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.

Cold Storage

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Red-Breasted Mergansers at Saganashkee Slough

Some days spring seems inevitable, others it seems to be lagging behind a cold front. I’m trying to get caught up with posts that have escaped my ability to sit down and write them. So these pictures from two weekends ago start off the Slow Spring documentation. I was joined by my friend Lesa and we started off early at the Chicago Portage. Note for Sunday birders: it was easily an hour past sunrise but the forest preserve employees had not shown up yet to unlock the gate to the parking lot. We waited perhaps five minutes…

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Song Sparrow, Chicago Portage

I was hoping an earlier start might reveal more activity, perhaps a mammal or two, anything different. But just as I can’t predict surprises I apparently can’t predict nothing happening either. Maybe for the birds, waterfowl in particular, nothing seemed out of whack. Except I wonder what happened to the Mallard on the upper right below, who seems to have lost a lot of neck feathers, perhaps getting caught in something while he was dabbling for food. He otherwise seemed to be okay.

The stream scene at the Portage hadn’t changed too much for the Canada Geese, except that there were fewer of them than the last time. We walked out the back trail by the train tracks that leads to the Des Plaines River and saw distant Common Goldeneye and Common Mergansers, but for the most part, the birds were just too darned far away to see well without a scope. My monster lens managed to identify three Wood Ducks hanging out on a fallen limb enhanced with detritus and trash.

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Wood Ducks on the Des Plaines

Song Sparrows were the most visible passerine species…

And one lady cardinal volunteered a brief acknowledgment after sitting with her back to us for several moments. Her expression conveys to me, “Just what do you want?”

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Frustrated by the lack of participation at the Portage, we stopped by the house to pick up the scope and drove out to Saganashkee Slough in Palos to see the reported Eared Grebe. Eared Grebe isn’t one we see often in this area, so it seemed like a worthwhile venture. The sun was getting higher which made backlighting a bit of a problem, but we appreciated whatever perceived warmth the sun had to offer. Thanks to generous and helpful birders already at the scene, we located the Eared Grebe. It was swimming around on the far side of the slough, of course, not too far from the men fishing in the first photo below with the Red-Breasted Mergansers flying. The second photo shows the wake behind the Eared Grebe and the last photo was the best I could get from such a distance. You can click on it to get a bit of a better view.

In contrast there were perhaps twenty or more Horned Grebes (top pix below), although I was unable to find one in breeding plumage. And those show-off Red-Breasted Mergansers again.

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Horned Grebe, Saganashkee Slough

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Mallard drake, Chicago Portage Woods, with neck feathers…

Apologies are in order, I have been a bad blogger lately. It’s not for laziness so much as exhaustion by everything else that has to get done in life. I also think my body slowing down with its latest complaint affects everything since it’s hard to totally dismiss chronic pain. But don’t worry, temporary remedies work well and I’m looking forward to engaging with a more permanent remedy starting in a few weeks. (And I’m thinking beyond the procedure: if I have to sit around a bit more for a few days maybe I can amuse a few of us with on onslaught of blog posts…)

I have more recent excursions to report as soon as I can. I also am waking up to thinking about those big life questions that surprise me every once in a while when I come to realize how I have succumbed to the general malaise reinforced by the bombardment of media, which are designed to distract from reality. I think we’re all hovering around our own versions of this existential enigma, and once I can find all the little nuggets of inspiration that I have gleaned lately from various sources, I will try to offer them up in the context of this blog space. Thank you for being patient and staying with me.

Horned Grebes Revisited

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Horned Grebe, Monroe Harbor 4/5/13

Within the last week or so, the Horned Grebes hanging around Monroe Harbor just north of the Chicago Yacht Club have undergone their transformation into breeding plumage.

Horned Grebe, Monroe Harbor 3/26/13

Horned Grebe, Monroe Harbor 3/26/13

Only a glimmer of color was beginning to show on March 26.

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Pair of Horned Grebes, 3/28/13

And two days later I took the picture above. Then on Friday, two males were diving and swimming around in the water by the boat docks. They must recognize me by now because they were easier to photograph. Indeed one kept fishing in my direction.

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In the picture below, he almost appears to be smiling.

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With the next shutter click, he was diving after whatever it was he was smiling about.

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I hope he got whatever it was he was after.

