The Lakefront and Crows – At Last!

I have been thinking about visiting the Chicago lakefront – specifically the part of it that I used to work near – for months, until it became years, I think, at least as long as the pandemic. And with the distance from it and everything else that has transpired in the interim, I had grown more anxious about the entire prospect. I kept telling myself that it was simply a matter of familiarity gone stale, that there was likely nothing more to fear than before. It involves getting in the car, driving downtown, parking in the underground garage and walking around with the camera. As the prospect for one good sunny weekend day grew closer, I simply decided to go, envisioning the entire process until it felt safe.

So it was a beautiful day indeed. Bright sunshine, cold, yes, but not too windy. Just to commemorate my emergence from the elevator at the south end of the Art Institute I took the skyline snapshot and then I proceeded along Jackson to Grant Park, where I took a distant photo of Buckingham Fountain.

At that point, I had not yet seen nor heard a Crow. Indeed, I had no idea what to expect after so long. I had a sufficient supply of peanuts in my backpack, a few of which I had already moved to my right pocket when a Black-capped Chickadee greeted me from a hedgerow. I cracked open a peanut and left it for him or her and proceeded to walk through the park toward Lake Shore Drive. Then I heard a Crow call, and spotted it as it flew into the trees.

So there you are, I said. To which the Crow said, So there You are. A few peanuts on the ground later, we were engaged in a sort of mutual admiration conversation.

I want to clarify that I never feed wildlife outside of my backyard – except for the downtown park birds which are quite accustomed to handouts. Indeed had it not been for feeding the Crows I would never have gotten to know them at all. The way to a Crow’s heart…to paraphrase the saying.

By the time I got across Lake Shore Drive there were five Crows following me around. I had a feeling they had been waiting for me. As I had been waiting to see them. Either they had heard my thoughts about coming downtown, resonating as I filled the plastic bag with peanuts before I left, or perhaps they had just been reminiscing about The Peanut Lady during one of their roosts … or most likely, due to the boredom of winter, there was nothing else to attract their attention, like a raptor or spring.

I really didn’t see many more birds besides the Crows. There were gulls out on the ice, and Canada Geese, but the lake was frozen making it useless for diving ducks.

The lakefront trail was populated well enough with runners and walkers. I don’t remember taking the photo below as I usually try to avoid photographing people, but I was amused when I found it later.

There was a lot of ice!

Except for the Ring-billed Gull below, I stuck to photographing the Crows who are natural hams in front of the camera.

When I got to the boathouse, the Crows that had been following me around seemed a bit hesitant. It turned out that this was nearing the end of their territory and they didn’t want to share me with the Crows that were closer to the Columbia Yacht Club. I did briefly encounter a couple of the more northerly Crows on the way back. They appeared to be eating some grapes.

But I really have nothing more to offer than a lot of Crow pictures, to make up for all the Crow Posts that I have not been able to produce over the last two years. Although I now intend to visit the lakefront at least once a month and more than likely I will be visiting with Crows, as the days get longer and warmer there should be more of a variety of species.

I walked back through Maggie Daley and Millennium Park and came to about 20 Crows sitting on top of the modern wing of the Art Institute. They all started cawing loudly. Of course I had to leave them a few peanuts. But it was just really fun to receive such an enthusiastic welcome.

Here are a few more of the Crows in the snow and ice. February’s visit might not look all that different but we shall see.

Gazing across the ice toward the Adler Planetarium

This part of the lakefront trail is safe, but there are closures farther north due to ice and waves. As it turned out, the most threatened I felt yesterday had nothing to do with my expedition, but instead was when a driver on my left cut right in front of me from behind, with only a few feet to spare, when there was no other traffic – baffling, as if he or she never saw me to begin with – and this was on the way home about half a mile from my house. Luckily I have brakes and a horn which work, the latter of which I rarely use. I think driving has become more precarious altogether in the last couple of years – perhaps due to the Great Collective Distraction: ____________. Don’t ask which one I’m referring to, you can fill in the blank as needed.

