In Between

Golden-Crowned Kinglet

My last trip to the lakefront was at the end of November. I intended to post some pictures from that visit closer to the time they were taken but the holidays and impending travel plans got the better of me. So in between the Mexico trip posts here’s a little nostalgia from home.

Above and below, a very cold-looking Golden-Crowned Kinglet I encountered in the plantings outside the Columbia Yacht Club. I confess to seeing his fiery crown first before I eventually saw the entire bird.

I miss the lakefront for these little guys, the Horned Grebes, that tend to hang out conveniently near the shore. There were also a few closer ducks that day, in between dives.

Horned Grebe

The Crow Crowd I expected was not present, but I did find a small but enthusiastic group at my last stop, Lake Shore East Park.

I don’t remember exactly where this very young Cooper’s Hawk was.

Predictably, a Herring Gull and a White-Throated Sparrow…

Herring Gull
White-Throated Sparrow

I’ve been trying to keep up with the Mexico pictures and hope to manage another post in a couple days. If for no other reason than to take a break from the cold, gloomy weather and news cycle, if you can even call it that.

Crows and A Bit of Lakefront

AMCR 1-5-16-9458I got out after last week’s snow to visit the Millennium Park Crows and they were happy to see me. But only after I managed to take enough pictures of a Cooper’s Hawk that was sitting in one of their trees. The hawk was not very cooperative with me.

COHA 1-5-16-9394A few more photos of my always cooperative Crows. One Crow in particular was determined to see how he could fit more hot dogs into his bill.

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On Friday afternoon, I decided to go down to the lakefront again. Predictably, the birds were far out.

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But I did manage to get up close and personal with a Mallard in the harbor.

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And then as I walked around the side of the Columbia Yacht Club where some people were fishing off the docks, I found some Red-Breasted Mergansers. But they became less than interested in me quite quickly, so I took out my photographic frustration on a willing first cycle Herring Gull.

HEGU 1-7-16-9727Hoping to get out before the end of this week, depending on the weather and work. We have been very cold the last couple days, making it tempting to stay indoors.


Comma  7-23-15-7983Apologies for the bad pun. It’s been a busy, fragmented, hot week and a half or so. Also, the past weekend was one long party, with no birds in attendance. I am not used to being much of a social butterfly.

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A moth casts a shadow at Lurie Garden

I haven’t been out much during the day either. If I didn’t know better I might think the crows have given up on me, but I suspect it’s lack of the quiet shady spots we used to have, where we could convene without a steady stream of human beings. Pigeons are much less picky about habitat but definitely not used to having their pictures taken.

Crow  7-27-15-8012

ROPI 7-14-15-7441ROPI 7-24-15-8001On the days I have gone out, I have managed to keep amused. One bright spot, for instance, was finding some Monarch Butterflies in Lurie Garden.

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There are other interesting pollinators too. I think the wasp below was more black than blue, but lightening it up made it interesting.

Lurie Millennium 7-15-15-7549One afternoon last week standing outside the northern entrance to Lurie, I heard some earnest chirping and determined it was coming out of the small oak tree before me. There were a couple security guards talking to each other totally oblivious to the Robin’s nest I soon located.

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American Robin nestlings

I suspect the Northern Cardinal below is a young bird as well because it seemed to know the peanut was for eating but was perplexed by it anyway.

NOCA 7-14-15-7468NOCA 7-14-15-7460On hot, boring days at Lake Shore East Park, as long as I could find a bench to sit on, I took to photographing the fountains.

Fountain LSE 7-07-15-6698Fountain LSE 7-15-15-7502Then a few days ago I was sitting in the shade across from the east side of the Pritzker Pavilion, waiting for crows, and the little bird below darted out of the yews. The shade was so dense it was hard to get a decent picture, but this is the first time I have seen a juvenile Ovenbird at Millennium Park at the end of July. I was so surprised I thought I was going to get a rare bird alert but Ovenbirds breed in this part of the continent so even though I think it was rare for Millennium Park it’s not unlikely. This is the same spot I heard a White-Throated Sparrow singing a couple weeks ago, which is rare, so maybe just going to sit in this spot isn’t such a bad idea. Crows or no crows.

