A Bird Here, A Bird There

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American Goldfinch, Lurie Garden

Last night WordPress let me know I haven’t been posting enough lately by requesting identification from me when I tried to sign in. So we went through the identification-code-by-text-message routine this morning and I guess I’m back in business for a while.

I seem to have caught my biennial rhinovirus too, which is keeping me from living too dangerously. I made it through choir rehearsal last night without any significant coughs or wheezes but this morning I am draining miserably.

There are next to no birding opportunities on my way in to the office for now and I haven’t been out too much lately, but here are a few pictures taken last week on December 1.

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Black-Capped Chickadee

BCCH Millennium 12-1-2015 -7808I had stopped at the northwest corner of Millennium Park to see if I could grab a picture of a Yellow-Bellied Sapsucker but that wasn’t going to happen. However there were cooperative Black-Capped Chickadees and White-Throated Sparrows.

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White-Throated Sparrow

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At home over the last week or two, I had been trying to grab a picture of the newest arrivals while they were still relatively clueless, but it was difficult to find them sitting in a spot with enough light, and when I did, their immediate reaction was, “No, we are NOT cute! Don’t point that thing at us!” I managed to grab the fuzzy picture below before they started to disperse.

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Zebra Finch Fledglings

Pet birds being what they are, it’s easier to take a picture of a wild bird like the Hermit Thrush below, who was also with the little group of birds at the northwest corner of Millennium. He came down to sit and stare at me to see if maybe we could figure out what was so interesting about each other.

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Hermit Thrush

That’s about it for the moment. I’ll try to be back sooner. ‘Tis the season and all that too, hard to escape holiday revelry.

I haven’t been out yet this week but I think I will go out today and continue the hot dog experiments. In case you’re wondering, no, the squirrels are not interested in hot dogs. Just waiting for the crow to leave so he can sneak a peanut.

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Where Have All The Birds Gone?

Yellow-Bellied Sapsucker

Yellow-Bellied Sapsucker, scaling a building wall next to 155 N. Wacker Drive, Chicago

I could just as easily re-title this post to “Where Has All The Time Gone?” since I’m still trying to make adjustments to my ever-changing schedule. But this will be a brief tribute to some of the birds I have seen passing through downtown Chicago a few weeks ago. (There will be still more photographs from the rest of the month in a future post.)

The following warblers were present at Lake Shore East Park on September 28. This was probably the last “peak” of warbler migration along the lakefront.

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American Redstart

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Blackpoll Warbler

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Tennessee Warbler

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Magnolia Warbler

Yellow-Rumped Warblers tend to come through and hang around a bit later, so I was not surprised to see this one the following week.

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Yellow-Rumped Warbler, October 6, 2015

Yellow-Rumped Warbler

Yellow-Rumped Warbler

But I was surprised to find the Connecticut Warbler below poking around in the grass as I was walking through Millennium Park on my way to Lake Shore East. There wasn’t much light and the bird was under some trees so this was the best I could do with the photograph.

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Connecticut Warbler, Millennium Park, October 5, 2015

I have seen only a few White-Crowned Sparrows this fall, like the one below which popped out at 100 N. Riverside Plaza.

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White-Crowned Sparrow, October 2, 2015

I think the White-Throated Sparrow below was also from this new location. I will have more pictures and more to say about this newly discovered green space area along the Chicago River in a future post.

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White-Throated Sparrow, October 5, 2015

There have been a lot of Brown Creepers this fall migration.

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Brown Creeper, Lake Shore East Park, October 6, 2015

And Ruby-Crowned Kinglets…

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Ruby-Crowned Kinglet, Lake Shore East Park, October 7, 2015

For a couple weeks, almost, the most ubiquitous bird seemed to be Hermit Thrushes. I am still seeing an individual here and there.

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Hermit Thrush, Lake Shore East Park, October 7, 2015

The Yellow-Bellied Sapsuckers are now all gone.

