Gulls at The Frolic

Gull Frolic 2-14-15-3226Last weekend, on Valentine’s Day, I attended the 14th Annual Gull Frolic, convening at the Winthrop Harbor Yacht Club. The last time I went was something like five years ago, my excuse either being that I was not in town or I didn’t want to drive the distance in my old car, but the still new Prius and I need to get out more, and I decided it was time to attend, if for no other reason than to see people in the Chicago area birding community that I have not seen for a while.

Gull identification is a fine art practiced by a select few. I do not count myself in that number, and yet by virtue of taking as many pictures as I could while freezing on the lakefront last weekend, I feel obliged to try to identify these enigmatic and entertaining birds. I should mention that one could go inside and be warm at any time, and there was plenty of food and hot beverages to keep us going, but the action was all outside.

Adult Non-Breeding Herring Gulls

Adult Non-Breeding Herring Gulls

Herring Gulls

Herring Gulls

First Cycle Herring Gull

First Cycle Herring Gull

First Cycle Herring Gull

First Cycle Herring Gull

Second Cycle Herring Gull

Second Cycle Herring Gull

Second Cycle Herring Gull

Second Cycle Herring Gull

Second Cycle Iceland Gull and First Cycle Herring Gull

Second Cycle Iceland Gull and First Cycle Herring Gull

Adult Non-Breeding Herring Gull

Adult Non-Breeding Herring Gull

Since the majority of the birds were Herring Gulls, the first order of business was to identify them all in the pictures until I came across something that didn’t fit the m.o. The most reliable field mark in most cases is the amount or lack of black on the wing.

Adult Non-Breeding Thayer's Gull

Adult Non-Breeding Thayer’s Gull – compare with the Herring Gull behind it

Possible Glaucous-Winged Gull

Adult Non-Breeding Glaucous Gull

Without the pictures I would be at a loss, as the gulls fly by so quickly if I didn’t stop them in time I would not have managed to study them as well. Although it was challenging enough just to hang on to the camera, and I often photographed the nearest subject which left me with a lot of Herring Gull pictures I probably do not need, at times it was fun. I think the gulls’ enthusiasm becomes infectious. Even with the pictures I am still often stymied by identification. It helps to know what gulls were identified that day, because it narrowed the possibilities down to seven species, six of which appear here (Herring, Glaucous, Iceland, Thayer’s, Lesser Black-Backed, Greater Black-Backed). Oddly enough, I have not one picture of a Ring-Billed Gull. I don’t recall seeing them either. This is one case when they were outnumbered by all the larger species.

Iceland Gull

Iceland Gull

Iceland Gull

Iceland Gull

Herring, Thayer's and Iceland Gulls

Herring, Thayer’s and Iceland Gulls

As if to reassure us that we were not crazy, or if we were, we were in good company, gathering to watch gulls dive for bread in 45-degree below wind chill on Valentine’s Day – Ted Floyd of the American Birding Association and a million other affiliations gave a great talk on the phenomenon of crazy, or as he put it, “interesting” people who gather to identify gulls which, given their various plumages and tendency to hybridize, not to mention individual variation, unlike a male Northern Cardinal, for instance, that always looks red – making the challenge seem even more worthwhile, and now I’m thinking maybe I won’t wait another five years or so before I do this again.

Glaucous Gull on the Ice

Glaucous Gull on the Ice

Glaucous Gull 2-14-15-3597

Glaucous Gull

Glaucous Gull 2-14-15-3559

Glaucous Gull with friends

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Glaucous Gull

One thing is certain: I know more about Herring Gulls now, after studying 1,000 pictures, than I did before, and this is the first time I have paid attention to cycles. This is no doubt the first symptom of Gullmania.

