A Rare Visitor and a Lifer

Harris's Sparrow, Lurie Garden, Millennium Park

Harris’s Sparrow, Lurie Garden, Millennium Park

Wednesday afternoon I caught Joan Norek’s post on IBET (Illinois Birders Exchanging Thoughts) in my email about a Harris’s Sparrow at Lurie Garden in Millennium Park. David Johnson had posted the initial sighting but I was so late checking my email I was unaware of it until I saw Joan’s follow-up. Wednesday was the third day in a row I was not carrying the camera with me because of rain and clouds. But I was also going stir crazy, and I had enough peanuts for the crows, so I decided to walk over to Lurie Garden to see if I could find this bird. I have perhaps been within striking distance of seeing a Harris’s Sparrow over the years but have never managed to see one. It was worth checking out and if nothing else it was good to go for a walk.

Cloud Gate sculpture, Millennium Park

Cloud Gate sculpture, Millennium Park

As it turned out it wasn’t raining, just misty/drizzly and yes, overcast. But I had my new cell phone with me and it was probably time to see how much of a picture I could get with it. So I took pictures of various things along the way to Lurie Garden at the southeast end of the park. It seemed hopeless to try to get a picture of anything so small as a sparrow. Even a large sparrow, Harris’s being our largest species.

Harris's Sparrow with iPhone

Harris’s Sparrow with iPhone

HASP Lurie 10-15-14-0393

Again with the iPhone – you really have to dig to find the bird in this cropped photo

I did find the Harris’s feeding in the beds that have all gloriously gone to seed and are left that way to feed the birds over the winter. There were also very many White-Throated Sparrows, some White-Crowned Sparrows, and a few Swamp and Lincoln’s Sparrows. But when I found the Harris’s I stayed with him and talked with him and made him promise he would be available for photos the next day when I brought the real camera.

Harris's Sparrow

Harris’s Sparrow

Sure enough I returned Thursday with my fall migration getup, which basically now consists of a Canon EOS 70D and a 100-300mm L lens, and that’s only thanks to acquiring an inexpensive but practical camera backpack from amazon. The light was again nonexistent but this is a less critical event in an open space such as Lurie Garden. And even though I could not get pictures of the Harris’s without him being obstructed somewhere by grasses or the wild quinine he was eating, I like the way he blends in and contrasts at the same time (“you are what you eat”!). This also reminds me of something I learned from Bill Hilton Jr. on the Belize trip, about birds (and other creatures) getting their feather colors from the plants they consume.

As David Johnson described in a later post, the bird was very tame. But “tame” is not a favorite word of mine when it comes to birds, so I would rather describe the bird, at least when I saw him and took more photographs, as very hungry and nonplussed by my presence. “Go ahead, take all the photos you want, I’m fattening up for my trip to Texas” or wherever he’s going to wind up.

HASP Lurie 10-16-14-2289 HASP Lurie 10-16-14-2255 HASP Lurie 10-16-14-2200

I looked up the distribution range for this bird and the map explains perfectly to me why I am not likely to see this bird in Illinois, even in migration, so I am really thrilled to have gotten such long, loving looks at him and I will remember this bird next time I see it.

Harris's Sparrow Range Map - Cornell

Harris’s Sparrow Range Map – Cornell Lab of Ornithology

Also at Lurie Garden on Thursday, many more White-Crowned Sparrows than White-Throated, and this time I did not see any Lincoln’s although they could still be about.

Juvenile White-Crowned Sparrow

Juvenile White-Crowned Sparrow

WCSP Lurie 10-16-14-2056

Adult White-Crowned Sparrow

Adult White-Crowned Sparrow

White-Throated Sparrow

White-Throated Sparrow

The goldfinches are still having a great time at Lurie, even if the one below looks less enthusiastic about it.

American Goldfinch

American Goldfinch

On the Great Lawn close to the entrance to Lurie Garden there were perhaps 100 House Sparrows, and I took photographs of this one whose coloration looked quite different to me. Maybe he was just wet?

House Sparrow, Great Lawn, Millennium Park

House Sparrow, Great Lawn, Millennium Park

I decided not to bother the Harris’s again yesterday. Instead I went to Lake Shore East Park to see what was up there. I’ll (try to) be back with a report about yesterday’s discoveries later on. I would not be surprised if the Harris’s Sparrow hangs out a bit longer at Lurie, given the current weather patterns, in which case I might drop in on him again next week. This is a first-year bird, which means I have yet to see an adult Harris’s Sparrow, but it’s still so nice to get such a good, solid lifer in one’s proverbial own backyard.

HASP Close Lurie 10-16-14-2188

Oh Drear

Cloud Gate IMG_9861_1

Cloud Gate, Millennium Park,Chicago

It’s been pretty boring lately. The weather so-so, the drought continuing, such that the sight of snow on my front steps Friday morning came as a complete shock, like what is this stuff?

Snow Flurries IMG_9843_1

Although at times it looked like it could get serious it really never amounted to much.

Gulls Far Out IMG_9741_1

Ice on Lake Michigan

If it was hard to focus my mind on anything, it was equally difficult to get the camera to focus on anything. No light, no color, blah, blah, blah.

Ice IMG_9724_1

Yet it’s still better to be outside than to be stuck inside, so every day I continued to search for some meaning.

First Snow IMG_9882_1

View from the 46th floor…

Even if it was through the office windows.

First Snow IMG_9899_1

The snow came the next morning and covered up the ice.

First Snow IMG_9891_1

Snow also affords more places to stash peanuts.

Flurries IMG_9810_1

The white stuff only lasted a day, and melted away.

Stay tuned, my frustration with cabin fever and boredom eventually gave way to a couple chases.

Molting Crows

Purple Crow

Yesterday morning I got up at an ungodly hour so I could go down to the lakefront and look for migrants. Unfortunately it was quite cloudy and although warm, I really could see and hear very little. I managed to find a few Tennessee Warblers and a Swainson’s Thrush, but mainly it was a congregation of Canada Geese enjoying the newly laid grass in Butler Field…

Canada Geese conference

…along with Ring-Billed Gulls getting ready to depart for the winter.

Ring-Billed Gulls flying over the park

There was a pair of Cooper’s Hawks which caused the crows to carry on a bit. Cooper’s Hawks don’t photograph too well back-“un”-lit.

Cooper's Hawk

But most of my visit was spent seeing just how little light I could photograph crows in. I had the shutter wide open and on abysmally slow speed to get most of these pictures.

Crow trying not to swallow cached peanut whole

My last picture was a reflection of the cloudy sky, appropriately in the sculpture affectionately known as the “Bean” in Millennium Park, but truer to its real name, Cloud Gate…

Cloud Gate with Clouds

The sun came out later but I was too busy at work to go out at lunchtime. My timing has been off all week.

But here’s a couple more pictures for you crow lovers: you know who you are. Talk about black being the sum of all colors.

"How about another peanut?"

Molting Crow