Monday, May 31, 2010

Extreme southwest

Southwest Michigan is a land of tall sand dunes, wetlands, deciduous woods, cropland and quaint small towns. We spent Saturday and Sunday in the vicinity, first at the little town of Buchanan, Mich. Buchanan has only one stoplight and a handful of galleries and consignment shops (SL Consignment is our favorite). There's a fast-moving stream that actually flows under the main street and into a pond near the one stoplight. We were in town for the Un-Sanctioned event. Nearby Fernwood Botanical Garden was a highlight, and we could have spent a lot more time there--wild fields, woods, an arboretum and ravines leading to the St. Joseph River.

We never really left the extreme southwestern corner of the state, spending all of our time in Berrien County and venturing only as far north as Bridgman and as east as Niles. Perhaps the No. 1 natural highlight was Warren Woods (pictured), one of the last virgin stands of forest in the Midwest. The avian highlight may have been a late-season canada warbler (or nester?) in the ravine along the Galien River.

We took the Red Arrow Highway south from Bridgman to New Buffalo, passing many art galleries, cafes and shops. New Buffalo is a little Mackinaw City-like, but the many eateries and shops and views of the deep blue water of Lake Michigan were great. With the temps in the 80s and lots of beach-goers, it really felt like summer.

We wrapped up the journey by taking Route 12 west through Indiana Dune country and into the Southeast Side of Chicago. We stopped at a favorite oasis, Miller Woods in Gary. It's a small refuge that is mostly a well-preserved oak savanna, carpeted with ferns and wildflowers.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Rodent fun

I'm a sucker for a squirrel-at-a-baseball-game video. It turns out that Target Field also had a kestrel hanging out on a foul pole recently, too.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Arboreal varmints

This post is long overdue, but I recently stumbled across a squirrel study that is right in my wheelhouse. Project Squirrel has been taking place for the past several years right here in Chicago. It encourages people from across the country to submit their squirrel observations. In particular, it focuses on the Chicago area's big three of fox, gray and red squirrels. (Recall driftless area's "Kankakee trio," recording all three in one day January 2009.) The observations are interesting as you dig deeper into the Project Squirrel Web site. The project studies questions like: Why do gray squirrels dominate college campuses? Why do fox squirrels reign in suburban areas? Can the species co-exist? It's great to see others getting squirrelly.

Park potential

The Chicago Tribune featured Chicago's "underbirded" parks this past week. The Chicago Ornithological Society's annual underbirded parks trip is this weekend. I am certainly one of the underbirders as I've focused on the popular Montrose location. There are some great parks in the interior of the city that can be tapped for birding, especially this time of year.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Virus definitions

West Nile Virus was sort of the asian carp of the early 2000s--a developing environmental story that received a lot of coverage in the Chicago area while inciting a mild panic. The virus sadly did lead to a few human deaths as well as the deaths of many corvids and a few smaller birds like titmice, too. Well, the virus is back for the summer of 2010, though one assumes it's not as prevalent as it was around the turn of the century. (This reminds me of a funny story a former co-worker would tell. That an elderly neighbor often expressed fears of the "Niles West" Virus, confusing the virus' name with the Skokie high school.)

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Going yard

The past two weeks have seen an explosion of sorts on our yard list. We've added five species since May 2, and the tally now is at 31 species all-time (since our 2006 move). The latest additions are gray catbird, american goldfinch, ovenbird, veery and house wren. The veery, which possesses my favorite song in the avian world, pleases me the most.

I must admit we take liberties with the list, but with only a 50' x 20' front yard and a 30' x 15' rear patio we need liberties. So any bird we hear from the house, yard or environs is added to the list, regardless if it's singing across the street. Any bird we see from the property counts (i.e. a great blue heron flying in the distance, viewed from our back porch--which has happened). My favorite yard sighting ever: an american woodcock in the yard two doors down.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Gulf debacle

I'm back in action, and I must begin with the environmental disaster taking place in the Gulf of Mexico. I love how the news reports are all worried about the first oiled birds turning up on shore. What about the billions of gallons of seawater, and accompanying wildlife, already tainted? Appalling. Surely, though, it would be agonizing to live on the Gulf right now, awaiting further environmental calamity. As the oil continues to flow, the news coverage has ebbed and flowed, to the point where it's easy to sometimes forget how horrible this is. And it is horrible. Hopefully this stymies further off-shore drilling, which seemed dubious anyway given all the progress made toward renewable energy. This post is for all birds that use Dauphin Island and other areas down South as stopovers.