Extreme Hummingbirds…!

Long-Tailed Sylph

Long-Tailed Sylph, Reserva Rio Blanco

I’m sorry it’s taking me so long to get back in the swing of blogging… I’m nowhere near halfway going through the pictures from my trip to Colombia. But I thought a few incredible hummingbirds might offset the disclaimer… To top it off, I’m ignoring chronological order.

Tourmaline Sunangel

Tourmaline Sunangel, Reserva Rio Blanco (adult male)

Whatever the reason these birds have evolved into such flashy specialists, you have to wonder if there really is any way to explain such intense beauty. I prefer to just chalk it up to the “Wow” factor.

Sword-Billed Hummingbird 04-1-15-4440

Sword-Billed Hummingbird, Termales del Ruiz

I’ve seen a Sword-Billed Hummingbird before, likely in Peru, but not as well as at the feeders behind the restaurant/spa at Termales del Ruiz. While the hot springs were tempting, the hummingbird feeders were even more so.

Buff-Tailed Coronet

Buff-Tailed Coronet, Reserva Rio Blanco

Buff-Tailed Coronets were everywhere at our first hummingbird heaven, the feeders at Rio Blanco, and yet they are beautiful even after you’ve seen so many of them. They also tended to pose nicely, perhaps because they considered themselves to be less conspicuous (safety in numbers).

Buffy Helmetcrest

Buffy Helmetcrest, Paramo, Los Nevados

The Buffy Helmetcrest was a Paramo target bird that proved easy to find the moment we got out of the vehicle that took us up to its preferred heights.

I don’t have much more to say at this point, except that perhaps Sunday I will manage to get through enough pictures to make more sense of the trip, seeing as how our weather forecast is for rain which makes yard work and birding less likely. So for the moment, I leave you with a few more pictures of these great birds.

Sword-Billed Hummingbird

Long-Tailed Sylph 03-31-15-3159Buffy Helmetcrest 04-1-15-3666

El Condor Pasa

Andean Condor 04-01-15-3815

Andean Condor

I am just barely back from Colombia, so this will be a short post focused on One Bird, the Andean Condor, the sight of which perhaps trumped them all. (This bird does not respond to a recording. It appears at will.) And just our luck, when we were up in the Páramo at Los Nevados National Park, approximately 13,000-14,000 feet? – we saw this magnificent raptor very well.

Paramo 04-01-15-7610

Los Nevados

Andean Condor 04-01-15-3882Andean Condor 04-01-15-3885Andean Condor 04-01-15-3870The color leaves much to be desired, but this is not a particularly colorful bird so I am just happy to have captured the spirit of its flight. Click on the pictures if you want a closer look.

Paramo 04-01-15-3698

Some vegetation at Los Nevados

Andean Condor 04-01-15-3879 Andean Condor 04-01-15-3842I have nine days of memories, of wonderful birds, great companions and the friendly Colombian people. For the moment, I leave you with a picture of a couple on their motorcycle with their dogs in tow. Check out those nifty helmets!

Dogs 04-04-15-7390To be continued! Thanks to all for your interest and support. :-)

A Pack Rat Starts Packing

RBGU 3-20-15-6969I’ve had three months to think about my trip but of course reality never hits until I’m down to the wire. Procrastination is an ongoing and important process, however. As I try to clean and find things for the trip, which forces me to organize on one level, I run into the dilemma of where to put other postponed projects such as starting a life list in Excel or ebird, on another level.

RBGU 3-20-15-6803

My former neighbor spent the entire day Saturday routing out my kitchen sink…which pretty much took care of my whole day too, but I shredded papers until the machine would shred no more, and kept an eye on the birds who endured the noise, the house shaking, the comings and goings to the hardware store. Dudlee my Diamond Dove insisted on staying on her nest in the kitchen right above all the havoc. We’re not done with this project yet: when I get back we will get the catch basin cleaned out, something that likely has never been done since 1925. Apparently this is a common dilemma. A light bulb went off in my head when Abe described the process of removal of crud from the catch basin. It explained the evil stuff someone dumped behind my property a couple years ago in large plastic bags. I had “No Dumping” signs up for a while after that…Thankfully, the garbage haulers took it away. What do they do with this evil stuff? I’m not sure I want to know.

RBGU 3-20-15-6980

I still have to locate my sunglasses which I haven’t worn for at least 2 years, and I know I have several water bottle slings somewhere.

RBGU 3-20-15-6822

Then there’s all the extra stuff to remember to do like call the 800 numbers on the back of the credit cards, leave contact information with everybody, make sure the alarm company knows who to call if there’s an anomaly, set a timer on the stereo so the birds have music to fly by…

RBGU-2 3-20-15-6979

Packing itself is a major engineering feat. I have never had to pack so much in so little space, but I’m liking the challenge. There are some practical perks here. I won’t need anything fancy to wear for one special event, and although I am used to having the laptop with me it won’t be making this trip, but since I already got used to reviewing my pictures on the camera for three weeks in East Africa I should be able to get by for one week in Colombia. Not having to worry about the laptop is perhaps a blessing in disguise.

