City Stopovers

Blackpoll Warbler

Blackpoll Warbler

Here are a few pictures taken at various times over the past few weeks, all in downtown Chicago…

Tennessee Warbler

Tennessee Warbler

Tennessee Warbler

Tennessee Warbler

I never manage to see enough of any one species to tire of them. Although Tennessee Warblers often appear abundant, they are not always easy to capture. For comparison with a species they resemble, I have an Orange-Crowned Warbler below.

Orange-Crowned Warbler

Orange-Crowned Warbler

There seemed to be fewer birds altogether this year, but I don’t know if it is due to loss of habitat, weather patterns, being in the wrong place at the wrong time or a combination of all three.

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Northern Waterthrush

I frequently see Northern Waterthrushes on the ground, but less often perched in trees.

Kentucky Warbler

Kentucky Warbler

The day I saw the Kentucky Warbler, there were so few birds altogether at Lake Shore East Park I wasn’t even aware I had seen this rarity until I checked my photographs later. The bird kept ducking in and out of hydrangeas planted near the east end of the park and I was consumed with trying to stop it long enough for a picture.

American Redstart

American Redstart

First-year male American Redstarts seem to be born exhibitionists, on the other hand.

Blackpoll Warbler

Blackpoll Warbler

This Blackpoll was pretty cooperative too on the day I saw it.

Common Yellowthroat

Common Yellowthroat

And Common Yellowthroats, as difficult as they are to see on their breeding grounds…are frequent park visitors.

Hermit Thrush

Hermit Thrush

A Hermit Thrush reminding me It’s The Food, Stupid.

Yellow-Bellied Sapsucker

Yellow-Bellied Sapsucker

At 155 N. Wacker there haven’t been very many birds, but last week there was this sapsucker scaling a wall.

White-Crowned Sparrow

White-Crowned Sparrow

And a White-Crowned Sparrow popped out last week at a new spot on the river that looks promising for future visits.

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City Frog

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Perhaps the strangest thing I saw this fall was a frog in the corner of one of these wrought-iron-encased planters on Randolph near Wacker. How it got there boggles the mind.

It’s time to say goodbye to the warblers until spring. But many more sparrows are likely to be showing up. I’m thankful for that because they tend to be easier to see! And at least I can always carry on a conversation with White-Throated Sparrows.

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City Visitors, or Where the Birds Are

Black-and-White Warbler, Lake Shore East Park

Black-and-White Warbler, Lake Shore East Park

Apologies to all my followers for not posting sooner (and all those I follow for not showing up), but I have been busy with work and trying to spend every free moment paying attention to birds indoors and out, so by the time I get around to reviewing photos I fall asleep. So there have been about 10 potential blog posts running out of my head over the last two weeks before I could hang onto them.

American Redstart, 155 N. Wacker Drive

American Redstart, 155 N. Wacker Drive

So before I fell asleep again last night as it was past my bed time, I decided to simply share with you some of my favorite subjects over the past week from a couple city parks and green spaces. Except for the Least Flycatcher, I have limited this post to warbler species.

Black-Throated Green Warbler, Union Station

Black-Throated Green Warbler, Union Station

Black-Throated Green Warbler, Union Station

Black-Throated Green Warbler, Union Station

The first day I found the Black-Throated Green Warbler at Union Station, there was also a Black-Throated Blue Warbler singing and a Baltimore Oriole singing as well. Actually it was the Baltimore Oriole’s song that drew my attention to the now-fenced-in-for-no-obvious-reason garden area. The fact that the garden area was inaccessible to me and the smokers who like to sit on the benches probably made it more attractive to the bugs and the birds who were eating them. I did not get a great picture of the Black-Throated Blue, but was glad to see him. The Oriole was coy but uncooperative.

Common Yellowthroat, Lake Shore East Park

Male Common Yellowthroat, Lake Shore East Park

Lake Shore East Park has been my most constant afternoon destination, and there were a couple good days, but it doesn’t seem as birdy as last year or the year before. The weather has been a factor all spring too, with alternating warm fronts and cold fronts confusing everything. We are presently about thirty degrees cooler than we were on Monday. Monday was hot.

