San Cristobal Island – Galapagos

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Gray Warbler Finch

I am happy to be recovering from the cold from hell, so it’s time for a long-overdue post and luckily I still have pictures left from the Galapagos. Either I am getting old, not getting enough sleep or going through crow withdrawal – likely a combination of all three – but my resistance to these rhino-inconveniences seems to be less strong than usual. I have made it my New Year’s Resolution to go out more often during the work week and Find Crows. Crows will protect me against the ongoing assault to my spirit.

Below, a few pictures of a Blue-Footed Booby flying and diving.

These pictures are likely out of order, but our landing on San Cristobal was dry, meaning we could climb out of the panga onto steps at a dock. Needless to say we avoided the steps where the sea lions were sleeping (see farther below in the post). We then took a bus ride out to our hike.

A glimpse of the rugged lava-rock terrain.

The iguanas on this island are Galapagos Land Iguanas. They don’t swim. They are the color of the beach sand instead of wet rocks.

Below is a San Cristobal Lava Lizard. Found on this island only.

galapagos-lizard-07-15-2016-7013San Cristobal has its own mockingbird species. As far as I could tell, the “mocking” for all the species here applies more to their attitude than mimicry of other birds’ calls…

Galapagos Striated Heron doing its heron thing.

Why can’t all flycatchers be as cooperative as the Galapagos Flycatcher?

Flying over the beach, a Galapagos Hawk.

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Galapagos Hawk

I felt very lucky to get a couple pictures of the Dark-Billed Cuckoo. Even here Cuckoos are not gregarious.

Our sought-after finch on San Cristobal was the Woodpecker Finch below.

More pictures of the Woodpecker Finch in action.

After lunch we sailed to Santa Fe island for the Vegetarian Finch.

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Vegetarian Finch, Santa Fe Island

Back on San Cristobal, the Gray Warbler Finches are flower piercers and eaters.

The sea lions were everywhere.

The sea lion below left is covered in sand.

I have included a video below for some sea lion action and barking.

Somewhere coming or going we saw Manta Rays close to the surface. Our ship and the dinner sculpture are inset.

As San Cristobal has its own mockingbird, it’s only fair to give it more attention.

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San Cristobal Mockingbird

I have a couple more posts to come from the Galapagos. It’s been challenging to spread it out over such a long period of time, but fun too. I never thought I’d say it — I wish I could go back!

 

Fleeting Greetings of 2017

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Millennium Park Cardinal 12-30-16

This year is off to a slow start. I very much wanted to do a blog post honoring my indoor crowd which has been getting along fine, or so I thought. At least they seemed to be doing fine for a while.

Below is a short video I was able to capture in the gloom of the afternoon’s diminishing light just so I could isolate my Zebra Finch Arturo Toscanini singing his song, which starts with an arpeggio and goes from there. Below that you can hear him again before I start playing the Adagio to the Ravel Piano Concerto in G which may put you to sleep if you listen to the whole thing but don’t say I didn’t warn you.

I went back to the Portage on New Year’s Day. It was much colder and sunnier than the week before and the birds were harder to find, but I counted as many species with a couple variations from last week’s list. All I have to show for it is ice and a distant Downy Woodpecker.

The birds in the backyard have returned to the feeders. I’m convinced the numbers of House Sparrows have fallen drastically, but they tend to fall off anyway in the winter. It was nice to see a couple Goldfinches and my own Downy Woodpeckers.

Before I went out birding, I chased Emerald Greenwald away from Dudlee’s latest nesting attempt (I gave in to Dudlee’s badgering me weeks ago and let her have the mug back but didn’t make it comfy for her) – not sitting down with myself long enough to figure things out, like the fact that Greenwald herself had approached reproductive age – and hoped for the best.

I came back to a bloody mess. Nobody had hatched but the eggs were broken open and bloody, nesting material the doves had accumulated themselves was everywhere, and Dudlee and Drew were looking the worse for wear.

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Emerald Greenwald, covered with evidence

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Drew and Dudlee, still in shock  – “How could you do this to us??!”

