First Crow Post of 2023

Last weekend I was determined not to let another cloudy day deter me from having some fun, so on Sunday morning I drove downtown to visit the American Crows on the Chicago lakefront – armed with peanuts in the shell and a fresh batch of Crows Favorite Cookies I had baked the day before.

Since Crows always know ahead of time what is bound to happen, it didn’t take long for my followers to find me. But when I first rode the elevator up to street level from the underground parking garage, the sky was not inviting.

Yet within a moment or two I saw two Crows flying overhead. I crossed Columbus Drive and entered that section of Grant Park just north of Buckingham Fountain that does not have its own name, as far as I can tell. But it has a statue and a garden and other features that differentiate it from some of the other sections. Unfortunately those features did not invite photographs in the winter gloom.

Grant Park, north of Buckingham Fountain

I was soon joined by one Crow.

And within half a moment I had three – then four – Crows coming to see me.

It had occurred to me that photographing black birds on a gray day was not going to be fruitful, but the Crows gave me plenty of opportunities anyway.

The first Crow seemed to remember the cookies. But the others went for the peanuts initially. There was one Crow who decided to approach a piece of cookie by first jumping back from it in case it was a trap – or a bomb – and when the cookie did not attack it, the Crow bravely took the sample.

I took too many photographs of the Crows, but I haven’t visited with them for a year, so I couldn’t help myself. I just have to visit the lakefront more often this year.

A Crow observing a Gray Squirrel who went straight for the cookie

It was time to cross Jean Baptiste Dusable Lake Shore Drive and move toward the lakefront. The Crows came with me.

I should perhaps mention that the Crows were cawing in the key of B minor which matched the music playing in my head. I take for granted that they read my thoughts, but I had forgotten they also seem to be able to listen in on my ear worms.

Crows are great birds to feed, in no small part because they are fastidious in gathering their food and carrying it off to stash for later consumption. No mess!

At some point I noticed the sun was trying to come out from behind the clouds.

Once I was at the lakefront, the Crows followed me a bit but did not go beyond the Chicago Yacht Club. Unlike my visit last year, I had only about 8 Crows total this time with no others north of the yacht club at Monroe Harbor. So I brought home the extra cookies and peanuts. Cookies for me, peanuts for the squirrels.

There were not a lot of birds in and around the lake but I had a nice walk and it was just good to be on the lakefront again.

Monroe Harbor

At least I got to see a couple Red-breasted Mergansers for a change.

Sunshine, which had been absent all week, began to return by the time I was already on my way home. The next day, Monday, was The Sunny Day of the Week. Tomorrow, we are promised, sunshine returns. It will be colder than it has been, but it is January. I will likely visit the Chicago Portage.

I have more of the usual local visits to report and will be back. Looking forward to singing with the choir Sunday morning. Our three selections are all in honor of Martin Luther King Jr. Day.

Another Crow Post

When it occurred to me that nearly the entire month of February had gone by without another visit to the lakefront, I took advantage of last weekend’s beautiful weather on Sunday morning and went down to see the Crows and whatever else I could find.

In anticipation of however many Crows I could encounter and the chilly temperatures, I made a batch of Birdz Cookies to offer along with the peanuts in the shell. I was curious to see whether the Crows would remember the Birdz Cookies, which started out years ago as peanut butter-oatmeal-raisin and have gone through many healthier – and more delicious, I might add – modifications, while still remaining true to those three ingredients.

I didn’t see any Crows until I had walked past all of this.

Train tracks looking south from Jackson Street bridge
Buckingham Fountain

I was nearly at the corner where I would cross Monroe and then Lake Shore Drive when the first Crow found me. I perhaps should mention that until I see a Crow, I don’t stop to take the offering out of my backpack. So the Crows recognize me before they see the food. Either they have x-ray vision (which I wouldn’t doubt), or I fit the description of Crow Feeder, or both.

It wasn’t long before there were three more Crows.

And then the Birdz Cookies became the preferred snack. I was thrilled.

I mean, really, is there anything more beautiful than a glossy black Crow with a Birdz Cookie? Yeah, maybe one who has figured out how to grab a piece of cookie and a peanut at the same time.

When it was time to cross Lake Shore Drive and continue north along the lake, the Crows followed me, of course.

Down to the last Snow Crow…

Unlike my previous visit at the beginning of January, however, the Crows did not follow me along the lakefront. Then one singular Crow apart from the group of four appeared. Peanuts were an acceptable offering.

This Crow did not seem so comfortable with me. Checking me out, so to speak. So I kept my distance and did not risk offering cookies that were likely unfamiliar to him or her.

That was it with the Crows. I speculated later that perhaps the longer days and sunshine were already distracting the Crows with thoughts of spring and many of them were elsewhere. So I turned my eyes to the birds on the water. They were far off and there was still plenty of ice. Most of the ducks were Greater Scaup. And there were the expected Canada Geese, Mallards and Herring and Ring-billed Gulls.

Ice in the harbor that caught my eye.

The gulls reminded me of the Gull Frolic two weeks earlier. That’s a whole other blog post – to come.

I managed to blow up a few individual duck photos.

Common Goldeneye

The Mallard below was quite close.

Greater Scaup on the lake.

In all, it was gratifying to see Crows again on a beautiful day. But I had the problem of some leftover Birdz Cookies and there were yet more at home. I thought I would be trying to give them away, but after a few missed opportunities, I decided to simply eat them myself. I have managed, by devouring two a day, to enjoy them and not gain any appreciable weight in the process. But I likely won’t be making another batch once the weather warms up.

We had one very warm and later quite windy day yesterday. I met my dear friend Hannah for a walk at Columbus Park where we spent most of the time beginning to catch up on each other’s lives. It was still chilly enough for the water to be frozen. There also seemed to be a runners’ race of some sort going on. The songs of scores of Red-Winged Blackbirds filled the air.

