American Redstart Returns

AMRE 05-15-17-8410

American Redstart (male, 2nd year or older) at 155 N. Wacker

I heard a bird in my yard the other morning that didn’t sound like any of the regulars. Rather, it reminded me of the American Redstart I heard at 155 N. Wacker about a week ago – all along thinking there was a Common Yellowthroat hiding somewhere, until I realized it was the Redstart singing.

The bird downtown was pretty insistent – I think he was trying to get me to pay attention to him. The next day when I stopped by the little park at 155 N. Wacker, he was gone. So he was probably telling me to get a photo before he left, which I did.

Below, some badly lit shots of another adult male…

American Redstarts have a reputation for being hard to identify by song because they have so many different songs, or different dialects, and I have never really paid that much attention to their singing because they’re usually easy to identify with one flash of the tail.

AMRE 5-18-17-9221But after hearing the bird in my yard, which unfortunately I did not see and because I had to go to work I couldn’t hang out long enough to look for it, I wondered if perhaps Redstarts might pass around a  new “hit song” every spring – sort of like the Humpback Whales that come up with new songs they spread around, or like European Starlings that decide their new “hit” is to imitate a Killdeer, for instance, which was a phenomenon I observed a few years ago.

Below, some first-year males in transition. It’s interesting to see how the black and orange coloring is slowly coming in.

So I guess now I will be paying more attention to this bird’s vocalizations. It’s a reminder that I really should buckle down and learn to recognize more warbler songs anyway since half the time I am struggling to see them and don’t get a view worth noting otherwise.

Below is a female American Redstart. A bit duller in color than the first-year males.

Lots more birds to think about lurk in pictures I have taken through this peripatetic migration season. I will be back with more after the Memorial Day weekend.

AMRE 5-18-17-9254AMRE 05-22-17-9374

City Migrants – Fall Migration 2016

If I’d been thinking clearly I probably would have postponed the cataract removal until after fall migration, but I ventured anyway into the wilds of downtown Chicago after I convinced myself that with patience and practice I could temporarily look through the view finder on the Canon with my left eye… Anyway, I managed to find quite a few cooperative birds to photograph and have decided to share them now before I invite you back to the Galapagos. A couple more shots of the Chestnut-Sided Warbler below. Responding to my thoughts, as I’m taking pictures of him, of “what a beautiful bird you are.”

First-year male American Redstarts are always welcome.

Things didn’t seem to get really active until last week. There’s probably a whole lot more I could have done if I put my mind to it, but I’ll get my new prescription lens in a few days and with luck, all my kvetching will fade away. (Don’t hold me to it!)

Red-Winged Blackbirds breed in Millennium Park so these birds below likely hatched this year.

Below, a Canada Warbler on the left and a Wilson’s Warbler on the right, both at Lake Shore East Park a couple weeks ago. The Canada was shy.

Juvenile European Starlings in their in-between plumage, which I find fascinating. They look more like “Star”-lings to me. They’re not exactly migrants…unless they’re from another planet?

starlings-9-9-2016-lse-park-0604I wonder if the Common Grackle below could be a molting adult, without its long tail.

cogr-9-16-2016-lse-molting-1005Magnolia Warblers have been coming through for weeks.


Not a lot of thrushes this year – sometimes they show up in large groups. A Gray-Cheeked Thrush that was at 155 N. Wacker on the left, and a Hermit Thrush on the right and below.


Hermit Thrush

Two views of an Orange-Crowned Warbler at the Boeing garden, below.

Two Blackpoll Warblers…

Similar to the Blackpoll but a bit different this time of year, a Bay-Breasted Warbler. I think! Confusing Fall Warblers redux.


Bay-Breasted Warbler…?

Two more Blackpolls below.

And now, signalling the tail end of warbler migration, Palm Warblers, below…

and Yellow-Rumped Warblers (Myrtle subspecies).

