Today 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…?
Yes, 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.
This really has nothing to do with Groundhog Day except that, according to the official Groundhog, we are in for 6 more weeks of winter. I can tell you that as annoying as that prospect might be, it’s nothing compared to dreading the “what next?” incredulity of news coming from the nation’s capitol.
The Northern Cardinals have been hanging out at the northwest corner of Millennium Park by the entrance to the Boeing Gallery.
This is not going to be a political rant, indeed, I’m trying to escape our new reality for a few moments of sanity, as long as birds are still around to help. Sometimes I have to wait a while before the birds show up, but eventually they do. All these photos are from the last week or so, Millennium and Maggie Daley parks in downtown Chicago.
Both colorations of White-Throated Sparrow
I haven’t seen my Crow Friends downtown for what seems like months and probably is. At least too many weeks.Here we had been spending winters together, but this winter they have all disappeared. I am all but lost because, especially when life gets too confusing, the crows are of invaluable comfort and perspicacity. I live in hope that they return in the spring. I think they will. Where they have gone for a retreat, I have absolutely no idea. But in what seemed like an omen, as the sight of a crow often does, Thursday as I sat quietly on bench at the Cancer Survivors Garden, one crow flew silently across the sky going north, and did not stop or acknowledge my calls, but still the sight of it gave me hope. I was so hopeful I almost forgot to take a quick picture for posterity.
The Cancer Survivors Garden which has now been absorbed by Maggie Daley Park is for the most part asleep for the winter, with no birds present. I suspect every last berry has been picked off of every last bush.
The usual suspects are still around elsewhere. White-Throated Sparrows usually call before I see them, but if I stop with some treats they come out fearlessly. It’s the City Sparrow-Country Sparrow phenomenon again, like the City Mouse and the Country Mouse. The White-Throated Sparrows in Chicago’s Loop parks have likely learned how to take advantage of human generosity from the House Sparrows that honed it down to a fine art.
The Black-Capped Chickadees are good at this too but they often move so quickly they’re hard to catch with the camera.
Dark-Eyed Juncos are still around too, not so many, perhaps, and on a dark background on a dark day, well, here you have it, but I was lucky to catch the one on the left with its tail feathers spread out, as you usually don’t see the white feathers except when they’re flying away from you.
And then there are those moments when we bond.
One of the White-Throated Sparrows was starting to sing last week. Could have been this guy.
For humans, the ice rink is a popular pastime these days.
And another popular pastime, below.
Unless something newsworthy occurs in the meantime, I’ll be back next with more from the Galapagos.
This grey, chilly day produced a few flurries and later in the afternoon, perhaps a sixteenth of an inch of snow. Whatever. I decided to stay home and see who came to the yard, instead of birding elsewhere.
I had to stand out in the cold for what seemed like a long time, I don’t know, maybe it was only 10 minutes but it felt longer, waiting for the birds to come back. Funny how the birds downtown will rush out to greet me, but the ones at home prefer to avoid me at all costs if possible.
But when they did finally come back, I counted at least 46 House Sparrows. Well, I didn’t count them all individually, I thought there were probably 50, but I decided to be conservative and enter the number “46” for ebird. Which makes it look like you did count them individually, I guess.
The cardinals were in the yard, which was nice of them, but the male didn’t want to show himself, so the best I could do was sneak a peek of him hiding behind a branch. The female was more accommodating. Or maybe hungry.
A Blue Jay has been coming to the yard since I cut down my big tree. And this Blue Jay surprised me by showing up while I was still outside, but the light was so poor (below, left) I couldn’t get a good picture of him or her. Luckily it came back later in the afternoon when I was sneaking pictures through the windows (below, right).
A female Downy Woodpecker was easy to see outside, but the male pretty much eluded me until later I caught the back of his head through the window.
Not seeing so many Dark-Eyed Juncos this week, but there was one, below.
I put a new feeder up this week, and it’s apparent I didn’t assemble it too tightly so I’ll have to take it down one of these nights and see if I can make it more secure, but the House Finches seem to be enjoying it.
Doesn’t look like there’s going to be a change in the weather for a while so we may as well get used to this.
Black-Capped Chickadee and Downy Woodpecker
I’ll be back in a few with some photos from the wilds of Chicago’s lakefront parks.
In the mad rush to the end of the year there hasn’t been much time for birding or posting but I am here to wish you all happy, good-cheer holidays, whatever you are celebrating. Last night I sang with the Unity Temple Choir for their Christmas Eve service and today I am catching up on bread gifts to distribute around the neighborhood. So while the house smells of cinnamon and yeast, Handel’s Messiah playing on the radio, and snow still on the ground even though we’ve warmed up quite a bit, I will try to compile a brief photographic history of the last few weeks.