In Between

Golden-Crowned Kinglet

My last trip to the lakefront was at the end of November. I intended to post some pictures from that visit closer to the time they were taken but the holidays and impending travel plans got the better of me. So in between the Mexico trip posts here’s a little nostalgia from home.

Above and below, a very cold-looking Golden-Crowned Kinglet I encountered in the plantings outside the Columbia Yacht Club. I confess to seeing his fiery crown first before I eventually saw the entire bird.

I miss the lakefront for these little guys, the Horned Grebes, that tend to hang out conveniently near the shore. There were also a few closer ducks that day, in between dives.

Horned Grebe

The Crow Crowd I expected was not present, but I did find a small but enthusiastic group at my last stop, Lake Shore East Park.

I don’t remember exactly where this very young Cooper’s Hawk was.

Predictably, a Herring Gull and a White-Throated Sparrow…

Herring Gull
White-Throated Sparrow

I’ve been trying to keep up with the Mexico pictures and hope to manage another post in a couple days. If for no other reason than to take a break from the cold, gloomy weather and news cycle, if you can even call it that.

A Crow Holiday Post

I’m overdue for a tribute to the Lakefront Crows who were quite cooperative early in November but hard to find a month later, and I don’t think I’ll manage to see them before the end of the year. So here are some longing looks.

Hmmm… peanut butter oatmeal raisin, my favorite

The same day, I captured a few sparrows and such and I will be back with their photos and others from my second visit to the lakefront parks.

Swamp Sparrow

This is all in the interest of clearing off my hard drives to make room for upcoming adventures. I will be going to Mexico next Sunday.

Since I’m almost in real time here, a note about the current weather: my Northern Cardinal was singing and singing and singing in the yard this morning – I think the 60-degree temperatures have fooled him into thinking it’s spring. Can’t blame him. Is it just me, or is almost nothing a surprise anymore?

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.

Millennium Magnolia

MAWA 5-17-17-8929Another brief post devoted to one bird, the Magnolia Warbler, which I finally saw well on Thursday morning. I got up at 3:40 AM to catch an early train downtown so I could bird the parks for nearly a couple hours, just to test my perception that there were fewer migrants than previous years.

My perception is correct, I think, based on several factors. The populations of neotropical migrants are already in a downward spiral, and the effects of habitat loss and climate change are tipping the scales. Habitat for stopovers during migration is just as critical as breeding and wintering habitat. Locally, the abrupt changes on the downtown lakefront due to “improvements” have not helped to support migrants. Although I think eventually the pockets of recently planted natural landscaping will offer more respite, it takes years for plants to establish themselves and for the birds to know they can rely on them. Birds tend to return to places that have proven good for them before. When those places disappear, birds have to go somewhere else.

So from the reports I was getting while stuck in the office, the party invitations had already gone out and most of the migrant action was at Montrose Point, also known as the Magic Hedge, which is understandable and predictable, but frustrating when you know you can’t get there to see it.

This bird was among a few other species in the south sculpture garden at Millennium Park, where only a few years ago the planted pines would light up with brightly colored warblers resembling a Christmas tree (I give all credit for that sentiment to my friend David Johnson). For a moment I could almost trick myself into thinking it was happening again.

MAWA 5-18-17-8911Magnolia Warblers, affectionately nicknamed “Maggies,” are usually quite conspicuous and I have always found the males happy to engage with the camera. So I was able to get a few halfway decent shots of this backlit but beautiful guy who was otherwise zooming in and out of the pine needles seeking insects.

