Big Marsh, Hegewisch Marsh and a Lifer

Least Bittern Big Marsh 07-30-17-6896

Least Bittern at Big Marsh

Last Sunday I joined Chicago Ornithological Society’s trip led by Walter Marcisz to a couple areas he knows so well, far south in the Cook County limits and to which I had never been. So tempting was this offering, there were an almost unmanageable 40 of us. But all went well, thanks to Walter’s skillful leadership.

The photograph above is of a Least Bittern which was a life bird for me. I wish I’d gotten a sharper image but we were all caught quite unawares standing around looking out when suddenly this bird decided it needed to go somewhere, so I consider myself lucky i got it at all. The rest of my shots of this bird have someone’s head in them so maybe that gives you an idea.

The parking lot where we met before taking off for the marshes not far away afforded these two captures below: a Double-Crested Cormorant on a light fixture and two Barn Swallows hanging out on the barbed wire.

The wildflower investigation continues. The plant below seemed to be everywhere at Big Marsh and I think there was some at Hegewisch too although by that time I was so tired of seeing it I may have been ignoring it. Someone identified it as Spotted Knapweed, so I looked it up on my wildflower app and sure enough, it is an invasive, with somewhat nasty properties. If handled a lot it can cause tumors on the hands. Yuck. Made one bee happy however.

Bee on the Invasive Plant Big Marsh 07-30-17-6934I grew tired of trying to figure out the one below but it’s pretty in its isolation. I believe it was at Hegewisch. I didn’t take many pictures at Hegewisch – we weren’t there long. We went to see the Common Gallinules – who used to be Common Moorhens – that have been breeding there this year. We caught glimpses but not much else behind the tall grasses.

Wildflowers Big Marsh 07-30-17-6958I was happy to see Northern Rough-winged Swallows as I have missed seeing them in my usual haunts this year.

More birds in flight. A Killdeer on the left, and a Great Egret on the right.

Always happy to see a Caspian Tern hunting in good view. This was also at Big Marsh where we spent the most time.

And Eastern Kingbirds still seemed to be everywhere.

HOFI Big Marsh 07-30-17-6946

Female House Finch, Big Marsh

As close in proximity as these areas are to the city, they are big enough to afford an unobstructed view of the sky which was gorgeous that day.

Cloudscape Big Marsh 07-30-17-6960One more swallow.

Northern RW Swallow Big Marsh 07-30-17-6950

Northern Rough-Winged Swallow

Back very soon with a report from my yard as my wishes are slowly being fulfilled!

Bees, Butterflies and Birds in the Backyard

Bee on Wild Senna 07-15-17-1468Have I ever said I adore bumblebees? If not, now I am proclaiming it, and they are some of the friendliest creatures in my yard. Last weekend the one in these pictures was definitely enjoying the Wild Senna, making me take extra notice of the brown spots on the blooms which make the flowers almost look like bees themselves.

I’ve managed to spend some time the last two weekends in the yard, which is more an exercise in discovery and meditation than it is management of what decides to grow there. With all the rain we have had this year everything seems determined to grow tall and abundant.

At first the most common butterflies were the Red Admirals above. Below, a Milkweed Beetle on its namesake plant and what I suspect is a Soldier Beetle on the Rattlesnake Master. I was just happy to see somebody else enjoying my first season for Rattlesnake Master in the yard.

Saturday I was graced with the first Tiger Swallowtail that spent some time in the yard while I was out there. For whatever reason, the butterflies seem to be attracted to my field of Echinacea more than anything else.

Tiger Swallowtail 07-15-17-1688And just as I had had enough and was about to go inside, this lovely Black Swallowtail showed up. I had seen one in the yard before but leaving, not hanging around.

Black Swallowtail 07-15-17-1746Black Swallowtail 07-15-17-1747I had a staring match with the Fox Squirrel. The sunflowers growing from spilled seed are too numerous to photograph, so here’s a close-up of one.

Not sure if I have more female House Finches or if half of them are immatures. It was nice to see a Black-Capped Chickadee too. In general, when I’m in the yard, the birds aren’t.

