Wednesday, May 27, 2009


Earlier this year I started to observe a pair of local Peregrine Falcons Falco peregrinus as part of the work of the Chicago Peregrine Project. This is not exactly an arduous task for a keen birdwatcher, I just stand near the building where they roost and monitor their activity a couple of times a week. Unfortunately the building that 'my' pair use each year has not yet seen the successful raising of any chicks (but we live in hope!) but several other locations in the Chicago area are very successful. One of the most high profile of these is at Evanston Library. Today it was time to check out and band the fledglings at the library. This is a big event for many people who watch their developments on the Internet falconcam.

When we arrived the parents didn't take long to notice the increase in activity. As you can see, no one is volunteering for window cleaning duty when the falcons are in residence so the windows are rather dirty!

The two members of the team who are brave enough to venture out to collect the chicks are well equipped with helmets and thick gloves.

The chicks are quickly put in a box together and covered to keep the stress to a minimum.

Each chick is taken out of the box, one at a time and laid carefully on its back

The head and the top half of the body are then covered, again to reduce stress

Each chick is then given a unique set of leg bands which will help to identify it during its adult life. The timing for banding is very important because the bird needs to be pretty much full size when the bands are put on to ensure they don't become too tight later in life. Although these chicks are still covered in down they have grown almost to full size so it is the perfect time for banding.

As with most birds of prey, the female bird is noticeably larger than the male so there are different sized leg rings depending on the gender of the birds.

After the chick has been banded it is checked for any skin or feather parasites, if there are any a specimen is collected for research

Finally a blood sample is taken from each bird. This is used primarily for DNA records. An inherent problem with virtually all restoration projects of specific species is ensuring a wide enough gene pool to maintain a strong and healthy population, DNA records help to see if this is being achieved. The blood is drawn from the base of the underside of the wing.

Then the bird is uncovered and put back into the box

Oh if looks could kill! Or 'just you wait until I tell my Mom what you just did to me!'

Finally the naming ceremony - Elinor and Aldo, both literary choices by the library, Ean and Gaelic word chosen by the pub across the road from the library where the monitors sit to watch the adult birds during the year(!) and Deborah to honour one of the projects volunteers.

A couple more quick close-ups

All this fame and adoration is tiring!

Then the four precious little bundles are carefully taken back up to the nest and put back where Mom can come and look after them again.

On average sixty percent of Peregrine Falcons do not survive through the first year of their life. However this particular pair produced four chicks last year and three of them are still alive and well so they obviously do a good job of parenting. Here is hoping that this years clutch do at least as well.

Photo Credits - CJT

Wednesday, May 20, 2009


In January I did a couple of posts about some new birds that I was introducing to the Haven at the Museum. I knew that both females had paired up with their respective mates but I had yet to see any 'evidence' of their bonds.
That was until today! I knew the Violaceous euphonias had been feeding some chicks in a nest but when I went to check them this morning the nest was empty. Then I saw not one fledgling,

not two fledglings,

not three fledglings,

but four fledglings!

Now I realise these are not the greatest photos ever but I really didn't want to get too close to the fledglings and stress them or the parents so you will have to take my word for it that the obscure little green blobs in these pictures are actually baby birds!
It is a very difficult task for the parents to raise four chicks to maturity so I must not get too attached to them at this stage but it was a lovely surprise to see them all.

Photo Credits - CJT

Tuesday, May 19, 2009


I have posted previously about the conservation project I am involved with for Blanding's Turtles. Today was our first opportunity to go out to radio track some of the turtles that have emerged from hibernation in the past month or so. After the soaking we got at the bioblitz this past weekend I was very relieved to see clear blue sky and sunshine when we set off this morning.
In October of last year, as part of our ongoing restoration work in conjunction with Du Page County, we released a number of hatchling and headstarted turtles. One of our headstarted turtles had been fitted with a radio transmitter so we were hoping to find it and also several older females.

Here is Jamie all kitted out in her chest waders, equipped with the antenna for picking up the radio signals and the control box to set the frequency - lets go track down some turtles!

