Blizzard Preoccupations

It’s snowing and blowing, travel is forbidden, and after two energetic attempts today, I am not going back outside to move any more snow until tomorrow. So I’m using the storm as an excuse to get caught up with a few loose ends.

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Below is a link to the YouTube videos, for those who are interested in what came of my first choir participation in the St. Odilo Festival Choir. I sang in the alto section. We all started together and ended together even if there were a couple times we lost it in between… At least we lost it all together. Maybe it’s just as well as there were only four of us. I had an epiphany about this phenomenon while listening to parts of the concert on my way in to work Friday morning. You know how birds all take off together at once as if responding to a single cue out of nowhere? That’s kind of how it was when we all forgot to come in. Nevertheless I think we sometimes sounded quite good; in particular I was pleased by the a capella piece, which was Bruckner’s “Christus Factus Est.”

https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLg3KkSe0kac64cTatDPzrz3qv_s7DX0r5

Also new and exciting, Bill Hilton has posted a complete play-by-play annotated write-up of Operation Rubythroat’s last bird banding expedition in Costa Rica, and you can read all about it at this link.

And now a little word from The Chicago Blizzard of 2015. (These pictures are in color, in case you’re wondering.)

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Juncos actually seem to be enjoying this

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After taking fuzzy pictures through the screened porch windows, I decided a fuzzy video of the birds braving the snow and wind at the feeders might be even better. The snow started out thick and wet and it’s still snowing as I write this.

Dudlee Ann was monitoring the whole weather event from her newest favorite place, the window over the kitchen sink.

IMG_1165And thanks to recent comments on my last post about vultures, I went looking for pictures of a Ruppell’s Griffon Vulture, which I had seen several times in East Africa in November of 2013. I found a couple pictures taken on November 22 in Tanzaniya:

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Ruppell’s Griffon Vulture

Ruppell's Griffon Vulture

Ruppell’s Griffon Vulture

In the process, I realized that I had never finished going through all the pictures from that trip, so I look forward to revisiting those images at some point in time. Not that I’m wishing for another blizzard anytime soon…

Vultures & Storks at Zebra Kill 11-24-13 8529.jpg-2Incidentally, the bird completely covering the kill with its wings spread in the picture above is also the Ruppell’s Griffon.

This excerpt from a webpage of facts about the Ruppell’s Griffon from the National Zoo:

“Ruppell’s griffon is the highest flying bird on record, once spotted at an altitude of over 37, 000 feet in the skies of Africa. From a standing start the Ruppell’s vulture can fly over three miles in six minutes. They can cruise at over 22 miles per hour, and will fly as far as 90 miles from their nest in search of food.”

Maybe now I can try to dig out the car a bit more…so I can move it to the other side of the street tomorrow.

Birds (Birds, Birds) in Costa Rica – Part II

Green Heron 11-14-14-7603Well you knew it was coming, so here are the other bird photographs that wouldn’t all fit into the last post. Leading off with one of two Green Herons which was most cooperative…

Yellow-Bellied Elaenia

Yellow-Bellied Elaenia

I’m always happy when I manage to photograph a bird that isn’t necessarily on the “list” for the day. Even when the bird is partially blocked by whatever it was hiding behind. We’d had Yellow-Bellied Elaenia in the hand and in the field on another day but I think I found the one above myself. I may have been the only person who saw the Variegated Seedeater outside El Cas, the wonderful restaurant where we ate breakfast and many of our lunches.

Female Variegated Seedeater

Female Variegated Seedeater

The Broad-Winged Hawk below sat still for quite a while before assuming this less-expected posture.

Broad-Winged Hawk

Broad-Winged Hawk

I struggled to get pictures of the Sunbittern below, as it was heavily shaded and fairly distant. Some in our group were very fortunate to see the species again later in much better light and even glimpse its open wings as it flew, which is the to-die-for view. Maybe next time.

Sunbittern

Sunbittern

Summer Tanagers were fairly common if not very available for pictures.

Female Summer Tanager

Female Summer Tanager

The Orange-Billed Sparrow is a new species for me. But its range is fairly wide, all across Central America and Northeastern South America, so maybe I’ll get to see it again.

Orange-Billed Sparrow

Orange-Billed Sparrow

I think the Fasciated Tiger Heron is a new bird for me too. This is a juvenile Fasciated, which might be mistaken for a Rufescent Tiger Heron. I have seen Bare-Throated Tiger Heron before.

Juvenile Fasciated Tiger Heron

Juvenile Fasciated Tiger Heron

Some of the smallest birds were absurdly far away to try to photograph, but I made an attempt anyway…

Least Grebe

Least Grebe

Green Kingfisher

Green Kingfisher

Hummingbirds demand closer views. Here is a Brown Violet-Ear resting on the wires of the chayote fields.

