Wednesday, April 30, 2008

I Love Surprises!

I was walking a relatively new path in McKinley Woods yesterday, when a skittering in the underbrush caught my eye. I froze in place, focused my camera and waited. Another streak of superhero-like speed crossed my view again, then disappeared behind a rotten stump of a tree. What could it be? I thought either a mouse or a pine squirrel, although it could have been plenty of things. I then wondered, as I crept around, if the rotten cavity hosted this mystery critter? I left well enough alone, continued on, but took mental notes of where this tree was located for further Nancy Drew-ing later...
As I continued down the path, I heard the beeping of a nuthatch that was pretty close, so I stopped and looked for it. As I located it, I heard a softer beeping in another direction, even closer. I turned around and searched with my ears which led me to this hole in the tree:

She (White-Breated Nuthatch) didn't let me look at her long, before she ducked back in, so this is the only o.k. shot I got...
I left the nuthatch to the serenity of her home and turned back down the path. I stopped back at the rotten stump, and to my delite, the mystery critter popped its head out to check me out. It was a Pine Squirrel...I love surprises, and I got 2 in 1 day!

Tuesday, April 29, 2008


The melodious whistles of the Eastern Meadowlark is a familiar and welcome sound across farms and grasslands in eastern North America.

They will sing to stake out a breeding territory. A male Eastern Meadowlark typically has two mates at a time, and on rare occasion, three. I found this one singing in Goose Lake Prairie State Park.

I found this one singing at McKinley Woods/Moose Island.

Interesting Notes:
Meadowlarks have a complex bill musculature that allows them to force the bill open with considerable strength. This allows them to insert the bill into the dirt substance, & pry apart the ground. While this happens the eyes rotate forward slightly and they can see directly between their jaws into the hole they have created. This technique is referred to as "gaping".
Gaping allows meadowlarks to seek insects that other bird species can't get. Starlings also have this ability.

Monday, April 28, 2008

First New Chicks of the Season

The goslings are here!
The pictures below are of 1 day old chicks. There are 5 of them and the Canada Geese are excellent parents. I took pictures from the car, so as to not upset them. If I were to step out of the car, the male most likely would have shouted obscenities and chased me away. The car was of no concern to them, as long as I didn't approach too fast or too close. I have learned this from experience. When I was a bright and shiny new wildlife photographer, I didn't know the unspoken rules, but learned them fast. I had greater success from the car as my blind, then from walking around. I prefer to leave with a whisper. Let's keep nature a peaceful place!

I don't know about you, but I am always excited to see the first hatchlings of Spring!

The adorable fuzzy yellow goslings can put you in a great mood, watching them pull on grass and walk awkwardly...

They tested the waters with mom and dad just a few inches away, bobbing their heads underwater to experience a whole new world...

They play so hard, that when sleep comes, they seem to be just a little crabby...

Mom and Dad keep a close eye over them as they learn about the world...

Exploring is very tiring...

Mom and Dad show them where the good tasting grass is...

They grow up so fast, and turn from a cute and fuzzy bright yellow to a tall and lanky gray in just a few days. I love the cute and fuzzy yellow stage the best!

Friday, April 25, 2008

Tree Swallow Territory

As their name suggests, tree swallows spend little time on the ground, preferring instead to perch. They spend much of their time in flight and tend to glide more than any other species of swallows. In order to bathe, swallows swoop down over water. They lightly brush the water and then begin to fly upwards, shaking the water off. They also bathe by preening extensively during rainfall, using it as a shower. They are strongly territorial during the breeding season. Both sexes defend an area around their nest, usually a 10 to 15 m radius, against other nest site competitors. Competition for nest sites is thought to be the underlying motive behind much of tree swallow behavior, including sexually selective infanticide, frequent copulation, and strong aggressive responses to nest site competitors.

Tree Swallows are interesting characters. While guarding their homes, they can get pretty comfortable with you near by. I set up a chair at Goose Lake Prairie State Park and waited for various shots. Watching them ward off potential intruders is a sight to see. They are extremely animated in behavior. You will witness one giving another a piece of their mind when they get too close.

There are plenty of birdhouses surrounding the lake for Swallows to occupy, which means sentry duty goes on 24/7.

The irridescent deep blue coloring makes these swallows such a handsome bird!

