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.

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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

A Midweek Visit to Millennium Park

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Nicer weather and the tourist influx makes Millennium Park challenging for birdwatching on my lunch hour, but it’s closer to where I work so when I don’t have a lot of time, the park beats sitting in the office. Sometimes having lower expectations brings surprises. One thing is certain: my beloved crows are not hanging out there too much. They are shy of most people and even avoid interacting with me in crowded situations. It’s certainly beneath them to beg along with the park’s summer residents that include Common Grackles and Ring-Billed Gulls in addition to Rock Pigeons and House Sparrows.

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On Thursday I made my way over to the Lurie Garden at the south end of Millennium Park, which is in its first glorious phase of a full bloom cycle.

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Lurie Garden

I am particularly fond of Prairie Smoke, which reminds me of cotton candy in its air-blown wispiness. It’s not in the photo above – the plants on the bottom right are Bergamot – but was elsewhere in the garden, and close up below. It’s one of the first flowers to bloom.

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Prairie Smoke

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On the way back I ran into a couple young Grackles,who had just fledged, by the appearance of their pin feathers.

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Common Grackle Fledglings

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And the Ring-Billed Gulls were still trying to drum up business. My friend Karen once called them “prima donnas.”

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Ring-Billed Gull, begging

More to come from the City Parks. I was planning on birding the Portage this morning early, sort of doing a self-styled breeding bird survey, but one of my brake lines failed last night when I moved my car back to my side of the street, and my car is in the shop. It’s old and rusty, like its owner. 🙂

Last year at this time

it was still seasonably chilly, the trees were bare. Hard to find color anywhere –

except maybe in the lake. It was full of Horned Grebes in their spring finery.

Horned Grebe

Here’s one living up to his name. These pictures were taken on March 28, 2011.

And here we are, barely a year later, and the trees are in full bloom

or leafing out. The grass is green, and we have had no rain.

Very few divers remain in the lake, mostly gulls among the buoys. Are the buoys out earlier this year?

A Ring-Billed Gull this morning, coming in for a landing.

In the parks, there are lots of Common Grackles…

and Red-Winged Blackbirds,

but much of spring migration has not yet caught up with the weather and the flora. We have another month or more to go before we see the warblers.

Magnolia Warbler, Grant Park, May 22, 2011

Cape May Warbler, May 10, 2011

Gull Invasion

Spring comes to the lakefront in many forms, but none so noisily as the arrival of Ring-Billed Gulls. It’s an opportunity to teach the new crows a life lesson.

The juvenile crows thought they had everything figured out and the parks and the lakefront were theirs for the taking, but now these guys have arrived like gangsters.

This crow can't believe what's happening.

I had even gotten careless with these puny pieces of shelled peanuts: piled up, they were irresistible. The gulls descended upon them in less than a second.

It’s my theory that the gulls time their arrival for the festivals and parades, beginning with St. Patrick’s Day this weekend. The highlight of their visit will be the Taste of Chicago in July.

"How COULD you?"

A few peanuts won’t be missed, but the crows and I will have to be careful, especially when there’s hot dogs. The crows will learn to be silent instead of calling to each other when they see me, and they’ll stop following me around. Instead, they’ll meet stealthily at some predetermined location, their choice or mine: it doesn’t matter, we’ll put our heads together. Because if the crows attract any attention to me whatsoever, they’ll lose their monopoly over me. As it is, I hope the gulls have been distracted over the weekend, because they’ll remember me forever if they start associating me with food. And I gave up starting riots a long time ago.

Grant Park Crows Post

What can I say? The Grant Park juvenile crows are glad to have me back in town.

The Ring-Billed Gulls are beginning to assemble and they are the crows’ biggest competitors.

I used to feed gulls until the crows got curious enough to reason with me. When I switched to crows it involved a lot of hard thinking to keep the gulls at bay. The crows finally suggested I put hot dogs under the trees, because the gulls prefer wide open spaces. You can see why the crows like me; I’m trainable.

But the gulls are savvy city birds as well and can be seen careening through the glass and steel canyons of the Loop. Some of them aren’t cowed by a few stands of trees in a park, and it only takes one gull to start a riot.

It’s going to be an interesting summer for the juves who are still trying to figure out squirrels.

This squirrel isn’t reacting at all to White Wing’s threatening stance.

Guess she’ll have to cache what she can.