This has created a terrible silence. I don’t know when if ever Drew will start singing again. I had grown quite fond of his chiming in with any pretty music he heard on the radio all weekend. I like to imagine he might get over it but I don’t know if Dudlee will. To make matters worse, she seems to have a damaged right wing – it’s droopy. She was hiding in the kitchen last night, I’m sure she doesn’t feel safe anymore, even though without a nest I don’t think Greenwald is interested in bothering her. I may try to catch Dudlee and put her up in an infirmary cage for a few days, since she can’t fly very well anyway.

On a happier note, it’s always fun to watch a Society Finch tackle a piece of corn.

And there’s always time for a good bath in the pie plate.

I hope to be back soon on a happier note. Best wishes to everyone for a healthy new year. Whoever thought we’d make it to 2017? Stay tuned!

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Chicago Portage: A January Thaw the Day after Christmas

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Red-Bellied Woodpecker

It was raining and cloudy when I woke up this morning and the forecast as read on the radio didn’t sound too promising, but then the clouds appeared to be clearing and I had no more reasons to dawdle, so I set out for the Portage.

My timing was right – there were a lot of sparrows and three species of woodpecker which isn’t phenomenal but one, a Hairy, I hadn’t seen in a while so that was special.

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Hairy Woodpecker

There was a lot of fungus growing everywhere which made me realize just how much life goes on in spite of the cold and snow.

Northern Cardinals were abundant but distant, even with the long lens. I don’t know what happened with my setting on the right, I am unaware of changing anything but I must have hit a button somewhere, but maybe the contrast is interesting anyway, seeing as how the sparrows were blending in with everything.

American Tree Sparrows were most abundant.

This was the only Dark-Eyed Junco that didn’t fly away immediately.

deju-12-26-16-5797Several hardy little Song Sparrows surviving our surprise winter.

sosp-12-26-16-5669A couple pictures of the thaw. No birds in the water but some flew over as if considering it.

The Red-Bellied Woodpecker was enjoying the sunshine.

rbwp-12-26-16-5859Milkweed pods almost looking like birds hanging from their stalks.

milkweed-portage-thaw-12-26-16-5942It was wonderful to be out. I had the place virtually to myself and it felt like home again. I made an early resolution to spend more time in these woods, to bear witness to the changes of the seasons, the habitat, and the inhabitants.

Warmup to a Merry Christmas

noca-12-9-16-5033In the mad rush to the end of the year there hasn’t been much time for birding or posting but I am here to wish you all happy, good-cheer holidays, whatever you are celebrating. Last night I sang with the Unity Temple Choir for their Christmas Eve service and today I am catching up on bread gifts to distribute around the neighborhood. So while the house smells of cinnamon and yeast, Handel’s Messiah playing on the radio, and snow still on the ground even though we’ve warmed up quite a bit, I will try to compile a brief photographic history of the last few weeks.

Most of the wild birds I have seen lately have been downtown on infrequent visits to the parks. The light hasn’t been anything to celebrate but the Black-Capped Chickadees, White-Throated Sparrows, House Sparrows and Northern Cardinals are all happy to partake of the treats I bring them.

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White-Throated Sparrow

And although I haven’t had many crows, I am usually able to find at least two, sometimes four. I don’t know where they’ve gone this year. Maybe the polar vortex has caused them to congregate elsewhere. Too bad, because I’m baking Birdz Cookies now, and I’ve perfected the recipe.

Sometimes there are a few American Robins about, although not as much now that the trees and bushes are running out of fruit.

There was that one horribly cold week and I managed to document the temperature and the steam on the river, if nothing else. I didn’t go out that day.

Two days later it had warmed up a bit, for which I was grateful, as I participated in the Fermilab Christmas Bird Count, but it was a brutal experience slogging through packed snow and seeing not many birds at all. Not surprisingly, overall, the number of species and individuals were down from previous years.

The Canada Geese flying overhead seemed to be the only ones having a good time.

I couldn’t even get the pair of Northern Cardinals below to come out from the thicket long enough to photograph them.

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What’s been really shocking to me is the lack of birds in my yard. While I don’t see them most of the time because I’m at work anyway, at least I have an idea that they’re showing up by the emptiness of the feeders. Oddly enough, just as we started the warmup this past week, my feeders remained full. You would think just the opposite would occur. I began to wonder if the sub-zero temperatures had taken more casualties than a more normal winter. I hope this isn’t a warning for the future.

crows-12-16-16-5362wtsp-12-12-16-5180I have seen birds in the yard today now that I’m home, and I’m starting to think that a good deal of the absences probably have to do with the local raptors’ hunger more than the weather. We shall see. The birds come, but they don’t stay long. I’ll try to do a census tomorrow in the yard since I would like to see my favorites beyond the inevitable House Sparrows. I may even go out to the Portage for a walk-around early in the morning. We’re supposed to have relatively balmy temperatures tomorrow morning before we go back to normal. A seesaw December. And only one week left of it.

