I could almost just as easily say post-crow, as it has been months since I have seen crows. But the weekend before last I managed to go down to the lakefront parks where all the activity was just north of Buckingham Fountain. There was a flock of warblers that I attempted to follow, but the moment I saw and heard crows, I knew I had to follow their cawing.
Just north of Buckingham Fountain. They turned out to be pre-teens, still a little awkward, losing the last of their brown feathers for their adult plumage that resembles blue-black velvet. But finding a place to put peanuts is more of a challenge than it used to be. There are fences surrounding all the grassy areas. And of course there had to be workers emptying trash cans. I didn’t want them to think they had to clean up peanuts too. I put the peanuts inside a wrought-iron fence that surrounded a sculpture.
The young crows barely hesitated. It occurred to me later that I have never met these birds before, but we all seemed to know each other. I didn’t even have my black tote bag, instead I was hiding peanuts in my backpack. But the moment I took out the peanuts and put them down, the crows came quickly. Indeed they had been following me, anticipating the result.
And I knew I didn’t have to worry about them leaving peanuts there for long, as they tried to cache as many as possible before taking off to stash them.
I hope I have more opportunities to see the crows as I miss their company terribly. It’s reassuring to know I can still find them somewhere along the lakefront.
I will be back, with the warbler part of that morning.
As the days get ever-so-slightly shorter, commitments increase. I’m not sure why that is. But suddenly it seems there is less time for more things to do. A visit to McGinnis Slough had been on my mind for weeks ever since the last time I drove by the entrance was closed for paving the driveway, and there was no access. I got up as early as I could Sunday morning to visit the Slough and then the Portage.
A Slough in name only…
I think the last time I posted from the Slough, I was commenting on the low water levels following perhaps a flooding situation. But the summer weather since has not been kind to the Slough. Indeed it is all overgrown and there is barely any water, so all the birds I would normally see have gone somewhere else.
There were Mallards and Wood Ducks. I saw two distant Great Egrets, but no Great Blue Herons. Normally the slough would be hosting scores of these herons. No such luck this year.Perhaps indicative of the situation was the first bird I saw, the bedraggled-looking Northern Cardinal below.
There were a few blackbirds around too, but the breeders are gone.
Red-Winged Blackbird, hiding the red
When not distracted by birds, the vegetation grabs my attention. Could this be a new grass taking over? I think it is Bristly Sedge.
It was then I went to the Chicago Portage. I got there just in time to encounter all the dog-walkers, runners and cyclists, but it is always worth checking out. I have to remind myself sometimes that seeing fewer birds than I might want is still worthwhile from a reporting standpoint…
There were more Cedar Waxwings (below) than any other species. I can only assume they were cleaning up whatever mulberries the robins, who were absent, had left behind. That’s right, the robins that virtually take over the landscape have all gone somewhere else. I’m envisioning large fruit-eating flocks already in mini-migrations.
There was one distant but distinct Ruby-Throated Hummingbird. I hope to see more, as there is plenty of Jewelweed in bloom, but the window is narrowing for this species. Maybe I’ll have another week or two…
The theme for the day, perhaps, was shaping up. These were young birds starting to find their way in the big wide world, like the Eastern Kingbird below.
And the scraggly youngster below appears to be a young Great Crested Flycatcher.
I expect to see a lot of juvenile Indigo Buntings in the next few weeks, but Sunday just about the only bunting I encountered I could barely see.
I was happy to see a Turkey Vulture (adult) in the neighborhood. I think seeing so many different vulture species in East Africa years ago instilled a love and respect for them. Lately I have seen groups of these hanging out by the highways, where I’m sure they make a decent living off of roadkill.
The most accommodating bird at the Portage was the cardinal below who was singing with his back toward me but I guess that feeling of somebody looking at you caught his attention and he turned his face toward me.
Starting this Saturday, I will be leading weekly bird walks in two alternating locations. I was recruited for this position by a fellow bird-watching choir member. We’ll see how it goes. I plan on taking the camera with me, but the leading and listing responsibilities will make photography challenging. If nothing else, I will become more familiar with the two destinations which up until now I have rarely visited. The whole purpose of this is to catch the fall migration wave. I promise to report back as often as possible.
I almost forgot my little insect sampler from the Portage. Worth mention, perhaps, is the fact that there were at least 20 Monarch Butterflies. But it’s still hard for me to believe that is a larger number than I have seen all summer.
So as we experience the changes in the weather, the environment, the species we see… the changes are unsettling, but that’s still another glass is half-empty/half-full quandary.
