How about we keep up with the non-birding theme for today’s post. I’ll even switch it up a bit and break with the Chain O’ Lakes State Park shoots and go with another of my favorite locations – Allerton Park. This park located in Monticello, Illinois is a wonderful place to enjoy the outdoors. It doesn’t matter if you are a birder, flower enthusiast, hiker or even an admirer of the eclectic art scene, Allerton will assuredly entertain you. The spotlight today is on the art elements contained in the park.
Allerton has actually been featured several times on this blog including quite a haul on a birding outing last year (link here). This post is a companion piece to the previous art segment back in December 2012 (link here). Robert Allerton was an odd sort filling his 1500 acres with all kinds of interesting art pieces. With the exception of the special setting for the pinnacle piece, the Sun Singer, most of the pieces are scattered about the park in the flower gardens or out along the various walking trails. To this day, I probably haven’t found all the pieces he put on display – that is one of the reasons this place is so appealing to me – there is always something outright new or new conditions to capture in the tin. I believe this particular piece is called Adam (a reproduction of Auguste Rodin’s Adam sculpture from Paris). Like the Centaur in the previous post, I tend to prefer these in their black and white treatment.
Hit the link to see a few more shots from Allerton.
Continue reading Allerton Treasures Revisted
The equal opportunity groups are filling up my inbox as of late complaining about a disproportionate number of featured male birds. I find this a bit odd based on the fact that with a number of the recently featured birds it is difficult to actually tell the different sexes. Quite frankly, in the birding world, typically the male is the more interesting bird to look at. Of course, this directly correlates to how damn hard it is to identify a lot of the females from each other seeing as most of them are just a different shades of brown.
Case in point, take this bird.
Quick, what is it? My guess is you came up with the clever response of .. “it’s a bird” (you know you did hehehe). The truth is, I couldn’t even tell what this bird was. Based on a hefty amount of research I first opted to ID it as a Clay-Colored Sparrow. This might have been more wishful thinking being as I didn’t have a Clay-Colored Sparrow checked off my Bird Life List.
Hit the jump to find out what this bird is!
Continue reading Housewife
We are officially in bonus time ladies and gents. Not bad seeing as how it is only the 20th – no whining about being down posts this month. There’s more than one reason this month is special – I finally overcame my demons today and managed to knock out three loops during our weekly Sunday Springdale Run. That’s right, 20 miles in the books on the nasty hillfest we torture ourselves about every weekend these days. The third loop has been my nemesis for over a year now – every time before I end up begging for mercy at the end of the second loop regardless of how well I felt at the end of the first. This time we held back a bit on the second loop too keep from tiring our legs out. There is a theory that there was some help from the Girl Scouts but further testing is needed before we can definitely say we have found a running secret! Note, I was so happy I checked this life list item off I enjoyed a Shamrock Shake – a rarity based on the calorie count that decadent dessert possesses – figured with over 2500 burned off during the run I could spare a few to indulge.
20 miles also signifies something else – I’m gonna need some time to rest the legs. Not one to waste a perfectly good afternoon, figured it could be spent cranking out this bonus entry. Now I’d like to introduce you to the House Sparrow.
This happens to be one of the few Sparrows I can easily identify in the field. The black laced necklace of the male in these shots is easy to spot and distinctive enough to ID. At some point I’m going to distill all the key features of the various Sparrow members so my brother and I can quickly classify all the little brown jobbers that end up in the tin after any Midwest outing.
Hit the jump to see and read more about this common North American bird.
Continue reading The Allerton House
Having spent the entire day power washing the house – probably the best to-do task you can ask for on a wicked humid day. In the flip side, I can safely say I’m totally exhausted. There is something to be said from a total body workout trying to hold rains over a firehose hell bent on ripping your skin off. I chose that over going for a run today to appease Linda who hasn’t let the incident go yet. We’ll make up that long run early tomorrow morning, but for now let’s take care of a little bird business.
