Blood, Birds and…Crutches?

Green-Winged Teal

Tuesday morning I headed out for the doctor’s office with my camera, backpack and a water bottle, because by now I knew the routine: start with a blood draw and return hours later to have my own enriched blood returned to my body. The four hours or so in between procedures was an opportunity to walk through the lakefront parks, specifically the Lincoln Park Zoo environs. It was cool and cloudy, but I was determined to go birding because I knew it was likely my last outing for at least a week or two.

American Kestrel

I was early for my appointment, so I got off the bus at Fullerton and walked in along North Pond. The first bird I saw was the kestrel above. It was just far enough away to practically elude my 300mm lens. A bit later there were two Downy Woodpeckers and a strangely decorated tree.

After 20 or more vials of blood (I thought it best not to count, but it was practically a whole tray full) I was on my own until 2:00 p.m., so I started slowly on my walk. I decided to visit South Pond since I had never been there for birding as far as I could recall, and there were two rare-for-this-time-of-year birds hanging out there. South Pond is part of Lincoln Park Zoo. I basically avoid Lincoln Park Zoo because parking is ridiculously expensive, but the Zoo itself is free and because I had arrived on public transportation, this was a delightful discovery. On the way, I encountered a pair of Northern Cardinals. Then it was on to the water.

American Wigeon

Basically the two rare birds were the Green-Winged Teal at the top of the post and the American Wigeon. But there were a number of other birds to see quite well in the water. And since I haven’t been able to visit the lakefront nearly every day like I used to, I was quite happy to get up close and personal with a few individuals.

The zoo-resident flamingos don’t “count” but they were fun to see, adding a tease of warm-climate connection to a drab Chicago winter.

Of course there were plenty of Canada Geese and Mallards, but there were also a couple Northern Pintails, Ruddy Ducks, Hooded Mergansers, Common Goldeneyes and Wood Ducks.

Ruddy Duck
Male Hooded Merganser

I’m so glad I got the opportunity to see these lovely ducks before I went under the needle, so to speak. My blood went back into my right knee and my left foot. My right knee was already familiar with this sort of thing from months ago so it didn’t seem to be too bothered by it, but my left foot was not happy for the rest of the day and evening, which made hobbling around the house a bit difficult. Thanks to my friends Linda and Ed for picking me up and taking me home from the train station. I decided upon one crutch to use more as a deterrent negotiating the commute on Wednesday, when I was good enough to walk to the train, however slowly. By Wednesday evening I was feeling much better and by Thursday I was practically dancing. I still have a little residual pain and swelling but it’s encouraging to be recovering so quickly and I am hopeful this might be it for a while. I am disappointed to learn that my doctor is moving his clinic away from the park, though!

On and Off the Trail

I think I’ve found one reason why my feeders have been left alone lately. Saturday I came home from birding and looked out the back porch windows. There was a Cooper’s Hawk sitting in the flowering crab. I didn’t know if I’d be able to document the occasion as usually the minute I go for the camera, the bird vanishes. But this one not only stayed, but after preening in my flowering crab, she moved over to my neighbor’s fence and sat there for the longest time, even tolerating me coming out the back door and taking photographs for several minutes. This is obviously a young bird. She even looked a little bored.

I couldn’t go to the Portage Saturday. When I got there, the entrance to the parking lot was blocked by two forest preserve vehicles and roped off. I realize now that a tree close to parking was being removed. I turned around and went to Ottawa Trail, not knowing what to expect this time of year.

There were obstacles on the trail everywhere, which made the desolation and quiet all the more interesting. I guess.

It was all I could do to get pictures of the White-Throated Sparrow and a lovely Song Sparrow as they foraged around in the vegetation. There was a Winter Wren but I couldn’t focus quickly enough. The monster lens is all the more challenging in the cold with gloves.

I’ve wanted a decent photograph of a Dark-Eyed Junco all winter. I’ve seen them in my yard very early in the morning. I’ve seen small flocks of them on occasion. But I can’t get one to sit still long enough. This is strange after I’ve had them practically walk up to me on previous occasions. So the one below will have to do for the moment.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t include the Canada Geese on the Des Plaines…

Desperate to capture anything that moved, I followed this fox squirrel for a while.

And could not resist a shot at the annoying police helicopter hovering overhead. The thought crossed my mind they might be looking for someone. I can verify that if the birds were scarce that morning, humans were even more so.

There was some lovely tree fungus on the way out.

