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.

Dead Crow LSE Park 07-17-17-1784

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.

Fledge Crow Cancer Survivirs 07-26-17-2245

“So you’re that peanut lady.”

Remnants from the 4th of July Weekend

Here are a few remnant pictures from the Cook County Forest Preserves I visited over the weekend. We’re enduring a hot spell right now with high humidity and while rain looms in the forecast, it’s pretty unpredictable. As much as we could use the rain, I also expect the timing of it might interfere with any as-yet-unformed weekend plans to go birding Sunday. I might just swing by the Schoolhouse and look for the Prairie Warbler again tomorrow.

Below is a Tufted Titmouse from last weekend’s visit to the Little Red Schoolhouse.

Actually the first sound to greet me was that of Bullfrogs. I’ve included a recording below the pictures.

And below, a couple Eastern Towhees – a youngster barely visible on the left, and an adult male on the right.

American Robins are everywhere, but predominately at the Chicago Portage which is where I dropped in a bit late on Tuesday morning.

Also at the Portage, a fly-by Killdeer.

Blue Jays were everywhere too, normally heard but not seen, but they were unusually visible at McGinnis Slough.

Yes, below is another Red-Winged Blackbird chasing, this time, a Red-Tailed Hawk, but the hawk has a snake of some sort in its talons.

Enjoying the low water levels at McGinnis were several Great Blue Herons.

Also finding things to do, a Gray Catbird and one of two Raccoons swimming in the shallow water.

At the Chicago Portage, where the week before I had no trace of Green Herons, I saw this one, although I doubt they are nesting here.

The Caspian Tern below was over the water at the Little Red Schoolhouse. I also saw a tern at McGinnis but not as clearly.

At the Portage, Baltimore Orioles feeding young.

Below, an interesting grass and a female Brown-Headed Cowbird at the Little Red Schoolhouse.

And another Baltimore Oriole, this one a female, with food for her brood.BAOR 07-04-17-5338If you’ve made it all the way down to the end of this post, you deserve a reward. I invite you to enjoy the beautiful song of a Wood Thrush recorded at the Little Red Schoolhouse.

Thank you to all of you reading and following my blog! Wednesday was the anniversary of my 6th year doing this thing and was also my birthday. This is convenient for me as I have a hard time remembering dates in general so the more things I can associate with my date of birth, which I have to remember, the better.

Summer Dreams Close to Home

MALL 6-25-17-0598If I’d given it much thought I might have gone to the Little Red Schoolhouse yesterday to chase a lifer. There’s a Prairie Warbler there, and to the best of my knowledge I may have heard one but I’ve never gotten a definitive view. But after a too-long-put-off thorough cleanup of the living room (my putting off has consequences – there are a few new residents), I was too tired to think and the best I could muster was a visit to the Portage, and, after all, I haven’t been there for a couple weeks so it’s always good to see what’s happening. American Robins were everywhere, from busy adults feeding their likely second brood to fledged birds figuring things out. I estimated 50 or more.

Most of the usual suspects were there but there were notable omissions. I didn’t hear or see one Song Sparrow, nor a Yellow Warbler. The Green Herons don’t consider this a proper place to raise young anymore as the water levels have changed too radically. And I don’t know if it was because it was cool and windy, but there were no butterflies, hardly any insects at all, except for a few dragonflies.

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Warbling Vireo

Always hearing Warbling Vireos – there’s at least four singing males – but rarely get to see one, so this was the best I could do as this one was navigating a branch. At least you can see its blue legs (if all else fails, this confirms it’s a vireo).

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Indigo Bunting

Indigo Buntings also breed here a lot now, but the only one I could get even half a photograph of was the juvenile above with a strange white patch on his tail feathers.

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Juvenile Baltimore Oriole

Several Baltimore Orioles and House Wrens …

After weeks of hearing a Carolina Wren and never seeing it, I finally saw two. Although I did not see the singing wren, I believe the two below are his mate and offspring. He was singing clearly from wherever he hides so I’ve included his song below the pictures.