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Yellow-Bellied Sapsucker, October 6, 2015

At first I thought the bird below was yet another Hermit Thrush but on closer inspection I have decided it’s probably a Gray-Cheeked Thrush. Light can be tricky, but the heavy spotting on the breast and the darker flanks give him away almost more than his facial pattern.

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Gray-Cheeked Thrush, Lake Shore East Park, September 28, 2015

And for the longer view, here he is again sharing tree space with a shy Lincoln’s Sparrow.

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So the warblers are all gone until spring. I did have a late Black-Throated Green Warbler on October 22nd which I posted on my flickr page before I realized I could now just upload it directly into ebird. It was my last “rare bird” sighting.

Below is another picture of the beautiful Blackpoll Warbler from September 28.

BPWA LSE Park 9-28-15 -3013I have more posts in mind and am just working on finding the time and mind space!

Thanks for your patience and indulgence!

City Stopovers

Blackpoll Warbler

Blackpoll Warbler

Here are a few pictures taken at various times over the past few weeks, all in downtown Chicago…

Tennessee Warbler

Tennessee Warbler

Tennessee Warbler

Tennessee Warbler

I never manage to see enough of any one species to tire of them. Although Tennessee Warblers often appear abundant, they are not always easy to capture. For comparison with a species they resemble, I have an Orange-Crowned Warbler below.

Orange-Crowned Warbler

Orange-Crowned Warbler

There seemed to be fewer birds altogether this year, but I don’t know if it is due to loss of habitat, weather patterns, being in the wrong place at the wrong time or a combination of all three.

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Northern Waterthrush

I frequently see Northern Waterthrushes on the ground, but less often perched in trees.

Kentucky Warbler

Kentucky Warbler

The day I saw the Kentucky Warbler, there were so few birds altogether at Lake Shore East Park I wasn’t even aware I had seen this rarity until I checked my photographs later. The bird kept ducking in and out of hydrangeas planted near the east end of the park and I was consumed with trying to stop it long enough for a picture.

American Redstart

American Redstart

First-year male American Redstarts seem to be born exhibitionists, on the other hand.

Blackpoll Warbler

Blackpoll Warbler

This Blackpoll was pretty cooperative too on the day I saw it.

Common Yellowthroat

Common Yellowthroat

And Common Yellowthroats, as difficult as they are to see on their breeding grounds…are frequent park visitors.

Hermit Thrush

Hermit Thrush

A Hermit Thrush reminding me It’s The Food, Stupid.

Yellow-Bellied Sapsucker

Yellow-Bellied Sapsucker

At 155 N. Wacker there haven’t been very many birds, but last week there was this sapsucker scaling a wall.

White-Crowned Sparrow

White-Crowned Sparrow

And a White-Crowned Sparrow popped out last week at a new spot on the river that looks promising for future visits.

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City Frog

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Perhaps the strangest thing I saw this fall was a frog in the corner of one of these wrought-iron-encased planters on Randolph near Wacker. How it got there boggles the mind.

It’s time to say goodbye to the warblers until spring. But many more sparrows are likely to be showing up. I’m thankful for that because they tend to be easier to see! And at least I can always carry on a conversation with White-Throated Sparrows.

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Birding the Hood

AMRO Berwyn 5-24-15-3391A combination of unpredictable weekend weather and outright curiosity caused me to spend some time in the last few weeks walking around the block, so to speak, to see what birds were present. Other factors also pushed me over the edge: reading John Marzluff’s Welcome to Subirdia (still reading it but like three or four other books I’ve started who knows when I’ll finish it), hearing Red-Eyed Vireos singing on my way to work, seeing Rose-Breasted Grosbeaks at my feeder, and not wanting particularly to get up in the middle of the night so I could arrive somewhere farther by daybreak.

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American Robin, 5-24-15

Of course the Robins have been on territory for quite a while, and they pretty much act like they own the place, but they’re still fun to watch.

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Wood Ducks, April 27, 2015

One evening I got home from work and saw the two Wood Ducks in the picture above when they landed on top of a chimney across the street. They looked as surprised to be there as I was to see them.