My last thought is a little summertime-feeling music – Trois Gymnopedies by Eric Satie. The recording is from almost 4 years ago when I had fewer birds, it was the start of the second flock, and most of the Zebra Finch solos are the beginnings of my star singer, Arturo Toscanini, whose songs have progressed far beyond this and they continue to grow. One of these days I’ll have to see if I can trace the evolution of his song cycle.
At last. It didn’t last long, but we had a beautiful weekend last week and the trees were excited and blooming and the birds were singing and courting and I was recovering by sitting still and watching it all.
While I sat there I counted five White-Crowned Sparrows in the yard. That’s an all-time high. I am delighted that they considered my yard a stopover for at least week, on their way north to their breeding grounds. In particular, one male was singing loud and clear directly over me and as hard as I tried to get a video, I had too large a lens to capture his image with his song, but I did manage to record him on my cellphone which I was using to do a yard list on ebird.
The neighbors’ dog was out in their yard and she was going crazy over any squirrel that appeared.
The usual cast of characters included a Mourning Dove, an American Robin, and a few American Goldfinches.
There was some serious courting going on with a couple House Finches.
The Redbud is in full bloom.
And it’s hard to find a spot in the yard that doesn’t have some wild violets blooming on it. My plan is to try to eradicate most of it today. Presently we have had cool, rainy weather, so it will be a muddy business to remove, but no more rain is predicted until later tonight, and this may be my last chance to remediate the landscape.
I visited the Portage last Sunday to see how spring migration was unfolding there, and again yesterday to lead the first of my two bird walks donated to the Unity Temple auction. Both outings were full of birds and good times. I will be back with photos. My knee is not too happy about spending so much time negotiating uneven ground, but like physical therapy, in the end, I am regaining mobility. No pain, no gain. To be continued.
Last year two fellows I run into occasionally at the Chicago Portage, Steve and Mike, told me they had seen a Great Horned Owl. I believe it was Mike who showed me his stunning photo of the owl sitting on a stump over the water. But I never saw the owl until two weeks ago making my return trip on the trail that runs along the south side of the stream, when I flushed it and watched it fly to perch in a tree on the other side.
Then last weekend I saw two owls perched on the same branch, looking down at me. The first owl decided to take off when I lifted the camera, but the second owl sat there and stared sleepily at me.
So are they a pair? Most likely. I suspect the first owl is the female as it is larger. Then I wonder if they have a nest somewhere or if they’re shopping for one. Will I see baby owls? It’s more excitement than I can handle at the moment. But I do suspect that the owls’ presence will keep the other raptors I normally expect to see at the Portage away.
The Portage keeps changing. More trees coming down. I was saddened to see one of my two favorite birch trees in smaller pieces. I can’t imagine what was wrong with it.
I have seen Blue-Winged Teal the last two visits as well. I suspect they’re just visiting though and will go elsewhere to breed.
And a Canada Goose seems to have found her nesting spot in tree trunk.
Two weekends ago, it was Golden-Crowned Kinglets…
Last weekend there were a few Yellow-Rumped Warblers, although only one captured by the camera.
I was very happy to see a Tree Swallow last weekend.
Not so many sparrow species. Song and Fox Sparrows, still a few Juncos, and American Tree Sparrows still hanging on through the cold not-quite-spring-weather-yet.
Song Sparrow and Fox Sparrow above, Dark-Eyed Junco and American Tree Sparrow below…
A few more captures before I go… White-Breasted Nuthatch, American Robin, preening Mallard, American Goldfinch.
These pictures were all taken on April 8 and April 22. Unfortunately I don’t expect I’ll be getting near the Portage again until May 12 when I’m leading a small group on a bird walk as my donation to the fundraising member auction for Unity Temple. Until then, I will be traveling at a slower pace. Yesterday I had stem cell replacement therapy on my right knee. The procedure itself was not too awful, indeed I told the physician that his description of what he was about to do to me was far worse than the actual operation and I am hopeful recovery goes smoothly. I’m feeling better than last night: I woke up with very little pain, so now it’s more a matter of keeping stable using crutches for a couple more days to keep weight off the joint whenever I can. I’m looking forward to the final portion of the therapy on Tuesday which involves a simple plasma injection. If the weather is nice, which it is predicted to be, I will be spending the time in between blood draw and later injection birding North Pond and the Peggy Notebaert Museum grounds, a local birding hotspot right across the street from the medical building. I couldn’t have picked a better location to have this done!
On workdays, I can take a short walk along the Chicago River downtown sometimes in the early afternoon, weather permitting. Invariably there are always a few gulls. Herring Gulls watched over the river all winter, and now the Ring-Billed Gulls like the one above are coming in. I have decided it can’t hurt me to get better acquainted with them.