Most of the wild birds I have seen lately have been downtown on infrequent visits to the parks. The light hasn’t been anything to celebrate but the Black-Capped Chickadees, White-Throated Sparrows, House Sparrows and Northern Cardinals are all happy to partake of the treats I bring them.
And although I haven’t had many crows, I am usually able to find at least two, sometimes four. I don’t know where they’ve gone this year. Maybe the polar vortex has caused them to congregate elsewhere. Too bad, because I’m baking Birdz Cookies now, and I’ve perfected the recipe.
Sometimes there are a few American Robins about, although not as much now that the trees and bushes are running out of fruit.
There was that one horribly cold week and I managed to document the temperature and the steam on the river, if nothing else. I didn’t go out that day.
Two days later it had warmed up a bit, for which I was grateful, as I participated in the Fermilab Christmas Bird Count, but it was a brutal experience slogging through packed snow and seeing not many birds at all. Not surprisingly, overall, the number of species and individuals were down from previous years.
The Canada Geese flying overhead seemed to be the only ones having a good time.
I couldn’t even get the pair of Northern Cardinals below to come out from the thicket long enough to photograph them.
What’s been really shocking to me is the lack of birds in my yard. While I don’t see them most of the time because I’m at work anyway, at least I have an idea that they’re showing up by the emptiness of the feeders. Oddly enough, just as we started the warmup this past week, my feeders remained full. You would think just the opposite would occur. I began to wonder if the sub-zero temperatures had taken more casualties than a more normal winter. I hope this isn’t a warning for the future.
I have seen birds in the yard today now that I’m home, and I’m starting to think that a good deal of the absences probably have to do with the local raptors’ hunger more than the weather. We shall see. The birds come, but they don’t stay long. I’ll try to do a census tomorrow in the yard since I would like to see my favorites beyond the inevitable House Sparrows. I may even go out to the Portage for a walk-around early in the morning. We’re supposed to have relatively balmy temperatures tomorrow morning before we go back to normal. A seesaw December. And only one week left of it.
Life goes on in the Diamond Dove Department, at least. Barely a week and a half ago, on Tuesday the 15th, I became aware of Dudlee and Drew’s new babies – two lovely little Diamond Dovelings. I came home from work and both parents were off the nest Dudlee had built in a mug, with my help. I assumed they had abandoned the nest yet again, as they had two or three times before, because the eggs were not hatching. But this time, instead of abandoned eggs, I saw two good-sized nestlings in their pin feathers. They must have been a week old. One was noticeably larger than the other. I read online that there is a lag of five to seven days between eggs hatching, so that explained the size difference. The pictures directly below are from the 20th, so they kids already had some feathers happening.
By Sunday, the oldest one had fledged! No wonder Dudlee kept craving small nests. She knew she wouldn’t need a lot of room to raise two chicks.
First Fledged Dove Child
I am not used to this at all, having observed finches and budgies procreating for years, never seeing the fledglings until they were nearly as big as their parents, so I am learning a lot from these creatures. It’s a wonderful distraction from the political malaise, a gift of life in the midst of dystopia. It also makes staying at home more attractive. I wonder if the timing of the presidential election — November, with the inauguration postponed until January — was intended to make an uprising less likely, as in when it’s below freezing outside.
Anyway, fatherhood has been good to Drew, who had a twisted and overgrown bill that I kept trimming from time to time when I was able to catch him. His bill seems to be normal now as he is feeding his offspring. Not that I detect an awful lot of feeding going on. It seems to be much more sporadic than with the finches, who clamor for food every waking moment. Instead the Diamond Dovelings tend to sit around all day, waiting patiently for a parent to bestow some food on them. I’m not getting into this, it’s totally up to Dudlee and Drew. They must know what they’re doing because the kids are growing exponentially every day, in spite of my perception that they are being somewhat ignored.
Dudlee and Drew seem to be hell-bent on having more children, unfortunately, and I think their timing is off. Not to mention that I think I have enough doves now. But success has gone to their heads and they spend a lot of time flirting. Dudlee has asked me for her mug back several times. I keep telling her she has a family to raise already. Likely wasted effort on my part, but it’s at least nice to see them all waking up together as they were this morning all perched on the microphone cable.
The four-day weekend had already gone to my head by Thursday, and I could envision retirement being worthwhile if only it was attainable. The relaxation of a long weekend is persuasive. I’ve done all my major cleaning, I made my first loaf of bread in almost a year, playing piano and trying to get back to writing songs with the guitar… But I’m not ready to share that yet, so below are a couple short videos of the Diamond Doves. Drew’s singing to his chicks in the second one.
