Since I am relatively new to digital SLR camera photography, and also because I tend to bird close to home, I have captured images of relatively few of the nearly 600 North American birds that I have identified over these many years. This adds an element of competition and fun to my birdwatching hobby, as I am motivated to newly photograph as many birds as possible. Most of the more common species are already in my set of “Life Birds Photographed,” so it is getting more difficult to add more than one species in a single day. (My set of over 200 bird photos may have a few duplications and omissions, as I have not recently “audited” it for accuracy).
On our first day back in Illinois, Mary Lou and I got out early to Nelson Lake/Dick Young Forest Preserve, not far from our condo in Kane County. The timing of our trip up from South Florida was not opportune, as we overflew many migrants headed in the opposite direction. Yet, we hoped to catch some late migrants and arriving winter resident birds.
As part of the tallgrass prairie restoration program, the grasslands at the east entrance of the Preserve had mostly been mowed. One small patch of grass near the east observation platform had not been disturbed, and it harbored over a dozen sparrows. We identified Song, Savannah, White-throated and White-crowned Sparrows, but the best find was a pair of clear-breasted Clay-colored Sparrows that sported distinctive dark cheek patches. We caught only fleeting glimpses of them through the high grass stalks.
This Clay-colored Sparrow provided me with my first opportunity to (technically poorly) photograph the species:
A distant adult Bald Eagle, very likely one of the pair that nested only about two miles away at Mooseheart, wheeled over the lake:
The tree leaves were already turning into fall colors, and the air was delightfully cool, a welcome respite from Florida’s heat. Along the lake shore, we heard a familiar song. It was loud and melodious, and I did not immediately recognize its source. I first heard this song one spring in Manitoba and was surprised to learn that it came from a sparrow.
A sound clip of the Fox Sparrow song is included in this episode of BirdNote (play the mp3)
We tracked the song to this Fox Sparrow. Its bright reddish brown plumage complemented the autumn colors:
A few White-throated Sparrows also whistled brief versions of their full song:
Calling loudly and continuously, migrating Sandhill Cranes flew overhead:
While both kinglet species often crept out to the ends of twigs, the Ruby-crowned seemed to do more hover-gleaning. I noticed that the Golden-crowned Kinglet tended to spend more time on the trunk and along the larger branches of the tree, nuthatch-style: