A Rare Visitor and a Lifer

Harris's Sparrow, Lurie Garden, Millennium Park

Harris’s Sparrow, Lurie Garden, Millennium Park

Wednesday afternoon I caught Joan Norek’s post on IBET (Illinois Birders Exchanging Thoughts) in my email about a Harris’s Sparrow at Lurie Garden in Millennium Park. David Johnson had posted the initial sighting but I was so late checking my email I was unaware of it until I saw Joan’s follow-up. Wednesday was the third day in a row I was not carrying the camera with me because of rain and clouds. But I was also going stir crazy, and I had enough peanuts for the crows, so I decided to walk over to Lurie Garden to see if I could find this bird. I have perhaps been within striking distance of seeing a Harris’s Sparrow over the years but have never managed to see one. It was worth checking out and if nothing else it was good to go for a walk.

Cloud Gate sculpture, Millennium Park

Cloud Gate sculpture, Millennium Park

As it turned out it wasn’t raining, just misty/drizzly and yes, overcast. But I had my new cell phone with me and it was probably time to see how much of a picture I could get with it. So I took pictures of various things along the way to Lurie Garden at the southeast end of the park. It seemed hopeless to try to get a picture of anything so small as a sparrow. Even a large sparrow, Harris’s being our largest species.

Harris's Sparrow with iPhone

Harris’s Sparrow with iPhone

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Again with the iPhone – you really have to dig to find the bird in this cropped photo

I did find the Harris’s feeding in the beds that have all gloriously gone to seed and are left that way to feed the birds over the winter. There were also very many White-Throated Sparrows, some White-Crowned Sparrows, and a few Swamp and Lincoln’s Sparrows. But when I found the Harris’s I stayed with him and talked with him and made him promise he would be available for photos the next day when I brought the real camera.

Harris's Sparrow

Harris’s Sparrow

Sure enough I returned Thursday with my fall migration getup, which basically now consists of a Canon EOS 70D and a 100-300mm L lens, and that’s only thanks to acquiring an inexpensive but practical camera backpack from amazon. The light was again nonexistent but this is a less critical event in an open space such as Lurie Garden. And even though I could not get pictures of the Harris’s without him being obstructed somewhere by grasses or the wild quinine he was eating, I like the way he blends in and contrasts at the same time (“you are what you eat”!). This also reminds me of something I learned from Bill Hilton Jr. on the Belize trip, about birds (and other creatures) getting their feather colors from the plants they consume.

As David Johnson described in a later post, the bird was very tame. But “tame” is not a favorite word of mine when it comes to birds, so I would rather describe the bird, at least when I saw him and took more photographs, as very hungry and nonplussed by my presence. “Go ahead, take all the photos you want, I’m fattening up for my trip to Texas” or wherever he’s going to wind up.

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I looked up the distribution range for this bird and the map explains perfectly to me why I am not likely to see this bird in Illinois, even in migration, so I am really thrilled to have gotten such long, loving looks at him and I will remember this bird next time I see it.

Harris's Sparrow Range Map - Cornell

Harris’s Sparrow Range Map – Cornell Lab of Ornithology

Also at Lurie Garden on Thursday, many more White-Crowned Sparrows than White-Throated, and this time I did not see any Lincoln’s although they could still be about.

Juvenile White-Crowned Sparrow

Juvenile White-Crowned Sparrow

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Adult White-Crowned Sparrow

Adult White-Crowned Sparrow

White-Throated Sparrow

White-Throated Sparrow

The goldfinches are still having a great time at Lurie, even if the one below looks less enthusiastic about it.

American Goldfinch

American Goldfinch

On the Great Lawn close to the entrance to Lurie Garden there were perhaps 100 House Sparrows, and I took photographs of this one whose coloration looked quite different to me. Maybe he was just wet?

House Sparrow, Great Lawn, Millennium Park

House Sparrow, Great Lawn, Millennium Park

I decided not to bother the Harris’s again yesterday. Instead I went to Lake Shore East Park to see what was up there. I’ll (try to) be back with a report about yesterday’s discoveries later on. I would not be surprised if the Harris’s Sparrow hangs out a bit longer at Lurie, given the current weather patterns, in which case I might drop in on him again next week. This is a first-year bird, which means I have yet to see an adult Harris’s Sparrow, but it’s still so nice to get such a good, solid lifer in one’s proverbial own backyard.

