Down by the River

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Juvenile Black-Crowned Night-Heron

I miss my crows. Terribly. I miss their inventive, gentle camaraderie and sense of humor. And their joy for peanuts. I will have to see if I can find them one of these weekends when I’m not conscripted to be elsewhere and it’s not pouring rain.

Crow LSE 06-27-2017-0782I started writing this in the midst of a constant downpour. Contemplating how I am getting more used to the new workplace. My mood improved about the new gig after managing to get out for a couple short walks along the river last week. Birding along the river wasn’t half bad.

It turns out the Black-Crowned Night Heron at the top of this post was a rarity for this time of year. I had no idea what it was when I took the picture, I only pointed my camera lens at it and followed it as it flew by. It was darker than a first cycle gull and that’s all I knew about it until I took the picture. And then checking it on the camera when I got back into the office I misidentified it, but kept thinking it over and later it occurred to me that it was a juvenile Black-Crowned Night Heron.

Below, a more likely suspect for a darker bird – a first cycle Herring Gull.

Not to be confused yet, at least, with the more prevalent adult Ring-Billed Gulls that have not yet left the area.

RBGU 10-12-2017-6332I got over to the Boeing garden a couple times last week. On Thursday I was faced with convincing two security guards that I was not taking pictures of the building, but of birds. Not sure if showing them my American Birding Association cap helped, but they left me alone after kindly admonishment.

I pondered a spy novel about a terrorist disguised as a bird photographer but decided it wasn’t worth the effort. The Yellow-Rumped Warbler above was still hanging out in one of the young oak trees. (No suspense in that sentence.)

Below is one of my favorite migrating sparrows, a Lincoln’s Sparrow. This one has been hanging out by the train station.

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Lincoln’s Sparrow

Likely the last Golden-Crowed Kinglet I will see before spring.

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Golden-Crowned Kinglet

A Gray-Cheeked Thrush…

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Gray-Cheeked Thrush

And a more ubiquitous Hermit Thrush…

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Hermit Thrush

The White-Crowned Sparrow below flew into a plexiglas barrier and then I found it hiding in a dark spot by some low vegetation on Friday morning. I called Chicago Bird Collision Monitors and then, following their instructions, dropped it off in their parked vehicle, after placing the bird in a paper sandwich bag I have been carrying around for weeks just for this very purpose. It was taken with other survivors to Willowbrook Wildlife Center for rest and rehabilitation.

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White-Throated Sparrow requiring help

Below, another White-Throated Sparrow and a Hermit Thrush foraging in the not-so-pristine leaf litter at Boeing.

Thursday was the last time I saw the Blackpoll Warbler that was there for a few days.

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Blackpoll Warbler

At last we are experiencing fall-like weather, finally, following the spate of weekend thunderstorms. As the weather changes, so will migration. I hope to find more birds following the river’s path.

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Ring-Billed Gull

Summer Urban Wildlife Update

Crows Cancer Survivirs 07-26-17-2343Not much going on with birds in the downtown parks these days. It is breeding season and occasionally I hear baby birds, see a youngster here and there, but the warm weather also brings out the tourists and I think the birds are keeping a low profile.

I am always happy to see my crow friends. But last week when I visited Lake Shore East Park, below is a picture of the first crow I saw. I am sure crows die on occasion but it is very unusual to see a dead one. I called Chicago Bird Collision Monitors first to see if there was any protocol, perhaps the state was still collecting crows to test for West Nile Virus, but they checked and called me back and they had no suggestions on what to do. I was surprised no one had found the carcass and removed it, given the workers who seem to be constantly maintaining the gardens. Although under a tree, the bird was in plain sight from the walk.

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I hope this isn’t Fuzzy.

A couple women walking by with baby carriages stopped to talk to me about the dead crow, they were concerned and sad to see it. Eventually I met a young woman named Tess who proved to be a crow soul mate and she promised to investigate who to notify as she lives nearby. She wrote me an email a couple days later saying she finally managed to tell one of the gardeners, as the management in her building had been clueless. Her description of the gardener’s eyes welling up with tears when she showed him the dead crow was touching. Tess surmised that the gardener was as fond of the crows as he seemed to be of tending the gardens. That explains to me why the crows chose Lake Shore East Park to raise their young, they feel welcome there.

In any event, the crow funeral gathering must have occurred a lot earlier because the two or three crows present with youngsters seemed to be going on with their lives, although I am quite certain they were aware of the corpse and the attention we paid to it. I am just hoping I have not lost an old friend, Fuzzy, who was hanging out with this bunch. I think Fuzzy was himself a juvenile only a few years ago.

Hot, sunshiny summer afternoons are good for butterflies, or at least they ought to be. I got lucky Tuesday with a Monarch at Lake Shore East Park.

Other birds finding ways to deal with the heat were the House Sparrows bathing in the fountain below…

HOSPs LSE Park 07-25-17-2142and Rock Pigeons preening in the shade or sun-bathing in the mulch.

