Winter Walks on the Tame Side

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Black-Capped Chickadee, Millennium Park

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.

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Brookfield Zoo

Camel Brookfield Zoo 1-18-15-0561The 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.

Mallards and Canada Geese Brookfield Zoo 1-18-15-0600

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.

Mallards Brookfield Zoo 1-18-15-0575After 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.

Doe 1-18-15-0606It 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.

NOCA 1-12-15-0215NOCA 1-12-15-0284Other than the two cardinals, there wasn’t much else to photograph that day.

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Maggie Daley Park in the clouds

By Thursday, the cardinals had left that spot but there were still plenty of American Robins eating berries.

AMRO 1-15-15-0300The most cooperative birds were the Black-Capped Chickadees I saw on Friday. This one came closer to the camera and posed for me.

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BCCH 1-16-15-0553I 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.

Alone on the Wilderness Trail

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It turned out to be not quite as cold as predicted today, and the sun was shining brightly. I was already thinking of going to Brookfield Zoo to see if there were any birds around the Wilderness Trail. I was not sure whether the Wilderness Trail would be closed off, but I knew the Zoo would be open. Their motto is “Open 365 Days a Year.” It was almost a shock a couple weeks ago when they closed with that first big snowfall that took us deep into our lasting arctic plunge. By the way, did anybody even pay attention to The Groundhog today? Sunny day, I knew he’d see his shadow. I’m afraid he was already eclipsed by the weather forecasters and the Super Bowl. You know it’s getting bad when even The Groundhog becomes obsolete.

Icicles on the trees at Brookfield Zoo

Icicles on the trees at Brookfield Zoo

The Zoo doesn’t open until 10:00 a.m., so I had the early morning to feed the birds, unbury the car from yesterday’s snowfall which seemed more like 6 inches accumulation instead of 10, eat my oatmeal and play piano before I went. When I arrived around 10:30, there were perhaps a dozen cars in the parking lot at the North Gate. Admission was free today. I’m sure they did not want to pay the ticket takers if they expected few visitors.

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The Wilderness Trail is out behind the Great Bear Wilderness exhibit and borders the Salt Creek. It has been built around a small lake. The trail is never very crowded, but today it was totally empty, although someone had carved a trail in the snow before me.

Bactrian Camel

Bactrian Camel

Not very many animals outside today. I had no intention of going inside, since I only wanted to walk the Wilderness Trail and the camera would not appreciate the transition from 14 degrees to 78 degrees. But on the way to the Wilderness Trail I encountered two camels in their outside pen, and while it seemed strange to see camels in the snow, these are Bactrian Camels, native to Mongolia, so I guess snow and cold are nothing new to them. They certainly seemed well-protected.

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In warmer winters past, the shallow little lake attracts Northern Shovelers and Hooded Mergansers, but this year with only a small area of open water, there were only Canada Geese and Mallards. And the resident Trumpeter Swan put in an appearance standing on one foot on the ice at the edge of the water.

Trumpeter Swan

Trumpeter Swan

The rest of the small lake was frozen and covered with snow.

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The feeders, on the Salt Creek side of the trail, attacked the usual suspects.

Black-Capped Chickadee

Black-Capped Chickadee

White-Breasted Nuthatch

White-Breasted Nuthatch

Red-Bellied Woodpecker

Red-Bellied Woodpecker

Dark-Eyed Junco

Dark-Eyed Junco

On the other side of the fence by the Salt Creek there were a couple young White-Tailed Deer. While the birds did not mind my presence, the deer were upset with my camera and kept moving ahead.

White-Tailed Deer

White-Tailed Deer

Overall my visit to the zoo was nothing spectacular, but it was good to be outside in the sunshine, and the pristine snow, as sick and tired as I may be of shoveling it, is still beautiful. Meanwhile, back in the birding world, there have been many White Winged Scoters reported on the lakefront. Tomorrow will be only slightly warmer than today, but sunny again. I will try to get out to Monroe Harbor tomorrow afternoon and see if I can find a White-Winged Scoter or two; while I’ve seen them before, it’s always been at a distance too far away to photograph. Anyway it’s something to look forward to.

Feeder Birds at Brookfield Zoo

Feeder Birds at Brookfield Zoo

Between ice and open water

This on-again, off-again winter, hurried down to the lakefront to see the ice before it melts away.

Birds gather farther away from the shoreline in the open water. I could make out the Canada Geese, Common Mergansers and Herring Gulls but missed the reported Scaup and Snowy Owl Friday morning.

The ice cover has a moonscape look to it.

The fissures create unusual patterns as the water laps up in between the seams, from smooth to jagged like broken glass.

A crow on the lakefront.

And White-Wing absconding with her hot dog reward.

Yesterday I visited Brookfield Zoo. There’s a little lake at the edges of the zoo grounds by the Salt Creek, where a portion of the water is kept open.

A Hooded Merganser.

The female Hooded Merganser. Female Mergansers in general always look like they were just at the hairdresser.

A Northern Shoveler barely stood out among the Mallards.

Adding the only musical note to this post, the Trumpeter Swan. And trumpet he did.

A Red-Bellied Woodpecker.

Away from the lake, but outdoors in the cement pond area, the preening American White Pelicans have the last word.