Tuesday, December 29, 2009


FEB. 12th THROUGH 15th , 2010

This year's Great Backyard Bird Count (GBBC) will be here before we know it! We hope many of our members will participate this year. The GBBC is scheduled for President’s Day Weekend (Feb 12th through 15th).

The GBBC is a great activity for families that's both free and educational, while also getting kids outside. In a time when everyone is cutting back on their expenses, the GBBC makes the perfect stay-cation activity. Counts can be conducted in your own backyard, or a local park or forest preserve. The GBBC is led by the National Audubon Society & the Cornell Lab of Ornithology.

It provides an opportunity for people of all ages to learn about birds and environment we share. Visit www.birdcount.org to view this year's press release for the GBBC, and to get further info on participating in it. As Prairie Woods has done in the past, anyone who is not able to access a computer to submit their data, worksheets will be available at the January 21st meeting for members to complete and return to PWA for entry.

Please frequent our web site at http://prairiewoodsaudubon.org/ to get further details on any GBBC event(s) being held/sponsored by Prairie Woods Audubon.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Project Feeder Watch!

Project FeederWatch (article & pic by Nancy Lloyd)

Late January 2009: It was not one of my FeederWatch days, but I was sitting by the kitchen window, sipping coffee, checking my email, and glancing now and then at the feeder outside. A small bird landed on the shepherd’s hook. My brain immediately said “pine siskin,” but another part, the what’s-wrong-with-this-picture portion asked, “red poll?” I made a dive for my binoculars and, sure enough, it was a female common red poll. On January 29th, I reported 4 red polls, and on March 5th, I counted 30. This past winter had an “irruption” of red polls, which means the red poll is a bird not regularly seen in this area, or, at least, not in large numbers. They don’t migrate, like warblers. Weather conditions and a shortage of food can push these birds out of their summer range. I have participated in Project FeederWatch (PFW) for 6 out of the 10 years I have lived in my current home and I have watched my feeders year round for the entire time. This was my first sighting of red polls at my home. Pine siskins are another irruptive species. According to my data, I’ve seen them every other year prior to 2007. For the past 2 years, they’ve been regular visitors at my feeders and last year in record numbers.

It’s easy to participate in PFW. The season starts in early November and ends in early April. You can sign up by mail or online at http://www.birds.cornell.edu/pfw/. There is a $15 fee. They will send you a packet to get started. Basically, you pick 2 consecutive days, say, Wednesday and Thursday. Each week on those days, you watch your feeders and record each species and the maximum number of that species present during the 2-day period. For example, you see 3 chickadees all at once at the feeder at 10:00 Wednesday morning, and 5 chickadees on the feeder and in the tree at 2:00 the following afternoon. You would report a total of 5 chickadees for that week. You will also record the amount of time you spent watching your feeders (you set the time for as little or as much as you want) and what the weather conditions were for those 2 days. Once your data is entered, you can access previous weeks, months or years, and see what other regions are reporting. More importantly, scientists use the data to track trends in winter bird populations for information on songbirds, habitat, and climate effects. The PFW website also has tips on bird feeding and identification. Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s online bird guide (http://www.allaboutbirds.org/) is very informative and easy to use.

This year, PFW will start on November 14th and ends on April 2, 2010. Participate and your data could help scientists make the case for preserving important habitat for songbirds. Plus, when someone asks you when you might see a pine siskin, you can answer, “Well, last year, I started seeing them on November 27th…”

110th Christmas Bird Count

The 110th Christmas Bird Count (picture & article by Nancy Lloyd)

Since December 25,1900, the Christmas Bird Count has been a tradition that has gone from sparing birds from wanton slaughter to helping birds by tracking population trends. The Christmas Day “side hunt” was a tradition of going out with friends and shooting as many birds as you could. The fledgling Audubon Society and well-known ornithologist Frank Chapman managed to transform this tradition into counting, rather than shooting, the birds. The data compiled on modern Christmas Bird Counts aid scientists by recording the winter bird population trends, which can indicate shifts in climate, effects of pollution, decline in critical habitats, etc.

Nowadays, the CBC is held on a day chosen between December 14th and January 5th. The count area is determined by selecting a predetermined 15-mile diameter circle and assigning a Compiler to that circle. Anyone can participate. You can go out with a team or stay at home and watch your feeders, as long as your home is within the circle. If you are a beginning birder, you’ll be in a group with more experienced birders that can help identify the birds you see. Spotting the birds is often the hardest part. You never know what you’re going to get yourself into. Last year’s count was a perfect example. The previous night, it had been raining, but by 4:30 am, the temperature had dropped to barely above zero. The day turned out to be sunny, but windy and bitter cold. Birds don’t like those conditions any more than we do, so the birding was tough. We still got out to a lot of the sheltered areas and found pockets of birds. We even had trouble finding some of the common species. It’s a pathetic birding day when you rejoice because you finally flushed a small flock of pigeons in a Jewel parking lot. But, hey, it added another species to the tally. Other years, we’ve had to deal with deep snow or pouring rain. Or the weather could be perfect: sunny, mild temperatures, light winds.