Yesterday’s weather was better than today’s which was supposed to start out rather pleasant but it’s been chilly and gloomy all day. Nevertheless I went out to the Chicago Portage this morning to see lots of American Tree Sparrows (a couple pictured below) and a few other species. There was evidence of a lot of new fencing, I assume to protect plants. Save for one cyclist, I was the only human present.
House Finches hang out at the Chicago Portage too.
There were perhaps five Downy Woodpeckers. Here’s one.
I always hear more Black-Capped Chickadees than I see but this one wasn’t too skittish.
The duck weed is all gone, so there actually was water underneath it, and there were Mallards in the water.
There were almost as many Dark-Eyed Juncos as Tree Sparrows but they weren’t posing. The overcast contributed to the lack of focus.
Two views of the ever-changing but somehow always familiar Chicago Portage.
The statue of Joliet and Marquette wasn’t looking too cheery either.
I’ll be back. Looking forward to my remaining cataract surgery on Wednesday, hoping to finally start fixing things up sight-wise. Then I’ll have no excuse for not being focused!
As planned, I got out to Millennium Park again on Friday, with pretty much the same menu options. The Birdz Cookies were one week older, but the Crows didn’t seem to mind. The snow was for the most part gone and the sun poked out from behind the clouds every now and then.
The squirrels may turn their noses up at hot dogs, but they like the Birdz Cookies.
There were a lot more birds than last time. See if you can pick out the White-Throated Sparrow among these House Sparrows.
Visitors included a male Northern Cardinal and a couple Black-Capped Chickadees.
But what I really wasn’t expecting to see was a Brown Thrasher! They normally start showing up around April.
I knew this was going to make my list exciting so I was that much more pleased when the Thrasher gave me several good pictures.
The photographic data I submitted to ebird was more than sufficient. I found it funny though that the Thrasher was the only sighting on the Rare Bird Alert for the entire county on Friday.
What I suspect is going on with the Thrasher is that it is expanding its year-round range, which now cuts off at the southern tip of Illinois. This is likely the effect of global warming. So the data is important for that reason alone. This particular bird might be related to the male declaring his territory near the BP Bridge a couple years ago.
What I didn’t know about Brown Thrashers is that they eat seeds, so that explains why the bird came back to explore the food some more.
The crows got their fill of hot dogs.
On the way back I stopped at the Boeing sculpture garden and saw two beautiful female Northern Cardinals and a couple more White-Throated Sparrows.
So even though I hardly get out during the week, it’s still possible to find something unexpected. This is part of the magical attraction to birding. You can never predict what will happen.
Last night WordPress let me know I haven’t been posting enough lately by requesting identification from me when I tried to sign in. So we went through the identification-code-by-text-message routine this morning and I guess I’m back in business for a while.
I seem to have caught my biennial rhinovirus too, which is keeping me from living too dangerously. I made it through choir rehearsal last night without any significant coughs or wheezes but this morning I am draining miserably.
There are next to no birding opportunities on my way in to the office for now and I haven’t been out too much lately, but here are a few pictures taken last week on December 1.
I had stopped at the northwest corner of Millennium Park to see if I could grab a picture of a Yellow-Bellied Sapsucker but that wasn’t going to happen. However there were cooperative Black-Capped Chickadees and White-Throated Sparrows.
At home over the last week or two, I had been trying to grab a picture of the newest arrivals while they were still relatively clueless, but it was difficult to find them sitting in a spot with enough light, and when I did, their immediate reaction was, “No, we are NOT cute! Don’t point that thing at us!” I managed to grab the fuzzy picture below before they started to disperse.
Zebra Finch Fledglings
Pet birds being what they are, it’s easier to take a picture of a wild bird like the Hermit Thrush below, who was also with the little group of birds at the northwest corner of Millennium. He came down to sit and stare at me to see if maybe we could figure out what was so interesting about each other.
That’s about it for the moment. I’ll try to be back sooner. ‘Tis the season and all that too, hard to escape holiday revelry.
I haven’t been out yet this week but I think I will go out today and continue the hot dog experiments. In case you’re wondering, no, the squirrels are not interested in hot dogs. Just waiting for the crow to leave so he can sneak a peanut.
I was pretty sure the migrating Sandhill Cranes were on their usual schedule: flying over Monday-Friday, during banker’s hours, while I was stuck sitting in the office. Of course I read about them constantly on the IBET which added to my frustration. But the warm southerly winds that have been prevailing all week were going strong yesterday and I decided to visit McGinnis Slough, even though no one has submitting any ebird sightings since November, and then check back again at the Chicago Portage (I may do a post later, in my backward fashion, about last week’s visit which I never managed to publish).
