Tuesday afternoon, before the rains came, I got a chance to go to Lake Shore East Park and visit with the Crows. There were two fledglings present. I expected to see them because I had already seen my first fledgling crow while sitting in the office last week: the Fire Escape Crow was taking one of its youngster for its first trip to the zoo, meaning the fire escapes that go up the sides of two buildings facing each other in an alley. If you are a Crow, you can hop from one level to the next and watch the people in cages inside.
So I had preening and flying Crows at Lake Shore East Park, and of course we had peanuts, but I was most intrigued by these two very young-looking fledged kids who were pretty quiet, a lot of just checking things out with those big blue eyes.
And it was nice to get a couple flight shots, seems to be easier now that I finally figured out the back button auto focus, I barely tried. Love when the feathers look like they’re dripping down.
On the way back from Lake Shore East I caught a Red Admiral on a flower in Millennium Park.
And the cicada below was sitting on a wall underneath the locust trees still left after the Maggie Daley remodeling. It almost looks like a fledgling to me.
One more Flying Crow shot almost out of the frame.
Lots more coming when I get around to it. It’s a toss up these days as to where one spends more time, between sweat and air-conditioning. 🙂
Another brief post devoted to one bird, the Magnolia Warbler, which I finally saw well on Thursday morning. I got up at 3:40 AM to catch an early train downtown so I could bird the parks for nearly a couple hours, just to test my perception that there were fewer migrants than previous years.
My perception is correct, I think, based on several factors. The populations of neotropical migrants are already in a downward spiral, and the effects of habitat loss and climate change are tipping the scales. Habitat for stopovers during migration is just as critical as breeding and wintering habitat. Locally, the abrupt changes on the downtown lakefront due to “improvements” have not helped to support migrants. Although I think eventually the pockets of recently planted natural landscaping will offer more respite, it takes years for plants to establish themselves and for the birds to know they can rely on them. Birds tend to return to places that have proven good for them before. When those places disappear, birds have to go somewhere else.
So from the reports I was getting while stuck in the office, the party invitations had already gone out and most of the migrant action was at Montrose Point, also known as the Magic Hedge, which is understandable and predictable, but frustrating when you know you can’t get there to see it.
This bird was among a few other species in the south sculpture garden at Millennium Park, where only a few years ago the planted pines would light up with brightly colored warblers resembling a Christmas tree (I give all credit for that sentiment to my friend David Johnson). For a moment I could almost trick myself into thinking it was happening again.
Magnolia Warblers, affectionately nicknamed “Maggies,” are usually quite conspicuous and I have always found the males happy to engage with the camera. So I was able to get a few halfway decent shots of this backlit but beautiful guy who was otherwise zooming in and out of the pine needles seeking insects.
I got a break today from the migrant search as the weather has dictated moderation. Our temperatures plummeted yesterday about 35 degrees and the forecast for today is intermittent rain with thunderstorms likely. With any luck I’ll be able to work in the yard a bit in between downpours. But it was nice to “sleep in” for a change on a Saturday, – until my indoor crowd woke me up at 6:00, a full half hour or so after sunrise when they began to greet the day vocally. Someday I have to be awake enough to record the indoor dawn chorus…
Great Horned Owl on nest, Salt Creek Forest Preserve, Cook County
I started writing this post on March 1. WFMT’s Carl Grapentine kicked off March 1’s morning program by playing, what else? Various marches. I was just getting over February.
The end of February was sufficiently balmy to lock it into the record books with January as being the first time both months went without snow in Chicago.
I birded with my friend Susan last Sunday. We went to Bemis Woods South and the Salt Creek Forest Preserve. It was so quiet I didn’t bother to do a list. We were about to give up on the Salt Creek portion when a man walking in the opposite direction told us to look for an owl, so we continued. The Great Horned Owl at the top of this post made the day. Its nest was easily seen from the trail, and it sat and watched as people went by.
Two more birds from Bemis below, a White-Breasted Nuthatch and Red-Bellied Woodpecker.
March came in like the proverbial lion, returning to chilly, windy temperatures. My reward for venturing out of the office last week was to see my first Yellow-Rumped Warbler in Millennium Park. Nothing rare, but an earliest first for me.