Least Flycatcher, Lake Shore East Park

Least Flycatcher, Lake Shore East Park

Least Flycatchers were fairly common for a couple days. Catbirds have been regular sightings in every nook and cranny.

Gray Catbird, Lake Shore East Park

Gray Catbird, Lake Shore East Park

Male American Redstarts come in two plumages. The first-year males still look a bit like the females, only orangey instead of a paler yellow. The after-first-year males are black and orange-red.

American Redstart

American Redstart

American Redstart, first-year male

American Redstart, first-year male

Hardly a day has gone by that I have not seen or heard a Northern Waterthrush. I usually see them on the lawn, so it was nice to catch one resting on a branch.

Northern Waterthrush, Lake Shore East Park

Northern Waterthrush, Lake Shore East Park

Ovenbirds are still around, too.

Ovenbird, Lake Shore East Park

Ovenbird, Millennium Park

Spring would not be spring without male Magnolia Warblers.

Magnolia Warbler, Millennium Park

Magnolia Warbler, Millennium Park

Magnolia Warbler, Millennium Park

Magnolia Warbler, Millennium Park

Redstarts are everywhere now. The adult males seem to like to show off.

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Below is a first-year male, looking eager to start his first breeding season.

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I hope to get another post or two in order over the Memorial Day weekend (thunderstorms are predicted for Memorial Day). As always I think I will be able to conquer my entire to-do list because I have an extra day. So far Saturday’s weather looks best, so that will be a birding day. Passerine migration is nearly over, but I need proof.

Strolling Through Lake Shore East Park

White-Throated Sparrow, Lake Shore East Park

White-Throated Sparrow, Lake Shore East Park

Up until the arrival of the famous Harris’s Sparrow in Millennium Park’s Lurie Garden, I was routinely spending my late afternoon lunch hours in Lake Shore East Park. The two parks are not very far away from each other, but there is much less foot or tourist traffic in Lake Shore East Park, so I have been going there more often. Which is not to say it lacks people. There are frequently people walking their dogs or children in baby strollers.

Hermit Thrushes

Hermit Thrushes – I counted 11 individuals at one time (here’s 4 of them)

I have been trying to write this post since October 9. On that day, the most numerous birds in the park were predictably White-Throated Sparrows and Hermit Thrushes. The Hermit Thrushes were the largest group I have ever seen. Even going back the next day I counted 12 of them.

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Perhaps you’ve seen Robins pull worms out of the earth, but this is the first time I’ve caught a Hermit Thrush in the act.

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Hermit

Juncos have shown up here and there, although not in numbers yet.

Dark-Eyed Junco

Dark-Eyed Junco

The fountains have been shut down for the winter, leaving their rocky bottoms free for exploration.

White-Throated Sparrow

White-Throated Sparrow

Other birds I saw that day were two Brown Creepers and an American Redstart. I did not get photographs of them, though. So here’s a couple more of Hermit Thrushes.  The remaining pictures except for the last one are from October 1, but they were also taken in Lake Shore East Park.

Hermit Thrush

Hermit Thrush

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But my most pleasant encounter on October 9 was a human one. Soon after I arrived at the park, a woman walking her dog approached me and asked about my camera equipment. This is the second time this month I have met people this way: Canon must have put some new elixir in the 70D! We got to talking about photography and birds and then she let it slip that she was from the East Coast and amazed to see a Redstart in this small park in the city. She said she was in town to sing at the opera.

Ruby-Crowned Kinglet, Lake Shore East Park

Ruby-Crowned Kinglet, Lake Shore East Park

A brief cloud of Opera Guilt wafted over me. (I was a subscriber for several years but gave it up along with my other subscriptions a few years ago because I realized I no longer had the time or energy to do everything, so it was time to focus on birds and music.) When I told her the birds have taken over my life she understood. Then I thought to myself surely I should maybe recognize her but you rarely get to see an opera singer out of costume. I asked, and she said she was Stephanie Blythe. I confirmed later that she is singing Il Trovatore at the Lyric Opera. I didn’t faint, but I will say I haven’t had a brush with fame in many, many years…!