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Rose-Breasted Grosbeaks on the feeder 5-10-15

RBGR Berwyn 5-10-15-9736The three Rose-Breasted Grosbeaks sampling sunflower seeds above appeared to be an adult male, a female and a somewhat immature male (the guy sitting on top of the feeder in the first picture). Maybe the pair were showing junior his first trip north.

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Male Rose-Breasted Grosbeak 5-16-15

A week later there was still a male in the neighborhood. Rose-Breasted Grosbeaks breed in this area, but I think they still prefer the forest preserves.

On May 16 I found two Red-Eyed Vireos but they wouldn’t pose for pictures. However I did manage to engage the cooperative, hungry female Black-and-White Warbler below. She was just down the street from my house.

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Black-and-White Warbler, 5-16-15

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Also not far away was the Yellow Warbler below. These are not unusual species but to see them not far from the house is unusual for me, since it never occurred to me that if I was just patient and looked a little harder, I could likely find some warblers in the neighborhood.

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Yellow Warbler, 5-16-15

Blue Jays tend to be heard and rarely seen, but I did get good looks at this one. He probably thought I was a curious sight, walking around with binoculars and a camera.

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Blue Jay, 5-16-15

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Maybe most surprising was seeing a Hermit Thrush dash out from underneath a parked car. I had been seeing one in my neighbor’s yard, so it’s likely the same individual.

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Hermit Thrush, 5-16-15

The flowers are all gone now from my Horse Chestnut but that day the bees were enjoying the bounty.

Bee on Horse Chestnut Berwyn 5-10-15-2154Now I’m looking forward to fall migration to see if I can repeat the experiment on those iffy mornings when I don’t necessarily feel like going “somewhere.” It’s certainly easier to take a stroll around the block, and I don’t have to worry about finding my way back to where I started.

RBGR Berwyn 5-16-15-2084Spring migration is pretty much over, although late-comers and late-leavers are still surfacing here and there. Now my focus will turn to breeding birds and, whenever possible, finishing my review of photographs from trips I’ve already taken before I set off for somewhere else…

Strolling Through Lake Shore East Park

White-Throated Sparrow, Lake Shore East Park

White-Throated Sparrow, Lake Shore East Park

Up until the arrival of the famous Harris’s Sparrow in Millennium Park’s Lurie Garden, I was routinely spending my late afternoon lunch hours in Lake Shore East Park. The two parks are not very far away from each other, but there is much less foot or tourist traffic in Lake Shore East Park, so I have been going there more often. Which is not to say it lacks people. There are frequently people walking their dogs or children in baby strollers.

Hermit Thrushes

Hermit Thrushes – I counted 11 individuals at one time (here’s 4 of them)

I have been trying to write this post since October 9. On that day, the most numerous birds in the park were predictably White-Throated Sparrows and Hermit Thrushes. The Hermit Thrushes were the largest group I have ever seen. Even going back the next day I counted 12 of them.

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Perhaps you’ve seen Robins pull worms out of the earth, but this is the first time I’ve caught a Hermit Thrush in the act.

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Juncos have shown up here and there, although not in numbers yet.

Dark-Eyed Junco

Dark-Eyed Junco

The fountains have been shut down for the winter, leaving their rocky bottoms free for exploration.

White-Throated Sparrow

White-Throated Sparrow

Other birds I saw that day were two Brown Creepers and an American Redstart. I did not get photographs of them, though. So here’s a couple more of Hermit Thrushes.  The remaining pictures except for the last one are from October 1, but they were also taken in Lake Shore East Park.

Hermit Thrush

Hermit Thrush

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But my most pleasant encounter on October 9 was a human one. Soon after I arrived at the park, a woman walking her dog approached me and asked about my camera equipment. This is the second time this month I have met people this way: Canon must have put some new elixir in the 70D! We got to talking about photography and birds and then she let it slip that she was from the East Coast and amazed to see a Redstart in this small park in the city. She said she was in town to sing at the opera.