The moon was still visible.

Moon 07-15-17-1514I’ve discovered one or two Snow on the Mountain flowers in the yard, not where it was coming up for years, but now scattered, after it disappeared entirely. Glad to have it back.

Snow on the Mountain 07-15-17-1539And if you made it this far you might recognize the flower below as the invasive monster I was trying to eradicate earlier. I discovered the name of this nefarious plant yesterday while scrolling through the Audubon Wildflower App on my cell phone. The app isn’t new, but my use of it now is a new diversion. I’ve decided to scroll all the way through everything from A to Z to find things that I can’t remember, can’t identify otherwise, or discover new. So far, this was a fortuitous decision because I was close to the beginning of the alphabet with this one. And it is every bit as terrible as I suspected. Well, maybe not where it belongs, but it’s from Europe, and here’s part of the description from the app: “spreads by underground stems and forms sizable colonies. The plant contains poisonous sapnonins (soap-like substances) that inspired the genus name (from the Latin sapo, meaning ‘soap’) and the alternate common name Soapwort. Lather can be made from its crushed foliage. The common name Bouncing Bet is an old fashioned nickname for a washerwoman.”

I think maybe I’ll start calling it Soapwort.

Bouncing Bet 6-24-17-0419

Bouncing Bet, or Saponaria officinalis

So with those roots running under the soil I’m never going to get rid of this stuff, I’ll just look upon it as a nasty plant on which to take out all my frustrations every spring. And I’ll be sure never to eat it. I wonder if it’s as poisonous to wildlife. I don’t think I’ve ever seen the bees attracted to it. They’re pretty smart.

Bumblebee and Wild Senna 07-15-17-1751Still wishing for a Monarch Butterfly and/or a Ruby-Throated Hummingbird or Sphinx Moth to show up on a weekend when I’m in the yard…with the camera. 🙂

Baby, It’s Cold Outside: Hangin’ Out in the Yard


Blue Jay through the window

This grey, chilly day produced a few flurries and later in the afternoon, perhaps a sixteenth of an inch of snow. Whatever. I decided to stay home and see who came to the yard, instead of birding elsewhere.

I had to stand out in the cold for what seemed like a long time, I don’t know, maybe it was only 10 minutes but it felt longer, waiting for the birds to come back. Funny how the birds downtown will rush out to greet me, but the ones at home prefer to avoid me at all costs if possible.

But when they did finally come back, I counted at least 46 House Sparrows. Well, I didn’t count them all individually, I thought there were probably 50, but I decided to be conservative and enter the number “46” for ebird. Which makes it look like you did count them individually, I guess.

The cardinals were in the yard, which was nice of them, but the male didn’t want to show himself, so the best I could do was sneak a peek of him hiding behind a branch. The female was more accommodating. Or maybe hungry.


A Blue Jay has been coming to the yard since I cut down my big tree. And this Blue Jay surprised me by showing up while I was still outside, but the light was so poor (below, left) I couldn’t get a good picture of him or her. Luckily it came back later in the afternoon when I was sneaking pictures through the windows (below, right).

A female Downy Woodpecker was easy to see outside, but the male pretty much eluded me until later I caught the back of his head through the window.

Not seeing so many Dark-Eyed Juncos this week, but there was one, below.

deju-yard-1-29-17-7176I put a new feeder up this week, and it’s apparent I didn’t assemble it too tightly so I’ll have to take it down one of these nights and see if I can make it more secure, but the House Finches seem to be enjoying it.


House Finches

Doesn’t look like there’s going to be a change in the weather for a while so we may as well get used to this.


Black-Capped Chickadee and Downy Woodpecker

I’ll be back in a few with some photos from the wilds of Chicago’s lakefront parks.

