Spring Stirrings at the Portage

RWBL 03-04-18-6599I visited the Portage a couple weekends ago to see how many Red-Winged Blackbirds were returning to set up territories: one of the signs that spring is inevitable, which I can mentally check off every year. I hadn’t been over there for a few weeks so it was time to see how things were starting to change.

Moss 03-04-2018-6532There was only a tiny bit of green happening. For the most part the browns and greys were still in charge although the angle of the light is changing.

Portage 03-04-18-6609Predictably there were a lot of Canada Geese.

CAGO 03-04-18-6812Then there were the territorial disputes…and flyovers.

The Portage surprises me when I least expect it to. I don’t believe I’ve ever had an Eastern Bluebird there before but there was one two weeks ago.

More than one Killdeer suggests a potential breeding pair…?

Sparrow-wise, one of several American Tree Sparrows likely on their way out, and a Savannah Sparrow on its way in…although I don’t think the Portage has opened up enough to attract breeding Savannah Sparrows.

ATSP 03-04-18-6738SASP 03-04-18-6765Northern Cardinals are here all year long but it’s always nice to see them. One Dark-Eyed Junco tried to steal the scene in the upper right-hand picture below.

A few more of Red-Winged males and Canada Geese, back on their home turf to start new families. There is something reassuring about certain things that don’t change, especially lately.

And I could not resist a picture of our most ubiquitous resident, American Robin.

AMRO 03-04-18-6788I haven’t decided yet where to go tomorrow but it looks like the weather will be warm and sunny so we’ll see what happens. We’ve had cold and windy weather all week so it should be a nice break for all of us. My mother always used to call March the “Adolescent Month.” I think there’s still a little snow in the forecast next week although it likely won’t be much… Fingers crossed. 🙂

Last Day in Ecuador

Golden Grosbeak 11-27-17-3163

Golden Grosbeak

I’m finally back with pictures from my last day in Ecuador taken in November of 2017. I had an extra day to roam the Garden Hotel grounds in Quito because my flight was leaving in the afternoon instead of the middle of the night. It’s a different birding experience without a guide and a group. I had to find all the birds myself, but then sometimes it was easier to approach them.

Although the Sparkling Violet-ear above was too far away for a clean shot, at least I captured its iridescence.

And this was a little better look at the Rusty Flowerpiercer than the group had the day before.

Most impressive, the Black-Tailed Trainbearers seemed to be everywhere. And not terribly shy. I particularly like the picture below of the bird trying to blend in with the tree trunk. The trunk itself suggests giant asparagus to me. I think it was some type of palm tree.

Black-Tailed Trainbearer 11-27-17-3021

The habitat surrounding the Garden Hotel in Quito looked promising for a few grassland species and I got lucky with the four below. At the top is a Southern Beardless Tyrannulet, and below it, left to right, an Ash-Breasted Sierra-Finch, Grassland Yellow-Finch and a Yellow-Bellied Seedeater.

Great Thrushes were everywhere on the trip but not always easy to capture, or maybe because they were so ubiquitous I wasn’t trying hard enough.

The one tanager I saw a lot of that day was incredibly hard to get a decent picture of. It is a Blue-and-Yellow Tanager. Depending on the light, it’s blue and yellow hues intensified or dulled.

Another common species of grassland areas is the Saffron Finch. I was intrigued by the fact that this one had nesting material. Saffron Finch 11-27-2017-3049Flying directly overhead was the Broad-winged Hawk below.I think we saw this raptor practically every day, but this was a particularly nice view.

And my last day in Quito would be incomplete without a picture of the ubiquitous Eared Dove.

Eared Dove 11-27-2017-2841

Eared Dove

One more of the Golden Grosbeak, who seems to be asking me why he is getting so much attention.

Golden Grosbeak 11-27-17-3169Spring is just around the corner, and breeding birds are already starting to come back to our area. I will be back soon to report.

While I Was Looking For Last Year’s Tax Return…

Iguana 2-14-09


It used to be I’d run into a box of old photographs and be whisked away to the memories contained therein. Now, over the weekend while I was looking for whatever media device on which I managed to save last year’s tax return, after exhausting every flash drive I’ve been able to find to no avail, I found an unlabeled CD with…pictures from February of 2009, a trip to Belize and more specifically, a visit to found Tikal in Guatemala!  In particular, Tikal was a magical place. So here’s what I found on the CD.

Collared Aracaris w Grapes Tikal 2-20-09

Collared Aracaris (Tikal)

Green Kingfisher 2-15-09

Green Kingfisher

Turtle 2-15-09

I am having a hard time identifying this turtle but it’s lovely.

