducks, we were able to get nice and close to this specimen who didn’t seem to mind our presence.  We could not have asked for better lighting or composition.  Although I already have this bird checked off the list due to a chance encounter in my backyard, these shots are definitely worthy of replacing the crappy shot I had to use for my NA Birding List Gallery up on our EddieSoft Photography Gallery (link here).

Northern Flicker Shot at Chain O' Lakes State Park

I actually have a couple more Flicker shots in the tin from an encounter at Independence Grove and on our trips out East, but these by far are the best of the bunch.  As my brother has pointed out – the great thing about birding from a photographer’s viewpoint is every trip has the opportunity to be successful – you can observe new birds, you learn more about behavior and you can always improve on your shots of birds you already have on your list – case in point with this post.  For some reason  Ron keeps getting asked (he is a very social person!) if he is a photographer  who likes to take pictures of birds or a bird enthusiast who happens to have a camera.  I’ve thought about that a lot and determined I must be a photographer first and a birder a very close second.  A shot of a bird is nice, but a shot of a bird in perfect light can be breathtaking.

Happy birding everyone – see ya’ next month!


A Golden Day

I’m back with ANOTHER bird post. I promise the next will not be about birds (fingers crossed I can actually pull that off). For now, I will continue trying to get through the multitude of new birds Ron and I got while birding at the Chain O’ Lakes State Park. Looking back at all the captures we got there puts that day in one of the best I’ve had locally. Maybe even better than my entire trip to North Carolina last year which ended up pretty dismal on the bird front … although I did get a Copperhead (link Copperhead) while out there so that was definitely a plus albeit on my Snake Life List. That would be a list I DO NOT mention in Linda’s presence which is odd in the sense she tends to always be with me when I encounter them!

I better get to the featured bird. There is a wicked storm heading our way and that means there is a high likelihood it will knock out my Internet (life as a country boy). Once again, I have to apologize for some sub-par execution on these shots. These were taken at the farthest reach the Beast could muster. To be honest, it was difficult to even make out any features when I spotted it hanging out in the top of the tree – thank god for the golden rule “If it even looks like a bird SHOOT it”. There is plenty of time left for IDing in the digital darkroom.

A Golden-Crowned Kinglet Shot at Chain O' Lakes State Park

So there it is. A fairly small frame which Cornell’s website describes as slightly larger than a Hummingbird. From my experience it looked a little larger than that. Spotting a Hummer at that distance would have been impossible. Ron gets full credit for IDing this particular bird. Pretty impressive being that there wasn’t a whole lot to go on. The eye line helped but the interesting barring was the tipping point. The white bar was a key element, but more importantly, the notched brown bar was very distinctive. The end result, this specimen is a Golden-Crowned Kinglet. For those counting, this is an official +1 on my Birding Life List.

A Golden-Crowned Kinglet Shot at Chain O' Lakes State Park

Pretty proud of this little catch. We could have easily passed over it especially having just walked a looong way out into the depths of the park. The hike came to an unexpected end when the flooded river left impassable water on three sides – bad news. Sighting this on the way back made the trek worth it. It is possible that the fatigue from the energy spent was the main reason for the fuzzy pictures (eh.. likely not, just poor execution)

A Golden-Crowned Kinglet Shot at Chain O' Lakes State Park

Eeesh, out of pictures and haven’t made it to the interesting facts yet. First off, the angles of these pictures didn’t reveal another distinctive feature of this Kinglet, the tops of their heads have a cool yellow stripe on them – guessing the source of the name. Cornell confirmed the field experience that they tend to hang out in the tops of trees. They spend their Winters across the entirety of the United States. We must have caught this one before it headed off to upper Canada for the Summer. Actually on closer look it might spend the whole year in parts of the West as well. They can survive -40 degree temps. Here’s another odd tidbit – each of the Kinglet’s nostrils are covered by a tiny feather. Wonder if it sneezes a lot. Lastly, the Golden-Crowned Kinglet sports a Least Concern Conservation status – YEAH!

All I got for you tonight – the rain is starting so wrapping this up just in time. See ya’ again real soon now.

Glad to See a Gad

Time to test your powers of perception with a little blog quiz.

First Question: What is this post likely to be about?

