May Migration Memories

Canada Warbler (female)

It’s hard to believe but spring passerine migration has come and gone again. I never made it to the lakefront, where I’m sure most of the migrants coming through the city were. The trees in the park near my office were late in leafing out, and I was beginning to wonder if I would ever see any warblers, and then, the last two days of May, there were a few pretty birds in that last push.

I took all these photographs trying out my new mirrorless camera. The purchase was inspired by the fact that one guide and one participant were using the Sony RX10 on the Texas trip, so I took that fact alone as a recommendation. I really haven’t had time to investigate all the features, but it’s more compact and easier to carry than my Canon 70D with the 300mm lens attached, so I have this now for situations when I don’t want to carry quite as much gear.

Eastern Towhee

After all the Hermit Thrushes that were in the park weeks before (not as many as last year, but I think I got pictures with the other camera…), I was surprised to see this Wood Thrush on May 30, after I had gone back to try to get a picture of the Eastern Towhee above who showed up on May 29 but eluded my efforts.

White-throated Sparrows were more prevalent in April – they seem to be all gone now

More shots of the Canada Warbler. She was in the park for two days. I often think that someone should name shades of yellow after particular warblers, but the steel-blue gray back of a Canada Warbler always stands out for me.

I adore Wilson’s Warblers – because they tend to move more slowly and deliberately in the trees! And I recognize Wilson’s Yellow, which is a good thing because I don’t always get to see that trademark skullcap.

It was especially challenging to get a photograph of this male Mourning Warbler. Usually they are closer to the ground, but this guy was up in the trees after their burst of foliage attracted just the bugs or worms he was looking for.

Mourning Warbler

Was surprised to see this flycatcher on May 30. Even more surprised to get a picture of it.

One of the last Ovenbirds – they were on the ground in the park for at least two weeks before the end of May

I don’t expect to see much along the Chicago River in the next month or two, save a Ring-Billed Gull or Herring Gull, or the occasional Mallard. Every once in a while there is a Black-Crowned Night-Heron making its way slowly along the river. But birds move and there’s always the possibility of a surprise somewhere.

I have many pictures I want to share from several Portage visits, and of course I will get back to the Texas adventure as soon as possible. Looking for more space in my non-blogging life. Survived the annual choir appreciation dinner and talent show Wednesday — the offerings from the choir members were outstanding and seem to get better and more varied every year. The “survival” part was debuting a flute-and-piano piece with my flutist extraordinaire friend Linda Rios, based on a melody I had written 50 (?) years ago to the lyrics of a Robert Frost poem, “The Vindictives.” Which has led me back to Frost and poetry in general. Looking for my next melody to show up sooner than another 50 years …And I hope to be back to this page soon!

On-Again-Spring Migration

Female Mourning Warbler, Columbus Park

As we climb back out of yet another spell of wintry, inclement weather, I have to wonder what effect this fitful spring is having on the migrants we are all too happy to observe. I have had a Swainson’s Thrush in my yard the last two days. I’m happy to provide for this bird and maybe it doesn’t have too much farther to go to get to its breeding grounds, but likely it will be dodging more storms on its way.

Last Saturday I attended a small informal walk at Columbus Park and then went to the Portage. Sunday birding was off the table, as I committed to choir-singing all day. Here it is Wednesday: I just finished going through these pictures last night. I will be leading one more walk this Saturday at the Portage if the current “morning thunderstorms” forecast does not pan out. It’s ever crazier to be paying attention to the forecast when it changes every five minutes, but I can’t help it.

Black-crowned Night-Heron, Columbus Park

It’s always nice to see the herons at this location. My list of species totaled 32 which is not spectacular but it was great to have sunshine which the birds were enjoying too. I’ll do a separate post about the Portage later.

Red-winged Blackbird

This is the first time I’ve seen Wood Ducks hanging out on the lawn…but the Mallard was quite comfortably snoozing.

There are two Spotted Sandpipers in the photograph below the ducks, but the second one is a bit harder to see…

Spotted Sandpipers

I found the Philadelphia Vireo in my photographs last night. A surprise to me as I don’t think I’ve ever taken a picture of one before.

One more of the Mourning Warbler…

So this is the time of year when I have more photographs than I have time to post… Looking forward to the holiday weekend and hoping it’s not raining too much so I can get a handle on the rapidly increasing jungle that is my yard and maybe see some more birds.

