Off and Running

Yellow-Bellied Sapsucker

Yellow-Bellied Sapsucker

I had another post in mind but it is late, I’m leaving shortly for the airport, if not in the middle of the night this time, for our West Texas birding trip. As for the Yellow-Bellied Sapsucker above, this is the most yellow I have ever seen!

Hermit Thrush and Fox Sparrow

Hermit Thrush and Fox Sparrow – sort of birds “of a feather” – yes there was snow on the ground last week…

So here are a few pictures taken in downtown Chicago over the past two weeks, as the migrants come through. Specifically the location is Lake Shore East Park.

Brown Thrasher

Brown Thrasher

The Brown Thrasher and the Grackles are likely here for the breeding season.

Fountain Baths

Fountain Baths

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The Common Grackles were ready the moment the fountains went on.

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White-Throated Sparrows have been around for weeks, if not in the hundreds like they were when Daley Bicentennial Plaza still existed. Now and then one breaks into song.

I’ll be back in about a week and a half. I’m roughing it, not taking the laptop this time. 🙂

Thanks to all who follow or stop by!

White-Winged Scoters – Finally!

Male White-Winged Scoter

Male White-Winged Scoter

As if in answer to my prayer…the White-Winged Scoters that have been reported everywhere I have not been able to get to (namely the Chicago Lakefront where there is open water instead of ice) finally showed up in the Chicago River this week. Someone reported them at the North Branch but since the Loop is far south of that I didn’t know whether to be encouraged or even more frustrated.

Female White-Winged Scoter

Female White-Winged Scoter

But Wednesday morning I caught my first glimpses of them – they were catching naps all the way over on the other side and at first all I could see were small patches of white on their wings. But they eventually woke up and started diving. Still they were too far away to get decent pictures.

Female White-Winged Scoter

Female White-Winged Scoter

Yesterday I packed my better lens, and feeling optimistic (there was actually a little sunshine early in the morning) I attached it before I got out of the train station. I walked to the railing, looked over the side, and the White-Winged Scoters were there – on my side – as if they had been waiting for me. Even though the light was still a problem, the river being almost black, it’s so dark, and the birds being black themselves, I managed to get these few shots from some very cooperative birds.

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The Red-Breasted Mergansers are still in the river in numbers, too. Sometimes within good view.

Female Red-Breasted Merganser

Female Red-Breasted Merganser

And more often not.

Male Red-Breasted Mergansers

Male Red-Breasted Mergansers

And as it always is with diving ducks, they disappear.

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Diving White-Winged Scoter

 

Cabin Fever Blues

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Female Northern Cardinal on the sunflower seed feeder

I’ve got the Cabin Fever Blues. Don’t bother watching the news. (Random thoughts after shoveling…)

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Chicago Lakefront view from the office

It’s the same old thing. Still snowing.

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Snowtracks in the Cancer Survivor’s Garden

I’ve got the Too Blues too.

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House Sparrows at the Cancer Survivor’s Garden

Too cold, too windy.

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Snow-capped temporary hill made from dirt removed from Daley Bicentennial Plaza

Too many Toos to handle.

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Dark-Eyed Junco at the Cancer Survivors’ Garden

(I did manage to get down to the lakefront once last week, but after that, it wasn’t possible.)

Sub-zero has many faces.

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American Robin, yews, Cancer Survivors’ Garden

Ice and hard, sculpted snow.

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Slipping and sliding, or crunching and sinking.

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The sun looks like the moon

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And the clouds like an ocean.

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I guess this red hedge sculpture by the yacht club is designed to brighten up the place. This was a couple weeks ago after the thaw…

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There’s even a little white in the left wing of this cold snow-crow…

Weavers or Winter…

Speke's Weaver

Speke’s Weaver

Winter weather is winning. On the way in to work this morning, a bank sign read 7 degrees Fahrenheit or -14 Centigrade, whichever one sounds colder, and on the news they were saying it felt like 6 degrees below zero.

