Welcome everyone to hump day or as we now call it around Intrigued headquarters “What the Hell Brian!” Wednesday. Translated… it’s the day where I set the wayback machine to full power and pull a series from the farthest reaches of the fodder queue free of shame, guilt, embarrassment and taunts for a second timah. So, please return your seats back to their full upright and locked position – we are rocketing back to September 2017.
A little less than 4 years ago, Ron and I had the opportunity to do a little birding at Glacial Park Conservation Area in McHenry County IL. Typically we spend part of the day birding Chain O’ Lakes and then make the short trip over to Glacial to see what’s hanging out.
Hit the jump to read a bit more about our young Waxwings.
From a size perspective, Glacial is significantly smaller, around half the size of Chain at ~3,500 acres. The area is made up of similar habitats consisting of hardwood forests, prairie fields. marshes/ponds and everything in between. We are never disappointed when we make our way to Glacial and usually come back with a nice collection of finds.
Sandhill Cranes can be regularly found in the marsh areas, Hawks keep watch on the prairie fields from the tree lines and you are sure to find Henslow’s (link here) and Sedge Wrens (link here) hanging out in the reeds by the ponds. Just those likely finds deliver a productive day in the field.
While walking the trails through the trees I heard an abundance of fairly high whistles coming from the branches overhead. Wasn’t sure at first if they were coming from insects licking their lips at fresh blood heading their way or if the Hawks were shredding mice. “Second Person” rule applies to apex predators (just be faster that the person next to you), “First Person” rule applies to blood sucking insects (first one in gets sucked dry). Assessing the situation, I sent Ron in first ha!
What turned out to be lucky for Ron, the high pitched trills were coming from a group of juvenile Cedar Waxwings. Talk about cute, these little featherballs were a joy to watch as they took turns mimicking their adult mentors. To be honest, it was the fluffy pictures of the Curve-Billed Thrasher (link here) that reminded I had this set of images in the queue.
Most of you probably know the tell-tale signs of a Waxwing. For those not familiar with our sharp dressed bird, they have a very distinctive mask, a smart looking crest on the back of their head and appear to have gotten too close to a yellow inkwell. You can actually check out the adult version in previous posts (link here and here). How do we know these specimens are juveniles?
Thankfully, the answer is fairly easy and can definitely be determine in the field by one distinct feature on the breast. While adults have a very sold gradation of coloring as it transitions from a golden brown to the yellowish undertail. As shown in the first few shots, the juveniles have varying shades of streaking. Their mask is less defined as well, but that is more relative and not as helpful in the field. They still have the yellow piping on the tail (see above), so you can still tell what they are even if they are all fluffed up.
Just a couple of quick tidbits to leave you with. Cedar Waxwings are abundant across all the States as well as to the north and down into Central America. Hit the woods, look for fruit bearing trees and listen for blood sucking insects.. oops, I mean high pitched trills. Tip, be sure and take some victim with you into the field just in case it turns out to be the other. Lastly from Cornell, Waxwings are one of the few birds that can survive on fruit alone for months.
That’s a wrap for WTH Wednesday!