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.
I 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.
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.
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.
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.
(All the photographs in this post were taken at Lurie Garden, Millennium Park, Chicago on a couple afternoons last week…and have nothing to do with the content.)
It was a somewhat quiet weekend, with plenty of time to sleep and reflect. I had only one mission, and that was to drive into the city on Saturday morning to take my guitars in to Chicago Fretworks for repair. I have been thinking about doing this for years, only to somehow talk myself out of it with that inner voice that asked, “When are you going to find the time to play?” and knowing full well that after not having played for more years than I care to admit, it would be worse than riding a bicycle after a long absence, for the frustration of trying to build up calluses on my left fingertips alone.
But a number of forces have converged to light the fire under me to start playing my guitars again. Perhaps the most significant force is a need to respond to all the insanity. It has been and will always be wonderful to play piano, but I miss the guitar for the intimacy of cradling an instrument on my lap, with the vibrations of the strings going right through me. This is how I will write songs again. Only this time, they will be songs for birds.
Common Green Darner
I trust the indoor crowd will bear with me while I regain enough facility to sound not too bad. I have fewer expectations of any prowess than I did when I went back to playing piano, so it shouldn’t be too humiliating. Then there lurks in the back of my mind the thought that eventually, weather permitting, I could play music for wild birds again. Even if it means coming downtown on a weekend, I would love to play music for my crows. And by that time have something else to sing for them besides “There is Nothing Like a Crow” to the Rodgers and Hammerstein tune for “There is Nothing Like a Dame.”
The forces that have converged? I am giving credit at this point only to the positive ones. Falling in love with David Wax Museum. Not wishing I was young and on the road again, just finding so much in their music to explore and connect with. The music is infectious, and David Wax’s lyrics are often priceless. Personal Anthems.
Hearing Mavis Staples interviewed twice on NPR: she talked about singing protest songs for Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. The sense that music had a purpose beyond music. I don’t necessarily aim to inspire anyone, but I feel the need to protest the insanity. To make noise. And this is the only true way I know how.
If there can be any silver lining in the disappointing fact that Operation Rubythroat’s excursion to Guatemala in November–which I was looking forward to–has been canceled due to lack of participation, I will have more time to play the guitars and the cost of rebuilding my Guild 12-string will be less painful!
Monarch on Swamp Milkweed
Making music is good for an old body, too. All the pains and inconvenient stiffnesses that were making my life miserable, no doubt in a negative response to the insanity, seem to be floating outward, released, wafting in the air, or in the case of swimming, lost to the water in the pool… I can almost fly. If nothing else, my heart will soar. With the birds.
P.S. The pictures in this post are not related to the topic but I suspect they’re not totally unrelated either?
Apologies for the bad pun. It’s been a busy, fragmented, hot week and a half or so. Also, the past weekend was one long party, with no birds in attendance. I am not used to being much of a social butterfly.
A moth casts a shadow at Lurie Garden
I haven’t been out much during the day either. If I didn’t know better I might think the crows have given up on me, but I suspect it’s lack of the quiet shady spots we used to have, where we could convene without a steady stream of human beings. Pigeons are much less picky about habitat but definitely not used to having their pictures taken.
On the days I have gone out, I have managed to keep amused. One bright spot, for instance, was finding some Monarch Butterflies in Lurie Garden.
There are other interesting pollinators too. I think the wasp below was more black than blue, but lightening it up made it interesting.
One afternoon last week standing outside the northern entrance to Lurie, I heard some earnest chirping and determined it was coming out of the small oak tree before me. There were a couple security guards talking to each other totally oblivious to the Robin’s nest I soon located.
American Robin nestlings
I suspect the Northern Cardinal below is a young bird as well because it seemed to know the peanut was for eating but was perplexed by it anyway.
On hot, boring days at Lake Shore East Park, as long as I could find a bench to sit on, I took to photographing the fountains.
Then a few days ago I was sitting in the shade across from the east side of the Pritzker Pavilion, waiting for crows, and the little bird below darted out of the yews. The shade was so dense it was hard to get a decent picture, but this is the first time I have seen a juvenile Ovenbird at Millennium Park at the end of July. I was so surprised I thought I was going to get a rare bird alert but Ovenbirds breed in this part of the continent so even though I think it was rare for Millennium Park it’s not unlikely. This is the same spot I heard a White-Throated Sparrow singing a couple weeks ago, which is rare, so maybe just going to sit in this spot isn’t such a bad idea. Crows or no crows.