I was going swimming tonight but it just started to snow, the roads are slick and I don’t want to risk it. So I bought gas, dropped a late gift off at a friend’s doorstep and came back home. I’m sure I’ll wake up tomorrow to an accumulation of snow that will need my attention. As much as I love processing my pictures from East Africa, the present reality seems to be demanding attention.

Lake Michigan, 31st Street Beach rocks

Lake Michigan, 31st Street Beach rocks

Below are some formidable icicles from the lakefront, where I traveled to on Christmas Day to see if I could find one of the Snowy Owls that have been reported. I made the same pilgrimage two years ago for the last Snowy Owl irruption and was more successful. I think  saw a Snowy fly by shortly after I reached 31st Street Beach, but the camera wouldn’t cooperate in time, so I have no proof.

Ice formations at 31st Street Beach on Christmas Day

Ice formations at 31st Street Beach on Christmas Day

At Montrose Harbor there were only a few birds, like year-round Black-Capped Chickadees.

Black-Capped Chickadee

Black-Capped Chickadee

Someone had hung a pine cone from a branch and the Chickadee was attracted to it.

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Common Mergansers took advantage of what little open water existed. The fishing must still be good.

Female Common Mergansers

Female Common Mergansers

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At Northerly Island, I have always seen a few Canada Geese fly by.

Canada Geese against the Chicago Skyline

Canada Geese against the Chicago Skyline

But now, while the weather continues outside, I’m going back to the Weavers.

Speke's Weaver at nest

Speke’s Weaver at nest

The Lakefront’s Juvenile Birds

Monroe Harbor

Monroe Harbor

I haven’t been down to the lakefront regularly, and I miss it. With the devastation of available park space it’s been difficult to motivate myself to get up an hour early.

Sculptures in Solti Garden

Sculptures in Solti Garden

But last Friday I managed to go because it seemed like the best weather available (a distant memory after the heat and drought that followed) . I miss seeing the crows and I was curious to find out how many of them remain with the reduced habitat.

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My first stop was at the Solti Garden just south of The Art Institute on Michigan Avenue where I was surprised to see the Chicago Park District had replaced the yews with what looks like native grasses, to accompany an installation of “Borders” by Steinunn Thorararinsdottir, an Icelandic artist.

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Someone covered the sculpture above in sand and gravel from the walkway.

Monroe Harbor Spider

Monroe Harbor Spider

A bit later after finding nothing of interest north of Buckingham Fountain (except for a group of people led by the Field Museum’s ornithologist Doug Stotz–if there was anything interesting he would likely have reported it later to the local listserve, and he did not), I made it to the lakefront where spiders have set up webs between the metal dividers that support the sidewalk and protect it from the lake. I guess the lower lake levels are good news for them; they can lure all the bugs the swallows miss.

European Starling

European Starling

While it wasn’t possible to get pictures of the swallows, no matter how hard I tried, there was a juvenile European Starling looking almost adult.

Red-Winged Blackbird

Red-Winged Blackbird

And the same can be said for this juvenile Red-Winged Blackbird. There were perhaps forty or so foraging in the grass right along the bicycle and footpaths that follow the lakefront.

A juvenile American Robin is always in order.

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The Ring-Billed Gull below is probably a second-year. The light is always tricky this time of year, or at least that’s my excuse.

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In all between three parks and half a mile of lakefront, I counted only 8 crows, of which one was the juvenile below.

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I am looking forward to cooler weather, more rain and more birds!

Skulkers and Flycatchers

Tennessee Warbler

Tennessee Warbler, Millennium Park

Still coming down from a weekend of intense but wonderful birding in Michigan. I might have managed a post Tuesday night were it not for a power outage around 8:00 p.m. that lasted three-plus hours. But it turned out to be an unexpected opportunity to catch up on some sleep, after whispering admonitions to the house birds to stay perched and sleep through the thunder and lightning.

Least Flycatcher

Least Flycatcher, Millennium Park

So I got up early yesterday morning and went to Millennium Park, dodging the imminent rain drops. Flycatchers were abundant, as reported from other lakefront locations.

Alder Flycatcher

Alder Flycatcher?

