Visit from a Leucistic Robin

I was quite surprised to see this visitor through my kitchen window about a week ago. I have seen an occasional leucistic American Robin but never in my yard. It was a one-time experience. Since it was preoccupied with its preening in my dying Staghorn Sumac tree, I managed to take too many photographs.

Also through the window in unsatisfactory light I did manage to see a Downy Woodpecker exchanging food with its likely offspring. There are two suet feeders hanging off the Sumac and they are star attractions for the woodpeckers and House Sparrows who have been feeding suet to their youngsters as well.

Worth mentioning, perhaps, is the fact that in spite of all the Brown-headed Cowbirds in the yard earlier this year, I haven’t seen any overgrown fledglings.

Meanwhile, in the front yard, pollinators have been busy. Visiting butterflies were a special treat. The series is of a Spicebush Swallowtail on a Purple Coneflower

Monarch Butterfly on the Common Milkweed

This is all for today. As always I hope to return soon…

A Little Local Color

The past two weeks have been challenging and I can’t seem to find a breather anywhere. Yet we race ahead into spring, even if temporarily yanked back to winter by strong winds, so I’m here with a few local images from a couple recent outings and the yard. This morning my cardinal was singing before sunrise… likely the same guy pictured below.

My windblown Northern Cardinal

Male Red-Winged Blackbirds have been coming back to claim their breeding territories for the past couple weeks. The one below was at Miller Meadow.

Also at Miller Meadow, tossed around in the wind, was a distant Red-Tailed Hawk. These pictures are cropped extensively but I liked how they captured the hawk’s maneuvers and the confirming red tail.

There was a somewhat leucistic American Robin at Miller Meadow and it was really hard to get a picture of it but it seemed worthy of documentation. I’ve never seen this before.

Below is what the Chicago Portage and the Des Plaines River nearby looked like last weekend. There were maybe 60 Common Goldeneye on the Des Plaines. I managed to get a closer view of one through the trees at the back of the Portage.

Common Goldeneye

I keep getting distracted by this shelf fungus every time I see it at the Portage.

Black-capped Chickadee, Chicago Portage
Mallards at Miller Meadow

Song Sparrows are returning to the Portage to set up territories too. I heard one singing, might have been this one.

Song Sparrow, Chicago Portage

Hadn’t run out of “winter” sparrows yet, there was a sizable flock of American Tree Sparrows at the Portage.

I will never run out of House Sparrows in my yard.

More windblown photos of my Cardinal visitors.

I never get tired of Canada Geese flying overhead in formation. People are reporting Sandhill Cranes and I hope to see some of them soon as well.

My plan is to get through a very busy weekend and return here soon! Something keeps pouring extra salt on my chaos… lately I’ve been surprised to land on two feet.

One more Downy Woodpecker at Miller Meadow…

Kouchibouguac Part 2

Ruddy Turnstone

I have been struggling to come up with a narrative for this post of pictures from the remainder of this day. Yesterday I would have finally managed it except I got sick, however briefly, and needed to sleep. Now that I’m fully recovered, it’s time to plunge into more holiday festivities.

So maybe it’s best just to let the pictures speak for themselves so I can move on to the next chapter.

Ruddy Turnstone
Common Tern with catch
Greater Yellowlegs
Another Greater Yellowlegs
A Canadian Crow
Song Sparrow

The Northern Gannets were never close, but they were always distinctive.

Pectoral Sandpiper wading with Ruddy Turnstone…

Happy Hanukah, Merry Christmas, Happy Solstice, whatever you are celebrating, and if I don’t get a chance before the 31st, Happy New Year…

Recycling the Unattached

Some of my original Zebra Finches from years past (the cleaner pot rack alone dates the photo)

I’m almost totally over the rhino-plus virus, well enough to get through what seemed like endless commitments. Now as my mind clears along with my sinuses, I am feeling remiss in keeping up with this commitment, so when I remembered this morning there is always an opportunity to fall back on those “Unattached” photographs that clog up my media library, I decided to select a few at random just for fun. A couple from the Galapagos, not so long ago, which reminds me I still have a couple days left from my trip I never covered…


Yellow Warbler – Galapagos – July 2016



Magnificent Frigatebird, Galapagos, July 2016

The three below are from a trip to East Africa in 2013.