RBGU 3-20-15-6796

The cell phone will keep me connected, at times. And when it doesn’t, there is bliss in the realization that I am in the moment somewhere else on the planet and cannot be reached until I get back to the lodge, perhaps. A true vacation.

RBGU 3-20-15-6736

In case you’ve been wondering what any of this has to do with pictures of a Ring-Billed Gull with a peanut, I suggest the connection is no more than mutual exercises in futility. He stayed preoccupied with this peanut, since I also had crows in attendance who were enjoying them, for at least 10 minutes. His friend was unimpressed by it. Gulls can’t eat peanuts, but this one wanted to try. Alas, even after I shelled one for him he didn’t know what to do with it.

I hope to be back with one more post from my sporadic visits to the lakefront the past week, before I disappear for a couple weeks (trip time plus the aftermath). If I don’t manage one more post, thanks to all of you who have made it with me this far! :-)

RBGU 3-20-15-6823

All Thawed Out

Greater Scaup

Greater Scaup

Even though last week was consistently warmer than the weeks before, it still took a long time to turn the lakefront from ice to water. Some smaller bodies of water are still frozen, but Lake Michigan, at least on the Chicago shore, is now open to ducks. However, as soon as they leave, if not before — although I’m sure the presence of ducks is not the trigger for this event — the yacht club will start putting out the buoys for the boats.

Below is a little photographic ice check timeline.

Ice on 3-9-15

Ice on 3-9-15

Ice on 3-10-15

Ice on 3-10-15

Ice close to shore on 3-12-15

No ice this part of the harbor on 3-12-15 (same dock as 3-9 above)

But ice still farther out on 3-12-15

But ice still farther out on 3-12-15

Of course the light was great on the days when there was not much to photograph but ice.

Canada Geese on the ice, 2-12-15

Canada Geese on the ice, 3-12-15

And even as the ice seemed to be melting steadily all week, on Friday the 13th, as luck would have it, the ice was right up to the shoreline again. I suspect that all the ice that was farther out had floated in to the harbor.

Ice on 3-13-15 (right up to the shoreline!)

Ice on 3-13-15 (right up to the shoreline!)

After the warming weekend, though, ducks were beginning to show up close enough to look at, even if the light wasn’t so wonderful.

Female Red-Breasted Merganser, 3-16-15

Female Red-Breasted Merganser, 3-16-15

Greater Scaup 3-16-15

Greater Scaup 3-16-15

And Ring-Billed Gulls have started coming back in droves.

Ring-Billed Gull 3-16-15

Ring-Billed Gull 3-16-15

By the middle of the week there were some more ducks in the harbor.

Common Goldeneye 3-18-15

Common Goldeneye 3-18-15

COGO 3-17-15-6598

A pair of Common Goldeneyes.

I’ve taken better photos of Red-Breasted Mergansers but I like these guys so much I can’t resist posting this one anyway. After all, I’ve likely never taken his picture before.

Red-Breasted Merganser 3-18-15

Red-Breasted Merganser 3-18-15

The Ring-Billed Gulls are getting ready for the tourist season.

RBGU 3-18-15-6524 RBGU 3-17-15-6562And on land the only newcomer I saw last week was a Common Grackle, but all returns are welcome.

COGR 3-17-15-6648I haven’t been able to get out every day this week but I’ll continue to go when I can and I look forward to documenting whatever arrives..

Here They Come

Sandhill Cranes over the Chicago Portage 3-15-15

Sandhill Cranes over the Chicago Portage 3-15-15

I was pretty sure the migrating Sandhill Cranes were on their usual schedule: flying over Monday-Friday, during banker’s hours, while I was stuck sitting in the office. Of course I read about them constantly on the IBET which added to my frustration. But the warm southerly winds that have been prevailing all week were going strong yesterday and I decided to visit McGinnis Slough, even though no one has submitting any ebird sightings since November, and then check back again at the Chicago Portage (I may do a post later, in my backward fashion, about last week’s visit which I never managed to publish).

Things are heating up almost everywhere, actually. At work, we’re busy. I’m getting ready mentally for my trip to Colombia which is only 12 days away. I’m meeting with my new bird care person who I suspect is falling in love with the birds, which is probably a requirement if you’re going to fuss over them as much as I do. And it seems to be taking more energy this year to get over winter, but I think that’s about to change.