And the same two species in flight, Palm on the left, Yellow-Rumped (with the yellow rump showing), below. Note the similarities…and differences.

My prize discovery last week was a beautiful male Black-Throated Blue Warbler. I think we have been seeing more of this species the last couple years but it’s still not common and always special. Luckily this one liked to show off.


Black-Throated Blue Warbler

Golden-Crowned Kinglets are coming through but hard to capture in cloudy light. Or at least that’s my excuse.

gcki-9-29-2016-lse-park-1873On the 29th I saw this presumably female Wilson’s Warbler, below, at Lake Shore East Park, and am glad I had pictures to prove it to ebird – apparently it’s late in the season to see a Wilson’s. Others reported seeing them too, in the area.

I always look forward to the return of the White-Throated Sparrows. I have seen a couple other species too and I’m hoping to take some pictures of them this week.

The Black-and-White below appears to be a female.


Black-and-White Warbler

A late Magnolia.


Magnolia Warbler

Red-Breasted Nuthatches are visible this year.


Red-Breasted Nuthatch

I have a new crop of juvenile Crows that look for me. We will hang out more over the winter months when there are no more migrants.


I had to run an errand on Friday all the way over to the river, and on the way back into the office, as I crossed the street at Wells and Madison, I heard a loud “caw-caw-caw.” I stopped and looked up but saw nothing. “Caw-caw-caw” again. I waited. People streamed by me on their way to wherever, I’m sure they did not hear the crow, and no one was curious about why I had stopped to look. Then, in the top branches of a locust tree planted in the sidewalk across the street, the crow moved. After we acknowledged each other’s presence, he was silent. I crossed the street to get a better look and he appeared to be fiddling with something dark but I can’t say what it was, a bat, shoe leather, hard to tell without binoculars. But how nice to be recognized by this super-intelligent creature. Made my day. 🙂

Where Have All The Birds Gone?

Yellow-Bellied Sapsucker

Yellow-Bellied Sapsucker, scaling a building wall next to 155 N. Wacker Drive, Chicago

I could just as easily re-title this post to “Where Has All The Time Gone?” since I’m still trying to make adjustments to my ever-changing schedule. But this will be a brief tribute to some of the birds I have seen passing through downtown Chicago a few weeks ago. (There will be still more photographs from the rest of the month in a future post.)

The following warblers were present at Lake Shore East Park on September 28. This was probably the last “peak” of warbler migration along the lakefront.

AMRE 9-28-15-3081

American Redstart

BLPW 9-28-15-2934

Blackpoll Warbler

TEWA 9-28-15-3092

Tennessee Warbler

MAWA LSE Park 9-28-15 -2902

Magnolia Warbler

Yellow-Rumped Warblers tend to come through and hang around a bit later, so I was not surprised to see this one the following week.

YLWA LSE Park 10-06-15 -3521

Yellow-Rumped Warbler, October 6, 2015

Yellow-Rumped Warbler

Yellow-Rumped Warbler

But I was surprised to find the Connecticut Warbler below poking around in the grass as I was walking through Millennium Park on my way to Lake Shore East. There wasn’t much light and the bird was under some trees so this was the best I could do with the photograph.

COWA Millennium Park 10-05-15 -3296

Connecticut Warbler, Millennium Park, October 5, 2015

I have seen only a few White-Crowned Sparrows this fall, like the one below which popped out at 100 N. Riverside Plaza.

WCSP 10-2-15 (1 of 1)

White-Crowned Sparrow, October 2, 2015

I think the White-Throated Sparrow below was also from this new location. I will have more pictures and more to say about this newly discovered green space area along the Chicago River in a future post.

WTSP 10-05-15 -3319

White-Throated Sparrow, October 5, 2015

There have been a lot of Brown Creepers this fall migration.

