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Thursday, August 25, 2016

Summer birds in Illinois

We rarely see American Robins near our south Florida home, so they are a welcome sight when we return to Illinois:

Robin on a fence 20160628


Spring migration is over. Most of the local breeding birds have finished nesting and as July approaches the woodlands fall silent. Now is the time to retreat from the cool shade and visit the prairie, where the calendar appears to have been turned back. 


Nelson Lake north HDR 20130812


In a sense, the forest is the enemy of the Midwestern prairie. After the last of the glaciers retreated some 14,000 years ago, the bare land progressed from soggy tundra to evergreen woodland. As the climate warmed and dried, hardwoods such as hickory and oak invaded and eventually blanketed the land. 


Drought and lightning combined to cause wildfires which produced huge swaths of grassland, and herds of bison helped to keep the prairie open. Prairie plants developed extensive underground roots which resisted destruction from fires and grazing until human settlement turned most of their habitat into rich cropland. Water-filled depressions (potholes) were left behind by the glaciers. These provided places for bison to wallow and waterfowl to find refuge. They often resisted cultivation.

Restored prairie pothole at Nelson Lake Marsh/Dick Young Prairie preserve, near our second home in Kane County, Illinois:


Nelson Lake prairie pothole HDR 20160627


Now the remnants of the prairie require human intervention in order to prosper. The grasslands survive because of controlled burns and selective removal of invasive shrubs, trees and other vegetation, both native and exotic. At  Nelson Lake preserve the grass is tall and seed heads are golden, inviting me to render my photo as an oil painting (click on photo for enlarged views):


Nelson Lake barn OIL  20160627


Song Sparrows and Common Yellowthroats have started second and even third broods, and are singing vigorously.


Song Sparrow 20160627


Song Sparrow HDR 2-20160605


Common Yellowthroat 2-20160628


Common Yellowthroat male 4-20150714


Old fence posts are the tallest roosting places in the grasslands, and a Savannah Sparrow keeps watch from one:


Savannah Sparrow HDR 20160629


Tiny Henslow's Sparrows are hard to find in the tall grass. Note the greenish tint on its head:


Henslows Sparrow crop 20120620


Grasshopper Sparrows prefer areas with shorter grass:


Grasshopper Sparrow 2-20150714


Sedge Wrens rattle their songs along the path:


Sedge Wren 03-20160629


Bobolinks are still feeding  their young. Their upside-down plumage pattern makes them favorite subjects as I try to obtain a perfect pose:


Bobolink 2-20160629


Bobolink on post HDR 04-20160605


The demure female Bobolink is nonetheless beautiful:


Bobolink 2-20150831


Colorful Dickcissels do not arrive in any great numbers until mid- to late June. 


Dickcissel 4-20160629


Dickcissel 3-20160627


American Goldfinches wait for thistle and milkweed to produce the down for their nests and seeds for their vegetarian babies:


American Goldfinches 20160629


American Goldfinch female 20160628


I catch the reflection of a goldfinch as it sips at a nearby creek:


American Goldfinch HDR 04-20160505


Red-winged Blackbirds defend their territories with song...


Red-winged Blackbird HDR 20160606


...and action, as one takes on a Red-tailed Hawk:


Red-tailed Hawk 2-20160513


Red-winged Blackbird chases Red-tailed Hawk 20160628


Red-winged Blackbird attacks Red-tailed Hawk 20160628


Spiderwort and Black-eyed Susan are common summer flowers in the prairie:

Spiderwort 20160628


= = =  = = =  = = = =  = = = = =

Linking to Misty's  CAMERA CRITTERS,

Linking to Eileen's SATURDAY'S CRITTERS,

Linking to GOOD FENCES by Tex (Theresa). 

Linking to SKYWATCH FRIDAY by Yogi, Sylvia and Sandy

Linking to WEEKEND REFLECTIONS by James

Linking to BirdD'Pot by Anni

Linking to Wild Bird Wednesday by Stewart

Linking to Today's Flowers Friday by Denise

Linking to Wordless Wednesday (on Tuesday) by NC Sue
________________________________________________

Please visit the links to all these memes to see some excellent photos on display
________________________________________________

Thursday, August 18, 2016

All egrets are herons, but...