Adult Non-Breeding Thayer's Gull

Adult Non-Breeding Thayer’s Gull

Second Cycle Thayer's Gull

Second Cycle Thayer’s Gull

Adult Non-Breeding Thayer's Gull

Adult Non-Breeding Thayer’s Gull

Second Cycle Lesser Black-Backed Gull

Second Cycle Lesser Black-Backed Gull

First Cycle Great Black-Backed Gull

First Cycle Great Black-Backed Gull

First Cycle Great Black-Backed Gull

First Cycle Great Black-Backed Gull

Unfortunately I did not get pictures of a few individuals that would have been easier to identify, such as an adult Great Black-Backed Gull, which is a bird that I have been able to recognize for years, but it has been nice to study the Glaucous and Iceland Gulls and to finally track down the nuances that distinguish Thayer’s from the Herring Gulls. I referred to the Peterson Field Guide, Gulls of the Americas by Steve N.G. Howell and Jon Dunn, and also Sibley Birds iPhone app.

Peterson Reference Guides: Gulls of the Americas

Normally there are plenty of ducks to look at too, but it was so cold and there was so much ice, the ducks that were there were pretty far away. I only managed to capture a few Common Mergansers in flight and one Greater Scaup who was definitely “iced.” Click on the pictures to get a better view.

Common Mergansers

Common Mergansers

Greater Scaup with ice 2-14-15-3581

Greater Scaup with ice on its face

Greater Scaup with ice 2-14-15-3592It’s hard not to wonder if the gulls mark their calendars every year for this event.

Gulls flying in sync

Gulls flying in sync

Herring Gull w Bread 2-14-15-2730

The Essence of True (Crow) Love

Cookie Crow 2-17-15-4415

Ah…Birdz Cookies!

Or you could just say Food is Love in just about any language. Like Music…

In the midst of this miserable cold, my crow friends and I are reunited in thought and purpose. Last week they sent me a request for Birdz Cookies, and so it was Birdz Cookies on Monday and Tuesday. On Monday, I put out lots of peanuts and broke up the cookie pieces on top of them, and the Crows went straight for the cookies.

Then yesterday, after two days of cookies, why not some of those delicious hot dogs I used to bring?

Hot Dog Crows 2-18-15-4608

Between my knee event (which I am happy to report is totally over), the weather, the baby boom indoors and other distractions, I haven’t managed to get up early and visit the crows an hour before work all winter, so I have focused on the Millennium Park bunch whenever I get out for a late lunch break, and now that my knee is working properly the weather becomes less of an excuse for staying inside when I realize my friends don’t have that choice.

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White-Throated Sparrow

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Sparrows, mainly House

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Northern Cardinal and House Sparrow, both males

This has also been good for the Cardinals, Chickadees, White-Throated Sparrows and House Sparrows.

NOCA 2-16-15-3832

On Monday, the male Northern Cardinal actually came toward me and posed for pictures when I pointed the camera at him. It had to do with the peanuts I shelled and left for him on Friday. He was asking me to repeat the favor, which I did after taking a few more pictures. Then later he was down on the ground sampling the general offering.

NOCA 2-16-15-3818 NOCA 2-17-15-4404

On Tuesday I was surprised to see the Robins back at what I believe must be some type of hawthorn trees in the northwest corner of the park, I guess to clean up every last fruit they might have left on their last visit.

AMRO 2-17-15-4315 AMRO 2-17-15-4302

The Black-Capped Chickadees have been more about food than enticing me to take their pictures.

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Black-Capped Chickadee

But from time to time the female Cardinal wasn’t too shy to engage the lens.

NOCA 2-17-15-4330

NOCA 2-17-15-4325So as cold as it is I will probably venture out again today. The sun is shining brightly, and it is always a bit warmer by the lake, even in this extreme cold. It’s amazing how much even one or two degrees makes a difference.

WTSP & NOCA 2-17-15-4079 Cookie Crow 2-17-15-4417

The “what-to-feed-the crows next?” question has been on my mind, since after cookies and hot dogs, simply peanuts seems too mundane. So I rustled up an omelette this morning with about 10 eggs that have been in the refrigerator too long to boil for the indoor crowd’s egg food. I figure the crows have probably sampled Egg McMuffins and will recognize an omelette (indeed I think one crow sent me the thought on the way in that I could have added cheese — ha!). Plus it’s eggs in a cache-and-stash form.