It’s a busy time of year for the birds, as they prepare for spring. Today I visited the Chicago Portage, and although by the time I got there the sunny start was disappearing, and the number of Canada Geese and Mallards was increasing, and there were some more unusual visitors in the air, like the Bald Eagle below with nesting material and a small flock of Sandhill Cranes. The Sandhills were oddly quiet.
The Bald Eagle was flying east, but I have no idea where the nest might be. That direction was industrial, with the Sanitary and Ship Canal.
Saw and heard my first male Red-Winged Blackbirds today at the Portage, where they have come to establish territories.
There were maybe 40 Mallards spread out wherever there was water, and 5 pair of Canada Geese were checking out nesting spots. I haven’t seen any banded geese this year.
Other than the Red-Winged Blackbirds there were very few passerines, with the exception of a few American Robins and European Starlings. I heard a Song Sparrow, Chickadees, Killdeer, and a couple Downy Woodpeckers were flitting about.
The last Downy Woodpecker I photographed was last week in Millennium Park.
Also present that day, a couple Northern Cardinals and the White-Throated Sparrows who literally yelled their calls from the bushes when they saw me approach our favorite spot.
More Portage views…
I hope to be back once more if possible, with an update on my indoor crowd – before I leave for a quick trip to Panama. I’ve been planning this trip for months and unbelievably, all of a sudden it’s here.
Thanks to you all for checking in. Until next time… Peace and Think Spring.
Today may be Monday, but it was also a beautiful day, with ample sunshine at least in the morning and early afternoon hours, and we warmed up to 54 degrees, which is downright balmy. So I went for a walk this afternoon in search of…birds.
Unlike my most recent visits, there were no Cardinals or White-Throated Sparrows to be seen, although I heard one or two. The Black-Capped Chickadees were more vocal but hiding.
I checked the two usual places in Millennium Park before I set off for the Cancer Survivors Garden and then as I approached. I thought I saw four large black birds perched in a tree down at the southeast end. Could it be…?
Yes, they were Crows. And there they sat, silent and still. I wondered if maybe one of them was the individual that had flown by on Thursday and since today was such a nice day, it gathered friends to hang out with to see if I was for real.
I put peanuts and some pretty-stale-by-now Birdz cookies at the base of the tree they were in. And the Crows just sat there in the tree, still, silent.
I went to a far bench where I could sit and watch them, and they remained stone-faced. After a minute or two I decided I should probably go back to work. It was only as I started walking away, they all followed me.
I didn’t mind being tricked out of more treats. I put peanuts and the rest of the stale cookies at the base of one of the trees where we used to hang out, and sat down and watched them party. Two Chickadees showed up and also got to work on some birdseed. The Crows started to call a little bit. It was like seeing old friends and picking up right where we left off.
All I can hope for is that this is not a singular occurrence and that we meet again on a regular basis. I realize I have to hold up my end too: it’s up to me to show up more often as well.
Spring is coming.
In case you’re wondering, we didn’t talk politics. In fact it occurred to me later that the Crows really don’t like crowds, and maybe the protests and marches kept them away, so it was only fitting they had me to themselves for our reunion.
This really has nothing to do with Groundhog Day except that, according to the official Groundhog, we are in for 6 more weeks of winter. I can tell you that as annoying as that prospect might be, it’s nothing compared to dreading the “what next?” incredulity of news coming from the nation’s capitol.
The Northern Cardinals have been hanging out at the northwest corner of Millennium Park by the entrance to the Boeing Gallery.
This is not going to be a political rant, indeed, I’m trying to escape our new reality for a few moments of sanity, as long as birds are still around to help. Sometimes I have to wait a while before the birds show up, but eventually they do. All these photos are from the last week or so, Millennium and Maggie Daley parks in downtown Chicago.
Both colorations of White-Throated Sparrow
I haven’t seen my Crow Friends downtown for what seems like months and probably is. At least too many weeks.Here we had been spending winters together, but this winter they have all disappeared. I am all but lost because, especially when life gets too confusing, the crows are of invaluable comfort and perspicacity. I live in hope that they return in the spring. I think they will. Where they have gone for a retreat, I have absolutely no idea. But in what seemed like an omen, as the sight of a crow often does, Thursday as I sat quietly on bench at the Cancer Survivors Garden, one crow flew silently across the sky going north, and did not stop or acknowledge my calls, but still the sight of it gave me hope. I was so hopeful I almost forgot to take a quick picture for posterity.
