Shivering in the Snow and Sunshine

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Yesterday three of the Four Elles joined the DuPage Birding Club outing to Starved Rock in LaSalle County, Illinois. Although the fourth Elle could not join us, she participated in the same field trip with two of us last year. We met a large group of birders at the Lock and Dam across the river from the main entrance to Starved Rock State Park, where we watched birds on the Illinois River from the comfort and convenience of the deck behind the visitor’s center.

Common Mergansers flying on the Illinois River

Common Mergansers flying on the Illinois River

Common Mergansers L&D 1-19-14 1753.jpg-1753The Bald Eagle pictures are from this location. The birds were not always close enough, but they were active and in general viewing them turned out to be the highlight of the trip.

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There were not many species of waterfowl, but we did have a couple Great Blue Herons, one of which is flying below.

Great Blue Heron

Great Blue Heron

We then caravanned across the river to the visitor’s center adjacent to the lodge at the state park, where they have well-stocked bird feeders. There were many Blue Jays, not willing to sit still for the most part; this one looks pretty cold.

Blue Jay

Blue Jay

On and around the feeders, White-Breasted Nuthatches were common, like the one below.

White-Breasted Nuthatch

White-Breasted Nuthatch

And invariably, we saw Downy Woodpeckers. And Tufted Titmouse, Dark-Eyed Junco, American Tree Sparrow and Black-Capped Chickadees, although less available for good shots.

Downy Woodpecker

Downy Woodpecker

After lunch, the field trip took off for Lee County instead of further down the river this year, a change driven as much by the weather as the opportunity to search for a previously reported Snowy Owl. We scanned field after field like the one below. Unable to keep up with the 4-wheel drive vehicles in the blowing snow on the roads, after an hour or two we turned homeward and did not see the eventual Snowy. Luckily there are still opportunities closer to home.

Lee County farm field

Lee County farm field

(Last weekend on another field trip, I saw a Snowy in Bolingbrook but could not get a decent picture. Three individual birds have been spotted near this location, so there may yet be a chance to return and try again.)

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Bolingbrook Snowy Owl

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

First January Thaw

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Gulls on the ice by the lighthouse, Monroe Harbor

It almost seems impossible that we went from 50 degrees Fahrenheit to freezing and back out again last week. Especially as I sit inside today avoiding a wind-chill of 7 degrees F. below zero. I visited the lakefront almost every workday this past week, monitoring the thaw. Although the weather in Chicago is still a primary topic of conversation, it is clouded by the perception that with climate change, anything could happen and whatever it is, it will most likely be weird.

Here is a Ring-Billed Gull testing the ice closer to the shoreline.

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A little piece of ice made for two Canada Geese.

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And here’s the same Ring-Billed Gull joined by a Herring Gull (yawning in this picture), who was kind enough to stand close enough to offer a credible size comparison.

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A couple days later, the ice had melted enough to accommodate Red-Breasted Mergansers closer in.

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Male Red-Breasted Mergansers

Friday morning I went down early before work, and I always see the sun just starting to come up over the lake before I get to it. For the heck of it I stopped in the breaking dawn to see if I could get a picture of the sun coming up through the trees. Without a tripod this shot was never meant to happen, but I kind of like the surreal effect anyway.

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A Common Goldeneye male…

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The picture I did finally get of the sunrise…

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A crow over the water…

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and several Common and Red-Breasted Mergansers in flight.

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These three Herring Gulls in various stages of plumage complement the ice in various stages of thaw. That’s a female Red-Breasted Merganser in the background.

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And here’s the White-Throated Sparrow who hangs out in the hedges by the yacht club.

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Chicago Lakefront Longings

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A couple weeks ago I went down to the lakefront before work, to reconnect with whatever crows I could find, and see if there were any interesting waterfowl present.

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It was a nice, if crisply cold, sunny morning. New was the addition of some sculptures.

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The revisions to the park where a lot of the crows used to hang out continued apace.

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Not half as many crows as I had before the demolition of Daley Bicentennial Plaza began. I can only imagine they have dispersed up and down the lakefront.

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In addition to the obligatory Canada Geese…

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there were some Common Mergansers and a few Common Goldeneye too far away to photograph, but not much else.

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Common Mergansers

Some lifeguard chair…?

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