Fits and Starts

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The Turtle and the Pied-Billed Grebe

I’m not getting any “planned” posts done, so this one is an interim life-goes-on-in-spite-of-me digression.

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Canada Goose with Painted Turtles

Spring is arriving, and we even had some warm days to go with it. Yesterday morning began still quite warm, but along with predictable April Showers, we are now plunging ever-so-slightly back into temperatures cool enough to flirt with snow.

Blue-Winged Teal, Chicago Portage

Blue-Winged Teal, Chicago Portage

My fits and starts seem as arbitrary as the weather. Tuesday night on the way to the pool, about halfway, the power steering began to groan loudly on the old, rusted out Ford Taurus. After a good swim, we moaned and groaned all the way home. Glad I made it, because the writing was on the wall: you know it’s over when your mechanic doesn’t want to try fixing things any longer. Knowing the end was nigh, I hoped to make the car last a couple more weeks until I got back from Texas, but apparently Little HP (named after its Hewlett-Packard fleet car origination: purchased with 20,000 miles on it, now has only 81,000, but once when getting a fairly minor dent straightened out discovered it had been in an accident from the tell-tale difference in paint color, which explained a lot of its odd quirks) already sensed rejection and, as little as I drive, is now unsafe at any speed.

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I already knew what I wanted to buy, so after researching the possibilities online, I made an appointment with the nearest Toyota dealer for Saturday, and bought a 2013 Prius c. I’ve been trying to substitute “Priuses” for “Porsches” in that lyric from Janis Joplin’s “Oh Lord Won’t You Buy Me a Mercedes Benz” …”My friends all drive Priuses, I must make amends.” It’s true, three (if not all) of my friends drive Priuses. Maybe this should be the 21st century version of the song.

I have already lowered  my carbon footprint. I’ve put 57 miles on the car and the needle has not moved from “full.” The purchase will probably force me to lower my footprint even more since I won’t be able to afford any long trips overseas for quite a while.

After running errands with the Prius, I met Lesa at Wolf Road Prairie around dusk to see if any American Woodcocks were displaying. You can take a virtual tour of this site at the first link and learn all about Woodcocks from Cornell at the second.

Wolf Road Prairie

Wolf Road Prairie

The Woodcocks started to “peent” some time after I took the above photo but did not fly until it was as dark as when I took the one below. Needless to say we barely saw anything.

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But I got to practice driving in the dark with the new car. It took me a while to find the lights: I was a little dismayed that the options on the column were not illuminated, since this car seems to tell you what it’s doing Every Second. But I’m sure I’ll get the clicks memorized and won’t need to look at them. Or maybe there’s some setting somewhere that makes them go on and off by themselves. Everything else seems to be Twilight Zone about it, like the smart key. Have to study the manual thoroughly this week.

Chicago Portage

Chicago Portage

Yesterday morning I took the new car to the Portage which is where the remaining photos on this page were taken, including the car’s portrait. It was a good day for turtles. And I had 25 species of birds which is not remarkable, but among them were Yellow-Rumped Warbler, Brown Creeper and Ruby-Crowned Kinglet, first-of-year sightings for me, confirming passerine migration has definitely begun. The warblers and kinglets were up too high in the treetops for photographs, but that’s where the bugs were on our first really balmy day. More Painted Turtles.

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I spent most of yesterday evening looking for title to the Taurus because I want to donate it as it was definitely not worth trading in. I didn’t even drive it to the dealer, I took a taxi. I was sure I knew where I was hiding the title, but after much ridiculous and hapless searching, I have given up looking for it and am going to get a duplicate issued. Getting organized is on my list of things to do this summer, not this week.

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Two more Blue-Winged Teal flushed when I walked by, and while I’m sorry I disturbed them, you can see the blue on their wings.

Pied-Billed Grebe with Turtle 4-13-14 6685.jpg-6685Maybe the motto for the day should be “Put a Turtle On It.”

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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.

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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.

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And another this afternoon, at Lake Shore East Park.

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Brief Warbler Interruption

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Black-and-White Warbler, Millennium Park

Please pardon this brief interruption.While I’ve been trying to get through other pictures for another post, I’ve been birding as usual on my infrequent lunch hours, interrupted by rain… (lots of it – maybe I should not have danced so hard through the drought?).

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Chicago Loop in the rain

Yesterday on the way back from Millennium Park where I had basically seen nothing “new” and it started to rain again…I was carrying my 40D, an umbrella and the peanut bag, I had forgotten I had the camera on another setting for the rain pictures on the way in… and who should show up but my first-of-year Black-and-White Warbler, looking very bedraggled and wet, behaving like a Brown Creeper scaling the tree trunks, but definitely not a Brown Creeper.

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In spite of the umbrella and the wrong setting a got a picture or two of the warbler anyway.

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And here are a couple other volunteers from the park.

Common Grackle with nesting material

Common Grackle with nesting material

American Robin

American Robin

Sights and Sounds: Chicago Portage

Brown Creeper, Chicago Portage

Brown Creeper, Chicago Portage – a sign of spring

It’s been raining on more than off all week, so the farther I get from last Sunday’s excursion, the harder it is to visualize.

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The Chicago Portage is still asleep but starting to wake up now with the rain and intermittent spells of warmer temperatures.

