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

City Visitors…Part One

Field Sparrow

Field Sparrow

While wading through weekend photos and recordings, I’m overdue getting caught up with the workday bird visitors who have proved so astonishingly cooperative. Whatever is this Field Sparrow doing hanging out with House Sparrows in the nicotine-stained bushes of the Thompson Center?

Field Sparrow Thompson Center IMG_5823_1

As I recall, he flew away when I first noticed him, and then after I stood there awhile, he came back and started finding excuses to forage close to me. I had to step back a bit to get these pictures.

The Chicago Loop/Lakefront welcome mat isn’t out like it used to be. The former Daley Bicentennial Plaza now looks like this:

Daley destruction

Daley destruction

Millennium Park is under heavy maintenance, particularly in the bird-friendly areas, so that’s not a destination anymore. Northerly Island was designated habitat for a while, but the “temporary” Charter One pavilion is now being expanded to a concert arena for crowds of 22,000 people. Where’s a migrating bird to go, let alone a birder?

This Ring-Billed Gull was faring pretty well the last warm day I walked through Millennium.

RB Gull IMG_6286_1

There are other areas along the lakefront north and south of the city, of course, but they’re no longer part of the stretch that included downtown.

So on the way in to work I still stop by 155 North Wacker Drive. It has not been incredibly birdy lately, but there have been a few migrants, like this eager-to-please Common Yellowthroat (his initial reaction was the same as the Field Sparrow’s, and then he got curious, I guess).

Common Yellowthroat IMG_6198_1

Common Yellowthroat

Common Yellowthroat IMG_6215_1

Common Yellowthroat IMG_6228_1

Directly outside Union Station a few days ago, I saw this Wood Thrush.

Wood Thrush

Wood Thrush

I didn’t get to go out today for lunch, giving in to the threat of thunderstorms which have not occurred, a sudden burst of activity at work, and the need to leave early (thunderstorms be damned) to attend a DuPage Birding Club meeting. So I’ve spent my lunch finishing this post.

More to come from Lake Shore East Park, which has become my lunchtime refuge (and that of a couple crows I know as well).

Crow IMG_5896_1

White Christmas…Owl

We haven’t had any measurable snow yet in Chicago, but due to an irruption of Snowy Owls, we have had several visitors from the far north in the area. After a long Christmas Eve baking, I got up early to package the cookies for my neighbors on Christmas morning…

delivered the gifts, and went down to Montrose Harbor to see the Snowy Owl that has been there for weeks. The reason for the Snowys coming down from the Arctic is a lack of food, and in a Snowy’s case that’s lemmings. Perhaps there is a food shortage due to an overly optimistic breeding year for the owls, or weather conditions have disturbed the snow pack resulting in too much ice, affecting an owl’s hunting capability. Whatever this owl is finding to eat at Montrose I hope it is getting some nourishment and will make it back to its breeding ground.

Unfortunately for the owl, those of us who show up to gawk at it catch it when it’s trying to get some well-needed sleep. Yesterday I met some people who had just seen the owl fly from the beach where I was headed and then take off again, toward the harbor. I followed them and was lucky to be there when a generous young man spotted the owl sitting well-camouflaged on the dock next to the white something it tried to resemble.

Snowy on Pier, Montrose Harbor

Of course the owl knew we were taking pictures and would turn around to peer at us through half-opened eyes. The dock accoutrements didn’t make for a very good photo opportunity but I am not complaining. I’d never seen a Snowy Owl before.

Snowy Owl

Thought I would press my luck and check to see if a juvenile Harris’s Sparrow was still hanging out with the White-Throated Sparrows at the Aon Building. I had birdseed with me to draw the sparrows out, which worked beautifully but there wasn’t a Harris’s among them. I went down to Monroe Harbor briefly and saw nothing except one Common Merganser diving. I found out later I had missed a Red-Throated Loon seen earlier. I saw a Red-Throated Loon there a couple years back, but it would have been nice to see one again. Such is the way with birds. And with people. One lifer under my belt and I think I should be able to see everything.

I had peanuts with me because I knew I’d run into my crow buddies. White-Wing spotted me and virtually announced herself.

Hey, it's a holiday, what are you doing here?

She was soon saving some for later…

White-Wing in Peanut Flight

As I was heading back to my car, White-Wing followed me to the end of Daley Bicentennial, cawing all the way, and then she got courage and crossed Monroe into Butler Field, followed by her clan. They know how to fleece me, so I left them the rest of the peanuts. But Butler Field isn’t their territory, and sure enough, as White-Wing was busily selecting and arranging her peanuts…

White-Wing with Peanut

the other not-quite-as-white-winged crow I’ve seen occasionally in Butler Field showed up for this challenge.

Stop Thief!

The other crow took her stash. She complained.

Mom, he stole my peanut!

Then she went back to the peanut pile and decided to work a little harder. I caught her flying back to her territory across the street.

White-Wing flies far with her peanut.

My last stop was Northerly Island, where I heard no passerines and saw no birds save geese on the ground and gulls in the air. The wind was blowing through the tall dried grasses.

Northerly Island, facing south

I encountered sculptor Dessa Kirk’s Daphne Garden. I’m not used to taking pictures of inanimate objects, but these figures were too interesting to ignore.

Inevitably some of the Canada Geese took off for another location. On my way back, I caught them as they flew by Soldier Field…

and then back around toward the lake.

A fine Christmas Day.