Wishing you all love and peace!

Galapagos Day 5?

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Paint-Billed Crake

The thought crossed my mind recently that visiting the Galapagos was a trip of a lifetime – but I did not expect it would take me another lifetime to get through all the pictures.

The Paint-Billed Crake above and below has got to be the most cooperative crake I have ever tried to photograph, let alone see.

paint-billed-crake-07-14-16-5591These pictures are in no particular order. In fact I think they’re nearly in the order I uploaded them. They are all from Floreana Island and environs.

Always looking for a cooperative Blue-Footed Booby, but sometimes they move too fast.

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Blue-Footed Booby

blue-footed-booby-07-14-2016-5792The Nazca Boobies, on the other hand, are always available for pictures.

Below, a Brown Noddy on the left, and on the right and below, the ubiquitous Elliott’s Storm-Petrel. I got spoiled seeing these birds off the bough of the boat every day. Guess I’ll need to take more pelagic trips if I want more of this sort of thing.

Floreana Island has its own subspecies of Galapagos Mockingbird.

floreana-mockingbird-07-14-2016-6082I think we saw at least one Galapagos Flycatcher every day.

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Galapagos Flycatcher

This island also has a budding tortoise population.

The hard-to-capture bird below is a Galapagos Shearwater. They were rarely seen except for one early evening when a group of them was following the boat, walking on water.

Adding another Darwin’s Finch to the list, below is the Medium Tree Finch, I believe a male on the left and a female on the right.

And below, two individuals from the Small Ground Finch clan. We may have seen them every day too.

The Red-Billed Tropicbird below was my ongoing challenge. Although we saw plenty of them they were either too far away or too fast to capture perfectly. But I kept trying.

I will never tire of Sally Lightfoot Crabs. Who is Sally Lightfoot? Apparently no one in particular, but one website says they get their name from being nimble on their feet. That’s a Marine Iguana with and below the crab.

The Galapagos Sea Lions we saw nearly every day, too. No complaints.

Below, a juvenile Swallow-Tailed Gull and two flight shots. You can actually see the swallow-tail in the top right flight picture. Click on it for enlargement.

Below, a Wedge-Rumped Storm-Petrel and me, likely trying to get pictures of it.

Those Galapagos Yellow Warblers always seemed happy to see us.

I hope you are enjoying the holiday season, wherever you are. We are currently toughening up to withstand the Polar Vortex which shows no signs of going anywhere anytime soon. Snow is predicted this weekend. That’s Snow with a Capital S.

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Small Tree Finch

I’m doing well after my second cataract surgery and looking forward to a new prescription in a few weeks.

I’m not happy with working late, Friday night. End of Complaining. Hope to be back to this page soon.

 

Life Goes On

dove-family-11-24-16-0694Life goes on in the Diamond Dove Department, at least. Barely a week and a half ago, on Tuesday the 15th, I became aware of Dudlee and Drew’s new babies – two lovely little Diamond Dovelings. I came home from work and both parents were off the nest Dudlee had built in a mug, with my help. I assumed they had abandoned the nest yet again, as they had two or three times before, because the eggs were not hatching. But this time, instead of abandoned eggs, I saw two good-sized nestlings in their pin feathers. They must have been a week old. One was noticeably larger than the other. I read online that there is a lag of five to seven days between eggs hatching, so that explained the size difference. The pictures directly below are from the 20th, so they kids already had some feathers happening.

By Sunday, the oldest one had fledged! No wonder Dudlee kept craving small nests. She knew she wouldn’t need a lot of room to raise two chicks.