WTSP 2-17-15-4436

White-Throated Sparrow

I do intend to wade through the Gull Frolic pictures by the weekend…but the park birds were making it a lot easier for me to post about them sooner.

Meanwhile Back Inside

Society Finches Watching the Snow

Society Finches Watching the Snow this afternoon

Perhaps the highlight of this long winter has been keeping track of the daily changes going on inside. I usually get a more complete picture on Friday nights when I clean the living room and swap out dirty cages for clean ones. Getting a feel for the youngsters’ progress, and the general health of the flock, makes the cleaning chore something I look forward to.

Like snowbound romantics, the adult finches have been nesting and reproducing apace. I may have already lost count. There are four new Zebra Finches as of last week, in addition to the original five which are nearly grownup.

It will take a while before I can name any of the Zebra Finch kids that have turned out to be males, but here’s a little video of the oldest one from last week. His song was still pretty shaky. Today it’s beginning to take shape.

The Zebra Finches are turning out in different shades which makes them even more interesting. I have never had champagne-colored Zebra Finches before and now I have two. Below is the newest one, with two siblings in different shades of gray.

3 of the latest 4 Zebra Finch Fledglings

3 of the latest 4 Zebra Finch Fledglings

It’s hard to get decent pictures during the day with the light pouring through the front windows but the basic idea here was just to show maybe half of the birds at one time.

Finches watching the snow 2-15-15-3772 Finches watching the snow 2-15-15-3771

As for the two birds not finches, my remaining Budgie and the Diamond Dove, I did manage to capture Blue and Dudlee preening each other in the video below about a month ago. There were a few nights spent together as well before Dudlee went back to sitting on her plastic egg nest in the kitchen. On days I go to work I carry her, sitting on the nest, out to the dining room and put her behind the sheet covering the hutch so she has privacy. When I come home at night she’s flying around, cooing and making sure I don’t forget to put her nest back in the kitchen.

In general, the kitchen is everybody’s favorite room. I don’t know if it’s because it’s forbidden territory when I’m at work or if everybody just likes being where the food comes from, or a bit of both.

Blue in the kitchen

Blue in the kitchen

On the Society Finch front, after Trevor and Tina created Treasure, who has since turned out to be a male following his father’s singing tradition, Trevor produced eight more through his couplings with Phoenix and Rikki. Seven have survived, and I heard a little subsong going on today with at least one of them.

Society Finch Fledglings

Society Finch Fledglings

Society Finches napping in the kitchen

Society Finches napping in the kitchen

The Society Finches live up to their name much of the time and hang out together in a tight grouping. What’s perhaps funniest is to see them all piled into a nest together for the night.

Gulls...frolicking

Gulls…frolicking

I will be back with some pictures from the weekend’s local birder winter social event, the Gull Frolic, after I manage to sort through them all, which could take some time as I try in desperation to figure out what isn’t a Herring Gull.

Closer to Home

DOWP 2-2-15-1802

Male Downy Woodpecker

There’s perhaps more going on inside the house than outside it bird-wise, but the most captivating moments are often beyond my ability to capture because they involve me. Like yesterday when I was playing piano, one of the young Zebra Finch males landed on top of the music and sang his song to me that he’s been working on, over and over, reminding me that it will soon be time to get out the music paper and try to write down his and everyone else’s offerings.

DOWP 2-2-15-1856

Female Downy Woodpecker

After a week of trying to keep the car movable around mounds of snow and driving it around the block at best, it was almost an exhilarating experience to drive this weekend, not that I went much farther than the dentist, the pool and grocery shopping yesterday, when there was sunshine, and then to the Chicago Portage today, when there was not. But dentist appointments are not scheduled around the weather, and actually the gorgeous sunshine might have explained the virtual emptiness of the pool, which meant I had an entire lane to myself to swim in for an hour, something that never happens on a weekend.

