Calm Before the Storm

Female Goldeneye Monroe Harbor 1-29-15-1701The day before the blizzard warnings began, last Friday, was a calm, if cloudy day.  I managed to get down to the lakefront and even though it was overcast, a few ducks swam obligingly close enough for photographs.

Redhead Monroe Harbor 1-29-15-1575


Fem Common Merg Monroe Harbor 1-29-15-1536

Common Merganser Female

Redhead Monroe Harbor 1-29-15-1607


Greater Scaup Monroe Harbor 1-29-15-1572

Greater Scaup

Now it’s pretty hard to go anywhere without encountering mounds of snow to traverse, or icy and sloshy paths forged by foot traffic. It was hard to imagine being enveloped by snow until we were. I haven’t been out to see birds the past few days, only to shovel snow or trudge on in to work.

Common Goldeneye Monroe Harbor 1-29-15-1632

Common Goldeneye

I wonder where these birds went during the storm. Maybe they were thinking of taking off like these Common Mergansers.

Common Mergs Monroe Harbor 1-29-15-1668

Common Mergansers

In all, there were not a lot of birds, not even many Ring-Billed Gulls.

RBGU Monroe Harbor 1-29-15-1694I hope to get back down to the lakefront sometime this week to see what it looks like and what birds are in the water, if any.

Common Goldeneye Monroe Harbor 1-29-15-1561In the meantime, this page needs some color.

NOCA Millennium 1-28-15-1285

Blizzard Preoccupations

It’s snowing and blowing, travel is forbidden, and after two energetic attempts today, I am not going back outside to move any more snow until tomorrow. So I’m using the storm as an excuse to get caught up with a few loose ends.

House Finch 2-1-15-1732

Below is a link to the YouTube videos, for those who are interested in what came of my first choir participation in the St. Odilo Festival Choir. I sang in the alto section. We all started together and ended together even if there were a couple times we lost it in between… At least we lost it all together. Maybe it’s just as well as there were only four of us. I had an epiphany about this phenomenon while listening to parts of the concert on my way in to work Friday morning. You know how birds all take off together at once as if responding to a single cue out of nowhere? That’s kind of how it was when we all forgot to come in. Nevertheless I think we sometimes sounded quite good; in particular I was pleased by the a capella piece, which was Bruckner’s “Christus Factus Est.”

Also new and exciting, Bill Hilton has posted a complete play-by-play annotated write-up of Operation Rubythroat’s last bird banding expedition in Costa Rica, and you can read all about it at this link.

And now a little word from The Chicago Blizzard of 2015. (These pictures are in color, in case you’re wondering.)

Snowbird 2-1-15-1714

Juncos actually seem to be enjoying this

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After taking fuzzy pictures through the screened porch windows, I decided a fuzzy video of the birds braving the snow and wind at the feeders might be even better. The snow started out thick and wet and it’s still snowing as I write this.

Dudlee Ann was monitoring the whole weather event from her newest favorite place, the window over the kitchen sink.

IMG_1165And thanks to recent comments on my last post about vultures, I went looking for pictures of a Ruppell’s Griffon Vulture, which I had seen several times in East Africa in November of 2013. I found a couple pictures taken on November 22 in Tanzaniya:

Ruppell's Griffon Vulture 11-22-2013-6822

Ruppell’s Griffon Vulture

Ruppell's Griffon Vulture

Ruppell’s Griffon Vulture

In the process, I realized that I had never finished going through all the pictures from that trip, so I look forward to revisiting those images at some point in time. Not that I’m wishing for another blizzard anytime soon…

Vultures & Storks at Zebra Kill 11-24-13 8529.jpg-2Incidentally, the bird completely covering the kill with its wings spread in the picture above is also the Ruppell’s Griffon.

This excerpt from a webpage of facts about the Ruppell’s Griffon from the National Zoo:

“Ruppell’s griffon is the highest flying bird on record, once spotted at an altitude of over 37, 000 feet in the skies of Africa. From a standing start the Ruppell’s vulture can fly over three miles in six minutes. They can cruise at over 22 miles per hour, and will fly as far as 90 miles from their nest in search of food.”

Maybe now I can try to dig out the car a bit more…so I can move it to the other side of the street tomorrow.


Snow Crow 1-15-15-0457We may have had sunshine this week that I missed, but this afternoon the temperature was forgiving, the sun was shining so strongly snow started to melt a bit and I was just happy to be out. Earlier in the week when it was still cold and cloudy, the crows were nowhere to be found, but today was a good day to be an all-black bird on top of the Pritzker Pavilion soaking up the rays.

