Saturday, April 7, 2012

Almond Marsh Heron Rookery

If there ever was anything that one could use to get people into birds, it would be take them out into an open area where all the pretty birds are easy to find, and even more importantly, easy to observe.
I went to a place called Almond Marsh Forest Preserve today, and it fits this description perfectly. Almond Marsh is the home of an active Great Blue Heron nesting site--called a rookery--in addition to a lake, some prairie, forest, and of course marsh that house tens of bird species during their breeding seasons. The cool thing about Great Blue Herons, for those of you who don't know, is that they nest at the tops of trees and giant tripods installed by a group of local birders that I went with today called the Lake County Audubon Society. At Almond Marsh, these structures are out at the middle of the lake, which is flanked by a parking lot, so the nesting herons are super-easy to see with binoculars or a spotting scope. This makes it easy to get a peak into the everyday lives of the birds in the process of raising young, and it's an amazing experience to watch from when the birds are incubating, like they were today, to when the young herons are just about ready to leave the nest.
A Great Blue Heron. Image credit Wikipedia
In addition to the herons, there were a bunch of duck species (family Anatidae) that were quite easily seen this morning. First off, there was the ubiquitous Mallard .
male Gadwall. Photo Credit Wikipedia
male Wood Duck. Photo credit Wikipedia 
Then, there was a related but lesser known species called a Gadwall. I also saw numerous Wood Ducks, another striking bird that you can find in parks and streams even in the city. American Wigeons, a species I'm particularly interested in, were present in fairly good numbers. American Wigeons are kind of oddballs as far as dabbling ducks go. For example, Wigeons are regularly kleptoparasitic, meaning they pirate food from nearby animals who are also hunting. The victims of this kind of parasitism are often diving ducks or American Coots (which were also at Almond Marsh) who put in more effort than just tipping over (dabbling) to find food. They also graze on lawn grass, much like canada geese do, relatively often, and are at least externally morphologically different from other dabbling ducks like Mallards and Pintails. As far as genetics go, I'm not so sure, but this wikipedia article says they could potentially be in their own genus. Other than American Wigeons, I saw Blue-winged Teal, a particularly showy dabbling duck, and Ring-necked Ducks, a diving duck in the subfamily Aythyinae.

Male American Wigeon. Photo credit Wikipedia
Some more good birds we saw were Black-crowned Night-heron (my first of 2012), a nocturnal/crepuscular species of heron, Wilson's Snipe, a small and chubby shorebird that probes for invertebrates in marshes, Brown Thrasher (another first for this year), a relative of the Northern Mockingbird that mimics other birds in it's song, and some riveting Eastern Bluebirds (my third first of the year bird species).
Wilson's Snipe. Image credit wikipedia

The people in the Lake County Audubon Society are just great, and if any of you have even the slightest interest in birds and nature, I strongly encourage you to get out there on one of the saturdays before June (The Marsh is only open from 8 am till noon on Saturdays). There are some great birds out there. After getting 3 new birds for this year today, my Lake County year list is at 99 species, and my Illinois list is at 107 species. At Almond Marsh, the birding is easy, and you can see some great birds too. Maybe you'll run into me there too one day.

1 comment:

  1. Your blog is full of interesting stuff! If I wasn't into birds already, I'm sure I would be persuaded.