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Broken Wing Distraction Technique of a Killdeer

The Killdeer is the largest of the ringed plovers, and the only plover in its range with a double breast band. Killdeers have brown upperparts, white underparts, and orange rumps. Adults and juveniles look the same year round, but young, downy chicks have a single breast band. In flight, the Killdeer's long, slender wings have conspicuous white wing stripes.
During the breeding season, Killdeers are easily observed vocalizing and performing broken-wing displays to distract intruders away from nests and chicks. Pairs defend territories, and individuals spread out while foraging. Killdeers have a 'running-stopping-bobbing' gait. Killdeers are extremely vocal and respond to disturbance with sharp alarm calls.

This particular Killdeer was very good at the fake broken wing display. (Click photo to enlarge for detail.)

For some reason, I liked this shot with the goose.

This is the only flight shot I have managed to get that was decent. I liked the sky.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

The Flight Display of the Common Snipe

I went out to Goose Lake Prairie State Park to capture some Tree Swallow shots, and set up near a birdhouse. I was taking plenty of photos of them, and suddenly heard a weird sound. I didn't know what it was, and couldn't zero in on a location, but it was definately close. It sounded like a monkey call if I had to describe it. Every time I heard it, it seemed to ride the wind. I attempted to get closer to where the sound was coming from, but just as I go in 1 direction, it seemed to be behind me. My partner Cutti pointed into the sky and saw the bird that was making the noise. I knew right away it was a Snipe or a Woodcock doing their aerial display. (After referencing my field guide, it was determined that snipes were displaying.)

Beautifully striped with a very long beak, these waders nest in dense vegetation and tend only to be seen when accidentally put to flight. That is unless their display flight is witnessed. During the breeding season, snipe display above the pastures in which they breed & Goose Lake Prairie is a prime example of excellent habitat. They first fly up high and then plunge downward vibrating their outer tail feathers to produce a curious whirring sound, called drumming.

To watch this display in action is amazing...Watching the sky when a bunch are up there is awesome...

It is so weird that the sound they make comes from their feathers vibrating instead of their throats.

The snipe flight behavior reminds me of aerial combat maneuvers of a fighter jet.

(These last 2 photos were taken 2 years ago, because I did not get any ground shots on this day.)

* Also known as Wilson's Snipe

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Blue-Gray Gnatcatcher

I now know why they call this little guy a Gnatcatcher. I saw him for the very first time, while standing at the entrance to the wooded trail at Gebhard Woods. I go there often, with hopes in seeing different colorful migrating birds. Why? I am not a birder, but am starting to understand why these winged creatures are so addicting.
I have been drawn to nature for a long time now, and most anything can inspire an awe in me, but never have I felt drawn in particular, to birds of the smaller variety, although I have a special place reserved for any owl. Birds have always been easier to shoot than mammals, because they are everywhere, so I take alot of bird shots. I can't always go out and find, say, a raccoon. Thats not the way it works. But, it is why it makes each encounter unique and special. I can probably remember every single occasion with every single raccoon I have ever found. I am always telling stories to friends about this or that, and the memories are always amazing and I am so glad I have them.
I loved finding this teeny tiny bird. It flew in, and flitted around from tiny twig to tiny twig. There were 2 of them, so my chances just increased for attempting a shot. I noticed the white ring around their eyes right away. I then observed their extra long tail. What could this little creature be? I am no birder, so visual I.D. is the only thing I have. I thought, long tail, hmmm....flycatchers have extra long tails, so maybe this lil guy is 1 of those gnatcatchers I have read about, since it is so small? I went home, looked it up and voila...a Blue-Gray Gnatcatcher.
After referencing this bird, I found the size to be a fooler to the eye. The book says it is 4 1/2" long, but that includes their extra long tail, so I would say, body only, the size of an almond in its shell. I loved that I saw one. I loved even more, that I kinda-knew what it was. I think I might be becoming a "Birder", but... without the list. Is that the next step in my addiction? Time will tell...
This guy is a "Gnatcatcher" because of its small size...Gnats instead of flies because of proportion...Cool!

Monday, April 21, 2008

Calling All Potential Mates!

On a trip to Kankakee State Park this weekend, the sound of music was being sung right outside the window of my car. (It's a trill sound which isn't all that beautiful, but he sure was...) I spotted a Chipping Sparrow, with its head held high, singing his song for all the pretty ladies to hear. He sang the whole time I shot him, and I left him to his courting...

His back was to the wind causing his feathers to blow forward, giving him a really cute appeal!
(Click on photo to enlarge, the size of this photo for posting doesn't do it justice.)