Crows on the Pritzker 1-15-15-0315

Crows on the top of the Pritzker Pavilion, Millennium Park

I wish I could have recorded one crow cawing right inside the “waves” of the pavilion, its song reverberating against the steel forms, a perfect echo chamber. I’m sure the crow thought it was pretty neat too.

Snow Crow 1-15-15-0412

The crows didn’t stay perched long. We haven’t had a peanut party since last week but the moment I started walking through the snow two crows helped me select the best location.

Ah Peanuts 1-15-15-0326

The presence of peanuts did not go unnoticed by two other park residents.

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Black-Capped Chickadee and Northern Cardinal

There were many ways to approach and to take off, and the bright light reflecting off the snow lit up these dark birds.

Snow Crow 1-15-15-0425Snow Crow 1-15-15-0427

Winter has a long way to go yet, but today almost felt like spring.

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Snow Crow 1-15-15-0483 Snow Crow 1-15-15-0466Hope your weather is good too, wherever you are.

Snow Crow 1-15-15-0382

We’ll see you again soon. 🙂

As The Snow Melts

Chicago Portage 3-23-2014

Chicago Portage 3-23-2014

Not quite “As The World Turns” — but the passage of time lately seems about as slowly evolving as a soap opera. And it did snow last night. But there are still signs of spring,

Song Sparrow on the sidewalk at 155 N. Wacker on 3-20-14

Song Sparrow on the sidewalk at 155 N. Wacker on 3-20-14

Not all the signs of spring are inspiring, such as finding my first dead migrant, the Song Sparrow above, on the sidewalk, but for the most part, there is cause for celebration.

Northern Cardinal, Millennium Park

Northern Cardinal, Millennium Park

The first fragile days of spring are upon us and while winter has not yet loosened its grip, the birds are arriving and getting down to business, claiming their territories for nesting. The days are getting longer and the wait for warmer weather is nearly over. I hope.

Red-Winged Blackbird

Red-Winged Blackbird

My first-of-year (FOY) Red-Winged Blackbird (in Illinois) was last Thursday, the same day I found the Song Sparrow, and the same location, 155 N. Wacker. But the bird was backlit and light was poor, so I waited until I went out Sunday to photograph this RWBB at the Portage, where he was joined by at least a dozen more males setting up their territories. A song sample is below.

Chicago Portage 3-23-14

Chicago Portage 3-23-14

All I could see was frozen water, but several pair of Canada Geese saw nesting spots. The pair below, in particular, proclaimed their territory quite loudly. You can hear them by clicking the arrow below the picture.

Canada Geese

Canada Geese

Red-Bellied Woodpecker

Red-Bellied Woodpecker

Common Grackle

Common Grackle

Adding to predictable spring arrivals, the Red-Bellied Woodpecker (although Red-Bellieds have wintered here for the most part) at the Portage on Sunday and the Common Grackle at Millennium Park on Friday.

American Crow

American Crow

Crows have been here all winter too, of course, but they seem to have a little more spring in their flight.

Crow with Peanut 3-21-14 7157.jpg-7157

American Crow with peanut


Even the commonest Rock Pigeon is all decked out for rebirth. I learned to tell Blue Bars from other color morphs years ago when I tried to monitor Chicago Loop Pigeons for Cornell’s citizen science project. But I found it hard to keep up with them, and then the crows distracted me…

Blue Bar Rock Pigeon

Blue Bar Rock Pigeon

Here’s our noisiest goose couple again. I like the way everything seems to be leaning to the right…

C Geese 3-23-14 5785.jpg-5785

I hope to be back with more from Belize very soon.

A Crow Batik

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It was snowing “lake-effect” when I got off the train this morning. Wearily, I looked down at the river where a female White-Winged Scoter fished amongst several Red-Breasted Mergansers. Too cold and raw to stay.

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But by 1:30 p.m. the sun had come out in full force and it was a beautiful day to be out. Still cold, but not windy. I was on a mission to purchase cilantro since I had none in the refrigerator the night before and I needed to make guacamole to use up the avocados I bought last week. I packed the camera and peanuts on my back, in case there were crows to visit on the way back.

Crow 3-3-14 6544.jpg-6544

Sure enough there were crows, even on the way. Something like 20 crows flew way overhead, turning and twisting against the sky. Six landed on top of the Pritzker Pavilion, as if to wait for my return. They were not there when I came back, but it did not take long for four crows to discover me and the peanuts.

Peanut Crows 3-3-14 6527.jpg-6527Peanut Crow 3-3-14 6513.jpg-6513Crow 3-3-14 6539.jpg-6539

After a while I just decided to see if I could focus on the crows’ acrobatics in the air and sometimes almost on the ground.

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The picture below mystifies me. It reminds me of nothing, except perhaps a crow turned inside out.

