Gull Frolic 2017 – More Frolic than Gulls

find-the-thayers-challenge-gull-frolic-2-11-17-8476Quipped attempts to describe Illinois Ornithological Society‘s Saturday’s 16th Annual Gull Frolic were “Duck Frolic” and perhaps “Herring Gull Frolic.” To paraphrase the observation of Amar Ayyash, our local gull expert extraordinaire who organizes the event, when the weather is good for people, it’s bad for gulls. In other words, there wasn’t enough ice on the lake to draw the gulls in to the shore. We can be fairly positive the rarities were somewhere out in the middle of Lake Michigan, if not totally on the other side of it.

Even with only a few species present, I have to review and refresh my sparse knowledge of gulls again because often this is my only chance to see anything other than a Herring or a Ring-Billed.

So disinterested were the birds in us, at one point there was more bread floating around in the water than gulls.

The first bird I photographed was a male Common Goldeneye, below.

goldeneye-gull-frolic-2-11-17-8084And as for other ducks, there were a few here and there, although none too close.

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Female Greater Scaup and Redhead

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Bufflehead and Common Goldeneye

Above, a female Bufflehead on the left and more Bufflehead and a Greater Scaup on the right. Below, Mallard and Bufflehead flying.

The Common Mergansers were perhaps the most numerous. Two shots of a close female below and more flying.

Other waterfowl present but not photographed were American Coots, a few Long-Tailed Ducks I did not see, and a very distant group of White-Winged Scoters.

Gulls were quick to seize the opportunity to stand on whatever little ice there was. Among the Herring Gulls below there is one Thayer’s, if you like a challenge.

hegu-gull-frolic-2-11-17-8684Of the two Thayer’s Gulls spotted, I was fortunate to get a shot of the one below when it finally decided soggy bread was worth bothering with. There was a flyover Great Black-Backed Gull I did not see because I was inside attending one of two lectures given by Jean Rice regarding her study of shorebirds in St. James Bay. At some point a Kumlien’s Gull appeared, but I was not seeing it. Maybe the camera saw the Kumlien’s but if I’m not aware of it, I prefer not to go back over all my pictures to find one. Perhaps an expert can spot this gull in the grouping at the very top of my post, but I suspect there is not enough information in a static shot.

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Below is one of only a few Ring-Billed Gulls.

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So I decided to survey the gulls present and make it an exercise in photographing different Herring Gull plumages. The darker they are, the younger.

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First Year Herring Gull

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Adult Herring Gulls

I was happy to see this shot of a female and male Common Merganser in my pictures.

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We appear to be continuing with warmer weather, which is neither here nor there as far as birds are concerned, but the wintering avians are starting to think and sound a lot like spring. And no matter how bad things seem to get, spring will always feel like renewal.

Espanola Island: July 16, 2016

blue-footed-booby-07-16-2016-7489Espanola Island is a small island in the southernmost tip of the Galapagos Archipelago. As one of the oldest islands, it is estimated to be between two and three million years old, and was where we spent our last full day of the trip. In the morning, on the rocky, windswept Punta Suarez side of the island, we were greeted by nesting seabirds, and fortunate enough to see the courtship rituals of Waved Albatross and to some extent the Blue-Footed Boobies, although most of the latter’s nesting seemed to be over.

If you click on the pictures below you can see some of the “waved” pattern on the Waved Albatross’s breast. The bird in the second photo has a band with a number on it.

Below is one of several videos I took of the courtship behavior. It was impossible to capture any one entire interaction as they seemed to go on and on for a long time!

Some Blue-Footed Boobies were displaying but were too far away to capture on video. I suspect we were several weeks too late.

Nazca Boobies also nest here.

There was a Wandering Tattler in this tidal pool, along with a Sea Lion.

Beautiful Swallow-Tailed Gulls were present too. Below is a close-up of the red skin that forms a ring around the eye.

swallow-tailed-gull-07-16-2016-7277swallow-tailed-gull-07-16-2016-7750This was my last opportunity to try and capture a Red-Billed Tropicbird.

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And the Galapagos Hawk made an appearance.

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Nothing like another Magnificent Frigatebird.

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Espanola has its own species of lava lizard.

And the finch find of the day was the Large Cactus Finch.

Also present, the Marine Iguanas, a Hermit Crab and a Yellow-Crowned Night-Heron

In the afternoon we visited the other side of the island, Gardner Bay, which has a wide stretch of beach and a lot of Espanola Mockingbirds begging for water. It was hard to resist them but we were not allowed to give in to their demands. You can see and hear them begging from my roommate in the video below.

