The River’s Edge

RBGU 03-22-18-7362On workdays, I can take a short walk along the Chicago River downtown sometimes in the early afternoon, weather permitting. Invariably there are always a few gulls. Herring Gulls watched over the river all winter, and now the Ring-Billed Gulls like the one above are coming in. I have decided it can’t hurt me to get better acquainted with them.

With the change of seasons other birds show up as well. Last week one day there were about twenty Red-Breasted Mergansers. I first followed one female fishing alone in the water right outside my office building.

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When she took off in a northerly direction, I followed her and soon found the rest of the group. Several of the males were hanging around together.

RBME 03-29-18-8403RBME 03-27-18-8390Also going on the last couple weeks, demolishment of the General Growth Properties building. The low-rise structure broke up the dominant high-rise footprint but predictably, a huge development devoted to office space is going in its place.

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A Herring Gull that hadn’t left…yet

 

It was nice to see the Red-Breasted Mergansers well one more time before they take off for their northern breeding grounds. They were busy disappearing quickly into the water for fish, and try as hard as I might, I could never capture the actual dive.

The light made interesting reflections on the water and the buildings. I have to wonder how it looks to the gulls that navigate this corridor daily.

Reflections 03-22-18-7411Reflections 03-22-18-7408Below is one of the Canada Geese that likely breed somewhere along the river this time of year. I keep thinking I see the same couple every year, in which case I imagine this could be the gander who swam off too far from wherever his beloved is nesting while patrolling the river, and is in a hurry to get back.

CAGO 03-27-18-8343We are still enduring a blustery chill, but the sun is out today, at least for a while before the cloud cover comes back and the predicted rain will turn to snow. I doubt there will be much accumulation, and we may finally get a spring warm up toward the middle of next week. Migrant passerines are starting to show up, the cardinals were engaged in a sing-off this morning, and I am thankful life still has a reset button.

Down by the River

Herring Gull, Chicago River

Herring Gull, Chicago River

Birds in what’s left of the Loop parks have all but vanished, the lake is still frozen, and so I have been walking along the Chicago River lately for my afternoon break.

Red-Breasted Merganser

Red-Breasted Merganser

Although there’s nothing really new going on, it’s still amazing to see so many Red-Breasted Mergansers and White-Winged Scoters in the river.

Female White-Winged Scoter

Female White-Winged Scoter

This scoter swam below me for a while and then she dove for something.

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Male White-Winged Scoter

Male White-Winged Scoter

It’s fairly easy to get to the junction where the branches of the river meet. On my last visit there were more Herring Gulls than the usually ubiquitous Ring-Billed.

Ring-Billed Gull

Ring-Billed Gull

At one point two Herring Gulls got into a match over a fish. If nothing else this proves there is something to eat even in the Chicago River (and it’s not from the fancy restaurants alongside it). I have seen huge carp, perhaps the invasive Asian species, sometimes surface in the spring, but nothing that spectacular lately. However if you click on the images below you can almost see what the gull on the left has in his beak.

Herring Gulls Battling Over Fish 2-25-14 5929.jpg-5929Herring Gulls Battling Over Fish 2-25-14 5930.jpg-5930Herring Gulls Battling Over Fish 2-25-14 5931.jpg-5931Herring Gulls Battling Over Fish 2-25-14 5932.jpg-5932

The Riverwalk below street level doesn’t extend along one entire side yet, but there is a sign that looks promising. The stairs leading down to it are blocked off anyway during the inclement weather.

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Braving the wind, ice on the bridges.

Dirty Snow on the Sidewalk

Dirty Snow on the Sidewalk

Turning back toward the office, the elevated train “loops” around the city core, giving it its nickname.

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The El forming the Chicago Loop

Beyond the Weather, I think I will remember this winter as the one of White-Winged Scoters and Snowy Owls, from seen very well to barely seen at all.

Female White-Winged Scoter

Female White-Winged Scoter

White-Winged Scoters – Finally!

Male White-Winged Scoter

Male White-Winged Scoter

As if in answer to my prayer…the White-Winged Scoters that have been reported everywhere I have not been able to get to (namely the Chicago Lakefront where there is open water instead of ice) finally showed up in the Chicago River this week. Someone reported them at the North Branch but since the Loop is far south of that I didn’t know whether to be encouraged or even more frustrated.

Female White-Winged Scoter

Female White-Winged Scoter

But Wednesday morning I caught my first glimpses of them – they were catching naps all the way over on the other side and at first all I could see were small patches of white on their wings. But they eventually woke up and started diving. Still they were too far away to get decent pictures.

Female White-Winged Scoter

Female White-Winged Scoter

Yesterday I packed my better lens, and feeling optimistic (there was actually a little sunshine early in the morning) I attached it before I got out of the train station. I walked to the railing, looked over the side, and the White-Winged Scoters were there – on my side – as if they had been waiting for me. Even though the light was still a problem, the river being almost black, it’s so dark, and the birds being black themselves, I managed to get these few shots from some very cooperative birds.

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The Red-Breasted Mergansers are still in the river in numbers, too. Sometimes within good view.

Female Red-Breasted Merganser

Female Red-Breasted Merganser

And more often not.

Male Red-Breasted Mergansers

Male Red-Breasted Mergansers

And as it always is with diving ducks, they disappear.

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Diving White-Winged Scoter

 

First January Thaw

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Gulls on the ice by the lighthouse, Monroe Harbor

It almost seems impossible that we went from 50 degrees Fahrenheit to freezing and back out again last week. Especially as I sit inside today avoiding a wind-chill of 7 degrees F. below zero. I visited the lakefront almost every workday this past week, monitoring the thaw. Although the weather in Chicago is still a primary topic of conversation, it is clouded by the perception that with climate change, anything could happen and whatever it is, it will most likely be weird.

Here is a Ring-Billed Gull testing the ice closer to the shoreline.

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A little piece of ice made for two Canada Geese.

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And here’s the same Ring-Billed Gull joined by a Herring Gull (yawning in this picture), who was kind enough to stand close enough to offer a credible size comparison.

Herring & Ring Billed Gulls IMG_9532_1

A couple days later, the ice had melted enough to accommodate Red-Breasted Mergansers closer in.

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Male Red-Breasted Mergansers

Friday morning I went down early before work, and I always see the sun just starting to come up over the lake before I get to it. For the heck of it I stopped in the breaking dawn to see if I could get a picture of the sun coming up through the trees. Without a tripod this shot was never meant to happen, but I kind of like the surreal effect anyway.

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A Common Goldeneye male…

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The picture I did finally get of the sunrise…

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A crow over the water…

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and several Common and Red-Breasted Mergansers in flight.

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These three Herring Gulls in various stages of plumage complement the ice in various stages of thaw. That’s a female Red-Breasted Merganser in the background.

Herring Gulls on the Ice IMG_8976_1

And here’s the White-Throated Sparrow who hangs out in the hedges by the yacht club.

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