Strolling Through Lake Shore East Park

White-Throated Sparrow, Lake Shore East Park

White-Throated Sparrow, Lake Shore East Park

Up until the arrival of the famous Harris’s Sparrow in Millennium Park’s Lurie Garden, I was routinely spending my late afternoon lunch hours in Lake Shore East Park. The two parks are not very far away from each other, but there is much less foot or tourist traffic in Lake Shore East Park, so I have been going there more often. Which is not to say it lacks people. There are frequently people walking their dogs or children in baby strollers.

Hermit Thrushes

Hermit Thrushes – I counted 11 individuals at one time (here’s 4 of them)

I have been trying to write this post since October 9. On that day, the most numerous birds in the park were predictably White-Throated Sparrows and Hermit Thrushes. The Hermit Thrushes were the largest group I have ever seen. Even going back the next day I counted 12 of them.

HETH LSE 9-10-14-1676

Perhaps you’ve seen Robins pull worms out of the earth, but this is the first time I’ve caught a Hermit Thrush in the act.

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Hermit

Juncos have shown up here and there, although not in numbers yet.

Dark-Eyed Junco

Dark-Eyed Junco

The fountains have been shut down for the winter, leaving their rocky bottoms free for exploration.

White-Throated Sparrow

White-Throated Sparrow

Other birds I saw that day were two Brown Creepers and an American Redstart. I did not get photographs of them, though. So here’s a couple more of Hermit Thrushes.  The remaining pictures except for the last one are from October 1, but they were also taken in Lake Shore East Park.

Hermit Thrush

Hermit Thrush

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But my most pleasant encounter on October 9 was a human one. Soon after I arrived at the park, a woman walking her dog approached me and asked about my camera equipment. This is the second time this month I have met people this way: Canon must have put some new elixir in the 70D! We got to talking about photography and birds and then she let it slip that she was from the East Coast and amazed to see a Redstart in this small park in the city. She said she was in town to sing at the opera.

Ruby-Crowned Kinglet, Lake Shore East Park

Ruby-Crowned Kinglet, Lake Shore East Park

A brief cloud of Opera Guilt wafted over me. (I was a subscriber for several years but gave it up along with my other subscriptions a few years ago because I realized I no longer had the time or energy to do everything, so it was time to focus on birds and music.) When I told her the birds have taken over my life she understood. Then I thought to myself surely I should maybe recognize her but you rarely get to see an opera singer out of costume. I asked, and she said she was Stephanie Blythe. I confirmed later that she is singing Il Trovatore at the Lyric Opera. I didn’t faint, but I will say I haven’t had a brush with fame in many, many years…!

Golden-Crowned Kinglet, Lake Shore East Park

Golden-Crowned Kinglet, Lake Shore East Park

Stephanie stopped me again to ask me about a bird or two she had seen (one turned out to be one of the Creepers I saw later after I talked to her) and I felt so lucky to have made her acquaintance. She also seemed happy to have found a kindred spirit. But as excited as I was to have met her, I was reluctant to write about it, right away. I didn’t want her to be mobbed by opera fanatics. (In retrospect, I’m thinking very few people even know the park exists.)

Northern Waterthrush with bug, Lake Shore East Park

Northern Waterthrush with bug, Lake Shore East Park

As it turns out I did not see Stephanie again (turning in ebird lists I was tempted to note “no opera singers today” but restrained myself). Chances are her rehearsal schedule and my work schedule kept us from running into each other again. But listening to the Operathon on WFMT on Saturday, October 11th, there was an offer for two tickets to any opera, and a choice of dates, with seats on the first floor, for a donation, the amount of which was much less than the cost of the tickets. This was too good to pass up: it would be wonderful to use this as an opportunity to see Stephanie sing. I have heard her on the Metropolitan Opera broadcasts, but was no longer a subscriber by the time she started singing at the Lyric.

Common Grackle

Common Grackle

So I got tickets for opening night for Il Trovatore, an opera I have never seen. I am taking my friend from the former workplace: it will be her first opera. The way this whole thing has turned out really feels like kismet or karma or something.

White-Crowned Sparrow

White-Crowned Sparrow

Ultimately I must give the birds credit for everything. They continue to enrich my life. The birds paid attention to the music, then enticed me into green spaces every day I can manage to hang out with them. The birds know a bird person, and I think kindred spirits do too. One more time, in an entirely new context, the birds have returned the favor and my attention to the music.