Yesterday I didn’t get as far as Lake Shore East because the crows met me at the Cancer Survivors’ Garden instead. There was only one fledgling.

But while this fledged kid was more vocal than on other occasions, it was also learning to forage for itself. If you click on the pictures below, in the first one you can see it showing off a beak full of small worms.

Just as I was leaving the garden yesterday, a Tiger Swallowtail Butterfly flew into the onion patch.

Tiger Swallowtail Cancer Survivirs 07-26-17-2401Here’s one more of the fledgling.

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“So you’re that peanut lady.”

Summertime Citified Crow Post

Flying Crow 07-11-17-1101Tuesday afternoon, before the rains came, I got a chance to go to Lake Shore East Park and visit with the Crows. There were two fledglings present. I expected to see them because I had already seen my first fledgling crow while sitting in the office last week: the Fire Escape Crow was taking one of its youngster for its first trip to the zoo, meaning the fire escapes that go up the sides of two buildings facing each other in an alley. If you are a Crow, you can hop from one level to the next and watch the people in cages inside.

So I had preening and flying Crows at Lake Shore East Park, and of course we had peanuts, but I was most intrigued by these two very young-looking fledged kids who were pretty quiet, a lot of just checking things out with those big blue eyes.

And it was nice to get a couple flight shots, seems to be easier now that I finally figured out the back button auto focus, I barely tried. Love when the feathers look like they’re dripping down.

On the way back from Lake Shore East I caught a Red Admiral on a flower in Millennium Park.

Red Admiral 07-11-17-1116And the cicada below was sitting on a wall underneath the locust trees still left after the Maggie Daley remodeling. It almost looks like a fledgling to me.

Cicada 07-11-17-0986One more Flying Crow shot almost out of the frame.

Flying Crow 07-11-17-0992Lots more coming when I get around to it. It’s a toss up these days as to where one spends more time, between sweat and air-conditioning. ūüôā

Lazy Daze of Spring

Yesterday was my first day “off” in a long time. “Off” means I have adequate time for household chores, maybe even the freedom to choose which ones I want to accomplish. But it was also a nice day to be outside, so there was the frustrating choice between sleeping in and staying at home or getting up early and going birding somewhere. I chose the first option, woke up late enough, fed the birds and then spent two hours digging up buckhorn plantain from what used to be grass on the parkway. Because it has gone to flower and seed dispersal, cutting it with a push mower is not an option. However, I didn’t last long enough to remove it all. A project for a cool night later this week, maybe, with the days so long now I have two hours or more of light after I get home from work. I don’t have any grass seed to replace it with, so likely I am just helping it spread thicker, but you never know.

Before I engaged in the Battle of Buckhorn Plantain, I went around the backyard looking for bugs and anything else that caught my eye. I was happy to find this Milkweed Beetle living up to its name by hanging out on the swamp milkweed, thus making its identification easy. It’s a longhorn beetle, with its antennae emerging from its eyes.

There weren’t many other photographable insects, unfortunately. The wasp below was in the front garden.

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Black and Yellow Mud Dauber

The weirdest things in my backyard are the plants. Below is a flowering parsnip. I don’t know why I’ve let it go to flower, maybe half out of curiosity and half out of wondering if I will ever want more parsnips. The plants shot up from out of nowhere this spring – I had one last year and did not know what it was, so when it seemed to have multiplied without flowering, I dug it up a couple months ago and that’s when I recognized it was a parsnip, from seeds I planted so long ago I had totally forgotten about it. This could become like the cilantro that keeps reseeding itself in the same small section dedicated to edibles. I think it’s time to dig up a parsnip or two and see if the roots are decent-sized. So much better if I can eat them.

Parsnips 6-18-17-0282Another live-and-let-live plant is below. This year I am not in the mood to fight it. I’ve tried removal before, but now I’m just letting it do its thing, as long as it stays confined to the same spot and doesn’t spread too aggressively. It grows under the partial shade of my Scotch Pine. Apparently Common Yarrow has medicinal properties. This may have to be the answer to everything if there is no more Medicare.

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Common Yarrow

Below on the left is Rudbeckia which is about to start blooming. I love this flower, commonly known as a Black-Eyed Susan. The purple flowers on the right look like some kind of Verbena. I scattered seeds in a spot a few years ago and they manage to quietly come back. It never fails, I always think I will remember what I planted and I almost never do…

The real surprise yesterday was the appearance of two poppies (?) peeking out from a field of Purple Coneflower plants that are just beginning to form seed heads and blossoms. I haven’t had a poppy, California or otherwise, in years. I have no idea what the little one on the right is or where it came from. This is the fun of having a haphazard garden. I hope it isn’t something rare. Please weigh in if you recognize it.

Enough of my confusion with flora in my yard. I managed to visit a few Crows on Thursday afternoon. They were happy to see me. I am hoping for some fledglings in the next few weeks.