Life Goes On

dove-family-11-24-16-0694Life goes on in the Diamond Dove Department, at least. Barely a week and a half ago, on Tuesday the 15th, I became aware of Dudlee and Drew’s new babies – two lovely little Diamond Dovelings. I came home from work and both parents were off the nest Dudlee had built in a mug, with my help. I assumed they had abandoned the nest yet again, as they had two or three times before, because the eggs were not hatching. But this time, instead of abandoned eggs, I saw two good-sized nestlings in their pin feathers. They must have been a week old. One was noticeably larger than the other. I read online that there is a lag of five to seven days between eggs hatching, so that explained the size difference. The pictures directly below are from the 20th, so they kids already had some feathers happening.

By Sunday, the oldest one had fledged! No wonder Dudlee kept craving small nests. She knew she wouldn’t need a lot of room to raise two chicks.


First Fledged Dove Child

I am not used to this at all, having observed finches and budgies procreating for years, never seeing the fledglings until they were nearly as big as their parents, so I am learning a lot from these creatures. It’s a wonderful distraction from the political malaise, a gift of life in the midst of dystopia. It also makes staying at home more attractive. I wonder if the timing of the presidential election — November, with the inauguration postponed until January — was intended to make an uprising less likely, as in when it’s below freezing outside.

dove-kids-11-26-16-0707Anyway, fatherhood has been good to Drew, who had a twisted and overgrown bill that I kept trimming from time to time when I was able to catch him. His bill seems to be normal now as he is feeding his offspring. Not that I detect an awful lot of feeding going on. It seems to be much more sporadic than with the finches, who clamor for food every waking moment. Instead the Diamond Dovelings tend to sit around all day, waiting patiently for a parent to bestow some food on them. I’m not getting into this, it’s totally up to Dudlee and Drew. They must know what they’re doing because the kids are growing exponentially every day, in spite of my perception that they are being somewhat ignored.

Dudlee and Drew seem to be hell-bent on having more children, unfortunately, and I think their timing is off. Not to mention that I think I have enough doves now. But success has gone to their heads and they spend a lot of time flirting. Dudlee has asked me for her mug back several times. I keep telling her she has a family to raise already. Likely wasted effort on my part, but it’s at least nice to see them all waking up together as they were this morning all perched on the microphone cable.

dove-family-11-26-16-0708The four-day weekend had already gone to my head by Thursday, and I could envision retirement being worthwhile if only it was attainable. The relaxation of a long weekend is persuasive. I’ve done all my major cleaning, I made my first loaf of bread in almost a year, playing piano and trying to get back to writing songs with the guitar… But I’m not ready to share that yet, so below are a couple short videos of the Diamond Doves. Drew’s singing to his chicks in the second one.

Yesterday’s weather was better than today’s which was supposed to start out rather pleasant but it’s been chilly and gloomy all day. Nevertheless I went out to the Chicago Portage this morning to see lots of American Tree Sparrows (a couple pictured below) and a few other species. There was evidence of a lot of new fencing, I assume to protect plants. Save for one cyclist, I was the only human present.

House Finches hang out at the Chicago Portage too.

There were perhaps five Downy Woodpeckers. Here’s one.

I always hear more Black-Capped Chickadees than I see but this one wasn’t too skittish.

The duck weed is all gone, so there actually was water underneath it, and there were Mallards in the water.

There were almost as many Dark-Eyed Juncos as Tree Sparrows but they weren’t posing. The overcast contributed to the lack of focus.

deju-11-27-16-4821Two views of the ever-changing but somehow always familiar Chicago Portage.

The statue of Joliet and Marquette wasn’t looking too cheery either.

statue-joliet-marquette-11-27-16-5014I’ll be back. Looking forward to my remaining cataract surgery on Wednesday, hoping to finally start fixing things up sight-wise. Then I’ll have no excuse for not being focused!


Yard Birds

DOWP 1-24-16-0197Not much going on around here. Dull days of winter. But whenever there’s the occasional bright and sunny day, and Sunday was one of them, one must get outside, so before I went for an afternoon walk with Lesa at Miller Meadow, I sat out in the yard albeit rather uncomfortably on an overturned trash can, to be far away enough from the feeders so the birds would come back in, and come back in they did.

First to lead the charge was a female Downy Woodpecker, taking advantage of the fact that the crowd had not arrived yet.

