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.

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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.

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

Winter Walks on the Tame Side

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Black-Capped Chickadee, Millennium Park

Reveling in a rather rapid recovery, it feels good to get out again and walk with the camera, even if I’m not running into anything too remarkable to photograph. So here are a few park birds from last week’s afternoon walks to Millennium Park, and some Mainly Mallards from today’s visit to Brookfield Zoo.

I didn’t expect much from the Zoo, and it was probably bad timing to go in the early afternoon anyway, but I wanted to get out somewhere and walk. I am trying to get plenty of sleep so I can continue healing and not get messed up before the St. Odilo Festival Choir concert which happens next Sunday. As we get down to the wire, all these songs have been running through my head nonstop and I want to stay focused and be in the best shape I can offer.

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Brookfield Zoo

Camel Brookfield Zoo 1-18-15-0561The challenge presented by colder weather is finding open water. Even though we have had temperatures above freezing the last three days, the Des Plaines River was still frozen everywhere I drove past it, and shallower bodies of water were certainly no better. The zoo has some water aerated in the middle of their pond, but it wasn’t enough to attract anything but about 85 Mallards, 6 Canada Geese, and the one Trumpeter Swan that lives there. The Trumpeter Swan was napping and I did not want to disturb it.

Mallards and Canada Geese Brookfield Zoo 1-18-15-0600

I stood quietly surveying the ducks to see if I’d missed anything, and soon the Mallards started flying over the path to the feeder on the other side. In years past I got some pictures of them flying, but I didn’t want to disturb them too much by pointing that big lens at them, so I mainly just watched everyone and didn’t even bother with the smaller birds that occasionally visited the hanging feeder. I might have made more of an effort eventually as the birds were getting quite used to me, but when a man walked by fairly briskly, he flushed all the Mallards, and they flew back to the pond, some nearly missing crashing into the trees.

Mallards Brookfield Zoo 1-18-15-0575After that the path takes you away from any view of open water, so I looked for birds anywhere along the sides of it, but could see only a young doe.

Doe 1-18-15-0606It might have been better to have a smaller lens. As it is, I am considering buying an extender for the 100-400mm because I can’t picture carrying the monster lens with me when I travel at the end of March.

The cardinals in Millennium were happy to see me last Monday while it was still quite cold and overcast. Even the hen, who usually tries to hide, eventually came down from her perch and sampled the seeds I brought.

NOCA 1-12-15-0215NOCA 1-12-15-0284Other than the two cardinals, there wasn’t much else to photograph that day.

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Maggie Daley Park in the clouds

By Thursday, the cardinals had left that spot but there were still plenty of American Robins eating berries.

AMRO 1-15-15-0300The most cooperative birds were the Black-Capped Chickadees I saw on Friday. This one came closer to the camera and posed for me.

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BCCH 1-16-15-0553I hope the lake has thawed enough to host some ducks. Now that I can hike again, I will try to make it down there tomorrow before it freezes over again.


Snow Crow 1-15-15-0457We may have had sunshine this week that I missed, but this afternoon the temperature was forgiving, the sun was shining so strongly snow started to melt a bit and I was just happy to be out. Earlier in the week when it was still cold and cloudy, the crows were nowhere to be found, but today was a good day to be an all-black bird on top of the Pritzker Pavilion soaking up the rays.

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Crows on the top of the Pritzker Pavilion, Millennium Park

I wish I could have recorded one crow cawing right inside the “waves” of the pavilion, its song reverberating against the steel forms, a perfect echo chamber. I’m sure the crow thought it was pretty neat too.

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The crows didn’t stay perched long. We haven’t had a peanut party since last week but the moment I started walking through the snow two crows helped me select the best location.

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The presence of peanuts did not go unnoticed by two other park residents.

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Black-Capped Chickadee and Northern Cardinal

There were many ways to approach and to take off, and the bright light reflecting off the snow lit up these dark birds.

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Winter has a long way to go yet, but today almost felt like spring.

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Snow Crow 1-15-15-0483 Snow Crow 1-15-15-0466Hope your weather is good too, wherever you are.