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Palm Warbler Readings

Palm Warbler

Palm Warbler – Chicago Portage

This past Sunday I met my friend Lesa at Miller Meadow, which is yet another stretch of Cook County Forest Preserve bordering the Des Plaines River. Miller Meadow has a little wooded area interspersed with marshy habitat. There are also planted lawns and picnic tables, a model airplane field and the like. The trails are not suitable for bike-riding or jogging, but we did have a few dog walkers.

Eastern Bluebird

Eastern Bluebird, Miller Meadow

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Palm Warbler, Miller Meadow

We hoped we would see some sparrows, but instead of sparrows all over the ground and in the low vegetation, there were Palm Warblers. Everywhere. By the time we were done we estimated at least 100, but I backed down to 80 and still had to justify the number to ebird.PAWA Miller Meadow 10-5-14-0484

The remainder of the Palm Warbler photographs here and the one at the very top of the post were taken later, though, at the Chicago Portage. All the photographs were taken with a new camera and lens. I’ve been reading about this outfit for months on Bob Zeller’s blog and I finally decided it was time to make the move.

Last week at work I succumbed to the temptation and invested in the new gear to take to Costa Rica. I usually wind up buying new camera equipment either right after a trip, as in “gosh I wish I’d had that,” or before a trip, which is where I am now. The Canon EOS 70D seemed like less of a priority until I decided that it’s time for my 7D to go to Canon for repairs, so I have been taking the 70D with me to work the last few days. On Sunday I broke in a new Tamron 150-600mm lens, using the 70D body because it’s lighter in weight, and I’m not getting any stronger. At first, getting used to swinging around a 600mm lens is almost daunting. But I remember feeling much the same way after I got my 100-400mm Canon L lens years ago, and I got used to it, so I’m sure this is just a matter of practice, practice, practice. I also feel safer. No one had better mess with me when I’m packing this gear.

Northern Flicker

Northern Flicker

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Not terribly sharp, but the golden shafts still show.

But it is Fall Migration season and you never know what to expect with birds on the move. We saw a Broad-Winged Hawk, which was rare enough to be a write-in on the ebird list and it later appeared on the alert system. I don’t know why a hawk would be rare anywhere this time of year but maybe it’s a little early for Broad-Wingeds to move. Just guessing. I am not an accomplished hawk watcher.

BWHA Miller Meadow 10-5-14-0569

Broad-Winged Hawk, Miller Meadow

It’s hard for me to remember how far away the birds were, I was so busy just trying to focus on them. I seemed to get a better hang of it with the little birds.

Palm Warbler, Miller Meadow

Palm Warbler, Miller Meadow

Just as we were leaving Miller Meadow around 10:30 or so, the sun was finally coming out and warming up the place, encouraging the birds to come out as well, so I decided to check out the Portage and practice more with the new lens. Of course the light became a challenge with all the deep shadows, but I am encouraged with what I was able to manage with the new setup.

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Canada Geese, Chicago Portage

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Hanging off the foot bridge on the south side of the creek, I was able to get close to American Goldfinches and Yellow-Rumped Warblers indulging in the duck weed.

American Goldfinch, Portage

American Goldfinch, Portage

Yellow-Rumped Warbler, Chicago Portage

Yellow-Rumped Warbler, Chicago Portage

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The interesting thing about this photo to me is the yellow on the crown, which I rarely see on a Yellow-Rumped Warbler.

Of course the Palm Warblers could not resist the Portage either, and I counted about 50 individuals there.

Palm Warbler, Portage

Palm Warbler, Portage

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I was surprised to see a Great Egret in the creek. I might not have attempted these photographs at all with the 100-400mm lens, but I managed at least usable images from a distance. However unforgiving the direct sunlight with an all-white bird as a subject…

Great Egret, Chicago Portage

Great Egret, Chicago Portage

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So the Palm Warblers picked up the slack this week at the Portage, where last weekend every other bird was an American Robin. I counted no more than 10 Robins this weekend. The large flock has moved on.

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Okay, by now you should recognize this bird.

I was a bit surprised to see a Scarlet Tanager. I had one a few weeks ago at the Portage. I wonder if this is another response to the change in habitat the tree-cutting and clearing has created.

Scarlet Tanager, Portage

Scarlet Tanager, Portage

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American Goldfinch, Chicago Portage

I hope to be back soon with photos from the Loop where there has been some interesting bird activity over the past couple weeks. And my crows are begging for some attention too so I should probably try to get you caught up with them.