DOWP 1-24-16-0188

Then I saw the White-Breasted Nuthatch who has been visiting this winter, and no sooner did I suggest to him that he bring a friend than a second one appeared, perhaps a female although not easy to tell from these pictures. I think in the second photo below, the female is on the feeder with the House Sparrow above and the male is on the peanut feeder, the male having more prominent black on the crown and nape.

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WBNH 1-24-16-0243This is also the first time I’ve seen these birds on the seed feeders.

WBNH and HOFI 1-24-16-0235WBNH 1-24-16-0290One little Dark-Eyed Junco showed up although I’m afraid due to distance and shadows I didn’t do him much justice.

DEJU 1-24-16-0299There was also one American Tree Sparrow. I think there may have been another one but since I never saw the two at once I can’t be sure. Even in my own little yard birding gets tricky!

ATSP 1-24-16-0314This Tree Sparrow likes the attention.

ATSP 1-24-16-0331After I got back inside, a male Downy Woodpecker flew onto the peanut feeder and I managed to capture this soft-looking image through the window screen.

DOWP 1-24-16-0377Disclaimer and/or Apology Time: Other than work, weather and choir singing distractions I confess to being mesmerized by the current Bernie phenomenon, which only adds to staring-at-a-screen time (I never followed anything like this before, but different stories appear depending on what device you’re using, making for even more distraction).

I got rid of my land line and my cable service last week, but none of that has helped my focus.

(The walk at Miller Meadow in the afternoon was delightful and we saw some birds but they were too far away to photograph. Nothing unusual to report…yet!)

Blizzard Preoccupations

It’s snowing and blowing, travel is forbidden, and after two energetic attempts today, I am not going back outside to move any more snow until tomorrow. So I’m using the storm as an excuse to get caught up with a few loose ends.

House Finch 2-1-15-1732

Below is a link to the YouTube videos, for those who are interested in what came of my first choir participation in the St. Odilo Festival Choir. I sang in the alto section. We all started together and ended together even if there were a couple times we lost it in between… At least we lost it all together. Maybe it’s just as well as there were only four of us. I had an epiphany about this phenomenon while listening to parts of the concert on my way in to work Friday morning. You know how birds all take off together at once as if responding to a single cue out of nowhere? That’s kind of how it was when we all forgot to come in. Nevertheless I think we sometimes sounded quite good; in particular I was pleased by the a capella piece, which was Bruckner’s “Christus Factus Est.”

Also new and exciting, Bill Hilton has posted a complete play-by-play annotated write-up of Operation Rubythroat’s last bird banding expedition in Costa Rica, and you can read all about it at this link.

And now a little word from The Chicago Blizzard of 2015. (These pictures are in color, in case you’re wondering.)

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Juncos actually seem to be enjoying this

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After taking fuzzy pictures through the screened porch windows, I decided a fuzzy video of the birds braving the snow and wind at the feeders might be even better. The snow started out thick and wet and it’s still snowing as I write this.

Dudlee Ann was monitoring the whole weather event from her newest favorite place, the window over the kitchen sink.

IMG_1165And thanks to recent comments on my last post about vultures, I went looking for pictures of a Ruppell’s Griffon Vulture, which I had seen several times in East Africa in November of 2013. I found a couple pictures taken on November 22 in Tanzaniya:

Ruppell's Griffon Vulture 11-22-2013-6822

Ruppell’s Griffon Vulture

Ruppell's Griffon Vulture

Ruppell’s Griffon Vulture

In the process, I realized that I had never finished going through all the pictures from that trip, so I look forward to revisiting those images at some point in time. Not that I’m wishing for another blizzard anytime soon…

Vultures & Storks at Zebra Kill 11-24-13 8529.jpg-2Incidentally, the bird completely covering the kill with its wings spread in the picture above is also the Ruppell’s Griffon.

This excerpt from a webpage of facts about the Ruppell’s Griffon from the National Zoo:

“Ruppell’s griffon is the highest flying bird on record, once spotted at an altitude of over 37, 000 feet in the skies of Africa. From a standing start the Ruppell’s vulture can fly over three miles in six minutes. They can cruise at over 22 miles per hour, and will fly as far as 90 miles from their nest in search of food.”