Black-collared Hawk (Lamanai)

Snail Kite (I just lightened this up a bit from the original)

Spider Monkey

Boat-billed Heron

Keel-billed Toucan (Tikal)

Black-headed Trogon (Tikal)


Hepatic Tanager

Bare-throated Tiger Heron

Great Kiskadee

Scissor-Tailed Flycatcher

Red-Lored Parrot (Tikal)

Oscellated Turkey (Tikal) – my favorite

Aztec Parakeet-Tikal-2-21-09

Aztec Parakeet (Tikal)

I’ll be back as soon as life slows down a bit. More to come. In the meantime, I hope you find as peaceful, brief, and colorful a diversion in these pictures as I did.

Green Heron

Frolicking with the Gulls

Frolicking HEGUs 02-17-2018-6217I confess that I always look forward to this annual event, the Gull Frolic up in Winthrop Harbor near the Wisconsin border, with some ambivalence. Admittedly, it is as much a gathering for the local birding community as it is for the gulls themselves. The drive is long. The weather, when good for seeing gulls, is challenging for humans. Maybe ambivalence is more prevalent these days for just about anything that takes up my “free” time. But then I tell myself, you never know what or who you’ll see until you go, and the car could probably use a drive on the tollway (is that still a thing with a hybrid vehicle? I don’t know), and any excuse to sing along with Peter Mayer (from Minnesota) is a good reason to go anywhere anyway.

Iceland and HEGU 02-17-2018-5950

1st Cycle Iceland Gull (left) and a 3rd Cycle Herring Gull

So there I was an hour early, thinking I was late, remembering I had seen the email about the later start time but didn’t check it before I left, so I appeared, I suppose, to be a die-hard gull fanatic by arriving so soon with my monster lens attached to the camera and hanging off me like a third limb. There was plenty of ice and the gulls, mostly Herring, were congregating on it. The challenge was to recognize gull species other-than-Herring and all their myriad plumage cycles. I thank Amar Ayyash, gull expert extraordinaire, for graciously pointing out the first-cycle Iceland Gull captured in the above photograph, as appearing more evenly brown in plumage. The narrow all-black bill helps too. So maybe I will remember this next year. Or maybe not.

Glaucous Frolicking 02-17-2018-5900

Glaucous Gull (left) and below with geese

After years of hearing people swear by hand warmers, the cold winter inspired me to try a pair in anticipation of the Gull Frolic. It’s reassuring to know that there is nothing sinister contained in the ingredients that cause a chemical reaction to create heat when iron powder is exposed to air (sounds a bit explosive, though, doesn’t it?). Although the heat never really reached my fingertips, it was nice to have that little hot pad in the palm of my hand in the glove. Trying to manage the camera with cold, gloved fingers is challenging, so if my hands were a little warmer it likely didn’t hurt.

The Canada Geese weren’t exactly invited but they were enthusiastically crashing the party when the chumming of (albeit whole-wheat) store-bought bread began. I’m sure the bread isn’t good for the gulls either but it doesn’t hurt them once a year, and the whole purpose is to take advantage of their propensity to engage with anything that hits the water, or in this case, the ice, to bring them in closer so we can see them. Gulls aside, I found it a bit amusing to watch this particular goose try to land gracefully on the ice.

Unfortunately, I didn’t stay for lunch or the lecture. My right knee was bothering me (I might revisit this thought in a future post, now that I am seeking a remedy), I was tired of the cold, and I had the usual myriad weekend chores listing up in my brain. Basically, beyond Herring Gulls, I think the only other species observed were the Iceland, Thayer’s (even though Thayer’s has been lumped with Iceland, there’s an effort to re-split again), Glaucous, Great Black-Backed, and a Lesser Black-Backed I did not see. I find the Herrings in their various plumages entertaining anyway. But by the time I left I was beyond entertainment and eager to survive the long-ish drive home. Second-cycle Great Black-Backed Gull below.

There is one thing I will never be able to test and that is how gulls would respond to music. Indeed the thought had never occurred to me until I was driving home. That would certainly be another kind of frolic.

There’s no reason to believe gulls would not respond to music, but it’s beyond my ability to design an experiment. I leave the option open to anyone who wants to try it. Of course gulls don’t “sing” per se, but who knows, they might dance, or they are certainly capable of something resembling dance in flight. I have seen pigeons and doves dance, and cranes too, flamingos, parrots…so I am not being altogether fanciful in my musings here.

Beyond the Thayer’s Gulls above, here are a few more pictures of frolicking gulls, for the record. While I’m looking forward to next year’s event and hope to be in better shape for it, these cold winter memories are a bit much. Bring On Spring.

Frolicking 02-17-2018-5865It might be a good idea to revisit my last day in Ecuador to brighten up my next post…


Hold That Peanut! 02-25-2018-6348

Hold that peanut!