With the change of seasons other birds show up as well. Last week one day there were about twenty Red-Breasted Mergansers. I first followed one female fishing alone in the water right outside my office building.
When she took off in a northerly direction, I followed her and soon found the rest of the group. Several of the males were hanging around together.
It was nice to see the Red-Breasted Mergansers well one more time before they take off for their northern breeding grounds. They were busy disappearing quickly into the water for fish, and try as hard as I might, I could never capture the actual dive.
The light made interesting reflections on the water and the buildings. I have to wonder how it looks to the gulls that navigate this corridor daily.
Below is one of the Canada Geese that likely breed somewhere along the river this time of year. I keep thinking I see the same couple every year, in which case I imagine this could be the gander who swam off too far from wherever his beloved is nesting while patrolling the river, and is in a hurry to get back.
We are still enduring a blustery chill, but the sun is out today, at least for a while before the cloud cover comes back and the predicted rain will turn to snow. I doubt there will be much accumulation, and we may finally get a spring warm up toward the middle of next week. Migrant passerines are starting to show up, the cardinals were engaged in a sing-off this morning, and I am thankful life still has a reset button.
I’ve been home in body for almost three weeks, but my soul remains in Ecuador.
Coming back to a busy work schedule, holiday pressures, choir commitments has made it challenging to get through the photographs. I still have to ferret out most of the bird pictures, although I have been reviewing them every chance I get to put up on Field Guides’ webpage, since I feel an obligation to the group as I was the primary picture-taker. On top of that pressure is the reality that it takes twice as long to process the pictures on my newer MacBook Pro, designated the “travel laptop,” which is where the bulk of the pictures reside. We’ll be visiting those pictures soon, I hope. In the meantime, here is a sampling of what I downloaded to my older laptop after I got home.
The irresistible landscape is part of Cayambe-Coca National Park, which we visited on our way from Quito to our first night’s stay at Guango Lodge in Papallacta. Guango was the magical place I stayed at for one night last year on the way down to the Amazon.
I could easily return to this part of the world just to explore the plant life.
In this quick post I am adding a few bird photos of species we saw practically every day. Below on the left is a Speckled Hummingbird.
Not a hummingbird, but an irresistible flycatcher, the Cinnamon Flycatcher was also on the list almost every day.
Below is a tiny leaf-colored insect on a large leaf to give you an idea of scale, and a closer crop of the creature itself.
More amazing plant life from the paramo and montane cloud forest. According to Wikipedia there are over 100 species of endemic plants here.
A couple more hummer photos…
Below, a Chestnut-Breasted Coronet emerging from the flowers.And a Fawn-Breasted Brilliant, Chestnut-Breasted Coronet and a mystery bird with its back to us at the feeder.I will be back soon, the three-day weekend will offer more time to get caught up here and try to visit everyone else’s blogs I have not managed to see. I wish you all a joyous and peaceful holiday.
The cold is upon us. The possibility of winter seems suddenly everywhere. I wrote those two sentences two days ago, hoping I would want to change them, but we are heading into freezing temperatures overnight, so I may as well say “stet.”
Very busy at work, no weekday birding, and the weekends have been either rained out or too preoccupied as well. So here are a few pictures from a little time spent in the backyard the last couple weekends. Likely I will continue to see most of these birds, but the backdrop has already started changing.
I decided to not ignore the House Sparrows just because there are so many of them. Whether hanging out with a Mourning Dove above, or preening, hanging out at the bird bath, or eating peanuts below, House Sparrows, however ubiquitous, can be charming in their own right.
House Sparrows are also capable of aerial feats.
My last sighting of a White-Crowned Sparrow below was on my neighbor’s fence two weekends ago. Also had a visiting American Goldfinch.
The last bit of color in the yard before the leaves began turning was from the sedum in the pictures below.
And I had a short visit from what looks like a brand new male Downy Woodpecker.
The Common Milkweed proved to be very good for Milkweed Beetles.
My last butterfly was a Painted Lady. I won’t see them again until next summer. But the squirrels and the Northern Cardinals aren’t going anywhere.
This Dark-Eyed Junco was very comfortable and happy in the yard that last sunny weekend day. I’ve never seen a Junco try to eat peanuts before. Impressive.
I will be busy these next few days getting ready to go on what will likely be my last international trip for a while. I’m going back to Ecuador over the Thanksgiving holiday week. So I may not be able to manage another post before I leave.
If you are in celebrating Thanksgiving, or wherever you are, my best wishes for days filled with peace and love.