A Bird in the Hand

Mourning Warbler

Mourning Warbler

As I start to go through the pictures from Costa Rica, some of the best bird images are invariably closeups of birds shown to us by Dr. Bill Hilton Jr. These were invaluable teaching moments on the part of Bill and the birds themselves.

Female Indigo Bunting

Female Indigo Bunting

Although the focus of the Operation Rubythroat trip to chayote fields in Ujarras Valley, Costa Rica, was ultimately to trap, band and release as many Ruby-Throated Hummingbirds as possible over six days in the field (more about all this in a future post), invariably, other birds sometimes got trapped in the nets. Any bird trapped was a potential teaching opportunity. Neotropical migrants were retained for banding. But after we had seen a species native to Costa Rica once at the banding table, which is where we gathered for these demonstrations, all future caught birds of that species were immediately released.

Bananaquit

Bananaquit

With field guides in hand, we studied the birds until we were able to identify the species. Bill would only help by pointing out various field marks, but he also elaborated on other features you might never see unless you had the bird in your hand. Some species were familiar, but the opportunity to study them so closely was absolutely phenomenal. For those who are squeamish about the trapping and handling, I admit I once was too, but Bill treats the birds with the utmost respect and care. You can go to a museum and study skins, but for color and presence there is nothing like a live bird.

Blue-Grey Tanager

Blue-Grey Tanager

I have seen Blue-Grey Tanagers virtually every time I have visited the American tropics. They are ubiquitous and easy to identify. But I have never seen a Blue-Grey Tanager like this before.Blue-Grey Tanager 11-10-14-9026

The afternoons invariably turned cloudy and sometimes rainy, which made taking pictures of other birds anything from challenging to impossible. Nevertheless I managed to get some good photographs, and I will be back with many more.

These are just a sampling of some of the earliest birds we saw in the hand, and I will be back with others, as well as eventually adding pictures to my flickr page.

House Wren - the same species, but not the same population we have at home

House Wren – the same species, but not the same population we have at home

As for the timing of this post, I woke up in the middle of the night thinking about the past week. Sleep has been erratic at best, and I’ve been emotionally exhausted. I went to bed early last night, so I guess it’s not altogether strange that I am awake at 3:00 a.m. Trying to go back to sleep I started reviewing the past week, and that wasn’t all good, so I shifted my thoughts to things I want to accomplish, which woke me up even more. When I started thinking about this post which I started to work on last night before I conked out on the futon, it seemed prudent to just wake up and finish the post. I apologize for any detectible grogginess. I think I’ll grab a drink of water and go back to sleep for a couple hours.

Yellow Warbler

Yellow Warbler

Yellow Warblers and Tennessee Warblers were the most-frequently-caught neotropical migrants. At some point, we had caught so many Tennessee Warblers, we released them from the nets without banding them.

Tennesee Warbler

Tennessee Warbler

Tyrant Flycatchers can be confusing.

A Yellow-Bellied Elaenia, looking every inch the Tyrant Flycatcher it is

A Yellow-Bellied Elaenia, looking every inch the Tyrant Flycatcher it is

Yellow-Bellied Elaenia

Yellow-Bellied Elaenia

One more of the Blue-Grey Tanager, up close and personal.

Blue-Grey Tanager 11-10-14-9068

 

Birds on the Brain

Mourning Warbler, LaBagh Woods

Mourning Warbler, LaBagh Woods

All the research done lately points to people finally discovering that birds are indeed a lot smarter than we ever gave them credit for. My personal theory is that somewhere along the line people realized certain birds were smarter than they were and started on that “bird-brain” campaign to make them appear inferior. Now if somebody calls you Bird Brain, take it as a compliment!

Magnolia Warbler, LaBagh

Magnolia Warbler, LaBagh

For all the attention I’ve been paying to birds lately I’d like to think some of their smarts have rubbed off on me… But it’s hard to think about anything else, so I don’t know how that computes.

Female Black-Throated Blue Warbler, LaBagh

Female Black-Throated Blue Warbler, LaBagh

This post features photographs of warblers taken late last week downtown and at LaBagh Woods Forest Preserve on Sunday. The Black-Throated Blue above came as a surprise when I was going through the photos last night, as it was in a small flock containing Wilson’s and Magnolias and I was just trying to capture anything that moved.

