Birds in what’s left of the Loop parks have all but vanished, the lake is still frozen, and so I have been walking along the Chicago River lately for my afternoon break.
Although there’s nothing really new going on, it’s still amazing to see so many Red-Breasted Mergansers and White-Winged Scoters in the river.
Female White-Winged Scoter
This scoter swam below me for a while and then she dove for something.
Male White-Winged Scoter
It’s fairly easy to get to the junction where the branches of the river meet. On my last visit there were more Herring Gulls than the usually ubiquitous Ring-Billed.
At one point two Herring Gulls got into a match over a fish. If nothing else this proves there is something to eat even in the Chicago River (and it’s not from the fancy restaurants alongside it). I have seen huge carp, perhaps the invasive Asian species, sometimes surface in the spring, but nothing that spectacular lately. However if you click on the images below you can almost see what the gull on the left has in his beak.
The Riverwalk below street level doesn’t extend along one entire side yet, but there is a sign that looks promising. The stairs leading down to it are blocked off anyway during the inclement weather.
Braving the wind, ice on the bridges.
Dirty Snow on the Sidewalk
Turning back toward the office, the elevated train “loops” around the city core, giving it its nickname.
The El forming the Chicago Loop
Beyond the Weather, I think I will remember this winter as the one of White-Winged Scoters and Snowy Owls, from seen very well to barely seen at all.
During the week and even into the weekend, I find myself distracted by too many multi-tasking thoughts. So to stop and be in the moment is priceless and irresistible. I think it must be what I love about taking pictures. I am trying to freeze a moment in time, in memory. I am also paying attention, so that inhibits the clutter of distraction. So that must be why it felt so good to pull the camera out on the way in to work the last two mornings–after two weeks of working through lunch or barely getting out at all–to stop and shoot at the river’s edge. It’s a creative process, too; the excitement of seeing something that looks like a potential photograph and trying to capture it with the camera, it’s a vision, however momentary. But it also takes me out of myself and I focus on the subject. And that is why I love birds so very much: they make me forget about me. Reminds me of that line in Joni Mitchell’s song, “All I Want” from the Blue album, “Oh I love you when I forget about me.” But with the birds it’s different. They also remind me of who I really am, without that act I have to put on during the work week.
The ultimate peace is to be relieved of one’s constant mind. I think they used to call it “Nirvana.” (No, this is not intended to be a musical reference this time. 🙂 )
Mourning Doves in my neighbor’s tree
P.S. This House Finch was supposed to be in this post but she somehow didn’t make it.
I think I was hearing the music to “It Keeps You Runnin'” by the Doobie Brothers/Michael McDonald when I thought up this title instead of the Three Dog Night music which is where it belongs, but the phrase was inspired by two experiences I had this week on the way to the train in the morning through the snow and cold.
As if to welcome the new year, I heard both a Black-Capped Chickadee and a Northern Cardinal singing on January 2. It seemed quite remarkable then, as it was already snowy and cold, but as the weather deteriorated further, it has been eerily quiet around the neighborhood through all the arctic chill. Wolf-whistling European Starlings, something I could always count upon in previous years, are a distant memory,
Thursday morning I was in a general funk on the way to the train. Every body part ached, piles of snow seemed almost insurmountable, layers of clumsy clothing further impeding whatever is left of my agility, and I was not looking forward to going to work and was generally tired of even trying to deal with it.
Then when I was perhaps three blocks from home, a distant Black-Capped Chickadee started to sing, immediately interrupting my misery. I tried to respond – my whistle not being very whet – and he sang back. My whistle improved, and we continued like this, back and forth, for a moment of another block or so until I got out of range. Donald Kroodsma so aptly describes the song, “Hey, Sweetie” – and I realized the Chickadee had come to my rescue and completely dispelled all my negative, self-absorbed thoughts. It was almost as if he heard me calling out for help and responded in the only way he could, by offering song, since he was too far away for me to hear his call, “dee-dee-dee.” How wonderful for him to be there to remind me that music is the most important thing in life.
And yesterday morning, again on the way to the train, albeit the weather forecast improving slightly and my mood much improved by the fact that it was Friday, a Northern Cardinal began to sing with a bit of reserve. I whistled back, almost under my breath, and that must have inspired him because he started to sing louder, more elaborate phrases. I do not in any way attribute this to “countersinging.” He knew I was not another bird and he was not trying to out-whistle me. Indeed, I think he was glad to have an audience and was inspired by my response to his singing because then he knew someone was listening. And this gets back to the very first times I started playing music for birds and listening to their response. We began to communicate in this way: we were listening to each other. It’s not all about territory and attracting mates. It’s about the sheer joy of making music and offering communication to the universe. The birds have known this for millennia. Through them I again come to realize music is the defining force in my life.
As I sit here brewing another pot of bird-friendly coffee, my indoor birds call and sing, back and forth, and the radio is playing infinite Strauss waltzes and polkas. Outside, a considerable melt is progressing, now with a forecast for flooding. Walking home through driving rain, deep puddles and melting snow and ice last night was an adventure I don’t care to repeat. Although I welcome changes in weather as they dispel monotony, now a little monotony would be appreciated.
But the birds never stop paying attention, and to them, every day is new, and now, longer than the last. They are attuned to every nuance in the climate because they live in it. Most likely the extended daylight has triggered the singing responses of my avian friends in the morning. And I am thankful that I was out walking early enough to hear them. I am also convinced my responses to their singing were almost as important to them as their expressions of life were to me.
The weather exerted such force today it was hard to sit still, although I think without the help of a pot of coffee I might have given in to a long nap just in hope everything would be back to normal when I woke up.
Male Northern Cardinal, through the window
Part of what kept me going was hoping my male cardinal would give me a picture in the snow, not that he ever has. So after I filled the feeders I hung out with the House Finches and Dark-Eyed Juncos for a while, and the Fox Squirrel too, until I could stay outside no longer.
House Finches at the feeder
Later I went upstairs to get more winter work clothes (yes, it’s January and I’ve been in denial this long) and decided to look out the back to see if there were any birds other than those I had already calculated–only to find the snow falling steadily and squalling miserably.
Yard view from the attic
As the available light deteriorated even further I finally settled down to the task of going through my pictures from the East Africa trip. As of today I have gone through only three days worth of photos from a trip that lasted three weeks! And I thought I’d be done by now!
One more through the porch windows
But I must say after looking at enough birds like these Bee-Eaters, I wanted to stay with the photos, not face the reality of trudging off to the train in the snow and cold tomorrow morning.
Click on any of the photos for a better view..
Little Bee-Eater with bug
Hope to return soon with more photos and less snow! …Happy New Year!!