Portage 2-8-15-0569

Chicago Portage

Anyway in spite of the cloud cover I decided to go out while we were still experiencing a partial thaw, and see what it was like shooting with the extender on the 100-400mm lens, with the Mark III 5D which I haven’t used for quite a while. It’s an experiment I will have to repeat several times before I decide exactly what to take with me on my upcoming trip, but I have to say I immediately loved the quietness of the shutter click on the Mark III, I had forgotten all about that and gotten used to the noisy report of the 70D. I have to say the birds never seem to mind the extra noise, I guess they assume we humans are too noisy anyway, but I like the quieter camera almost as much as I like my quieter car.

Portage 2-8-15-0584

There were no clear paths, so it was a slower walk than usual at the Portage. No birds were heard or seen for quite a while, until I spotted a Red-Tailed Hawk perched on a far tree, but the hawk took off before I could try for a picture of it, and then as it flew back around the far side there wasn’t much to photograph.

Red-Tailed Hawk

Red-Tailed Hawk

Still the ability to see through the entire preserve in certain spots was amazing to me. I have never been able to see the other bridge until I am almost on top of it. This must be due to the clearing of so many trees.

Portage 2-8-15-0583

I did finally run into a concentration of birds – mostly Northern Cardinals, in fact more than I have ever seen together in quite some time (a group of Cardinals being a college, conclave, deck, or Vatican, depending on what term you use), and there was a White-Throated Sparrow or two and some Black-Capped Chickadees – near the halfway mark. I stood and watched them for a long time, but they were quite far away and I knew I wasn’t going to be gaining on them. The lack of light today was my most operative challenge.

NOCA 2-8-15-0623

Female Northern Cardinal

WTSP 2-8-15-0640

White-Throated Sparrow

NOCA 2-8-15-0609

Northern Cardinal

BCCH 2-8-15-0634

Black-Capped Chickadee

A Ring-Billed Gull flew over.

RBGU 2-8-15-0693

Things were decidedly more active at the sunflower seed feeder when I got home, where I inadvertently got a picture of a rather odd-looking House Finch.

HOFI 2-8-15-0700

House Finch on the right with white on its auriculars where red would normally be

HOFI 2-8-15-0703A more traditionally colored House Finch was in the crabapple tree.

HOFI 2-8-15-0710

The Downy Woodpecker photographs are from last weekend when I was snowbound and they came into the yard individually, at different times of the day, notably when the other birds were absent.
DOWP 2-2-15-1889

DOWP 2-2-15-1788

Spring is ever-so-slightly hinting at its promise with the days getting longer and a bird here and there trying out a bit of song. I have heard Chickadees, an occasional Robin and sometimes a Cardinal. Maybe the best “sign” for me was six American Crows flying into the trees on my street yesterday when I left for the dentist. A return of crows to my neighborhood would be the first after 13 years.

 

Calm Before the Storm

Female Goldeneye Monroe Harbor 1-29-15-1701The day before the blizzard warnings began, last Friday, was a calm, if cloudy day.  I managed to get down to the lakefront and even though it was overcast, a few ducks swam obligingly close enough for photographs.

Redhead Monroe Harbor 1-29-15-1575

Redhead

Fem Common Merg Monroe Harbor 1-29-15-1536

Common Merganser Female

Redhead Monroe Harbor 1-29-15-1607

Redheads

Greater Scaup Monroe Harbor 1-29-15-1572

Greater Scaup

Now it’s pretty hard to go anywhere without encountering mounds of snow to traverse, or icy and sloshy paths forged by foot traffic. It was hard to imagine being enveloped by snow until we were. I haven’t been out to see birds the past few days, only to shovel snow or trudge on in to work.

Common Goldeneye Monroe Harbor 1-29-15-1632

Common Goldeneye

I wonder where these birds went during the storm. Maybe they were thinking of taking off like these Common Mergansers.

Common Mergs Monroe Harbor 1-29-15-1668

Common Mergansers

In all, there were not a lot of birds, not even many Ring-Billed Gulls.

RBGU Monroe Harbor 1-29-15-1694I hope to get back down to the lakefront sometime this week to see what it looks like and what birds are in the water, if any.