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A Rare Visitor and a Lifer

Harris's Sparrow, Lurie Garden, Millennium Park

Harris’s Sparrow, Lurie Garden, Millennium Park

Wednesday afternoon I caught Joan Norek’s post on IBET (Illinois Birders Exchanging Thoughts) in my email about a Harris’s Sparrow at Lurie Garden in Millennium Park. David Johnson had posted the initial sighting but I was so late checking my email I was unaware of it until I saw Joan’s follow-up. Wednesday was the third day in a row I was not carrying the camera with me because of rain and clouds. But I was also going stir crazy, and I had enough peanuts for the crows, so I decided to walk over to Lurie Garden to see if I could find this bird. I have perhaps been within striking distance of seeing a Harris’s Sparrow over the years but have never managed to see one. It was worth checking out and if nothing else it was good to go for a walk.

Cloud Gate sculpture, Millennium Park

Cloud Gate sculpture, Millennium Park

As it turned out it wasn’t raining, just misty/drizzly and yes, overcast. But I had my new cell phone with me and it was probably time to see how much of a picture I could get with it. So I took pictures of various things along the way to Lurie Garden at the southeast end of the park. It seemed hopeless to try to get a picture of anything so small as a sparrow. Even a large sparrow, Harris’s being our largest species.

Harris's Sparrow with iPhone

Harris’s Sparrow with iPhone

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Again with the iPhone – you really have to dig to find the bird in this cropped photo

I did find the Harris’s feeding in the beds that have all gloriously gone to seed and are left that way to feed the birds over the winter. There were also very many White-Throated Sparrows, some White-Crowned Sparrows, and a few Swamp and Lincoln’s Sparrows. But when I found the Harris’s I stayed with him and talked with him and made him promise he would be available for photos the next day when I brought the real camera.

Harris's Sparrow

Harris’s Sparrow

Sure enough I returned Thursday with my fall migration getup, which basically now consists of a Canon EOS 70D and a 100-300mm L lens, and that’s only thanks to acquiring an inexpensive but practical camera backpack from amazon. The light was again nonexistent but this is a less critical event in an open space such as Lurie Garden. And even though I could not get pictures of the Harris’s without him being obstructed somewhere by grasses or the wild quinine he was eating, I like the way he blends in and contrasts at the same time (“you are what you eat”!). This also reminds me of something I learned from Bill Hilton Jr. on the Belize trip, about birds (and other creatures) getting their feather colors from the plants they consume.

As David Johnson described in a later post, the bird was very tame. But “tame” is not a favorite word of mine when it comes to birds, so I would rather describe the bird, at least when I saw him and took more photographs, as very hungry and nonplussed by my presence. “Go ahead, take all the photos you want, I’m fattening up for my trip to Texas” or wherever he’s going to wind up.

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I looked up the distribution range for this bird and the map explains perfectly to me why I am not likely to see this bird in Illinois, even in migration, so I am really thrilled to have gotten such long, loving looks at him and I will remember this bird next time I see it.

Harris's Sparrow Range Map - Cornell

Harris’s Sparrow Range Map – Cornell Lab of Ornithology

Also at Lurie Garden on Thursday, many more White-Crowned Sparrows than White-Throated, and this time I did not see any Lincoln’s although they could still be about.

Juvenile White-Crowned Sparrow

Juvenile White-Crowned Sparrow

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Adult White-Crowned Sparrow

Adult White-Crowned Sparrow

White-Throated Sparrow

White-Throated Sparrow

The goldfinches are still having a great time at Lurie, even if the one below looks less enthusiastic about it.

American Goldfinch

American Goldfinch

On the Great Lawn close to the entrance to Lurie Garden there were perhaps 100 House Sparrows, and I took photographs of this one whose coloration looked quite different to me. Maybe he was just wet?

House Sparrow, Great Lawn, Millennium Park

House Sparrow, Great Lawn, Millennium Park

I decided not to bother the Harris’s again yesterday. Instead I went to Lake Shore East Park to see what was up there. I’ll (try to) be back with a report about yesterday’s discoveries later on. I would not be surprised if the Harris’s Sparrow hangs out a bit longer at Lurie, given the current weather patterns, in which case I might drop in on him again next week. This is a first-year bird, which means I have yet to see an adult Harris’s Sparrow, but it’s still so nice to get such a good, solid lifer in one’s proverbial own backyard.

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Rainy Day Crow Post

AMCR LSE 9-23-14-6575As promised, a little update on the Chicago Loop crows. As in previous years I seem to be a trusted source of peanuts and general interest among the juvenile crow population as they head into their first winter.

