City Stopovers

Blackpoll Warbler

Blackpoll Warbler

Here are a few pictures taken at various times over the past few weeks, all in downtown Chicago…

Tennessee Warbler

Tennessee Warbler

Tennessee Warbler

Tennessee Warbler

I never manage to see enough of any one species to tire of them. Although Tennessee Warblers often appear abundant, they are not always easy to capture. For comparison with a species they resemble, I have an Orange-Crowned Warbler below.

Orange-Crowned Warbler

Orange-Crowned Warbler

There seemed to be fewer birds altogether this year, but I don’t know if it is due to loss of habitat, weather patterns, being in the wrong place at the wrong time or a combination of all three.

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Northern Waterthrush

I frequently see Northern Waterthrushes on the ground, but less often perched in trees.

Kentucky Warbler

Kentucky Warbler

The day I saw the Kentucky Warbler, there were so few birds altogether at Lake Shore East Park I wasn’t even aware I had seen this rarity until I checked my photographs later. The bird kept ducking in and out of hydrangeas planted near the east end of the park and I was consumed with trying to stop it long enough for a picture.

American Redstart

American Redstart

First-year male American Redstarts seem to be born exhibitionists, on the other hand.

Blackpoll Warbler

Blackpoll Warbler

This Blackpoll was pretty cooperative too on the day I saw it.

Common Yellowthroat

Common Yellowthroat

And Common Yellowthroats, as difficult as they are to see on their breeding grounds…are frequent park visitors.

Hermit Thrush

Hermit Thrush

A Hermit Thrush reminding me It’s The Food, Stupid.

Yellow-Bellied Sapsucker

Yellow-Bellied Sapsucker

At 155 N. Wacker there haven’t been very many birds, but last week there was this sapsucker scaling a wall.

White-Crowned Sparrow

White-Crowned Sparrow

And a White-Crowned Sparrow popped out last week at a new spot on the river that looks promising for future visits.

City Frog 9-24-15-2724

City Frog

Planters 10-2-15 -3215City Frog 9-24-15-2716

Perhaps the strangest thing I saw this fall was a frog in the corner of one of these wrought-iron-encased planters on Randolph near Wacker. How it got there boggles the mind.

It’s time to say goodbye to the warblers until spring. But many more sparrows are likely to be showing up. I’m thankful for that because they tend to be easier to see! And at least I can always carry on a conversation with White-Throated Sparrows.

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Briefly from the Olympic Peninsula

Pacific Loon

Pacific Loon

Getting home late one week ago from the American Birding Association Olympic Peninsula Birding Rally, I went straight back to work the next morning after making a quick run to the grocery store for a few perishables to tide us over. I am still reviewing all the pictures to clarify gull and shorebird species identification, and I hope to post more seaside pictures later in the week, but I wanted to at least gasp quickly while coming up for air.

I got 13 life birds on this trip, I think, at least that’s the number that’s sticking in my mind at the moment. George Armistead from the ABA promised to send us all complete lists which will be helpful, as I kept somewhat of a list from memory only each day, which is never entirely reliable.

There were life birds that I did not get pictures of, but here are a few ones I did. Light conditions were generally miserable (overcast, drizzly, backlit) but I did the best I could. I’d like to go back someday, spend a little more time and have more lenses ready for different situations. The plant species…trees, shrubs, mosses and fungi to generalize a few…were amazing.

Townsend's Warbler

Townsend’s Warbler

I was very happy to get a good look at the Townsend’s Warbler, especially because it still looks similar to a few other species I don’t know well!

Hutton's Vireo

Hutton’s Vireo

I have seen Hutton’s Vireo before, but never got a picture of one, so this was a lifer for the lens.

Red=Bellied Sapsucker

Red=Bellied Sapsucker

The Red-Bellied Sapsucker kept darting around the tree trunk to the other side but I did manage somehow to capture him and lighten him up enough…

Harlequin Duck

Harlequin Duck

I wasn’t sure if I’d ever seen a Harlequin Duck. I thought perhaps I might have, but now I am 100% certain that I can add to my list as there were several. Not in breeding plumage, but still a remarkable bird.

