All Thawed Out

Greater Scaup

Greater Scaup

Even though last week was consistently warmer than the weeks before, it still took a long time to turn the lakefront from ice to water. Some smaller bodies of water are still frozen, but Lake Michigan, at least on the Chicago shore, is now open to ducks. However, as soon as they leave, if not before — although I’m sure the presence of ducks is not the trigger for this event — the yacht club will start putting out the buoys for the boats.

Below is a little photographic ice check timeline.

Ice on 3-9-15

Ice on 3-9-15

Ice on 3-10-15

Ice on 3-10-15

Ice close to shore on 3-12-15

No ice this part of the harbor on 3-12-15 (same dock as 3-9 above)

But ice still farther out on 3-12-15

But ice still farther out on 3-12-15

Of course the light was great on the days when there was not much to photograph but ice.

Canada Geese on the ice, 2-12-15

Canada Geese on the ice, 3-12-15

And even as the ice seemed to be melting steadily all week, on Friday the 13th, as luck would have it, the ice was right up to the shoreline again. I suspect that all the ice that was farther out had floated in to the harbor.

Ice on 3-13-15 (right up to the shoreline!)

Ice on 3-13-15 (right up to the shoreline!)

After the warming weekend, though, ducks were beginning to show up close enough to look at, even if the light wasn’t so wonderful.

Female Red-Breasted Merganser, 3-16-15

Female Red-Breasted Merganser, 3-16-15

Greater Scaup 3-16-15

Greater Scaup 3-16-15

And Ring-Billed Gulls have started coming back in droves.

Ring-Billed Gull 3-16-15

Ring-Billed Gull 3-16-15

By the middle of the week there were some more ducks in the harbor.

Common Goldeneye 3-18-15

Common Goldeneye 3-18-15

COGO 3-17-15-6598

A pair of Common Goldeneyes.

I’ve taken better photos of Red-Breasted Mergansers but I like these guys so much I can’t resist posting this one anyway. After all, I’ve likely never taken his picture before.

Red-Breasted Merganser 3-18-15

Red-Breasted Merganser 3-18-15

The Ring-Billed Gulls are getting ready for the tourist season.

RBGU 3-18-15-6524 RBGU 3-17-15-6562And on land the only newcomer I saw last week was a Common Grackle, but all returns are welcome.

COGR 3-17-15-6648I haven’t been able to get out every day this week but I’ll continue to go when I can and I look forward to documenting whatever arrives..

Down by the River

Herring Gull, Chicago River

Herring Gull, Chicago River

Birds in what’s left of the Loop parks have all but vanished, the lake is still frozen, and so I have been walking along the Chicago River lately for my afternoon break.

Red-Breasted Merganser

Red-Breasted Merganser

Although there’s nothing really new going on, it’s still amazing to see so many Red-Breasted Mergansers and White-Winged Scoters in the river.

Female White-Winged Scoter

Female White-Winged Scoter

This scoter swam below me for a while and then she dove for something.

Diving Fem WW Scoter 2-25-14 5877.jpg-5877

Male White-Winged Scoter

Male White-Winged Scoter

It’s fairly easy to get to the junction where the branches of the river meet. On my last visit there were more Herring Gulls than the usually ubiquitous Ring-Billed.

Ring-Billed Gull

Ring-Billed Gull

At one point two Herring Gulls got into a match over a fish. If nothing else this proves there is something to eat even in the Chicago River (and it’s not from the fancy restaurants alongside it). I have seen huge carp, perhaps the invasive Asian species, sometimes surface in the spring, but nothing that spectacular lately. However if you click on the images below you can almost see what the gull on the left has in his beak.

Herring Gulls Battling Over Fish 2-25-14 5929.jpg-5929Herring Gulls Battling Over Fish 2-25-14 5930.jpg-5930Herring Gulls Battling Over Fish 2-25-14 5931.jpg-5931Herring Gulls Battling Over Fish 2-25-14 5932.jpg-5932

The Riverwalk below street level doesn’t extend along one entire side yet, but there is a sign that looks promising. The stairs leading down to it are blocked off anyway during the inclement weather.