Unexpected at the Portage

Gray Catbird

Gray Catbird managing to pose nicely but hiding its rufous undertail coverts

After hours spent slaving over a hot laptop (not really, just metaphorically speaking), I am still not entirely finished processing last weekend’s photographs, and there are some from this weekend as well… but the last two visits to the Chicago Portage, last Sunday and yesterday late morning after attending the Douglas Park walk, about which I hope to do my next post, produced surprises.

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Nothing was as surprising as seeing Wild Turkeys on the gravel path yesterday. Even more surprising was the fact that they did not dash off, but rather seemed to keep their slow, cautious pace, as if they were new here and checking out the place. I suspect they are the same turkeys I saw last summer by the railroad track bed.

WITU Portage 9-28-14-7210WITU Portage 9-28-14-7258

The remainder of the photographs here are from last Sunday, the 21st. I am not sure if I realized when I took the pictures of the Canada Geese that three of them very obviously had neck bands, I was so busy paying attention to No. 63B harrassing No. 68B. I have to look up the Fish and Wildlife Service webpage to see if these geese are reportable.
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Canada Geese with neckbands

Canada Geese with neckbands

Last weekend I finally got a chance to see a few Ruby-Throated Hummingbirds in the gobs of Jewel Weed. Surprisingly they were not far from the south side entrance to the preserve, where I normally hardly see anything. The light was poor so I was not able to get anything sharper or more representative than what is below. I haven’t been able to catch the few hummers that have found my feeders either.

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Ruby-Throated Hummingbird

Ruby-Throated Hummingbird

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Below is a Chestnut-Sided Warbler looking nothing like its spring version.

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The turkeys always remind me of Joe Hutto and his book, Illumination in the Flatwoods, upon which the film “My Life As A Turkey” was based.
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Somewhere over the last few days my eyes grazed past an article I have not yet read, in the New York Times: “When Blogging Becomes a Slog.” Maybe I’m afraid to read it. However, there’s apparently an entire whole industry devoted to the phenomenon. I am not burned out on the blog yet, but it has become harder to find the time to devote to it, so I apologize if my posts are getting to be less frequent than twice a week. I am still trying to figure out how to balance life and the new work situation, and now the choir commitment. But I will keep coming  back here because in some small way, it’s good for the birds, and I realized years ago that what’s good for the birds is good for me.

 

Most Frequently Seen Fall Migrant

Swainson's Thrush

Swainson’s Thrush

Never uncommon during fall migration, this year Swainson’s Thrush wins my award for Most Frequently Seen Fall Migrant. And although all these pictures were taken at LaBagh Woods on Sunday, where there may have been 100 but I reported 45 of these birds, I have seen Swainson’s Thrushes downtown daily and there were plenty at Columbus Park on Saturday, though not always offering themselves up for photographs. I’m sure Safety In Numbers had a lot to do with the pictures I took Sunday. Not that there were that many other birds vying for my attention.

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I give the bird below the award for Best Concealed Swainson’s Thrush Out In The Open.

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I hope to be back with more from recent near travels. I might not get out to see birds this weekend at all, so that could give me time to sit at the computer: I have a wedding to attend Saturday and rain is predicted for Sunday morning.

Sunday’s Remainder

Gray-Cheeked Thrush, Ottawa Trail Woods

Gray-Cheeked Thrush, Ottawa Trail Woods

I wrote most of this last night…It’s hard to believe–as I sit here with the windows closed not because it is too hot but because it is unseasonably cold outside–that Sunday was hot and buggy. Every time I stopped to get a photograph or look about for telltale movement, I was sampled by some mosquito accessing a bug-spray-free spot on me. At some point one merely gives up or gives in. The insects know the end is nigh for them, so they partied hardy, like 1999.

Cedar Waxwing Tree, Chicago Portage

Cedar Waxwing Tree, Chicago Portage

Juvenile Cedar Waxwing

Juvenile Cedar Waxwing

The birds certainly know something is up. Large flocks of Blackbirds, Robins, Cedar Waxwings and Mourning Doves assembled at the Chicago Portage last Sunday. I also had perhaps ten Ruby-Throated Hummingbirds, finally, although it was still not possible to photograph them.

American Robin, Portage

American Robin, Portage

Red-Winged Blackbird

Red-Winged Blackbird

Mourning Dove

Mourning Dove

Female Ruby-Throated Hummingbird

Female Ruby-Throated Hummingbird

Of course I was looking for more warblers. There were not very many. Three views of a Magnolia Warbler…

Magnolia Warbler

Magnolia Warbler

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I sometimes do not know how the camera finds these birds when I can barely see them. A few views of a Confusing Fall Warbler…see if you can find the bird in this tangle! At first I thought it was a Bay-Breasted, but then on closer inspection it is likely a Blackpoll. We affectionately refer to these quandaries as Baypoll Warblers. (You will have to click on the pictures to enlarge them.)