Wilson's Warbler, LaBagh

Wilson’s Warbler, LaBagh

The morning started out very slow at LaBagh, it was cool and cloudy, but I stuck it out and later as the sun came out the birds did too.

Chestnut-Sided Warbler, LaBagh

Chestnut-Sided Warbler, LaBagh

We had two days of hot spring and now we’re having cold, almost March-like weather. So I’m trying to cheer myself up a little bit with brightly-colored birds.

Cape May Warbler, Aon Building

Cape May Warbler, Aon Building

Perhaps two of the best were downtown last Thursday at the Aon Building.

Blackpoll Warbler, Aon Building

Blackpoll Warbler, Aon Building

Some of these guys don’t appear fully molted out into their brightest colors, but it has been a long time since I’ve seen a Golden-Winged Warbler.

Golden-Winged Warbler, LaBagh

Female Golden-Winged Warbler, LaBagh

The flowers are all gone from these trees now, but for a moment we had spring.

BPWA Aon 5-9-14.jpg-9632

There are more photos to discover, and I hope to be back with them soon. In a way it’s good the weather is so awful I’m not out taking more pictures, so I get a little catch-up time.

 

Skulkers and Flycatchers

Tennessee Warbler

Tennessee Warbler, Millennium Park

Still coming down from a weekend of intense but wonderful birding in Michigan. I might have managed a post Tuesday night were it not for a power outage around 8:00 p.m. that lasted three-plus hours. But it turned out to be an unexpected opportunity to catch up on some sleep, after whispering admonitions to the house birds to stay perched and sleep through the thunder and lightning.

Least Flycatcher

Least Flycatcher, Millennium Park

So I got up early yesterday morning and went to Millennium Park, dodging the imminent rain drops. Flycatchers were abundant, as reported from other lakefront locations.

Alder Flycatcher

Alder Flycatcher?

Anyway here are some birds I encountered yesterday morning and later in the afternoon at Lake Shore East Park. I think the bird above is an Alder Flycatcher, but he didn’t say anything, so technically I should call him “Empidonax Species.”

The real surprises, or I suppose you could say wish-list possibilities, appeared in Lake Shore East Park yesterday afternoon. I went back this morning and could not find them… One was the prized Connecticut Warbler, skulking around in dark places: I guess the photograph below will have to do for now.

Connecticut Warbler

Connecticut Warbler, Lake Shore East Park

Add a female Common Yellowthroat. Perhaps she is the mate of the male who was singing yesterday and again this morning. She is the least uncommon of the three birds here, but lovely nonetheless, and easy to confuse with the other two.

Female Common Yellowthroat

Female Common Yellowthroat

The female Mourning Warbler below…

Female Mourning Warbler

Female Mourning Warbler

and again here… is another less-commonly seen “skulker.”

Female Mourning Warbler

Female Mourning Warbler

Thus we have three skulkers who all look quite a bit alike, and in most field guides they’re not far from each other, so you can make the comparisons and note the differences or throw up your hands in total confusion.

Eastern Wood Pewee, Lake Shore East Park

Eastern Wood Pewee, Lake Shore East Park

Not to skimp on flycatchers, the one above is at least recognizable as a Pewee. He sang a bit, too – always nice to hear. If I run into a Pewee song soon I’ll update this post.

Crow with Bat

Crow with Bat

On my way out, I walked through the back of the Aon Building where I have seen birds on occasion, and encountered this crow with its prey: I suspect it’s a little brown bat.

Crow with Bat IMG_2273_1

The crow took off with its bat soon after I shot a few more photos. I’m sure it didn’t want me to draw attention to its prize.

My last momentary offering is a recording of Beniamino, one of my Zebra Finch males, singing his heart out from atop a microphone while I’m practicing the prelude to the F major English Suite by Bach (it may take me a year, but I’ll get through these suites – 2 more to go after this one). Travel time has taken its toll on playing for the birds but I plan to stay put for a few months and get some more music in my fingers.

Endless thanks to all who follow me and to those I follow – I have some catching up to do! I’ll be back soon with reports from Michigan and the Kirtland’s Warbler.