Thursday, May 28, 2015

Birding Bliss

A favorite birding site near our NE Illinois home is the 175 acre Bliss Woods Forest Preserve in Sugar Grove. A bike trail connects Bliss woods with the 402 acre Hannaford Woods-Nickels Farm Forest Preserve, forming a complex known as the  Bliss Woods-Waubonsee College open space assemblage. This protects a varied habitat including hardwood forest, open prairies and wetlands. Most of this section of Illinois is flat land, planted in miles and miles of corn and soybeans, but thanks to preservation of the remnants of the Kaneville Esker, this preserve is a green gem, with rolling hills and valleys. Ridges (eskers) and prominent mounds (kames) interrupt the monotony of the prairie. These features, as well as prairie potholes (also known as kettles), were produced about 13,000 years ago by retreating glaciers. Many have been disturbed or removed, as they are a convenient source of gravel.

Blackberry Creek as it courses through Bliss Woods:

Bliss Woods HDR 20120908

Woodland path in Hannford Woods:

Hannaford Woods path 20130826

This barn, surrounded by a white rail fence, is on private property just across from the entrance to Hannaford Woods:

Hannaford barn HDR  20150519

We visited the preserves several times before returning to Florida on May 24. On the first visit to Bliss Woods we obtained only distant views of a Scarlet Tanager, one of our favorite birds. Two days before returning to Florida we tried one last time. The morning started out windy and quite chilly at 46 degrees F (7.8 degrees Celsius). The tree limbs were moving so much that we held little hope of seeing many birds at all. Some of those which took flight actually flew backwards!

A male Northern Flicker was not affected by the wind as he searched for ants on the  mowed lawn in the picnic area:

Northern Flicker HDR 20150521

The winds subsided and the skies brightened, though the temperature dropped a couple of degrees. Yellow Warblers were already gathering nesting materials. This one sang in a small tree on its territory: 

Yellow Warbler 2-20150518

American Goldfinches bounded about, carefree, as they will not breed until later in the season:

American Goldfinch 2-20150519

Indigo Buntings had arrived en masse:

 Indigo Bunting singing 20150519

A White-breasted  Nuthatch seemed to be exploring a nest hole. It kept poking its head in but never entered. I wondered if it might be occupied by another creature such as a squirrel or chipmunk:

White-breasted Nuthatch at nest 2-20150519

High in a nearby oak tree, I spotted a White-breasted Nuthatch fledgling:

 White-breasted Nuthatch fledgling 2-20150521

As a parent approached with a grub, it started begging silently:

 White-breasted Nuthatch fledgling 20150521

White-breasted Nuthatch feeding fledgling 20150521

White-breasted Nuthatch fledgling 3-20150521

"I still want more!"

White-breasted Nuthatch fledgling begging 20150521

This first year male Orchard Oriole was the second we saw this week:

Orchard Oriole male 1st year 2-20150521

A male Orchard Oriole in full breeding plumage flew by but I was unable to get a photo, so here is one from May 14 a year ago. It is smaller than a Baltimore Oriole and has brick-red plumage rather than bright orange of the latter species:

Orchard Oriole 2-20130514

A Red-tailed Hawk swooped in low. Not a threat to small birds, it was probably hoping to surprise a rabbit or squirrel:

Red-tailed Hawk2 HDR 20150521

We have been watching a pair of Blue-gray Gnatcatcher build a nest which straddles a low-hanging limb of an old oak. Now the bird is sitting tight, surely incubating its eggs. We were pleasantly surprised to see that the fragile-looking nest had not been disrupted by the high winds and rain:

Blue-gray Gnatcatcher on nest HDR 20150521

Finally, we were rewarded when a male Scarlet Tanager suddenly flew into full sun in a tree just above the trail:

Scarlet Tanager 2-20150521

Scarlet Tanager 5-20150521

His coat is deeply scarlet except for black wings and tail. The sun was high and the leaves cast strong dappled shadows. Nearly all of my dozen photos were spoiled because of the sharp contrasting patches of light. This one better illustrates the problem, as the red color (and the green on the leaves) is washed out in the highlights:

 Scarlet Tanager 3-20150521

Speaking of highlights, my final visit to Hannaford Woods produced a Life Bird! This does not happen very often these days, as I have lost interest in chasing after target birds. While walking the trail I heard a very loud warbler song coming from close to the ground nearby. I simply could not identify the song and tried to find the bird for the better part of half an hour. The understory was so dense and it was so tantalizingly close by! 

Before continuing down the trail, I recorded the song on my iPhone, hoping to research it and identify the singer. On the way back I replayed the song and the bird responded immediately. I caught a glimpse of it, singing a few inches off the ground. It had a brown back and a distinct eye ring, but it flew off in less than a second. It continued to sing in the distance, but to my surprise a second bird appeared and sat still long enough for me to capture a 25 second burst of images before it flew off. My photos confirmed that it was a Connecticut Warbler, the first I had ever seen, and the first County record this spring.

This seclusive but not rare warbler breeds in the far north Central US and central Canada. Despite its name it is rarely found in the NE United States, and then only in the fall. The few winter records are from South and Central America.