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We’ll see you again soon. :-)

Home, Home on the Futon Part II

Zebra Finch w Fledgling 1-4-15-1684I’m really not spending all my time on the futon but it’s been a rough week weather-wise so it’s perfect to sit with my feet up under the quilt, watching and listening to the birds.

When I last posted about the indoor crowd, there was only one fledgling, a Society Finch I think I just named Treasure. In the last week, five Zebra Finch Kids have fledged, and they are somewhat easy to tell apart for the moment as they are all varying shades of gray. One in particular is much lighter than the others (a sibling of the first to fledge group of three), and the last two are quite a bit darker than the rest.

The Zebra Finch adult couples hang out together quite a bit, going on foraging expeditions, and then at other times they get into territorial squabbles that sound ferocious to my ears, but nobody’s suffered so far from being chased.

Zebra Finch Fledglings 1-11-15-0123I have noticed today that the fledglings are still begging noisily but they’ve been ignored at times. They have also started picking at spray millet and experimenting with foraging in general, so I suspect they will be weaned very soon.

The video has the new fledglings eventually all on one perch, and Arturo T. singing half his song at the end.

I have no new pictures of the last remaining Budgie and the Diamond Dove, but Blue Budgie sits in the kitchen and serenades Dudlee Ann, the Diamond Dove, from time to time. He is absolutely smitten with her. Whenever she comes out into the living room, he is right by her side. When she takes off for the kitchen he zooms right after her. She is fond of him, but feels a duty to sit on her plastic eggs. Last night she came to join him briefly on his perch in the second finch cage, but then left for her nest.

During the week, Dudlee talks to me and tells me when I come home from work that she wants to go back into the kitchen and sit on her plastic eggs, after spending the day with the other birds.

Society Finches and 2 Zebra Finch Fledglings

Society Finches and 2 Zebra Finch Fledglings

The Society Finches will increase by at least two, as far as I can tell from the sounds coming out of Phoenix and Rikki’s nest. I suspect they are Trevor and Phoenix’s offspring.

The nicest thing about all this is that everybody has settled in, we are comfortable with each other, and now I have birds born in the house again. I am looking forward to seeing the Zebra Finh fledglings turn colors, become either girls or boys, and particularly to hearing the boys working on their songs. Arturo T. and Ricardo M. keep working on their songs and they have fleshed them out considerably since they arrived fresh from the pet store. Arturo T. has the most lyrical song, and I have figured out how to put “Arturo, Arturo Toscanini” to it. Ricardo’s song is more percussive and I haven’t figured out how to add his name to it yet.

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Meanwhile in the yard this morning the House Sparrows were all hanging out at the pool. My view through the kitchen window.

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It is snowing again. Cold, but not quite as sub-zero as last week. I hope to visit my crow friends soon.

Winter By the Yard

Downy WP 1-4-15-0030I’ve been reading numerous posts on the local list-serve of exotic species to be found with some driving distance. There have been treats such as Sedge Wren, Ivory Gull, and a handful of Snowy Owls. Since I am not presently inclined to go far from home, I have so far spent the new year at home except for going to work on Friday, and things are back to work-normal starting today. Here and there I have managed to take a few photographs of the birds that visit my yard. Predominant are House Sparrows and they come in flocks of up to 40 or more. Often with them are House Finches. It seems all the other species sneak in when there’s a lull in the traffic.

HOSP 1-1-15-9704HOSP 1-1-15-9710

I did manage to get outside a bit yesterday and on New Year’s Day, but yesterday I stood for the most part on the porch and shot through the windows while my neighbor was making some repairs to my porch door, and that is when the Downy Woodpecker, Northern Cardinals and American Goldfinches showed up. Not very clear pictures but you can get an idea of the wintry weather we just started having.

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The wind was pretty awful yesterday too, and this morning with the outside temperature around 3 degrees when I left the house, I don’t think I want to know what the wind chill was.

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House Finches with Northern Cardinal

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Female House Finch

Male House Finch

Male House Finch

It’s nice to see the Chickadees again, and hear them too. They always have a comment when it comes to food.

