Winding Down

Cabbage White 8-19-15-9572These days are beginning to feel like writing classes where I’ve been given three totally unrelated objects and have to write a story connecting them. Apologies if my posts seem a bit disjointed lately. It’s been hard to get out of the office: we’re moving on Friday…

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Ovenbird, Lake Shore East Park

There was one rather nice day last week at Lake Shore East Park. I was almost starting to believe in fall migration. The Ovenbird above popped out near where I was sitting and posed for more pictures than I can possibly use.

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Young Common Grackle checks out the fountain pool.

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Female Scarlet Tanager in the trees by the children’s play area

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The fountain pool designed to look like a riverbed

Several young crows were in attendance. They greeted me on the ledge across from the Radisson just upstairs from Lake Shore East Park.

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I don’t know what these flowers are, but the Eastern Comma below was enjoying them.

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On the way back, the wall-of-water fountain at the west end of the Aon Center looked refreshing on a warm day. The Aon is the third tallest building in Chicago. It’s recently been sold, so there may be some changes to the name and the landscaping in the future.

Fountain at AON 8-20-15-9617

Here’s where those totally unrelated things come in. I made myself get out Sunday morning even though it was cloudy and threatening rain. Not willing to chance going far, I went to the Portage, of course, and did not find too many more birds than the ones below.

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Great Blue Heron, Chicago Portage

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American Robin

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Where there used to be water, now there is marsh

Here’s one more picture of my friendly Ovenbird.

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And one more of the inside of the Comma.

Comma 8-19-15-9503The winds have shifted the last few days, bringing cool air in from the north. The forecast is for warbler migration to start occurring along the lakefront today through the rest of the week. I am trying to ignore the forecast and am almost glad it’s cloudy because I won’t get out today. There was one American Redstart, likely a first-year male, at 155 N. Wacker this morning.

I know this slow wait to get back out will be over soon. In spite of my complaining, I look forward to fall which is my favorite season, and feel energized by the cooler weather. Enough to make me feel a bit like I’m on the verge of Something.

Summer in the City

Hanging out at the water fountain

Hanging out at the water fountain

Last week was hot and for all practical purposes, dry. It was almost hard to find motivation to trade the too-cold office air conditioning for hot-and-muggy outside but sitting around all day doesn’t suit me, so when there was time available for a stroll, I took one. Things calmed down at the office considerably by Friday and that was my longest outing.

Ovenbird, Millennium Park, 8-11-15

Ovenbird, Millennium Park, 8-11-15

Earlier in the week, however, as I sat in my chosen shady spot near the bike racks, the Ovenbird reappeared looking much more adult.

Juvenile Crow Millennium 8-11-15-8779 Juvenile Crow Millennium 8-11-15-8765

The new crows were molting.

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And the Monarchs were still sallying.

Friday, because I had some extra time, I decided to go down to the lakefront, where even the Canada Geese were trying to stay out of the sun.

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Juvenile Mallard

I had almost forgotten Friday was the day before the annual Air and Water Show put on by the U.S. Navy Blue Angels, but the roar of jets overhead soon reminded me. This was their practice session, inspiring awe on the ground.

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Blue Angels 8-14-15-9148On the way back to the office, as I stopped to take a picture of some Chicago Lego-style architecture, the unknown young man below insisted I take his picture. By the time I got him in focus his friend put his hand behind his head. I don’t know what he thought I would do with this picture, but if you recognize him, let him know I didn’t simply delete it and this could be 2 of his 15 seconds of fame. (I’m used to people handing me their own cameras or cell phones and asking me to take pictures of them, in fact, I did so for someone that day.)Building 8-14-15-9112

Do you know him?

Do you know him?

The sad story is that on Saturday, the first day of the actual event, a midair accident befell two parachutists in the Air and Water Show. (The parachutists, from the Navy Leap Frogs and the Army Golden Knights teams, were not present on the Friday practice runs.) Tragically, one of them died the next day. The Sunday show was cancelled. I missed hearing about this until Monday because my TV service has been down since Friday night. It’s still down, but I am glad I didn’t post all these pictures before hearing about the tragedy.

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Thoughts on Songs for Birds

Painted Lady

Painted Lady

(All the photographs in this post were taken at Lurie Garden, Millennium Park, Chicago on a couple afternoons last week…and have nothing to do with the content.)

It was a somewhat quiet weekend, with plenty of time to sleep and reflect. I had only one mission, and that was to drive into the city on Saturday morning to take my guitars in to Chicago Fretworks for repair. I have been thinking about doing this for years, only to somehow talk myself out of it with that inner voice that asked, “When are you going to find the time to play?” and knowing full well that after not having played for more years than I care to admit, it would be worse than riding a bicycle after a long absence, for the frustration of trying to build up calluses on my left fingertips alone.