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First Fledged Dove Child

I am not used to this at all, having observed finches and budgies procreating for years, never seeing the fledglings until they were nearly as big as their parents, so I am learning a lot from these creatures. It’s a wonderful distraction from the political malaise, a gift of life in the midst of dystopia. It also makes staying at home more attractive. I wonder if the timing of the presidential election — November, with the inauguration postponed until January — was intended to make an uprising less likely, as in when it’s below freezing outside.

dove-kids-11-26-16-0707Anyway, fatherhood has been good to Drew, who had a twisted and overgrown bill that I kept trimming from time to time when I was able to catch him. His bill seems to be normal now as he is feeding his offspring. Not that I detect an awful lot of feeding going on. It seems to be much more sporadic than with the finches, who clamor for food every waking moment. Instead the Diamond Dovelings tend to sit around all day, waiting patiently for a parent to bestow some food on them. I’m not getting into this, it’s totally up to Dudlee and Drew. They must know what they’re doing because the kids are growing exponentially every day, in spite of my perception that they are being somewhat ignored.

Dudlee and Drew seem to be hell-bent on having more children, unfortunately, and I think their timing is off. Not to mention that I think I have enough doves now. But success has gone to their heads and they spend a lot of time flirting. Dudlee has asked me for her mug back several times. I keep telling her she has a family to raise already. Likely wasted effort on my part, but it’s at least nice to see them all waking up together as they were this morning all perched on the microphone cable.

dove-family-11-26-16-0708The four-day weekend had already gone to my head by Thursday, and I could envision retirement being worthwhile if only it was attainable. The relaxation of a long weekend is persuasive. I’ve done all my major cleaning, I made my first loaf of bread in almost a year, playing piano and trying to get back to writing songs with the guitar… But I’m not ready to share that yet, so below are a couple short videos of the Diamond Doves. Drew’s singing to his chicks in the second one.

Yesterday’s weather was better than today’s which was supposed to start out rather pleasant but it’s been chilly and gloomy all day. Nevertheless I went out to the Chicago Portage this morning to see lots of American Tree Sparrows (a couple pictured below) and a few other species. There was evidence of a lot of new fencing, I assume to protect plants. Save for one cyclist, I was the only human present.

House Finches hang out at the Chicago Portage too.

There were perhaps five Downy Woodpeckers. Here’s one.

I always hear more Black-Capped Chickadees than I see but this one wasn’t too skittish.

The duck weed is all gone, so there actually was water underneath it, and there were Mallards in the water.

There were almost as many Dark-Eyed Juncos as Tree Sparrows but they weren’t posing. The overcast contributed to the lack of focus.

deju-11-27-16-4821Two views of the ever-changing but somehow always familiar Chicago Portage.

The statue of Joliet and Marquette wasn’t looking too cheery either.

statue-joliet-marquette-11-27-16-5014I’ll be back. Looking forward to my remaining cataract surgery on Wednesday, hoping to finally start fixing things up sight-wise. Then I’ll have no excuse for not being focused!

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Let’s Escape to the Galapagos

vermilion-flycatcher-07-13-2016-8736There are plenty of places to see Vermilion Flycatchers and they’re probably not the first bird to come to mind when one visits the Galapagos, but did that stop me from taking way too many pictures of this one? Of course not!

My desire to escape is likely a shared sentiment, so I invite you to Day 4 of the Galapagos adventure. We spent the day at Isabela Island. In the morning we were at Volcan Sierra Negra and in the afternoon, at Punta Moreno.

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welcome-sign-volcan-sierra-negra-7-13-16-0317Some birds we had seen before, others not.

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Striated Heron

Nice look at a lone Whimbrel.

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Whimbrel

Yellow Warblers…

The cutie pie below is a Warbler Finch.

Small Ground Finches…

Woodpecker Finch…

The best opportunity for a picture of Lava Gulls was here.

Green Warbler Finch…

We got our first looks at Galapagos Giant Tortoises, for which the islands are named. Galapagos was a Spanish word for “saddle” which describes the shape of the tortoise shells.

At Sierra Negra the subspecies is guntheri.

giant-tortoise-07-13-2016-9197Below is a video of an interaction between two of these magnificent creatures, which might give you more of an idea.

We were also fortunate to get good looks at the Galapagos Hawk.

At Villamil, Punta Moreno, there was a nice colony of Greater Flamingos.

The dinner sculpture and the next day’s plans…

Three more days’ worth of photos to go. I’m off to a choir rehearsal this evening which should help distract me long enough from the incomprehensible reality to feel empowered by making a little noise.

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