Golden-Crowned Kinglet, Lake Shore East Park

Golden-Crowned Kinglet, Lake Shore East Park

Stephanie stopped me again to ask me about a bird or two she had seen (one turned out to be one of the Creepers I saw later after I talked to her) and I felt so lucky to have made her acquaintance. She also seemed happy to have found a kindred spirit. But as excited as I was to have met her, I was reluctant to write about it, right away. I didn’t want her to be mobbed by opera fanatics. (In retrospect, I’m thinking very few people even know the park exists.)

Northern Waterthrush with bug, Lake Shore East Park

Northern Waterthrush with bug, Lake Shore East Park

As it turns out I did not see Stephanie again (turning in ebird lists I was tempted to note “no opera singers today” but restrained myself). Chances are her rehearsal schedule and my work schedule kept us from running into each other again. But listening to the Operathon on WFMT on Saturday, October 11th, there was an offer for two tickets to any opera, and a choice of dates, with seats on the first floor, for a donation, the amount of which was much less than the cost of the tickets. This was too good to pass up: it would be wonderful to use this as an opportunity to see Stephanie sing. I have heard her on the Metropolitan Opera broadcasts, but was no longer a subscriber by the time she started singing at the Lyric.

Common Grackle

Common Grackle

So I got tickets for opening night for Il Trovatore, an opera I have never seen. I am taking my friend from the former workplace: it will be her first opera. The way this whole thing has turned out really feels like kismet or karma or something.

White-Crowned Sparrow

White-Crowned Sparrow

Ultimately I must give the birds credit for everything. They continue to enrich my life. The birds paid attention to the music, then enticed me into green spaces every day I can manage to hang out with them. The birds know a bird person, and I think kindred spirits do too. One more time, in an entirely new context, the birds have returned the favor and my attention to the music.

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Fall Frustrations

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Nashville Warbler, Columbus Park

The days are getting shorter, there are still fall migrants coming through, the weather has been beautiful the last day or two and I feel like I’m running around in circles just trying to get normal things accomplished, and then I’m out of time for everything. Everything being the moment to sit still, observe, reflect, be…

Magnolia Warbler, Columbus Park

Magnolia Warbler, Columbus Park

Palm Warbler

Palm Warbler

Northern Waterthrush

Northern Waterthrush

Black-and-White Warbler

Black-and-White Warbler

Tennessee Warbler

Tennessee Warbler

Truth be told I did not stay in last Sunday because the rain was threatening but not really materializing, so I managed to visit the Portage and almost envisioned doing a post about what surprises were there, but I keep succumbing to that temptation (“What’s your favorite photograph?” “The one I just took”) and then I never get back to documenting previous outings. So while I have been recalcitrant catching up with other bloggers I am going to try at least to catch up a bit with myself.

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American Redstart

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Whatever my obsession to try to hold on to the last experience, these pictures are more from the 13th trip to Columbus Park, which is a park on the west side of Chicago, making it barely a stone’s throw away. There’s a nice water feature going on at the park, and perhaps the star was a juvenile Black Crowned Night Heron contemplating how to make a living.

Black-Crowned Night Heron

Black-Crowned Night Heron

Columbus Park

Columbus Park

Also present, a Pied-Billed Grebe and a Great Blue Heron. I don’t recall if I realized the Blue-Winged Teal was eating a crabapple when I took the picture but it seems a little odd.

Pied-Billed Grebe

Pied-Billed Grebe

Great Blue Heron

Great Blue Heron

Blue-Winged Teal eating crabapple

Blue-Winged Teal eating crabapple

There were two young Cooper’s Hawks present.

Cooper's Hawk

Cooper’s Hawk

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A fellow participant pointed out the caterpillar to me. I did not have my macro lens handy so it’s not a great picture, but I think it looks like a sphinx moth. I confess to being very lazy and I have not tried to look it up.