The Cancer Survivors Garden which has now been absorbed by Maggie Daley Park is for the most part asleep for the winter, with no birds present. I suspect every last berry has been picked off of every last bush.
The usual suspects are still around elsewhere. White-Throated Sparrows usually call before I see them, but if I stop with some treats they come out fearlessly. It’s the City Sparrow-Country Sparrow phenomenon again, like the City Mouse and the Country Mouse. The White-Throated Sparrows in Chicago’s Loop parks have likely learned how to take advantage of human generosity from the House Sparrows that honed it down to a fine art.
The Black-Capped Chickadees are good at this too but they often move so quickly they’re hard to catch with the camera.
Dark-Eyed Juncos are still around too, not so many, perhaps, and on a dark background on a dark day, well, here you have it, but I was lucky to catch the one on the left with its tail feathers spread out, as you usually don’t see the white feathers except when they’re flying away from you.
And then there are those moments when we bond.
One of the White-Throated Sparrows was starting to sing last week. Could have been this guy.
For humans, the ice rink is a popular pastime these days.
And another popular pastime, below.
Unless something newsworthy occurs in the meantime, I’ll be back next with more from the Galapagos.
Inertia beckons. The fog was thick on Thursday when I visited Millennium Park, but it was even thicker this morning when Lesa and I decided to try birding the Palos area.
Downy Woodpecker, McGinnis Slough
McGinnis Slough was fairly quiet except for Canada Geese that kept flying over. We did see the outline of perhaps 500 or so in the water except we could barely make out their shapes in the fog. There were American Tree Sparrows on the ground not far from the parking lot.
We did manage to see several Common Mergansers at the south end of the preserve. The shot of the geese flying overhead gives you an idea of how foggy it was.
We drove over to the Little Red Schoolhouse to see birds at the feeders, if nothing else, and true to Lesa’s prediction, there were two Tufted Titmice.
We also had our only White-Throated Sparrow at the Schoolhouse. There’s an American Tree Sparrow behind it.
Perhaps the brightest feature at the Schoolhouse was the fungus growing below.
Here are a few pictures from Thursday, downtown at Millennium Park. There are perhaps 20 or 30 White-Throated Sparrows distributed in several areas. Below are two that came for the birdseed I had brought with me.
American Robins are starting to show up here and there. They never really go completely away but they associate loosely in flocks in the winter.
European Starlings are returning too. They used to overwinter but the last few years I have noticed their absence, so they must be migrating a bit for a while.
Those tough year-round city natives, Rock Pigeons, are always somewhere in the Loop. Below, two pied pigeons.
Individually they’re really unique. But I have to be careful not to pay too much attention to them or they’ll think I’m going to feed them.
This Robin was interesting too. How much color can I get out of any bird in this light?
The forecast is for cooler temperatures, rain turning to snow, winter isn’t over yet. But this week I heard some bird song from a Black-Capped Chickadee, an American Robin and a Northern Cardinal. That gives me hope.
Well, the Spring Warbler Migration has been in some kind of full swing, in fits and starts, depending on the weather and, for me, my work schedule…
I have more photos of more birds to process but I wanted to share some images taken on various days in different places in and around the Chicago Loop. I think someone should come up with a set of colors named after these birds, like “Wilson’s Warbler Yellow” and “Canada Warbler Blue.”
The male American Redstarts below show a second-or-more year male (the bright orange, black and white guy) and a first year male who has only a hint of that orange going on his flank but was happy to confirm his Redstartness by flashing his tail.
American Redstart, Lake Shore East Park
American Redstart, Millennium Park
I had to dig hard to get the pictures of the Canada Warbler below. He was buried well into this flowering tree in Lake Shore East Park but we managed to communicate through a tiny window. Click on the pictures to see them better.
Below, Black-and-White Warblers, male and female, both seen in Millennium Park on different days. The female is in the lower right photograph.