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I’m always glad to see a Dark-Eyed Junco in the yard. I never know exactly what they’re eating as they tend to stay away from the feeders, so either they’re eating what’s dropped on the ground or they are health fanatics eating only what nature provides.DEJU 1-1-15-9763

This Black-Capped Chickadee ate a little snow.

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I may be eating snow myself on the way to work tomorrow. We’re supposed to get 1-5 inches sometime after midnight but ending by 5:00 a.m. That means I’ll have to get up even earlier to shovel my walks. That’s okay. Cold as it is, I like being outside before people start their cars and when the birds start waking up.

First Fledgling of 2015


Society Finch Fledgling (on top of the nest) leaving a confused parent inside

And here is an update from the Aviary.

The Pins (the Zebra Finch nestlings who at least used to sound like someone shaking a box of pins, but now it might be more appropriate to call them The Screams) were poking their heads out of their nests today, which means they will be leaving soon. In the meantime, Tina and Trevor’s offspring – and there was only one, as I suspected – has fledged. After hanging on to the top of the nest, it fluttered down to the floor, then managed to fly up only small distances, and cannot negotiate getting back in the nest. I watched Tina and Trevor trying to show it how to fly to the nest by repeating the trip several times with encouragement, but they must have short memories of their own infancies. It will take the fledgling some time to figure out direction and landing.


The Zebra Finches think they own the place so they had to come and check out the new kid on the block. I suspect they will be quite busy when their offspring fledge, which could be tomorrow. And I will have to start watching where I step.

A Society Finch, and a Zebra Finch

A Society Finch, and a Zebra Finch

The video has a couple Zebra Finches perched on a microphone cord, curious about the new bird, and then the fledgling, also perched, asking its parent for food. I am not using the microphones on the boom stands anymore but it seemed like a good idea to leave them around for perching purposes, at least for a while.

The Zebra Finch Kids, a/k/a The Pins, were available for point-and-shoot photographs this morning. There appear to be three in one nest and one in the other, but I won’t know for sure until they all emerge. I tend not to be nosy about this sort of thing. Although their parents have been very cavalier, I like to respect everybody’s privacy. By the same token, it’s up to them to feed the kids and show them around, no hand-raising going on here.


Zebra Finch Nestlings


And as I promised, The Pins sound louder than they did last week, so here’s a little recording featuring their begging. The begging itself took on a new dimension yesterday. Instead of waiting for a parent to show up before they started making noise, one, probably the oldest, started calling from the nest to the absent parent, as if to say “Hey, where the heck are you? I’m hungry!”

With all this finch reproductive madness going on, Dudlee, the Diamond Dove – who now sometimes is “Dudlee Ann” – has been nesting furiously. Prior to finding her favorite spot, she was restlessly in pursuit of it. It took some tweaking, but she decided upon the kitchen.

Dudlee the Diamond Dove in my mother's old KitchenAid attachment

Dudlee the Diamond Dove in my mother’s old KitchenAid attachment

The video is also of Dudlee cooing shortly after she found her favorite spot.

But then I had to go to work which meant carrying Dudlee out into the dining room and closing the kitchen door. We’ve been working on it all week, but we finally got it down to perfection after Dudlee decided to sit on all the plastic eggs I had collected in a small stainless steel condiment cup. I put the plastic eggs in the small basket that was standing on end in the photo and video above. Dudlee moved her own egg out of the bottom of the KitchenAid attachment into the basket and she has been sitting on all the eggs, plastic and her own, ever since.


I will have to carry Dudlee and her basket back into the dining room tomorrow morning because I have to close the kitchen door while I’m gone, but she’ll get used to this, we’ve done it before, and we seem to be sort of on the same wavelength. I understand her need to do this, and I think she knows that, even if she doesn’t quite get why I have to close the kitchen door when I’m gone for more than a couple hours.

Dudlee is still friends with Blue, the Budgie, and they visit now and then and talk to each other. The night before she decided on her final nesting arrangement I confess I saw her preening him as they both sat next to each other on a perch inside a finch cage. I’m sorry to say they haven’t spent a night together since, but Blue seems to be okay with it.