Caterpillar

Caterpillar

I must leave this page, it’s getting late and I have to get up and go to work. I hope to return in a better mood. Tomorrow night is the first rehearsal for the choir I have signed up for. I have received the first email from Bill Hilton about November’s Costa Rica trip. There’s room for more participants: he didn’t say how many we were but the optimum number is 12. Time for me to start thinking about this trip. I’m looking forward to contributing to Bill’s research for a week.

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A Bird in the Hand…

White-Eyed Vireo

White-Eyed Vireo

If anyone knows how much birds hate to be handled, it’s me. My indoor birds remind me of this constantly, and I don’t pick them up unless I absolutely have to. I’m not trying to offend anyone by posting these pictures.

Ovenbird

Ovenbird

But before I get on to writing in a future post about the primary reason for why I was in Belize–which was to be part of a group of 7 volunteers that helped Operation Rubythroat set up mist nets to catch and band Ruby-Throated Hummingbirds and transcribe banding data…and all the reasons why they are doing this…

Black-and-White Warbler

Black-and-White Warbler

I wanted to share some pictures of other birds banded that I never could have seen so closely.

Hooded Warbler

Hooded Warbler

Suffice it to say I learned a lot in 8 days.

Northern Parula

Northern Parula

For those of you still uncomfortable with the handling of the birds, we checked the nets constantly, moving birds still captive and waiting to be banded or shown out of the sunlight, and they survived well. I believe there was one casualty in a net on our last day, which was cut short due to inclement weather. I suppose the biggest testimonial to survival was the birds, already banded, recaptured from previous years.

Northern Waterthrush

Northern Waterthrush

Louisiana Waterthrush

Louisiana Waterthrush

The Northern Waterthrush was one of perhaps three or more we banded, but the Louisiana Waterthrush was the first one ever seen at Crooked Tree in Belize. See if you can tell the difference this close up. The distinguishing features are still subtle, but the Northern looks more “yellow” than the Louisiana and has denser streaking.

Tennessee Warbler banded 3-9-14

Tennessee Warbler banded 3-9-14

Tennessee Warbler banded 3-10-14

Tennessee Warbler banded 3-10-14

Compare the difference between these two Tennessee Warbler individuals. The one above is a male not finished with his molt and the one below is most likely a female. Banders can consult The Identification Guide to North American Birds: Part 1 and Part 2 by Peter Pyle to help distinguish between the sexes by length of the wing and tail feathers.

Male Yellow Warbler

Male Yellow Warbler

You may have noticed that all the migrant warblers are not quite as decked out as they will be by the time they reach us. This Yellow Warbler was just developing his rufous streaks.

Clay-Colored Thrush, National Bird of Costa Rica

Clay-Colored Thrush, National Bird of Costa Rica

The last bird on this post is not a neotropical migrant and therefore was not banded. But I thought it best expressed any indignation at being handled, for all the other birds banded on this page. And I probably never would have seen the beautiful streaking on its throat, in the field.

City Stopovers

Yellow-Bellied Flycatcher, Lake Shore East Park

Yellow-Bellied Flycatcher, Lake Shore East Park

Fall is suddenly upon us with cooler temperatures, shorter days, and finally some rain. It has been raining all day today, true to the weather predictions which the past couple weeks have not held, at least in my neighborhood. So we were pretty dry until now. I finally gave in to reality and decided to get caught up on indoor chores, rather than go out on the migrant quest. But over the past week there have been birds arriving at the two spots I can visit regularly downtown, 155 North Wacker Drive on my way in to work and Lake Shore East Park on my lunch hour, in particular on Friday after the cold front pushed more birds down to us.

Northern Waterthrush

Northern Waterthrush, 155 N. Wacker Drive

Tennessee Warbler behind glass at 155 North Wacker deli

Tennessee Warbler behind glass at 155 North Wacker deli

At 155 North Wacker I never know where I’m going to see birds, so the waterthrush flew up onto the top of a wall on Wednesday, and on Friday, the Tennessee Warbler was stuck inside the deli. I called the Chicago Bird Collision Monitors without realizing I had not told them exactly where I was but by the time they got there the worker inside the deli whom I had been trying to help get the bird down and out the door managed to catch the warbler in something net-like, brought it out to me, and as soon as I could say “it’s fine” the Tennessee escaped his hand and flew into the trees. I would have rather gotten a picture of him free, but he was not having anything to do with us after all that.