A couple more Blue-Footed Boobies.

blue-footed-booby-07-16-2016-7934I love the blue accents on the rest of this bird.

blue-footed-booby-07-16-2016-7358Below, our last dinner sculpture and the final day’s plan to visit Santa Cruz Island in the morning before our flight back to the mainland.

I am going to the Gull Frolic on Saturday and will likely report back from that with some photos. The forecast is for warmer temperatures than last year, but it is always windy and somewhat chilly on the lakefront near the Wisconsin border. I am thankful the forecast for rain has been postponed until Sunday.

We Pause for a Brief Message from…The Crows

crow-cancer-survivors-2-6-17-7464Today may be Monday, but it was also a beautiful day, with ample sunshine at least in the morning and early afternoon hours, and we warmed up to 54 degrees, which is downright balmy. So I went for a walk this afternoon in search of…birds.

Unlike my most recent visits, there were no Cardinals or White-Throated Sparrows to be seen, although I heard one or two. The Black-Capped Chickadees were more vocal but hiding.

I checked the two usual places in Millennium Park before I set off for the Cancer Survivors Garden and then as I approached. I thought I saw four large black birds perched in a tree down at the southeast end. Could it be…?

crows-cancer-survivors-2-6-17-7427Yes, they were Crows. And there they sat, silent and still. I wondered if maybe one of them was the individual that had flown by on Thursday and since today was such a nice day, it gathered friends to hang out with to see if I was for real.

I put peanuts and some pretty-stale-by-now Birdz cookies at the base of the tree they were in. And the Crows just sat there in the tree, still, silent.

I went to a far bench where I could sit and watch them, and they remained stone-faced. After a minute or two I decided I should probably go back to work. It was only as I started walking away, they all followed me.

I didn’t mind being tricked out of more treats. I put peanuts and the rest of the stale cookies at the base of one of the trees where we used to hang out, and sat down and watched them party. Two Chickadees showed up and also got to work on some birdseed. The Crows started to call a little bit. It was like seeing old friends and picking up right where we left off.

All I can hope for is that this is not a singular occurrence and that we meet again on a regular basis. I realize I have to hold up my end too: it’s up to me to show up more often as well.

Spring is coming.

In case you’re wondering, we didn’t talk politics. In fact it occurred to me later that the Crows really don’t like crowds, and maybe the protests and marches kept them away, so it was only fitting they had me to themselves for our reunion.

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Reflections on a Post-Groundhog Day

noca-millennium-2-2-17-7364This really has nothing to do with Groundhog Day except that, according to the official Groundhog, we are in for 6 more weeks of winter. I can tell you that as annoying as that prospect might be, it’s nothing compared to dreading the “what next?” incredulity of news coming from the nation’s capitol.

The Northern Cardinals have been hanging out at the northwest corner of Millennium Park by the entrance to the Boeing Gallery.

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This is not going to be a political rant, indeed, I’m trying to escape our new reality for a few moments of sanity, as long as birds are still around to help. Sometimes I have to wait a while before the birds show up, but eventually they do. All these photos are from the last week or so, Millennium and Maggie Daley parks in downtown Chicago.

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Both colorations of White-Throated Sparrow

I haven’t seen my Crow Friends downtown for what seems like months and probably is. At least too many weeks.Here we had been spending winters together,  but this winter they have all disappeared. I am all but lost because, especially when life gets too confusing, the crows are of invaluable comfort and perspicacity. I live in hope that they return in the spring. I think they will. Where they have gone for a retreat, I have absolutely no idea. But in what seemed like an omen, as the sight of a crow often does, Thursday as I sat quietly on bench at the Cancer Survivors Garden, one crow flew silently across the sky going north, and did not stop or acknowledge my calls, but still the sight of it gave me hope. I was so hopeful I almost forgot to take a quick picture for posterity.

The Cancer Survivors Garden which has now been absorbed by Maggie Daley Park is for the most part asleep for the winter, with no birds present. I suspect every last berry has been picked off of every last bush.

The usual suspects are still around elsewhere. White-Throated Sparrows usually call before I see them, but if I stop with some treats they come out fearlessly. It’s the City Sparrow-Country Sparrow phenomenon again, like the City Mouse and the Country Mouse. The White-Throated Sparrows in Chicago’s Loop parks have likely learned how to take advantage of human generosity from the House Sparrows that honed it down to a fine art.

The Black-Capped Chickadees are good at this too but they often move so quickly they’re hard to catch with the camera.

