Raptorous Encounters

A pair of Bald Eagles at the Portage

It never fails, when I have no expectations of seeing anything unusual, something unexpected occurs. It began last Saturday morning when I decided to visit the Portage. I was on my way out the last leg of the trail when I encountered a perched Bald Eagle. And then a moment or two later, his mate appeared. I took way too many pictures, never having an unobstructed angle, and the birds were distant, but their immense size made up for the lack of proximity.

It also seems no matter how hard I try, I can’t manage a timely blog post. But before I belabor that point, I promise this will be short.

There’s always a bit of a let-down in the fall with the shorter days and colder weather, but the colder months bring a whole new perspective to birding and once you figure out how to stay warm enough, it’s the perfect cure for cabin fever.

When the eagles finally took off they flew north toward Ottawa Trail. I suspect they have a nesting spot somewhere or were shopping for one. I hope to see one or both of them again soon.

Also at the Portage when I first arrived, were two Red-Tailed Hawks, ushered in by Ten Crows. I have never seen so many crows at the Portage. Likely the hawks got their attention and drew them in. But I didn’t even know there were Ten Crows in the vicinity. A Mini Murder.

Ten Crows at the Portage

As it turned out, only one hawk remained to soar around for quite a while, at a reasonable distance for a few photographs. The light was poor but the flight was skillful.

On Sunday morning I went downtown to visit the Lakefront Crows and had a couple raptorous moments there too. Like this juvenile Cooper’s Hawk…and then a Peregrine Falcon.

I will return with a full report on the Lakefront Crows and other recent avian encounters. The pressure of fall passerine migration has been replaced by encroaching holiday commitments. We always seem to be in a hurry. As we rush toward the end of the year… I hope you are finding some moments of peace.

October’s End

A goal for the last two years has been to get up to Goose Lake Natural Area and the Hebron Trail in October to see Sandhill Cranes. October weekends were flying by with other commitments and I kept hoping for decent weather, should I attempt the trip on the last Sunday of the month. I was rewarded with available sunshine and went to investigate. I saw only 18 Cranes eventually, when there had been a few hundred reported earlier in the week, but I was lucky to have three calling raucously and flying right overhead.

My start down the eastward Hebron Trail, which is a gravel trail built on an old railroad bed, yielded a flurry of Cedar Waxwings, Robins and Starlings at the start.

Hebron Trail
Cedar Waxwing
European Starling

The more often I visit this place, the more I fall in love with it. But it takes me an hour and a half to drive up there, no matter which way I go. The first time or two I wasn’t sure I was ever going to find it, but now I know the route and the landmarks and it’s easy – just a long haul.

Not long after I reached the end of the tree-lined part of the trail, I saw this male Northern Harrier fly across the field and then maybe twenty minutes later it flew by right in front of me.

Sparrow migration is in full force and I saw plenty of sparrows to prove it. It was especially nice to see the Vesper and Savannah Sparrows. Also this was my first American Tree Sparrow of the season. Since I’m already over seeing Juncos come back, I see no problem welcoming the Tree Sparrows, as both species herald the return of colder months.

Vesper Sparrow
Savannah Sparrow
American Tree Sparrow

There weren’t a lot of birds in the water, mainly American Coots. There were some Pied-Billed Grebes, but they were too far away to capture adequately.

American Coots

As I went through my photographs last Sunday, I realized I still had photos from my last visit back at the end of July, when I wondered if there were any Yellow-Headed Blackbirds left. I’m including some of those photos below.

Yellow-Headed Blackbird (female)
Song Sparrow
American Goldfinch
This Halloween Pennant would have been much more appropriate if I’d managed to post this last week!
Another reason why I like this place – I always see Crows!
Widow Skimmers look even better in retrospect.

A couple more of the Sandhills… My resolution for next year is to visit this place more often, maybe even closer to the peak times for certain species. Either way, it’s a beautiful place and I am happy to share it with you.