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Clouded Sulphur

But a number of forces have converged to light the fire under me to start playing my guitars again. Perhaps the most significant force is a need to respond to all the insanity. It has been and will always be wonderful to play piano, but I miss the guitar for the intimacy of cradling an instrument on my lap, with the vibrations of the strings going right through me. This is how I will write songs again. Only this time, they will be songs for birds.

Common Green Darner

Common Green Darner

I trust the indoor crowd will bear with me while I regain enough facility to sound not too bad. I have fewer expectations of any prowess than I did when I went back to playing piano, so it shouldn’t be too humiliating. Then there lurks in the back of my mind the thought that eventually, weather permitting, I could play music for wild birds again. Even if it means coming downtown on a weekend, I would love to play music for my crows. And by that time have something else to sing for them besides “There is Nothing Like a Crow” to the Rodgers and Hammerstein tune for “There is Nothing Like a Dame.”

Twelve-Spotted Skimmer

Twelve-Spotted Skimmer

The forces that have converged? I am giving credit at this point only to the positive ones. Falling in love with David Wax Museum. Not wishing I was young and on the road again, just finding so much in their music to explore and connect with. The music is infectious, and David Wax’s lyrics are often priceless. Personal Anthems.

Hearing Mavis Staples interviewed twice on NPR: she talked about singing protest songs for Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. The sense that music had a purpose beyond music. I don’t necessarily aim to inspire anyone, but I feel the need to protest the insanity. To make noise. And this is the only true way I know how.

American Lady

American Lady

If there can be any silver lining in the disappointing fact that Operation Rubythroat’s excursion to Guatemala in November–which I was looking forward to–has been canceled due to lack of participation, I will have more time to play the guitars and the cost of rebuilding my Guild 12-string will be less painful!

Monarch on Swamp Milkweed

Monarch on Swamp Milkweed

Making music is good for an old body, too. All the pains and inconvenient stiffnesses that were making my life miserable, no doubt in a negative response to the insanity, seem to be floating outward, released, wafting in the air, or in the case of swimming, lost to the water in the pool… I can almost fly. If nothing else, my heart will soar. With the birds.

P.S. The pictures in this post are not related to the topic but I suspect they’re not totally unrelated either?

Wasps in the Rattlesnake Master

Wasps in the Rattlesnake Master

Hanging Out

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The virtual sunniness of it all makes the summer heat seem more oppressive somehow. We had rain after rain after rain in July for weeks and then virtually for a week it was all over, the steady sunshine and heat quickly depleting water levels. So I didn’t know what to expect when I wandered over to the Portage Sunday morning. Perhaps shorebirds, but there were none. However there was the Black-Crowned Night Heron above. I don’t think I’ve ever seen one at this location, so that made the visit worthwhile immediately. In discovery mode I’ll take anything but for some reason a different or unexpected bird sates my hunger for more for…at least a few minutes!

GBHE Portage 8-2-15-8165GBHE Portage 8-2-15-8201The only other species near what little water was left was a Great Blue Heron who was first silhouetted as I walked in against the sun, the trail still being inaccessible from the opposite direction, and then after I emerged from a lot of burdock and butterflies, the heron decided to leave.

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Red Admiral

The butterflies almost made up for the lack of bird species.

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Eastern Comma

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Eastern Comma

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Silver-spotted Skipper

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Red Spotted Purple

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Lined Tiger Moth Caterpillar

After months of closing the hole in the fence, the gate, so to speak, is wide open. An enormous amount of vegetation has been cleared and there is a wide path leading in either direction, toward the Des Plaines River or the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District. I did not go far in either direction but decided to at least take a peek at the river and on my way I encountered a doe and two fawns. Below is one of the fawns passing through.
Deer Portage 8-2-15-8175There were dragonflies but they were generally less cooperative.

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White-Faced Meadowhawk

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Unidentified Damselfly

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Is this the backside of a bee?

House Wrens were still quite vocal and I managed to see this one.

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House Wren

Of all 13 species I reported, there were more American Robins than anything else. The one below will quickly lose its spottiness.

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Juvenile American Robin

Downy Woodpeckers are regulars at the Portage, if not always visible.

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Downy Woodpecker

And Indigo Buntings still rule. There have been more than ever this breeding season, and they are still singing.

INBU Portage 8-2-15-8114We’ve cooled off a bit, and the days are inching ever-so-slightly shorter, tilting thoughts toward fall migration. I’m sure there’s still plenty of hot weather left but maybe I’m finally getting used to it. If it doesn’t rain this weekend…who knows where I could go?

Post-pourri

Comma  7-23-15-7983Apologies for the bad pun. It’s been a busy, fragmented, hot week and a half or so. Also, the past weekend was one long party, with no birds in attendance. I am not used to being much of a social butterfly.

