Mud Angels

Well, we are officially off on our exploration part deux for the year.  Just in time, it appears, as our hometown county is experiencing some unexpected high numbers of Covid outbreaks.  Not sure what is up with that, but at the moment, thankfully not something we need to worry about.  So far the birding has been a bit weak, however, I have been able to get a long run in on an amazing set of trails.  Told Linda it was like running on the set of The Last of the Mohicans.  Good for the soul and the long steep elevation climbs was a good reminder to the legs they are still in training.   As it is Flashback Friday, I get to pull from the front of the LIFO queue.  Meet today’s Featured Feathered Friend.  

Sandhill Crane Wisconsin April 2013

We have been experiencing some unexpected cold temperatures on our exploration.  Our destination should be significantly warmer – in the meantime I have to keep reminding myself we are officially past winter ha.   While looking through the queue, noticed these shots that were taken in the same month and still had SNOW on the ground. 

Sandhill Crane Wisconsin April 2013

Back in April 2013 we made a trip up to Wisconsin to visit the Crane Foundation in Baraboo, Wisconsin.  One of our favorite areas to visit in our sister state to the north.  I know they hate the saying, but it really is Illinois’ playground.  While we were on our way back from visiting the foundation, we noticed a group of Sandhills hanging out in a field.  

Sandhill Crane Wisconsin April 2013

Now Sandhill Cranes are one of my favorite birds – their relatives the Whooping Crane (link here) holds the number #1 on the list which was the catalyst for us joining the International Crown Foundation and my renewed interest in birding.  Cranes are an amazing species.  Massive in size, truly a joy to watch especially during courtship rituals and surprisingly accessible at least on the Sandhill front.  The Whoopers will require you to travel a bit, but they can be found quite consistently if you do a little research on their wintering grounds.    

Take note of the whiter feathering the Sandhills have in the shots above and contrast that with the browner coloring in the following shots.  

Sandhill Crane Horicon National Wildlife Refuge Mayville Wisconsin September 2014

The shot above and below are from another shoot in September the following year.  Once again we were up in Wisconsin (time to play ha) and took a quick run over to Horicon National Wildlife Refuge in Mayville.  Absolutely shocking I was able to get anything in the tin as we were in an epic battle to save as much blood as we could from the hordes of Mosquitoes that had amassed there.  Think these were the only two shots that made it out of that shoot before our drained carcasses were left sprawled on the trail.  Per the earlier comment, you will see that these specimens had taken on a browner hue.  

Sandhill Crane Horicon National Wildlife Refuge Mayville Wisconsin September 2014

This is where it gets a little interesting.  I have always been under the impression that the Sandhill Cranes get this browner coloring thanks to their habit of preening themselves with mud/dirt.  The iron rich material causes the iconic “rustic” coloring.  Went to Cornell for a quick validation and was surprised to find zero mention of that behavior nor the effects on the feathers – nada. 

Sandhill Crane Chain O' Lakes State Park, Spring Grove IL April 2017

Cornell did mention juveniles are grey and rusty brown and lack the pale cheeks and red caps.  I have had the opportunity to see juveniles up close and can confirm grey and there was some rusty brown, however, it doesn’t really dismiss the preening concept as surely the adults would teach the offspring similar behaviors.. resulting in similar color changes. 

Sandhill Crane Chain O' Lakes State Park, Spring Grove IL April 2017

Step inside my supercharged DeLorean and rev it up to April 2017.  This last set of Sandhill Shots (starting with the two shots above) comes to you from Chain O’ Lakes State Park near Spring Grove IL.   No snow on the ground this time and you can see the rust coloring just starting to cover the wings above.  Now the specimen below must have been making mud angels. 

Sandhill Crane Chain O' Lakes State Park, Spring Grove IL April 2017

Better get to closing this post out – tomorrow has some traveling in it.  Sandhills mate for life and can begin breeding as early as two.  Every year we have been up at Chain O’ Lakes we have seen the same pair of Sandhills wandering the campground area.  Usually with a couple of colts which makes for some great shoots (link here). 

Sandhill Crane Chain O' Lakes State Park, Spring Grove IL April 2017

Lastly, I was surprised when I looked at the region maps for the Sandhill.  Seems like I see them everywhere we travel and therefore wrongly thought they were abundant across the states.  Not true.  There is a heavy wintering population in the lower Texas, New Mexico and Florida regions.  From those areas there are really two large migration paths up to their breeding grounds in are fairly straight migrations paths to their breeding grounds in Canada and the upper states (except Montana – they HATE Montana thanks to a long standing feud with the Bison union).  