Mallards on the ice at Columbus Park

When I got home I saw one male House Finch showing off the buds on the flowering crab.

I keep resisting temptation to revisit photos from last year before I archive them into perpetuity on an external hard drive, but even after missing a few morning walks this week or next, the immediacy of spring will tempt me back into the present. So either way, I will be back. We’ll see what happens next.

The Lakefront and Crows – At Last!

I have been thinking about visiting the Chicago lakefront – specifically the part of it that I used to work near – for months, until it became years, I think, at least as long as the pandemic. And with the distance from it and everything else that has transpired in the interim, I had grown more anxious about the entire prospect. I kept telling myself that it was simply a matter of familiarity gone stale, that there was likely nothing more to fear than before. It involves getting in the car, driving downtown, parking in the underground garage and walking around with the camera. As the prospect for one good sunny weekend day grew closer, I simply decided to go, envisioning the entire process until it felt safe.

So it was a beautiful day indeed. Bright sunshine, cold, yes, but not too windy. Just to commemorate my emergence from the elevator at the south end of the Art Institute I took the skyline snapshot and then I proceeded along Jackson to Grant Park, where I took a distant photo of Buckingham Fountain.

At that point, I had not yet seen nor heard a Crow. Indeed, I had no idea what to expect after so long. I had a sufficient supply of peanuts in my backpack, a few of which I had already moved to my right pocket when a Black-capped Chickadee greeted me from a hedgerow. I cracked open a peanut and left it for him or her and proceeded to walk through the park toward Lake Shore Drive. Then I heard a Crow call, and spotted it as it flew into the trees.

So there you are, I said. To which the Crow said, So there You are. A few peanuts on the ground later, we were engaged in a sort of mutual admiration conversation.

I want to clarify that I never feed wildlife outside of my backyard – except for the downtown park birds which are quite accustomed to handouts. Indeed had it not been for feeding the Crows I would never have gotten to know them at all. The way to a Crow’s heart…to paraphrase the saying.

By the time I got across Lake Shore Drive there were five Crows following me around. I had a feeling they had been waiting for me. As I had been waiting to see them. Either they had heard my thoughts about coming downtown, resonating as I filled the plastic bag with peanuts before I left, or perhaps they had just been reminiscing about The Peanut Lady during one of their roosts … or most likely, due to the boredom of winter, there was nothing else to attract their attention, like a raptor or spring.

I really didn’t see many more birds besides the Crows. There were gulls out on the ice, and Canada Geese, but the lake was frozen making it useless for diving ducks.

The lakefront trail was populated well enough with runners and walkers. I don’t remember taking the photo below as I usually try to avoid photographing people, but I was amused when I found it later.

There was a lot of ice!

Except for the Ring-billed Gull below, I stuck to photographing the Crows who are natural hams in front of the camera.

When I got to the boathouse, the Crows that had been following me around seemed a bit hesitant. It turned out that this was nearing the end of their territory and they didn’t want to share me with the Crows that were closer to the Columbia Yacht Club. I did briefly encounter a couple of the more northerly Crows on the way back. They appeared to be eating some grapes.

But I really have nothing more to offer than a lot of Crow pictures, to make up for all the Crow Posts that I have not been able to produce over the last two years. Although I now intend to visit the lakefront at least once a month and more than likely I will be visiting with Crows, as the days get longer and warmer there should be more of a variety of species.

I walked back through Maggie Daley and Millennium Park and came to about 20 Crows sitting on top of the modern wing of the Art Institute. They all started cawing loudly. Of course I had to leave them a few peanuts. But it was just really fun to receive such an enthusiastic welcome.

Here are a few more of the Crows in the snow and ice. February’s visit might not look all that different but we shall see.

Gazing across the ice toward the Adler Planetarium

This part of the lakefront trail is safe, but there are closures farther north due to ice and waves. As it turned out, the most threatened I felt yesterday had nothing to do with my expedition, but instead was when a driver on my left cut right in front of me from behind, with only a few feet to spare, when there was no other traffic – baffling, as if he or she never saw me to begin with – and this was on the way home about half a mile from my house. Luckily I have brakes and a horn which work, the latter of which I rarely use. I think driving has become more precarious altogether in the last couple of years – perhaps due to the Great Collective Distraction: ____________. Don’t ask which one I’m referring to, you can fill in the blank as needed.

Finally, Pine Siskins

After reading about the irruption of Pine Siskins for weeks, I kept wondering how I could have possibly missed seeing them. The species showed up in my yard for the first time in January of this year and I fondly remembered their cheery presence. I thought I might have seen one or two last week but I couldn’t be sure, and had to discount it as wishful thinking. Then last Sunday morning as I stood on the back porch, there they were. Only two of them, but they were all I needed to restore my faith in something. They didn’t stay long. Maybe they were playing hooky from some large flock somewhere.

The House Sparrows outnumber everybody else, of course.

Last Saturday was the first time I dared go out with my usual camera setup. The camera weighs two pounds and the lens is another three and a half. It doesn’t sound like a lot of weight but it’s dense and massive. Then there’s the issue of adjusting the focus with my left hand. My fingers are still slightly swollen and stiff, and I can’t maneuver entirely without pain. But I am in the painful stage of physical therapy now so I may as well enjoy my suffering and take pictures.

I had come to see if there were Sandhill Cranes – and there were, a few – but the skies were dominated by Canada Geese. Unfortunately the owners of the surrounding farms were hunting them. I didn’t see any fall from the sky but I wasn’t looking either, it was bad enough to hear the gunshots. Something else to think about when I visit this place in the fall.