BRCR LSE Park 10-06-15 -3595

Brown Creeper, Lake Shore East Park, October 6, 2015

And Ruby-Crowned Kinglets…

RCKI LSE Park 10-07-15 -4043

Ruby-Crowned Kinglet, Lake Shore East Park, October 7, 2015

For a couple weeks, almost, the most ubiquitous bird seemed to be Hermit Thrushes. I am still seeing an individual here and there.

HETH LSE Park 10-07-15 -3954

Hermit Thrush, Lake Shore East Park, October 7, 2015

The Yellow-Bellied Sapsuckers are now all gone.

YBSA LSE Park 10-06-15 -3552

Yellow-Bellied Sapsucker, October 6, 2015

At first I thought the bird below was yet another Hermit Thrush but on closer inspection I have decided it’s probably a Gray-Cheeked Thrush. Light can be tricky, but the heavy spotting on the breast and the darker flanks give him away almost more than his facial pattern.

HETH 9-28-15-2951

Gray-Cheeked Thrush, Lake Shore East Park, September 28, 2015

And for the longer view, here he is again sharing tree space with a shy Lincoln’s Sparrow.

GCTH and LISP LSE Park 9-28-15 -2964

So the warblers are all gone until spring. I did have a late Black-Throated Green Warbler on October 22nd which I posted on my flickr page before I realized I could now just upload it directly into ebird. It was my last “rare bird” sighting.

Below is another picture of the beautiful Blackpoll Warbler from September 28.

BPWA LSE Park 9-28-15 -3013I have more posts in mind and am just working on finding the time and mind space!

Thanks for your patience and indulgence!

City Visitors, or Where the Birds Are

Black-and-White Warbler, Lake Shore East Park

Black-and-White Warbler, Lake Shore East Park

Apologies to all my followers for not posting sooner (and all those I follow for not showing up), but I have been busy with work and trying to spend every free moment paying attention to birds indoors and out, so by the time I get around to reviewing photos I fall asleep. So there have been about 10 potential blog posts running out of my head over the last two weeks before I could hang onto them.

American Redstart, 155 N. Wacker Drive

American Redstart, 155 N. Wacker Drive

So before I fell asleep again last night as it was past my bed time, I decided to simply share with you some of my favorite subjects over the past week from a couple city parks and green spaces. Except for the Least Flycatcher, I have limited this post to warbler species.

Black-Throated Green Warbler, Union Station

Black-Throated Green Warbler, Union Station

Black-Throated Green Warbler, Union Station

Black-Throated Green Warbler, Union Station

The first day I found the Black-Throated Green Warbler at Union Station, there was also a Black-Throated Blue Warbler singing and a Baltimore Oriole singing as well. Actually it was the Baltimore Oriole’s song that drew my attention to the now-fenced-in-for-no-obvious-reason garden area. The fact that the garden area was inaccessible to me and the smokers who like to sit on the benches probably made it more attractive to the bugs and the birds who were eating them. I did not get a great picture of the Black-Throated Blue, but was glad to see him. The Oriole was coy but uncooperative.

Common Yellowthroat, Lake Shore East Park

Male Common Yellowthroat, Lake Shore East Park

Lake Shore East Park has been my most constant afternoon destination, and there were a couple good days, but it doesn’t seem as birdy as last year or the year before. The weather has been a factor all spring too, with alternating warm fronts and cold fronts confusing everything. We are presently about thirty degrees cooler than we were on Monday. Monday was hot.

Least Flycatcher, Lake Shore East Park

Least Flycatcher, Lake Shore East Park

Least Flycatchers were fairly common for a couple days. Catbirds have been regular sightings in every nook and cranny.

Gray Catbird, Lake Shore East Park

Gray Catbird, Lake Shore East Park

Male American Redstarts come in two plumages. The first-year males still look a bit like the females, only orangey instead of a paler yellow. The after-first-year males are black and orange-red.

American Redstart

American Redstart

American Redstart, first-year male

American Redstart, first-year male

Hardly a day has gone by that I have not seen or heard a Northern Waterthrush. I usually see them on the lawn, so it was nice to catch one resting on a branch.