On hot summer mornings we get out on the local wetlands well before sunrise, often to be rewarded by colorful skies and placid waters:

Pine bank before sunrise HDR 20160810

Before sunlight touched the ground, the top of a single thunderstorm over the Bahamas cast a long shadow which stretched westward across the Everglades in the opposite horizon:

View to WSW before sunrise HDR 20160810


True, all egrets are indeed classified as herons, but all white herons are not egrets. I took this photo of two herons before sunrise, so it is not very sharp. Overlook the plumage difference and note the similarities between them. They are the same size and shape, their bills are blue-gray and tipped with black, and they have pale greenish legs. They are both Little Blue Herons:

Little Blue Herons 2-20160810

Immature white plumage is retained for about one year:

Little Blue Heron adult plumage 20160810

The other heron in the photo is this immature Little Blue Heron transitioning into adult plumage. At this stage they are sometimes called "Calico Herons:"

Little Blue Heron transitional plumage 20160810

Here is a nice adult Little Blue Heron in our back yard:

Little Blue Heron 05-20160204

They are deliberate hunters, moving slowly and stalking their prey, often adopting this characteristic pose, identifiable from a great distance:

Little Blue Heron 20150407

This Little Blue is dwarfed by a Great Egret:

Great Egret ans Little Blue Heron 01-20160716

An immature Little Blue Heron casts a nice reflection against that of a neighbor's fence:

Little Blue Heron 2-20151006

The plumage transition provides a variety of patterns. Early in the process there may only be a few dark feathers:

Little Blue Heron 20140422

The white flight feathers are replaced by dark adult ones symmetrically, as illustrated in this Little Blue which is being pursued by a Boat-tailed Grackle:

Grackle chasing Little Blue Heron 20110529

This past week I watched as a backyard immature Little Blue Heron caught a tiny fish (species not identified):

Little Blue Heron immature 04-20160813

Immature Little Blue herons seem to be at the bottom of the heron pecking order. While herons of all species may vocalize or chase others that approach them too closely when they are hunting, the immature Little Blue Herons seem to be picked upon just for being in the vicinity of adults of the same species as well as Snowy and Great Egrets. 

In this sequence, I first noticed two white herons on the far shore of the lake engaged in what appeared to be a hostile encounter, with much parrying and fluttering. It did not look like courtship or mating behavior.  As I raised my camera, a Great Egret flew in and intervened. Both combatants were immature Little Blue Herons. One ended up mostly under water with the other standing straight up on top of its back, as seen in the first photo. Upon arrival of the egret, the warring parties took off in opposite directions: 

Heron encounter 1 20121217

Heron encounter 3 20121217

Heron encounter 4 20121217

The Snowy Egret is about the same size as the Little Blue, but has a black bill with yellow at its base and black legs with "golden slippers." Here one chases an immature Little Blue Heron:

Snowy chases Little Blue 03-20150812

It is important to note the leg color of the following two white herons. The Great Egret has black legs:

Great Egret HDR 05-20160808

This is not an egret, but a Great Blue Heron white morph ("Great White Heron") in our back yard. Its legs are pale:

Great White Heron reduced 20140811

The Great White Heron is also much larger than the Great Egret:

Great White Heron and Great Egret 20140818

We do not venture out into the wetlands when rain threatens. One morning we visited nearby Chapel Trail Nature Preserve and walked the boardwalk with the car parked comfortably nearby. 

Chapel Trail boardwalk HDR  20160808

Swamp Lilies bloomed:

Swamp Lily 20160808

A young Marsh Rabbit nibbled on grass near the parking lot. This small dark cottontail rabbit without any white on its tail is a strong swimmer:

Marsh Rabbit young 04-20160808

Marsh Rabbit young 02-20160808


= = =  = = =  = = = =  = = = = =

Linking to Misty's  CAMERA CRITTERS,

Linking to Eileen's SATURDAY'S CRITTERS,

Linking to GOOD FENCES by Tex (Theresa). 

Linking to SKYWATCH FRIDAY by Yogi, Sylvia and Sandy

Linking to WEEKEND REFLECTIONS by James

Linking to BirdD'Pot by Anni

Linking to Wild Bird Wednesday by Stewart

Linking to Today's Flowers Friday by Denise

Linking to Wordless Wednesday (on Tuesday) by NC Sue
________________________________________________

Please visit the links to all these memes to see some excellent photos on display

________________________________________________