Ovenbird, Millennium Park, 7-27-15
The greatest reward perhaps is still seeing Monarch Butterflies. I have seen fewer than 20 individuals this summer, at least two of them flying around the cement canyons of LaSalle Street. I hope the Swamp Milkweed is making them feel welcome.
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
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
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.
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.
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 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
Adult White-Crowned Sparrow
The goldfinches are still having a great time at Lurie, even if the one below looks less enthusiastic about it.
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
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.
I don’t get out as often as I’d like to during the week, and there are fewer places to go, which should make it easier, I suppose, but it doesn’t. I have been spending most of my mid-afternoons in Lake Shore East Park. Although one morning a couple weeks ago I did get up an hour early and trekked before work through the north part of Jackson Park, Butler Field, and then Lurie Garden in Millennium Park, where the day before Dave Johnson had reported Cape May Warblers in droves. I was lucky to find them still there, foraging in the hazelnut trees.
Cape May Warbler, Lurie Garden, Millennium Park 9-25-14
There were also American Goldfinches plucking seeds from the grasses.
American Goldfinch, Lurie Garden
And an Orange-Crowned Warbler, which at first glance confused me, since I haven’t seem them for a while.
Orange-Crowned Warbler, Lurie Garden
Later that day, I saw a Ruby-Throated Hummingbird at Lake Shore East Park.
Ruby-Throated Hummingbird, Lake Shore East Park, 9-25-14
And Red-Winged Blackbirds enjoying someone’s discarded rice.
Red-Winged Blackbird Takeout, Lake Shore East Park
And a beautiful juvenile White-Crowned Sparrow.
Juvenile White-Crowned Sparrow, Lake Shore East Park
The day before, at Lake Shore East Park, there were several Ruby-Crowned Kinglets.
Ruby-Crowned Kinglet, Lake Shore East Park
And a Brown Thrasher trying to hide behind the branches and almost succeeding.
Brown Thrasher, Lake Shore East Park
This was the last Common Yellowthroat I found this fall.
Common Yellowthroat, Lake Shore East Park
And one of a few Dark-Eyed Juncos that arrived on September 22.
Dark-Eyed Junco, Lake Shore East Park
Also on September 22, the photographs below.
Adult White-Crowned Sparrow
A lingering Blackpoll Warbler.
As the days grow shorter and the weather gets cooler, a new crop of crows has emerged to entertain me with their peanut antics. A short Crow Post is on the way.
The White-Throated Sparrows and their allies have adjusted their diet to berries and seeds as a result of the drop in temperatures. While I still see them scratching around for bugs buried in the dirt, they are getting hungrier. I started feeding the White-Throated Sparrows at 155 N. Wacker Drive the past week and after a couple days they all came flying over to meet me on Friday.
Here’s a little video of one happy customer.
I was also trying to get footage or whatever you call video output of them getting into little arguments over whose birdseed it was. This video’s a bit longer and not terribly clear, given the light limitations I guess. Anyway I put it on YouTube if you’re curious. Yes, there’s a House Sparrow in there too, looking beaten at his own game.
Last week I managed to get photos of one White-Throated Sparrow eating berries which look just like the berries on the hawthorn tree in my backyard. I am still waiting for someone to discover them.
In among all the White-Throated Sparrows every once in a while there is a Song Sparrow or a juvenile White-Crowned Sparrow.
Juvenile White-Crowned Sparrow
Now that we’ve flirted with freezing, it’s warming up a bit again. It will be interesting to see if the fluctuating temperatures cause migrants to linger a bit longer.
Wednesday on my way to work, I visited with White-Throated Sparrows at Union Station and 155 N. Wacker. There were at least a dozen or more at each location, making them easy to see and sometimes photograph. The light is always poor, though, early in the morning at 155 N. Wacker because of the building shadows. Even so, sometimes it’s worth the effort.
So I had this White-Throated Sparrow who was so interested in his worm, he almost forgot about me. Click on the pictures for enlargements.
Here’s a side view of another White-Throated Sparrow. The individual differences between birds always interest me.
Later that afternoon at the Lurie Garden, I caught this White-Throated Sparrow contemplating his next move. The garden must seem like heaven for these guys this time of year.
Of necessity this will be short–I won’t go into my laundry list of excuses–but my theme today was inspired by the Barn Swallows above and below, sunning themselves on the platform at Emiquon National Wildlife Refuge, where I went with friends mainly to see shorebirds over the weekend.
Barn Swallow sunning itself
The Barn Swallow’s posture above reminded me of my Zebra Finches below who love to sit in the afternoon sunshine pouring through the kitchen window.