Note: I have plenty of pictures from this weekend to sort through. Expect plenty of posts this week!

Friday, April 18, 2008

Friday Potpourri

I am hoping the weekend will bring plenty of photos to share on Monday. The weather looks good & my schedule is clear, so now its about luck. Will I choose the right spot? I always question that. My prospects are: Pileated Woodpecker, Wood ducks, Beaver, Bluebirds, Pine Squirrels, Black Squirrels, Kingfisher...Wish me luck!

This photo should have been included in the last post. This male mallard went flying after a female he found attractive.

I knew this photo would be dark, but I liked it, as far as squirrel shots go.

I discovered this tree bordering a creek a few years ago, with only a few heron nests at that time. Since then, the neighborhood has grown quite a bit!

And finally... A muskrat getting a drink of water at the edge of the beaver pond.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

It's Been a Slow Week...

I've taken a few opportunities this past week to get some nature in, but the rain, wind, and temperatures have kept me indoors more than out. Here is what I found on a trip to Gebhard Woods:

Squirrels are usually my "default" when not a whole lot is happening. If you can't find much, the squirrels will do...

I barely saw this little fella. I happened to hear a bird in this tree, and there he was...

The Nuthatches were beeping all over, but were not cooperative. I was lucky to find him before he found me.

The Brown Creepers were plentiful too...

The battle for mates was in full force as I watched 2 drakes chase the pour female mallard until exhaustion. Eventually she took flight, but so did the drakes, so her escape plan was void.

Friday, April 11, 2008

Amazing E-Mails

I have never posted "mass e-mails" before, so... maybe you have had these e-mails already circulated to you, but when I received these, I filed them for future posting & just had to "forward" them here!

The location was unknown, but how amazing it would be to see an albino moose.

The photographer travels the world photographing animals and is well known. Had just returned from a long trip when he spotted these adorable little guys in his backyard.

There was no story to go with this photo, but can you imagine finding these guys under your trampoline?

NOTE: I can only hope that these photos are real, but with the magic of photoshop, anything is possible...

Cuttidad's Showcase

Sometimes the weather is against you, and this week I have not been able to get out. The rain has soaked Northern Illinois for days, so... to post something fresh, I am spotlighting Cuttidad, my partner in crime. She is co-pilot on some of my excursions, & when opportunity arises on her side of the car, I hand her my camera:

Black Squirrels seem to be popping up, in otherwise, gray and fox squirrel territory at Kankakee State Park. I have run into a few of them farther east a bit, but now it seems they are migrating their way west...

Black Squirrels are smaller than your typical fox squirrel. We found this guy playing with a pine squirrel, but couldn't capture them together.

There were Mallards in a large puddle one day, and Cutti really loved how the males head was reflecting the light, so she took some shots.

I talked her into getting down to their level and snapping off a few for a different perspective...

I was really impressed with this one! Cutti is the perfect "buddy" when going on a long adventure. She is just as excited as you are, and even though she doesn't normally look through a camera lens, she appreciates everything she sees, and sometimes takes video. She loves to talk about what we saw that particular day, and asks lots of questions about their behavior. I am beginning to want to take her everywhere, even though I am usually a "Lone Photographer". It is exciting to watch someone else be so curious and excited...

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Tuesday's Potpourri

Todays post is a bunch of random offerings from the past week of shooting. The recent days have been gorgeous, but I haven't found any GREAT photo op's, so I offer these:

I don't know what type of ground squirrel this is, but to give the size some perspective, it is about a 1/4 larger than a 13 stripe ground squirrel. Answer given by Richard over @ At The Water: Pine Squirrel, Red Squirrel or Chickaree!

I also asked-"Can anyone I.D. this squirrel for me?" -and the response I got was from Richard who thought it was a Pine Squirrel, or sometimes called a Chickaree, or Red Squirrel. My preference is Chickaree cuz its fun to say...

Blue Winged Teal - My only shot of the Blue Wing revealed.

I hid behind a tree for way too long in an awkward position, waiting for them to come closer. They swam within 50 feet, and my body was glad they left. (They never saw me, so it was worth the pain)

It was an overcast day, but despite the gloom, I found some cooperative Cedar Waxwings.

Normally, cedars are not people birds, and will not stay for the photo shoot, but these guys were pretty social, and I walked away without disturbance.

I witnessed the courtship of the Hairy Woodpeckers, as 3 of them were competing for mates. They were weaving and bobbing their heads...