Connecticut Warbler (May 19, 2015):

Connecticut Warbler 2-20150519

Another "first" occurred early in our stay. I was looking for a Sora in Jones Meadow Park, a small wetlands near our home. Sure enough, I saw two Soras and heard one or two others:

Sora 2-20150506

Then, a Virginia Rail started calling and suddenly strutted out at the edge of the marsh:

Virginia Rail 4-20150424

A damselfly, which I believe to be a female bluet species, allowed me a close-up shot:

Damsel 20150517
= = =  = = =  = = = =  = = = = =

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 BirdD'Pot by Anni

Linking to Wild Bird Wednesday by Stewart

Linking to I Heart Macro by Laura


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



  1. Sounds like an awesome place for a birding outing. Wonderful shots of the birds, landscape and the barn. I love the nuthatch shots. Have a happy day!

  2. A fascinating post and a wonderful variety of birds.

  3. That turned out to be a very good area for birding. LOVE all the birds you saw and your photos of them. We have Nuthatches here, but I've never seen a baby. And I would love to lay my eyes on one of those Scarlet Tanagers! Excellent post.

  4. awesome birding! the sora and the rail are neat! all of your birds are wonderful. the nuthatch little one is adorable! thanks for the lovely midwestern farm scene, too.

  5. Great variety of beautiful birds. Love those Nuthatch babies. I like the low angle of the Flicker shot.

  6. I love the pictures of the birds, great job. I do have to say that the picture of the red barn is my favorite. I'm in love with red barns and this one is beautiful. Thanks for sharing!


  7. Wow! I would be in heaven to have such an amazing expanse of wooded areas to explore! Love your amazing photos! SOOO many birds! It had to be so exciting to see the Connecticut Warbler (you did a great job tracking the song down!) and the sora! And that scarlet tanager always leaves me breath-less!

  8. So many birds....Wow you really captured some great bird shots. I enjoyed them all but I really liked the Hawk, The Scarlet Tanger, The Gnatcatcher building the nest and the Virginia Rail. Awesome that you captured a "life" bird too. That was smart to record the song and play it back.
    Great looking barn/fence scene as well. - Always a pleasure to stop by your blog.

  9. These are all so splendid I can't even pick a favorite! Wow!

  10. My goodness, you have such an interesting assortment of birds shown here. The Scarlet Tanager is certainly a beautiful looking bird as well as the Oriole and Bunting birds.

  11. Just from the look of those first tow pictures, I could tell you were going to see lots of birds. What a cracking looking place.

    Cheers - Stewart M - Melbourne

  12. Beautiful, beautiful nature shots. A wonderful place to walk and enjoy nature.


  13. Hello Ken, just stopping back to say thank you for linking up and sharing your post. Have a happy weekend!

  14. Wonderful, wonderful photos. Thank you for sharing.

  15. superbe endroit et animaux ;o)

  16. Lovely reflection to start with, and such a lot of charming birds to follow! :)

  17. Fabulous close up of the Woodpecker.

  18. Nice place for birding. It is so cute when they feed each other. I used to sit and watched them out the window at the other house. Birds are so intelligent.

  19. Congrats on the new life bird! The scarlet tanager is a gorgeous bird.

  20. Oh excellent this week Ken!! Stunning images all the way around. I LOVED seeing the sweet fledgling. So precious.

    And sighting a new bird is always thrilling. It's good to see all the migrants in your area...knowing now the ones that left our spot on the globe made it safely to your neck of the woods.

    LOL at the merganser "poop" from your comment.

  21. Wonderful set of bird pics, so cool to catch that fledgling nuthatch getting his last (or near last?) feeding.

  22. Splendid variety of birds. Thumbs up on the lifers.

  23. Stuning photos . . . Loved the "I want more . . . " grouping . . .
    Such a treat!

  24. Stunning photos . . . I loved the "I want more . . . " grouping!
    Such a treat!

  25. Wow - wonderful sunlit shots of the glorious birds.

  26. I'd be pretty blissed out to have seen all of these birds as well. Outstanding!

  27. Wow your bird imagery is beautiful, I never have the patience for capturing wildlife like this - Please do come and visit and link it up for today's Travel Photo Mondays - the post will be up all week so I hope you can join us too!

  28. love all your birds...but especially the indigo bunting!!

  29. Lovely birds, and the damselfly on the end too! I've seen them with blue but not red. Cool.

  30. Thank you for taking us with you on your birding adventure… I love the mamma (or daddy?) bird feeding the baby… oh and the light in the photo of the flicker on the grass is fantastic!!! Thanks so much for sharing the love up-close with I Heart Macro ♥

  31. I sure enjoyed the picture show...I know I say something similar every time, but it is true. Such wonderful images...I had not heard of the Connecticut Warbler. It sure is pretty. We saw a couple Soras up a Willow Slough last year...that was a first for me with them.

  32. I always enjoy coming here to see the variety of birds on your birding adventures. I particularly loved the Yellow Warbler and Northern Flicker. Oh, and the Nuthatch nestling. What a treat for you and for us!

  33. Wow, an amazing selection of birds! Bird watcher's heaven.

  34. Sweet birds! I love the images of the WBNU young. Your hikes through the various areas make me want to head east:) Beautiful area. I hope to spy upon one of those Scarlet Tanagers someday:)

  35. You certainly packed a lot ofspecies into your last day's birding at that home. Such a wonderful variety and it was really special that you saw and photographed the Connecticut Warbler. I thought it would be too hot to be in Florida at this time od the year!

  36. @Margaret: I saw the Connecticut Warbler in Illinois. They are rather late migrants and some occasionally show up in south Florida, especially in early May.

  37. I loved the conversation between mother and child:) What a catch!

  38. Great great birding. You have two ideal places for sure. The hungry hungry bird baby ones are my favs, but the Orioles and all the birds really are wonderful.


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