Waking Up Was Harder This Morning

Spring so desperately wants to happen. Or so I wrote when I was starting to put together this post four days ago. But then we had to spring the clocks forward, as if shifting more light to the end of the day would hurry up spring faster. However, we have been held back by what seems like the longest winter ever, and that one-more-day philosophy takes over. I may be too tired to know what I’m writing here, but I think the bright sunshine and the angle of its light now helps to wake me up, wakes the birds up, and the trees are probably musing among themselves, the time is coming.

I’ve managed to walk along the river a few times in the last couple of weeks, whether on my way in to work or those rare times when I manage to take a break and go for a walk. The weather has made it more difficult. I got out today for half an hour or so. The wind made it quite chilly, but wherever I could find a patch of sun, there was hope, if not many birds.

In any event, below are some pictures I took of Red-Breasted Mergansers last week. They’ve been hanging out in the river lately, like they did last year. One evening before I got on the train, I counted over 100 within my view outside the station. The pictures below are from one morning last week when there were four males trying to attract one female. She got into the act at one point chasing off one of her suitors. Click on the images for a better view.

Here’s the guy she decided upon. I love her mascara.
Here is a Common Merganser for comparison.

Herring Gulls have been following the mergansers hoping to snatch the ducks’ catch.

I was really surprised on an earlier walk to see a River Crow! A Herring Gull was surprised to see him too and tried to knock the Crow off his perch, but of course, the Crow was triumphant.

On my way back to the office, I looked back to see the Crow cawing about his victory.

I’m hoping for a Return of the River Crow. I miss hanging out with the Lakefront Crows terribly, and it would be just so neat to have a River Crow following. So now every time I go out, I carry peanuts, just in case.

The moon was beautiful a couple weeks ago, so I took a few pictures after I went swimming (there are always better moon views in the gym parking lot). It was exactly a month after the night of the blood moon when my former Prius C was totaled. The shock has almost completely worn off, and I’m very happy with the new car. It’s easier to give people rides, so there are more conversations. And I am about to find out how much easier it will be to fill up the hatch with birdseed. What more could I want?

Freezing at the Frolic

Last weekend I attended the Gull Frolic in Winthrop Harbor, for the usual reasons: something birding-related to do during the winter and an opportunity to see some people I haven’t seen in a long time.

So yeah, it was cold. And windy. And there were a couple gulls that weren’t Herring Gulls. And some ducks here and there. One turned out to be rather rare – a female Long-Tailed Duck, formerly known as Old Squaw. Maybe there were more gull species later, but I had to do my Saturday food shopping and cleaning and get up early Sunday to sing in the choir, so I left in the early afternoon.

Herring Gulls with a Glaucous Gull
Glaucous Gull
Greater Scaup
Herring Gull and Thayer’s Gull

There was a lot of ice on the lake, which you might be able to see in some of the longer shots. And it was cloudy overall. Sunshine might have made me feel a bit warmer.

So I’m amazed I got any shots at all. I remember only trying to hold onto the lens and stay focused, come what may. Removing my gloves now and then to sharpen the focus and then giving up. But the camera caught enough of the action and I’m thankful for that. I find the gulls entertaining, even if they’re practically all Herrings!

However windy and cold it was last weekend is nothing compared to today’s wind storm that has been going on since this morning and will continue into the wee hours of the night, with gusts up to 60 miles per hour. Every once in a while the wind positively roars. I don’t know how the birds in the yard managed it but they eventually emptied the feeders today. Battening down the hatches and thankful we are safe and sound. Looks like the wind is ushering in very cold weather again. Oh, but the days are getting longer, right?

Gull Frolic 2017 – More Frolic than Gulls

find-the-thayers-challenge-gull-frolic-2-11-17-8476Quipped attempts to describe Illinois Ornithological Society‘s Saturday’s 16th Annual Gull Frolic were “Duck Frolic” and perhaps “Herring Gull Frolic.” To paraphrase the observation of Amar Ayyash, our local gull expert extraordinaire who organizes the event, when the weather is good for people, it’s bad for gulls. In other words, there wasn’t enough ice on the lake to draw the gulls in to the shore. We can be fairly positive the rarities were somewhere out in the middle of Lake Michigan, if not totally on the other side of it.