Bay-Breasted Warbler

Likely Blackpoll Warbler

BBWA Portage 9-7-14-5187BBWA Portage 9-7-14-5188Among a few other species present, I managed to catch a Tennessee Warbler and an Ovenbird.

Tennessee Warbler, Chicago Portage

Tennessee Warbler, Chicago Portage

Ovenbird, Chicago Portage

Ovenbird, Chicago Portage

My hunch that there might be more warbler action at Ottawa Trail, over by the Des Plaines River, did not prove to have any merit whatsoever. There were fewer birds altogether. But I did get a rather nice look at a Red-Bellied Woodpecker. Juvenile Indigo Buntings were present in both places and also Gray-Cheeked Thrush, which is a less common thrush to see. RBWP Ottawa Trail 9-7-14-5366 RBWP Ottawa Trail 9-7-14-5382

Juvenile Indigo Bunting

Juvenile Indigo Bunting

Another Gray-Cheeked Thrush, Chicago Portage

Another Gray-Cheeked Thrush, Chicago Portage

It was only fitting to have a Red-Tailed Hawk fly by and put its stamp on the end of my outing.

Red-Tailed Hawk, Ottawa Trail Woods

Red-Tailed Hawk, Ottawa Trail Woods

Tomorrow I plan on going on Chicago Ornithological Society’s walk at Columbus Park. I haven’t been there in a couple years, even though it’s not far away. It will be interesting to see what we find. I was really looking forward to the original plan, which was to go to Humboldt Park as I have never been there, but the Chicago Park District has organized a weekend event called “Riot Fest” there, which makes conditions less promising for the birds and those who watch them.

Tempering the “Riot Fest” and maybe even our bird walk will be the forecast for early rain and cloudy skies! We are cloudy, rainy and in the 50’s today, so I can get in the mood when I go out later. Oh well.

Fall Migration in the Chicago Loop

Wilson's Warbler, Lake Shore East Park

Wilson’s Warbler, Lake Shore East Park

I haven’t hit any hot spots yet, but have started seeing a few migrant birds downtown. Tuesday morning I rescued a young Wood Thrush on my way to work. I visited Lake Shore East Park on Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday afternoons. At that location I have perhaps seen only seven warbler species so far, American Redstart, Yellow-Rumped Warbler, Ovenbird, Chestnut-Sided Warbler, Black-and-White Warbler, Tennessee Warbler and Wilson’s Warbler, with the Wilson’s being the most frequent. On Tuesday there were a few flycatchers, the most cooperative being a young Yellow-Bellied.

Yellow-Bellied Flycatcher

Yellow-Bellied Flycatcher

YBFL LSE Park 9-2-14-4578Below, a couple photos of the Black-and-White Warbler from Wednesday.

Black-and-White Warbler

Black-and-White Warbler

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Also on Wednesday, a Nashville Warbler, most completely seen on the sidewalk.

Tennessee Warbler

Tennessee Warbler

A couple more pictures of the Wilson’s Warbler below.
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The Common Grackles have been congregating all week, eating acorns and bathing in the water features.

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At least it appears they are trying to eat the acorns.

Grackle w Acorn LSE Park 9-3-14-5086

I will be back soon. I’ve been busy, and the weather has been hot and muggy. The longer days must be getting to me, I’ve been feeling overwhelmed. But we are fortunate enough to have some cooler, drier weather this weekend and I plan to take advantage of it Sunday morning.

“What Am I – Chopped Liver?”

Fox Sparrow

Fox Sparrow

This beautiful Fox Sparrow was the bird that most intrigued me Thursday morning and then I forgot to put him in the previous post because I was so distracted by the rarer sightings that day. I don’t see Fox Sparrows enough to take them for granted, so I was initially as excited about the Fox Sparrow as the Catbird. I have added a short video of the Fox Sparrow doing his scratch dance at the bottom of this post.

Fox Sparrow IMG_0969_1

The Lincoln’s Sparrow from the previous post is also in the video but for some reason the lens only wanted to focus on the Fox. It could be that the Lincoln’s didn’t appear all that distinctive to the camera as the available light kept decreasing. But it’s also user error, I’m sure.

Lincoln's Sparrow

Lincoln’s Sparrow

The traffic noise is authentic.