Ruby-Crowned Kinglet, Lake Shore East Park

Ruby-Crowned Kinglet, Lake Shore East Park

A brief cloud of Opera Guilt wafted over me. (I was a subscriber for several years but gave it up along with my other subscriptions a few years ago because I realized I no longer had the time or energy to do everything, so it was time to focus on birds and music.) When I told her the birds have taken over my life she understood. Then I thought to myself surely I should maybe recognize her but you rarely get to see an opera singer out of costume. I asked, and she said she was Stephanie Blythe. I confirmed later that she is singing Il Trovatore at the Lyric Opera. I didn’t faint, but I will say I haven’t had a brush with fame in many, many years…!

Golden-Crowned Kinglet, Lake Shore East Park

Golden-Crowned Kinglet, Lake Shore East Park

Stephanie stopped me again to ask me about a bird or two she had seen (one turned out to be one of the Creepers I saw later after I talked to her) and I felt so lucky to have made her acquaintance. She also seemed happy to have found a kindred spirit. But as excited as I was to have met her, I was reluctant to write about it, right away. I didn’t want her to be mobbed by opera fanatics. (In retrospect, I’m thinking very few people even know the park exists.)

Northern Waterthrush with bug, Lake Shore East Park

Northern Waterthrush with bug, Lake Shore East Park

As it turns out I did not see Stephanie again (turning in ebird lists I was tempted to note “no opera singers today” but restrained myself). Chances are her rehearsal schedule and my work schedule kept us from running into each other again. But listening to the Operathon on WFMT on Saturday, October 11th, there was an offer for two tickets to any opera, and a choice of dates, with seats on the first floor, for a donation, the amount of which was much less than the cost of the tickets. This was too good to pass up: it would be wonderful to use this as an opportunity to see Stephanie sing. I have heard her on the Metropolitan Opera broadcasts, but was no longer a subscriber by the time she started singing at the Lyric.

Common Grackle

Common Grackle

So I got tickets for opening night for Il Trovatore, an opera I have never seen. I am taking my friend from the former workplace: it will be her first opera. The way this whole thing has turned out really feels like kismet or karma or something.

White-Crowned Sparrow

White-Crowned Sparrow

Ultimately I must give the birds credit for everything. They continue to enrich my life. The birds paid attention to the music, then enticed me into green spaces every day I can manage to hang out with them. The birds know a bird person, and I think kindred spirits do too. One more time, in an entirely new context, the birds have returned the favor and my attention to the music.

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Off and Running

Yellow-Bellied Sapsucker

Yellow-Bellied Sapsucker

I had another post in mind but it is late, I’m leaving shortly for the airport, if not in the middle of the night this time, for our West Texas birding trip. As for the Yellow-Bellied Sapsucker above, this is the most yellow I have ever seen!

Hermit Thrush and Fox Sparrow

Hermit Thrush and Fox Sparrow – sort of birds “of a feather” – yes there was snow on the ground last week…

So here are a few pictures taken in downtown Chicago over the past two weeks, as the migrants come through. Specifically the location is Lake Shore East Park.

Brown Thrasher

Brown Thrasher

The Brown Thrasher and the Grackles are likely here for the breeding season.

Fountain Baths

Fountain Baths

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The Common Grackles were ready the moment the fountains went on.

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White-Throated Sparrows have been around for weeks, if not in the hundreds like they were when Daley Bicentennial Plaza still existed. Now and then one breaks into song.

I’ll be back in about a week and a half. I’m roughing it, not taking the laptop this time. 🙂

Thanks to all who follow or stop by!

Bye, Bye Birdies

Cooper's Hawk

Cooper’s Hawk

It’s so hard to leave, but preparation for it has also made it hard to do anything else. I’m leaving for the airport in less than 3 hours and I still have to buy fresh veggies for the indoor crowd and finish packing. So this will be a very, very quick post. The Cooper’s was in Grant Park last Friday when I managed to go down early before work.