Dark-Eyed Juncos are still around too, not so many, perhaps, and on a dark background on a dark day, well, here you have it, but I was lucky to catch the one on the left with its tail feathers spread out, as you usually don’t see the white feathers except when they’re flying away from you.

And then there are those moments when we bond.

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One of the White-Throated Sparrows was starting to sing last week. Could have been this guy.

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For humans, the ice rink is a popular pastime these days.

And another popular pastime, below.

Unless something newsworthy occurs in the meantime, I’ll be back next with more from the Galapagos.

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Baby, It’s Cold Outside: Hangin’ Out in the Yard

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Blue Jay through the window

This grey, chilly day produced a few flurries and later in the afternoon, perhaps a sixteenth of an inch of snow. Whatever. I decided to stay home and see who came to the yard, instead of birding elsewhere.

I had to stand out in the cold for what seemed like a long time, I don’t know, maybe it was only 10 minutes but it felt longer, waiting for the birds to come back. Funny how the birds downtown will rush out to greet me, but the ones at home prefer to avoid me at all costs if possible.

But when they did finally come back, I counted at least 46 House Sparrows. Well, I didn’t count them all individually, I thought there were probably 50, but I decided to be conservative and enter the number “46” for ebird. Which makes it look like you did count them individually, I guess.

The cardinals were in the yard, which was nice of them, but the male didn’t want to show himself, so the best I could do was sneak a peek of him hiding behind a branch. The female was more accommodating. Or maybe hungry.

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A Blue Jay has been coming to the yard since I cut down my big tree. And this Blue Jay surprised me by showing up while I was still outside, but the light was so poor (below, left) I couldn’t get a good picture of him or her. Luckily it came back later in the afternoon when I was sneaking pictures through the windows (below, right).

A female Downy Woodpecker was easy to see outside, but the male pretty much eluded me until later I caught the back of his head through the window.

Not seeing so many Dark-Eyed Juncos this week, but there was one, below.

deju-yard-1-29-17-7176I put a new feeder up this week, and it’s apparent I didn’t assemble it too tightly so I’ll have to take it down one of these nights and see if I can make it more secure, but the House Finches seem to be enjoying it.

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House Finches

Doesn’t look like there’s going to be a change in the weather for a while so we may as well get used to this.

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Black-Capped Chickadee and Downy Woodpecker

I’ll be back in a few with some photos from the wilds of Chicago’s lakefront parks.

Fog Settles In

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Northern Cardinal outside my house this morning

Inertia beckons. The fog was thick on Thursday when I visited Millennium Park, but it was even thicker this morning when Lesa and I decided to try birding the Palos area.

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Downy Woodpecker, McGinnis Slough

McGinnis Slough was fairly quiet except for Canada Geese that kept flying over. We did see the outline of perhaps 500 or so in the water except we could barely make out their shapes in the fog. There were American Tree Sparrows on the ground not far from the parking lot.

We did manage to see several Common Mergansers at the south end of the preserve. The shot of the geese flying overhead gives you an idea of how foggy it was.

We drove over to the Little Red Schoolhouse to see birds at the feeders, if nothing else, and true to Lesa’s prediction, there were two Tufted Titmice.

We also had our only White-Throated Sparrow at the Schoolhouse. There’s an American Tree Sparrow behind it.

wtsp-little-red-schoolhouse-1-22-17-6504Perhaps the brightest feature at the Schoolhouse was the fungus growing below.

fungus-little-red-schoolhouse-1-22-17-6520Here are a few pictures from Thursday, downtown at Millennium Park. There are perhaps 20 or 30 White-Throated Sparrows distributed in several areas. Below are two that came for the birdseed I had brought with me.

American Robins are starting to show up here and there. They never really go completely away but they associate loosely in flocks in the winter.

European Starlings are returning too. They used to overwinter but the last few years I have noticed their absence, so they must be migrating a bit for a while.

eust-millennium-1-19-17-6359Those tough year-round city natives, Rock Pigeons, are always somewhere in the Loop. Below, two pied pigeons.

Individually they’re really unique. But I have to be careful not to pay too much attention to them or they’ll think I’m going to feed them.

pied-pigeons-millennium-1-19-17-6380This Robin was interesting too. How much color can I get out of any bird in this light?

amro-millennium-1-19-17-6341The forecast is for cooler temperatures, rain turning to snow, winter isn’t over yet. But this week I heard some bird song from a Black-Capped Chickadee, an American Robin and a Northern Cardinal. That gives me hope.

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!