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.

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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

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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

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More than I’ll ever

Get around to?

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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

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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

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American Robin, Cancer Survivors Garden 1-31-14

Life is quick

Life’s a kick

Life can be expendable

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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.

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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.

Sandhill Crane Migration

Sandhill Cranes at Jasper-Pulaski IMG_7735_1

Taking a break from the Brazil photo project, I went with friends yesterday to Jasper-Pulaski Fish and Wildlife Area in Indiana to witness the annual fall Sandhill Crane migration/gathering at their staging area. Reports were of 28,000 birds present yesterday. I don’t know how you count 28,000 birds, but there were an awful lot.

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The weather was an additional perk this year: unlike previous visits, I could stand outside and watch the entire dusk display without feeling any pressure to run back to a warm vehicle. Memories of this event in previous years always conjures up visions of dealing with extreme cold. But yesterday it was almost 70 degrees Fahrenheit. It seemed almost sacrilege to be so comfortable.

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It was cloudy but hard to complain. I think the cranes were enjoying the mild temperatures too.

Sandhills IMG_7753_1

I’d be very interested in the contributions made to the recording by the critters in attendance. I wanted to comment on Julie’s post but her comments aren’t working for some reason so I’ve decided to put this up on my blog.

Chicago Portage, early spring

Chicago Portage

Spring and all things new again, at the Chicago Portage. We’ve had enough rain to add water to the ponds and streams that otherwise appear dead with overgrown algae in the summertime because no water flows directly into them. Creatures manage to make a living off this place anyway.

Painted Turtles

Lots of turtles sunning themselves. Yesterday was beautiful, cooler than it was last week but still quite warm in the sun.

Snapping Turtle

There is one place under the bridge closest to the south side that has moving water draining out of the Portage…

More birds heard than seen but when I arrived the Blue Jays were making a lot of racket, and I figured they’d be predictably hard to see. The butterflies were barely cooperative.

I think these are Cabbage Whites.

 This cardinal was singing.

And down at the north end, a pair of Canada Geese have arrived to choose a nesting spot,

and I guess you could say the same for the Mallards.

Northern Flicker, Yellow-Shafted

There were several Northern Flickers, for the most part flying away, but I managed to catch this one off guard.

And my reward at the end of my walk was a Blue Jay who didn’t seem to mind my presence as long as he could hide behind a twig.

Here he is a little less twiggy but not quite as blue.

Let my wings do the talking

White-Wing never speaks. Her peers caw incessantly, but she always arrives in silence and gets her point across with her presence.

So when all the cawing in the world didn’t seem to be pulling me away from trying to find migrants in the park yesterday…

Fox Sparrow foraging in the yews

as I finally turned to walk back toward the crows, White-Wing flew toward me and landed just a few feet away. Her body language conveyed, “don’t worry, I’ll get her attention.”

So why doesn’t she talk?

(a) She’s mute;

(b) She’s low in the hierarchy;

(c) She’s too cool;

(d) None of the above.

One thing’s for sure. She doesn’t mind the one-on-one, in fact, she invites it. But as soon as she’s ready to leave, she tries to beat the camera.

And she wins every time.