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A moth casts a shadow at Lurie Garden

I haven’t been out much during the day either. If I didn’t know better I might think the crows have given up on me, but I suspect it’s lack of the quiet shady spots we used to have, where we could convene without a steady stream of human beings. Pigeons are much less picky about habitat but definitely not used to having their pictures taken.

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ROPI 7-14-15-7441ROPI 7-24-15-8001On the days I have gone out, I have managed to keep amused. One bright spot, for instance, was finding some Monarch Butterflies in Lurie Garden.

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There are other interesting pollinators too. I think the wasp below was more black than blue, but lightening it up made it interesting.

Lurie Millennium 7-15-15-7549One afternoon last week standing outside the northern entrance to Lurie, I heard some earnest chirping and determined it was coming out of the small oak tree before me. There were a couple security guards talking to each other totally oblivious to the Robin’s nest I soon located.

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American Robin nestlings

I suspect the Northern Cardinal below is a young bird as well because it seemed to know the peanut was for eating but was perplexed by it anyway.

NOCA 7-14-15-7468NOCA 7-14-15-7460On hot, boring days at Lake Shore East Park, as long as I could find a bench to sit on, I took to photographing the fountains.

Fountain LSE 7-07-15-6698Fountain LSE 7-15-15-7502Then a few days ago I was sitting in the shade across from the east side of the Pritzker Pavilion, waiting for crows, and the little bird below darted out of the yews. The shade was so dense it was hard to get a decent picture, but this is the first time I have seen a juvenile Ovenbird at Millennium Park at the end of July. I was so surprised I thought I was going to get a rare bird alert but Ovenbirds breed in this part of the continent so even though I think it was rare for Millennium Park it’s not unlikely. This is the same spot I heard a White-Throated Sparrow singing a couple weeks ago, which is rare, so maybe just going to sit in this spot isn’t such a bad idea. Crows or no crows.

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Ovenbird, Millennium Park, 7-27-15

OVEN 7-27-15-8022The greatest reward perhaps is still seeing Monarch Butterflies. I have seen fewer than 20 individuals this summer, at least two of them flying around the cement canyons of LaSalle Street. I hope the Swamp Milkweed is making them feel welcome.

Monarch on Swamp Milkweed Lurie Millennium 7-22-15-7930Swamp Milkweed Lurie Millennium 7-22-15-7918

Inertia (aka Summer Doldrums)

Female Tiger Swallowtail Yard 7-19-15-1137Spoiled by earlier dramatic fluctuations in temperature which at times were chilly, I find myself now wiped out by the heat and humidity, albeit expected weather but nonetheless daunting. The only way to avoid overheating is to remain motionless. I did as much of that as possible on Saturday.

However Sunday morning was sunny, so I felt compelled to see how things are going at the Chicago Portage. Construction persists. Access to the trail entrance that heads west is still blocked, but both bridges are open again, which made it easier to take the loop on the other side of the creek back to where I started. On the way out, my eye caught a sign that referred to construction of a “new” shelter being among the improvements. I am unaware of there ever having been an old shelter, so this will be interesting. Maybe I’m reading too much into the word “new.”

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Going in from the west makes it difficult to photograph anything early in the morning. But I could not resist a cooperative Indigo Bunting.

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After that for a while it was simply making a record of what I was seeing, even if the picture wasn’t perfect. The distant Great Blue Heron below took off about ten minutes after I took this picture.

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There were two Killdeer skittering about in the duckweedy mud.KILL Chicago Portage 7-19-15-7706

KILL Chicago Portage 7-19-15-7731Also on the other side where I would eventually wind up, a young deer had come down to drink. I have seen deer before but never one so young, alone. I seemed to be catching the last gasp of the early morning activity, which was heartening considering I took my time getting out the door.

Deer Chicago Portage 7-19-15-7678Just about when I started wondering what had happened to all the Baltimore Orioles I saw this young or female bird.

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The Red-Winged Blackbird below appeared to have had enough of the heat and humidity.

RWBL Chicago Portage 7-19-15-7793Of course just when I think I’ve seen everything I’m going to see or have been unable to get pictures of something ephemeral like the glimpse of a Ruby-Throated Hummingbird, a surprise occurs. Walking by a large tree at the edge of the water, I saw something huge move in it, determined it couldn’t have been a giant squirrel but had no idea. Then the tree exploded with three large birds scattering in all directions. This turned out to be the Green Heron roosting tree. And one of their offspring flew to a perch in the middle of the water where it sat in surprise for several moments.