Thousands of Sooty Shearwaters

Thousands of Sooty Shearwaters

Standing on the beach watching gulls and shorebirds, when suddenly a seemingly endless stream of Sooty Shearwaters flew by over the space of several minutes. The trip leaders estimated 50,000. So I guess I can never say I barely saw this bird if I saw thousands of them!

Juvenile White-Crowned Sparrow

Juvenile White-Crowned Sparrow

The White-Crowned Sparrow is not new on my life list but I heard murmurings that this could be a subspecies to eventually be split. Whatever, I don’t care, it was nice to get a picture of a lovely young cooperative bird.

Heermann's Gulls

Heermann’s Gulls

I know I said gulls will come later, but the Heermann’s Gull is definitely a life bird for me, and what a beautiful bird with the distinctive orange-red bill. Here’s what Cornell has to say about it on their All About Birds website:

“This gray-bodied, white-headed gull breeds in Mexico and then moves north along the Pacific Coast to southern British Columbia.”

White-headed must refer to the adult breeding plumage of this species. I did find the gray bodies to be distinctive too. It’s always a pleasure to get to know an easily identifiable gulls species. I should never have to worry about confusing this bird with any other gull!

Generally the trip was brief but enjoyable, and I will be back with more pictures and thoughts as soon as possible. I also have some catching up to do with a little midwest passerine migration.

Waiting for Change

Monarch in my Yard 8-30-15-0318I am waiting for the heat to go away, for the rains to come and cool us off. Also waiting for life to settle down again into some sort of routine, keeping the structure of the old and shimmying in parts of the new. The office move is complete but getting things to work properly is taking longer. I have suddenly added choir practice every Wednesday to the mix and am wondering how that will go as I have to reassign parts of my life to other schedules. At least to accommodate some kind of birding…

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And then Oliver Sacks died. For as much warning as he gave us, it still seems hard to believe. I have all his books to remember him by, though, and would like to get back to reading them.

Swainson's Thrush, LaBagh Woods

Swainson’s Thrush, LaBagh Woods

And passerine migration, that thing that depends so much on the weather, isn’t really happening as much as one would want it to, especially when I finally had a little time this weekend to look for birds.

Cedar Waxwing, Chicago Portage

Cedar Waxwing, Chicago Portage

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Swainson’s Thrushes are pretty much everywhere but particularly closer to the lakefront. I have only seen a handful of warblers and not really had a chance to capture them with the camera.

Swainson's Thrush, Lake Shore East Park

Swainson’s Thrush, Lake Shore East Park

The pictures are from the last week or so, some taken in the downtown parks and others from local haunts or somewhere in between. No theme, no meme.

American Redstart, Lake Shore East Park

American Redstart, Lake Shore East Park

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At the Chicago Portage for the last two weeks, the most numerous species has been juvenile Indigo Buntings. They are literally everywhere. I guess I shouldn’t be surprised if I was counting half a dozen brilliant blue males on territories all summer. It appears moms and dads have moved on and left their offspring to find their way.

Indigo Bunting, Chicago Portage

Indigo Bunting, Chicago Portage

INBU at Portage 9-6-15-0694There are still a few other straggling species too like Gray Catbirds and Cedar Waxwings.

Gray Catbird, Chicago Portage

Gray Catbird, Chicago Portage

And the insects are still going strong. I saw a larger group of Monarch butterflies at LaBagh Woods this weekend than I have seen all year. Milkweed is everywhere. I hope it helps.

Butterfly at Portage 9-6-15-0665These insects were very patient with the 650mm lens.

Eastern Comma Portage 8-30-15-0252Cricket Portage 8-30-15-0232

Butterfly at LaBagh 9-6-15-0637

I’m a bit exhausted by all the changes and yet there always seems to be more coming. I will try to be post once more before I take off next week for a short trip to the American Birding Association Olympic Peninsula Rally. I hope to have something to share from that experience.

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…


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.


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.

Monarch Millennium 8-11-15-8797 Monarch Millennium 8-11-15-8793

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.

Geese under dock Yacht Club 8-14-15-8977

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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.

Clouded Sulphur Lurie 8-5-15-8464

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

BCNH Portage 8-2-15-8128

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.

Dragonfly Portage 8-2-15-1372

White-Faced Meadowhawk

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Unidentified Damselfly

Bumblebee Portage 8-2-15-1327

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?