One of the Southwest Airlines flights over the Portage…and thistle in various stages of bloom, unfortunately not occupied by American Goldfinches as in visits past.

Birds were not the only wildlife. A young White-Tailed Deer appeared in front of me on the trail.

And a Beaver swimming quietly through the open water.

Beaver 6-24-17-0506

Above, a Gray Catbird on the left, and a section of a large birch which is one of my favorite trees.

I was surprised to hear and then see the American Redstart below. This is the first time I’ve seen any warblers other than Yellow Warblers here during breeding season, but it’s not out of its range.

One lone Canada Goose sampling the duckweed portion.

CAGO 6-24-17-0720

Meanwhile back at home, blooms are starting to happen. My forest of Purple Coneflowers is off to a good start. I hope some butterflies show up soon.

The bright yellows…of a bee on something I should recognize but somehow almost everything that was planted in my front yard is still strange to me, I have to get out the books and study. On the right below is the Rudbeckia that was budding last week and the first of many sunflowers planted by the inevitable scattering of black oil sunflower seed.

All the milkweed in my front yard has planted itself, and it is blooming beautifully. And it is fragrant. I am not used to smelly flowers, this is quite unexpected. I hope it smells enough to attract Monarch Butterflies.

Swamp Milkweed 6-24-17-0438On another note, a section of my yard has been plagued by the plant below for two years and I spent an hour yesterday carefully digging out as much as I could, hoping anything I planted around it will take over. I don’t know what it is, so if you are a wizard and can identify it I would be most grateful.

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Unidentified Invasive Plant

A few more photos of the lovely Mallard family that was swimming around in the low-lying land next to the Des Plaines River. I counted nine ducklings.

And one more of the Carolina Wrens.

CAWR 6-24-17-0630McGinnis and the Little Red Schoolhouse are on my mental list for next weekend, weather permitting. Even if the Prairie Warbler isn’t available, there are often Red-Headed Woodpeckers, which I don’t get to see too often. Maybe there will be some butterflies too!

Goose Lake Natural Area and the Hebron Trail

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Yellow-Headed Blackbird

I saw a couple birds at the Portage a few weeks ago that reminded me of Yellow-Headed Blackbirds although they were most likely not, but the light was so bad I couldn’t determine what they were, even after enhancing bad pictures. They were definitely large blackbirds but not Grackles.

(For clarification – the pictures above are all Yellow-Headed Blackbirds and were taken at Goose Lake Natural Area in McHenry County.)

I then thought that by the time I get back from Ecuador next month, it could be too late to see the Yellow-Headed Blackbirds that nest in McHenry County close to the Wisconsin border. I went to this area last year for the first time and vowed to go back. So Sunday morning I picked up my friend Lesa and we headed up north into ensuing thunderstorms. By the time we got all the way up there about an hour and a half later, the rain was nearly over, so it was perfectly timed.

On our way out to the marsh through the wooded trail, we saw a distant Ring-Necked Pheasant and light at the end of the tunnel.

Ring-Necked Pheasant on Hebron Trail 6-26-2016-3207

There were other things happening on the gravel trail. Like feeding time for a fledgling Common Grackle.

And birds drying off after the rain.

Grackle and Brown Thrasher 6-26-2016-3225

Common Grackle on the left, Brown Thrasher on the right.

And Empidonax flycatchers, likely Alder or Willow, but unless they say something we can never be really sure.

Willow-Alder Flycatcher 6-26-2016-3214

The other rarity I lured Lesa with was Black Tern, and we definitely saw them.

Red-Winged Blackbirds were predictably everywhere.

The marsh had Pied-Billed Grebes (below, top), and some downy Hooded Mergansers (three pictures below) which I needed help to identify, not seeing any parents and forgetting that ducks other than Mallard are a possibility. I should have recognized the behavior of the Mergansers which was what drew our attention to them anyway. One had caught a fish and the others were chasing him or her.

Perhaps the nicest surprise were two Sandhill Cranes. We heard them for the longest time but could not see them until they decided to fly over us.