Anyway here are some birds I encountered yesterday morning and later in the afternoon at Lake Shore East Park. I think the bird above is an Alder Flycatcher, but he didn’t say anything, so technically I should call him “Empidonax Species.”

The real surprises, or I suppose you could say wish-list possibilities, appeared in Lake Shore East Park yesterday afternoon. I went back this morning and could not find them… One was the prized Connecticut Warbler, skulking around in dark places: I guess the photograph below will have to do for now.

Connecticut Warbler

Connecticut Warbler, Lake Shore East Park

Add a female Common Yellowthroat. Perhaps she is the mate of the male who was singing yesterday and again this morning. She is the least uncommon of the three birds here, but lovely nonetheless, and easy to confuse with the other two.

Female Common Yellowthroat

Female Common Yellowthroat

The female Mourning Warbler below…

Female Mourning Warbler

Female Mourning Warbler

and again here… is another less-commonly seen “skulker.”

Female Mourning Warbler

Female Mourning Warbler

Thus we have three skulkers who all look quite a bit alike, and in most field guides they’re not far from each other, so you can make the comparisons and note the differences or throw up your hands in total confusion.

Eastern Wood Pewee, Lake Shore East Park

Eastern Wood Pewee, Lake Shore East Park

Not to skimp on flycatchers, the one above is at least recognizable as a Pewee. He sang a bit, too – always nice to hear. If I run into a Pewee song soon I’ll update this post.

Crow with Bat

Crow with Bat

On my way out, I walked through the back of the Aon Building where I have seen birds on occasion, and encountered this crow with its prey: I suspect it’s a little brown bat.

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The crow took off with its bat soon after I shot a few more photos. I’m sure it didn’t want me to draw attention to its prize.

My last momentary offering is a recording of Beniamino, one of my Zebra Finch males, singing his heart out from atop a microphone while I’m practicing the prelude to the F major English Suite by Bach (it may take me a year, but I’ll get through these suites – 2 more to go after this one). Travel time has taken its toll on playing for the birds but I plan to stay put for a few months and get some more music in my fingers.

Endless thanks to all who follow me and to those I follow – I have some catching up to do! I’ll be back soon with reports from Michigan and the Kirtland’s Warbler.

City Visitors…Part One

Field Sparrow

Field Sparrow

While wading through weekend photos and recordings, I’m overdue getting caught up with the workday bird visitors who have proved so astonishingly cooperative. Whatever is this Field Sparrow doing hanging out with House Sparrows in the nicotine-stained bushes of the Thompson Center?

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As I recall, he flew away when I first noticed him, and then after I stood there awhile, he came back and started finding excuses to forage close to me. I had to step back a bit to get these pictures.

The Chicago Loop/Lakefront welcome mat isn’t out like it used to be. The former Daley Bicentennial Plaza now looks like this:

Daley destruction

Daley destruction

Millennium Park is under heavy maintenance, particularly in the bird-friendly areas, so that’s not a destination anymore. Northerly Island was designated habitat for a while, but the “temporary” Charter One pavilion is now being expanded to a concert arena for crowds of 22,000 people. Where’s a migrating bird to go, let alone a birder?

This Ring-Billed Gull was faring pretty well the last warm day I walked through Millennium.

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There are other areas along the lakefront north and south of the city, of course, but they’re no longer part of the stretch that included downtown.

So on the way in to work I still stop by 155 North Wacker Drive. It has not been incredibly birdy lately, but there have been a few migrants, like this eager-to-please Common Yellowthroat (his initial reaction was the same as the Field Sparrow’s, and then he got curious, I guess).

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Common Yellowthroat

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Directly outside Union Station a few days ago, I saw this Wood Thrush.

Wood Thrush

Wood Thrush

I didn’t get to go out today for lunch, giving in to the threat of thunderstorms which have not occurred, a sudden burst of activity at work, and the need to leave early (thunderstorms be damned) to attend a DuPage Birding Club meeting. So I’ve spent my lunch finishing this post.

More to come from Lake Shore East Park, which has become my lunchtime refuge (and that of a couple crows I know as well).

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