Northern Waterthrush, Lake Shore East Park

Northern Waterthrush, Lake Shore East Park

Ovenbirds are still around, too.

Ovenbird, Lake Shore East Park

Ovenbird, Millennium Park

Spring would not be spring without male Magnolia Warblers.

Magnolia Warbler, Millennium Park

Magnolia Warbler, Millennium Park

Magnolia Warbler, Millennium Park

Magnolia Warbler, Millennium Park

Redstarts are everywhere now. The adult males seem to like to show off.

AMRE 5-13-15-1671

Below is a first-year male, looking eager to start his first breeding season.

AMRE LSE Park 05-13-15-1512

I hope to get another post or two in order over the Memorial Day weekend (thunderstorms are predicted for Memorial Day). As always I think I will be able to conquer my entire to-do list because I have an extra day. So far Saturday’s weather looks best, so that will be a birding day. Passerine migration is nearly over, but I need proof.

Bye, Bye Birdies

Cooper's Hawk

Cooper’s Hawk

It’s so hard to leave, but preparation for it has also made it hard to do anything else. I’m leaving for the airport in less than 3 hours and I still have to buy fresh veggies for the indoor crowd and finish packing. So this will be a very, very quick post. The Cooper’s was in Grant Park last Friday when I managed to go down early before work.

Crows in Millennium Park

Crows in Millennium Park

These pictures were taken over the last few days on my way to work or on a very brief lunch break. I managed to say goodbye to my crows in Millennium (there were about 20 overall) and on the way in to work, to my little friend Lincoln’s Sparrow who was still there as of yesterday. But I fully expect everyone at 155 N. Wacker to disappear over the next three weeks when I don’t show up to shower them with birdseed.

Crows with peanuts

Crows with peanuts

The Hermit Thrush below was last seen a few days ago, but there were still some in Millennium Park as of Thursday.

Hermit Thrush, 155 N. Wacker Drive

Hermit Thrush, 155 N. Wacker Drive

Goodbye, little Lincoln’s. He’s been such a good friend. And he gave me an excuse to try out and learn how to use the flash attachment, bless his heart.

Lincoln IMG_1811_1

Lincoln’s Sparrow

The crows in Millennium have settled in as the crowds are dissipating. I hope I haven’t made them too tame.

Crow IMG_1712_1

I know the crows will be there for me when I return. I look forward to posting all about my trip when I get back.

Thanks to everyone for reading and following my blog!! I’m off on safari…!

“Rare” Late Migrants!

Gray Catbird

Gray Catbird

Yesterday on my way in to the office I stopped by 155 N. Wacker Drive, as usual, to visit with the White-Throated Sparrows, see if the Hermit Thrush was still around… and to my surprise, a Gray Catbird jumped right out onto the cement edge of the elevated berm, looked me in the eye, and took off for the trees hugging the brick building. Whenever birds fly to those trees I can hardly ever see them and give up on any thoughts of getting pictures.

I heard the Hermit Thrush but did not see it. Incidentally, I hope to record this sound some day because this year is the first time I’ve become aware of it with Hermit Thrushes: it’s a whirry call that almost sounds like a purr, which I first identified by process of elimination a few weeks ago when I found a Hermit Thrush in my yard, then later checked on my Bird Tunes app and confirmed it.

So yesterday morning I figured I had a list of birds to submit to ebird and was not surprised when I had to write in the Gray Catbird. But I was later asked to prove it, at least by description if not a picture, and since I didn’t have a picture, I thought well, maybe I should go back and to see if it was still around on my lunch hour.

White-Throated Sparrow

White-Throated Sparrow

The White-Throated Sparrows were happy to see me again, and I stood still almost at the edge of the sidewalk so they would not feel pressured by me and my camera. While I was waiting to see who else might show up, the Hermit Thrush dashed out below me.

Hermit Thrush

Hermit Thrush

And then the Catbird came out – cautiously at first – but then got used to me and let me get several pictures in the ever-darkening light. The clouds were moving in fast yesterday afternoon!