Zebra Finches in the sunny kitchen window
We visited Chautauqua National Wildlife Refuge first, which is where we saw the most shorebirds, and I’m still going through those distant photos. Even more challenging was trying to get a handle on how many American White Pelicans were enjoying the sunshine and each other’s company. Click on the picture below and tell me if you think it’s fair to estimate 600.
600 or so American White Pelicans at Chautauqua
We stopped by Banner Marsh after Emiquon to see what was up there. Not very much, but lots of Mute Swans, seemingly sunbathing near the shore.
5 Mute Swans at Banner Marsh
And lately on the hotter days downtown, Rock Pigeons have been plunking themselves down on the grass, sunbathing. I suspect many more birds strike this pose but we rarely get to see it. Pigeons living in the city take all public spaces as their living room. Although I did have a couple other pigeons who adjusted their posture to turn their backs on me when I raised my camera. Even a pigeon craves privacy.
Pigeon sunning in Millennium Park
The butterfly below is somewhat out of context but it was a nice addition to the Lurie Garden Purple Coneflowers this past week. Butterflies are getting a lot more attention from me lately because they are few and far between. I have started to see Monarchs, ever so few, but they are not stopping for photographs yet.
I’ll be back. The days are getting shorter – that will force me back inside to my computer!
Okay, this is slightly off-topic, but I found it pretty interesting. I read an article in The New York Times science section about how bees get certain flowers to release their pollen by buzzing at a certain frequency which releases the pollen. It’s a fascinating article. At one point the researcher compares bees to “little tuning forks.” All that buzzing has a reason. Music to my ears.
Of course I have been bemoaning the lack of bees in my yard. Somebody else must be pollinating my tomato plants because they are bearing fruit, but I am not seeing the hoards of bees I used to have on my flowers. And my coneflowers don’t look as lush as usual. Now I know it must be because there are no bees to turn them on.
These pictures were taken yesterday afternoon at the Lurie Garden in Millennium Park. I confess I have been avoiding the parks since The Taste of Chicago began on Wednesday, but the weather was beautiful and I wanted to try out my new Canon 70-300mm lens. I sent the old one away to be fixed because it had stopped focusing after balking and acting up for about a year, but now I’m wondering if I’ll ever want to use it again. Never hurts to have a spare, but this new lens has spoiled me already.
I had to check and see how the new park is coming along…
Lurie was full of flowers, and here are some of my favorites. I also took pictures of the identification boards they update regularly, depending on the season. But the Compass Plant, one of which I photographed, doesn’t appear on either side of the board. Maybe there wasn’t room for everything and they had to leave the Compass Plants out, but they are big and blooming all over Lurie and on the restored prairies too.
Queen of the Prairie
Not many breeding birds were available for photographs, but I did catch this female Red-Winged Blackbird running an errand, and when she flew away the camera caught her reddish epaulets which don’t show very often.
Maybe the subtitle of this post should be “Prairie in the City.”
At the south end of the park, the sculpture garden still blooms.
And as I waited for the light to change on Michigan Avenue on my way back to the office, a saxophonist I have never heard was playing very well with a band recording.
Summer in the City
There are no crows in this post, and that is no accident. They are keeping a very low profile with the summer crowds. But I bet they know where the Waste From The Taste is.
Nicer weather and the tourist influx makes Millennium Park challenging for birdwatching on my lunch hour, but it’s closer to where I work so when I don’t have a lot of time, the park beats sitting in the office. Sometimes having lower expectations brings surprises. One thing is certain: my beloved crows are not hanging out there too much. They are shy of most people and even avoid interacting with me in crowded situations. It’s certainly beneath them to beg along with the park’s summer residents that include Common Grackles and Ring-Billed Gulls in addition to Rock Pigeons and House Sparrows.
On Thursday I made my way over to the Lurie Garden at the south end of Millennium Park, which is in its first glorious phase of a full bloom cycle.
I am particularly fond of Prairie Smoke, which reminds me of cotton candy in its air-blown wispiness. It’s not in the photo above – the plants on the bottom right are Bergamot – but was elsewhere in the garden, and close up below. It’s one of the first flowers to bloom.
On the way back I ran into a couple young Grackles,who had just fledged, by the appearance of their pin feathers.
Common Grackle Fledglings
And the Ring-Billed Gulls were still trying to drum up business. My friend Karen once called them “prima donnas.”
Ring-Billed Gull, begging
More to come from the City Parks. I was planning on birding the Portage this morning early, sort of doing a self-styled breeding bird survey, but one of my brake lines failed last night when I moved my car back to my side of the street, and my car is in the shop. It’s old and rusty, like its owner. 🙂