Waking Up Was Harder This Morning

Spring so desperately wants to happen. Or so I wrote when I was starting to put together this post four days ago. But then we had to spring the clocks forward, as if shifting more light to the end of the day would hurry up spring faster. However, we have been held back by what seems like the longest winter ever, and that one-more-day philosophy takes over. I may be too tired to know what I’m writing here, but I think the bright sunshine and the angle of its light now helps to wake me up, wakes the birds up, and the trees are probably musing among themselves, the time is coming.

I’ve managed to walk along the river a few times in the last couple of weeks, whether on my way in to work or those rare times when I manage to take a break and go for a walk. The weather has made it more difficult. I got out today for half an hour or so. The wind made it quite chilly, but wherever I could find a patch of sun, there was hope, if not many birds.

In any event, below are some pictures I took of Red-Breasted Mergansers last week. They’ve been hanging out in the river lately, like they did last year. One evening before I got on the train, I counted over 100 within my view outside the station. The pictures below are from one morning last week when there were four males trying to attract one female. She got into the act at one point chasing off one of her suitors. Click on the images for a better view.

Here’s the guy she decided upon. I love her mascara.
Here is a Common Merganser for comparison.

Herring Gulls have been following the mergansers hoping to snatch the ducks’ catch.

I was really surprised on an earlier walk to see a River Crow! A Herring Gull was surprised to see him too and tried to knock the Crow off his perch, but of course, the Crow was triumphant.

On my way back to the office, I looked back to see the Crow cawing about his victory.

I’m hoping for a Return of the River Crow. I miss hanging out with the Lakefront Crows terribly, and it would be just so neat to have a River Crow following. So now every time I go out, I carry peanuts, just in case.

The moon was beautiful a couple weeks ago, so I took a few pictures after I went swimming (there are always better moon views in the gym parking lot). It was exactly a month after the night of the blood moon when my former Prius C was totaled. The shock has almost completely worn off, and I’m very happy with the new car. It’s easier to give people rides, so there are more conversations. And I am about to find out how much easier it will be to fill up the hatch with birdseed. What more could I want?

Crow Holiday Post

Two weekends ago now it is, I went to down to the lakefront to find Crows and whoever else might be hanging out. I was fortunate to be greeted by a group of five crows by Buckingham Fountain who remembered me from the last visit and indicated that by gathering around the same spot I fed them last time. I chose a better spot this time, I think, without a fence around it.

They didn’t seem too enthusiastic to see the cookies, but I suspect that’s because they’re youngsters and haven’t been exposed to them yet. I may run the experiment again next weekend and see if their reaction to the cookies is any different, because I’m sure after they were done caching and stashing all the peanuts they came back to check out whatever was left of the cookies. I say that because there were squirrels starting to show up.

There was a Cooper’s Hawk that flew into some trees which I tried to get a better shot of than the one below…

But since that didn’t happen, I walked down along the lakefront to see waterfowl. Most of the ducks were too far away to photograph, and they seemed to consist mainly of both Common and Red-Breasted Mergansers, a few Common Goldeneye and a couple Coots.

Inevitably there were a lot of Canada Geese. They flew into the lake from Butler Field at one point. As long as there is open water I have a feeling they won’t be going anywhere else anytime soon.

I came back inland and walked through Millennium Park seeing nothing of interest. But as I neared Randolph on the north end of the park, I saw some crows across the street so I followed them behind the Blue Cross Blue Shield Building where we have never met before. It seems like too staid a situation for peanuts but I picked a safe-looking corner, knowing the Crows would soon remove all the peanuts and no one would notice.

Thinking these are likely the same Crows that hung around Lake Shore East Park, I decided to see if they remembered the wall running along the Radisson parking lot that protects people and cars from falling into the empty lot below. The Crows picked up on the location immediately.

Apologies if this becomes a strange-looking post: I’ve been having issues with this new editor. Half the time I can’t see what I’m doing. It’s great!

Nothing makes my heart soar like the sight of a Crow in flight so I’m glad my friends obliged me that day.

Onward to the busy holiday weekend. I have Christmas Eve off of work this year thanks to the calendar, so the prospect of 4 days off in a row has given me a heady, almost drunk feeling of security that I can accomplish even half the things on my list. I am singing in a near-midnight candlelit service on Monday… I will try to report back soon. Until then, best wishes to all for a warm and loving holiday season.