Common Goldeneye Monroe Harbor 1-29-15-1561In the meantime, this page needs some color.

NOCA Millennium 1-28-15-1285

Blizzard Preoccupations

It’s snowing and blowing, travel is forbidden, and after two energetic attempts today, I am not going back outside to move any more snow until tomorrow. So I’m using the storm as an excuse to get caught up with a few loose ends.

House Finch 2-1-15-1732

Below is a link to the YouTube videos, for those who are interested in what came of my first choir participation in the St. Odilo Festival Choir. I sang in the alto section. We all started together and ended together even if there were a couple times we lost it in between… At least we lost it all together. Maybe it’s just as well as there were only four of us. I had an epiphany about this phenomenon while listening to parts of the concert on my way in to work Friday morning. You know how birds all take off together at once as if responding to a single cue out of nowhere? That’s kind of how it was when we all forgot to come in. Nevertheless I think we sometimes sounded quite good; in particular I was pleased by the a capella piece, which was Bruckner’s “Christus Factus Est.”

https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLg3KkSe0kac64cTatDPzrz3qv_s7DX0r5

Also new and exciting, Bill Hilton has posted a complete play-by-play annotated write-up of Operation Rubythroat’s last bird banding expedition in Costa Rica, and you can read all about it at this link.

And now a little word from The Chicago Blizzard of 2015. (These pictures are in color, in case you’re wondering.)

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Juncos actually seem to be enjoying this

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After taking fuzzy pictures through the screened porch windows, I decided a fuzzy video of the birds braving the snow and wind at the feeders might be even better. The snow started out thick and wet and it’s still snowing as I write this.

Dudlee Ann was monitoring the whole weather event from her newest favorite place, the window over the kitchen sink.

IMG_1165And thanks to recent comments on my last post about vultures, I went looking for pictures of a Ruppell’s Griffon Vulture, which I had seen several times in East Africa in November of 2013. I found a couple pictures taken on November 22 in Tanzaniya:

Ruppell's Griffon Vulture 11-22-2013-6822

Ruppell’s Griffon Vulture

Ruppell's Griffon Vulture

Ruppell’s Griffon Vulture

In the process, I realized that I had never finished going through all the pictures from that trip, so I look forward to revisiting those images at some point in time. Not that I’m wishing for another blizzard anytime soon…

Vultures & Storks at Zebra Kill 11-24-13 8529.jpg-2Incidentally, the bird completely covering the kill with its wings spread in the picture above is also the Ruppell’s Griffon.

This excerpt from a webpage of facts about the Ruppell’s Griffon from the National Zoo:

“Ruppell’s griffon is the highest flying bird on record, once spotted at an altitude of over 37, 000 feet in the skies of Africa. From a standing start the Ruppell’s vulture can fly over three miles in six minutes. They can cruise at over 22 miles per hour, and will fly as far as 90 miles from their nest in search of food.”

Maybe now I can try to dig out the car a bit more…so I can move it to the other side of the street tomorrow.

Why Not Vultures?

Lappet-Faced Vultures 11-23-13 6985.jpg-2

Lappet-Faced Vulture

I think vultures get a bad rap. They really perform a valuable service in nature. They do a much better job of recycling than we do.

Vultures Serengeti 11-24-13 8538.jpg-2

In case you’re wondering why I am inspired to post about vultures, I am (1) waiting to find out whether I will want to share the video of the festival choir concert from last weekend, and (2) am also trying to figure out how to possibly convey what is going on with the home crowd (it grows, and changes daily!) through various types of media. But while trying to find time to figure all that out, I thought I’d share a few pictures looking back to my November 2013 East Africa trip, with these spiffy-looking vultures in particular.

African White-Backed Vulture

African White-Backed Vulture

There were more vulture species on the list, but these were the only identified portraits I found recently.

 White-Headed Vulture

White-Headed Vulture

Yes, those are storks in the photo below: they also showed up after a kill, with the vultures.

Vultures & Storks at Zebra Kill 11-24-13 8529.jpg-2

Nature takes care of itself. And us, if we let it.