I got a break today from the migrant search as the weather has dictated moderation. Our temperatures plummeted yesterday about 35 degrees and the forecast for today is intermittent rain with thunderstorms likely. With any luck I’ll be able to work in the yard a bit in between downpours. But it was nice to “sleep in” for a change on a Saturday, – until my indoor crowd woke me up at 6:00, a full half hour or so after sunrise when they began to greet the day vocally. Someday I have to be awake enough to record the indoor dawn chorus…

Brief Blackburnian Blitz

 

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I readily admit to obsession and distraction. Warblers are here. While there has been no definitive all-at-once-get-it-now-or-never rhythm to this spring’s warbler migration, the fits and starts due to divergent weather patterns have made it all the more challenging to find and photograph these elusive creatures.

This is just a quick post devoted to a couple Blackburnian Warblers seen over the weekend. The one in the oak tree directly above was at Jarvis Bird Sanctuary along the lakefront, and the other in what is likely a cottonwood tree, at the Chicago Portage. More of the Portage bird below, showing off striking black and white plumage. This bird was really distant so I apologize for the quality of the photos.

Many more birds to come, just needed to take a breath before diving back in.

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BLWA 5-13-17-1521

Ho-hum, Ennui and Fall Migration

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Red-Breasted Nuthatch, Chicago lakefront park

You’d think I’d be done with processing all those pictures from the two trips in Ecuador by now,  and be happy to just get on with it, but there always seems to be an excuse presenting itself, like hot weather, work, fall migration, information overload, afternoon naps, imminent cataract surgery…

Although I haven’t done a lot of birding lately, it has been impossible to resist the inevitability of fall migration and the days getting shorter, signaling periodicity going on in the birds’ lives, and even if we’re not paying direct attention to it I suspect we’re all somehow getting ready to hunker down for the winter too.

Two weeks ago I was still seeing the female Scarlet Tanager above, at the Portage, but that was the last time.

These pictures, jumping around, are from a couple visits to the Chicago Portage, a few Chicago Loop migrants present last week, and yesterday morning when I went to Brezina Woods before it got unbearably hot. I think this spot may become a new hang-out place for me as the habitat at the Portage has changed so radically in the last year or two, I’m not sure if the birds will ever come back to it. I paid attention to all flying creatures when I was there this past Sunday and managed to get a couple pictures of butterflies and a dragonfly (above).

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Northern Flicker

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American Robin

The leaves on the trees start to brown a bit and so do the birds. Fall plumages are sometimes challenging.

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Blackpoll Warbler, Brezina Woods

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Blackpoll Warbler, Brezina Woods

The youngsters are sometimes the only ones left to see. Below, from the Portage, a Song Sparrow on the left and an Indigo Bunting on the right. More views of the two species below them. The Buntings all look like their moms right now.

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This is the time of year to see large flocks of Cedar Waxwings kibbutzing around the treetops and they have been present every time I’ve been out at the Portage and yesterday at Brezina. Juveniles in the smaller photos and an adult in the larger one.

CEWA 09-04-16-0301Down by the Chicago River last week, a Ring-Billed Gull enjoys his perch on one of the last remaining rotting pilings. And the only bird in the Boeing garden nearby was what appears to be a Yellow-Bellied Flycatcher below, after checking Crossley’s pictures as a reference, but empidonax flycatchers are hard to nail down unless they say something and this guy was silent.

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At 155 N. Wacker on Friday, there was a Nashville Warbler.

Sunday’s visit to the Portage yielded a Tiger Swallowtail and a Monarch Butterfly. I have seen more Monarchs but not so many. What I haven’t seen hardly at all are the usually numerous Red Admirals, Painted Ladies and Mourning Cloaks.

Below, a couple more warblers from my visit to Brezina Woods. The hanging upside-down Redstart, below left, is a challenge to piece together.

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Magnolia Warbler

Two more views of the Red-Breasted Nuthatch. It was a special treat as I got to see two individuals in the remaining black locust trees at the far east end of the Cancer Survivors’ Memorial, the only trees to survive the total decimation of what used to be Daley Bicentennial Plaza and is now Maggie Daley Park.

Last picture of the post below, an adult Cedar Waxwing at the Portage a couple weeks ago.

