May Migration Memories

Canada Warbler (female)

It’s hard to believe but spring passerine migration has come and gone again. I never made it to the lakefront, where I’m sure most of the migrants coming through the city were. The trees in the park near my office were late in leafing out, and I was beginning to wonder if I would ever see any warblers, and then, the last two days of May, there were a few pretty birds in that last push.

I took all these photographs trying out my new mirrorless camera. The purchase was inspired by the fact that one guide and one participant were using the Sony RX10 on the Texas trip, so I took that fact alone as a recommendation. I really haven’t had time to investigate all the features, but it’s more compact and easier to carry than my Canon 70D with the 300mm lens attached, so I have this now for situations when I don’t want to carry quite as much gear.

Eastern Towhee

After all the Hermit Thrushes that were in the park weeks before (not as many as last year, but I think I got pictures with the other camera…), I was surprised to see this Wood Thrush on May 30, after I had gone back to try to get a picture of the Eastern Towhee above who showed up on May 29 but eluded my efforts.

White-throated Sparrows were more prevalent in April – they seem to be all gone now

More shots of the Canada Warbler. She was in the park for two days. I often think that someone should name shades of yellow after particular warblers, but the steel-blue gray back of a Canada Warbler always stands out for me.

I adore Wilson’s Warblers – because they tend to move more slowly and deliberately in the trees! And I recognize Wilson’s Yellow, which is a good thing because I don’t always get to see that trademark skullcap.

It was especially challenging to get a photograph of this male Mourning Warbler. Usually they are closer to the ground, but this guy was up in the trees after their burst of foliage attracted just the bugs or worms he was looking for.

Mourning Warbler

Was surprised to see this flycatcher on May 30. Even more surprised to get a picture of it.

One of the last Ovenbirds – they were on the ground in the park for at least two weeks before the end of May

I don’t expect to see much along the Chicago River in the next month or two, save a Ring-Billed Gull or Herring Gull, or the occasional Mallard. Every once in a while there is a Black-Crowned Night-Heron making its way slowly along the river. But birds move and there’s always the possibility of a surprise somewhere.

I have many pictures I want to share from several Portage visits, and of course I will get back to the Texas adventure as soon as possible. Looking for more space in my non-blogging life. Survived the annual choir appreciation dinner and talent show Wednesday — the offerings from the choir members were outstanding and seem to get better and more varied every year. The “survival” part was debuting a flute-and-piano piece with my flutist extraordinaire friend Linda Rios, based on a melody I had written 50 (?) years ago to the lyrics of a Robert Frost poem, “The Vindictives.” Which has led me back to Frost and poetry in general. Looking for my next melody to show up sooner than another 50 years …And I hope to be back to this page soon!

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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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.

Clouded Sulphur Lurie 8-5-15-8464

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 Sad State of Affairs

I got home tonight around 11:30 PM after a day spent traveling back from Costa Rica. I will write about the trip in future posts, But I feel I must come to the page about what has just transpired because I am still trying to figure it out.

Prior to leaving I was scrambling to put together better bird-care instructions for the new bird care person I had found. I trusted him to follow the instructions which came with pictures of how everything should look. The instructions were detailed and when I ran out of time to finish adding all the pictures, I believe I wrote copiously about every step. The pictures and these short videos were taken with the iPhone.

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While I was taking pictures of food preparation, I also managed to get a video of Zorro singing. He appears in the video above.

Sitting in the airport in San Jose this afternoon, I got a disturbing text message from the bird care person I had hired for the second time. He told me 6 birds had died and he was upset, because he thought he was following all the instructions. Two of them, he said, were the ones that were failing. I asked him if the other four were the rest of the Zebra Finches. He said yes.