Crows in Millennium Park

Crows in Millennium Park

These pictures were taken over the last few days on my way to work or on a very brief lunch break. I managed to say goodbye to my crows in Millennium (there were about 20 overall) and on the way in to work, to my little friend Lincoln’s Sparrow who was still there as of yesterday. But I fully expect everyone at 155 N. Wacker to disappear over the next three weeks when I don’t show up to shower them with birdseed.

Crows with peanuts

Crows with peanuts

The Hermit Thrush below was last seen a few days ago, but there were still some in Millennium Park as of Thursday.

Hermit Thrush, 155 N. Wacker Drive

Hermit Thrush, 155 N. Wacker Drive

Goodbye, little Lincoln’s. He’s been such a good friend. And he gave me an excuse to try out and learn how to use the flash attachment, bless his heart.

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Lincoln’s Sparrow

The crows in Millennium have settled in as the crowds are dissipating. I hope I haven’t made them too tame.

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I know the crows will be there for me when I return. I look forward to posting all about my trip when I get back.

Thanks to everyone for reading and following my blog!! I’m off on safari…!

“Rare” Late Migrants!

Gray Catbird

Gray Catbird

Yesterday on my way in to the office I stopped by 155 N. Wacker Drive, as usual, to visit with the White-Throated Sparrows, see if the Hermit Thrush was still around… and to my surprise, a Gray Catbird jumped right out onto the cement edge of the elevated berm, looked me in the eye, and took off for the trees hugging the brick building. Whenever birds fly to those trees I can hardly ever see them and give up on any thoughts of getting pictures.

I heard the Hermit Thrush but did not see it. Incidentally, I hope to record this sound some day because this year is the first time I’ve become aware of it with Hermit Thrushes: it’s a whirry call that almost sounds like a purr, which I first identified by process of elimination a few weeks ago when I found a Hermit Thrush in my yard, then later checked on my Bird Tunes app and confirmed it.

So yesterday morning I figured I had a list of birds to submit to ebird and was not surprised when I had to write in the Gray Catbird. But I was later asked to prove it, at least by description if not a picture, and since I didn’t have a picture, I thought well, maybe I should go back and to see if it was still around on my lunch hour.

White-Throated Sparrow

White-Throated Sparrow

The White-Throated Sparrows were happy to see me again, and I stood still almost at the edge of the sidewalk so they would not feel pressured by me and my camera. While I was waiting to see who else might show up, the Hermit Thrush dashed out below me.

Hermit Thrush

Hermit Thrush

And then the Catbird came out – cautiously at first – but then got used to me and let me get several pictures in the ever-darkening light. The clouds were moving in fast yesterday afternoon!

Gray Catbird IMG_1044_1Gray Catbird IMG_1039_1

Just amazed to stand there and visit with the birdies, alone except for one woman sitting off to the side with her cell phone and cigarette.

And then suddenly I saw a Lincoln’s Sparrow and I knew this was probably going to be another rare sighting.

Lincoln's Sparrow

Lincoln’s Sparrow

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The funny thing about the Lincoln’s was after I had taken several pictures of him, he flew up into the tree to my left to give me a better view. Or to check me out, or to say thank you, because by now I had scattered some more bird seed. It was the least I could do for such a cooperative bunch.

When I got back to the office I submitted another ebird report and I had to justify the Lincoln’s Sparrow because yes, it too was a rare sighting at this date. And then last night at the suggestion of the submission monitor, I discovered how to embed photos into my ebird reports, so I added the two rare sightings to support my observations. Now I feel like a citizen scientist…

Lincoln's Sparrow

Lincoln’s Sparrow

Hard to let go of the locals just yet. But a picture is still worth a 1,000 words, heh.