McGinnis Slouth

McGinnis Slough

Ice at McGinnis

Ice at McGinnis

McGinnis is still under ice. I took the scope with me just in case but ended up leaving it in the car. Nevertheless I had enough gear. I’ve been testing out my wide angle lens which was repaired last week (over a year since I dropped it in the steel-bottomed vehicle in Africa) because I figure it’s small enough to take with me to the Andes and it might be very nice indeed to have handy for a breathtaking vista or two. And I’m also using the extender on the Canon 100-400mm lens, to see just what it’s capable of. I’ll have plenty of time to return to playing around with the monster Tamron lens when I get back.

Red-Winged Blackbird

Red-Winged Blackbird

But crunching around on the frozen tundra produced a few of the most predictable early birds. I had already seen Red-Winged Blackbirds downtown in Lurie Garden so I knew they would be returning to their territories everywhere else. Song Sparrows may have even slightly preceded them. And Dark-Eyed Juncos? Did they ever leave? They have been here all winter, and predictably they disappear in the spring, but I wonder if some may hang out all year long.

Song Sparrow, McGinnis Slough

Song Sparrow, McGinnis Slough

Dark-Eyed Junco, McGinnis

Dark-Eyed Junco, McGinnis

There were no Sandhill Cranes flying over McGinnis, probably because I expected them. Instead, flocks of Canada Geese, in their usual noisy fashion.

Canada Geese over McGinnis

Canada Geese over McGinnis

CAGO McGinnis 3-15-15-1144CAGO McGinnis 3-15-15-1141As I mentioned earlier, I was at the Chicago Portage briefly last weekend. The dominant pair of Canada Geese was there at the time, laying claim to the ice. I suspect it’s the same pair I have seen there for years. In any event, I was a little surprised to see two tagged geese that I am sure I reported last fall – C011 and C016.

C011 and C016 at the Portage

C011 and C016 at the Portage

I am not sure the pair pictured below is the dominant pair, as there were two unbanded pairs yesterday.

CAGO Portage 3-15-15-1291

I was about done counting geese when the first flock of Sandhill Cranes flew over. I heard them coming first, but overhead they were silent.

Sandbill Cranes, Chicago Portage 3-15-15

Sandbill Cranes, Chicago Portage 3-15-15

But before I left, a fight ensued, with the dominant gander attacking C016, and the two banded geese left.

Goose Fight Portage 3-15-15-1406 Goose Fight Portage 3-15-15-1404

Canada Geese again later on the ice, looking triumphant and vigilant

Canada Geese again later on the ice, looking triumphant and vigilant

As luck would have it, while all this was going on, a lone Sandhill Crane flew over quite low, and I think it might have landed if all the fracas wasn’t going on. It kept flying, I suspect to the low-lying parts of the adjacent preserve, Ottawa Trail Woods, where I haven’t been yet this year.

Sandhille Crane Portage 3-15-15-1421

Sandhill Crane, Chicago Portage, 3-15-15

Sandhille Crane Portage 3-15-15-1428

Other species at the Portage yesterday were also predictable and I didn’t get pictures of all of them, but I was a little surprised to see a beautiful Fox Sparrow. I’ve been seeing them more here the last year or so. They don’t breed here, though.

Fox Sparrow, Chicago Portage

Fox Sparrow, Chicago Portage

White-Throated Sparrow. Chicago Portage 3-15-15

White-Throated Sparrow. Chicago Portage 3-15-15

The White-Throated Sparrows likely won’t be sticking around either, but I wish I had more time to observe them. It seems to me their ranges have been expanding; I’m sure some were breeding on the Chicago Lakefront over the past few years.

BCCH McGinnis 3-15-15-1240

Black-Capped Chickadee

AMRO Portage 3-15-15-1471

American Robin – with a lot of unusual white on its wing

The year-round birds are getting ready, too. I saw some definite chases going on among the Black-Capped Chickadees.

Fungus Portage 3-15-15-1498

Maybe the most interesting thing was this fungus that covered an entire downed tree trunk.

Today we are having one of those rare, sudden warm days, before the winds shift and the temperature plummets again – but I think we are through with the freezing temperatures. I hope!

Spring…backward

Crow 2-26-15-5273Perhaps setting clocks ahead an hour signifies spring to some. But the birds have been responding to the longer days for weeks. In particular I was getting used to being able to leave the house in the light, but now that the clocks have gone forward an hour, I have to give up and go back to leaving lights on timers when I leave at 7:00 a.m. The indoor crowd thought I was insane this morning to be getting up so early.

Crow 3-6-15-5688

I will be crabby about the lost hour of sleep for a while.

Crow 3-6-15-5723

The crows have been doing fairly well, I think. They seemed to like the omelette.

Crow 2-19-15-4687 Crow 2-19-15-4662

Friday I decided to see if they cared for organic bananas. I didn’t know there was a difference until one week I went to the store, there were no organic bananas for purchase, so I bought regular ones…and suffered with tasteless bananas all week. Next time there are no organic bananas I will wait.