I haven’t been able to honor the Crows with a post for quite a while. My present work location doesn’t afford likely encounters as the Crows in downtown Chicago tend to favor the lakefront parks. There are likely a couple nesting pairs on LaSalle Street and Franklin, but I can’t seem to find them in the colder weather. So these are Crows from Sunday morning’s outing. They have temporarily edged out my planned post about the Gull Frolic two weeks ago.


Unlike photographing a bird I’ll likely never see again, the Crows always offer themselves up as subjects and I am so caught up by their behavior I forget what I’m doing until I look at the photos later. Sunday was a nice day that started out a bit cloudy, as in the shots above, but there was some sunshine a little later which helped show off these shiny black birds at their best.

These peanut parties are always fun.

I managed to walk down to the Columbia Yacht Club to see if there were any close waterfowl and a couple Red-Breasted Mergansers obliged.

RBME 02-25-2018-6411RBME 02-25-2018-6422Then it was back up by the south end of Maggie Daley where a wrought-iron fence still encompasses what used to be a miniature golf course and restaurant but seems to have remained a maintenance area after the construction.

I found my way to Lake Shore East Park where I used to spend many a lunch hour. Although it was a nice day, the wind was a chilly reminder that spring has a way to go yet. I got out of the cold and visited with my friend Tess. When we went back outside, the Crows were there to greet us, and we obliged with peanuts, of course.

Someone had left corn cobs on the lawn for the wildlife and the Crow on the left, below, had something to say about it.

I’m looking forward to visiting the lakefront Crows again soon, as the days get longer and warmer.

Crow 02-25-2018-6343In the neighborhood, birds are starting to sing again. I have hope.

A Little More from Ecuador Part 2

Golden-tailed Sapphire 11-24-2017-1724

Golden-tailed Sapphire

Here’s the other half of my previous post. Maybe it doesn’t hurt to remember there is still a lot of beauty left in the world. Hummingbirds are a good place to start. A Golden-Tailed Sapphire above and a Many-Spotted Hummingbird below.

Another beauty is the White-Tailed Hillstar.

In my next life, if I return quickly, maybe I can study butterflies.

Perhaps less spectacular but still interesting, a Western Wood-Pewee, Barred Antshrike and Deep Blue Flowerpiercer.

Another unique species below: the Thrush-Like Wren.

I have seen Cliff Flycatchers before but do not remember seeing the gray on the face like I did on this bird.

We were lucky to see a Chestnut-Eared Aracari which was not on our list.

Reality check. Tomorrow I am going to what promises to be a colder-than-last-year Gull Frolic, as we have chilled down again after two rather balmy days. With any luck I will get some fun photos to share with you. Fun as in Frantic Gulls. Until then, I wish you peace, safety and beauty wherever you are.

Many-spotted Hummingbird 11-24-2017-1784

Many-Spotted Hummingbird

P.S. A Blackburnian Warbler on the left (“distracters” on this trip!) and a Social Flycatcher on the fly.

More From Ecuador

Fork-tailed Woodnymph 11-24-2017-1810

Fork-tailed Woodnymph

After shoveling snow all weekend, I don’t know how I’m going to get through the rest of the winter if I run out of pictures from Ecuador…

Since my head is still full of snow, I won’t try to remember exactly where these pictures were taken, so my comments will be few. Don’t you love my disclaimers?

Blue-Crowned Trogon 11-24-2017-1902

Blue-Crowned Trogon

It was a good day for tanagers. Below is a distant Blue-Browed Tanager which was a new one for me.

The Blue-Winged Mountain-Tanager below refused to reveal much of itself. I love how these birds with such bright plumage manage to blend in with their surroundings: “maybe I look like another yellow leaf.”

It was nice to get good looks at a Blue-Necked Tanager, below.

And then we found a Speckled Tanager, which I have seen elsewhere, but I can’t remember. Maybe Costa Rica or Colombia…? One of these days I’ll get my list together.

I’m sure I was always trying to get a halfway decent photograph of a Paradise Tanager. Any part of the bird you might see is spectacular but it often proved difficult to capture the entire bird at any one time. These two were far away but otherwise not camera-shy.

Not a lot of parrots sitting still, most of the time they were flying over in pairs, their calls to be identified by our guide often before we could see them. This Blue-headed Parrot was the exception.

I remember we went up a trail in search of the Powerful Woodpecker. It was thrilling to find a pair noisily knocking about the trees.

I have too many pictures from this one day! I will be back with the rest soon. I think I’m still mentally tired from shoveling, so “less is more” right now. I’ll close where I started, with a couple more shots of a Fork-Tailed Woodnymph.