CEWA 08-14-16-9763I’m looking forward to cataract surgery on my right eye tomorrow morning, because that’s the eye I use to focus the damn camera lens with, so I’m hoping for future sharper images!!

Summer in the City

Hanging out at the water fountain

Hanging out at the water fountain

Last week was hot and for all practical purposes, dry. It was almost hard to find motivation to trade the too-cold office air conditioning for hot-and-muggy outside but sitting around all day doesn’t suit me, so when there was time available for a stroll, I took one. Things calmed down at the office considerably by Friday and that was my longest outing.

Ovenbird, Millennium Park, 8-11-15

Ovenbird, Millennium Park, 8-11-15

Earlier in the week, however, as I sat in my chosen shady spot near the bike racks, the Ovenbird reappeared looking much more adult.

Juvenile Crow Millennium 8-11-15-8779 Juvenile Crow Millennium 8-11-15-8765

The new crows were molting.

Monarch Millennium 8-11-15-8797 Monarch Millennium 8-11-15-8793

And the Monarchs were still sallying.

Friday, because I had some extra time, I decided to go down to the lakefront, where even the Canada Geese were trying to stay out of the sun.

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Juvenile Mallard

I had almost forgotten Friday was the day before the annual Air and Water Show put on by the U.S. Navy Blue Angels, but the roar of jets overhead soon reminded me. This was their practice session, inspiring awe on the ground.

Blue Angels 8-14-15-9183Blue Angels 8-14-15-9124Blue Angels 8-14-15-9116Blue Angels 8-14-15-9095Blue Angels 8-14-15-9079Blue Angels 8-14-15-9048

Blue Angels 8-14-15-9148On the way back to the office, as I stopped to take a picture of some Chicago Lego-style architecture, the unknown young man below insisted I take his picture. By the time I got him in focus his friend put his hand behind his head. I don’t know what he thought I would do with this picture, but if you recognize him, let him know I didn’t simply delete it and this could be 2 of his 15 seconds of fame. (I’m used to people handing me their own cameras or cell phones and asking me to take pictures of them, in fact, I did so for someone that day.)Building 8-14-15-9112

Do you know him?

Do you know him?

The sad story is that on Saturday, the first day of the actual event, a midair accident befell two parachutists in the Air and Water Show. (The parachutists, from the Navy Leap Frogs and the Army Golden Knights teams, were not present on the Friday practice runs.) Tragically, one of them died the next day. The Sunday show was cancelled. I missed hearing about this until Monday because my TV service has been down since Friday night. It’s still down, but I am glad I didn’t post all these pictures before hearing about the tragedy.

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All Thawed Out

Greater Scaup

Greater Scaup

Even though last week was consistently warmer than the weeks before, it still took a long time to turn the lakefront from ice to water. Some smaller bodies of water are still frozen, but Lake Michigan, at least on the Chicago shore, is now open to ducks. However, as soon as they leave, if not before — although I’m sure the presence of ducks is not the trigger for this event — the yacht club will start putting out the buoys for the boats.

Below is a little photographic ice check timeline.

Ice on 3-9-15

Ice on 3-9-15

Ice on 3-10-15

Ice on 3-10-15

Ice close to shore on 3-12-15

No ice this part of the harbor on 3-12-15 (same dock as 3-9 above)

But ice still farther out on 3-12-15

But ice still farther out on 3-12-15

Of course the light was great on the days when there was not much to photograph but ice.

Canada Geese on the ice, 2-12-15

Canada Geese on the ice, 3-12-15

And even as the ice seemed to be melting steadily all week, on Friday the 13th, as luck would have it, the ice was right up to the shoreline again. I suspect that all the ice that was farther out had floated in to the harbor.

Ice on 3-13-15 (right up to the shoreline!)

Ice on 3-13-15 (right up to the shoreline!)

After the warming weekend, though, ducks were beginning to show up close enough to look at, even if the light wasn’t so wonderful.