I went to the Portage yesterday before I started my annual Cinnamon Oatmeal Raisin Bread Manifesto, the loaves from which I will likely continue to distribute into the New Year. The only thing better than the smell of bread baking is cinnamon bread baking. The candlelight service last night was absolutely gorgeous and I’m glad I took part, although I almost fainted from continually standing up to sing carols in between the parts of the service we sang as a choir, all arranged artfully around prayers and the homily and… I was glad to come home, tuck the birds in and go to sleep. It’s good to feel like all is well, if only for a moment or a day. I didn’t get through any of my household projects, but there’s still next weekend. Today just feels like a good day to linger, play music, write, and restore. And dream about longer days filled with more music.

I wish I could share this bread with each and every one of you!

High Pressure

White-Throated Sparrow

It’s been a busy week and the weekend will be non-stop, so I wanted to drop in for a moment or two before I go to leave for the Christmas Bird Count this morning. I started to write this last night but knowing I had to get up at 3:30, I quit trying to finish it! These are just a few pictures from last Saturday.

I went to the Portage. It was a bright, sunny, cold day. The snow was all gone from the blizzard earlier in the week. In spite of these favorable conditions, there weren’t a lot of birds. I think I walked in for about 20 minutes before I finally started to hear and see the birds below… a Northern Cardinal who kept trying to hide, and a few White-Throated Sparrows.

The water on the Des Plaines River was flowing, so there were some Canada Geese. There were several Mallards too but they were too distant for pictures.

Above is what it looked like in my yard the previous weekend… Last Saturday after the Portage I tried to spend a little time in the yard after all the snow was gone. As long as the goldfinches are happy… Although it was hard to get a picture of them unless it was through the porch windows.

Here’s an American Tree Sparrow. I expect to see a few this morning. Weather-wise, we are warmer than we have been and we should have some sunshine, so it will be interesting to see what the bird mix is today.

American Tree Sparrow

Well, I best be on my way. Tomorrow will be a full day of singing, partying and discussion. Below is the beautiful concert poster one of our members, John Tandarich, made for tomorrow’s two performances of Ola Gjeilo’s Luminous Night of the Soul. Our choir holiday party will be afterward and then I have a Soul Connections meeting at 4:00 so I will be out all day after another early rise. 

Cold Storage

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Red-Breasted Mergansers at Saganashkee Slough

Some days spring seems inevitable, others it seems to be lagging behind a cold front. I’m trying to get caught up with posts that have escaped my ability to sit down and write them. So these pictures from two weekends ago start off the Slow Spring documentation. I was joined by my friend Lesa and we started off early at the Chicago Portage. Note for Sunday birders: it was easily an hour past sunrise but the forest preserve employees had not shown up yet to unlock the gate to the parking lot. We waited perhaps five minutes…

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Song Sparrow, Chicago Portage

I was hoping an earlier start might reveal more activity, perhaps a mammal or two, anything different. But just as I can’t predict surprises I apparently can’t predict nothing happening either. Maybe for the birds, waterfowl in particular, nothing seemed out of whack. Except I wonder what happened to the Mallard on the upper right below, who seems to have lost a lot of neck feathers, perhaps getting caught in something while he was dabbling for food. He otherwise seemed to be okay.

The stream scene at the Portage hadn’t changed too much for the Canada Geese, except that there were fewer of them than the last time. We walked out the back trail by the train tracks that leads to the Des Plaines River and saw distant Common Goldeneye and Common Mergansers, but for the most part, the birds were just too darned far away to see well without a scope. My monster lens managed to identify three Wood Ducks hanging out on a fallen limb enhanced with detritus and trash.

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Wood Ducks on the Des Plaines

Song Sparrows were the most visible passerine species…

And one lady cardinal volunteered a brief acknowledgment after sitting with her back to us for several moments. Her expression conveys to me, “Just what do you want?”

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Frustrated by the lack of participation at the Portage, we stopped by the house to pick up the scope and drove out to Saganashkee Slough in Palos to see the reported Eared Grebe. Eared Grebe isn’t one we see often in this area, so it seemed like a worthwhile venture. The sun was getting higher which made backlighting a bit of a problem, but we appreciated whatever perceived warmth the sun had to offer. Thanks to generous and helpful birders already at the scene, we located the Eared Grebe. It was swimming around on the far side of the slough, of course, not too far from the men fishing in the first photo below with the Red-Breasted Mergansers flying. The second photo shows the wake behind the Eared Grebe and the last photo was the best I could get from such a distance. You can click on it to get a bit of a better view.

In contrast there were perhaps twenty or more Horned Grebes (top pix below), although I was unable to find one in breeding plumage. And those show-off Red-Breasted Mergansers again.