Brown Violet-Ear

Brown Violet-Ear

And a young male Ruby-Throated Hummingbird. Click on the picture below to see how the light catches and illuminates his new throat feathers.

Ruby-Throated Hummingbird

Ruby-Throated Hummingbird

I treasure the pictures below. We were at Tapanti National Park, which is where several of the photographs on this page were taken, and first saw the juvenile (the one with the orange throat) sitting alone on the twig for a while.  Like magic, mom arrived…

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Green-Crowned Brilliant

Green-Crowned Brilliant

One more look at that cooperative Green Heron.

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I might get around to one more Costa Rica post which will jumble together other creatures encountered. Otherwise I may embrace hibernation. 🙂

Birds, Birds, Birds in Costa Rica – Part I

Roadside Hawk

Roadside Hawk

This will be a collection of some photographs of birds seen out of the hand. Light conditions were not always optimum. Birds were often hiding behind leaves or branches. Sometimes they were ridiculously far away. There weren’t that many species seen, compared to “birding” trips. And yet I don’t think I can manage to do this in one post.

American Dipper

American Dipper

American Dipper 11-13-14-7204I have been hoping to see an American Dipper for years. I saw the European version of this bird several years ago, but have never seen an American Dipper well, to my knowledge, until now.

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Common Tody Flycatcher

Common Tody Flycatcher

Common Tody Flycatcher is a favorite of mine. We saw perhaps three or four individuals over the course of the week, and this is the only one I could manage to get to even half-cooperate.

Tropical Kingbird

Tropical Kingbird

Tropical Kingbirds are ubiquitous but not always easy to capture. This one embodies my perception of this species as The Bird on the Wire.

Keel-Billed Toucan

Keel-Billed Toucan

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I have seen Keel-Billed Toucans much closer but the challenge of capturing the one above makes me glad I tried.

Broad-Winged Hawk

Broad-Winged Hawk

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I almost never see Broad-Winged Hawks at home, but they were plentiful in Costa Rica. We saw one every day.

Great-Tailed Grackle

Great-Tailed Grackle

Great-Tailed Grackles are so common you soon forget about how beautiful they can be. This one picked the perfect spot to be photographed.

I will be back very soon with the second half of this post. I am also trying to get some photographs on my flickr page.

Orchids in Costa Rica

Orchid 11-14-14-0139I stayed home this weekend, hanging out with the new birds, playing music for them on my new piano – more about that in a later post – checking out what’s going on in my backyard, making soup and bread… And trying to finish the pictures from Costa Rica.

Green Hermit

Green Hermit – a token hummingbird in an orchid post

Except that going through them there is so much more than just birds. There is landscape, butterflies, other animals, orchids and other plants and flowers that defy description.

All the orchid pictures on this page were taken on a field trip we took to Lankester Botanical Gardens on November 14th.

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Waterfall at Lankester Gardens

I have seen orchids in other places, but nothing compares to the feeling of being surrounded by them everywhere!

There are thousands of varieties and these pictures are by no means meant to be representative. I just took pictures of the cooperative plants that caught my eye.

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Orchid 11-14-14-0162 Orchid 11-14-14-0157 Orchid 11-14-14-0154 Orchid 11-14-14-0149

I confess ignorance about plants in general and orchids in particular, but it is easy to see why people become enamored and enslaved by them.

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I did buy a book on Costa Rican plants but I am almost afraid to open it. I suspect it will help me identify some of the more common plants and trees in some photographs but it couldn’t possibly catalogue very many orchid species. The sheer variety is mind-numbing.

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The gardens have a nursery going for new orchids, some growing out of wood blocks, like the one below.

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It seemed only fitting to close with a Green Hermit enjoying flowers.

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Hummingbirds!!

Crowned Woodnymph

Crowned Woodnymph

I have barely managed to process four days’ worth of photographs from Costa Rica, and have three more to go. And this was not a birding trip! But I find myself with a surfeit of hummingbird photos, so maybe it’s time to look at a few before I discover any more treasures.

Volcano Hummingbird

Volcano Hummingbird

Perhaps the most unusual sighting was of the Volcano Hummingbird. Although conditions were not perfect for photographing this bird, it was cooperative and loyal to its perch on top of a short tree hugging a crater of the Irazu volcano.

White-Necked Jacobin

White-Necked Jacobin

Even if White-Necked Jacobins were not widespread in Central and South America, they would be easily recognizable for their distinctive colors.

Green Hermit

Green Hermit

In the middle of our work week we took a day off from banding and one feature of that day was visiting Rancho Naturalista for lunch and observing their hummingbirds at the feeders, like the Green Hermit above and the Green-Breasted Mango below.