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Ovenbird, Millennium Park, 7-27-15

OVEN 7-27-15-8022The greatest reward perhaps is still seeing Monarch Butterflies. I have seen fewer than 20 individuals this summer, at least two of them flying around the cement canyons of LaSalle Street. I hope the Swamp Milkweed is making them feel welcome.

Monarch on Swamp Milkweed Lurie Millennium 7-22-15-7930Swamp Milkweed Lurie Millennium 7-22-15-7918

Meanwhile, Back on the Lakefront

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Ring-Billed Gull

Last Wednesday was the only day with promised sunshine, so my theory is, if I’m going to get out of bed at 4:00 a.m. so I can hang out with wild birds before going to the office, I try to pick the day with the best weather. It was cold, but clear.

Crows IMG_0753_1

Of course the crows are in charge of all this. I had maybe a total of 20 crows from Jackson to Randolph. Sometimes I am not quite sure if they are simply reappearing as clones of themselves. This is very frustrating to me, since they apparently have no problem distinguishing me from other humans. Do they sit around worrying that we all look alike and then study certain individuals they want to remember? I do recognize the crow below as being Fuzzy, one of last summer’s crop of youngsters, so named because of his rounded head.

Crow IMG_0921_1

There were not many birds on the lake, but I did manage to get a few images.

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A few Coots have arrived. As far as I could tell the Canada Goose and the Coot were getting along.

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Common Goldeneye

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First year Common Goldeneye male

Common Goldeneye are still…common.

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Pied-Billed Grebe

There was one Pied Billed Grebe in the harbor…a nice surprise.

Later that afternoon on land, in Millennium Park, one of two Northern Cardinals

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and one of several White-Throated Sparrows that have been there all winter.

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As I sit here pondering our first true snowfall of the season, which is due overnight, I am also wondering why so many people are behaving like it’s going to be 3 to 7 feet instead of 3 to 7 inches…

Crow IMG_0831_1

…no need to be in a hurry.

Le Corbeau.

Owls on an Afternoon

Great Horned Owl

Great Horned Owl

I’ll spare you some really bad puns I had for the title of this post.

Sunday afternoon, three of us Elles went on a DuPage Birding Club field trip led by intrepid Jeff Smith. The purpose of the trip was to see owls that Jeff had located previously. Owl etiquette also dictates that owl locations not be widely publicized.

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Our first stop was at Isle a La Cache in Will County, a new spot for me. I can only imagine what it looks like in warmer weather; it was beautiful and a bit mysterious under snow and ice. There were times we were walking on the ice, retreating when we heard  creaking beneath our feet.

We might have found the Great Horned Owl eventually on our own, but five or six crows noisily called our attention to it, and they kept at it for a long time – I estimate five to eight minutes. And here I had been musing about crows finding owls the previous weekend; it’s as if I got my wish. Crows are expert owl spotters, and they also make real nuisances of themselves. Every time this owl perched, the crows harassed it until it moved again. Eventually, it flew close enough into an open space where I got the photograph below, much to my surprise.

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Some other birds of the day, a Black-Capped Chickadee…

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One of a few Red-Bellied Woodpeckers…

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One of two Bald Eagles…

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One of many American Tree Sparrows…

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but no more owls. We moved on to a location where we might have at least heard a Barred Owl, but no luck there.

We wound up at Goose Lake Prairie, if a bit early, expecting to see a Short-Eared Owl hunting at dusk. Before dusk we had several Northern Harriers hunting over the grassland.

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Much of the field trip had been akin to a forced march, and now we stood shivering in the cold on a platform that overlooks the preserve. Our patience did finally pay off. We saw a Short-Eared Owl floating mothlike over the grass just as it began to hunt. It was way too dark by then to take pictures, the light disappearing quickly.

Goose Lake Prairie

Goose Lake Prairie

Bird Brains

It may still be hard for some people to get their heads around the idea that birds are pretty smart, especially when the epithet “bird brain” had the connotation of stupidity for so long. The conclusion there, of course, was that size matters, and birds have small brains and therefore are not too smart, or that they behave solely by instinct and have no capacity for reasoning. Ha! is all I have to say to that. I was first attracted to birds by their intelligence. They were smart enough to appreciate the music I was playing, for instance.

While the current theory still leans toward comparative brain size, i.e., the larger the brain case in relationship to the rest of the body, the more “intelligent” the creature, right away making crows, ravens and parrots the geniuses of bird species, I have found finches are quite smart. No doubt Darwin was onto this.