Even with only a few species present, I have to review and refresh my sparse knowledge of gulls again because often this is my only chance to see anything other than a Herring or a Ring-Billed.

So disinterested were the birds in us, at one point there was more bread floating around in the water than gulls.

The first bird I photographed was a male Common Goldeneye, below.

goldeneye-gull-frolic-2-11-17-8084And as for other ducks, there were a few here and there, although none too close.

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Female Greater Scaup and Redhead

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Bufflehead and Common Goldeneye

Above, a female Bufflehead on the left and more Bufflehead and a Greater Scaup on the right. Below, Mallard and Bufflehead flying.

The Common Mergansers were perhaps the most numerous. Two shots of a close female below and more flying.

Other waterfowl present but not photographed were American Coots, a few Long-Tailed Ducks I did not see, and a very distant group of White-Winged Scoters.

Gulls were quick to seize the opportunity to stand on whatever little ice there was. Among the Herring Gulls below there is one Thayer’s, if you like a challenge.

hegu-gull-frolic-2-11-17-8684Of the two Thayer’s Gulls spotted, I was fortunate to get a shot of the one below when it finally decided soggy bread was worth bothering with. There was a flyover Great Black-Backed Gull I did not see because I was inside attending one of two lectures given by Jean Rice regarding her study of shorebirds in St. James Bay. At some point a Kumlien’s Gull appeared, but I was not seeing it. Maybe the camera saw the Kumlien’s but if I’m not aware of it, I prefer not to go back over all my pictures to find one. Perhaps an expert can spot this gull in the grouping at the very top of my post, but I suspect there is not enough information in a static shot.

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Below is one of only a few Ring-Billed Gulls.

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So I decided to survey the gulls present and make it an exercise in photographing different Herring Gull plumages. The darker they are, the younger.

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First Year Herring Gull

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Adult Herring Gulls

I was happy to see this shot of a female and male Common Merganser in my pictures.

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We appear to be continuing with warmer weather, which is neither here nor there as far as birds are concerned, but the wintering avians are starting to think and sound a lot like spring. And no matter how bad things seem to get, spring will always feel like renewal.

Espanola Island: July 16, 2016

blue-footed-booby-07-16-2016-7489Espanola Island is a small island in the southernmost tip of the Galapagos Archipelago. As one of the oldest islands, it is estimated to be between two and three million years old, and was where we spent our last full day of the trip. In the morning, on the rocky, windswept Punta Suarez side of the island, we were greeted by nesting seabirds, and fortunate enough to see the courtship rituals of Waved Albatross and to some extent the Blue-Footed Boobies, although most of the latter’s nesting seemed to be over.

If you click on the pictures below you can see some of the “waved” pattern on the Waved Albatross’s breast. The bird in the second photo has a band with a number on it.

Below is one of several videos I took of the courtship behavior. It was impossible to capture any one entire interaction as they seemed to go on and on for a long time!

Some Blue-Footed Boobies were displaying but were too far away to capture on video. I suspect we were several weeks too late.

Nazca Boobies also nest here.

There was a Wandering Tattler in this tidal pool, along with a Sea Lion.

Beautiful Swallow-Tailed Gulls were present too. Below is a close-up of the red skin that forms a ring around the eye.

swallow-tailed-gull-07-16-2016-7277swallow-tailed-gull-07-16-2016-7750This was my last opportunity to try and capture a Red-Billed Tropicbird.

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And the Galapagos Hawk made an appearance.

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Nothing like another Magnificent Frigatebird.

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Espanola has its own species of lava lizard.

And the finch find of the day was the Large Cactus Finch.

Also present, the Marine Iguanas, a Hermit Crab and a Yellow-Crowned Night-Heron

In the afternoon we visited the other side of the island, Gardner Bay, which has a wide stretch of beach and a lot of Espanola Mockingbirds begging for water. It was hard to resist them but we were not allowed to give in to their demands. You can see and hear them begging from my roommate in the video below.