Predictably we saw American Goldfinch and Eastern Kingbird.

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American Goldfinch

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Eastern Kingbird

After wishing we’d brought our scopes and maybe even lawn chairs, we finally came to a little deck-like overlook with a bench, near the Song Sparrow pictured below who was sitting with a dragonfly waiting for us to quit paying attention so he could go feed someone at an undisclosed location.

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Song Sparrow

We were enjoying the cool cloudiness after the rain but the sun started to break through the clouds and the heat started to build, so it was time to retreat. Next time I think we have to find a way to carry a scope with us as it’s likely we missed a few birds. All in all we had about 33 species on our list.

I wish I’d thought to bring my recorder because the male Yellow-Headed Blackbird below gave us a few brief but beautiful spurts of song. Well, maybe beauty is in the ear of the listener. He sounded perhaps like a rusty crank turning. But it’s complex and probably musical to females. Here’s a link to the Cornell website if you want to hear what one sounds like. I’m entranced by the orange-colored crown on this bird.

YHBL 6-26-2016-3507

The last bird we counted was a Red-Tailed Hawk. We saw another accipiter fly over the trail on the way back but could not identify it quickly enough.

I had intended to do much more posting before my trip, but found I was still going through photos I took weeks ago! Time has flown and soon I must fly to my vacation destination.

I leave Friday for Quito, going to the Amazon and then the Galapagos. This is likely my last big trip. Although I may have said that before. So unless I manage the unthinkable and post once more before I leave, I’ll be back next month to share photos from my trip.

Sandhill Crane 6-26-2016-3242

Breeding Birds

PRWA IDSP 05-29-2016-2349Passerine migration is over for all practical purposes. Birds have taken to their breeding grounds and are getting down to business. Here are some photos from the last couple weekends, starting with the Prothonotary Warbler above, seen at Indiana Dunes State Park.

Yellow Warblers are common summer residents around here. The one on the left above was hanging out at IDSP and the one on the right was the first bird I encountered at the Chicago Portage last Sunday on a late, gloomy morning.

Even with a lot more light going on at the Indiana location, backlighting was a constant challenge. Above, compare an adult male Scarlet Tanager on the left with what was determined to be a first-year male of the same species.

There were several Red-Headed Woodpeckers at IDSP. I don’t see them too often so they were a nice surprise.

Perhaps the most exciting find was the hardest to photograph. Above is a male Acadian Flycatcher, not far from where his mate is sitting on a cleverly positioned nest underneath a leaf.

Two looks at Eastern Wood-Pewees above.

We had two Pileated Woodpeckers, and the one above was in the best light but this species still eludes my camera, monster lens and all.

Cedar Waxwings above, at IDSP on the left and the other one from the Chicago Portage.

The Portage had at least four male Baltimore Orioles, and I was able to spot a female not entirely hidden on the right, above.

To add to my list of not-often-seen woodpeckers, I had a Hairy Woodpecker at the Portage. Usually I see Downies everywhere, but this was the only woodpecker that I was able to photograph.

Tree Swallows were abundant. And below, it was a good day for turtles at the Portage.

And for Mallard ducklings…looking almost full grown.

Below, a newly fledged American Robin and an adult.

One more look at the Red-Headed Woodpecker.

RHWP IDSP 5-29-2016-2453I’ve been busy writing silly songs, working, gardening and starting to get ready for a trip that will begin on July 1. I am now glad I inadvertently planned to be away before the Democratic National Convention. I’m growing weary of the daily drama and it will be good for my head to be totally oblivious to politics for a couple weeks.

I’ll try to get back to this page a few times before I go. Thanks for stopping by!

 

How Blue Is My Indigo?

Indigo Bunting, Chicago Portage

Indigo Bunting, Chicago Portage

Every Sunday the forecast has been the same lately: cloudy, rainy with possible thunderstorms. But every Sunday is a bit different, as the rain and the longer days contribute to the growing of things. I have been trying to conquer the overgrowth in my backyard, but yesterday I decided to take advantage of a break in the storm activity and visit the Chicago Portage.