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Horned Grebe, Saganashkee Slough

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Mallard drake, Chicago Portage Woods, with neck feathers…

Apologies are in order, I have been a bad blogger lately. It’s not for laziness so much as exhaustion by everything else that has to get done in life. I also think my body slowing down with its latest complaint affects everything since it’s hard to totally dismiss chronic pain. But don’t worry, temporary remedies work well and I’m looking forward to engaging with a more permanent remedy starting in a few weeks. (And I’m thinking beyond the procedure: if I have to sit around a bit more for a few days maybe I can amuse a few of us with on onslaught of blog posts…)

I have more recent excursions to report as soon as I can. I also am waking up to thinking about those big life questions that surprise me every once in a while when I come to realize how I have succumbed to the general malaise reinforced by the bombardment of media, which are designed to distract from reality. I think we’re all hovering around our own versions of this existential enigma, and once I can find all the little nuggets of inspiration that I have gleaned lately from various sources, I will try to offer them up in the context of this blog space. Thank you for being patient and staying with me.

Spring Stirrings at the Portage

RWBL 03-04-18-6599I visited the Portage a couple weekends ago to see how many Red-Winged Blackbirds were returning to set up territories: one of the signs that spring is inevitable, which I can mentally check off every year. I hadn’t been over there for a few weeks so it was time to see how things were starting to change.

Moss 03-04-2018-6532There was only a tiny bit of green happening. For the most part the browns and greys were still in charge although the angle of the light is changing.

Portage 03-04-18-6609Predictably there were a lot of Canada Geese.

CAGO 03-04-18-6812Then there were the territorial disputes…and flyovers.

The Portage surprises me when I least expect it to. I don’t believe I’ve ever had an Eastern Bluebird there before but there was one two weeks ago.

More than one Killdeer suggests a potential breeding pair…?

Sparrow-wise, one of several American Tree Sparrows likely on their way out, and a Savannah Sparrow on its way in…although I don’t think the Portage has opened up enough to attract breeding Savannah Sparrows.

ATSP 03-04-18-6738SASP 03-04-18-6765Northern Cardinals are here all year long but it’s always nice to see them. One Dark-Eyed Junco tried to steal the scene in the upper right-hand picture below.

A few more of Red-Winged males and Canada Geese, back on their home turf to start new families. There is something reassuring about certain things that don’t change, especially lately.

And I could not resist a picture of our most ubiquitous resident, American Robin.

AMRO 03-04-18-6788I haven’t decided yet where to go tomorrow but it looks like the weather will be warm and sunny so we’ll see what happens. We’ve had cold and windy weather all week so it should be a nice break for all of us. My mother always used to call March the “Adolescent Month.” I think there’s still a little snow in the forecast next week although it likely won’t be much… Fingers crossed. 🙂

Frolicking with the Gulls

Frolicking HEGUs 02-17-2018-6217I confess that I always look forward to this annual event, the Gull Frolic up in Winthrop Harbor near the Wisconsin border, with some ambivalence. Admittedly, it is as much a gathering for the local birding community as it is for the gulls themselves. The drive is long. The weather, when good for seeing gulls, is challenging for humans. Maybe ambivalence is more prevalent these days for just about anything that takes up my “free” time. But then I tell myself, you never know what or who you’ll see until you go, and the car could probably use a drive on the tollway (is that still a thing with a hybrid vehicle? I don’t know), and any excuse to sing along with Peter Mayer (from Minnesota) is a good reason to go anywhere anyway.

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1st Cycle Iceland Gull (left) and a 3rd Cycle Herring Gull

So there I was an hour early, thinking I was late, remembering I had seen the email about the later start time but didn’t check it before I left, so I appeared, I suppose, to be a die-hard gull fanatic by arriving so soon with my monster lens attached to the camera and hanging off me like a third limb. There was plenty of ice and the gulls, mostly Herring, were congregating on it. The challenge was to recognize gull species other-than-Herring and all their myriad plumage cycles. I thank Amar Ayyash, gull expert extraordinaire, for graciously pointing out the first-cycle Iceland Gull captured in the above photograph, as appearing more evenly brown in plumage. The narrow all-black bill helps too. So maybe I will remember this next year. Or maybe not.

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Glaucous Gull (left) and below with geese

After years of hearing people swear by hand warmers, the cold winter inspired me to try a pair in anticipation of the Gull Frolic. It’s reassuring to know that there is nothing sinister contained in the ingredients that cause a chemical reaction to create heat when iron powder is exposed to air (sounds a bit explosive, though, doesn’t it?). Although the heat never really reached my fingertips, it was nice to have that little hot pad in the palm of my hand in the glove. Trying to manage the camera with cold, gloved fingers is challenging, so if my hands were a little warmer it likely didn’t hurt.