Sandhill Crane Chain O' Lakes State Park, Spring Grove IL April 2017

Will let you go there.  Hope you enjoyed a few shots of the big boys (and likely girls).  Hopefully will have connectivity to put up a few more posts while out on the road.  Until then, take it easy and be sure you live and not just exist.

From Lips to Beaks

As I sit her basking in the warm sun and wondering if lipstick has a shelf-life it occurred to me I could be cranking out a post.  I could also simply sit back and enjoy my birthday … taking in the rays and yes wondering if lipstick goes bad.  Since hitting retirement age takes a lot of the excitement of birthdays away (every day is like a birthday ha!) The latter seems like a waste.   A post it is!

American Redstart found at Chain O' Lakes State Park, Spring Grove IL in June 2019

Today’s featured feathered friend comes to us thanks to two trips to Chain O’ Lakes State Park near Spring Grove IL.  The first was back in June 2019 (almost like yesterday) and the other, well it was back in June 2017 (as he looks away sheepishly).  There is a reason I added the older shots in – more to that in a bit.

American Redstart found at Chain O' Lakes State Park, Spring Grove IL in June 2019

Hit the jump to read a bit more about our flashy birdie.

Continue reading From Lips to Beaks

Tern-Fit

Been a long day today as we finished up the last of all our preventative medical appointments.  We wanted to get everything checked off the list so we could start the new year fresh and not have any commitments should we decide to do some extended exploring.  Eye doctor, medical doctor and today the dentist.  I am definitely tired of being probed and prodded, but glad to have confirmation from the experts that I am still alive (some mornings I wonder ha).  Feeling a bit tired, decided I’d take a break and tickle the keyboard a bit.  Like our featured feathered friend for today, this will be a quick post.

Black Tern found at Chain O' Lakes State Park, Spring Grove IL in June 2017

I will start out by saying there is a lot of room for improvement in these shots.  Lighting is clearly not the best and some of them are rather soft.  Problem is, the key to improving shots of this bird is to get physically stronger!  My rig is not the lightest coming in at 11-12 pounds with the Beast attached.  Thanks to nights in the gym, I generally hand-hold in the field as dealing with a tripod can be a pain in the ass depending on how much distance you plan to cover.

Black Tern found at Chain O' Lakes State Park, Spring Grove IL in June 2017

Hit the jump to read a bit more about our agile bird.

Continue reading Tern-Fit

Three Shades of Brown

Curses to you short months!!   Here I was thinking I had plenty of time to address my shortfall with the self-imposed monthly post quota.  Then I look at the calendar to assess the maximum amount of procrastination that could be factored in and then I see it.  Actually, more like DIDN’T see the assumed extra day.  Instead, just an outlined box with the number 1 in it.  Staring at me, taunting me, farting in my general “dee-rection” (in my finest French accent).  As luck would have it, I have some time to address this issue thanks to heading up to Mayo for Linda’s first annual checkup.  Oh, and any talk about purposely delaying this post until we were on the road so I wouldn’t have to drive is assuredly false (as far as you know).   Okay, let’s see what today’s featured feathered friend is going to be.

House Wren found at Chain O' Lakes State Park, Spring Grove IL. June 2019

Unlike the last couple of posts, we are short on color today.  We basically have our lighter brown, our brown and wait for it .. our darker brown.  If this species is unfamiliar to you, you might be tempted to tally it up as just another brown jobber.  Normally that would be a safe bet, however, our little bird is not from the Sparrow, rather the Wren family.  Oddly enough, this is one of the few times you will see them pictured where their tails are not positioned above the body line.  In fact, even the next shot has its tail shifted down – bonus!

House Wren found at Chain O' Lakes State Park, Spring Grove IL. June 2019

Hit the jump to read more about this drab bird.

Continue reading Three Shades of Brown

Baby Crap Factories

And we are back once again.  Figured I’d make the best of it as I sit her nursing a pretty banged up left leg.  Not entirely sure what is going on, either my karma got screwed up somehow, just a series of unfortunate events, something is wrong with my running cadence or I’m going blind.  Any of those are in play at the moment pending further study.  A week ago I took a “snowboard” fall on the trail.  For those that haven’t had the pleasure of learning how to snowboard, front edge falls are both instantaneous and brutal.  Clipped my foot on a root that was hiding in the weeds alongside the trail.  You learn quickly that you get your ass off the ground and keep running before your body has a chance to have second thoughts.  6 miles further and a night of rest resulted in a softball size bruise on my shin.  Flash forward to this morning at the farthest extent of a 13 mile trail run where my left foot clipped a rock strategically positioned to maximize pain.  That left blood on the trail and a rather intriguing 6 miles back to the car.  2 minutes before that I was in fluffy trail dust, but nooooo, can’t go down there, I have to pick the section covered in sharp rocks.  Now sitting here speculating how long the gashes will take to heal and what new colors of the rainbow will be added to my already banged up leg.   Bright side, my ribs seem to have survived the impacts, so we’ll be back on the trails before the week is up.