Chi Portage 6-14-15-4834

18188879913_0cc498745c_zI never know what to expect, and this visit was no exception. For starters, I couldn’t take the trail entrance I normally do because it was entirely blocked off. So instead of there being a way to go through the entire site and wind up back where I started, I wound up taking two parts of the trail up and back.

Eastern Kingbird

Eastern Kingbird

Eastern Kingbird

Eastern Kingbird

Some of the species I expect to see were not present. It could have been the time of day. But I suspect a more likely explanation is the constant habitat disruption being more than some species want to put up with. Consequently I had no Song Sparrows, American Goldfinches, nor White-Breasted Nuthatches. Even Mallards were not present. And not even one Gray Catbird. But this is just one visit and it was nearly mid-day, so perhaps next weekend I can confirm these absences further. In the meantime, I heard Black-Capped Chickadees so my faith in their existence is restored.

Ind Bunting Chi Portage 6-14-15-5201

Indigo Bunting

Female Indigo Bunting

Female Indigo Bunting

Indigo Buntings were everywhere, followed by almost as many Baltimore Orioles, although the orioles were less available for pictures, but they sang constantly. The first one I saw was carrying food, but I had to settle for this far away shot of another one later.

Baltimore Oriole

Baltimore Oriole

My surprise bird of the day was the first-year male Orchard Oriole below. Not only do I think this is the first time I’ve had an Orchard Oriole at the Portage, but I think it might be the first time I’ve realized this is what a first-year male looks like. I tried to get his song too but recording was challenging yesterday with a lot of background noise. Maybe the cloud cover had something to do with it.

First Year Male Orchard Oriole

First Year Male Orchard Oriole

As usual there was no dearth of robins. I estimated 40, but there were probably more, including the clueless young one on the trail.

Am Ro Chi Portage 6-14-15-4851Am Ro Chi Portage 6-14-15-4873AMRO Chi Portage 6-14-15-4920

Of course Red-Winged Blackbirds were abundant too, although a bit less visible. Below could be one of the reasons why.

Fledgling Red-Winged Blackbird

Fledgling Red-Winged Blackbird

I looked for a Green Heron and found it easily.

Green Heron, Chicago Portage

Green Heron, Chicago Portage

Later I had another heron perched way on top of a dead tree hanging over the water. It was hard to get its coloring in this light or the lack thereof but it was apparently wet and going through some trouble to dry off.

GRHE Chicago Portage 6-14-15-5014GRHE Chicago Portage 6-14-15-5019GRHE Chicago Portage 6-14-15-5020GRHE Chicago Portage 6-14-15-5021

If anything became apparent yesterday, it was that next time I should bother to take my closeup lens with me, as there is a lot of little stuff going on that invites more scrutiny. Like the hundreds of tiny froglets or toadlets that suddenly sprang up under my feet.

Toadlet Chicago Portage 6-14-15-5082Toadlet Chicago Portage 6-14-15-5080Toadlets Chicago Portage 6-14-15-5105

Or the dragonflies that I knew so well last year and now have to look up all over again.

Dragonfly 6-14-15-5127Dragonfly 6-14-15-5137

Red-Bellied Woodpeckers seemed to be tolerating the disturbance.

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I wonder how long it will be before I can walk through this again.

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As a final note, the Chicago birding community lost a great birder and photographer on Saturday. Steve Spitzer apparently died of a heart attack. I am sorry I did not know Steve personally; I remember we had a short email exchange over a sighting at some point and he was friendly and generous in his communications. He spent a lot of time a Montrose and other lakefront places and took some amazing photographs. You can see some of them here at the link to his flickr page. He also posted a remarkable video of a young Great Horned Owl swimming in Lake Michigan to avoid harassment by two Peregrine Falcons. I hope Steve is flying with the birds now.