The Canada Geese weren’t exactly invited but they were enthusiastically crashing the party when the chumming of (albeit whole-wheat) store-bought bread began. I’m sure the bread isn’t good for the gulls either but it doesn’t hurt them once a year, and the whole purpose is to take advantage of their propensity to engage with anything that hits the water, or in this case, the ice, to bring them in closer so we can see them. Gulls aside, I found it a bit amusing to watch this particular goose try to land gracefully on the ice.

Unfortunately, I didn’t stay for lunch or the lecture. My right knee was bothering me (I might revisit this thought in a future post, now that I am seeking a remedy), I was tired of the cold, and I had the usual myriad weekend chores listing up in my brain. Basically, beyond Herring Gulls, I think the only other species observed were the Iceland, Thayer’s (even though Thayer’s has been lumped with Iceland, there’s an effort to re-split again), Glaucous, Great Black-Backed, and a Lesser Black-Backed I did not see. I find the Herrings in their various plumages entertaining anyway. But by the time I left I was beyond entertainment and eager to survive the long-ish drive home. Second-cycle Great Black-Backed Gull below.

There is one thing I will never be able to test and that is how gulls would respond to music. Indeed the thought had never occurred to me until I was driving home. That would certainly be another kind of frolic.

There’s no reason to believe gulls would not respond to music, but it’s beyond my ability to design an experiment. I leave the option open to anyone who wants to try it. Of course gulls don’t “sing” per se, but who knows, they might dance, or they are certainly capable of something resembling dance in flight. I have seen pigeons and doves dance, and cranes too, flamingos, parrots…so I am not being altogether fanciful in my musings here.

Beyond the Thayer’s Gulls above, here are a few more pictures of frolicking gulls, for the record. While I’m looking forward to next year’s event and hope to be in better shape for it, these cold winter memories are a bit much. Bring On Spring.

Frolicking 02-17-2018-5865It might be a good idea to revisit my last day in Ecuador to brighten up my next post…

Kirtland’s Warblers and Friends

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Kirtland’s Warbler

Sorry I haven’t been back to the page sooner but I’ve been down with a nasty cold that doesn’t seem to want to go away.  Yet I could speak above a squeak this morning, so I will have to take that as a sign of improvement. Here is a quick post from part of a visit to Michigan with friends over the Memorial Day Weekend. Specifically, these photographs were taken at the Kirtland’s Warbler Restoration Project in Iosco County. We visited this site on the morning of the 27th. The Kirtland’s breeding population is established well enough now at this location to warrant offering tours by the AuSable Valley Audubon Society. Thanks so much to Sam Burckhardt and the Chicago Ornithological Society for another memorable trip.

To go along with the pictures of a singing Kirtland’s above, here is a brief sample of his song:

Kirtland’s Warblers are a fire-dependent species, breeding only in young Jack Pine forests. They winter in the Bahamas. Their fascinating story was chronicled a few years ago by William Rapai, the author of The Kirtland’s Warbler: The Story of a Bird’s Fight Against Extinction and the People Who Saved It

The Kirtland's Warbler: The Story of a Bird's Fight Against Extinction and the People Who Saved It by [Rapai, William]

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Nashville Warbler

There were also several Nashville Warblers on territory and although they were a bit elusive I did manage to obtain a few distant photos of this one and a clip of him singing as well. To confuse the issue his song is overlapping the Vesper Sparrow’s, which is also below.

Perhaps the unexpected treat for me was a singing Vesper Sparrow. I have not seen these guys too often. A clip of the Vesper Sparrow’s song is below the pictures which were taken at an unfortunate distance. It can be distinguished from the Nashville’s bubbly song by the three introductory notes all at the same pitch.

Perhaps the birds most seen over the weekend were the huge flocks of non-breeding Canada Geese. This is only a small sampling of one flock passing overhead.

Below, a female Orchard Oriole on the left (you have to click on the picture and still look hard to find her, she is so well-camouflaged) and a male Orchard Oriole on the right.

Brown Thrashers were singing quite a bit too, now I’m sorry  didn’t bother to record one. Below is one very cooperative bird.

Now the challenge is to get through another busy weekend and a lot more photographs (and, I hope, a lot less facial tissue). I am trying to stay optimistic! Please have faith, I shall return, lots to share with you.

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Brown Thrasher