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

Cunning Defeated By Cheaters

Greetings all!  I finally got the race pictures processed and uploaded so the race post I’ve been promising time after time is finally a reality.  On May 9th my merry band of runners set out on a new adventure, this time in Springfield IL  If you read this blog regularly, you should know that one of my favorite events are prediction runs (link Screaming Pumpkin Race).  For those that are not aware of what this is, I’ll get some quick details.  Essentially you can have a team of runners (up to 4) to complete a marathon distance.  Your goal is to have the last runner on your team cross the finish line before midnight.  The catch is you are not allowed to have timing devices so you have to rely on whatever pace each member feels they can complete their leg in.  Your team starts running whenever they want …but obviously not too early because the closest team to midnight wins the race.  I like to call it the perfect race for slow runners like myself since it levels the playing field and relies on cunning to come out victorious.
Oak Ridge Cemetery Prediction Marathon Relay in Springifield IL

My wife actually found this race online somehow (never did ask where she heard about it).  The rules being eerily similar to our Screaming Pumpkin run right down to the fact they are both held in old, hilly cemeteries.  Springfield is not that far from where we live and I happen to have some roots there – I’m in! that was an easy decision.  Lucky for me, my training buddies and Pumpkin Team (Sung and Ryan) were onboard as well.  To add more excitement to the festivities, Linda also signed up for the fun run/walk 5K event giving all something to do that night.

To say this was an interesting night is an understatement.  About a week before the race I started digging into the details to become familiar with the course and get a feel for the required timings.  Unlike the first pumpkin race we would not have a practice run so we would be estimating blindly.  By now the team is pretty familiar with their paces on our hilly training courses so it was a matter of determining if Oak Ridge was flatter, as hilly as or more treacherous than our comparison base.  One statement on their website was a bit unnerving since they referred to the course as one of the toughest in the nation.  Sung, Ryan and I have been training all year on the toughest courses in the area so this brought a quick chuckle between us. The other pre-race intrigue involved some start changes for the other races being held there – they were shifted for .. wait for it .. wait for it .. PROM.  The excuse was some kind of picture event that happens near where the race started – that would be interesting.

We headed down to the race early that Saturday to drop the dogs off at my parents and then drove over to the race venue to pick up the packets.  First thing that stood out is the lack of people.  Based on the numbers we were seeing, it looked to have small participation across the board.  We picked up the packets, Linda had to deal with a shirt size issue since they didn’t have the size she ordered and eventually found a perfect place for the Wombat a short distance from the starting line.  The Ultra race (basically a fifth loop of the 6.65 mile course) started first with a whopping 8 or 9 people in it.  It is an Ultra for god’s sake so the low entry didn’t surprise me that much – those dudes and dudettes are CRAZY. After that came the competitive 5K, then the Half. the numbers picked up a bit, but still fairly low in my opinion.  Here is our traditional pre-race shot (thanks Linda).  It was a number of hours before I had to run which is why I wasn’t suited up yet.

Oak Ridge Cemetery Prediction Marathon Relay in Springifield IL

Hit the jump to see how we did

Continue reading Cunning Defeated By Cheaters

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

I-Challenged I Conquered

And before you know it, it’s a new month!  Greetings all, it has been awhile but that is mostly due to some very productive birding outings with my brother and the official opening of the 2015 race season.  I would be underestimating the blog fodder to say I’m covered for birding posts for the rest of the year thanks to those outings.  Since I ended April with a bird themed post, let’s go with the race season to start off the month of May.  April 23 was the beginning of the Illinois Marathon festivities.  It started with an evening 5K run to get the kinks worked out and the muscles warmed up.
Illinois Marathon 2015

Unfortunately, the weather really wasn’t cooperating with us that weekend with a heavy dose of rain scheduled for that Friday as well as the rest of the weekend.  Figures the wet stuff would come down after a string of nice days leading up to it.  Oh well, that’s how the weather gods treat us runners.  We pretty much lucked out for that 5K.  It was nice and cool and besides being overcast, the rain basically stayed away until after we had finished.  Oh, forgot to mention there was a “we” this year.  My running buddy Sung signed up for the festivities as well.  It is ALWAYS funner when you can run with someone especially someone that you have been training with through the cold snowy days of Winter.  Here we are before the start of the 5K – relaxed and focused on not getting hurt during this short 5K run.  I can’t remember the last time I entered a race under 7 miles – general rule, if it takes longer to take a shower than run, might as well just take a shower.  However, this was a special 5K and trust me, worth skipping the shower .. at least until after the race.


One of the cool things about this race is it ended up on the 50 yard line of Memorial Stadium.  Even after going to the U of I for four years, this is the first time I’ve ever been on that field.  We started together in the first corral thanks to Sung having a small math mix up.  The first corral was meant for 27 minutes and under.  That fit well within my expected time and easily in the expected time for Sung.  Only problem was, he did the conversion from kilometers to mileage incorrectly – simply halved it so 27 minutes for 2.5 miles … oops, 3.1 miles. I think he was a little concerned about his start position after I reminded him how far it really was – NO WORRIES.  We carried an 8:34 pace through the course – congrats to Sung for owning that course.  Granted, there were a couple of incentives during the race – like the rabbit in the orange shirt with the number 5 on it and the frequent course crossers in very attractive dresses and high heels.  Guessing there were sorority activities going on which we both agree should be made a requirement for all future races!

Final numbers – 26:39 42 for 45-49, 544 for males and 741st overall.  All this fun and they even gave us a medal for completing the short run.  Here we are for the official post race shot – happy faces and most important no injuries.



Hit the jump to see what the race weekend really had in store for us!

Continue reading I-Challenged I Conquered