Gray Catbird IMG_1044_1Gray Catbird IMG_1039_1

Just amazed to stand there and visit with the birdies, alone except for one woman sitting off to the side with her cell phone and cigarette.

And then suddenly I saw a Lincoln’s Sparrow and I knew this was probably going to be another rare sighting.

Lincoln's Sparrow

Lincoln’s Sparrow

Lincoln's Sparrow IMG_1128_1

The funny thing about the Lincoln’s was after I had taken several pictures of him, he flew up into the tree to my left to give me a better view. Or to check me out, or to say thank you, because by now I had scattered some more bird seed. It was the least I could do for such a cooperative bunch.

When I got back to the office I submitted another ebird report and I had to justify the Lincoln’s Sparrow because yes, it too was a rare sighting at this date. And then last night at the suggestion of the submission monitor, I discovered how to embed photos into my ebird reports, so I added the two rare sightings to support my observations. Now I feel like a citizen scientist…

Lincoln's Sparrow

Lincoln’s Sparrow

Hard to let go of the locals just yet. But a picture is still worth a 1,000 words, heh.

Running Out of Bugs

White-Throated Sparrow, Lurie Garden

White-Throated Sparrow, Lurie Garden

The White-Throated Sparrows and their allies have adjusted their diet to berries and seeds as a result of the drop in temperatures. While I still see them scratching around for bugs buried in the dirt, they are getting hungrier. I started feeding the White-Throated Sparrows at 155 N. Wacker Drive the past week and after a couple days they all came flying over to meet me on Friday.

Here’s a little video of one happy customer.

I was also trying to get footage or whatever you call video output of them getting into little arguments over whose birdseed it was. This video’s a bit longer and not terribly clear, given the light limitations I guess. Anyway I put it on YouTube if you’re curious. Yes, there’s a House Sparrow in there too, looking beaten at his own game.

Last week I managed to get photos of one White-Throated Sparrow eating berries which look just like the berries on the hawthorn tree in my backyard. I am still waiting for someone to discover them.

WT Sparrow with Berries IMG_0098_1WT Sparrow Berry Eater IMG_0106_1WT Sparrow Berry Eater IMG_0101_1

In among all the White-Throated Sparrows every once in a while there is a Song Sparrow or a juvenile White-Crowned Sparrow.

Song Sparrow

Song Sparrow

Juvenile White-Crowned Sparrow

Juvenile White-Crowned Sparrow

Song Sparrow IMG_9858_1

Song Sparrow

Now that we’ve flirted with freezing, it’s warming up a bit again. It will be interesting to see if the fluctuating temperatures cause migrants to linger a bit longer.

Early Bird Gets Worm

Tasty Bug 1 IMG_9672_1

Wednesday on my way to work, I visited with White-Throated Sparrows at Union Station and 155 N. Wacker. There were at least a dozen or more at each location, making them easy to see and sometimes photograph. The light is always poor, though, early in the morning at 155 N. Wacker because of the building shadows. Even so, sometimes it’s worth the effort.

Tasty Bug 2 IMG_9673_1

So I had this White-Throated Sparrow who was so interested in his worm, he almost forgot about me. Click on the pictures for enlargements.

Tasty Bug 4 IMG_9676_1

Here’s a side view of another White-Throated Sparrow. The individual differences between birds always interest me.

WT Sparrow IMG_9707_1

Later that afternoon at the Lurie Garden, I caught this White-Throated Sparrow contemplating his next move. The garden must seem like heaven for these guys this time of year.

WT Sparrow IMG_9751_1

More sparrows to come.

The Tiny Ones

Winter Wren IMG_9625

I saw very few birds today due in part to a rainy forecast and a meeting at work, but I am happy to report the birds I did see were all alive and well. And they have dictated this post.