Second Question: At what location were the images for this post taken?

Tick tick tick tick tick tick.. okay, pencils down.  If you answered the first question with “a bird” you get 1 point.  If your answer referenced a bird but included a profanity (as in another damn bird or probably stupid ass bird), then you have earned 5 points.  Any answers that refer to quickly inflicting harm to author for subjecting them to another winged post results in a negative 2 points.  If you failed to write your answer down because you lost your pencil while jumping in joy that there was a new post deserves 20 points for your sheer enthusiasm.  Now on to question two.  Answers referring to the Chain O’ Lakes State park will be met with a hardy +4, since you are obviously a loyal (and thus beloved) reader.  References to the Circus Museum in Baraboo Wisconsin receive a negative 100 points for being a smartass but anything referring to the fact it doesn’t matter because corrupt politicians are trying to pull one over on the American people get a +12 for not being a sheeple.

… and the answer is – it is indeed a post about a bird and yes, another post from the Chain O’ Lakes State Park.  I warned you it was going to be a feather laden month.  Introducing the latest addition to the Birding Life List.

Gadwell Shot at Chain O' Lakes

Oh, from a scoring perspective, any positive total is a win in my book!  Any negative number should be met with scorn especially anything above a negative 50 (leave now Clown enthusiast!!). The bird or more descriptive, the duck you see here is a Gadwall.  Once again, this ended up being a surprise in the digital darkroom.  Ron and I were birding at the Chain, which translates to shooting absolutely anything with feathers.

Gadwell Shot at Chain O' Lakes

Hit the jump to find out what this new duck is!

Continue reading Glad to See a Gad

A Sam Adams’ Favorite

I am not going to sugarcoat it, you are going to get Hitchcocked with Bird posts this month (and maybe even next month). I am sooooo far behind getting my pictures processed and posted it is absolutely ridiculous. If I do not get on top of this soon I’m going to be having this same discussion at the end of the year. Besides, I really, really, really want to get to the fruits of my recent vacation as soon as possible. Probably go with a few more posts than usual, but maybe cut down the dialog a bit so I can get in and out between processing the images.

Part of the issue is actually a good problem to have. The trips to Chain O’ Lakes, Allerton, Starved Rock and the recent vacation have resulted in a high number of new additions to the Bird Life List! Not sure it is enough to counter the recent haul from my brother Ron, but at least helps to stem the tide. Unfortunately, in compliance with the birding rules outlined in the Birding Competition Rules outlined in the previous post, I have to feature the bird in a post before it gets the official check mark. Not wasting any more time, let’s get to the latest +1 on the birding count – the Brewer’s Blackbird

Brewer's Blackbird Shot At Chain O' Lakes State Park

As with the many of the recent posts, this bird was also shot at the Chain O’ Lakes State Park. I distinctly remember when I spotted this bird because I was drawing a bead on it when my brother was viciously attacked by a pond hell spawn bent on sucking the soul right out of him. That is his narrative, of course. In reality he accidentally spooked a Pheasant out of the brush by the pond – a frightened bird simply trying to escape imminent danger (Rumors about rocket propelled nets and stun grenades have been swirling about the area). I must say that Ron’s startled reaction was quite the comic scene. Even with the commotion, the Brewer’s wasn’t startled and simply continued chatting it up. I was not exactly sure what it was out in the field but the bright yellow eye stood out against the blackness. A quick look on the Cornell site and a validation by Ron confirmed the +1 on the count.

Brewer's Blackbird Shot At Chain O' Lakes State Park

I only got a few shots of this bird – probably due to trying to get Ron back from the brink of terror hehehehe. I better get to some facts. They pretty much cover the US and middle Canada regions across the Summer, Winter and migration periods. Looks like this one might have been migrating up to the Summer area based on the Cornell maps. Ummm… that’s about it – pretty weak. The females lack the brilliant yellow eye and apparently are incorrectly maligned by some farmers who do not understand they are a farmer’s friend and not much of a detriment to their crops. Put away the poisons boys, they actually eat crop damaging insects. Reminds me of the rampant misunderstanding of Wolves out West. They do carry a Least Concern Conservation Status – the fact that they tend to colonize in the hundreds probably helps their overall survival.