While I mend, let’s feature some Goose play.

Canada Goose found at Chain O' Lakes State Park, Spring Grove IL in April 2017

I saw these two while doing a little birding at Chain O’ Lakes back in April 2017.  Guessing there was not a lot of targets in the area as I tend to take a few shots of these Geese and continue on.  There is no shortage of Canada Geese in the area.  Just did a quick check of their region and if the range maps are correct, these distinctive Geese or abundant in North America as a whole.  They do come up short in the Central America region, very odd gap in eastern California and what looks like just east of the Rockies in Canada.  Probably got wind of the mass exodus out of California, but unaware of the no-go zone in Canada.

Canada Goose found at Chain O' Lakes State Park, Spring Grove IL in April 2017

Hit the jump to see what these two were up to.

Continue reading Baby Crap Factories

Warning, All-Seeing Snipers in the Field

Well, things continue to go bad for Raven and he is officially 0/5 at this agility trial.  I think he is just hot and tired now and his last run might come down to a battle of wits between Mom and dog.  Probably taking a page out of the whiny NBA league and refuses to perform to an empty house.  At least Raven isn’t bending to the will of the great China dollar.  The bad news for Raven means good news for the postapalooza happening this weekend.  My worries of making my quota for June were quickly put to rest and thought I’d go ahead an close it out with another +1.

Wilson's Snipe found at Chain O' Lakes State Park, Spring Grove, IL April 2017

So what do you think?  Pretty cool bird eh?  This is another series of shots that comes courtesy of a birding outing to Chain O’ Lakes State Park.  A bit in the wayback machine as they were taken on April 2017.  Ron happened to be with me that weekend resulting in +1’s for both of us although technically he hasn’t posted on it yet so he is unable to take the full credit.  I on the other hand will be remedying that technicality today.

In the rare case you are struggling to see the featured bird above, feel free to hit the jump and I’ll try to help you out a bit.

Continue reading Warning, All-Seeing Snipers in the Field

The Yellow Bandit

Finally getting back to this blog thingy.  I’ve been extremely busy this month – well, let’s go with busier than norm.  My life seems to be in constant motion thanks to way too many honey-do items, a hell of a lot of work to keep my country homestead under control, a running passion that probably borders on addiction, year-round Halloween prop building and oh, that little thing called my day job.  It’s rather amazing there’s time left to actually go in the field and snap our feathered friends.

Common Yellowthroat found at Chain O' Lakes State Park, Spring Grove, IL June 2019

Luckily, there’s plenty of outings still in the queue to pull from.  Today’s featured specimen comes to us courtesy of Chain O’ Lakes State Park up in Spring Grove, IL.  As mentioned several times now, that park is one of our favorites in IL.  Varied habitats ranging from wetlands/river to deep woods and all the way to acres and acres of natural prairie.  Well maintained trails allow for easy navigation between the settings giving ample opportunity to shoot a wide range of birds.  Although are standard goal there is to get the large Sandhill Cranes in the tin, we definitely take time out to for the smalls.

Common Yellowthroat found at Chain O' Lakes State Park, Spring Grove, IL June 2019

Hit the jump to see a couple more shots of the Yellow Bandit..

Continue reading The Yellow Bandit

Good Enough to Melt the World’s Heart

Another month has been torn off the calendar.  Before long we’ll be in fall wondering where the hell the year went.  Of course, that is when the stress levels will start sky rocketing as that also means the annual Halloween Haunted Trail will be looming and my longtime readers know how crazy that time gets.  The good news is we are once again making a break for the soul healing abilities of nature’s outdoors. With our state park campgrounds finally open we were able to load up the RV and head up to Chain O’ Lakes for some relaxation, hiking, running, biking and of course BIRDING!  Unfortunately, we missed most of the migration season, but hopefully Ron and I can still get some Sandhill Cranes in the tin.  While trying to decide on what to feature in today’s post, I was thinking about the world as a whole – corvid, senseless rioting, cratering economy, worthless politicians, hypocrite professional athletes and propagandists masquerading as journalists.  Then I remembered this weekend was about tuning out (an interesting concept as I sit her and make a post) and dispensing with the pent-up stress.  Then it occurred to me – the perfect post was sitting in my queue already.

