Slim Pickings

I’m taking a brief break from the spring warbler photos to document a couple drought-related observations down by the Des Plaines River last week. I thought I had the perfect title for this post two days ago but I forgot to write it down, so “slim pickings” it is.

On May 24, with the river so low, I noticed some fish having a hard time negotiating some of the rocky, shallower spots.

Then on May 26, I first noticed a black bird chasing an Osprey. In other photos the bird in pursuit appears to have been a Common Grackle.

I started to follow the Osprey with the camera as it began flying around the bend in the river, looking for a fish. These are only a few (!) of the photos I took, but they are basically in order. The Osprey was desperate to find something to eat. I was exhausted following it as it searched, not to mention wondering how long it could continue expending all that energy for nothing.

So busy was I following the Osprey I nearly forgot there were any other birds. I found a couple Chimney Swifts in my photos later.

The Osprey came around again, repeating the same exercise.

Finally it decided to go after something. I think that’s the library building behind it. But it came up with nothing from that dive except wet feathers (second photo below).

Not too much later, it was back again.

Finally the Osprey seemed to have found something. I wasn’t able to focus quickly enough to adequately capture the scene below, but I’m including it anyway as I realized later I had not even noticed the Great Blue Heron watching all this. Sadly to say, the Osprey flew off without anything in its talons.

When I got back to my parked car by the Hofmann Dam, I took a few photos of a Ring-billed Gull searching for food.

The forecast remains hot and dry. We are due to cool off around Tuesday, and I can only hope that brings some precipitation with it, but the forecasters are not optimistic.

I have started branching out a bit to check some other locations here and there. I also hope to be helping out with monitoring of breeding birds at the Chicago Portage this month. Garden work persists and a few native plants are starting to bloom. There’s lots going on outside, but I am grateful for air-conditioning. And my indoor crowd has promised to help me write a little music. To be continued…

Please Let It Snow

Sunrise IMG_9126_1

Sunrise, 1-4-13

 January finds us in a winter drought. The lake level is so low, the shallow water froze overnight as soon the temperature dropped, something that normally takes weeks…

Ice Lake IMG_9131_1

and even the ice looked like it was caught by surprise…

Ice IMG_9175_1

jagged, disjointed,

Ice IMG_9219_1


Ice IMG_9183_1

and the water stains on the sides of the harbor show just how low the water is.

Water Level IMG_9215_1

There were no diving ducks Friday morning, only some Canada Geese and a few gulls sitting on the ice. And a handful of crows came to my party.

Hot dogs always go first.

Hot Dogs First IMG_9156_1In weather this cold, make as few trips as possible. Cache and carry.

Flight IMG_9160_1

All You Can Stash…

All You Can Stash IMG_9168_1

Hold on for dear life.

Windblown Crow IMG_9199_1

Windblown Crow

I didn’t realize until I developed the photograph below that the sculpture pays tribute to the ferris wheel at Navy Pier…!

Wheel IMG_9192_1

Anyway, I’m glad I finally figured out the new image editor.

Briefly, on the home front, here’s a quick rendition of the Gigue to the Bach A Minor English Suite recorded yesterday afternoon when I was trying to see if I still remember it. If you can last until the end (it’s only about 2 minutes total) one of my spice finches sings a final note, and I decided to leave my appreciation of his contribution in the recording.

Thirst: Send in the Clouds!

Drought Crow

Visiting the crows all week in the parched park has been an exercise in heat tolerance for all of us.

I have been taking a plastic food container with me to fill up with water from the drinking fountain. The crows know about the water fountain, but they don’t know about plastic containers.

I fear I have destroyed millions of years of inherited distrust of unknown containers and possibly contaminated liquids, by getting the crows to finally drink out of a plastic dish. As much as they trust me, it was not easy to override their inherent caution, which is so inbred and has served them so well for millennia. Perhaps I assumed too much by thinking they were paying attention as I filled up the container with water from the very drinking fountain they frequent. I had to pour a little water out onto the ground to show them that it was indeed water, something they recognize. And then I sat on a park bench and watched, and waited.

White-Wing was the first to sample the water as early as last week, but she was still cautious. However, Friday before an unexpected downpour, it was so hot and dry in the park the birds were doing their equivalent of panting.

And so when White Wing took a sip, she relished it. And the word spread.

The crows were visiting the water I provided. I had crossed a new dimension with them.

And then suddenly the wind picked up, the thunder and lightning started, and the crows scattered. The rain swell, although brief, was enough to soak me thoroughly on my way back to work without an umbrella. I stood under a few buildings here and there but I couldn’t wait out the entire downpour. Such as it was, here was the rain I had been praying for, and it was not possible to scold it for inconvenience. I dried out when I got back to the office. And by the time I got home, I was praying again for rain.

So this afternoon we got lucky again. Briefly, again. The clouds do so much better of a job than I can with the water hose.

rain-splattered sidewalk

With any luck these scattered downpours will become more frequent and we will survive this terrible summer. I don’t miss the mosquitoes but I find myself worrying about the plight of bats and Chimney Swifts, to name a few creatures who must miss them terribly.

And I have to get this gutter fixed!