There is definitely a knack to hearing the fluctuations in the signal beeps but we soon were on the trail of our first female and as the beeps got louder we eventually tracked her down. Each turtle is checked for any signs of injury or ill health and also to see if they are carrying any eggs although it is still a little early for that at the moment. We then take a GPS reading of the exact location we picked her up and then release them again. This will be done every week at this time of year until they are found to be gravid. When they are, they are taken to the outdoor pens where they will be left to lay their eggs in safety without predation. When they have laid their eggs they will be returned once more to the wild.

We tracked down five different females, all of whom were strong and healthy. As you can see from the picture above, two distinctive features of the Blanding's Turtles are the very yellow chin and throat and the seemingly permanent smile :)

We also checked several baited traps. These are set to catch turtles that do not have radio transmitters so that extra data can be collected.

Any turtles found in the traps are checked over, GPS coordinates taken and then released. If it is a turtle without a radio transmitter then a photo of the plastron (underside of the shell) is taken for future identification.

In amongst all the turtle tracking we saw numerous Northern Leopard Frogs Rana pipiens and also hundreds and hundreds of tadpoles.
Our final treat of the day was to track down the headstarted turtle with a mini radio transmitter that we released last October. The transmitters on the big females last twelve to fourteen months but the smaller ones needed for the headstarted turtles only last for roughly six months so we were really pushing our luck with it by now. At first there was no evidence of a signal and we were on the verge of giving up but then we picked up a faint beep. We began tracking and although it took us a long time we eventually managed to narrow it down to a small area. We then all knelt down in the muddy water and started searching around in the mud...........

And there she was! Our little baby that we had nurtured and cared for at the Museum for over a year. We were all delighted to see her and she was passed around all of us so that we could each have our photo taken with her. She had successfully come through her first hibernation and appeared to be fit and strong - she even smiled for the camera!

I believe this is what is known as job satisfaction :)

Photo Credits - CJT

Sunday, May 17, 2009


Last summer I posted about a Bioblitz that I worked on in Illinois. It was great event and in the 24 hour period we cataloged well over 1500 species. On Friday we set off to Indiana Dunes to do another one but unfortunately the weather forecast was appalling. Even more unfortunately, for once, the forecasters were right! We had flash flood warnings, severe thunder storm warnings and high wind warnings, all of which occured!

This is what all the top models will be wearing on the Paris catwalks this summer! Belive it or not we are standing on a footpath not in a pond! The neoprene chest waders were definitely the clothing item of choice for the weekend! Unfortunately we all still managed to get soaked to the skin when we were not wearing them. In an area of such diverse habitats we should have been able to get a massive species count in the 24 hour period but the appaling weather really hampered everyones activities.

The region is known for a particularly rare species of butterfly called the Karner Blue Lycaeides melissa samuelis Its host plant is the wild lupine and there was certainly no shortage of that around but not a single butterfly to be seen in the awful weather.

This Six-spotted Tiger Beetle Cicindela sexguttata is almost obscured by the rain drops captured in this picture, not a great picture of the beetle but it certainly gives a good idea of how heavily it was raining! Needless to say the insect count was pretty low.

One group that was not detered by the weather of course, were the amphibians. This handsome American Toad Bufo americanus joined us at our blacklighting sight in the evening. He was hoping that our light would draw in some tasty snacks for supper, we were hoping that the light would draw in some interesting species for our count, we were all disappointed, the torrential rain kept pretty much everything away!

The only interesting visitor to our blacklight was this Honest Pero Moth Pero honestaria. We managed to catalogue it, I don't know whether the patient toad made it supper later in the night! Next morning we went looking for more amphibians.

We found these two amorous American Toads firmly hanging onto either end of a Fowlers Toad Bufo fowleri but unfortunately, as sometimes happens in these situations they were so focused on keeping a hold of her they had actually drowned her. Even though she was dead they were still determindly hanging onto her! We did manage to pry them off and they then immediately latched onto our hands. If you get hold of a male, it squeaks, thus telling another male to get off! The females don't squeak and neither, of course did our hand, so the male toad thought it was onto a winner!

A much more descrete character is this charming Blue-spotted Salamander Ambystoma laterale. Usually found under decaying wood it feeds on spiders, centipedes, slugs and earthworms. We were able to add several of these to our count.
Inspite of a couple of hundred scientists best efforts, the species count for the 24 hours of this bioblitz was only somewhere in the region of about 860 which is very low. But at least we got chance to be out in the field which is always a bonus. Now we just need a few days to dry all our equipment out!!