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Juvenile American Crow on the ledge near Lake Shore East Park – particularly recognizable as a youngster by its remaining brown feathers

The interesting thing to me, as their human provider, was the fact that they seemed to identify me in their earliest days of independence just a few months ago, and when a couple crows would approach me, I was unaware of having made their acquaintance previously. There were a couple individuals that I knew from their Lake Shore East Park nursery days, but too many others hanging out in other locations were recognizing me. So this confirms my suspicion that I am genetically imprinted on successive generations of American Crows as a Trusted Peanut Provider. I like to think of myself as an Honorary Crow.

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We do peanuts in several places but none are as fun as the cement wall that prevents cars and people from dropping down to the lower level where directly at present there is a vacant lot. I hope the lot remains vacant. It has a couple cottonwood trees and weedy patches where I have seen birds on occasion, albeit from a distance.

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A couple weeks ago I would encounter a few crows at a time, maybe up to four individuals. But now I have an army of 15 crows attuned to my whereabouts and they are often vying for peanut rights. I take these to be three or four family groups learning how to get along with each other. Or not.

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As the weather gets colder and the days shorter, the crows will pretty much have my undivided attention, and that is just how they like it. I like it too, I get to visit with them. In some way they confirm my existence. They know more about me than I do.

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It will be fun to try out The Birdz Cookies on a new batch of crows. See if that’s genetically imprinted information too. It oughtta be.

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Please pardon a brief weather update. We have had rain for three days in a row. Today it is tapering off a bit but still too cloudy for the camera. I made use of Monday’s rain by taking time to get a haircut. Tuesday’s rain kept me inside working. Today’s rain? I may go out for a drizzly walk with binoculars only, just to see if there are any birds left. This morning I could not even get a White-Throated Sparrow to respond to my call. Monday morning there was a little Winter Wren at 155 N. Wacker that almost looked like a field mouse. But you’ll have to take my word for it as I have no pictures.

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Crows LSE 9-23-14-6568 Crow AON-9-12-14-5753

Just as well, the light is a challenge now even on sunny days in Lake Shore East Park due to the shadows cast by the surrounding buildings. Might be time soon to check out Maggie Daley Park and see if there is any habitat surrounding the Skating Ribbon.

Lakefront Parks Fall Recap

Ring-Billed Gull, Grant Park

Ring-Billed Gull, Grant Park

I don’t get out as often as I’d like to during the week, and there are fewer places to go, which should make it easier, I suppose, but it doesn’t. I have been spending most of my mid-afternoons in Lake Shore East Park. Although one morning a couple weeks ago I did get up an hour early and trekked before work through the north part of Jackson Park, Butler Field, and then Lurie Garden in Millennium Park, where the day before Dave Johnson had reported Cape May Warblers in droves. I was lucky to find them still there, foraging in the hazelnut trees.

Cape May Warbler, Lurie Garden, Millennium Park 9-25-14

Cape May Warbler, Lurie Garden, Millennium Park 9-25-14

CMWA Lurie Grant Park 9-25-14-6767 CMWA Lurie Grant Park 9-25-14-6752

There were also American Goldfinches plucking seeds from the grasses.

American Goldfinch, Lurie Garden

American Goldfinch, Lurie Garden

And an Orange-Crowned Warbler, which at first glance confused me, since I haven’t seem them for a while.

Orange-Crowned Warbler, Lurie Garden

Orange-Crowned Warbler, Lurie Garden

Later that day, I saw a Ruby-Throated Hummingbird at Lake Shore East Park.

Ruby-Throated Hummingbird, Lake Shore East Park, 9-25-14

Ruby-Throated Hummingbird, Lake Shore East Park, 9-25-14

And Red-Winged Blackbirds enjoying someone’s discarded rice.

Red-Winged Blackbird Takeout, Lake Shore East Park

Red-Winged Blackbird Takeout, Lake Shore East Park

And a beautiful juvenile White-Crowned Sparrow.

Juvenile White-Crowned Sparrow, Lake Shore East Park

Juvenile White-Crowned Sparrow, Lake Shore East Park

The day before, at Lake Shore East Park, there were several Ruby-Crowned Kinglets.

Ruby-Crowned Kinglet, Lake Shore East Park

Ruby-Crowned Kinglet, Lake Shore East Park

And a Brown Thrasher trying to hide behind the branches and almost succeeding.

Brown Thrasher, Lake Shore East Park

Brown Thrasher, Lake Shore East Park

This was the last Common Yellowthroat I found this fall.

Common Yellowthroat, Lake Shore East Park

Common Yellowthroat, Lake Shore East Park

And one of a few Dark-Eyed Juncos that arrived on September 22.

Dark-Eyed Junco, Lake Shore East Park

Dark-Eyed Junco, Lake Shore East Park

Also on September 22, the photographs below.

