Going the Distance

It’s a slow, steady drip as the bucket of What Next is filling rapidly and seems about to overflow. I keep falling back into the grounding exercises that keep me going. Bake a loaf of bread. Go for a walk in the woods. Chocolate-covered almonds.

I voted yesterday morning. I wonder now if it was worth the effort. After cutting my little voter ID card out of the flyer I received in the mail weeks ago, I walked around the block to the elementary school entrance where the polls were open. The voter ID was identical to the two older ones that were still living in my wallet, but I wanted to make everything as easy as possible for the over-taxed election officials. I have voted in every election since I moved here 19 years ago. But yesterday, I could not be found in the system. I had to re-register. When I did finally get my paper ballot, which was what I preferred anyway over the new voting machines that weren’t working, my ballot could not be scanned until some future time when the scanner would be operating. I hope things improved after I left and went into the office for the last time until further notice. I worked a full day and came home to my birds and to ponder my newly-enforced remote existence.

These photographs are from Sunday. The morning was cloudy so I spent some time in the yard trying to get pictures of my most frequent visitors. The Goldfinches are still dominating the action. I estimated there were perhaps forty or more of them, outnumbering the House Sparrows. That’s a thing.

The afternoon promised sunshine so I decided to check McGinnis Slough. As usual, most of the birds were waterfowl way beyond my ability to distinguish them, and I had not felt like taking my scope. There were pitifully few passerines. In fact, I did not see or hear one Red-Winged Blackbird, which seems very odd, especially after having them at the Portage last week.

There were a lot of Northern Shovelers, and I managed to get one in flight early on. Beyond that, the only “near” bird that stood out was a Blue-Winged Teal.

Rain is in the forecast for today, tomorrow and Friday. So I will definitely have to go out this weekend. The gym was officially closed for business yesterday, so I can’t swim. I am going to try to work from home, which is something I never did very often to begin with. But all connection now will be over the Internet entirely, save for the very few times I may have to go out and buy something. I have enough food for myself to likely last a year. (As for toilet paper, I ordered a case of bamboo toilet paper from Who Gives a Crap months ago and just opened it recently. I am not in the habit of giving plugs to anybody but they seem to be a worthwhile organization, donating a portion of their profits to providing sanitation facilities in underdeveloped areas of the world. Unfortunately if you are so tempted, they are out of stock as well, I just checked.) If I need to buy anything, it will be food for the birds that will dictate my immediate spending habits.

The weekend provided a little entertainment indoors. My Zebra Finches found interest in my socks, and I started to build a little musical interlude with Dudlee’s cooing for inspiration.

Here are a few more pictures from Sunday’s yard. I’m getting restless to start cleaning it up but we still have the possibility of frost. However, I suspect projects will develop with the enduring isolation. Beyond music and other indoor diversions, I need exercise and I need to go outside. Plain and simple. I’ll likely visit the Portage a lot more these next few weeks, to monitor the beginnings of Spring Migration.

Scruffy-looking male American Goldfinches are molting away into their breeding plumage.

I hope you are all safe and well and finding some solace in the extra peace and quiet that is inevitable with sequestration. I also hope your connections with loved ones are substantial and enduring. We can all discover a lot more about ourselves when we’re tested like this. Let’s look for a silver lining somewhere in all of this and the world comes together for the common good.

On and Off the Trail

I think I’ve found one reason why my feeders have been left alone lately. Saturday I came home from birding and looked out the back porch windows. There was a Cooper’s Hawk sitting in the flowering crab. I didn’t know if I’d be able to document the occasion as usually the minute I go for the camera, the bird vanishes. But this one not only stayed, but after preening in my flowering crab, she moved over to my neighbor’s fence and sat there for the longest time, even tolerating me coming out the back door and taking photographs for several minutes. This is obviously a young bird. She even looked a little bored.

I couldn’t go to the Portage Saturday. When I got there, the entrance to the parking lot was blocked by two forest preserve vehicles and roped off. I realize now that a tree close to parking was being removed. I turned around and went to Ottawa Trail, not knowing what to expect this time of year.

There were obstacles on the trail everywhere, which made the desolation and quiet all the more interesting. I guess.

It was all I could do to get pictures of the White-Throated Sparrow and a lovely Song Sparrow as they foraged around in the vegetation. There was a Winter Wren but I couldn’t focus quickly enough. The monster lens is all the more challenging in the cold with gloves.

I’ve wanted a decent photograph of a Dark-Eyed Junco all winter. I’ve seen them in my yard very early in the morning. I’ve seen small flocks of them on occasion. But I can’t get one to sit still long enough. This is strange after I’ve had them practically walk up to me on previous occasions. So the one below will have to do for the moment.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t include the Canada Geese on the Des Plaines…

Desperate to capture anything that moved, I followed this fox squirrel for a while.

And could not resist a shot at the annoying police helicopter hovering overhead. The thought crossed my mind they might be looking for someone. I can verify that if the birds were scarce that morning, humans were even more so.

There was some lovely tree fungus on the way out.