Sandhill Crane Family shot at Chain O' Lakes State Park, Spring Grove IL in June 2017

What the world needs is a little cuteness to melt the angst right out of its heart.  Personally, I can’t think of many things that would fit that objective better than a Sandhill Crane Colt.  I am pretty sure if we borrowed a few Colts from their parents and simply walked them out between two parties in any type of conflict, the problem would be immediately resolved.  Granted, we would immediately have to get the Colts back to their parents, but I am hoping they would be willing to help out with humanities current myriad of crises.

Sandhill Crane Family shot at Chain O' Lakes State Park, Spring Grove IL in June 2017

Hit the jump and prepare to emit a giant awwwwwweeeee!

Continue reading Good Enough to Melt the World’s Heart

Gone Nuts

Here we are at the feels like day 2,882 of the Illinois lockdown.  All I can say at this point is our political leadership has gone full on batshit crazy.  Can barely stomach the news anymore and the next entertainer that thinks I give a crap what they think is going on my “never again” list.  Trust me, you do not want to be in the customer facing business and be put on my NA list.  Unfortunately new adds these days are already starting on page 52.  I was sitting here thinking to myself how nuts this whole thing and one of these specimens flew by the window I was staring out.

White-Breasted Nuthatch found at Chain O' Lakes State Park, Spring Grove, IL April 2017

Now that is a sign if I’ve ever witnessed one.  Mid-thought on the pontificating nutjobs and a Nut – a White-Breasted Nuthatch lands in a tree near our porch.   Yes Mother Nature that is a perfect metaphor for our current situation.  My camera was too far away to bring to bear on our new visitor (that being it was sitting about 30 feet away ha), but I was pretty sure there was a series in the queue that would do fine.  Sure enough, with a little digging found a suitable stand-in.  Honestly, was a bit surprised to find only one specimen in the queue as just about every common bird in our area has a couple sets just waiting for a chance to be revealed to the world.  The only question is how far back do I want to go 1990, 2000, 2010 hehehe.  Our lone entry today takes us only back to April, 2017 – a mere 3 years ago which is about when my broke state imposed its lockdown.  Ron and I were checking out the inhabitants of Chain O’ Lakes State Park in Spring Grove, IL. A nice park that happens to be relatively halfway between us.  Linda runs the kids in dog agility up there so I tag along to do a bit of birding.  Always a fun time when Ron can join me, although finding a bird, snapping a shot and then scaring it off before he sees it is getting harder and harder (did I write that out loud ha).  In this case, pretty sure he managed to tin this specimen.  No gain on the bird count, but still an entertaining little bird (that, for a fact, has never felt obligated to preach to me).

White-Breasted Nuthatch found at Chain O' Lakes State Park, Spring Grove, IL April 2017

Hit the jump to see a few more images of our featured Nutjob.

Continue reading Gone Nuts

They Who Suck Sap

I put my blogging hobby in jeopardy tonight.  Linda and I checked out a German Christmas Market (Christkindlmarket) in downtown Chicago or as I like to refer to it as – Ron’s neighborhood (cue comment ha).  Really nice German/European themed market full of cultural foods and gifts.  We took a special liking to the cider and hot chocolate in souvenir mugs and an amazing amount of really cool glass ornaments.  Show me a colorful glass bird ornament and I switch into “here, take my money” mode.   Problem was it was an OUTSIDE market.  Start with the windy city’s namesake, add in a heaping amount of plunging temperatures gives you some mighty bitter conditions.  Somehow made it back to the hotel without my fingers falling off – still tingle while I type.  In an attempt to bring them back to room temperature, thought I would feature a bird found in much warmer conditions.

Yellow-Bellied Sapsucker found at International Crane Foundation, Baraboo, Wisconsin - April 2014

Actually this post features specimens found in multiple locations over multiple years and in different months of the year (yes, all warmer than the tundra conditions we experienced tonight).  This featured bird is a member of the Sapsucker species.  It is pretty easy to tell the Yellow-Bellied Sapsucker is a member of the Woodpecker family.  Long, powerful bill, well clawed to support hanging on the sides of trees/branches and adorned in the common colors of black, white and red.

Yellow-Bellied Sapsucker found at Kentucky Lake - April 2015

Hit the jump to read some more about Mr. Sappy Sucker!

Continue reading They Who Suck Sap