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Gray-Crowned Cranes, November, 2013, Tanzaniya


Burchell’s Zebra, November 2013

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Pearl-Spotted Owlet, November 2013

The sunset below probably happened in Belize at Crooked Tree in March of 2014…I’ll be back with more recent endeavors soon.. Thanks for following my meanderings. I hope you enjoyed this little blast from the past.

Singing Spring Sparrows

WCSP 5-7-17-7817Virtually every morning I go out to fill the bird feeders in my backyard before I leave for work, and I have been hearing White-Crowned and White-Throated Sparrows singing for weeks, but I never see them. Looking out the windows I am used to see them foraging around on the ground, but this has not happened. So yesterday afternoon, which was absolutely gorgeous and sunlit, when I went out to sit and dig up the patch of pigwort that has invaded one section of the yard, I took the camera with me, just in case.

WCSP 5-7-17-7820I was rewarded with the presence of three White-Crowned Sparrows and two White-Throated Sparrows. The White-Throateds showed up first, digging around at the bottom of the compost pile and then sometimes in it. They didn’t stay very long, however.

Eventually I noticed something interesting: one White-Crowned Sparrow was nibbling on a piece of spray millet that I had just recently added to the compost bin. I realized some time last week that I have been throwing out chewed-up spray millet every day with the cage papers and waste from my indoor birds, which means it’s been going needlessly to the landfill. It never occurred to me that someone might find the uneaten portions of this delightful treat irresistible.

The other attraction seemed to be little leftover bits of shelled peanuts. The squirrels probably get the majority of them but the birds have been onto this use of the tree stump for a while. I keep hoping for crows but I’ll take White-Crowned Sparrows anytime.

In case you’re wondering what the back view of a White-Crowned Sparrow looks like, here’s one shot from under the feeder pole.

WCSP 5-7-17-7809The weather is still unseasonably cool but that’s nothing for the sparrows. I’m hoping they’ll stick around maybe for another week so I can continue to hear their beautiful songs. Yesterday as I had to go back into the house to resume indoor duties, I was treated to a little late-afternoon/early evening chorus I wish I had been able to record. One White-Throated Sparrow started out singing in B-flat, then a mourning dove joined in, in the same key, and then a House Finch started carrying on with his busy song. No people noise interrupted their singing. This was likely a one-time experience I’ll have to keep in my head, but it will remind me to take the recorder with me next time.

WCSP 5-7-17-7762WCSP 5-7-17-7818

Winter Hints at Spring

NOCA 2-11-16-1548In some ways, it seems like winter has finally arrived, with the temperatures dropping well below freezing and snow on the ground. Yet the days are getting longer, the extra light a promise of rebirth. And as if to emphasize the point, we are promised another one of those overcompensating warm-ups by the weekend. I am glad for that, because I am flying south (reverse migration?), and fewer layers to wear on the plane will be appreciated.

But I digress. Back to winter. Saturday I spent most of the day at the 15th Annual Gull Frolic in Winthrop Harbor, and not to be outdone by last year’s cold, Saturday was indeed extremely frigid, especially with the wind gusting off the lake. But clear, cold days have lots of sunshine. I probably will not get around to sorting out the gull photos before I leave, so I am here with last week’s food fiestas in Millennium Park.

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When I got out Thursday, no Crows were about, which is a bit unusual, but it happens. Nobody likes being taken for granted. The thought crossed my mind that they might have given up on me, but it was still a nice, sunny day at times and I enjoyed sitting on the curb, hanging out with the resident winter passerine crowd.

Friday I went out again, and this time the Crows found me.

AMCR 2-12-16-1559

watching and waiting…

Cookies and hot dogs were again voted favorite offerings.

A Black-Capped Chickadee came to investigate.

It seems even when I’m not paying close attention, the Crows still manage to capture the camera’s eye. And female Northern Cardinals, who disappear in the spring preoccupation with nesting, are easier to engage now too.

AMCR 2-12-16-1564NOCA 2-11-16-1374I probably will not be back to this page until early March. I’ll be in Nicaragua next week with Bill Hilton Jr. and Operation Rubythroat to help with banding and studying Ruby-Throated Hummingbirds. There should be many opportunities to see lots of birds, and I am sure I will add some new tropical species to my life list as well.

