Wednesday, May 4, 2011

North Pond - 5.01.11 - Post 1 - It's Like Living on the Avian Super-Highway

So Chicago is in the middle of a pretty significant migratory path and at this time of year we see all kinds of birds that don't hang out here year-round.  I'm told the Magic Hedge can see over 300 distinct species in a migration.

Now I was out quite a bit both last fall and last spring, but I'm certain I didn't even see 50 distinct species.  What that tells me is that I'm clearly not looking hard enough.  For example, it took until a particular walk out there last fall to realize that there were at least four distinct species of sparrows all over the place - the ones that were black and white, the ones with the yellow stripe on their heads, the ones with little red mohawks and the ones with the gray heads.  I obviously need to be more studious in my taxonomy.

So I've set myself a challenge for this year.  In the year 2011, I want to photograph fifty wild species that I did not show up on my blog in 2010.  For this particular challenge, I'm a little less worried about how stellar a given shot is - especially with birds, they rarely sit still where you can see them for the time I'd need to set up a tripod and change settings and all that.  I just want to show that I'm looking closer.  That I'm getting on the ground and looking for caterpillars and bugs.  That I'm learning the difference between a black-capped chickadee and a white-crowned sparrow.

So here are my first ten new bird species.  The North Pond was *spectacular* last weekend.  I felt a bit like Tippi Hedren there were so many birds flying around me.

New Species #1: American Coot

This guy was adorable.  His head moved back and forth as his little legs carried him through the water.  He's about half the size of a Wood Duck - so this is one small waterfowl.  And he was out there by himself.  I didn't see another like him or a female that would appear to go along with this guy.
New Species #2: Brown Creeper

Last year I would have assumed this was some sort of sparrow.

Not even close.

It's a Brown Creeper.  It's like a nuthatch, only not.  A nuthatch goes head first down the tree when foraging for food.  Creepers spiral up.
New Species #3: Chipping Sparrow

Here's one of my "it's a sparrow" birds.  I never really looked much closer.  This one is distinctive because of his little red and gray 'mohawk' of feathers on top of his head.
New Species #4: Eastern Towhee

 At first I thought this was an oriole.  And I wasn't too far off.  He is in the same family.  The reddish brow patches on his sides really stand out when he flies.
New Species #5: Gray Catbird

To be fair I did *see* one of these last fall at the Hedge, but I couldn't figure out what it was.  I'm learning to ask the birders I see out with their binoculars if they've seen anything interesting.  If nothing else, it gives me a name or two to Google when I get back.  I also know of a great website that tells me what species are close to the one I'm looking up.  For example when I looked up "oriole" for the one above it said, "Similar species: towhee" so I knew to check that when oriole was clearly not right.

New Species #6: Greater White Fronted Geese

 Another set of animals I think I've seen before.  I'm pretty sure this pair of geese hangs out in the North Pond, or near it, year-round.  They aren't tagged as belonging to the nearby zoo, but they're the only two of their kind I've seen.  I have to say this: I like these guys a lot better than our 'garden variety' Chicago geese - those are Canada geese.  They stay in Chicago all year, despite their name,  and are mean as all get out.

New Species #7: Hermit Thrush

Something else I would have called "some kind of sparrow" and wouldn't even have been close about.
New Species #8 and #9: Barn Swallow and Tree Swallow

Two for the price of one!  Yeah, I know, it's an *awful* picture.  They were really, really at the limit of my telephoto lens.  I'm hoping to go back and actually get good pictures of them.  But they're swallows and it's amazing to find them sitting still for more than six seconds.  These were the guys that gave me the Alfred Hitchcock feeling. They were swooping around *all over*.

The one on the left is a Barn Swallow.  His buddy on the right is a Tree Swallow.  I don't think they hang out in Chicago for very long.  I don't remember seeing them at all last year and with the huge numbers we're seeing now, I'm pretty sure I would have seen a couple in the summer if they'd stayed.  So we appear to be a stop-over on the way to either Michigan's UP or Canada or something.

New Species #10: White-Crowned Sparrow
 So I was saying about the 'black and white headed' sparrows.  They're White-Crowned Sparrows and there seems to be tons of them this year.
 So that's ten to get started with.  I suspect it'll be easy to get the first 25 or so, but then I'll stall out when it's all "It's another chipping sparrow" or "Gee, look, another thrush."  I have a few more, but they'll go in the next post so I don't kill anyone's computer with too many pictures in a post.

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