That my friends is a new check in my Birding Life List. It was shot while birding with my brother Ron at Allerton Park earlier in the year. This one actually had me stumped. I was looking at all the Warblers and even the Vireos trying to identify a yellow bird with a nice white eye ring. No luck with those attempts so opted for some help! That assist came from Ron who was able to identify this bird – still not exactly sure how he did it, but his suggestion of a Ruby-Crowned Kinglet seems to match with all the described characteristics. That is with the exception of the actual ruby crown. The next shot kinda gives a little hint of on in the sun if you look close and let your imagination run a bit.
Hit the jump to read a bit more about this cute little bird
Continue reading Tally Up Another Kinglet
“Was it over when the Germans bombed Pearl Harbor? Hell no! Germans? Forget it, he’s rolling.” Seemed an appropriate opening since I’m pretty much on a bird post roll at the moment. Today was a hell night on the pavement with the heat and humidity putting the hurt on (mind you not at heat stroke level in case a certain wife happens to be reading this – just hot and sticky). The hope was it would rain on me but nooooo, it has to wait until I get home before the cooling water pours out of the sky. Oh well, just means I’m better prepared for the Bix which is approaching FAST. Keying off the FAST word, apparently I was able to score this new featured bird thanks to some quick camera work.
That very soft specimen is a Northern Parula. This is another new bird from the trip with Ron to Allerton Park. The sum total of shots I got of this Parula is TWO. Two shots taken in rapid succession and then nothing. No shots before it, no shots after it. I vaguely remember noticing a bird in my peripheral while trying to track a Brown Thrasher that was occupying a good portion of our time. Golden Rule, if it has feathers take at least one shot regardless of how many times you’ve put it the tin previously. Guessing I was passing this off as just another Warbler and went back to trying to get a sharp picture of a Thrasher hell bent on putting a branch between him and me at all times. While going through the shots in the digital darkroom, the unique coloring caught my eye. Sure enough, it was not just a common Warbler .. it was a Parula which represents a +1 for me! Unfortunately, Ron failed to get this beauty in the tin. We sync’ed up our camera timestamps for this very reason – cross validation – but he claims those times in his collection were void of Parulas – bummer.
To be honest, the deep ridge in the chest might indicate some eggs were on their way – not sure about that… maybe I’ll ask my brother who is slowly building a nice collection of ….let’s say.. very affectionate birds. Oh, and again, sorry for the softness of the shots. With only two shots I have to rush to the facts. First interesting fact to relish is … is …. is … The Parual has nested several times along the Northern Coast of California. THAT’S IT… THAT IS THE ONLY INTERESTING FACT THEY HAVE ABOUT THIS BIRD?!? Wow, that is total crap. Cornell, you have been found wanting. Wait apparently the Southern variety nests in hanging Spanish moss, where the Northerners prefer the old man’s beard lichen. Again, total crap – I don’t remember any beard lichen anywhere near this spot. (truth be told I had to look up what beard lichen was). That was totally weak. They do carry a Least Concern Conservation Status and definitely observe a very rigid Eastern half of the NA continent.
On that note I’m calling this post. I feel like I’ve let you down, cheated you out of your educational value and possibly soured you on the whole birding genre. I’d feel bad but now I get to go add a check mark to my Birding Life List – at least one of us is damn happy hehehe.
L8r Loyal Readers!
… and we’re back! I was able to get a bunch of to-do items checked off my list tonight and in celebration thought I’d crank out another post. Of course that will be short lived since this is core day and that self-imposed torture has a way of sucking all the joy out of you. Let’s stay in the moment and add another new bird to the North American Birding Life List. This particular bird is a surprise to me – based on how common these are … as in I see them EVERYWHERE I GO .. you would think they would already be checked off my list. Nope, much like that damn Crow this one has eluded my tin before now.