River Walk Sign 2-25-14 5878.jpg-5878

Braving the wind, ice on the bridges.

Dirty Snow on the Sidewalk

Dirty Snow on the Sidewalk

Turning back toward the office, the elevated train “loops” around the city core, giving it its nickname.

The El 2-25-14 6009.jpg-6009

The El forming the Chicago Loop

Beyond the Weather, I think I will remember this winter as the one of White-Winged Scoters and Snowy Owls, from seen very well to barely seen at all.

Female White-Winged Scoter

Female White-Winged Scoter

Afternoon Visitor

Cooper's Hawk on my neighbor's tree

Cooper’s Hawk on my neighbor’s tree

I haven’t been going very far on the weekends through the snow and cold, but I’m still drawn to the outdoors on whatever scale, so I guess that might explain why I have managed to see the local Cooper’s Hawk more frequently this winter. The bird doesn’t always stay for a photograph, but almost two weeks ago I managed to take these.

I first went around the other side of the house to get a picture of the sedum as I have never seen it.

Ice on Sedum Side of House 2-16-14 5575.jpg-5575

Then I ventured around back to see what was going on there. No birds at the feeders, but there was this squirrel eating sunflower seeds by the horse chestnut. The squirrel looks almost like a grey-fox mix to me but it’s most likely a grey squirrel.

Squirrel 2-16-14 5582.jpg-5582

Then I realized the explanation for no birds in the yard was undoubtedly the presence of the Cooper’s Hawk on my neighbor’s roof, next to the dish.

Cooper's Next Door 2-16-14 5610.jpg-5610

It wasn’t a great view but the bird was so close it was hard to resist taking photographs. And then even harder to crop out the dish.

Cooper's Next Door 2-16-14 5615.jpg-5615

When the coop grew tired of not being able to hide there, it flew out front to sit in my neighbor’s tree.

Cooper's Next Door 2-16-14 5722.jpg-5722

I haven’t found any telltale piles of feathers in the yard lately, but I haven’t seen hardly any mourning doves either. It will be interesting to see how many birds survive this winter. There is one benefit to the snow cover, however: I have not seen a certain black and white cat for months.

Weavers or Winter…

Speke's Weaver

Speke’s Weaver

Winter weather is winning. On the way in to work this morning, a bank sign read 7 degrees Fahrenheit or -14 Centigrade, whichever one sounds colder, and on the news they were saying it felt like 6 degrees below zero.

I was going swimming tonight but it just started to snow, the roads are slick and I don’t want to risk it. So I bought gas, dropped a late gift off at a friend’s doorstep and came back home. I’m sure I’ll wake up tomorrow to an accumulation of snow that will need my attention. As much as I love processing my pictures from East Africa, the present reality seems to be demanding attention.

Lake Michigan, 31st Street Beach rocks

Lake Michigan, 31st Street Beach rocks

Below are some formidable icicles from the lakefront, where I traveled to on Christmas Day to see if I could find one of the Snowy Owls that have been reported. I made the same pilgrimage two years ago for the last Snowy Owl irruption and was more successful. I think  saw a Snowy fly by shortly after I reached 31st Street Beach, but the camera wouldn’t cooperate in time, so I have no proof.

Ice formations at 31st Street Beach on Christmas Day

Ice formations at 31st Street Beach on Christmas Day

At Montrose Harbor there were only a few birds, like year-round Black-Capped Chickadees.

Black-Capped Chickadee

Black-Capped Chickadee

Someone had hung a pine cone from a branch and the Chickadee was attracted to it.

Black-Capped Chickadee 12-25-13-0935

Common Mergansers took advantage of what little open water existed. The fishing must still be good.

Female Common Mergansers

Female Common Mergansers

Female Common Mergansers 12-25-13-0915

At Northerly Island, I have always seen a few Canada Geese fly by.

Canada Geese against the Chicago Skyline

Canada Geese against the Chicago Skyline

But now, while the weather continues outside, I’m going back to the Weavers.