Of course the only way we have to gauge another species’ intelligence is by how it interacts with us, which is pretty one-sided when you think about it. But I’ll admit I don’t have a clue how you figure out what birds are talking about to each other, at least 95% of the time, so it is only when they’re trying to communicate with me or vice versa that I can observe their “intelligence.”

I can already take for granted when I tell a bird something that it will respond to what I’ve said, or to what I’ve thought is more like it, but when a bird tries to tell me something and I try to figure it out – now that’s something. Generally this situation says something about my lack of intelligence. The birds are a lot better at understanding me than I am them.

Photographers Beware

This past week, as I was walking up the hill out of the park to get back to work on my lunch hour, I noticed a man had stopped to take a picture of something in a tree. I don’t think he was photographing birds. A squirrel maybe. Anyway, when he had the shot, he started walking down the incline into the park with his friend, but was immediately accosted by a handful of House Sparrows. Needless to say he was taken aback. While the House Sparrows didn’t attack him, they pretty much were, I suppose you could say, in his face. The men kept walking and so did I, but I know what was going on there. Um, you see, the House Sparrows associate cameras with people who might have food. I wonder how they come to make that assumption… I admit I sometimes feed the House Sparrows, although my primary targets are the crows, and I’m usually not taking pictures of the House Sparrows, although they are the most willing subjects, again because they associate the camera with food. I wish I could run a little Rupert Sheldrake-type experiment to see if House Sparrows do this in any other park besides Daley Bicentennial Plaza. His theory of morphic resonance could be tested here. Basically the idea is there is a collective intelligence and therefore if a group of House Sparrows have learned to associate cameras with food in one place, they might very well do so somewhere else.

Squirrel Evasion

Of course the crows are so smart they have me well-trained. Nevertheless the other park birds have learned to pay attention to the crows when I’m around because it sometimes means a payoff for them. And just like your backyard, the squirrels show up too, and they are a main competitor for peanuts. This week I observed the juvenile crows figuring out how to fake out the squirrels. We all seem to have figured out the squirrels don’t have very good eyesight. I can put a pile of peanuts on the ground and a squirrel will run right past the spot if he didn’t witness the drop. Usually if I throw a peanut to a squirrel it will distract him from a pile of peanuts. In one instance last week, shortly after I had put peanuts down for the crows, a squirrel showed up, and the juvenile crow that was following me around walked away and pretended to be interested in something else until the squirrel left. The same day, the white-winged crow was still more interested in eating his peanuts than stashing them, but when a squirrel tried to take his peanut away, he flew off and stashed his booty.

Cage Etiquette

At home, I have something going on with Ferdinand, the male Society Finch, that has been puzzling me. Friday night is clean-up night and part of the routine is to move all the finch cages away from the windows so I can clean up the papers and the floor underneath them. Ferdinand and Isabella, cage-created birds that they are, think there is nothing more fun in the world than when I put the middle finch cage on the dining room table, swap it out for a clean cage and leave it there so everyone can have their evening snack while I’m cleaning the living room. The other two cages are set aside in the front hallway and are the last things I clean.

Well, last Friday I was very tired and even though I know this routine so well I can do it in my sleep, I made the mistake of thinking it was time to put the first cage back when it was too soon. I corrected myself when I realized I had to hang the curtains first, but Ferdinand seemed to be reacting to my first thought, because he flew over and landed on the floor where the cage was supposed to go. He insistently kept alighting all around the cage area. I got the curtains hung and then moved the first cage back, after which I cleaned the other two as usual, and done with the big chore, I had my evening snack and went to bed.

This week, even though I started the chore a bit late because I was detained half an hour at work, I wasn’t mixed up in my thinking, but Ferdinand seemed to be. He flew over and landed on the floor again, before it was time to move the cage back. He also started flying up to the wand of the vacuum cleaner, as if he wanted me to move it out of the way. What kind of strange game was he playing? After I talked to him, he went back to sit with Isabella on the perch in the cage that was still on the dining room table. When it was finally time to move the cage back, he flew up on top of it and took the “ride” to the corner that way.

