Comma  7-23-15-7983Apologies for the bad pun. It’s been a busy, fragmented, hot week and a half or so. Also, the past weekend was one long party, with no birds in attendance. I am not used to being much of a social butterfly.

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A moth casts a shadow at Lurie Garden

I haven’t been out much during the day either. If I didn’t know better I might think the crows have given up on me, but I suspect it’s lack of the quiet shady spots we used to have, where we could convene without a steady stream of human beings. Pigeons are much less picky about habitat but definitely not used to having their pictures taken.

Crow  7-27-15-8012

ROPI 7-14-15-7441ROPI 7-24-15-8001On the days I have gone out, I have managed to keep amused. One bright spot, for instance, was finding some Monarch Butterflies in Lurie Garden.

Monarch Lurie Millennium 7-15-15-7570

There are other interesting pollinators too. I think the wasp below was more black than blue, but lightening it up made it interesting.

Lurie Millennium 7-15-15-7549One afternoon last week standing outside the northern entrance to Lurie, I heard some earnest chirping and determined it was coming out of the small oak tree before me. There were a couple security guards talking to each other totally oblivious to the Robin’s nest I soon located.

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American Robin nestlings

I suspect the Northern Cardinal below is a young bird as well because it seemed to know the peanut was for eating but was perplexed by it anyway.

NOCA 7-14-15-7468NOCA 7-14-15-7460On hot, boring days at Lake Shore East Park, as long as I could find a bench to sit on, I took to photographing the fountains.

Fountain LSE 7-07-15-6698Fountain LSE 7-15-15-7502Then a few days ago I was sitting in the shade across from the east side of the Pritzker Pavilion, waiting for crows, and the little bird below darted out of the yews. The shade was so dense it was hard to get a decent picture, but this is the first time I have seen a juvenile Ovenbird at Millennium Park at the end of July. I was so surprised I thought I was going to get a rare bird alert but Ovenbirds breed in this part of the continent so even though I think it was rare for Millennium Park it’s not unlikely. This is the same spot I heard a White-Throated Sparrow singing a couple weeks ago, which is rare, so maybe just going to sit in this spot isn’t such a bad idea. Crows or no crows.

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Ovenbird, Millennium Park, 7-27-15

OVEN 7-27-15-8022The greatest reward perhaps is still seeing Monarch Butterflies. I have seen fewer than 20 individuals this summer, at least two of them flying around the cement canyons of LaSalle Street. I hope the Swamp Milkweed is making them feel welcome.

Monarch on Swamp Milkweed Lurie Millennium 7-22-15-7930Swamp Milkweed Lurie Millennium 7-22-15-7918

Trying to Wake from a Long Winter’s Nap

Fermilab Christmas Count 12-14-13

Fermilab Christmas Count 12-14-13

Yesterday I participated in the Fermilab annual Christmas Bird Count, as I have for the past however many years now. I admit to being a bit wary about doing it, as it has only been a week since my trip, but I decided it was one way to make sure I got out to see a few birds and I reminded myself that it is always a fun, if sometimes grueling, experience.

The weather was everywhere. It had been snowing steadily overnight and kept on snowing, making the driving conditions at 5:30 a.m. practically prohibitive. I almost turned around two or three times, the first when I encountered a roadblock set up by police, but I decided to continue.

Fermilab IMG_1408

If I was beginning to get over the culture shock accompanying my return from Africa, hiking around in deep snow tipped it right in for me. Our team slogged on for at least an hour or two before we saw hardly any birds at all, and then it was suddenly something like over 100 American Tree Sparrows.

Our last discovery before meeting the other teams for a lunch break was a yellow-headed woodpecker which got us excited for a while; it looked like a possible Golden-Fronted, which would have been pretty rare. I had only my point-and-shoot with me which hardly did the bird justice but even one of the team leader’s better camera was unable to find enough white in the tail to confirm a vagrant species. It turns out that juvenile Red-Bellied Woodpeckers can resemble Golden-Fronted in this way, except that they lack a large white area of the tail. Still it was fun to see something unusual and I am now reminded that no matter what, the Christmas Count always yields a surprise of one kind or another. In the same location we also had a Brown Creeper which is pretty uncommon this time of year.

"Yellow" Red-Bellied Woodpecker

“Yellow” Red-Bellied Woodpecker

So unlike last year when we had rain and balmy temperatures, this has been definitely winter weather. During the work week I managed to get out to see my crows one or two times. Below are a few pictures.

Crow with Peanuts IMG_2138_1

Rock Pigeon Flight Drills

Rock Pigeon Flight Drills

Returning to the Christmas Count, I had lunch with everyone and then decided to return home while I was still able. Still exhausted from getting over jet lag and going back to work, I barely made it home after a few grocery store stops. I took a nap, got up to feed the birds their evening snack, and went back to crash on the futon. Every time I got up my legs complained about the strain of climbing around in the snowpack. I gave up and went to bed, sleeping at least 10 hours, refusing to get up before daylight. When I finally woke up this morning it took a while before I felt like I could ever do anything but sleep. But by the time I went out to fill the feeders and had breakfast, I felt a sudden burst of energy. It occurred to me later that I got caught up on all my dreams last night, sort of like getting caught up on all my movies on those long transatlantic flights.

I probably would not have gotten all that much-needed sleep if I had not exhausted myself doing the count. Funny how that works.

This is my first post from the new laptop, but the pictures were processed on my old desktop. I am waiting for the delivery of a DVD drive so I can install Lightroom and then start learning all over again how to process my pictures. It’s going to be a bit of a learning curve what with the new OS and all but I am motivated and so very happy to have a new computer.

I leave you for the moment with a slightly blood-stained Cooper’s Hawk I found resting in a tree in Millennium Park last Tuesday or Wednesday. I’m certain the blood was from its devoured prey.

Cooper's Hawk, Millennium Park

Cooper’s Hawk, Millennium Park

A Midweek Visit to Millennium Park

North Sculpture Garden IMG_8297_1

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.

Park Birds IMG_8306_1

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.

Prairie Smoke IMG_8279_1

Prairie Smoke

Prairie Smoke IMG_8282_1

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

Grackle Fledges Talking IMG_8293_1

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

RB Gull Aerialist IMG_8310_1

RB Gull IMG_8322_1

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. 🙂