Speke's Weaver at nest

Speke’s Weaver at nest

Oh Drear

Cloud Gate IMG_9861_1

Cloud Gate, Millennium Park,Chicago

It’s been pretty boring lately. The weather so-so, the drought continuing, such that the sight of snow on my front steps Friday morning came as a complete shock, like what is this stuff?

Snow Flurries IMG_9843_1

Although at times it looked like it could get serious it really never amounted to much.

Gulls Far Out IMG_9741_1

Ice on Lake Michigan

If it was hard to focus my mind on anything, it was equally difficult to get the camera to focus on anything. No light, no color, blah, blah, blah.

Ice IMG_9724_1

Yet it’s still better to be outside than to be stuck inside, so every day I continued to search for some meaning.

First Snow IMG_9882_1

View from the 46th floor…

Even if it was through the office windows.

First Snow IMG_9899_1

The snow came the next morning and covered up the ice.

First Snow IMG_9891_1

Snow also affords more places to stash peanuts.

Flurries IMG_9810_1

The white stuff only lasted a day, and melted away.

Stay tuned, my frustration with cabin fever and boredom eventually gave way to a couple chases.

First January Thaw

Lake Michigan Lighthouse IMG_9497_1

Gulls on the ice by the lighthouse, Monroe Harbor

It almost seems impossible that we went from 50 degrees Fahrenheit to freezing and back out again last week. Especially as I sit inside today avoiding a wind-chill of 7 degrees F. below zero. I visited the lakefront almost every workday this past week, monitoring the thaw. Although the weather in Chicago is still a primary topic of conversation, it is clouded by the perception that with climate change, anything could happen and whatever it is, it will most likely be weird.

Here is a Ring-Billed Gull testing the ice closer to the shoreline.

Ring-Billed Gull IMG_9517_1

A little piece of ice made for two Canada Geese.

Standing on Ice IMG_9601_1

And here’s the same Ring-Billed Gull joined by a Herring Gull (yawning in this picture), who was kind enough to stand close enough to offer a credible size comparison.

Herring & Ring Billed Gulls IMG_9532_1

A couple days later, the ice had melted enough to accommodate Red-Breasted Mergansers closer in.

Red-Breasted Mergansers IMG_8939_1

Male Red-Breasted Mergansers

Friday morning I went down early before work, and I always see the sun just starting to come up over the lake before I get to it. For the heck of it I stopped in the breaking dawn to see if I could get a picture of the sun coming up through the trees. Without a tripod this shot was never meant to happen, but I kind of like the surreal effect anyway.

Sunrise IMG_8845_1

A Common Goldeneye male…

Common Goldeneye IMG_8874_1

The picture I did finally get of the sunrise…

Sunrise IMG_8862_1

A crow over the water…

Crow on the Water IMG_8917_1

and several Common and Red-Breasted Mergansers in flight.

Mergs in Flight IMG_8966_1

These three Herring Gulls in various stages of plumage complement the ice in various stages of thaw. That’s a female Red-Breasted Merganser in the background.

Herring Gulls on the Ice IMG_8976_1

And here’s the White-Throated Sparrow who hangs out in the hedges by the yacht club.

WT Sparrow IMG_9458_1

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.

Between ice and open water

This on-again, off-again winter, hurried down to the lakefront to see the ice before it melts away.

Birds gather farther away from the shoreline in the open water. I could make out the Canada Geese, Common Mergansers and Herring Gulls but missed the reported Scaup and Snowy Owl Friday morning.

The ice cover has a moonscape look to it.

The fissures create unusual patterns as the water laps up in between the seams, from smooth to jagged like broken glass.

A crow on the lakefront.

And White-Wing absconding with her hot dog reward.

Yesterday I visited Brookfield Zoo. There’s a little lake at the edges of the zoo grounds by the Salt Creek, where a portion of the water is kept open.

A Hooded Merganser.

The female Hooded Merganser. Female Mergansers in general always look like they were just at the hairdresser.

A Northern Shoveler barely stood out among the Mallards.

Adding the only musical note to this post, the Trumpeter Swan. And trumpet he did.

A Red-Bellied Woodpecker.

Away from the lake, but outdoors in the cement pond area, the preening American White Pelicans have the last word.