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I came in the house tonight and was shocked to find only 3 birds. One budgie and two Society Finches. When I left I had 17 birds: Two budgies (one of whom was on his last legs), five Zebra Finch males, two Spice Finches and 8 – yes 8 – Society Finches, including my two little singer guys, Hector and Franklin. Neither one of them survived. I have found some corpses but not all, and I will not elaborate on where I found them. I have found none of the Society Finches. They were very young and the healthiest. I have two left, but I’m not sure if they are the two females that came with Hector or their daughters. Well I guess I don’t have to worry anymore about them multiplying.

Finches on the budgie cage 11-2-14-0803

But I am devastated. I cannot imagine what was done or not done to kill 13 birds in a little over one week, when I have left birds for up to three weeks before this. And I am wondering what I should do. My first instinct is to try to find more birds – not 14 replacements, but at least a couple young Zebra Finches that would reproduce, so I could have several little songsters again. But then I wonder if it is wise to take on another 12-year project at my age. Is this a sign that I should stop playing music for birds? Should I get used to silence and being alone? I don’t think I could stand it.

I guess I will know the answer when I wake up to silence tomorrow morning. It will take me a week or two, perhaps, to sort this all out. I will be looking for birds, perhaps, but I am not taking in just anyone. And I will certainly be looking for another bird care person when I decide to travel again. It won’t be any time soon.

R.I.P. Hector, Franklin, Gregorio, Zorro, Beniamino, Adolfo, Pietro, Beau Budgie, Marty, Johnnie, Isabella…and one whose name I can’t remember presently, if Phoenix and Ricki are still with me.

 

Bees are Musicians Too

Bee on Cone Flower, Lurie Garden

Bee on Coneflower, Lurie Garden

Okay, this is slightly off-topic, but I found it pretty interesting. I read an article in The New York Times science section about how bees get certain flowers to release their pollen by buzzing at a certain frequency which releases the pollen. It’s a fascinating article. At one point the researcher compares bees to “little tuning forks.” All that buzzing has a reason. Music to my ears.

Bee in Cone Flower IMG_5115_1

Of course I have been bemoaning the lack of bees in my yard. Somebody else must be pollinating my tomato plants because they are bearing fruit, but I am not seeing the hoards of bees I used to have on my flowers. And my coneflowers don’t look as lush as usual. Now I know it must be because there are no bees to turn them on.

Another Bee

Another Bee

These pictures were taken yesterday afternoon at the Lurie Garden in Millennium Park. I confess I have been avoiding the parks since The Taste of Chicago began on Wednesday, but the weather was beautiful and I wanted to try out my new Canon 70-300mm lens. I sent the old one away to be fixed because it had stopped focusing after balking and acting up for about a year, but now I’m wondering if I’ll ever want to use it again. Never hurts to have a spare, but this new lens has spoiled me already.

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I had to check and see how the new park is coming along…

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Lurie was full of flowers, and here are some of my favorites. I also took pictures of the identification boards they update regularly, depending on the season. But the Compass Plant, one of which I photographed, doesn’t appear on either side of the board. Maybe there wasn’t room for everything and they had to leave the Compass Plants out, but they are big and blooming all over Lurie and on the restored prairies too.

Queen of the Prairie

Queen of the Prairie

Rusty Foxglove

Rusty Foxglove

Rattlesnake Master

Rattlesnake Master

Blazing Star

Blazing Star

Pale Coneflower

Pale Coneflower

Compass Plant

Compass Plant

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Not many breeding birds were available for photographs, but I did catch this female Red-Winged Blackbird running an errand, and when she flew away the camera caught her reddish epaulets which don’t show very often.

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Female RwBB Lurie IMG_5087_1

Female RWBB Lurie Garden IMG_5088_1

Maybe the subtitle of this post should be “Prairie in the City.”

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At the south end of the park, the sculpture garden still blooms.

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And as I waited for the light to change on Michigan Avenue on my way back to the office, a saxophonist I have never heard was playing very well with a band recording.

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Summer in the City

There are no crows in this post, and that is no accident. They are keeping a very low profile with the summer crowds. But I bet they know where the Waste From The Taste is.