Female American Redstart, Lake Shore East

Female American Redstart, Lake Shore East Park

Redstarts have been most abundant. Of course this time of year a lot of them look more like Yellowstarts. The first year males are distinguishable from the females such as the one above by their more brightly-colored feathers and the prescient orange look to the yellow on the side of the breast. The young male below was a bit puffed-out looking through a lot of the shots; I hope he’s feeling better.

First-Year Male American Redstart

First-Year Male American Redstart

Swainson’s Thrushes have also been here and there. Not as many as I would have seen in the larger park space but still you could pretty much count on seeing or hearing one somewhere.

Swainson's Thrush

Swainson’s Thrush, Lake Shore East Park

Below is a not great picture of what may be the first Blackpoll I’ve seen this fall. There were other shots that fill out the whole bird a bit more but none as revealing. That’s one thing about taking pictures of warblers. You might end up with the tail feathers in one picture and the breast or head in another. Or you might just get a good look at the underside.

Blackpoll Warbler, Lake Shore East Park

Blackpoll Warbler, Lake Shore East Park

Below is a Female Wilson’s Warbler. Again not a great picture but a nice bird to see, nevertheless.

Female Wilson's Warbler, 155 N. Wacker Drive

Female Wilson’s Warbler, 155 N. Wacker Drive

Friday there were at least a dozen Palm Warblers foraging in the grass and in the trees in Lake Shore East Park.

Palm Warbler, Lake Shore  East Park

Palm Warbler, Lake Shore East Park

The third most common bird has been Magnolia Warbler. Below is what looks to me like a nice first-year male.

Magnolia Warbler, Lake Shore East Park

Magnolia Warbler, Lake Shore East Park

If I can get up early tomorrow I might try the lakefront before work. If nothing else, I owe my crows a visit.

City Visitors…Part Two

Ovenbird

Ovenbird

The Chicago Loop migrant watch continues. There was a lone Gray Catbird at 155 North Wacker Thursday morning, but yesterday he was gone. Mostly the last couple days I have been enchanted solely by Ovenbirds at the train station and Lake Shore East Park. However many times I have seen them downtown before, they never cease to bring a smile to my face. The one above was at Lake Shore East Park yesterday afternoon, blown about by blustery, cold north winds. Hey, it’s only May…!

What I don’t understand is why small birds I have never seen before seem to want to engage, interact, communicate with me on some level, once they have gotten over the fact that I am paying attention to them. Perhaps they are just curious, as I am. Why would I be bothering to pay attention to another species when all those other big clumsy humans milling by noisily never notice?

Lake Shore East Park IMG_5848_1

Lake Shore East Park IMG_5847_1

Above, a couple views of Lake Shore East Park from the street level before I descend down the steps to get to it. I’ve decided the steps are good exercise and I can already feel a slight difference in agility and strength. The crumbs you hang onto with age!

Northern Waterthrush

Northern Waterthrush

The only other warbler since the Kentucky last week is a Northern Waterthrush, who was still there yesterday, when I counted two Ovenbirds, one Waterthrush, about 37 White-Throated Sparrows and maybe 10 White-Crowned Sparrows. I didn’t see the Red-Breasted Nuthatch that’s been hanging out in the pine trees, though he might still be there. Not to mention that he was barely visible last time I saw him, below.

Red-Breasted Nuthatch

Red-Breasted Nuthatch

Here’s one of the White-Crowned Sparrows.

White-Crowned Sparrow

White-Crowned Sparrow

And I will never, ever be done taking photographs of White-Throated Sparrows. They seem to be clamoring for their own post soon.

White-Throated Sparrow

White-Throated Sparrow

The white blossoms blown off the trees yesterday reminding me of snow, combined with the frigid temperatures. To get back to warmer thoughts, here are a couple more Ovenbird photos.

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Think Spring!