AMCR 2-12-16-1611I wish you all a Happy End of February and Happy Leap Year!


Meanwhile Back at the Portage

Fox Sparrow, Chicago Portage

Fox Sparrow, Chicago Portage

I am nearly finished going through all the Costa Rica photographs, I think, but in between it seemed like time to check in with the local birds over the holiday. The weather was still warm and pleasant last Sunday, so I visited the Chicago Portage. I was the only human for the first forty minutes or so. I had no expectations, which is my general approach to the Portage – that way I can always be pleasantly surprised. It turned out to be a nice visit, with Fox Sparrows predominant of the 19 total species I encountered.

Fox Sparrow

Fox Sparrow

Dark-Eyed Juncos were present, and they have been in my backyard regularly since the beginning of November. I don’t know if I’ve seen American Tree Sparrows at the Portage before but they were certainly well-represented. And White-Throated Sparrows, a little harder to see here than they are in the city but I got at least one to cooperate.

Dark-Eyed Junco

Dark-Eyed Junco

American Tree Sparrow

American Tree Sparrow

White-Throated Sparrow

White-Throated Sparrow

On the way out, I couldn’t help but notice the growth below.

Shelf Fungus

Shelf Fungus?

Downy Woodpeckers are always present at the Portage. Sometimes they are easy to see, other times not, but somehow the camera managed to capture this one in flight.

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Female Downy Woodpecker

Perhaps my biggest surprise was to discover pictures of a Red-Bellied Woodpecker feeding on dried berries, entangled enough to show off its red belly. I honestly don’t remember taking these pictures but I must have. Unless now the camera has completely taken over my brain (beware the warnings about artificial intelligence).

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Red-Bellied Woodpecker

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Red-Bellied Woodpecker, in a more likely pose

The Portage itself is always in a state of flux and it looks like this now.

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Also on the way out, about when I thought I would never see a chickadee, this Black-Capped Chickadee and a few of his buddies were foraging in dried stalks that complement their coloring perfectly.

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Black-Capped Chickadee with a worm

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Another view of the Portage and its low water levels. No birds in the water at all. There was one Canada Goose on the lawn by the parking lot and five flew over but nobody came down to hang out in the creek.

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One last photo of the Fox Sparrow who is at the top of the page. Fox Sparrows come in different races across the country (Sibley identifies four subspecies and says they’re sometimes considered separate species). The one we get here is the “red” Taiga race and this guy certainly fits the description. I just checked the Cornell website and they mention 18 subspecies within 3 or 4 groups. They are not always so easy to see, so I suppose you could spend a lot of time and effort trying to track down different types of Fox Sparrows across the continent.

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More to come from Costa Rica, and eventually a report from the home front.

Frozen in Time

Cardinal 2-1-14 4021.jpg-4021

Why, why, why do I

Always think I

Have more energy

Than I do?

Ice on the Chicago River

Ice on the Chicago River

Why, why, why do I

Think I’ll do

RBG Chicago River 1-31-14 3571.jpg-3580

More than I’ll ever

Get around to?