Life with the new birds has been good, and it’s fun to be a grandmother again. And like any doting grandparent I will be subjecting you to more photographs and videos from time to time.


Baby, It’s Cold Outside

Gray Catbird, Thompson Center 12-30-2014

Gray Catbird, Thompson Center 12-30-2014

2014 goes out with a shiver for us. Yesterday the temperature dropped to 20 degrees Fahrenheit (that was the high), and today it’s even colder with a wind chill of minus 15 below. I am blessed to have the day off from work, which turns out to be that much more fortuitous since the trains were not running this morning due to mechanical failure and I would have been shivering at the station shelter trying to figure out the next best way to get to work.

Chicago River Fog

Chicago River Fog

There was ample sunshine yesterday which is often the way with extra cold temperatures, so I stopped by the Thompson Center on the way in with the camera already assembled this time to see if the Gray Catbird was available for a photograph. I found it first shivering under a bush and looking not too happy.

Gray Catbird Thompson Center 12-30-14-9549

Then when a woman asked me for directions, it gave the Catbird a chance to perch on a twig while I wasn’t looking, and when I turned back to see, it posed for several photos before taking off for the top of one of the small trees planted in the sidewalk by the curb. The next time to check on this bird’s status will be Friday, the second day of the new year.

Gray Catbird Thompson Center 12-30-14-9563Gray Catbird Thompson Center 12-30-14-9570

Later, after noon when the sun was shining full blast, I set out for the lakefront parks to see if I could visit some crows before next year. It’s been weeks. I decided to check out Maggie Daley Park first as it is partially open in time for ice skaters to use the skating ribbon.

Skating Ribbon Maggie Daley 12-30-14-9578 Skating Ribbon Maggie Daley 12-30-14-9577

While a lot of trees have been planted and there is sod and whatever else, the immediate lack of green space and preponderance of human kitsch is disappointing to me.

Another View Maggie Daley 12-30-14-9584

I suspect this is the “Climbing Wall”…?

Another View Maggie Daley 12-30-14-9581

I have no idea what this bodes for hungry migrants along the lakefront come spring, but I suspect I will continue to find more migrants at Lake Shore East Park than at Maggie Daley for quite a while.

Another view - the lakefront is beyond. Are those wooden trunks recycled trees "planted" upside down?

Another view – the lakefront is beyond. Are those wooden trunks recycled trees “planted” upside down?

I hated Millennium Park when it was first built, but after I started seeing things like a flock of Golden-Crowned Kinglets on the lawn and the crows adopting the Pritzker Pavilion for a nesting site, not to mention the birds that visit Lurie Garden, it has become bird friendlier with time. So maybe in 5-10 years Maggie Daley will be okay for birds too. But I feel as if the more improvements being made lately to the lakefront, the less friendly they are to any species other than humans. Which in the long run means they’re not really human-friendly improvements either.

"Howdy, Stranger"

“Howdy, Stranger”

It wasn’t until I was practically on my way out of Millennium that I found my crows.

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There were some adjustments to be made. Has it been so long since we had peanuts that we can’t remember how to carry more than one at a time to a cache location?

Peanuts Millennium 12-30-14-9622 Peanuts Millennium 12-30-14-9619 Peanuts Millennium 12-30-14-9615

Peanuts Millennium 12-30-14-9624Eventually I was joined by a few Black-Capped Chickadees, and almost out of the park I located the Northern Cardinals I heard earlier but they were not interested in becoming visible. Maybe they’re waiting for snow because they know it makes a better picture.

BC Chickadee Millennium 12-30-14-9640N Cardinal Millennium 12-30-14-9647

I think I will stay inside most of today. The sunshine does a good job on the indoor crowd, we all feel a bit more possible. Maybe I can post an update of the indoor birds’ status for the new year.

Happy New Year and Thank You to All Who Visit, Read, Follow, Comment, and Fly By my blog – Who ever thought we’d see a year called 2015? This is pretty amazing. :-)

Peanuts Millennium 12-30-14-9623