The Goldfinches Have Spoken

AMGO 01-13-2017-4824It took a while to capture the goldfinches on the thistle socks but I was determined since I never know when they might disappear again. But they seem to be happy for the moment. This was the scene in the yard on Saturday. Try counting how many goldfinches are in the picture above. I get 17, but there could be a couple more on the other side of the socks that were not visible.

At first I took several pictures through the back porch windows, but even if they were clean, the screens would make the image fuzzy, so I decided to try going outside, knowing fully well that I would flush the birds and they might take their time coming back.

When nobody came back to the feeders after a few chilly minutes, I decided to walk out to the front yard when I heard crows calling from that direction. As far as I could tell they were not harassing a raptor. I was happy to see them hanging out in the vicinity. They were a bit too far away for the 300mm lens and I couldn’t get all six of them to line up at any one time but I managed to commemorate a crow presence.

AMCR 01-20-2017-4787There was a starling.

EUST 01-20-2017-4742And a nice male House Finch.

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A female house finch offered an even better pose.

HOFI 01-20-2017-4725But I really wanted to see how many goldfinches I could capture on the thistle socks before they dispersed, so I walked back slowly toward the yard and snuck up on them, hanging by the gate.

The goldfinches have shown their preference for fresh niger in three large socks. I have noticed from previous experience that the more socks I hang, the more will come. And I really think they like this situation because they don’t have to compete with the other birds for position, only each other.

Not much else to report locally at the moment, I’ll be back to pictures from Ecuador shortly.

 

We Pause for a Brief Message from…The Crows

crow-cancer-survivors-2-6-17-7464Today may be Monday, but it was also a beautiful day, with ample sunshine at least in the morning and early afternoon hours, and we warmed up to 54 degrees, which is downright balmy. So I went for a walk this afternoon in search of…birds.

Unlike my most recent visits, there were no Cardinals or White-Throated Sparrows to be seen, although I heard one or two. The Black-Capped Chickadees were more vocal but hiding.

I checked the two usual places in Millennium Park before I set off for the Cancer Survivors Garden and then as I approached. I thought I saw four large black birds perched in a tree down at the southeast end. Could it be…?

crows-cancer-survivors-2-6-17-7427Yes, they were Crows. And there they sat, silent and still. I wondered if maybe one of them was the individual that had flown by on Thursday and since today was such a nice day, it gathered friends to hang out with to see if I was for real.

I put peanuts and some pretty-stale-by-now Birdz cookies at the base of the tree they were in. And the Crows just sat there in the tree, still, silent.

I went to a far bench where I could sit and watch them, and they remained stone-faced. After a minute or two I decided I should probably go back to work. It was only as I started walking away, they all followed me.

I didn’t mind being tricked out of more treats. I put peanuts and the rest of the stale cookies at the base of one of the trees where we used to hang out, and sat down and watched them party. Two Chickadees showed up and also got to work on some birdseed. The Crows started to call a little bit. It was like seeing old friends and picking up right where we left off.

All I can hope for is that this is not a singular occurrence and that we meet again on a regular basis. I realize I have to hold up my end too: it’s up to me to show up more often as well.

Spring is coming.

In case you’re wondering, we didn’t talk politics. In fact it occurred to me later that the Crows really don’t like crowds, and maybe the protests and marches kept them away, so it was only fitting they had me to themselves for our reunion.

amcr-cancer-survivors-2-6-17-7701

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.

cswa-9-27-2016-lse-park-1734

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.

heth-9-29-2016-lse-park-2025

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.

bbwa-9-22-2016-boeing-1243

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.

btbw-9-27-2016-lse-park-1603

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-9-29-2016-lse-park-2118

Black-and-White Warbler

A late Magnolia.

mawa-9-29-2016-lse-park-2122

Magnolia Warbler

Red-Breasted Nuthatches are visible this year.

rbnu-9-29-2016-lse-park-2014

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.

amcr-9-22-2016-loop-1301amcr-9-27-2016-lse-park-1798

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. 🙂