25 degrees F 1-30-14 3571.jpg-3571

Thursday’s heat wave

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Twenty-four seven

Four-thirty a.m till eleven

The days are way too long

Ring-Billed Gull, downtown Chicago by the river

Ring-Billed Gull, downtown Chicago by the river

And yet they fly

So quickly by

Can’t help but live them wrong

Chief Nemesis on my feeder

Chief Nemesis on my feeder

It’s only when the clock stops

And I am in the moment

That life comes by

RBGs at Chicago River 1-31-14 3644.jpg-3644

Looks me in the eye

Red-Breasted Merganser on the Chicago River

Red-Breasted Merganser on the Chicago River

And says what it so meant

American Robin, Cancer Survivors Garden 1-31-14

American Robin, Cancer Survivors Garden 1-31-14

Life is quick

Life’s a kick

Life can be expendable

Cardinal 2-1-14 3922.jpg-3922

What we share

Can take us there

And always be commendable

OH NO not more SNOW

OH NO not more SNOW

During the week and even into the weekend, I find myself distracted by too many multi-tasking thoughts. So to stop and be in the moment is priceless and irresistible. I think it must be what I love about taking pictures. I am trying to freeze a moment in time, in memory. I am also paying attention, so that inhibits the clutter of distraction. So that must be why it felt so good to pull the camera out on the way in to work the last two mornings–after two weeks of working through lunch or barely getting out at all–to stop and shoot at the river’s edge. It’s a creative process, too; the excitement of seeing something that looks like a potential photograph and trying to capture it with the camera, it’s a vision, however momentary. But it also takes me out of myself and I focus on the subject. And that is why I love birds so very much: they make me forget about me. Reminds me of that line in Joni Mitchell’s song, “All I Want” from the Blue album, “Oh I love you when I forget about me.” But with the birds it’s different. They also remind me of who I really am, without that act I have to put on during the work week.

The ultimate peace is to be relieved of one’s constant mind. I think they used to call it “Nirvana.” (No, this is not intended to be a musical reference this time. 🙂 )

Mourning Doves in my neighbor's tree

Mourning Doves in my neighbor’s tree

P.S. This House Finch was supposed to be in this post but she somehow didn’t make it.

Female House Finch

Female House Finch


Juvenile Sedge Wren, Springbrook Prairie

Juvenile Sedge Wren, Springbrook Prairie

I’m entertaining a quick post here while I still have so many pictures to go through from maybe three weeks, wondering how I will ever do anything with them…as I archive months past onto the external hard drive to leave room for photographs to come on my trip next month.

Over the weekend I encountered two juvenile birds that proved interesting. The first was from Saturday morning, on Joe Suchecki’s DuPage Birding Club walk at Springbrook Prairie. Conditions were not ideal for photographs (birds buried in the grasses at a distance), but this very cooperative juvenile Sedge Wren was only a couple feet away from us, making us wonder if it was his first encounter with people. He had a very much “What do I do now?” look about him.

Juvenile Segde Wren2 1I2A3254

The second bird nearly stumped me when I was going through the pictures until I realized it had to be a juvenile European Starling. I took these at the Chicago Portage yesterday morning. I have seen my share of juvenile Starlings – indeed they used to visit me back in Oak Park on the window ledge, and I always found them fascinating because I could still see their eyes (the adults’ eyes, recessed into black feathers, often seemed to totally disappear). Juvenile Starlings always appeared brown to me, but I have never seen an evenly black and white one – leading me to think that this is a molting bird and/or somewhat melanistic. On the other hand I never saw its back which may have been browner, because I was distracted by something else by the time it left.

Molting Juvenile Starling IMG_8263_1Juvenile Starling IMG_8264_1

Anyway I will try to be back soon with more birds from a very interesting time of year. I love fall, and the weather has just turned abruptly cooler reminding me of it.

Juvenile Starling IMG_8270_1

European Starling

The Starling pictures are coming up darker from some reason – click on them and the bird appears a bit lighter but I may have to come back and fix this later.

Off Topic and Trapped on the 46th Floor


I had planned to go down to see the Crows, the Cardinals, the White-Throated Sparrows, the Chickadees, and whoever else might have been milling about in the fallen snow yesterday, but the elevators in the building where I work stopped working about the 32nd floor. That is, they have one bank that goes up to 32, and another that goes up to 48. And as luck would have it, I am on 46.


So I took a few pictures out the windows of the office while I still had the lens attached. Not a great view on a cloudy, snowy day. The building was offering to shuttle us between 46 and 32 on the freight elevator but by the time I found that out, my lunch hour was over.


Then I began looking for a word for the phobia that could describe this situation perfectly, be diagnosed as a medical condition and perhaps qualify one for compensation (yes, I have a devious mind, especially when I feel trapped). I could not find one for “fear of being trapped in high places” – just as there is no specific word for “fear of being trapped in elevators.” But there are a few possibilities. Claustrophobia, we all know, is a fear of enclosed spaces. Agoraphobia is a fear of high places. And one I had never heard of before until I entertained this thought, Cleithrophobia, is a fear of being locked in an enclosed space, which is more like it. I propose cleithro-agoraphobia, a complex but very possible diagnosis.


As it turned out, I got home a bit early, riding a train I used to take years ago. Looking forward to getting back to nature this weekend.