Crow 2-19-15-4819

Okay, so they’re not Fruit Crows. Anyway the crows were not impressed by the banana. If anything they felt compelled to eat some of their peanuts on the spot, I suppose to make sure the presence of the banana slices had not altered anything.

Crow 3-6-15-5677

As much as my thoughts seem concerned with feeding crows I have been looking for nostalgia or craving catharsis or something like that. I stumbled across a stunning video of Hélène Grimaud playing the Ravel Piano Concerto in G and lavished a good cry over the Adagio which has wormed its way into becoming my favorite piece of music the past few years. Then reading a review of Bettyville by George Hodgman in the New York Times brought tears to my eyes. I think it’s all a pent up desire to get out and experience something more than cold, hard, stupid days.

Crow 3-6-15-5652 Crow 3-6-15-5651 Crow 3-6-15-5649

But going back to feeding crows, anyone who has not yet seen this story about a young girl who feeds crows and receives gifts from them should check it out. I was originally made aware of it by my friend Lesa and have since seen it cropping up all over the place. My crows haven’t heard about it though: as far as I know they haven’t brought me gifts. That could be due to the fact that I feed them in a public space and they know how efficient the maintenance people are about considering anything trash. But I like to think the bond I share with them is enough of a gift. Just the fact that they recognize me and announce my presence to each other before they fly in swooping gently overhead is enough.

Crows 3-6-15-5621 Crow 3-6-15-5691

So now, as if on cue with the time change, we are in the midst of enough of a warm up to thaw all that messy snow away. We go from the temperatures of the last couple weeks being colder-than-normal to normal-and-warmer-than-normal.

Crow 3-6-15-5731

Crow w hot dogs 3-2-15-5397Time is probably running out to be feeding the crows their favorite food, hot dogs. But they can count on peanuts year-round.

NOCA 3-6-15-5734 NOCA 3-2-15-5369 WTSP 3-2-15-5431

The little birds will be preoccupied soon and they won’t be looking for handouts anymore. But I’m not quite done feeding everyone just yet.

Crow 3-6-15-5697

 

Down by the River

Herring Gull

Herring Gull

It’s been a busy week, so I haven’t gotten out too much and, in spite of that, it’s taken me days to carve out a post.

Two American Coots on 1-29-15: this was the view without binoculars

Two American Coots on 1-29-15: this was the view without binoculars

Freer souls have been out in the cold finding the rarities, some of which have been seen on the Chicago River. As a matter of course, since last winter’s freeze of the Great Lakes, I make a habit of peering into the Chicago River every morning when I get off the train and look into that section of the River to see if there’s any bird life in it. Seeing as how last year at this time I was counting White-Winged Scoters…that species and even less likely birds have been showing up in other sections of the river, but downtown there isn’t much going on.

AMCO Chi River 2-10-15-2213

Confirmed Coots on 2-10-15 when they were a little bit closer

AMCO Chi River 2-10-15-2236

The Coots are long gone and nothing else has taken their place outside the train station. Ah, the frustrations of sitting inside an office all day…

So late in the cloudy, snowy afternoons of Tuesday and Wednesday this past week I walked north to where the river joins Lake Michigan to see if there were any waterfowl at all. I was delighted to see Red-Breasted Mergansers as I am accustomed to seeing them on the lakefront but had not yet seen any this year.

Red-Breasted Mergansers

Red-Breasted Mergansers

The lake is frozen close to shore, and ice flows into the river where it joins the lake.

Ice from the Lake2-25-15-5222

Tuesday it was snowing, Wednesday just cloudy. Tuesday there were also a couple Mallards and one pair of Common Mergansers, along with a dozen or so Red-Breasted Mergansers and primarily Herring Gulls.

RB Merg Fem Chicago River 2-24-15-5050

Female Red-Breasted Merganser

Mallard Chicago River 2-24-15-5070

Mallard

Common Mergansers

Common Mergansers

Since, the Gull Frolic, I now pay more attention to gulls and find most of them to be Herrings (we’ll see how long that lasts when the Ringed Bills return by the thousands).

Herring Gull flying past an office building near Union Station

Herring Gull flying past an office building near Union Station

3rd Cycle Herring Gull Chicago River 2-25-15-5184

Third Cycle Herring Gull, Chicago River

Adult Herring Gull Chicago River 2-24-15-5198

Adult Herring Gull Chicago River

But there are still Ring-Billed Gulls around, like the one below. I think maybe if I’m not seeing much else yet this year I’ll get better at identifying these guys at a distance…

Adult Ring-Billed Gull

Adult Ring-Billed Gull

Second Cycle Herring Gull, Chicago River

Second Cycle Herring Gull, Chicago River

Red-Breasted Merg Chicago River 2-25-15-5246

Common Merganser

Winter continues, we just can’t seem to get enough of it.

First Cycle Herring Gull

First Cycle Herring Gull