Summer Sunday

Well, I was writing this post, and just as I added another picture I lost the whole thing, so let me start over. I think I started out by saying I can’t believe it’s July already, although we’ve had July-like weather for weeks.

Trumpeter Swans and a Great Blue Heron

I went to McGinnis Slough early this morning, just to see how the habitat and the birds were faring with the drought and the heat. The water level is so low, the Trumpeter Swans that are usually way over on the far side were in what is now the middle of the slough, so I was able to get some sort of picture even though they were still far away. I think I like the reflection in the water about this shot, and the fact that they had the Great Blue Heron between them.

Barn Swallow

When I first ventured from the parking lot, this juvenile Barn Swallow was waiting to be fed by a parent. Unfortunately I wasn’t fast enough to get that shot as the parent swooped in to drop off a bug and kept going.

Cedar Waxwings

Also found these Cedar Waxwing kids holed up in a nearby tree.

Walking down the mowed path in either direction summoned deer flies, which I was forever swatting. I wished I was a horse with a tail I could switch at them (in which case then I would have called them horse flies). Stopping along the way was prohibited.

Great Blue Herons

I saw easily 30 or more Great Blue Herons, most of them in the water, although these two are in the trees. The only Great Egret I found was in a tree also. Normally when the water level is higher, I have seen what seemed like hundreds of Great Egrets at McGinnis. I suppose that could still happen, summer has a long way to go.

Great Egret

Herring Gull

There were a lot of Caspian Terns but they weren’t close enough for a picture, unlike this Herring Gull.

Marsh Wren

My reward for enduring the heat this morning was getting to see a Marsh Wren singing. I heard at least 10 of these guys in the grasses along the path, but hearing Marsh Wrens is always easier than seeing.

House Wren

I stopped at the Portage on my way home. Here’s a House Wren for comparison.

And now a word of thanks to all who follow this blog! I apologize for not responding immediately to your likes and comments. At the same time, it occurs to me this blog is almost one year old. So I guess my “new year’s” resolution is to try to be a more conscientious blogger.

And to remember to save every draft so I don’t have to start over!

The Three Bs

In music, The Three Bs are known as Bach, Beethoven and Brahms. In Nature, I nominate the 3 Bs to be Birds, Bees and Butterflies. Sorry, Barracuda did not make the list this time (it was hard for me to write that without hearing Heart’s Ann Wilson in my head).

I took the weekend off from the pursuit of birds so I could get some extra sleep, take a more relaxed approach to household chores and work in the yard. The weather continues to be hot and dry, but rain was in the forecast and I envisioned something lovely like thunder and a downpour.

I found my butterfly books so I could identify the butterflies I got pictures of a couple weeks ago at Lowden-Miller. Here’s a sample.

Eastern Comma

Red-Spotted Purple

Downtown in the park this week, after a brief rain, I saw this Clouded Sulphur. We usually get loads of Monarchs, but I have only seen a few this year, sporadically. It rained downtown on Wednesday, but not at home.

Clouded Sulphur

The drought we are in has the benefit of keeping mosquitoes away, but the pollinators have been scarce too. I thought I’d been missing a lot of bees, and I dreaded another dry forecast.

Then yesterday I looked out my kitchen window and saw bees buzzing around in the sumac flowers.

There were also these tiny little bees in the rudbeckia. At least I think they’re bees. They may be something new that came in with the hot, dry weather. They have bright golden lower wings, but they don’t like the camera.

After working in the yard this afternoon, I was graced by the presence of visiting butterflies. First was this Eastern Black Swallowtail. He was somewhat ragged-looking.

Eastern Black Swallowtail

I was about to go inside when his cousin, a Tiger Swallowtail, flew right in front of me and began sampling the Purple Coneflowers. I engaged him in conversation as I grabbed the camera. I kept telling him how beautiful he was, how glad I was to have him visit, and he responded to my praise by letting me take more pictures of him than I have time to go through! I promised him I would keep watering the coneflowers, something I would never do in normal weather.

Tiger Swallowtail

A Red Admiral stopped by to show off too.

Red Admiral

The chance of rain this weekend has evaporated into thin air (sorry), but I’m glad I can still provide food for the Three Bs.

Preening at the Portage

I haven’t been to the Portage in a few weeks, so I decided to visit this morrning after the rain. We haven’t had rain in such a long time, even the weeds stopped growing. I was glad not to have seen the Portage parched.

I knew the birds would be waking up to a fresher start. The same family of Wood Ducks was on their log.

Wood Ducks

A lot of birds were busy preening. This Northern Flicker looked up only once and then went back to tending his feathers.

Northern Flicker

Can’t blame the Green Heron for preening after spending all morning hunting in the muck of the duckweed.

Green Heron

A lot more birds were looking like juveniles. This is the time of year when even Robins can get confusing.

Juvenile American Robin

But the Portage has more Robins than anywhere else I’ve been. Here’s a grown up.

I saw only a couple Baltimore Orioles. This one was a beginner.

Baltimore Oriole

At one point, a Killdeer flew in to sit on a log.


A long, hot week lies ahead. There’s more rain in the forecast too. Summer is here.

Wood Ducks