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!

High Pressure

White-Throated Sparrow

It’s been a busy week and the weekend will be non-stop, so I wanted to drop in for a moment or two before I go to leave for the Christmas Bird Count this morning. I started to write this last night but knowing I had to get up at 3:30, I quit trying to finish it! These are just a few pictures from last Saturday.

I went to the Portage. It was a bright, sunny, cold day. The snow was all gone from the blizzard earlier in the week. In spite of these favorable conditions, there weren’t a lot of birds. I think I walked in for about 20 minutes before I finally started to hear and see the birds below… a Northern Cardinal who kept trying to hide, and a few White-Throated Sparrows.

The water on the Des Plaines River was flowing, so there were some Canada Geese. There were several Mallards too but they were too distant for pictures.

Above is what it looked like in my yard the previous weekend… Last Saturday after the Portage I tried to spend a little time in the yard after all the snow was gone. As long as the goldfinches are happy… Although it was hard to get a picture of them unless it was through the porch windows.

Here’s an American Tree Sparrow. I expect to see a few this morning. Weather-wise, we are warmer than we have been and we should have some sunshine, so it will be interesting to see what the bird mix is today.

American Tree Sparrow

Well, I best be on my way. Tomorrow will be a full day of singing, partying and discussion. Below is the beautiful concert poster one of our members, John Tandarich, made for tomorrow’s two performances of Ola Gjeilo’s Luminous Night of the Soul. Our choir holiday party will be afterward and then I have a Soul Connections meeting at 4:00 so I will be out all day after another early rise. 

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.

Fleeting Greetings of 2017

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Millennium Park Cardinal 12-30-16

This year is off to a slow start. I very much wanted to do a blog post honoring my indoor crowd which has been getting along fine, or so I thought. At least they seemed to be doing fine for a while.

Below is a short video I was able to capture in the gloom of the afternoon’s diminishing light just so I could isolate my Zebra Finch Arturo Toscanini singing his song, which starts with an arpeggio and goes from there. Below that you can hear him again before I start playing the Adagio to the Ravel Piano Concerto in G which may put you to sleep if you listen to the whole thing but don’t say I didn’t warn you.

I went back to the Portage on New Year’s Day. It was much colder and sunnier than the week before and the birds were harder to find, but I counted as many species with a couple variations from last week’s list. All I have to show for it is ice and a distant Downy Woodpecker.

The birds in the backyard have returned to the feeders. I’m convinced the numbers of House Sparrows have fallen drastically, but they tend to fall off anyway in the winter. It was nice to see a couple Goldfinches and my own Downy Woodpeckers.

Before I went out birding, I chased Emerald Greenwald away from Dudlee’s latest nesting attempt (I gave in to Dudlee’s badgering me weeks ago and let her have the mug back but didn’t make it comfy for her) – not sitting down with myself long enough to figure things out, like the fact that Greenwald herself had approached reproductive age – and hoped for the best.

I came back to a bloody mess. Nobody had hatched but the eggs were broken open and bloody, nesting material the doves had accumulated themselves was everywhere, and Dudlee and Drew were looking the worse for wear.

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Emerald Greenwald, covered with evidence

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Drew and Dudlee, still in shock  – “How could you do this to us??!”

This has created a terrible silence. I don’t know when if ever Drew will start singing again. I had grown quite fond of his chiming in with any pretty music he heard on the radio all weekend. I like to imagine he might get over it but I don’t know if Dudlee will. To make matters worse, she seems to have a damaged right wing – it’s droopy. She was hiding in the kitchen last night, I’m sure she doesn’t feel safe anymore, even though without a nest I don’t think Greenwald is interested in bothering her. I may try to catch Dudlee and put her up in an infirmary cage for a few days, since she can’t fly very well anyway.

On a happier note, it’s always fun to watch a Society Finch tackle a piece of corn.

And there’s always time for a good bath in the pie plate.

I hope to be back soon on a happier note. Best wishes to everyone for a healthy new year. Whoever thought we’d make it to 2017? Stay tuned!

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Spring, Summer, Fall – Which is it?

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Blue-Winged Teal

It seems we have been through all the seasons in the course of one week. But in spite of the weather, the days are getting longer and although my efforts to observe spring migration have been limited, I still have a post within me struggling to get written.

I went to McGinnis Slough on Saturday. It was overcast but warmer than the past couple days, and not yet the predicted 80 degrees for Sunday. Sunday birding was out of the question anyway as I was singing with the Unity Temple Choir. More about that below.

The surprise right off the parking lot was to see several Great Egrets fishing and a couple Great Blue Herons as well. I expect to see these birds this time of year, but to have so many on the viewer’s side of the slough was what surprised me, although I did not get close enough for great shots because I didn’t want to risk disturbing them anymore than I already was…

Passerines were few and far between.

There were distant American White Pelicans although a couple came in for a second or two.