Green-Breasted Mango

Green-Breasted Mango

Rufous-Tailed Hummingbirds were numerous everywhere, and we were releasing them daily from the nets in the chayote fields. They appeared exotic again feeding in the vervain.

Rufous-Tailed Hummingbird

Rufous-Tailed Hummingbird

Rufous-Tailed Hummingbird

Rufous-Tailed Hummingbird

Black-Crested Coquettes are distinctive-looking little birds. Going through the pictures I wondered how I could have missed the fancy striping on their bellies, but I guess I was paying more attention to the black crest and the white posterior band that I guess makes them coquettish.

Black-Crested Coquette

Black-Crested Coquette

Black-Crested Coquette

Black-Crested Coquette

Black-Crested Coquette

Black-Crested Coquette

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Black-Crested Coquette

Crowned Woodnymphs used to be called Violet-Crowned Woodnymphs. I kind of like the old name better but they’re spectacular-looking little birds, whatever they’re called.

Crowned Woodnymph

Crowned Woodnymph

Of course we saw Ruby-Throated Hummingbirds outside of the nets too.

Ruby-Throated Hummingbird

Ruby-Throated Hummingbird

It’s been nice to have a four-day weekend to spend at home observing my new live-in birds. I hope to be back soon with reports from the home front as well as more from Costa Rica.

Crowned Woodnymph

Crowned Woodnymph

A Bird in the Hand

Mourning Warbler

Mourning Warbler

As I start to go through the pictures from Costa Rica, some of the best bird images are invariably closeups of birds shown to us by Dr. Bill Hilton Jr. These were invaluable teaching moments on the part of Bill and the birds themselves.

Female Indigo Bunting

Female Indigo Bunting

Although the focus of the Operation Rubythroat trip to chayote fields in Ujarras Valley, Costa Rica, was ultimately to trap, band and release as many Ruby-Throated Hummingbirds as possible over six days in the field (more about all this in a future post), invariably, other birds sometimes got trapped in the nets. Any bird trapped was a potential teaching opportunity. Neotropical migrants were retained for banding. But after we had seen a species native to Costa Rica once at the banding table, which is where we gathered for these demonstrations, all future caught birds of that species were immediately released.

Bananaquit

Bananaquit

With field guides in hand, we studied the birds until we were able to identify the species. Bill would only help by pointing out various field marks, but he also elaborated on other features you might never see unless you had the bird in your hand. Some species were familiar, but the opportunity to study them so closely was absolutely phenomenal. For those who are squeamish about the trapping and handling, I admit I once was too, but Bill treats the birds with the utmost respect and care. You can go to a museum and study skins, but for color and presence there is nothing like a live bird.

Blue-Grey Tanager

Blue-Grey Tanager

I have seen Blue-Grey Tanagers virtually every time I have visited the American tropics. They are ubiquitous and easy to identify. But I have never seen a Blue-Grey Tanager like this before.Blue-Grey Tanager 11-10-14-9026

The afternoons invariably turned cloudy and sometimes rainy, which made taking pictures of other birds anything from challenging to impossible. Nevertheless I managed to get some good photographs, and I will be back with many more.

These are just a sampling of some of the earliest birds we saw in the hand, and I will be back with others, as well as eventually adding pictures to my flickr page.

House Wren - the same species, but not the same population we have at home

House Wren – the same species, but not the same population we have at home

As for the timing of this post, I woke up in the middle of the night thinking about the past week. Sleep has been erratic at best, and I’ve been emotionally exhausted. I went to bed early last night, so I guess it’s not altogether strange that I am awake at 3:00 a.m. Trying to go back to sleep I started reviewing the past week, and that wasn’t all good, so I shifted my thoughts to things I want to accomplish, which woke me up even more. When I started thinking about this post which I started to work on last night before I conked out on the futon, it seemed prudent to just wake up and finish the post. I apologize for any detectible grogginess. I think I’ll grab a drink of water and go back to sleep for a couple hours.

Yellow Warbler

Yellow Warbler

Yellow Warblers and Tennessee Warblers were the most-frequently-caught neotropical migrants. At some point, we had caught so many Tennessee Warblers, we released them from the nets without banding them.

Tennesee Warbler

Tennessee Warbler

Tyrant Flycatchers can be confusing.

A Yellow-Bellied Elaenia, looking every inch the Tyrant Flycatcher it is

A Yellow-Bellied Elaenia, looking every inch the Tyrant Flycatcher it is

Yellow-Bellied Elaenia

Yellow-Bellied Elaenia

One more of the Blue-Grey Tanager, up close and personal.