Back in the Yard

Mining Bee Yard 7-26-14-3335

The last two Saturdays have been great mornings to work in the yard, last Saturday in particular as it was cool and cloudy, but I have slept in so that by the time I do get out, the heat and humidity begin to creep in, and the day is replete with the rest of Saturday’s routine. But I have managed to take a few more yard pictures before playing piano, swimming, grocery shopping…

The one bloom on the Swamp Milkweed was visited by a Monarch Butterfly last Saturday. I saw the Monarch again yesterday but it did not stay, only flying over the entire yard and right past me a few times, I suppose because the one milkweed blossom is spent and there was little else of interest. Next year, I promise, will be different.

Monarch on Swamp Milkweed Yard 7-26-14-3228

Milkweed Yard 7-26-14-3420There were two Eastern Tiger Swallowtails in the purple coneflowers last Saturday. They wouldn’t pose together but this one was available.

Tiger Swallowtail Yard 8-2-14-2002

And yesterday I finally managed to get a Red Admiral to cooperate.

Red Admiral Yard 8-2-14-2029 Red Admiral Yard 7-26-14-3380

Young birds are now in the yard in droves. Last Saturday, they were still begging a lot.

Juvenile House Sparrow

Juvenile House Sparrow

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Juvenile House Finches

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Juvenile House Finch

Adult Male House Finch

Adult Male House Finch

Last Saturday I had the windows open and heard Chipping Sparrows in the yard. I could not photograph them outside, as they were right by the back door and I would have scared them away, but I managed to get a few pictures through the kitchen window.

Juvenile Chipping Sparrow

Juvenile Chipping Sparrow

I suspect there is more than one pair breeding in south Berwyn.

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Adult Chipping Sparrow

Someone else I can only photograph through the window, as she is well attuned to the squeaks of my back doors…

Cat Yard 8-2-14-1982

I discovered this spider last weekend in a shady spot.

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Garden Spider

The front yard is more established this year, one year after its planting. This is the main section, the other smaller portion being on the other side of the front walk. I have seen butterflies now and again but the biggest hit lately was the Sweet Joe-Pye Weed: the bees were literally bathing in it. But this weekend it’s looking rather spent and frazzled. I watered it last night and am hoping we get some rain.

Front Yard

Front Yard

Bee in the Joe-Pye Weed

Bee in the Joe-Pye Weed

I seem to have two types of cardinal flower. The first photograph is from the ones that have been in the backyard for years, and the second from the new one in the front.

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Below is a plant that mystifies me. I have no idea where it came from but it planted itself between two bricks. I don’t recall if it flowered last year but this year it has done a nice job. Even if it is an invasive, it doesn’t appear to be spreading. It’s in one shady spot under the hawthorn. If anybody knows what this is, please let me know.

I don't know what this is but it is growing between two bricks for the second year in a row

I don’t know what this is but it is growing between two bricks for the second year in a row

I thought there was something a bit different about this fox squirrel. For sure, it’s a she. The one I am used to seeing all the time has been a male. She is a bit shy, but every bit as polite as he is.

Female Fox Squirrel Yard 7-26-14-3268 Foxy Lady Squirrel Yard 7-26-14-3447

Invariably dill comes up here and there in the yard. I thought I planted some this year but it didn’t come up where I put it. Nevertheless a few plants have managed to grow and I leave them hoping they will attract female Eastern Black Swallowtail Butterflies to lay eggs. I was very happy to see this caterpillar yesterday. It’s been a few years since I’ve seen one of these in the yard. I’m going to plant more dill for next year too.

Eastern Black Swallowtail Caterpillar on dill

Eastern Black Swallowtail Caterpillar on dill

I did manage to work in the yard even though it was nearly midday: it wasn’t buggy and my trees keep me cool. At any rate, it’s looking a little tamer I suppose because we haven’t had too much rain lately so the weeds actually stay pulled for a while. I think I will start photographing and cataloguing all the weeds before I yank them out next weekend, in part because I see them often enough elsewhere, and in the process of looking them up I will learn about others. I know a lot of them by sight but have forgotten some of their names. The macro lens is making a nerd out of me.

I will be back later with a few photos from my weekend excursion.