Photo Credits - CJT

Thursday, May 14, 2009


I can remember as a child thinking how terribly unfair it was that the vast majority of female birds were clad in drab, dull plumage whilst their mates got to strut around in every colourful and outrageous outfit imaginable. As I got a little older and started to learn more about nature the fact that this was an attempt to make the female less conspicuous while sitting on eggs was just another example for me of how brilliantly nature was 'worked out.'

The Mallard Anas platyrhynchos is a perfect case in point. We are all so familiar with the magnificent males with their iridescent green headgear and their vivid orange beaks but how often do we really notice the females? I was walking in the park when I saw this one sitting quietly at the waters edge. She looked so comfortable I didn't want to disturb her by getting too close but she just looked so perfect sitting in the sunlight that I had to take her photo. This species is so common to most of us that we rarely give them a second glance but really we should.

I walked a little further around the pond and saw this charming flotilla sailing towards me

If ever a mother duck was going to be accused of bursting with pride, this would be the one. She had twelve tiny little bundles of fluff swimming along behind her. Of course the chances of more than two or three surviving to adulthood are very slim but they did make a very appealing sight.

Mallards are one of the species of birds that produce precocial chicks. This means that from the day that they emerge from the egg they are covered in fluffy down and are capable of running around. As soon as they have finished absorbing their embryonic nutrients they will also feed themselves without ever having to be reliant on their parents to bring them food.

Mallard ducklings always make me think of little aquatic bumble bees!

For a bird that the field guides describe as 'Brownish all over with mottled streaking of buff, white, and dark brown.' They certainly do produce some outrageously endearing offspring!

Photo Credits - CJT

Tuesday, May 12, 2009


I have not been in a very good place for the last couple of weeks hence my lack of blogging, that, along with pretty much everything else seemed to be far more than I could cope with. So I apologize for not having visited your blogs, I am working on it. Today in an attempt to snap out of my funk, as it was a warm sunny day, I allowed myself the luxury of a walk in the park at lunchtime. It was nice to see and feel sunshine at last after what seems to have been an endless winter, the birds were singing and I was enjoying strolling by the pond. I sat by the waters edge and watched the ducks splatting about in the shallows and the squirrels larking about in the trees. A Canada Goose started swimming slowly towards me. I was quite surprised to see one on its own as they are all paired off right now. As the bird approached me across the water, something struck me about its demeanor, I couldn't say exactly what but it just seemed a 'bit off.' It's head was a little more drooped than usual and it just didn't seem 100%. As the goose got closer I could see something in its beak. It was hard at first to make out what it was but as it got closer I realised it was a very large fishing lure.

As I looked more closely I could see a hook pierced through the top of the beak. There was obviously also something in the birds mouth. Clearly the goose was miserable, it swam quite close to me and just looked. It put its head down to the water and tried to open its mouth but it clearly couldn't.

In my current frame of mind it was almost more than I could bear to look at it. But I made myself stay around and take some pictures before beating a tearful retreat. (Of course I also told the goose that I would get some help for it, FYI I talk to all animals, even ones without ears!)

I returned to work and phoned a man in the neighbourhood who rehabs birds and has a boat, he is one of those rare humans who will do anything to help out animals and he is definitely not afraid of getting his hands dirty. He said he would get on it straight away. I tried to give him as accurate a description of where I saw the bird as I could but there is no guarantees with this kind of thing obviously.
Imagine my delight an hour or so later when I received a call from him. He had caught the goose and had removed all the hooks - as well as the one through the beak, there were two more through the tongue! He had removed all the fishing line that was wrapped around the birds beak and the lure. He also said that the goose was absolutely fine. I thanked him profusely for his work and he laughed and said not too mention it. As of today, this guy is my hero!

And as for me, well I have something new to focus on. I am putting together a 'swat team' at work, of willing bodies prepared to wade around in the mud and scrabble about in the bushes removing any fishing line, lures and hooks left around the pond by careless fishermen, as I was walking back having seen the goose I could see plenty so I know we will have work to do. I am also using my friends with contacts to try to convince the Chicago Park District to post some signs asking fishermen to dispose of used equipment responsibly and also to provide some containers for them to dispose of it. It seems there is some truth to the saying about clouds having silver linings :)

Photo Credits - CJT