Female Red-Breasted Merganser, 3-16-15

Female Red-Breasted Merganser, 3-16-15

Greater Scaup 3-16-15

Greater Scaup 3-16-15

And Ring-Billed Gulls have started coming back in droves.

Ring-Billed Gull 3-16-15

Ring-Billed Gull 3-16-15

By the middle of the week there were some more ducks in the harbor.

Common Goldeneye 3-18-15

Common Goldeneye 3-18-15

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A pair of Common Goldeneyes.

I’ve taken better photos of Red-Breasted Mergansers but I like these guys so much I can’t resist posting this one anyway. After all, I’ve likely never taken his picture before.

Red-Breasted Merganser 3-18-15

Red-Breasted Merganser 3-18-15

The Ring-Billed Gulls are getting ready for the tourist season.

RBGU 3-18-15-6524 RBGU 3-17-15-6562And on land the only newcomer I saw last week was a Common Grackle, but all returns are welcome.

COGR 3-17-15-6648I haven’t been able to get out every day this week but I’ll continue to go when I can and I look forward to documenting whatever arrives..

The Essence of True (Crow) Love

Cookie Crow 2-17-15-4415

Ah…Birdz Cookies!

Or you could just say Food is Love in just about any language. Like Music…

In the midst of this miserable cold, my crow friends and I are reunited in thought and purpose. Last week they sent me a request for Birdz Cookies, and so it was Birdz Cookies on Monday and Tuesday. On Monday, I put out lots of peanuts and broke up the cookie pieces on top of them, and the Crows went straight for the cookies.

Then yesterday, after two days of cookies, why not some of those delicious hot dogs I used to bring?

Hot Dog Crows 2-18-15-4608

Between my knee event (which I am happy to report is totally over), the weather, the baby boom indoors and other distractions, I haven’t managed to get up early and visit the crows an hour before work all winter, so I have focused on the Millennium Park bunch whenever I get out for a late lunch break, and now that my knee is working properly the weather becomes less of an excuse for staying inside when I realize my friends don’t have that choice.

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White-Throated Sparrow

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Sparrows, mainly House

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Northern Cardinal and House Sparrow, both males

This has also been good for the Cardinals, Chickadees, White-Throated Sparrows and House Sparrows.

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On Monday, the male Northern Cardinal actually came toward me and posed for pictures when I pointed the camera at him. It had to do with the peanuts I shelled and left for him on Friday. He was asking me to repeat the favor, which I did after taking a few more pictures. Then later he was down on the ground sampling the general offering.

NOCA 2-16-15-3818 NOCA 2-17-15-4404

On Tuesday I was surprised to see the Robins back at what I believe must be some type of hawthorn trees in the northwest corner of the park, I guess to clean up every last fruit they might have left on their last visit.

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The Black-Capped Chickadees have been more about food than enticing me to take their pictures.

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Black-Capped Chickadee

But from time to time the female Cardinal wasn’t too shy to engage the lens.

NOCA 2-17-15-4330

NOCA 2-17-15-4325So as cold as it is I will probably venture out again today. The sun is shining brightly, and it is always a bit warmer by the lake, even in this extreme cold. It’s amazing how much even one or two degrees makes a difference.

WTSP & NOCA 2-17-15-4079 Cookie Crow 2-17-15-4417

The “what-to-feed-the crows next?” question has been on my mind, since after cookies and hot dogs, simply peanuts seems too mundane. So I rustled up an omelette this morning with about 10 eggs that have been in the refrigerator too long to boil for the indoor crowd’s egg food. I figure the crows have probably sampled Egg McMuffins and will recognize an omelette (indeed I think one crow sent me the thought on the way in that I could have added cheese — ha!). Plus it’s eggs in a cache-and-stash form.

WTSP 2-17-15-4436

White-Throated Sparrow

I do intend to wade through the Gull Frolic pictures by the weekend…but the park birds were making it a lot easier for me to post about them sooner.