When it comes to colorful birds, the European Starling can hold its own – well, at least in the sunlight which is exactly the conditions I was able to shoot these specimens. Ron and I were once again out birding – this time walking around the grounds of Allerton Park in Monticello IL. If you are an Illini alumni, you know all about Allerton (unless you were spending too much time North of Green). For those not familiar with this place, liken it to a showplace for a rich individual that was slowly losing his mind. Don’t get me wrong, it is a wonderful place, but to say there is a strange collection of art and statues would be like saying all clowns should simply be shot – grossly understated. Apparently the birds also enjoy this particular park based on the numerous +1’s we were able to add to the list that day. Now, most of those birds were a struggle to get in the tin while under the tree canopy, but these Starlings were practically posing for us. A regular old Zoolander!
Let’s see what Cornell has to say about these shimmering birds. Hmm, I had no idea they were brought here by Shakespeare enthusiasts in the nineteenth century, European Starlings are now among the continent’s most numerous songbirds. Apparently these enthusiasts wanted American to experience all the birds mentioned by Shakespeare. From the 100 they released in Central Park back in the 1890s we now have over 200 million of them from Alaska to Mexico. Thank you Shakespeare lovers for giving us a total pest! Did they not realize we LEFT Europe specifically to get AWAY from them! (note, my history may be a tad off but I blame my crappy early schooling). They are great vocal mimics able to copy up to 20 different species. Another thing I didn’t know is that Starlings wear molt – new feathers come in the fall with bold white on the tips. This wears out over the year giving more visibility to the iridescent brown we see the rest of the year.
Also looks like they fall into the aggressive category – funny, I can usually tell that by which birds literally attack my brother (seriously!). Oh well, post time is up and I need to get to planking. I realize these birds are as pesky as they get and it doesn’t help they travel in hordes. Oh well, still get to check another species off the list.
This has been one busy month so far, but guessing you already figured that out being that this is the 14th and the first post of the month. Bad Bri, veeryyy bad man. The good news is a lot of the busy time has been spent out in the woods looking for new birds to add to my list. That included a nice weekend with my brother checking out the local spots! I managed to pull a plus one on that outing but he was able to go a full six – more on that in a future post. Short on time tonight, I better get to today’s feature … wait for it .. wait for it .. yep, a bird! I really need to get caught up on my bird list thanks to Ron cranking out new birds every weekend. The only way they get checked on my list is if they show up here first. Translated … prepare yourself for a barrage of feather posts starting with this plus one.
For the readers out there with sharp memories, this bird does look like another one featured over a year ago (link here). That was a Western Meadowlark shot outside the Grand Tetons. This particular bird is of the Eastern variety. Ironically, this shot came AFTER a day of birding (with Ron) at Allerton Park in Monticello IL. A little foreshadowing – I’m just now getting to the fruits of that outing (soooo behind). On our way out, Linda noticed my brother pointing to something on the side of the road. It didn’t take long to spot this gorgeous yellow bird hanging out among some bare branches. Guess I owe Ron a big thanks for spotting this one for me. Something in the back of my head also says we might have been lost at the time so showing up there was luck in itself.
Let’s see what our favorite birding website, Cornell, has to say about Mr. Yellow. For the Trivia Crack addicts out there it may be interesting to know that the Eastern Meadowlark is not a member of the Lark family. Nice name there eh? They are kin to the Blackbird family. Maybe the Yellow Blackbird name was causing too much confusion. Males are typically so cool they keep two mates (heard they were advocating to the Supreme Court for marriage equality). The Western and Eastern varieties don’t buy into that whole “Beat It” video concept preferring to fight it out for territory claim – the bird version of East Coast vs West Coast although both in a neutral yellow color! They are primarily insect eaters which means they are fine by me. They need to take a vacation up to Goose Lake on the Hebron Trail – they would east like kings!