All I have for tonight folks – need to go rest some tired legs from the evening run.

The Wigs in the Tin

I’m guessing some of you out there were thinking this was the month, the month that the quota finally prevailed and a long coveted streak had finally come to an end.  Truth is, I’ve been on a quest as of late that has consumed my time.  The details are destined for a post, of course, but as a hint Linda and I just traveled 2,000 miles to add two new birds to my Life List.  For the non-birders out there, it is trip of chance since there is no guarantee that said bird will be in that particular area but the sheer chance of spotting it is enough to get you excited – it’s 5 parts the hunt, 3 parts spotting and 2 parts executing a shot to remember it the rest of your life.  So we packed up the RV, gathered up the poodles and headed out to Georgia last week to add two specific check marks – we’ll get to the details later, but let’s just summarize that endeavor as mission accomplished!

It is hard enough to deal with all the photography elements of the journey, but trying to get a post out at the same time makes it a little difficult.  The last post was actually done on the road along with the quick photo prep for this post.  Getting number 5 out of the way took the pressure off – just need to close out the month with our latest check addition to the Birding Life List.

American Wigeon at Chain O' Lakes State Park

As with a number of other post this month, this find was also made while birding with my brother Ron at the Chain O’ Lakes State Park.  As Ron can attest, I really do not spend a lot of time looking at the LCD screen on the back of the camera.  There are a few reasons for this, the main one being I do not want to risk missing another bird that might happen through the area.  Another reason is how hard it is to really see enough detail on that small screen to discern enough of the features to properly identify a bird anyway.  This results in a pleasant surprise from time to time when a new bird materializes while in the digital darkroom.  The birds you see are one such occasion and because I wasn’t aware of how special they were to me, I have to apologize for the execution.  The Beast has a bad habit of obscuring small obstructions in the foreground while looking through the viewfinder.  Apparently some of the long grass on the shoreline was photobombing my shot – ugh.   Guessing these birds were mistaken for Green Teals while in the field.  They are not Green Teals, but rather American Wigeons

American Wigeon at Chain O' Lakes State Park

Both the Green Teal and the Wigeon sport a green highlight on the side of their head.  The Wigeons are lighter (at least in my opinion) and has a whitish forehead.  The Greenie is much darker brown on the head and has a distinctive white vertical bar on their wings.  I did not get a lot of pictures of this species so I better get to some of those interesting facts before it is too late.  First off, they used to be referred to as Baldplates because the white patch on their forehead looked like a bald man’s head (yeah, that seems like a stretch to me as well).  They are indeed dabbling ducks that usually nest in tall grass far from the water.  Their range is fairly extensive as they migrate through the various seasons.  They spend their Summers up in Western Canada and their Winters in pretty much the lower middle of the United States.  Beyond that, Cornell’s website really didn’t have much to offer other than they do carry a Least Concern Conservation Status (yeah!)

American Wigeon at Chain O' Lakes State Park

Not much else to really say about this bird.  One thing for sure, next time I’m up in the Chain O’ Lakes area I’m going to pay more attention in hopes of getting some better shots.  If you are curious, I think the duck to the right is actually a Gadwell (hmmm maybe I do not have that one checked off either).

Time to hit the hay, got a date with pavement early in the morning – take care and see you again next month.

Thanks, I Just Had It Stuffed

Tired of Chain ‘O Lakes birding posts yet? Fine, let’s shake it up a bit and feature something different, something unlike the other recent posts. Today I bring you a post from the birding outing that my brother Ron and I took at Chain ‘O Lakes. Ummm, maybe that doesn’t completely fit the definition of different.  Yes, it is another post from the Chain, but this time it isn’t about a bird.  Nope, today’s featured subject happens to be an animal I’ve never seen in the wild before.
Beaver at the Chain O' Lakes State Park

Now I’ve seen a lot of Muskrats in my day and one might think those are Beavers if they have never seen one before.  They live in a similar environment and kind of look alike from a brown furry animal that swims in the water perspective but to be honest, you can tell the difference pretty quickly in the field.  First off, the Muskrat has a skinny “rat” tail compared to the paddle the Beaver sports.  Although relative sizes are tough to judge when you don’t have both animals close by, the swimming rat is significantly smaller than the Beaver.  I didn’t realize exactly how much until Ron and I stumbled on this one swimming in a remote part of the Fox River that cuts through the Chain O’ Lakes park.  Quite surprisingly, it could care less that we were even there – some of that may be the fact there was another one – possibly the mate – that was cruising through the water ahead of it – note, I have NO idea how to tell the sexes apart based on the angles we had.  None of them ever made it onto land so these are the best looks you are going to get.  I can bring you in closer though!