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If I didn’t know this was a Crow…

Perhaps we are all more at ease with the slip and slide of snow and ice.

Crow Flight 3-3-14 6467.jpg-6467

The light was bright against the snow, but the angle of it is much more welcoming, on March 3. Spring is here. We’re not done with the snow yet, but the sunshine helps. A lot.

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.

Diving Fem WW Scoter 2-25-14 5877.jpg-5877

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.

River Walk Sign 2-25-14 5878.jpg-5878

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.

The El 2-25-14 6009.jpg-6009

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

Afternoon Visitor

Cooper's Hawk on my neighbor's tree

Cooper’s Hawk on my neighbor’s tree

I haven’t been going very far on the weekends through the snow and cold, but I’m still drawn to the outdoors on whatever scale, so I guess that might explain why I have managed to see the local Cooper’s Hawk more frequently this winter. The bird doesn’t always stay for a photograph, but almost two weeks ago I managed to take these.

I first went around the other side of the house to get a picture of the sedum as I have never seen it.

Ice on Sedum Side of House 2-16-14 5575.jpg-5575

Then I ventured around back to see what was going on there. No birds at the feeders, but there was this squirrel eating sunflower seeds by the horse chestnut. The squirrel looks almost like a grey-fox mix to me but it’s most likely a grey squirrel.

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Then I realized the explanation for no birds in the yard was undoubtedly the presence of the Cooper’s Hawk on my neighbor’s roof, next to the dish.

Cooper's Next Door 2-16-14 5610.jpg-5610

It wasn’t a great view but the bird was so close it was hard to resist taking photographs. And then even harder to crop out the dish.

Cooper's Next Door 2-16-14 5615.jpg-5615

When the coop grew tired of not being able to hide there, it flew out front to sit in my neighbor’s tree.

Cooper's Next Door 2-16-14 5722.jpg-5722

I haven’t found any telltale piles of feathers in the yard lately, but I haven’t seen hardly any mourning doves either. It will be interesting to see how many birds survive this winter. There is one benefit to the snow cover, however: I have not seen a certain black and white cat for months.

What a Difference a Day Makes

Male Cardinal Millennium 2-18-14 5730.jpg-5730

Hardened by weeks of cold, snow and ice, perhaps we are a bit skeptical of warmer, beautiful weather, but it was present today, and so welcome as a sneak preview of better days to come.

American Crow

American Crow

Accompanying the bright sunshine and bluer skies were the Millennium Park birds who seemed happy to see me..and my bag of goodies,

White-Throated Sparrow

White-Throated Sparrow

I have seen White-Throated Sparrows off and on all winter, but today in the bright sunshine they looked brand new.

Male Cardinal Millennium 2-18-14 5745.jpg-5745

Lately I have seen male Northern Cardinals alone, which really makes me wonder what the females are up to. A cardinal was singing in my neighborhood this morning as I walked to the train.

Crow Millennium 2-18-14 5793.jpg-5793

The crows have been keeping somewhat of a low or subdued profile in my presence. I think they might feel exposed by all the contrasting snow. Whatever it is, I was surprised by this crow’s grey feathers. Click on the picture for a better look.

Black-Capped Chickadee

Black-Capped Chickadee

Even the Black-Capped Chickadees were vying for my attention today.

White-Throated Sparrow Millennium 2-18-14 5748.jpg-5748

Whatever the green material was covering, this White-Throated Sparrow seemed to think it was an interesting perch. Perhaps the color symbolizes spring to him too.

Alone on the Wilderness Trail

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It turned out to be not quite as cold as predicted today, and the sun was shining brightly. I was already thinking of going to Brookfield Zoo to see if there were any birds around the Wilderness Trail. I was not sure whether the Wilderness Trail would be closed off, but I knew the Zoo would be open. Their motto is “Open 365 Days a Year.” It was almost a shock a couple weeks ago when they closed with that first big snowfall that took us deep into our lasting arctic plunge. By the way, did anybody even pay attention to The Groundhog today? Sunny day, I knew he’d see his shadow. I’m afraid he was already eclipsed by the weather forecasters and the Super Bowl. You know it’s getting bad when even The Groundhog becomes obsolete.

Icicles on the trees at Brookfield Zoo

Icicles on the trees at Brookfield Zoo

The Zoo doesn’t open until 10:00 a.m., so I had the early morning to feed the birds, unbury the car from yesterday’s snowfall which seemed more like 6 inches accumulation instead of 10, eat my oatmeal and play piano before I went. When I arrived around 10:30, there were perhaps a dozen cars in the parking lot at the North Gate. Admission was free today. I’m sure they did not want to pay the ticket takers if they expected few visitors.