A couple more Blue-Footed Boobies.

blue-footed-booby-07-16-2016-7934I love the blue accents on the rest of this bird.

blue-footed-booby-07-16-2016-7358Below, our last dinner sculpture and the final day’s plan to visit Santa Cruz Island in the morning before our flight back to the mainland.

I am going to the Gull Frolic on Saturday and will likely report back from that with some photos. The forecast is for warmer temperatures than last year, but it is always windy and somewhat chilly on the lakefront near the Wisconsin border. I am thankful the forecast for rain has been postponed until Sunday.

Galapagos Part 2: Genovese Island

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Short-Eared (Galapagos) Owl

Life has been getting in the way a bit more lately: my apologies for the delayed post. Every time I go back to these photographs I think it will be easy, that I must have been done with them, and then I find out that is not the case. Then I was looking forward to a weekend without much planned thinking I was going to do a lot of work at the computer and it just didn’t happen.

I think WordPress takes matters into its own hands when I haven’t posted for a while and generates some kind of phenomenal amount of hits, then sends me a message our of the blue saying my blog is really popular. This has happened to me twice lately. I get the hint. Okay, back to work.

These photographs were all taken on Monday, July 11, 2016 as we visited what is called Prince Phillip’s Steps in the morning, on Genovese Island, and Darwin Bay on the other side in the afternoon. Galapagos Dove and Nazca Boobies above.

This was the only island where we could see Red-Footed Boobies.

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Some Nazca Boobies had youngsters. There seemed to be a problem trying to feed too large a fish to the fledgling.

This Swallow-Tailed Gull below seemed to be having the same problem. I suspect there may be an upset in the availability of smaller prey. But at least they weren’t trying to feed plastic.

The Swallow-Tailed Gulls are quite striking. You will likely see them again in future posts. We even got treated to a pair that was copulating.

It was a real treat to spend time with the Short-Eared (Galapagos) Owl below. Leave it to a Galapagos Mockingbird to bother him. As always, feel free to click on the pictures to get a larger view.

I think I spent the entire trip trying to get a decent photograph of a Red-Billed Tropicbird. There is likely a better flight shot down the line in a future post. In any event we got to see a lot of them on Genovese and even discovered one nesting (below).

nesting-red-billed-tropicbird-gal16b-lisa-spellman-7285Magnificent Frigatebirds also call this island home.

And we got to see what to my uneducated eye is the difference between the Magnificent and the Great Frigatebird: a blue-green sheen to the plumage of the latter.

And of course we had Darwin’s Finches! Four different species on this island. The first, below, is the Large Ground Finch.

Then, the Large Cactus Finch.

And we also had the Sharp-Beaked Ground Finch.

Also, below, the Gray Warbler-Finch.

Not to be confused with the Yellow Warbler.

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Yellow Warbler

We also saw a Yellow-Crowned Night Heron trying to sleep.

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Yellow-Crowned Night Heron

And I think this was the only time we got to see a Galapagos Fur Seal.

galapagos-fur-seal-7-11-16-7360Not to be confused with the ever-present Galapagos Sea Lion.

More Sally Lightfoot Crabs…

Back at the catamaran, we were treated to another fruit sculpture and received our marching orders for the next day.

I’ll try to be a better blogger and come back sooner. If nothing else, just to escape the landslide into November 8th.

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Ho-hum, Ennui and Fall Migration

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Red-Breasted Nuthatch, Chicago lakefront park

You’d think I’d be done with processing all those pictures from the two trips in Ecuador by now,  and be happy to just get on with it, but there always seems to be an excuse presenting itself, like hot weather, work, fall migration, information overload, afternoon naps, imminent cataract surgery…

Although I haven’t done a lot of birding lately, it has been impossible to resist the inevitability of fall migration and the days getting shorter, signaling periodicity going on in the birds’ lives, and even if we’re not paying direct attention to it I suspect we’re all somehow getting ready to hunker down for the winter too.

Two weeks ago I was still seeing the female Scarlet Tanager above, at the Portage, but that was the last time.