Maybe now I can try to dig out the car a bit more…so I can move it to the other side of the street tomorrow.

Winter By the Yard

Downy WP 1-4-15-0030I’ve been reading numerous posts on the local list-serve of exotic species to be found with some driving distance. There have been treats such as Sedge Wren, Ivory Gull, and a handful of Snowy Owls. Since I am not presently inclined to go far from home, I have so far spent the new year at home except for going to work on Friday, and things are back to work-normal starting today. Here and there I have managed to take a few photographs of the birds that visit my yard. Predominant are House Sparrows and they come in flocks of up to 40 or more. Often with them are House Finches. It seems all the other species sneak in when there’s a lull in the traffic.

HOSP 1-1-15-9704HOSP 1-1-15-9710

I did manage to get outside a bit yesterday and on New Year’s Day, but yesterday I stood for the most part on the porch and shot through the windows while my neighbor was making some repairs to my porch door, and that is when the Downy Woodpecker, Northern Cardinals and American Goldfinches showed up. Not very clear pictures but you can get an idea of the wintry weather we just started having.

NOCA 1-4-15-9916NOCA 1-4-15-9853

The wind was pretty awful yesterday too, and this morning with the outside temperature around 3 degrees when I left the house, I don’t think I want to know what the wind chill was.

NOCA and HOFI 1-4-15-9925

House Finches with Northern Cardinal

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Female House Finch

Male House Finch

Male House Finch

It’s nice to see the Chickadees again, and hear them too. They always have a comment when it comes to food.

BC Chickadee 1-4-15-0039

I’m always glad to see a Dark-Eyed Junco in the yard. I never know exactly what they’re eating as they tend to stay away from the feeders, so either they’re eating what’s dropped on the ground or they are health fanatics eating only what nature provides.DEJU 1-1-15-9763

This Black-Capped Chickadee ate a little snow.

BC Chickadee 1-4-15-0048

I may be eating snow myself on the way to work tomorrow. We’re supposed to get 1-5 inches sometime after midnight but ending by 5:00 a.m. That means I’ll have to get up even earlier to shovel my walks. That’s okay. Cold as it is, I like being outside before people start their cars and when the birds start waking up.

Looking back, not forward: New Year’s Day 2014…

House Finches

House Finches

The weather exerted such force today it was hard to sit still, although I think without the help of a pot of coffee I might have given in to a long nap just in hope everything would be back to normal when I woke up.

Male Northern Cardinal, through the window

Male Northern Cardinal, through the window

Part of what kept me going was hoping my male cardinal would give me a picture in the snow, not that he ever has. So after I filled the feeders I hung out with the House Finches and Dark-Eyed Juncos for a while, and the Fox Squirrel too, until I could stay outside no longer.

Feeders New Years Day-1158

House Finches at the feeder

Dark-Eyed Junco

Dark-Eyed Junco

Fox Squirrel

Fox Squirrel

Later I went upstairs to get more winter work clothes (yes, it’s January and I’ve been in denial this long) and decided to look out the back to see if there were any birds other than those I had already calculated–only to find the snow falling steadily and squalling miserably.

Yard view from the attic

Yard view from the attic

As the available light deteriorated even further I finally settled down to the task of going through my pictures from the East Africa trip. As of today I have gone through only three days worth of photos from a trip that lasted three weeks!  And I thought I’d be done by now!

One more through the porch windows

But I must say after looking at enough birds like these Bee-Eaters, I wanted to stay with the photos, not face the reality of trudging off to the train in the snow and cold tomorrow morning.

Cinnamon-Chested Bee-Eater

Cinnamon-Chested Bee-Eater

Click on any of the photos for a better view..

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Little Bee-Eater with bug

Hope to return soon with more photos and less snow! …Happy New Year!!