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Saved by the Birds – Again

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Costa Rica, much warmer than Chicago

The pain of losing my housemates upon returning from Costa Rica hits like a heavy weight as I prepare the birds’ breakfast every morning. I am still plenty angry too, but there is no gain in holding that inside of me. I had hoped to manage some photographs more related to this post before publishing but it didn’t happen, so I’ve mixed in a few photos prescient of the Costa Rica posts to come.

Blue and Dudley, with my cell phone last night

Blue and Dudley, with my cell phone last night

Not having much time yet to observe the new charges but very interested in their individual abilities to adapt to the new environment, the survivors and each other, I am pleased to report that so far, so good. I was most worried about the Diamond Dove making an adjustment – to be sure I have never had one of these birds before and am not exactly sure why I brought him home, except that I have a soft spot for doves, it’s a beautiful bird, and, well, maybe I even wondered if my last remaining budgie wouldn’t feel so put out if he was not the only single. The dove is more settled in every day, and even might have said something as early as Tuesday morning while I was putting food in the second large cage.  It was such a strange, loud sound and I wasn’t sure where it came from, but I could not connect it to anything going on outside.By Tuesday night he was cooing along with the music on the radio. I named him Dudley last night after Dudley Do-Right, one of my favorite cartoon characters. He follows Blue, the budgie, around, and may even have a crush on him (her? – too old to tell anymore). I can hardly wait to play music this weekend and see what transpires. And I hope Dudley gets more used to my real camera so I can take better pictures of him because he’s quite lovely.

Stuck in the office all day Tuesday while the reports of Sandhill Cranes flying over by the hundreds and thousands crammed the email–and I don’t even have a window to look out of–I was dispatched to Walgreen’s to buy some air freshener, so I chose the store that was on the corner of Randolph and State. Waiting at the light to cross State Street, almost before the light changed, I looked up and saw perhaps 250 Sandhill Cranes flying overhead – very high, and in a beautiful extended V formation, floating on the air currents, and felt redeemed.

Gray Catbird, Thompson Center

Gray Catbird, Thompson Center

Wednesday morning I packed my camera and lens in the camera backpack, because my regular backpack has ceased to fasten around my waist after the trip to Costa Rica. Even though I was absolutely sure I would have no opportunity to use the camera, it seemed silly to be using a camera backpack without a camera in it. I got off the train and walked 6 blocks before a woman stopped me to tell me the back of my pack was open! Not thinking (again), I slung the pack off my shoulder to check on it (I should have asked her to zip it up, I suppose) and the camera fell out onto the sidewalk. What More Could Go Wrong? was my sentiment at the time. But I thanked her, put the camera back in the pack, started going through the mental exercise of replacement/repair…and then, as I approached the Thompson Center, I decided to do the sensible thing and take the camera out, attach the lens, and see if it was still working. After readjusting the function wheel, it seemed to be fine (maybe that’s why those Canons are so heavy, they are encased in armor). I shot a couple sidewalk scenes, and then started walking along the planted berm which is full of scrubby little yews, cigarette butts, garbage, and birds – invariably a Rock Pigeon and House Sparrow hangout. Except a Gray Catbird jumped out in front of me and let me take its picture before darting back into the yews. I found my cell phone and reported it to ebird. I am glad I got a picture because the sighting is unusual for this time of year, as I suspected. I have checked every morning since and cannot find the bird, so this was its farewell photo.

A little more poking around produced one or two White-Throated Sparrows–a bit less unusual–and plenty of the predictable pigeons and House Sparrows. But then it occurred to me that if my pack had not been open, and I had not dropped the camera, I would most likely have walked right by the berm without noticing the Catbird. So the birds have triumphed again in making sense under even the most ridiculous circumstances.

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All of this chaos has caused me to sit back and take stock of where I am and where I really want to be. Instead of plunging ahead into the day-to-day-never-ending-existence that I inhabit. I am reminded of the more important work that I really want to get done–my work–and I am trying to find new resolve to make the time off from trips and some inclement weather birding count for something, for a while, and see if I can at least write the book that has been on my mind the past few years – if not the opera. It’s the least I can do in memory of all my dearly departed bird friends. I tried to take pictures of the temperature this morning with the cell phone so I could include them in this post, but it was apparently too cold for the phone to take the picture. As of 8:00 AM it was 22 degrees Fahrenheit or -6 Centigrade.

Two New Zebra Finch Guys

Two New Zebra Finch Guys (again with the cell last night) – awaiting Zebra Finch Girls

I will be back soon with pictures from Costa Rica, progress reports on the evolving indoor crowd, and eventually some winter birding in Chicago area too.

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Here’s looking at you, from a Grayish Saltator

Thanks to all my followers and commenters and dear friends who are a great comfort and also more inspiration to carry on. 🙂