Birding, birding, birding

Birding, birding, birding

By Rod Myers, Naturalist

I thought I saw a violet green swallow at Anderson Gardens on Tuesday, May 13. The violet green is a swallow of the western U.S. It is very similar to our tree swallow, and it occupies nearly the same niche. The tree swallow is a greenish blue above; its undersides are white including the throat. The violet green swallow is greener above and white underneath, but the white extends higher on hip flanks and face.

There are many Illinois records of violet greens; one took up residence in retired Burpee Museum Director Lee Johnson’s yard about 10 years ago. May 11 and 12 were extremely windy days, adding evidence that migrating violet greens could have been blown in from the west. On Thursday, May 15, Scott Caring joined me at Anderson Gardens to help search for the violet green swallow and other birds that should be migrating through, especially warblers. The rare swallow was not found, but warblers were all around. Twenty species were seen and/or heard. In one bur oak tree, four male Blackburnian warblers were strutting and feeding. The male is black above with white markings. Its throat and chest are bright orange with thin chains of black marks that begin in the eye area and extend down the sides, reaching the belly and flanks and partial chest.

Some believe Anderson Gardens is over-manicured, but it’s still a bird magnet because of the ponds, manmade waterfalls, mini-creeks, the large variety of vegetation plantings, and the fact that Spring Creek runs through it. Also, the Gardens are in a green belt, and the north side of Anderson Gardens is bordered by a wooded hill. On the 15th, two turkey vultures drifted in and landed in a tree on that very hill. They were closer to an old snag with large hollows that could serve as a nest site; 100 yards east, a Cooper’s hawk nest rests high in an oak on the wooded hill.

The warblers kept coming through in waves, chasing insects in the trees before disappearing northward. A Cape May warbler came to within eight feet of me to drink in a Japanese basin fountain. The Cape May rivals the Blackburnian in beauty as its head, chest and belly are a bright yellow, and an area around the eyes is orange.

The two best birds of the day were an osprey and a Connecticut warbler. The osprey, a fish-catching hawk with long wings, was flying over at a high altitude. The Connecticut warbler was heard near the parking lot. This is a rare migrant; it’s seen only a few times a year in Winnebago County.

On May 17, we ventured to Boone County’s Distillery Road preserve. It was Warbler Day at Distillery; they seemed to be everywhere. We counted 24 species, the rarest being yellow-throated warblers, which you’ll find only in a few places north of Illinois. This bird is gray above with two white wing bars. It has a yellow throat that extends to part of the chest; below that is white with black marks on the sides that run down from a black triangle bordered in white on the eye facial area. Scott taught me the slight differences between this warbler’s call and an indigo bunting. It was an excellent outdoor classroom experience, as one indigo would call, then a yellow warbler would call, repeating this scenario in blocs of three-minute operas. The calls seemed identical, but the warbler’s call ended higher than the bunting’s.

The Distillery Road Conservation Area has some fine mowed trails, making the natural area accessible in dry conditions. A mowed path skirts part of the Kishwaukee River while another winds around a large grassy area, part of which is prairie restoration. The Distillery Conservation Area is at the end of Distillery Road. The road begins at U.S. Business 20, two miles east of Showplace 16 Cinema.

I also recommend Anderson Gardens for bird watching, especially during migration. Their address is 340 Spring Creek Rd., Rockford.

On May 10, the annual Illinois Spring Bird Count took place throughout the Prairie State including Winnebago County. The information gathered from the count aids in the study of population and migration trends. The results will also help in the study of West Nile virus. The four rarest birds seen in our area during the count were: Mississippi kite, peregrine falcon, American bittern and the prothonotary warbler.

Rod Myers is a local resident with an interest in the environment and disability issues. He has an associate’s degree in science and a bachelor’s in fine arts. Rod is a member of the Audubon Society, the Wild Ones Natural Landscapers and Rockford Amateur Astronomers, Inc.

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