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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Thoughts on Songs for Birds

Painted Lady

Painted Lady

(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.

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Clouded Sulphur

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

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.”

Twelve-Spotted Skimmer

Twelve-Spotted Skimmer

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.

American Lady

American Lady

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

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?

Wasps in the Rattlesnake Master

Wasps in the Rattlesnake Master

Post-pourri

Comma  7-23-15-7983Apologies 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.

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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.

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ROPI 7-14-15-7441ROPI 7-24-15-8001On 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.

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There are other interesting pollinators too. I think the wasp below was more black than blue, but lightening it up made it interesting.

Lurie Millennium 7-15-15-7549One 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.

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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.

NOCA 7-14-15-7468NOCA 7-14-15-7460On 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.

Fountain LSE 7-07-15-6698Fountain LSE 7-15-15-7502Then 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.

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Ovenbird, Millennium Park, 7-27-15

OVEN 7-27-15-8022The 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.

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A Rare Visitor and a Lifer

Harris's Sparrow, Lurie Garden, Millennium Park

Harris’s Sparrow, Lurie Garden, Millennium Park

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

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

Harris’s Sparrow with iPhone

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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.

Harris's Sparrow

Harris’s Sparrow

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.

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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

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

Juvenile White-Crowned Sparrow

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Adult White-Crowned Sparrow

Adult White-Crowned Sparrow

White-Throated Sparrow

White-Throated Sparrow

The goldfinches are still having a great time at Lurie, even if the one below looks less enthusiastic about it.

American Goldfinch

American Goldfinch

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

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.

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Lakefront Parks Fall Recap

Ring-Billed Gull, Grant Park

Ring-Billed Gull, Grant Park

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

Cape May Warbler, Lurie Garden, Millennium Park 9-25-14

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There were also American Goldfinches plucking seeds from the grasses.

American Goldfinch, Lurie Garden

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

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

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

Red-Winged Blackbird Takeout, Lake Shore East Park

And a beautiful juvenile White-Crowned Sparrow.

Juvenile White-Crowned Sparrow, Lake Shore East Park

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

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

Brown Thrasher, Lake Shore East Park

This was the last Common Yellowthroat I found this fall.

Common Yellowthroat, Lake Shore East Park

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

Dark-Eyed Junco, Lake Shore East Park

Also on September 22, the photographs below.

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Adult White-Crowned Sparrow

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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.

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Running Out of Bugs

White-Throated Sparrow, Lurie Garden

White-Throated Sparrow, Lurie Garden

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.

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In among all the White-Throated Sparrows every once in a while there is a Song Sparrow or a juvenile White-Crowned Sparrow.

Song Sparrow

Song Sparrow

Juvenile White-Crowned Sparrow

Juvenile White-Crowned Sparrow

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Song 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.

Early Bird Gets Worm

Tasty Bug 1 IMG_9672_1

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.

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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.

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Here’s a side view of another White-Throated Sparrow. The individual differences between birds always interest me.

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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.

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More sparrows to come.