Wednesday’s Feather Quest

Evening Grosbeak IMG_9791_1

Female Evening Grosbeak

I hinted at this with my link to “The Birders Are Coming.” Maybe it was cabin fever to the max, I don’t know. I can’t remember having such a strong urge to chase birds, but even after the long weekend drive for elusive predators, the quest corner I painted myself into hadn’t quite dried yet.

Varied Thrush

Varied Thrush

There have been two birds in the Chicago area, up on the north side, that were probable lifers for me: a female Evening Grosbeak at Rosehill Cemetery, and a Varied Thrush in Evanston. I gave in to impulse on Wednesday, throwing all duty and responsibility to the wind, and joined two other Elles to chase the birds. It seemed likely we would get them as they were still being reported in the same vicinity and several people had already seen them over the course of three days.

Evening Grosbeak IMG_9804_1

And the weather was about to change again from rain to snow and below freezing wind chills, so Wednesday seemed like the last chance. As it turns out, as of this writing the thrush is still present and the Evening Grosbeak might be, although it could not be located this afternoon.

Female Cardinal IMG_9597_1

Before we left, I went out into the yard and took a few pictures of my visitors to see what the light was going to be like.

House Finch IMG_9548_1

That helped only somewhat. The Evening Grosbeak never got good enough light to show off her winter colors and the Varied Thrush was hiding behind lawn furniture and a fence I could barely prop my lens over.

Goldfinches IMG_9928_1

There were a couple nice American Goldfinches at the thrush host’s feeder.

Montrose Beach IMG_9931_1

Finally, a quick check for a Snowy Owl at Montrose Beach on the way home convinced us we’d had enough winter weather for the day.

2013 off to a lazy start…

BC Chickadee IMG_8460_1

I confess, I didn’t get up at the crack of dawn to welcome my First Bird of 2013…but I filled the feeders and the birdbaths last night and hope that was welcome enough. As it turned out, it was a beautiful day: bright sunshine, hardly any wind. Cold, but clear. As much as we need precipitation, I cannot complain about the year starting out sunny.

I did finally manage to get through the rest of my Brazil pictures on flickr anyway and edit them so they have the correct date taken. Of course doing this pulled me back into South America and its birds and renewed my resolve to spend time on the rest of the identification challenges that remain.

In keeping with the Brazilian theme, I celebrated the new year by making farofa to have with my New Year’s dinner. I am pleased with the results and looking forward to further experimentation.

Around two this afternoon, after playing Bach for the birds, I donned long underwear and warm outerwear and went out in the yard to wait for birds to come back to the feeders. Two in the afternoon is not prime time, but I wanted to have the sun behind me since my yard faces west.

BC Chickadee IMG_8459_1

Black-Capped Chickadee

The Black-Capped Chickadees were the first to return. I’m always happy to see them, and Dark-Eyed Juncos…

DE Junco IMG_8475_1

Dark-Eyed Junco

Perhaps best of all was to witness two White-Breasted Nuthatches in the yard simultaneously. I wasn’t sure until today that there were still two, since I never see more than one at a time hanging on the peanut feeder…

WB Nuthatch IMG_8507_1

White-Breasted Nuthatch

WB Nuthatch IMG_8522_1

on the peanut feeder

…unlike the House Sparrows.

House Sparrows IMG_8491_1

The House Finches were more challenging to capture today.

Fem House Finch IMG_8541_1

Female House Finch

Male House Finch IMG_8569_1

Male House Finch


And it was definitely the wrong time of day to see either the Cardinals or the Downy Woodpeckers: they tend to show up early and late.






But here’s a photo of the male Northern Cardinal through the window last weekend.

Cardinal IMG_8089_1

Northern Cardinal

Back inside, I was happy to read in The New York Times “Science Times” section that researchers have discovered birds react emotionally to music like we do. This is something I observed from the very beginning when I started playing music for birds: I was most attracted to them because they seemed to be listening to music much like I do, and that is where our conversation began. Now we have scientific proof. Always a good idea.

It has been a deliciously lazy day and it will be hard to go back to work tomorrow.

White-Breasted Nuthatch IMG_8609_1