Winter Wren IMG_9616

I never tire of Winter Wrens and this morning at 155 North Wacker Drive I had one who was hopping around right in front of me. Darting around quickly, Winter Wrens remind me of field mice.

Winter Wren IMG_9623

Then up on the 46th floor mid-morning, my coworkers drew my attention to three Golden-Crowned Kinglets who were foraging for bugs ion the balcony.

GC Kinglet IMG_9659

The kinglets kept hunting for at least 15 minutes, which was long enough for me to show them off to at least a few interested people. The attorneys all have spiders hanging webs outside their windows, indicating one can make a good living off bugs all the way up there, so I was not surprised to see birds taking advantage of the insect offering.

GC Kinglet IMG_9652

Unfortunately I had to settle for pictures through the window and the blinds, but these tiny jewels were just close enough to photograph anyway.

GC Kinglet IMG_9665_1

GC Kinglet IMG_9648

I wonder if they continued their rooftop forays throughout the city. It’s probably a good strategy, making it easier for them to get their bearings.

Brown Creeper Confusion

Brown Creeper

Brown Creeper

I was late getting in to work this morning.  The birds made me do it.

First, I found a dead Hermit Thrush at 123 N. Wacker, the same building where I found the stunned Hermit Thrush last week. It was windy and chilly this morning, so I should not have been surprised, I suppose, but I hate to see dead birds. What a beautiful bird it was too; could not have been dead long. At any rate, what else to do but pull out one of my trusty paper bags and call Chicago Bird Collision Monitors? They were very busy and my ca;; went straight through to voice mail.

Brown Creeper IMG_9499_1

Then at 155 N. Wacker right near the entrance to the building, which has an enormous glass-walled facade underneath a portico, I found a stunned Brown Creeper. It’s amazing to me how many people walked by and did not even stop to look at this little gem. He was alive and at first having none of me catching him and putting him into a bag, so I stayed with him as he tried to catch a spider. The spider escaped and I tried to edge it back toward the bird but the spider was having none of it. I started emptying my bag to use it as a net, but the creeper was wise to that and started flying up against the big glass wall until he became exhausted. That was when I caught him more easily and, thinking I was going into work and the Bird Collision Monitors were too busy, I took him over to the albeit-not-so-great trees in the mini-park at 155 N. Wacker. He seemed okay with that and he flew to the trunk of the first tree.

I was then in my usual spot checking out the White-Throated Sparrow population and  decided to walk around the back to where there is a bike rack. One White-Throated Sparrow was calling from a bush there. I was then ready to leave, figuring I had seen everybody, when I encountered a stunned Hermit Thrush on the sidewalk. I could not imagine missing him, so he must have just hit the building while I was visiting the sparrow. The thrush was easy to pick up in that state, so I put him in a bag to keep him warm and out of trouble, affixed a paper clip to the top, and called the monitors again. I knew now I was going to stay and wait for help, however long it took.

The monitor taking calls rang me back and said they would send someone right over. Soon Nancy called me and said she was on Wacker Drive in front of the building. I walked over and delivered the two thrushes. One dead, one alive. I watched as she labeled them and made sure she had the correct information for each bird. We chatted a little and I left.

But then I found a Brown Creeper, most likely the same one, splayed on the sidewalk by the windows. I reached down, picked him up, and headed back to Wacker Drive, running north, yelling, “Nancy, Nancy!” When Nancy turned around, I met her with the Brown Creeper. She opened up a little bag to receive him and I reached in with my hand to release him – and he would not let go. He clung on to my warm finger with his tiny foot. I told him he had to leave, that Nancy would take good care of him, and he finally let go with a little prodding from me. I wonder if by then he might have decided his fate was inextricably connected to mine. I trust Nancy got him to a better place where he found his bearings and continued on his journey south.

Here’s a picture of a Brown Creeper I took last week or so, who was not lost.

Brown Creeper IMG_7743_1

And another this afternoon, at Lake Shore East Park.

 Brown Creeper IMG_9574_1