GRHE Chicago Portage 7-19-15-7853GRHE Chicago Portage 7-19-15-7870The other great surprise was to run into a human being. Specifically a young man on his bicycle who asked me if there were many birds at the Portage. It then turned out that he was interested in finding out more about birds. What an absolute delight to have been present for him to quiz me on what direction he could take. I sincerely hope he follows his interest. I restrained myself and did not warn him of the addictive nature to this activity. Probably understood anyway if he at all sensed my passion. This is the magic of the Portage for me. I literally never know what to expect.

I should also know better than to expect anything. I was hoping to see butterflies, so I carried around the second camera and lens in my backpack and never took it out. Virtually no butterflies Sunday morning. There were a few dragonflies, but I was unmoved.

But Sunday afternoon seemed to bring butterflies into my garden. The Red Admirals outnumber all the others but at least there were a few more species.

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Red Admiral

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Monarch Butterfly in swamp milkweed. I can’t believe I managed this shot with a 100mm closeup lens from quite far away.

The swamp milkweed has taken over two areas of the yard. I keep hoping, as in Plant It And They Will Come.

Swamp Milkweed Yard 7-18-15-1085One more picture from the Portage below: an Eastern Kingbird. The background looks like another planet to me.

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Eastern Kingbird Fantastical Portage  7-19-15-7748The weather is improving, and I will slowly pull out of inertia into the sunshine.

Another Goose Lake

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Yellow-Headed Blackbird, Goose Lake Conservation Area, McHenry County, Illinois

Somewhat ironically, shortly after I visited Goose Lake Prairie in Grundy County, the local list-serve was on fire about another Goose Lake Conservation Area in McHenry County, not far from the Wisconsin border, where Yellow-Headed Blackbirds and Black Terns were easy to find. Both species are rare in this area. Reading constant reports about it all last week while at work, I decided if the threat of rain was not severe I would just have to drive to this Goose Lake Natural Area on Sunday morning. I had several days to talk myself into getting up no later than 3:30 AM so I could leave the house by 6:00, seeing as how it would take me over an hour and a half to get there.

I plugged a theoretical address into the GPS on my car and got within striking distance. After that it was easy enough to find and I parked in a tiny parking lot that fits about three small cars. No sooner did I park than I was joined by another Prius driver. Diane had her camera with her too and we birded the trail together.

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There is a Goose Lake on the map but as far as I can tell there is no public access. Thus I saw no lake and no geese. However there was more to explore (we perhaps went in 3/4 of a mile) on a 7-mile trail and some day I will have to make a return trip.

Hebron Trail MapThe Hebron Trail has been made from an abandoned railroad bed, specifically the Kenosha Division Railroad which made its last run in 1939. Just off the parking lot where the wide gravel trail starts is a wooded area that was brimming with hungry mosquitoes. We had been forewarned but it made stopping to look at anything we heard prohibitive. Perhaps after a quarter of a mile we were out of the woods and into the marshy area which was miraculously pretty bug-free. It was cloudy but it did not rain.

Ground Squirrel

Ground Squirrel – I’m not sure I’ve seen these before!

There were at least a dozen Yellow-Headed Blackbirds, and when they became active they made dramatic displays.

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The other species we were excited to see was Black Tern. Although not less visible, they were very difficult to photograph from far away, in the poor light, and they never sat still.

Black Tern

Black Tern

I never thought of Red-Winged Blackbirds as small before but compared to the Yellow-headed Blackbirds they are dainty looking.

RWBL Goose Lake NA 7-12-15-7042Plenty going on with other breeders too. Like the Tree Swallow condominium tree below, and then when a Green Heron decided to sit on one of its branches the Tree Swallows started mobbing it.

TRSW Condo Goose Lake NA 7-12-15-7108GRHE Harrassed Goose Lake NA 7-12-15-7307GRHE Goose Lake NA 7-12-15-7276

Song Sparrows were singing everywhere. Also many Marsh Wrens but I did not get a picture of one suitable to post.

SOSP Goose Lake NA 7-12-15-6888There were so many Common Yellowthroats they could have had a singing competition.

COYT Goose Lake NA 7-12-15-6912One Common Yellowthroat male was feeding its foster child, the Brown-Headed Cowbird juvenile below, but it was too hard to get the actual feeding shot with all the branches in the way.

BHCO and COYT Goose Lake NA 7-12-15-6951My only regret is that the Yellow-Headed Blackbirds were not singing, because it would have been a wonderful sound to reproduce for you here. Maybe next year I can get up here when they’re setting up territories.

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Yellow-Headed Blackbird

It’s hard to believe but the Red-Winged Blackbirds were nearly silent as well. Definitely the juveniles below had nothing to say.

RWBL juveniles Goose Lake NA 7-12-15-7407

It took me two hours to get back home. There is no easy way to get to this place, but I guess that’s what makes it a favorite for some birds we rarely see.

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