Things are heating up almost everywhere, actually. At work, we’re busy. I’m getting ready mentally for my trip to Colombia which is only 12 days away. I’m meeting with my new bird care person who I suspect is falling in love with the birds, which is probably a requirement if you’re going to fuss over them as much as I do. And it seems to be taking more energy this year to get over winter, but I think that’s about to change.
Ice at McGinnis
McGinnis is still under ice. I took the scope with me just in case but ended up leaving it in the car. Nevertheless I had enough gear. I’ve been testing out my wide angle lens which was repaired last week (over a year since I dropped it in the steel-bottomed vehicle in Africa) because I figure it’s small enough to take with me to the Andes and it might be very nice indeed to have handy for a breathtaking vista or two. And I’m also using the extender on the Canon 100-400mm lens, to see just what it’s capable of. I’ll have plenty of time to return to playing around with the monster Tamron lens when I get back.
But crunching around on the frozen tundra produced a few of the most predictable early birds. I had already seen Red-Winged Blackbirds downtown in Lurie Garden so I knew they would be returning to their territories everywhere else. Song Sparrows may have even slightly preceded them. And Dark-Eyed Juncos? Did they ever leave? They have been here all winter, and predictably they disappear in the spring, but I wonder if some may hang out all year long.
Song Sparrow, McGinnis Slough
Dark-Eyed Junco, McGinnis
There were no Sandhill Cranes flying over McGinnis, probably because I expected them. Instead, flocks of Canada Geese, in their usual noisy fashion.
Canada Geese over McGinnis
As I mentioned earlier, I was at the Chicago Portage briefly last weekend. The dominant pair of Canada Geese was there at the time, laying claim to the ice. I suspect it’s the same pair I have seen there for years. In any event, I was a little surprised to see two tagged geese that I am sure I reported last fall – C011 and C016.
C011 and C016 at the Portage
I am not sure the pair pictured below is the dominant pair, as there were two unbanded pairs yesterday.
I was about done counting geese when the first flock of Sandhill Cranes flew over. I heard them coming first, but overhead they were silent.
Sandbill Cranes, Chicago Portage 3-15-15
But before I left, a fight ensued, with the dominant gander attacking C016, and the two banded geese left.
Canada Geese again later on the ice, looking triumphant and vigilant
As luck would have it, while all this was going on, a lone Sandhill Crane flew over quite low, and I think it might have landed if all the fracas wasn’t going on. It kept flying, I suspect to the low-lying parts of the adjacent preserve, Ottawa Trail Woods, where I haven’t been yet this year.
Sandhill Crane, Chicago Portage, 3-15-15
Other species at the Portage yesterday were also predictable and I didn’t get pictures of all of them, but I was a little surprised to see a beautiful Fox Sparrow. I’ve been seeing them more here the last year or so. They don’t breed here, though.
Fox Sparrow, Chicago Portage
White-Throated Sparrow. Chicago Portage 3-15-15
The White-Throated Sparrows likely won’t be sticking around either, but I wish I had more time to observe them. It seems to me their ranges have been expanding; I’m sure some were breeding on the Chicago Lakefront over the past few years.
American Robin – with a lot of unusual white on its wing
The year-round birds are getting ready, too. I saw some definite chases going on among the Black-Capped Chickadees.
Maybe the most interesting thing was this fungus that covered an entire downed tree trunk.
Today we are having one of those rare, sudden warm days, before the winds shift and the temperature plummets again – but I think we are through with the freezing temperatures. I hope!
There’s perhaps more going on inside the house than outside it bird-wise, but the most captivating moments are often beyond my ability to capture because they involve me. Like yesterday when I was playing piano, one of the young Zebra Finch males landed on top of the music and sang his song to me that he’s been working on, over and over, reminding me that it will soon be time to get out the music paper and try to write down his and everyone else’s offerings.
Female Downy Woodpecker
After a week of trying to keep the car movable around mounds of snow and driving it around the block at best, it was almost an exhilarating experience to drive this weekend, not that I went much farther than the dentist, the pool and grocery shopping yesterday, when there was sunshine, and then to the Chicago Portage today, when there was not. But dentist appointments are not scheduled around the weather, and actually the gorgeous sunshine might have explained the virtual emptiness of the pool, which meant I had an entire lane to myself to swim in for an hour, something that never happens on a weekend.