The count day for the Barrington area this year is December 14th. The compiler for the Barrington Area is Duane Heaton. He organizes the count teams, collects their results and sends the report to National Audubon. Depending on how many people volunteer, there may be a lot of area to cover. Deer Grove Forest Preserve, Paul Douglas Forest Preserve, Margreth Riemer Reservoir, Hamilton Park and Harper College are typically included in the count. The more teams there are, the more area can be covered. There is a $5 fee to cover the administrative costs. To participate or to report the counts at your feeders, contact Duane Heaton. You can also find out about other compilers in your area and when their counts take place by going to the Audubon website (http://www.audubon.org/bird/cbc/getinvolved.html).

Duane Heaton: (847) 358-5856 or email: dheaton19@comcast.net

Friday, May 15, 2009

Watching The Migrant Birds

I love to travel but it is a hassle. Making reservations, packing, finding people to take care of our two dogs, airlines, gas prices.......

However, compared to what migratory birds go through, human travel is easy. True, birds don't need passports or visas. There are no walls, airline screenings or guards for birds. The cliche, "they are as free as bird" is apt here.

However, sometimes their flight is disrupted by storms and are killed by the thousands. Other times migratory birds are thwarted by habitat loss decimating whole populations. Window collisions are deadly for the flapping travelers. The list of deadly obstacles includes global climate change, pollution, telephone and guy wires, hunting, and so on. With all the danger and long distances these birds travel, it amazes how most survive the trek.

Many people aren't aware of what trials migratory birds endure. So many folks don't know anything about migratory birds nor have any idea what makes them so important to the planet's ecology.
Thanks to the "visionaries" who knew it was important to raise awareness about the plight of migratory birds, International Migratory Bird Day was born. The Smithsonian Migratory Bird Ctr. and the US Fish and Wildlife Service, set aside a special time for these remarkable creatures. The day is called, International Migratory Bird Day (IMBD for the US, Canada, Mexico, the Caribbean Islands and Central America. Other countries around the world celebrate migratory birds with World Migration Day.

Now, IMBD isn't an actual "day" per se. With the view that every day should be not only for birds but for all living things, IMBD or WMD can be celebrated all year round depending on when the birds are migrating in any given area. However, in much of North America, it is usually celebrated in May because many birds are migrating at that time.

There are festivals, fairs, birding events, rallies, picnics, hikes and bird counts this week-end. Take a look what is near you. Almost all the events are free and everyone is welcome no matter what your "birding IQ" is. We must all stand together for change. Afterall, many of the things that kills birds will eventually kill us too.

If you are in the NW suburbs of Chicago, there will be two events Prairie Woods Audubon is involved with. There is the Lake Arlington IMBD and Crabtree Nature Ctr. Check the PWA website calendar for details! We'd love to see you.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

On The Brink Of Extinction

The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) released a frightening report called, the Red List. However, the study had some good news for the future of some bird species threatened with extinction, reporting habitat conservation measures do and can work. BirdLife International conducted the research. The group discovered 1,227 species or 12% of birds might be wiped off the face of our blue planet.

The Red List records a whopping 192 bird species as Critically Endangered. The grim news is happening on every single continent, according to, Jeremy "Jez" Bird who is the Global Species Programme Officer for BirdLife.

For example, the Gorgeted Puffleg (pictured above) was only discovered by researchers in 2005 and is now on the Critically Endangered category.

Is there any hope? Some species such as the gorgeous Lear's Macaw is slowing gaining some ground with conservation measures. The goal to ensure the bird populations of the world are safe from habitat destruction, logging, pollution, illegal poaching and climate change is not impossible. Like the canary in the coal mine, if the birds disappear, our future is very dark indeed.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

PWA Blogging Away


The reason for a Prairie Woods Audubon blog is we've become a very very busy organization. In the past two years we've gone from perhaps one or two activities/events per month to up to 6 activities per month in the spring, summer and fall.
One reason for the heightened activity is our Board. Through the efforts of our passionate Board Members, our presence in the community is being felt in the suburbs of the Chicago area.
Another reason for the activity is the perception that caring about the planet is good again. Children are regularly engaging in environmental projects, workplaces are organizing recycling projects, seniors are working as environmental stewards for the next generation, and so on.

There is so much hope yet, our work is far from over. This blog will post announcements of our activities, news items, activism, fund raising news, birding, vacation tips, gardening, contests, veggie recipes, photos from our members......well, you'll have to check in everyday for many surprises too!

Thank you for stopping by,

Louie Vassmer, Pres. PWA