Goose Lake Prairie: Happy Fourth

Field Sparrow

The forecast was for rain not starting until maybe 11:30 or so this morning, so it seemed like a good day to restart my lapsed tradition of visiting Goose Lake Prairie on the Fourth of July. It turned out to be a beautiful morning and the threat of rain never occurred. Even though I arrived later than I had planned, for quite a while I was the only human, which suited me just fine.

Song Sparrow, the first of many

Dragonflies were everywhere. I guess the one I’ll be seeing a lot of this year is the Blue Dasher. Last year it was the Halloween Pennant. Nice to see all of these this morning.

Blue Dasher (female)
Blue Dasher
Widow Skimmer Female
Common Whitetail (female)
Halloween Pennant
Dickcissel
Dickcissel

So I’m trying to write this blog post tonight with the explosions going off all around the neighborhood, frequently sounding like a bomb exploding next to my house. I hate this holiday. I don’t understand why I have to be miserable and endure this every year. Maybe it’s why I decided not to be born until after midnight 71 years ago – it was too scary to start living with all this going on.

Luckily it never seems to bother my birds, they just endure it, likely chalking it up to more stupid human noise. We have pretty music playing on the radio. What’s one or two or fifty explosions?

But I can’t imagine the outdoor birds are too fond of this. Oh well. Back to the blog post. This morning I got to see some nice birds. There are a lot of pictures in this post. Let’s just leave it at that.

Eastern Kingbird

There was one Brown Thrasher who barely showed its face and then hid from me as I tried to see the rest of it.

I hoped for a Henslow’s Sparrow and one complied. Their return to Illinois grasslands is one of the few success stories over recent years. If you provide habitat, they will come.

Henslow’s Sparrow

The Red-Winged Blackbirds weren’t bothering to sing, so the guys looked a little bored with their guard duty.

There were a lot of Common Yellowthroats and as secretive as they sometimes are, I managed to see a few.

I’m still on the verge of tears from the explosions. I guess tomorrow morning I can go around and see how many fireworks shells are in the yard. Something to look forward to. My indoor birds are ready to fall asleep. I keep praying for rain.

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!

Open Windows Weekend

The events of this past weekend have made me even more aware of whatever beauty remains on this planet, and it’s hard not to want to hold on for dear life. As everything changes and challenges one’s perceptions of reality, it’s almost amazing to find and appreciate what is still intact.  The weather was relatively cool and dry, which made it perfect for leaving the windows open. I never turned on the air, and with the intermittent cloud cover and breezes the birds and I were quite comfortable both days.

For future reference, I keep meaning to get around to a post about the indoor crowd but for the moment all I have to share is a couple quick pictures when I came back into the kitchen from the yard and the Zebra Finches were playing in the kitchen sink. This is their favorite weekend pastime, as I keep the door to the kitchen closed during the week when I go to work. My last flock did the same thing. The other totally instinctive behavior seems to be the chorus response after I open one squeaky drawer… Anyway, the little brown and white Zebra Finch is one of the last hatchers and I must admit she had me quite confused until her orange bill and feet came in. I’m finding the color variation quite interesting. A standard-looking male Zebra Finch is on the left, and the plainer-looking bird behind her on the right is a normal hen.

Not a lot going on in the backyard. But it’s always nice to see a female cardinal or a male goldfinch.

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Thanks to Jason at Gardeninacity for making me more aware of two flowering plants in my front yard this past week, Nodding Wild Onion and Wild Petunia.

Saturday morning I went to McGinnis Slough just to see what was going on. Although it was remarkably un-buggy on the ground, there must have been plenty of insects in the air, because swallows and Chimney Swifts were feeding in full force.

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Mostly Barn Swallows, McGinnis Slough

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Barn Swallows on break

Northern Rough-Winged Swallows and Barn Swallows were flying low over the marshy area which was covered in dried out water lilies or whatever they are, I can’t really tell.

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McGinnis 08-12-17-7664At first I didn’t see many Chimney Swifts, but then they seemed to be everywhere, even though they wouldn’t pose for a group photo.

I heard the Red-Tailed Hawk first, and then there it was soaring above me.

No butterflies. There were Meadowhawk dragonflies but they were too busy for photos as well. So I settled for this bee-like individual on what appears to be Field Sow-Thistle.

Flower McGinnis 08-12-17-7525I couldn’t leave without a photograph of some Swamp Rose Mallow, even though there didn’t seem to be as much as previous years.

One more look at the Red-Tailed Hawk.

RTHA McGinnis 08-12-17-7576Linda and I had a lovely time playing music at the Second Unitarian Church on Sunday. We performed “Spiegel im Spiegel” by Arvo Part before the service began and “En Bateau” by Debussy later in the service. The Part kind of takes over and mesmerizes. But I found it much easier to play the Debussy after much standing and singing along with the congregation. And now we go back to choir rehearsal at Unity Temple tonight for what should be an exciting and challenging singing year.

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!

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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.

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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

A Pack Rat Starts Packing

RBGU 3-20-15-6969I’ve had three months to think about my trip but of course reality never hits until I’m down to the wire. Procrastination is an ongoing and important process, however. As I try to clean and find things for the trip, which forces me to organize on one level, I run into the dilemma of where to put other postponed projects such as starting a life list in Excel or ebird, on another level.

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My former neighbor spent the entire day Saturday routing out my kitchen sink…which pretty much took care of my whole day too, but I shredded papers until the machine would shred no more, and kept an eye on the birds who endured the noise, the house shaking, the comings and goings to the hardware store. Dudlee my Diamond Dove insisted on staying on her nest in the kitchen right above all the havoc. We’re not done with this project yet: when I get back we will get the catch basin cleaned out, something that likely has never been done since 1925. Apparently this is a common dilemma. A light bulb went off in my head when Abe described the process of removal of crud from the catch basin. It explained the evil stuff someone dumped behind my property a couple years ago in large plastic bags. I had “No Dumping” signs up for a while after that…Thankfully, the garbage haulers took it away. What do they do with this evil stuff? I’m not sure I want to know.

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I still have to locate my sunglasses which I haven’t worn for at least 2 years, and I know I have several water bottle slings somewhere.

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Then there’s all the extra stuff to remember to do like call the 800 numbers on the back of the credit cards, leave contact information with everybody, make sure the alarm company knows who to call if there’s an anomaly, set a timer on the stereo so the birds have music to fly by…

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Packing itself is a major engineering feat. I have never had to pack so much in so little space, but I’m liking the challenge. There are some practical perks here. I won’t need anything fancy to wear for one special event, and although I am used to having the laptop with me it won’t be making this trip, but since I already got used to reviewing my pictures on the camera for three weeks in East Africa I should be able to get by for one week in Colombia. Not having to worry about the laptop is perhaps a blessing in disguise.

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The cell phone will keep me connected, at times. And when it doesn’t, there is bliss in the realization that I am in the moment somewhere else on the planet and cannot be reached until I get back to the lodge, perhaps. A true vacation.

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In case you’ve been wondering what any of this has to do with pictures of a Ring-Billed Gull with a peanut, I suggest the connection is no more than mutual exercises in futility. He stayed preoccupied with this peanut, since I also had crows in attendance who were enjoying them, for at least 10 minutes. His friend was unimpressed by it. Gulls can’t eat peanuts, but this one wanted to try. Alas, even after I shelled one for him he didn’t know what to do with it.

I hope to be back with one more post from my sporadic visits to the lakefront the past week, before I disappear for a couple weeks (trip time plus the aftermath). If I don’t manage one more post, thanks to all of you who have made it with me this far! 🙂

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