I went to the Portage yesterday before I started my annual Cinnamon Oatmeal Raisin Bread Manifesto, the loaves from which I will likely continue to distribute into the New Year. The only thing better than the smell of bread baking is cinnamon bread baking. The candlelight service last night was absolutely gorgeous and I’m glad I took part, although I almost fainted from continually standing up to sing carols in between the parts of the service we sang as a choir, all arranged artfully around prayers and the homily and… I was glad to come home, tuck the birds in and go to sleep. It’s good to feel like all is well, if only for a moment or a day. I didn’t get through any of my household projects, but there’s still next weekend. Today just feels like a good day to linger, play music, write, and restore. And dream about longer days filled with more music.

I wish I could share this bread with each and every one of you!

Winding down…

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Rose Mallow at McGinnis

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.

McGinnis 8-19-18-7939

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.WODu w MALL McGinnis 8-19-18-8024Perhaps indicative of the situation was the first bird I saw, the bedraggled-looking Northern Cardinal below.

NOCA McGinnis 8-19-18-7914There were a few blackbirds around too, but the breeders are gone.

RWBL McGinnis 8-19-18-8000

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…

Portage 8-19-18-8147There 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…

RTHU Portage 8-19-18-8072The 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.

GCFL 8-19-18-8173I 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.

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Indigo Bunting

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.

TUVU 8-19-18-8184The 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.

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Northern Cardinal

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.

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!

bcch-11-27-16-4993

Spring, Summer, Fall – Which is it?

BWTE McGinnis 4-23-2016-7010

Blue-Winged Teal

It seems we have been through all the seasons in the course of one week. But in spite of the weather, the days are getting longer and although my efforts to observe spring migration have been limited, I still have a post within me struggling to get written.

I went to McGinnis Slough on Saturday. It was overcast but warmer than the past couple days, and not yet the predicted 80 degrees for Sunday. Sunday birding was out of the question anyway as I was singing with the Unity Temple Choir. More about that below.

The surprise right off the parking lot was to see several Great Egrets fishing and a couple Great Blue Herons as well. I expect to see these birds this time of year, but to have so many on the viewer’s side of the slough was what surprised me, although I did not get close enough for great shots because I didn’t want to risk disturbing them anymore than I already was…

Passerines were few and far between.

There were distant American White Pelicans although a couple came in for a second or two.

Among American Coots, Ring-Necked Ducks, a couple Buffleheads and a Scaup or two there were several Northern Shovelers.

Above, a surprise visit from a Muskrat, and a Double-Crested Cormorant drying off.

Maybe my best captures were the Caspian Terns.

Caspian Tern McGinnis 4-23-2016-6863

Caspian Tern McGinnis 4-23-2016-6861At opposite ends of the slough, I ran into two other individual birders and we exchanged information. The second one suggested I go to the newest section of Orland Grasslands to look for Lapland and Smith’s Longspurs. I find it a bit funny that I exchanged names with neither of these people, but it’s probably all any of us can do to talk to each other with the distraction of looking for birds first and foremost in our minds.

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A section of Orland Grasslands

By the time I got to Orland there were no Longspurs that I could see, but I did have a couple Horned Larks. Next time I’ll go there first and maybe get luckier.

A well-camouflaged Killdeer was present also…

Killdeer Orland 4-23-2016-7096And more Caspian Terns.

Caspian Terns Orland 4-23-2016-7108As for Sunday’s choir performance, below is the poster that tells it all.

Beatitude Mass for the HomelessThis beautiful and moving experience will be part of me for a long time to come. And in a moment of reflection later, about the unifying experience while we were singing, I realized maybe I gained an insight into something the birds do all the time…

So I wrote a little poem about it:

 A choir takes flight.
Sopranos, altos, tenors, baritones, basses all come together
As one organism, on the wave of a vibration
One sound with many voices.
Imperceptibly, a slight hesitation explodes rapid-fire through the entirety,
The entrance dangling in the balance,
Just as imperceptibly, swept back into the fold of the music
Like a murmuration of starlings
Carried far above the trappings of gravity
Weightless,
Wait-less,
Into the rafters

Meanwhile Back at the Bungalow

Drew in the Kitchen Window

Drew looking out the Kitchen Window

No matter how distracted I may become by It All, and that’s amounted to Very Distracted Lately, there is always ongoing comedy/drama/opera relief going on at home.

Of course when it’s that rare sunny afternoon I’m home and able to sneak a picture or two of the indoor crowd, invariably we haven’t cleaned yet. So what few pictures I have here are cropped as much as possible…

A while ago I decided to buy the music to the Ravel Piano Concerto in G, simply to learn the adagio so it wouldn’t make me cry every time I heard it. In any event it’s a nice piece for the birds to chime in on. Drew likes it. You can hear him singing along in the beginning of the clip below. Arturo Toscanini, a Zebra Finch, sings one of his many songs before the music starts, and there’s also a lot of bathing going on which translates into sounds of water spraying everywhere.