AMCR 6-15-17-0237And below, a species of Viburnum that has been growing and producing berries for years – I rarely get to see this many berries before they all disappear, so this is for the record.

Some kind of Viburnum 6-18-17-0313I’ll take you back to Michigan, Panama and the Galapagos in the not-too-distant-I-hope future until or unless I am otherwise distracted. I can hope for more insects, for instance, and it seems to me I have been seeing not just fewer bees but other insects as well. I saw a large dark-colored dragonfly this morning at One South Wacker. I didn’t have my camera out but I don’t think I could get a picture of a moving dragonfly anyway, and I am not very good at identification. I was the only person to stop walking and stand and watch the dragonfly. As delighted as I was to see it, I was also sorry it had to navigate the concrete and steel canyons.

Never imagined I’d be complaining about a lack of insects, but without insects a lot of birds and other creatures will be in very bad shape. I haven’t seen a firefly yet this year. But I can still hope. We are all in this together.

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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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!

City Migrants – Fall Migration 2016

If I’d been thinking clearly I probably would have postponed the cataract removal until¬†after¬†fall migration, but I ventured anyway into the wilds of downtown Chicago after I convinced myself that with patience and practice I could temporarily look through the view finder on the Canon with my left eye… Anyway, I managed to find quite a few cooperative¬†birds to photograph and have decided to share them now before I invite¬†you back to the Galapagos. A couple more shots of the Chestnut-Sided Warbler below. Responding to my thoughts, as I’m taking pictures of him,¬†of “what a beautiful bird you are.”

First-year male American Redstarts are always welcome.

Things didn’t seem to get really active until last week. There’s probably a whole lot more I could have done if I put my mind to it, but I’ll get my new prescription lens in a few days and with luck, all¬†my kvetching will fade away. (Don’t hold me to it!)

Red-Winged Blackbirds breed in Millennium Park so these birds below likely hatched this year.

Below, a Canada Warbler on the left and a Wilson’s Warbler on the right, both at Lake Shore East Park a couple weeks ago. The Canada was shy.

Juvenile European Starlings in their in-between plumage, which I find fascinating. They look more like “Star”-lings to me. They’re not exactly migrants…unless they’re from another planet?

starlings-9-9-2016-lse-park-0604I wonder if the Common Grackle below could be a molting adult, without its long tail.

cogr-9-16-2016-lse-molting-1005Magnolia Warblers have been coming through for weeks.

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Not a lot of thrushes this year – sometimes they show up in large groups. A Gray-Cheeked Thrush that was at 155 N. Wacker on the left, and a Hermit Thrush on the right and below.

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Hermit Thrush

Two views of an Orange-Crowned Warbler at the Boeing garden, below.

Two Blackpoll Warblers…

Similar to the Blackpoll but a bit different this time of year, a Bay-Breasted Warbler. I think! Confusing Fall Warblers redux.

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Bay-Breasted Warbler…?

Two more Blackpolls below.

And now, signalling the tail end of warbler migration, Palm Warblers, below…

and Yellow-Rumped Warblers (Myrtle subspecies).

And the same two species in flight, Palm on the left, Yellow-Rumped (with the yellow rump showing), below. Note the similarities…and differences.

My prize discovery last week was a beautiful male Black-Throated Blue Warbler. I think we have been seeing more of this species the last couple years but it’s still not common and always special. Luckily this one liked to show off.

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Black-Throated Blue Warbler

Golden-Crowned Kinglets are coming through but hard to capture in cloudy light. Or at least that’s my excuse.

gcki-9-29-2016-lse-park-1873On the 29th I saw this presumably female Wilson’s Warbler, below, at Lake Shore East Park, and am glad I had pictures to prove it to ebird – apparently it’s late in the season to see a Wilson’s. Others reported seeing them too, in the area.

I always look forward to the return of the White-Throated Sparrows. I have seen a couple other species too and I’m hoping to take some pictures of them this week.

The Black-and-White below appears to be a female.

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Black-and-White Warbler

A late Magnolia.

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Magnolia Warbler

Red-Breasted Nuthatches are visible this year.

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Red-Breasted Nuthatch

I have a new crop of juvenile Crows that look for me. We will hang out more over the winter months when there are no more migrants.

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I had to run an errand on Friday all the way over to the river, and on the way back into the office, as I crossed the street at Wells and Madison, I heard a loud “caw-caw-caw.” I stopped and looked up but saw nothing. “Caw-caw-caw” again. I waited. People streamed¬†by me on their way to wherever, I’m sure they did not hear the crow, and no one was curious about why I had stopped to look. Then, in the top branches of a locust tree planted in the sidewalk across the street, the crow moved. After we acknowledged each other’s presence, he was silent. I crossed the street to get a better look and he appeared to be fiddling with something dark but I can’t say¬†what it was, a bat, shoe leather, hard to tell¬†without binoculars. But how nice to be recognized by this super-intelligent creature. Made my day. ūüôā