Beaver at the Chain O' Lakes State Park

Hit the jump to see a few more shots of this Beaver

Continue reading Thanks, I Just Had It Stuffed

A Super Cooper

I managed to get distracted tonight and didn’t get a chance to prep the images for the running post I promised last post.  The weather was outstanding tonight actually turning cool enough to put a coat on.  That translates to the perfect  conditions to get half my yard trimming down – by half I mean literally upwards of 2+ hours to get the upper portion of the lot done.  The lower will take an equal amount of time but I’ll let that go a bit more.  Since I am just sitting here watching for ticks to start randomly appearing on my skin, figured it would be a good time to get another post out (helps keep my mind off the fact there is likely a tick crawling somewhere on my body – shudder).  Lucky for me I can always go back to the bird well for content so like last offering, today features another +1 from the Chain O’ Lake State Park birding outing with my brother Ron.

Cooper's Hawk at Chain O' Lakes

This is one of those sets that came out a tad soft, but based on the conditions, a lot better than expected.  Just before we located the Fox Sparrow from last post, we noticed the bird pictured circling above where we were standing.  Unfortunately, it was quite a ways up and at the time we were not really sure what it was.  My first guess was a Northern Harrier based on seeing them there on numerous trips.  I remember telling Ron to try and get the white strip on the top of the tail so we could quickly identify it later.  At the same time something seemed odd about this particular specimen (assuming it was a Harrier).  First off, Harriers tend to hang in the air a bit while hunting prey (that being one of the special abilities of Harrier).  This one just kept circling more characteristic of the Red Tails seen so often around here.  The other thing I couldn’t seem to figure out at the time but later confirmed was the wing shape.  This one was a bit thicker and the head seemed pulled back a bit into the wings.
Cooper's Hawk at Chain O' Lakes

Hit the jump to find out what we decided this bird was

Continue reading A Super Cooper

Fox in the Brush

About time I got the dust shaken off of this blog.  To be honest, the long delay from the previous post is just laziness since I have PLENTY of blog fodder from a number of recent birding outings with my brother Ron.  Well, maybe not all laziness since there was a big running event earlier in the month, which I’ll be getting to soon.  Since my last post was all about a race, figured it would be a good time to break out a bird post.  Not just any bird post mind you – a +1 on the birding type of featured bird
Fox Sparrow at Chain O Lakes

Before I go any further, these shots of this bird are sub-par at best from an execution perspective.  I totally blame the bird for this!  As eluded to earlier, I’ve had the pleasure of birding with my brother at several locations recently.  These shots came from Chain O’ Lakes State Park up in Antioch, IL.   Chain is one of my favorite State Parks (second to Jubilee) because it never fails to produce good subjects to shoot.  If you recall, I’ve already featured inhabitants like Sandhills (link Sandhill Cranes), Egrets (link here), Deer (link Deer)  and Teals (link Blue Winged Teal).  Linda, the boys and I were staying the weekend at the park for an agility dog show.  This left me a whole day to trek the land, so called up Ron who was glad to see what they had to offer.  I cannot remember at the moment how far or how long we spent that day, but let’s just say it was a loooong time.  We covered the entire perimeter of that park and then some more along the Fox River.  I had found some interesting trails on a previous visit and was lucky enough to find them again this time.  This particular bird was shot next to what appears to be a gravel pit of some sort.  It is also bordered by an archery range which is a little unnerving.  A little bit into the trail we noticed some rustling in the underbrush.  For the next 20 minutes we hunted for the source, catching glimpses of it from time to time.  The following was one of the few luck shots that actually came out from the brush that showed any characteristics at all.

Fox Sparrow at Chain O Lakes

Hit the jump to find out what this intriguing bird is

Continue reading Fox in the Brush