Among American Coots, Ring-Necked Ducks, a couple Buffleheads and a Scaup or two there were several Northern Shovelers.

Above, a surprise visit from a Muskrat, and a Double-Crested Cormorant drying off.

Maybe my best captures were the Caspian Terns.

Caspian Tern McGinnis 4-23-2016-6863

Caspian Tern McGinnis 4-23-2016-6861At opposite ends of the slough, I ran into two other individual birders and we exchanged information. The second one suggested I go to the newest section of Orland Grasslands to look for Lapland and Smith’s Longspurs. I find it a bit funny that I exchanged names with neither of these people, but it’s probably all any of us can do to talk to each other with the distraction of looking for birds first and foremost in our minds.

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A section of Orland Grasslands

By the time I got to Orland there were no Longspurs that I could see, but I did have a couple Horned Larks. Next time I’ll go there first and maybe get luckier.

A well-camouflaged Killdeer was present also…

Killdeer Orland 4-23-2016-7096And more Caspian Terns.

Caspian Terns Orland 4-23-2016-7108As for Sunday’s choir performance, below is the poster that tells it all.

Beatitude Mass for the HomelessThis beautiful and moving experience will be part of me for a long time to come. And in a moment of reflection later, about the unifying experience while we were singing, I realized maybe I gained an insight into something the birds do all the time…

So I wrote a little poem about it:

 A choir takes flight.
Sopranos, altos, tenors, baritones, basses all come together
As one organism, on the wave of a vibration
One sound with many voices.
Imperceptibly, a slight hesitation explodes rapid-fire through the entirety,
The entrance dangling in the balance,
Just as imperceptibly, swept back into the fold of the music
Like a murmuration of starlings
Carried far above the trappings of gravity
Weightless,
Wait-less,
Into the rafters

Meanwhile Back at the Bungalow

Drew in the Kitchen Window

Drew looking out the Kitchen Window

No matter how distracted I may become by It All, and that’s amounted to Very Distracted Lately, there is always ongoing comedy/drama/opera relief going on at home.

Of course when it’s that rare sunny afternoon I’m home and able to sneak a picture or two of the indoor crowd, invariably we haven’t cleaned yet. So what few pictures I have here are cropped as much as possible…

A while ago I decided to buy the music to the Ravel Piano Concerto in G, simply to learn the adagio so it wouldn’t make me cry every time I heard it. In any event it’s a nice piece for the birds to chime in on. Drew likes it. You can hear him singing along in the beginning of the clip below. Arturo Toscanini, a Zebra Finch, sings one of his many songs before the music starts, and there’s also a lot of bathing going on which translates into sounds of water spraying everywhere.

Dudlee on the back door curtain rod

Dudlee on the back door curtain rod

Drew and Dudlee have become friendlier and they hang out together, but she still has somewhat of a crush on Mr. Green (Jeremy Casanova Green) the Budgie who still wants to be a Zebra Finch and spends much of his time imitating Zebra Finch chatter, chasing Zebra Finch girls and sweet-talking the hens when he can corner one of them.

Getting a young budgie female for Mr. Green did not work out. In fact, sadly, Bianca disappeared over a month ago and I have not yet found her. I suspect she was not well or sufficiently feisty enough to fit in with the crowd, as she spent longer than usual (days) inside the cage she was in, too timid to come out even though the door was open after the first day or so and everyone else was going in and out. Mr. Green did finally show her the ropes but didn’t pay a lot of attention to her, and she was quite reticent. While I don’t think the other birds did anything to her, I suspect she made sure she would not be found by them or me.

I am not going to repeat the experiment. At first I thought another green budgie, or even two, might persuade Mr. Green to identify with his own species, but I have decided the older the birds get, the harder it is to change things. If Mr. Green identifies with the Zebra Finches, so be it. It’s my fault, however unintentional. I can cut Mr. Green some slack and say I’m not sure the chasing is all his idea as the Zebra Finches do quite enough of it among themselves. So we will continue as a dysfunctional family.

Mr. Green

Mr. Green

If I can ever get Arturo Toscanini to sing his full-throated repertoire like he does when I’m not recording him, I will put a recording in a future post. He has evolved from one little song into about four or five and when he strings them all together and does variations on the themes it’s quite impressive.

Zebra Finches

Zebra Finches

One more picture below of Drew in the kitchen window. His eye-ring is wider than Dudlee’s and his primary tail feathers are longer, I am sure to enable his fantastic displays. Which he does quite elaborately from time to time, trying to impress the Zebra Finch females (I guess he picked this up from Mr. Green).

Drew at the back window

Drew at the back window

The Society Finches are still with us but somewhat harder to photograph. I never dreamed they would be intimidated by Zebra Finches who are smaller than they are.

So it’s back to the drawing board for that world peace model… 🙂

 

 

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