Brookfield Zoo Wilderness Trail 2-2-14 112A2110.jpg-2110

The Wilderness Trail is out behind the Great Bear Wilderness exhibit and borders the Salt Creek. It has been built around a small lake. The trail is never very crowded, but today it was totally empty, although someone had carved a trail in the snow before me.

Bactrian Camel

Bactrian Camel

Not very many animals outside today. I had no intention of going inside, since I only wanted to walk the Wilderness Trail and the camera would not appreciate the transition from 14 degrees to 78 degrees. But on the way to the Wilderness Trail I encountered two camels in their outside pen, and while it seemed strange to see camels in the snow, these are Bactrian Camels, native to Mongolia, so I guess snow and cold are nothing new to them. They certainly seemed well-protected.

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In warmer winters past, the shallow little lake attracts Northern Shovelers and Hooded Mergansers, but this year with only a small area of open water, there were only Canada Geese and Mallards. And the resident Trumpeter Swan put in an appearance standing on one foot on the ice at the edge of the water.

Trumpeter Swan

Trumpeter Swan

The rest of the small lake was frozen and covered with snow.

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The feeders, on the Salt Creek side of the trail, attacked the usual suspects.

Black-Capped Chickadee

Black-Capped Chickadee

White-Breasted Nuthatch

White-Breasted Nuthatch

Red-Bellied Woodpecker

Red-Bellied Woodpecker

Dark-Eyed Junco

Dark-Eyed Junco

On the other side of the fence by the Salt Creek there were a couple young White-Tailed Deer. While the birds did not mind my presence, the deer were upset with my camera and kept moving ahead.

White-Tailed Deer

White-Tailed Deer

Overall my visit to the zoo was nothing spectacular, but it was good to be outside in the sunshine, and the pristine snow, as sick and tired as I may be of shoveling it, is still beautiful. Meanwhile, back in the birding world, there have been many White Winged Scoters reported on the lakefront. Tomorrow will be only slightly warmer than today, but sunny again. I will try to get out to Monroe Harbor tomorrow afternoon and see if I can find a White-Winged Scoter or two; while I’ve seen them before, it’s always been at a distance too far away to photograph. Anyway it’s something to look forward to.

Feeder Birds at Brookfield Zoo

Feeder Birds at Brookfield Zoo

Frozen in Time

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Why, why, why do I

Always think I

Have more energy

Than I do?

Ice on the Chicago River

Ice on the Chicago River

Why, why, why do I

Think I’ll do

RBG Chicago River 1-31-14 3571.jpg-3580

More than I’ll ever

Get around to?

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Thursday’s heat wave

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Twenty-four seven

Four-thirty a.m till eleven

The days are way too long

Ring-Billed Gull, downtown Chicago by the river

Ring-Billed Gull, downtown Chicago by the river

And yet they fly

So quickly by

Can’t help but live them wrong

Chief Nemesis on my feeder

Chief Nemesis on my feeder

It’s only when the clock stops

And I am in the moment

That life comes by

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Looks me in the eye

Red-Breasted Merganser on the Chicago River

Red-Breasted Merganser on the Chicago River

And says what it so meant

American Robin, Cancer Survivors Garden 1-31-14

American Robin, Cancer Survivors Garden 1-31-14

Life is quick

Life’s a kick

Life can be expendable

Cardinal 2-1-14 3922.jpg-3922

What we share

Can take us there

And always be commendable

OH NO not more SNOW

OH NO not more SNOW

During the week and even into the weekend, I find myself distracted by too many multi-tasking thoughts. So to stop and be in the moment is priceless and irresistible. I think it must be what I love about taking pictures. I am trying to freeze a moment in time, in memory. I am also paying attention, so that inhibits the clutter of distraction. So that must be why it felt so good to pull the camera out on the way in to work the last two mornings–after two weeks of working through lunch or barely getting out at all–to stop and shoot at the river’s edge. It’s a creative process, too; the excitement of seeing something that looks like a potential photograph and trying to capture it with the camera, it’s a vision, however momentary. But it also takes me out of myself and I focus on the subject. And that is why I love birds so very much: they make me forget about me. Reminds me of that line in Joni Mitchell’s song, “All I Want” from the Blue album, “Oh I love you when I forget about me.” But with the birds it’s different. They also remind me of who I really am, without that act I have to put on during the work week.

The ultimate peace is to be relieved of one’s constant mind. I think they used to call it “Nirvana.” (No, this is not intended to be a musical reference this time. 🙂 )

Mourning Doves in my neighbor's tree

Mourning Doves in my neighbor’s tree

P.S. This House Finch was supposed to be in this post but she somehow didn’t make it.

Female House Finch

Female House Finch