Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Birding Bliss

Bliss Woods Kane County Forest Preserve and neighboring Hannaford Woods are parts of an extensive open space assemblage in Sugar Grove Township, only a few miles south of our second home in NE Illinois. The clear waters of Blackberry Creek run through varied habitats of meadows and woodlands. Last year, in early September, the preserve provided good warbler-watchingHannaford Woods contains impressive stands of aged Red Oak, giant White and Bur Oaks, Walnuts, Hickories and Lindens.

Blackberry Creek in Bliss Woods:

Bliss Woods HDR 20130815
For me, birding is not so much a competitive sport, but rather a pleasurable pastime that has provided me with insights into the natural world and sensitivity to the fragility of the web of life. More than a lone pursuit, I enjoy sharing the experience with others.  

For 65 years I have kept a life list of bird species seen, but generally do not expend a great deal effort to chase after rare birds. This probably classifies me as more of a "birdwatcher" than a competitive "birder." Yet, any newly seen or photographed species is cause for celebration. 

My hobby of bird photography started late, in 2008 after my son-in-law gave me his first generation Canon Rebel DSLR.  Now, it is still great to see a new species, but  I'm striving to photograph as many birds on my life list as possible. About 50% would seem to be a realistic goal-- I've recorded sightings of 582 species in the ABA area (continental US and Canada) but so far have photographed only approximately 250 to 260 species. (I say approximate because that is how many photos are in my "Life Birds Photographed" set on FLICKR-- there are a few duplicates that I need to weed out).

Lately the rate of adding to my list of life birds photographed has slowed considerably. I do not plan any more pelagic trips, and most of our travel is between our two homes in Florida and Illinois. Yet, Mary Lou and I jumped at the chance to add a species soon after arriving in Illinois in mid-August, when we learned that two pairs of Red-headed Woodpeckers were nesting not far away. Marion, a local birding friend, guided us to their breeding territory in Hannaford Woods. She has been monitoring their nests for at least two seasons. I would never have been able to find their nests on my own.

A well-maintained barn is located near the entrance to the woodland.

Hannaford Farms barn HDR crop 20130826
The entrance path follows the border between the mature woodland and former agricultural fields, now converted and managed as a tallgrass prairie.
Hannaford Woods north entrance path 2-20130826
The trail leads into the woods.
Hannaford Woods path 20130826
Not far in, we encountered the first Red-headed Woodpecker we have seen in more than 15 years since when we lived in New Mexico. It was perched atop the hole-ridden snag that served as its nesting site, which is located on the other side of the trunk.
Red-headed Woodpecker 3-20130826
We planned to observe this nest later, on our way back out of the woods. We proceeded to the second nest which was visible from the trail in another similar dead tree. It is the bottom hole of the three large excavations (Click to enlarge any of these photos). 
Hannaford Woods woodpecker tree 20130826
Within minutes, one of the parent birds arrived with an insect.
Red-headed Woodpecker South Nest 07-20130820
The nestlings were silent, but obviously hungry. The adult emerged with an empty bill in seconds.
Red-headed Woodpecker South Nest 20130820
The parents kept returning with food every 4 or 5 minutes. They provided glorious photo opportunities.
Red-headed Woodpecker South Nest 03-20130820
They were good housekeepers, often exiting to discard fecal sacs or detritus such as this unidentified object.
Red-headed Woodpecker South Nest 06-20130820
This was their second clutch of the year, said to be a bit unusual at this latitude. Our host feared that the first brood may have failed but was overjoyed when an immature bird visited the location. They were excellent parents, indeed! In typical fashion, this species strips off bark in search of insect prey. Their nest tree is often entirely devoid of bark, perhaps to make it more difficult for mammalian predators to climb up.
Red-headed Woodpecker immature South Nest COREL 20130820
I will not bore the reader by showing all of the 80 or so photos that I simply could not make myself discard out of some 130 originals. However, the second nest, which we reached by bushwhacking through blackberry and poison ivy patches, was every bit as exciting to watch. It too contained young nestlings. Marion called the presumed male "Baldy" because a large portion of his head has lacked feathers over the past two years. Here, Baldy poses on top of the nest tree.
Red-headed Woodpecker -Baldy- 2-20130820
Here is Baldy's mate, so identified by her behavior, as the male does most of the excavating and in the (undocumented) belief that only the male carries away fecal sacs. Normally the sexes are similar, but Baldy's head distinguishes him.
Red-headed Woodpecker North Nest COREL 20130820
Baldy disposes of a fecal sac. His bald spot is best seen from his right side.
Red-headed Woodpecker pair North Nest 20130820
At Bliss Woods, a Red-tailed Hawk sailed effortlessly overhead.
Red-tailed Hawk 20130815
A Northern Cardinal had not finished molting into new crest feathers.
Northern Cardinal male molting 20130815
Several Ruby-throated Hummingbirds were migrating through.
Ruby-throated Hummingbird 20130815
Numerous Eastern Wood-Pewees whistled plaintively: "Pee-oh-wee!"
Eastern Wood-Pewee 20130815
There were many immature American Robins among the huge flocks of this species.
American Robin juvenile 20130815
The highlight of this visit to Bliss Woods was an Olive-sided Flycatcher, readily identified from a distance by its habit of sitting on the highest dead branch of a huge oak, and returning to the same spot repeatedly after fly-catching forays.
Olive-sided Flycatcher 20130815
Its unmistakable black vest seals the identification.
Olive-sided Flycatcher 2-20130815
A curious Thirteen-lined Ground Squirrel peeped up from the safety of its burrow. I was able to approach it quite closely. Click on the image for larger view to see my reflection (hat, camera and monopod) in its eye.
Ground Squirrel 2-20130815


  1. this was a delightful post to read Ken, more of how your birding and photography has evolved over some wonderful years pursuing this sole-enhancing passion.

  2. Super post! Have never seen a Red Headed Woodpecker! Great photos too..thanks for sharing..

  3. Really great shots. I try my best to get all of my birds with some photo ID. But as I'm getting into the reeds, night etc, it is difficult. For example, a Mexican Whip-poor-will. We saw the birds in clear sight BUT it was night and that makes everything trickier. Great post. The Red-headed Woodpecker nest is incredible!

  4. Woodpeckers of any sort are my desired sighting in next year's visit to part of western USA and Costa Rica as we don't have them in Australia. This post only makes me want to see them more!