I thought about all this the next morning: Ferdinand was trying to tell me something. Perhaps he is trying to be my general contractor. According to his schedule, I should have been putting the cage back a lot earlier than I did. Perhaps Ferdinand thinks I am intelligent enough to try to communicate with because I always pay attention to his song when he sings it. Therefore I must be educatable, however long it takes. Ferdinand wants me to know he knows all about cages and where they go, and as far as he’s concerned once the papers are on the floor the cages should go back. Society Finch indeed. Whose society is this?

I try to run a democracy here, but I am the chief cook and dishwasher.

Shorter Days and the Winter Wren

Winter Wren

Winter Wren

Almost every day the past few weeks I have seen a Winter Wren. Donald Kroodsma wrote an article years ago in Cornell’s publication, Living Bird, about how every hour as the sun rises there’s a winter wren singing somewhere on the planet. Unfortunately when Winter Wrens are foraging in city parks or a berm outside a skyscraper, they’re not singing. But they’re cute little characters and I have to smile with delight. I finally found one a few days ago who tolerated my glee long enough for this picture.

Early Morning Crows in Grant Park

The days are shortening quickly and it’s darker than ever in the morning. It’s getting harder to get up an hour early and go downtown before work. I’m not a fan of the new extended daylight savings time. Prior to this “energy saving” innovation, right about now we’d be setting the clocks back and thereby have more light early. I don’t get the energy-saving part at all: if you’re up this early you still have to turn lights on. I have to leave lights on for my indoor birds so I don’t leave them in the dark.

We’ll revisit the crows in a couple months when they’re in the snow.

Sneak preview

Eastern Phoebe

There were two Eastern Phoebes perched on this mesh fence; here’s one of them. Likely the last of the flycatchers I’ll see downtown until spring.

Monroe Harbor early October morning

The sun was beginning to break through the clouds on Monroe Harbor but the fishing birds, which included Horned Grebes and Double-Crested Cormorants, were only silhouettes. It will take some time to get used to the angle of this light.

Harbor Crow

Have peanuts, will travel. I still can’t get over how friendly the juvenile crows are this year, and there are so many of them.

Crow perched on a park bench.

Would you like a seat?

First Fall for Young Crows

The juvenile crows in the park already seem to know me better than previous generations, which makes me think I am genetically imprinted on them. They ignore all other humans but me, and have grown so bold as to sit and caw loudly like impatient children when I have stopped to talk to a friend. I suppose I’ve been encouraging them by showing up three to four times a week under the guise of looking for migrants before the season runs out. And I have seen them over a longer period of time, since June this year, whereas in previous years I never got to see juvenile crows until August.

White-winged Crow

The white-winged crow likes the fact that I notice him and returns the favor.

He’s still living a life of leisure in the park, food is plentiful, not much to worry about. He can spend a lot of time shelling peanuts, as in this video clip.

There have been sparrows flocking to the leaf litter and the lawns, and along with them, Golden-Crowned Kinglets.

Golden-Crowned Kinglet

And here’s a Ruby-Crowned Kinglet in a small tree.

Ruby-Crowned Kinglet

And a Hermit Thrush was also curious to see who was taking pictures. In the park, they’re a lot less hermetic.

Hermit Thrush

Fall park visitors

Crow flying through Daley Bicentennial Plaza

I’ve been looking for sparrows, but the crows distract me and I forget to ask them to help me find migrants. I’m sure they’re capable of leading me to visitors. Haven’t they done it before?

White-Throated Sparrows, Lurie Garden

I did eventually find a few sparrows who chose to ignore me long enough to take their pictures…

White-Crowned Sparrow

and the crows hammed it up too.

Crow landing for a peanut.

Crow devotion.

The gardeners were out early yesterday morning and that might have had something to do with the sparrows not being very visible. When I worked at a different location I walked through the park every morning on my way in and regularly had flocks of sparrows covering the lawns. I must have picked the wrong day to get up an hour early.

Four days ago on my lunch hour I saw a Black-Throated Blue Warbler trying to pass himself off as a Junco, foraging in the gutter by one of the tennis courts. I didn’t have my camera, of course.

Dark-Eyed Junco

But today I found him again, in the same general area, although the light wasn’t as good. He must be waiting for a cold front to ride to his next stop. Maybe I’ll see him again before he leaves, this warm spell will continue for a few more days.

Black-Throated Blue Warbler

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