These pictures, jumping around, are from a couple visits to the Chicago Portage, a few Chicago Loop migrants present last week, and yesterday morning when I went to Brezina Woods before it got unbearably hot. I think this spot may become a new hang-out place for me as the habitat at the Portage has changed so radically in the last year or two, I’m not sure if the birds will ever come back to it. I paid attention to all flying creatures when I was there this past Sunday and managed to get a couple pictures of butterflies and a dragonfly (above).

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Northern Flicker

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American Robin

The leaves on the trees start to brown a bit and so do the birds. Fall plumages are sometimes challenging.

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Blackpoll Warbler, Brezina Woods

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Blackpoll Warbler, Brezina Woods

The youngsters are sometimes the only ones left to see. Below, from the Portage, a Song Sparrow on the left and an Indigo Bunting on the right. More views of the two species below them. The Buntings all look like their moms right now.

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This is the time of year to see large flocks of Cedar Waxwings kibbutzing around the treetops and they have been present every time I’ve been out at the Portage and yesterday at Brezina. Juveniles in the smaller photos and an adult in the larger one.

CEWA 09-04-16-0301Down by the Chicago River last week, a Ring-Billed Gull enjoys his perch on one of the last remaining rotting pilings. And the only bird in the Boeing garden nearby was what appears to be a Yellow-Bellied Flycatcher below, after checking Crossley’s pictures as a reference, but empidonax flycatchers are hard to nail down unless they say something and this guy was silent.

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At 155 N. Wacker on Friday, there was a Nashville Warbler.

Sunday’s visit to the Portage yielded a Tiger Swallowtail and a Monarch Butterfly. I have seen more Monarchs but not so many. What I haven’t seen hardly at all are the usually numerous Red Admirals, Painted Ladies and Mourning Cloaks.

Below, a couple more warblers from my visit to Brezina Woods. The hanging upside-down Redstart, below left, is a challenge to piece together.

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Magnolia Warbler

Two more views of the Red-Breasted Nuthatch. It was a special treat as I got to see two individuals in the remaining black locust trees at the far east end of the Cancer Survivors’ Memorial, the only trees to survive the total decimation of what used to be Daley Bicentennial Plaza and is now Maggie Daley Park.

Last picture of the post below, an adult Cedar Waxwing at the Portage a couple weeks ago.

CEWA 08-14-16-9763I’m looking forward to cataract surgery on my right eye tomorrow morning, because that’s the eye I use to focus the damn camera lens with, so I’m hoping for future sharper images!!

Nicaragua V – This Is It

Volcano 02-26-2016-4470Now that I have run out of pictures I feel like I should go back to Nicaragua the next chance I get and take more.

Our last day and a half was spent on Ometepe, a large volcanic island in Lake Nicaragua. The approach is by ferry. So some of these pictures were taken on the water and others were on land.

The day before we were staying in Granada and it seemed both evenings over the square a large flock of Scissor-Tailed Flycatchers would come in to roost in the trees. I finally got a picture or two of one, albeit far away, on Ometepe.

White-Winged Doves are perhaps unspectacular but I don’t get to see them at home so I find them worth noting.

On the ferry…and a Laughing Gull or two…

Just as this Magnificent Frigatebird came into view, there was a rainbow.

More views of a Laughing Gull…and the beach, with waves, and a Great Egret below.

On land, and there’s nothing I love more than seeing Cattle Egrets, they always remind me of Edward Hicks’ Peaceable Kingdom.

Cattle Egret 02-26-2016-4755Below, fruiting cashews, the sign at the entrance to Ometepe, and a fascinating petroglyph left by indigenous peoples.

Hoffmann’s Woodpecker…

Groove-Billed Anis hanging out on a fence…

Groove-Billed Anis 02-26-2016-4745and a Great-Tailed Grackle.

Great-Tailed Grackle 02-26-2016-4656But perhaps no bird left a bigger impression on me than these White-Throated Magpie-Jays.

Whte-Fronted Magpie-Jay 02-27-2016-4828We finally have spring weather and I have already begun to see migrants, so stay tuned.Cloud Forest 02-26-2016-4721