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Adult White-Crowned Sparrow

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A lingering Blackpoll Warbler.

As the days grow shorter and the weather gets cooler, a new crop of crows has emerged to entertain me with their peanut antics. A short Crow Post is on the way.

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Palm Warbler Readings

Palm Warbler

Palm Warbler – Chicago Portage

This past Sunday I met my friend Lesa at Miller Meadow, which is yet another stretch of Cook County Forest Preserve bordering the Des Plaines River. Miller Meadow has a little wooded area interspersed with marshy habitat. There are also planted lawns and picnic tables, a model airplane field and the like. The trails are not suitable for bike-riding or jogging, but we did have a few dog walkers.

Eastern Bluebird

Eastern Bluebird, Miller Meadow

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Palm Warbler, Miller Meadow

We hoped we would see some sparrows, but instead of sparrows all over the ground and in the low vegetation, there were Palm Warblers. Everywhere. By the time we were done we estimated at least 100, but I backed down to 80 and still had to justify the number to ebird.PAWA Miller Meadow 10-5-14-0484

The remainder of the Palm Warbler photographs here and the one at the very top of the post were taken later, though, at the Chicago Portage. All the photographs were taken with a new camera and lens. I’ve been reading about this outfit for months on Bob Zeller’s blog and I finally decided it was time to make the move.

Last week at work I succumbed to the temptation and invested in the new gear to take to Costa Rica. I usually wind up buying new camera equipment either right after a trip, as in “gosh I wish I’d had that,” or before a trip, which is where I am now. The Canon EOS 70D seemed like less of a priority until I decided that it’s time for my 7D to go to Canon for repairs, so I have been taking the 70D with me to work the last few days. On Sunday I broke in a new Tamron 150-600mm lens, using the 70D body because it’s lighter in weight, and I’m not getting any stronger. At first, getting used to swinging around a 600mm lens is almost daunting. But I remember feeling much the same way after I got my 100-400mm Canon L lens years ago, and I got used to it, so I’m sure this is just a matter of practice, practice, practice. I also feel safer. No one had better mess with me when I’m packing this gear.

Northern Flicker

Northern Flicker

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Not terribly sharp, but the golden shafts still show.

But it is Fall Migration season and you never know what to expect with birds on the move. We saw a Broad-Winged Hawk, which was rare enough to be a write-in on the ebird list and it later appeared on the alert system. I don’t know why a hawk would be rare anywhere this time of year but maybe it’s a little early for Broad-Wingeds to move. Just guessing. I am not an accomplished hawk watcher.

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Broad-Winged Hawk, Miller Meadow

It’s hard for me to remember how far away the birds were, I was so busy just trying to focus on them. I seemed to get a better hang of it with the little birds.

Palm Warbler, Miller Meadow

Palm Warbler, Miller Meadow

Just as we were leaving Miller Meadow around 10:30 or so, the sun was finally coming out and warming up the place, encouraging the birds to come out as well, so I decided to check out the Portage and practice more with the new lens. Of course the light became a challenge with all the deep shadows, but I am encouraged with what I was able to manage with the new setup.

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Canada Geese, Chicago Portage

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Hanging off the foot bridge on the south side of the creek, I was able to get close to American Goldfinches and Yellow-Rumped Warblers indulging in the duck weed.

American Goldfinch, Portage

American Goldfinch, Portage

Yellow-Rumped Warbler, Chicago Portage

Yellow-Rumped Warbler, Chicago Portage

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The interesting thing about this photo to me is the yellow on the crown, which I rarely see on a Yellow-Rumped Warbler.

Of course the Palm Warblers could not resist the Portage either, and I counted about 50 individuals there.

Palm Warbler, Portage

Palm Warbler, Portage

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I was surprised to see a Great Egret in the creek. I might not have attempted these photographs at all with the 100-400mm lens, but I managed at least usable images from a distance. However unforgiving the direct sunlight with an all-white bird as a subject…

Great Egret, Chicago Portage

Great Egret, Chicago Portage

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So the Palm Warblers picked up the slack this week at the Portage, where last weekend every other bird was an American Robin. I counted no more than 10 Robins this weekend. The large flock has moved on.

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Okay, by now you should recognize this bird.

I was a bit surprised to see a Scarlet Tanager. I had one a few weeks ago at the Portage. I wonder if this is another response to the change in habitat the tree-cutting and clearing has created.

Scarlet Tanager, Portage

Scarlet Tanager, Portage

AMGO Portage 10-5-14-0949

American Goldfinch, Chicago Portage

I hope to be back soon with photos from the Loop where there has been some interesting bird activity over the past couple weeks. And my crows are begging for some attention too so I should probably try to get you caught up with them.