Anyway in spite of the cloud cover I decided to go out while we were still experiencing a partial thaw, and see what it was like shooting with the extender on the 100-400mm lens, with the Mark III 5D which I haven’t used for quite a while. It’s an experiment I will have to repeat several times before I decide exactly what to take with me on my upcoming trip, but I have to say I immediately loved the quietness of the shutter click on the Mark III, I had forgotten all about that and gotten used to the noisy report of the 70D. I have to say the birds never seem to mind the extra noise, I guess they assume we humans are too noisy anyway, but I like the quieter camera almost as much as I like my quieter car.
There were no clear paths, so it was a slower walk than usual at the Portage. No birds were heard or seen for quite a while, until I spotted a Red-Tailed Hawk perched on a far tree, but the hawk took off before I could try for a picture of it, and then as it flew back around the far side there wasn’t much to photograph.
Still the ability to see through the entire preserve in certain spots was amazing to me. I have never been able to see the other bridge until I am almost on top of it. This must be due to the clearing of so many trees.
I did finally run into a concentration of birds – mostly Northern Cardinals, in fact more than I have ever seen together in quite some time (a group of Cardinals being a college, conclave, deck, or Vatican, depending on what term you use), and there was a White-Throated Sparrow or two and some Black-Capped Chickadees – near the halfway mark. I stood and watched them for a long time, but they were quite far away and I knew I wasn’t going to be gaining on them. The lack of light today was my most operative challenge.
Female Northern Cardinal
A Ring-Billed Gull flew over.
Things were decidedly more active at the sunflower seed feeder when I got home, where I inadvertently got a picture of a rather odd-looking House Finch.
House Finch on the right with white on its auriculars where red would normally be
A more traditionally colored House Finch was in the crabapple tree.
The Downy Woodpecker photographs are from last weekend when I was snowbound and they came into the yard individually, at different times of the day, notably when the other birds were absent.
Spring is ever-so-slightly hinting at its promise with the days getting longer and a bird here and there trying out a bit of song. I have heard Chickadees, an occasional Robin and sometimes a Cardinal. Maybe the best “sign” for me was six American Crows flying into the trees on my street yesterday when I left for the dentist. A return of crows to my neighborhood would be the first after 13 years.
Reveling in a rather rapid recovery, it feels good to get out again and walk with the camera, even if I’m not running into anything too remarkable to photograph. So here are a few park birds from last week’s afternoon walks to Millennium Park, and some Mainly Mallards from today’s visit to Brookfield Zoo.
I didn’t expect much from the Zoo, and it was probably bad timing to go in the early afternoon anyway, but I wanted to get out somewhere and walk. I am trying to get plenty of sleep so I can continue healing and not get messed up before the St. Odilo Festival Choir concert which happens next Sunday. As we get down to the wire, all these songs have been running through my head nonstop and I want to stay focused and be in the best shape I can offer.
The challenge presented by colder weather is finding open water. Even though we have had temperatures above freezing the last three days, the Des Plaines River was still frozen everywhere I drove past it, and shallower bodies of water were certainly no better. The zoo has some water aerated in the middle of their pond, but it wasn’t enough to attract anything but about 85 Mallards, 6 Canada Geese, and the one Trumpeter Swan that lives there. The Trumpeter Swan was napping and I did not want to disturb it.
I stood quietly surveying the ducks to see if I’d missed anything, and soon the Mallards started flying over the path to the feeder on the other side. In years past I got some pictures of them flying, but I didn’t want to disturb them too much by pointing that big lens at them, so I mainly just watched everyone and didn’t even bother with the smaller birds that occasionally visited the hanging feeder. I might have made more of an effort eventually as the birds were getting quite used to me, but when a man walked by fairly briskly, he flushed all the Mallards, and they flew back to the pond, some nearly missing crashing into the trees.
After that the path takes you away from any view of open water, so I looked for birds anywhere along the sides of it, but could see only a young doe.
It might have been better to have a smaller lens. As it is, I am considering buying an extender for the 100-400mm because I can’t picture carrying the monster lens with me when I travel at the end of March.
The cardinals in Millennium were happy to see me last Monday while it was still quite cold and overcast. Even the hen, who usually tries to hide, eventually came down from her perch and sampled the seeds I brought.
Other than the two cardinals, there wasn’t much else to photograph that day.
Maggie Daley Park in the clouds
By Thursday, the cardinals had left that spot but there were still plenty of American Robins eating berries.
The most cooperative birds were the Black-Capped Chickadees I saw on Friday. This one came closer to the camera and posed for me.
I hope the lake has thawed enough to host some ducks. Now that I can hike again, I will try to make it down there tomorrow before it freezes over again.