Dudlee on the back door curtain rod

Dudlee on the back door curtain rod

Drew and Dudlee have become friendlier and they hang out together, but she still has somewhat of a crush on Mr. Green (Jeremy Casanova Green) the Budgie who still wants to be a Zebra Finch and spends much of his time imitating Zebra Finch chatter, chasing Zebra Finch girls and sweet-talking the hens when he can corner one of them.

Getting a young budgie female for Mr. Green did not work out. In fact, sadly, Bianca disappeared over a month ago and I have not yet found her. I suspect she was not well or sufficiently feisty enough to fit in with the crowd, as she spent longer than usual (days) inside the cage she was in, too timid to come out even though the door was open after the first day or so and everyone else was going in and out. Mr. Green did finally show her the ropes but didn’t pay a lot of attention to her, and she was quite reticent. While I don’t think the other birds did anything to her, I suspect she made sure she would not be found by them or me.

I am not going to repeat the experiment. At first I thought another green budgie, or even two, might persuade Mr. Green to identify with his own species, but I have decided the older the birds get, the harder it is to change things. If Mr. Green identifies with the Zebra Finches, so be it. It’s my fault, however unintentional. I can cut Mr. Green some slack and say I’m not sure the chasing is all his idea as the Zebra Finches do quite enough of it among themselves. So we will continue as a dysfunctional family.

Mr. Green

Mr. Green

If I can ever get Arturo Toscanini to sing his full-throated repertoire like he does when I’m not recording him, I will put a recording in a future post. He has evolved from one little song into about four or five and when he strings them all together and does variations on the themes it’s quite impressive.

Zebra Finches

Zebra Finches

One more picture below of Drew in the kitchen window. His eye-ring is wider than Dudlee’s and his primary tail feathers are longer, I am sure to enable his fantastic displays. Which he does quite elaborately from time to time, trying to impress the Zebra Finch females (I guess he picked this up from Mr. Green).

Drew at the back window

Drew at the back window

The Society Finches are still with us but somewhat harder to photograph. I never dreamed they would be intimidated by Zebra Finches who are smaller than they are.

So it’s back to the drawing board for that world peace model… 🙂

 

 

Thoughts on Songs for Birds

Painted Lady

Painted Lady

(All the photographs in this post were taken at Lurie Garden, Millennium Park, Chicago on a couple afternoons last week…and have nothing to do with the content.)

It was a somewhat quiet weekend, with plenty of time to sleep and reflect. I had only one mission, and that was to drive into the city on Saturday morning to take my guitars in to Chicago Fretworks for repair. I have been thinking about doing this for years, only to somehow talk myself out of it with that inner voice that asked, “When are you going to find the time to play?” and knowing full well that after not having played for more years than I care to admit, it would be worse than riding a bicycle after a long absence, for the frustration of trying to build up calluses on my left fingertips alone.

Clouded Sulphur Lurie 8-5-15-8464

Clouded Sulphur

But a number of forces have converged to light the fire under me to start playing my guitars again. Perhaps the most significant force is a need to respond to all the insanity. It has been and will always be wonderful to play piano, but I miss the guitar for the intimacy of cradling an instrument on my lap, with the vibrations of the strings going right through me. This is how I will write songs again. Only this time, they will be songs for birds.

Common Green Darner

Common Green Darner

I trust the indoor crowd will bear with me while I regain enough facility to sound not too bad. I have fewer expectations of any prowess than I did when I went back to playing piano, so it shouldn’t be too humiliating. Then there lurks in the back of my mind the thought that eventually, weather permitting, I could play music for wild birds again. Even if it means coming downtown on a weekend, I would love to play music for my crows. And by that time have something else to sing for them besides “There is Nothing Like a Crow” to the Rodgers and Hammerstein tune for “There is Nothing Like a Dame.”

Twelve-Spotted Skimmer

Twelve-Spotted Skimmer

The forces that have converged? I am giving credit at this point only to the positive ones. Falling in love with David Wax Museum. Not wishing I was young and on the road again, just finding so much in their music to explore and connect with. The music is infectious, and David Wax’s lyrics are often priceless. Personal Anthems.

Hearing Mavis Staples interviewed twice on NPR: she talked about singing protest songs for Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. The sense that music had a purpose beyond music. I don’t necessarily aim to inspire anyone, but I feel the need to protest the insanity. To make noise. And this is the only true way I know how.

American Lady

American Lady

If there can be any silver lining in the disappointing fact that Operation Rubythroat’s excursion to Guatemala in November–which I was looking forward to–has been canceled due to lack of participation, I will have more time to play the guitars and the cost of rebuilding my Guild 12-string will be less painful!

Monarch on Swamp Milkweed

Monarch on Swamp Milkweed

Making music is good for an old body, too. All the pains and inconvenient stiffnesses that were making my life miserable, no doubt in a negative response to the insanity, seem to be floating outward, released, wafting in the air, or in the case of swimming, lost to the water in the pool… I can almost fly. If nothing else, my heart will soar. With the birds.

P.S. The pictures in this post are not related to the topic but I suspect they’re not totally unrelated either?

Wasps in the Rattlesnake Master

Wasps in the Rattlesnake Master