Kinglets Rule

Ruby-Crpwned Kinglet

Ruby-Crowned Kinglet

On the way home from Miller Meadow last Sunday, I stopped to explore a very small portion of the Cook County Forest Preserves called White Eagle Woods, of all things. This is a name that would not bother anyone except a birder, in that there is no such thing as a White Eagle, but apparently it’s a common name that has been used for a lot of other things. Whatever the reason, White Eagle Woods is not far from my house, and also not far from the Des Plaines River, so it seemed worth checking out even in the middle of the day.

Golden-Crowned Kinglet on a throne of thorns

Golden-Crowned Kinglet on a throne of thorns

There were not many species of birds present but there were a few cooperative individuals. In particular there were a dozen or more kinglets, mainly Golden-Crowned but also a couple Ruby-Crowned Kinglets as well. The one Ruby-Crowned Kinglet who posed at the top of this post was not showing the feathers for which it is named.

Blue Jay

Blue Jay

And for all the Blue Jays I have heard and caught glimpses of all year, none have been relaxed enough to let me take a picture until this one.

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For whatever reason he flew down to the curb, where he was at least unobstructed.

Hermit Thrush

Hermit Thrush

Also present on my short visit was a Hermit Thrush, which could not seem to decide whether to be seen or not. So although kinglets outnumbered all the other species at this location, the ubiquity of migrating Hermit Thrushes continues.

Brown Creeper Confusion

Brown Creeper

Brown Creeper

I was late getting in to work this morning.  The birds made me do it.

First, I found a dead Hermit Thrush at 123 N. Wacker, the same building where I found the stunned Hermit Thrush last week. It was windy and chilly this morning, so I should not have been surprised, I suppose, but I hate to see dead birds. What a beautiful bird it was too; could not have been dead long. At any rate, what else to do but pull out one of my trusty paper bags and call Chicago Bird Collision Monitors? They were very busy and my ca;; went straight through to voice mail.

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Then at 155 N. Wacker right near the entrance to the building, which has an enormous glass-walled facade underneath a portico, I found a stunned Brown Creeper. It’s amazing to me how many people walked by and did not even stop to look at this little gem. He was alive and at first having none of me catching him and putting him into a bag, so I stayed with him as he tried to catch a spider. The spider escaped and I tried to edge it back toward the bird but the spider was having none of it. I started emptying my bag to use it as a net, but the creeper was wise to that and started flying up against the big glass wall until he became exhausted. That was when I caught him more easily and, thinking I was going into work and the Bird Collision Monitors were too busy, I took him over to the albeit-not-so-great trees in the mini-park at 155 N. Wacker. He seemed okay with that and he flew to the trunk of the first tree.

I was then in my usual spot checking out the White-Throated Sparrow population and  decided to walk around the back to where there is a bike rack. One White-Throated Sparrow was calling from a bush there. I was then ready to leave, figuring I had seen everybody, when I encountered a stunned Hermit Thrush on the sidewalk. I could not imagine missing him, so he must have just hit the building while I was visiting the sparrow. The thrush was easy to pick up in that state, so I put him in a bag to keep him warm and out of trouble, affixed a paper clip to the top, and called the monitors again. I knew now I was going to stay and wait for help, however long it took.

The monitor taking calls rang me back and said they would send someone right over. Soon Nancy called me and said she was on Wacker Drive in front of the building. I walked over and delivered the two thrushes. One dead, one alive. I watched as she labeled them and made sure she had the correct information for each bird. We chatted a little and I left.

But then I found a Brown Creeper, most likely the same one, splayed on the sidewalk by the windows. I reached down, picked him up, and headed back to Wacker Drive, running north, yelling, “Nancy, Nancy!” When Nancy turned around, I met her with the Brown Creeper. She opened up a little bag to receive him and I reached in with my hand to release him – and he would not let go. He clung on to my warm finger with his tiny foot. I told him he had to leave, that Nancy would take good care of him, and he finally let go with a little prodding from me. I wonder if by then he might have decided his fate was inextricably connected to mine. I trust Nancy got him to a better place where he found his bearings and continued on his journey south.

Here’s a picture of a Brown Creeper I took last week or so, who was not lost.

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And another this afternoon, at Lake Shore East Park.

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