Not a whole lot more that jumps off the fact sheet. They have a Least Concern Conservation Status (yeah) and based on the shot above, they have no problem hanging out with female Red-Winged Blackbirds. That right there shows you the degree to which other birds respect that dagger of a bill. Red-Winged Blackbirds pretty much harass and attack every other bird (and my brother) that comes within 30 feet of them – here they were just sitting there behaving themselves. Truth be told I originally thought they were female Meadowlarks but they didn’t match the reference shots. Note, Ron and I actually tracked down a few more of these on our trip up to Starved Rock/Matthiessen State Park (lord, I am soooo behind). Oh well, at least I can take satisfaction in another plus one for the list.
That’s all for tonight folks – stay cool!
Merry Christmas everyone! I was sitting around on Christmas Eve and wondering what a fitting topic would be for this festive day. I decided I’d hold off a little more before I go off on the latest gun restriction talks and it didn’t seem right to post a recent experience with a deer (it is pretty gruesome and didn’t want Santa to get offended). There’s the Hank Williams Jr. recollection (NOT) and I am not ready yet for either the Wisconsin trip post from earlier in the year and much to soon to go with the recent Vegas birding shots. What to do, what to do. Hey, nothing says Christmas like a super fisher! Okay, it is really a gift to me to help pad some year end stats but it actually has a tie in to the last post on Allerton.
While processing the statue shots from the Allerton Park shoot (link here), a pleasant surprise caught my eye. In the middle of shooting the Loch Ness shots a familiar sound emanating out from the nearby woods. A sound that caught my attention having heard it for the first time a few weeks prior to making the trip up to Monticello. Imagine, if you will, a long rattle – somewhat like a cricket on steroids. Immediately the Beast was reoriented to the location of the sound in hopes the source would show itself. A few minutes later a now “familiar” crested blue bird flew out of the woods and took a position in the trees along the bank of the pond. “Familiar” may be a strong word since it was still pretty new to me, but to my credit I had taken over 200 pictures at the first encounter. You kind of get to know a bird after staring at it for that many shots. The original shoot was at Jubilee Park and those shots tended to come out nicer so let’s lead with those.
And here it is:
If this is new to you, you might assume a common Blue Jay from the similar coloring. However, the beak may be throwing you off… and if not, it should be. That beak is HUGE!. Add to that the overall large relationship of the head to the rest of the body pretty much eliminates the Jay. This is actually a Belted Kingfisher and a brand new bird to the Blog. This is one of those birds that is supposed to be common to our surroundings, but was never in the right spot at the right time. That is until Linda and I took a quick run over to Jubilee Park to see what was hanging out around the pond. This is becoming a hot spot for new birds for us. If you recall, this is where we shot the Green Heron (link here). Not only were we at the right spot.. we had the Beast.
Without the Beast this would have probably been a missed opportunity. Our subject (a male) was keeping its distance and really didn’t appreciate me being in his hunting area. He would give me about 4 shots before fluttering off to some other branch. Even with the large glass the bird was buried in tree branches for most of the time throwing the auto-focus all over the place. The entire time I was shooting it, my assumption is it had a white eye and the light was working in my favor giving a nice glint. During post processing, it became apparent that this was wrong. The Kingfisher actually has a black eye – the white is just part of the base of the beak coloring. This is why you never trust the LCD screen on the back. Although it could not be seen while looking through the glass, the culprit for the focus walking was the twig positioned right in front of the bird – again, too small to see in the eyepiece or the LCD screen. The shot below gives a good view of the eye in relationship to the white spot.
Some interesting facts. The female Kingfisher actually has a burnt orange band on the belly – odd since the male is usually the more colorful of the sexes. They are very common in North America (could have fooled me). They are year round in our neck of the woods (Illinois). According to our friends over at Wikipedia, they actually nest in the banks of streams/ponds making an upward slanting tunnel to help guard against flooding. As you would expect they carry a Least Concerned conservation status – again, hard to believe this was the first time I’ve really come in contact with one.
Hit the jump to see more shots of the Belted Kingfisher
Continue reading The Brent Chapman of the Birding World