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!

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