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Turtle sunning itself

Last week I purchased a Roland hand-held recorder to use in the field. I have had a Marantz with a very sensitive microphone for years, but it’s a lot to carry and I wanted something more portable. I figured by now technology had caught up with me. I’m still learning how to use it, but I managed to get a few sounds.

American Goldfinc

American Goldfinch

The picture above is not of the Goldfinch that is singing–albeit in the background overshadowed by a Red-Winged blackbird–in the clip below. The actual singer, although I did photograph him, was rather far away.

Goldfinch Portage IMG_4369_1This was our songster.

A bit later there was a wonderful Song Sparrow singing, and although he wouldn’t let me get the classic shot while he was performing, he did give me a nice picture anyway.

Song Sparrow

Song Sparrow

I will keep experimenting with the recorder and from time to time share the best songs with you.

Just to taunt me, two Great Blue Herons flew over, followed by three Monk Parakeets. I managed to get a fleeting picture of one Great Blue.

Great Blue Heron

Great Blue Heron

This huge fallen tree just next to the path that leads down to the Des Plaines River behind the Portage was recently dismantled. Part of its core looks diseased, making it easy prey for the strong winds.

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Not too hard to find a Red-Winged Blackbird here, singing his head off.

Red-Winged Blackbird

Red-Winged Blackbird

Fox Sparrows are still at the Portage.

Fox Sparrow

Fox Sparrow

And the Downies are busy as usual.

upside-down Downy Woodpecker

upside-down Downy Woodpecker

I have seen an Eastern Phoebe almost every day this week somewhere.

Eastern Phoebe

Eastern Phoebe

The water levels should be higher this week after all the rain. If we get another break in the clouds I’ll go back and check.

Canada Geese

Canada Geese

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Spring in the park continues

Birds are finally starting to arrive in numbers. Because of the early leafing out, it seems like we’ve been waiting forever. New songs and bright colors fill the air.

Yellow-Bellied Sapsucker

I could fill a book with photographs of Yellow-Bellied Sapsuckers. but I don’t think I’ve ever run into one with this much personality before.

Chipping Sparrow

I love Chipping Sparrows. They’re so dapper!

Hermit Thrushes have been here a couple weeks but it’s still nice to see them.

White-Throated Sparrow

White-Throated Sparrows didn’t all leave, but the migrants are everywhere now. And they’re singing their Old Sam Peabody-Peabody-Peabody tunes a lot.

I heard a wonderful White-Throated song Wednesday afternoon. The bird singing sang it in two parts. The first part went down, but the second part was a different tune, in that he turned it upside down, went up with it and then down a half step. Very original.

Northern Waterthrush

A surprise, a Northern Waterthrush in Millennium Park Monday afternoon! I have seen Northern Waterthrushes outside the tennis courts in Daley Bicentennial Plaza after a rain, but I have never seen one in Millennium Park. I wish I could have gotten closer for a sharper picture.

A couple female Red-Winged Blackbirds at the edge of a tennis court. You can just barely see that they have red feathers on their shoulders too.

This male Red-Winged Blackbird was singing for peanuts. I guess he figured he could afford to squander his song on me now that the girls have arrived.

This Northern Flicker must have found a very good ant swarm because all my picture-taking could not distract him.

A Brown Creeper showing off his creeping abilities.

An elusive Yellow-Rumped Warbler.

A rabbit, one of many seen regularly. There must be more rabbits this year! All that early vegetation gave them a boost.

And there’s always a crow willing to pose.

Roundup of a few more fall migrants in the park

Ruby-Crowned Kinglet on the lawn.

Looking for birds on my lunch hour, which I tried to take as late as possible. Birds are more likely to forage later in the afternoon than midday, and the light was more indirect. I was also trying to avoid the crowds of people, which only got worse as the warm weather persisted toward the end of the week.

Ruby-Crowned Kinglets were abundant all week. You rarely see the ruby crown for which this bird is named (it looks like a little dab of bright red nail polish on top of the head, and the bird has control over whether he shows it or not). Sometimes they’re in the grass, but more often they are nervously flitting about in the trees with a distinctive flutter of the wings. Sometimes they’re as curious to see me as I am to see them.

Ruby-Crowned Kinglet

There were Yellow-Bellied Sapsuckers flying quickly from tree to tree, landing upright. These trees are popular with the sapsuckers, as you can tell from all the holes in their bark. Sometimes the sapsuckers whine like little kittens, and I can whine back to them. This bird was silent but undeterred by my picture-taking.

Yellow-Bellied Sapsucker

Also fond of trees are the Brown Creepers, who fly to the bottom of the tree and start creeping up, looking for insects. Then they fly down to the bottom of the next tree.

Brown Creeper

They might seem like little “nothing” birds – nothing flashy, small, unassuming – which is to their advantage, I’m sure. They go unnoticed as they blend in with the bark. I like them because they seem very focused, which is a quality I’d like to cultivate.

Brown Creeper

In the middle of the park as I sat on a bench waiting for sparrows to show up, a juvenile White-Crowned Sparrow flew into the yews.

Juvenile White-Crowned Sparrow

There was a Palm Warbler down in the gutter by one of the tennis courts, characteristically bobbing its tail. This was a hot spot for sparrows for a few days, and it’s where I first saw the Black-Throated Blue Warbler from my last post before he moved to the less-photography-friendly location where I took his picture. But the cement background doesn’t do much for this bird either.

Palm Warbler