I adore Wilson’s Warblers with their little black caps. This guy was flitting about in the trees looking for insects at Lake Shore East Park on Monday afternoon.
I have seen several Ovenbirds but they have not been volunteering for pictures. I barely caught the one below off guard.
After all the Yellow-Rumped Warblers appear to have moved on, below is a female. You can make a comparison to the male below her.
Common as they are, Common Yellowthroats are still pretty.
I had too many pictures of this Magnolia Warbler to choose from, so here’s another.
I’ll be back with more Warblers and other birds of 2016 Spring Migration.
I usually miss these exciting events because I’m at work, but I decided it was crazy not to walk a few blocks over to Millennium Park yesterday to see this bird which I first saw in Washington State last fall. Below is the one I saw much better there. Although it looks as if the light wasn’t any better!
However, in spite of the overcast and the fact the bird was flitting about at the top of very tall crabapple trees, the blossoms of which were snowing on the sidewalk, I managed to get a few shots.
These birds belong west of the Rockies and go up to British Columbia and the Yukon to breed. So this constitutes a Rare Bird Alert. And it’s also likely this warbler will be around for a little while, until more favorable winds than the ones that blew it off track occur. The Townsend’s was reported still being seen this morning at 6:30 AM. If there’s any chance for me to get out this afternoon I’ll likely try to find it again. Could be just as easy as yesterday when I saw three people with binoculars staring into the trees.
Below is a Nashville Warbler that was also in these tree tops.
Beyond that I discovered scores of White-Throated Sparrows hanging out in a planted area of Maggie Daley Park, so maybe there will be some recreated habitat after a while.
The weekend birding prospects look very iffy with clouds and rain periodically, so I’m trying to psyche myself up for coming downtown an hour earlier Monday morning when sunshine and a bit more warmth is predicted.
As planned, I got out to Millennium Park again on Friday, with pretty much the same menu options. The Birdz Cookies were one week older, but the Crows didn’t seem to mind. The snow was for the most part gone and the sun poked out from behind the clouds every now and then.
The squirrels may turn their noses up at hot dogs, but they like the Birdz Cookies.
There were a lot more birds than last time. See if you can pick out the White-Throated Sparrow among these House Sparrows.
Visitors included a male Northern Cardinal and a couple Black-Capped Chickadees.
But what I really wasn’t expecting to see was a Brown Thrasher! They normally start showing up around April.
I knew this was going to make my list exciting so I was that much more pleased when the Thrasher gave me several good pictures.
The photographic data I submitted to ebird was more than sufficient. I found it funny though that the Thrasher was the only sighting on the Rare Bird Alert for the entire county on Friday.
What I suspect is going on with the Thrasher is that it is expanding its year-round range, which now cuts off at the southern tip of Illinois. This is likely the effect of global warming. So the data is important for that reason alone. This particular bird might be related to the male declaring his territory near the BP Bridge a couple years ago.
What I didn’t know about Brown Thrashers is that they eat seeds, so that explains why the bird came back to explore the food some more.
The crows got their fill of hot dogs.
On the way back I stopped at the Boeing sculpture garden and saw two beautiful female Northern Cardinals and a couple more White-Throated Sparrows.
So even though I hardly get out during the week, it’s still possible to find something unexpected. This is part of the magical attraction to birding. You can never predict what will happen.
The weather finally turned cold enough last week to warrant baking the Birdz Cookies, which have gone through several iterations over time. I have managed to find a way to cut down on the sugar content and increase the peanut butter, which suits the Crows just fine.
I was quite pleased that the Crows went for the cookies first, saving the hot dogs and peanuts for later. So I guess baking cookies is the way to a Crow’s heart…
There were a few White-Throated Sparrows too. It still amuses me that they have chosen Millennium Park for a winter habitat, but I suspect they picked up lots of tips from the House Sparrows and are able to get enough food and shelter to make a go of it. On this day there was only one individual available for pictures.
I haven’t been out to see the Crows all week but I’m going to visit them today. Very chilly today but we are supposed to have a two-day warming trend.
Until the next post, I leave you with a few more pictures from last Friday. It’s very likely the Crows are paying attention while I’m posting this and salivating in advance.