Autumn Leaves at Douglas Park

PHVI Douglas 9-28-14-7071

Philadelphia Vireo, Douglas Park, 9-28-14

Last Sunday’s Chicago Ornithological Society/Illinois Young Birders Field Trip to Douglas Park in Chicago was well-attended. Fall colors had just begun, enhancing the park’s landscaping. Upon reviewing the warbler photographs, it’s interesting to see how the subtleties of the birds’ fall colors blend so well with the trees. For the most part the birds were too far away to get good photos but I’m including a few blenders-in anyway.

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Magnolia Warbler

American Redstart

American Redstart

Bay-Breasted Warbler

Bay-Breasted Warbler

BBWA Douglas Park 9-28-14-6901Warblers are always a challenge to photograph. As it turned out, the Bay-Breasted Warbler above was the only one that sat out long enough, and still I am not entirely sure it’s not a Blackpoll.

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I couldn’t help but photograph the back of this participant’s shirt.

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Belted Kingfisher

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Birds in flight were at least easier to find against the blue sky background. I don’t think I’ve ever seen that much white on a Cooper’s Hawk before, with this particular angle and the light.

Cooper's Hawk

Cooper’s Hawk

There were so many Chimney Swifts, all filling up to start that long flight back to Chile. It’s only because they were so numerous and at times flying low that I was able to manage a fairly clear shot.

Chimney Swift

Chimney Swift

Canada Geese flying might not be anything spectacular, but I like the way this flight pattern plays against the tree branches.

Canada Geese

Canada Geese

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and later, three coming in for a landing…

I could not resist taking a picture of the back of this participant’s shirt.

Birders Douglas 9-28-14-6942Below, the last Eastern Phoebe I’m likely to see this year.

Eastern Phoebe

Eastern Phoebe

All in all, it was the trees’ fall colors reflecting on the water that stayed with me.

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Douglas Park 9-28-14-6920I’m falling asleep sitting on the futon listening to the New York Philharmonic on the radio with intermittent thunderclap accompaniment going on outside. I’ll be back with more city visitors.

Unexpected at the Portage

Gray Catbird

Gray Catbird managing to pose nicely but hiding its rufous undertail coverts

After hours spent slaving over a hot laptop (not really, just metaphorically speaking), I am still not entirely finished processing last weekend’s photographs, and there are some from this weekend as well… but the last two visits to the Chicago Portage, last Sunday and yesterday late morning after attending the Douglas Park walk, about which I hope to do my next post, produced surprises.

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Nothing was as surprising as seeing Wild Turkeys on the gravel path yesterday. Even more surprising was the fact that they did not dash off, but rather seemed to keep their slow, cautious pace, as if they were new here and checking out the place. I suspect they are the same turkeys I saw last summer by the railroad track bed.

WITU Portage 9-28-14-7210WITU Portage 9-28-14-7258

The remainder of the photographs here are from last Sunday, the 21st. I am not sure if I realized when I took the pictures of the Canada Geese that three of them very obviously had neck bands, I was so busy paying attention to No. 63B harrassing No. 68B. I have to look up the Fish and Wildlife Service webpage to see if these geese are reportable.
CAGO Portage 9-21-14-6571

Canada Geese with neckbands

Canada Geese with neckbands

Last weekend I finally got a chance to see a few Ruby-Throated Hummingbirds in the gobs of Jewel Weed. Surprisingly they were not far from the south side entrance to the preserve, where I normally hardly see anything. The light was poor so I was not able to get anything sharper or more representative than what is below. I haven’t been able to catch the few hummers that have found my feeders either.

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Ruby-Throated Hummingbird

Ruby-Throated Hummingbird

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Below is a Chestnut-Sided Warbler looking nothing like its spring version.

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The turkeys always remind me of Joe Hutto and his book, Illumination in the Flatwoods, upon which the film “My Life As A Turkey” was based.
WITU Portage 9-28-14-7216

Somewhere over the last few days my eyes grazed past an article I have not yet read, in the New York Times: “When Blogging Becomes a Slog.” Maybe I’m afraid to read it. However, there’s apparently an entire whole industry devoted to the phenomenon. I am not burned out on the blog yet, but it has become harder to find the time to devote to it, so I apologize if my posts are getting to be less frequent than twice a week. I am still trying to figure out how to balance life and the new work situation, and now the choir commitment. But I will keep coming  back here because in some small way, it’s good for the birds, and I realized years ago that what’s good for the birds is good for me.