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Also on Friday, yacht club workers were starting to line up buoys to put in the water. With the increase in human activity, I suspect it was my last chance to see the grebes this season. Good luck fishing and breeding, my litttle grebe friends!


Horned Grebe

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Every spring I watch and wait for Horned Grebes to return to the lakefront. This afternoon, on an otherwise blustery, windblown day, the sun shown long enough to wake up a Horned Grebe taking a nap in Monroe Harbor.

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He woke up and started swimming toward me.

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And allowed me to watch him scan the water for places to dive.

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Until he disappeared for the last time.

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Easter Sunday Birding

This morning was beautifully sunny and clear, although a brisk north wind kept things rather chilly most of the morning. I started out kind of late, around 9:00 a.m., and went to the Chicago Portage to see if anything had changed.

Tree Swallow

There were more Tree Swallows than a couple weeks ago, perhaps a dozen or so. But there were no new birds. I had hoped to see at least a Yellow-Rumped Warbler, and maybe a few different sparrows. Maybe the wind was blowing from the wrong direction to bring in new migrants. I managed to get a few nice photos of the current residents anyway.

A couple Canada Geese got into a disagreement which caused the water to fly.

A Northern Cardinal was singing to the right of the path.

I heard Song Sparrows singing and finally found one.

And of course there were a lot of robins.

Around midday it was much warmer but the wind picked up. I went to McGinnis Slough to see some different birds. There were several species shared between the two locations such as Red-Winged Blackbirds, Black-Capped Chickadees, American Robins, Tree Swallows, House Finches and Mallards. Generally McGinnis has more water birds, although for the most part they are hard to photograph because they are usually too far away.

On the other hand, this Red-Winged Blackbird was more cooperative than the ones at the Portage.

I got lucky with this Great Blue Heron, one of seven I saw fishing in various shallows.

Great Blue Heron

There were perhaps 250-275 American Coots. This one was swimming around with something wrapped around its body. Looks like a water plant pulled up from a dive.

There were 20 or more Pied-Billed Grebes but they were too far away to photograph. As it is this Horned Grebe eating a fish it had caught is barely recognizable.

This might be the year I figure out digiscoping. Or not. There will always be birds too far away.

Last year at this time

it was still seasonably chilly, the trees were bare. Hard to find color anywhere –

except maybe in the lake. It was full of Horned Grebes in their spring finery.

Horned Grebe

Here’s one living up to his name. These pictures were taken on March 28, 2011.

And here we are, barely a year later, and the trees are in full bloom

or leafing out. The grass is green, and we have had no rain.

Very few divers remain in the lake, mostly gulls among the buoys. Are the buoys out earlier this year?

A Ring-Billed Gull this morning, coming in for a landing.

In the parks, there are lots of Common Grackles…

and Red-Winged Blackbirds,

but much of spring migration has not yet caught up with the weather and the flora. We have another month or more to go before we see the warblers.

Magnolia Warbler, Grant Park, May 22, 2011

Cape May Warbler, May 10, 2011

Pictures for Peanuts

The Peanut Gallery

I went down to the lakefront this morning because after days of stormy clouds and 60 mph winds this was the only day of predicted sunshine. Sunshine was in abundance, at first glistening off the water by the yacht club with no birds in sight.

South of the Yacht Club

Flying Crow

But that changed within a minute or two of my arrival. Of course the Crow Crowd was following me. Carrying my camera in one hand and the bag of goodies hanging off the other arm isn’t ideal but I thought it might be a good day for flight pictures.

Fuzzy Crow

I’m calling this crow Fuzzy because his head feathers are so brush-like. Maybe this is a bad hair day for a crow but I think he’s pretty cute.


A friendly Horned Grebe surfaced close to the sidewalk shore.

Horned Grebe

Farther out I spotted the Red-Necked Grebe, a less-frequent visitor.

Red-Necked Grebe

And a Red-Breasted Merganser took off to catch up with her buddies.

Female Red-Breasted Merganser

Eventually a Black-Capped Chickadee will come for peanuts too.

my little Chickadee

I sometimes shell the peanuts for them if they’re fast and sneaky enough to make off with the goods before the larger birds come back. But I caught this Chickadee shelling his own peanut a few days ago. It was almost as big as he is.

White-Wing flying

When I got up to the park this morning, the White-Winged Crow youngster was showing off her caching abilities.