Saturday 3 p.m. ~ Winterizing the Fountain

The landscaping crew who put in the backyard was back for a fall clean up and to instruct me on how to prune and maintain the different plants. They also prepped the fountain for the winter.

I don't know who's more sorry to see the fountain closed up for the winter, me or the birds. The burbling water feature has been tremendously popular. Traffic picked up these last few weeks especially as we enjoyed warm weather in October and the word got out with the birds in the neighborhood.

The last avian visitor before the guys arrived in the afternoon was a first-time sighting in the backyard, a hairy woodpecker. Too late to the party, my friend. The pool opens again next April.



Robin Babies!

While I was in the kitchen fixing lunch, I thought I heard some strange squeaks and squawks coming from the tree outside the window. Sure enough, the robin babies have hatched! Here they are, beaks raised, hoping for a handout. You can tell that mom's landed nearby with a wormy treat when the beaks pop up and start  madly waving around. Even though their eyes aren't open yet, they know she's arrived.

About two-thirds of the way into the video, you'll hear a small crash and me swearing, as I kicked the cat food bowl and sprayed kibble all over the room. 😛

Look Who’s Back!

The robins are back nesting in the tree outside my library window!

The nest from last summer weathered the winter until about February when a big storm blew it clear out of the tree. I wasn’t sure if robins returned to the same place year after year but it appears they do. I’ve been keeping an eye on the tree and sometime between when I went into the hospital and today, the couple has rebuilt the nest and mom is camping out.

So, even if the weather has turned decidedly winter-like, this is a sure sign of spring.

Owling About

Went on my first “owl prowl” last night, and though we didn’t see a single owl, it was a lot of fun. Offered by the Chicago Park District, the prowling took place at the North Park Village Nature Center. I knew next to nothing about owls, so I learned a lot from our guide, who started things off with a slideshow, imparting a lot of interesting information in a short amount of time. After the 45 minute lecture and Q&A, he explained that we’d be looking for two types of owls, the smaller screech owl and the more common great-horned owl.

I’d never been on a nighttime bird walk, so I was curious to know exactly how we’d do it. I left the binoculars at home, figuring they were unusable in the dark, and dressed warmly for our hike through the nature preserve. There was enough ambient light from the city around us reflected on the cloud cover and the remaining snow on the ground to see relatively well. Owls are notoriously difficult to spot; you basically have to wait for them to reveal themselves through movement, usually flying off.

We’d tromp through the snow for a few minutes and then stop at various points on the trail, standing in a large circle. The guide had a tape recorder (this was a high-tech birding adventure) and he’d play recorded bird calls, hoping to attract the attention of any nearby owls. This is the very beginning of their mating season, a good time to be owling about, when the birds are calling and responding to each other in the night.

So there we’d stand, in a circle with each person instructed to look in front of them, thereby covering a 360-degree view with minimal movement on our part. The guide would play portions of the tape, pointing the recorder in different directions, hoping for some response. (Click on the links above and scroll to the bottom of the page to hear recorded bird calls like the ones we were using.)

The group walked the circuit of the preserve, stopping about five or six times at different points, but the owls were having none of it. After a while, my eyes started playing tricks on me and I stood starring at what was probably a squirrel nest, practically willing it to be an owl.

At the last stop, our guide and another volunteer from the nature center entertained the group with their own owl calls, at which point I was pretty certain I heard owls snickering at us from the trees.

No matter that we didn’t see anything. It was nice to just be out, walking on a snowy trail at night, hoping for the possibility of a close encounter of the wild kind. (We did see some deer walking across the frozen pond.)

Afterward, my birding friends and I warmed up with a few beers at Uncommon Ground. All in all, a great way to wrap up the week.

Birding Friday

Migrating Hitchhiker 1

This evening, I’m bundling up in a couple three layers and taking an owl prowl, something I’ve never done before. In fact, come to think of it, I don’t know that I’ve ever seen an owl in the wild. Fingers crossed for tonight.

So, with that, I thought it would be fun to post some photos from this past summer, when I had an interesting and memorable warm-weather birding experience.

Migrating Hitchhiker 5

During a quiet sail in September, this little migrant landed on our boat when we were about two miles off shore. He rode along with us for about 45 minutes, hopping all around the boat, up one side and down the other, from bow to stern, feasting on the many spiders tucked into the nooks and crannies on board. Fuel for his long flight south.

Migrating Hitchhiker 11

I think this is a Blackpoll warbler, which means he was migrating from upper Canada to South America!

Migrating Hitchhiker 8

This Video Does Not Convey How Bitterly Cold It Was

I shot this video on Saturday afternoon, as the pink of the setting sunset was fading and the wind chill was about 5 degrees. Lake Michigan was gorgeous and the waves at Lawrence Avenue were pretty cool, rolling in from the east and then buffeting back into the lake from the retaining wall on the shore. The water coming from two directions created the neat effect of a steep peak of waves rolling horizontally to the shore like a sea serpent.

In the minute that I took to shoot this (I’ve edited it down slightly) I nearly froze my fingers off holding the iPhone. Serious pain.

At the beginning of the clip you can see, way off on the horizon, the water intake crib that was often our destination marker for sailing over the summer.

There was a flock of birds surfing and diving in the frigid water. (Portions of the lake had frozen along the shore and there was ice floating out in the middle.) In this clip you can see them just off the embankment. These are common goldeneyes who are wintering here. Brrr. But considering they came in from Alaska, this is a warm up for them.

Geese Rest Stop

NaBloPoMo, Day 23

Lately, I’ve noticed a lot of geese hanging out in a particular patch of the lake, just bobbing around in the water close to the shore. It’s odd to see geese in the water around here. Duck and seagulls, yes. Geese, not so much. They tend to loiter on golf courses and around office park ponds. But these geese bob around in Lake Michigan, (right on the border of Evanston and Chicago, just across Sheridan Road from a graveyard, a popular hangout for geese in the Fall) which makes me think these guys are tourists, passing through on their way south.

I sat for a while on the rocks watching this crowd, a combination of many different flocks; they would all change direction in unison, pointing into the wind. Those closer to the shore had to put more effort into it, as they were continually fighting the surf. Every so often, a group of them would raise off the lake together heading in the southern direction and then bank west, up and over into the graveyard, honking all the while. I was hoping to catch a large group in flight; the best I could do was a small crowd passing by.

Pocket Birding

Sunday was absolutely gorgeous. While I was out walking, I heard a birdsong that I often hear in the trees in front of my place, but somehow, I’ve never been able to identify the bird. While on a walk Sunday, I heard the song again and was trying to spot the two or three birds chirping and flitting around in the trees when I suddenly remembered I had a recording device in my pocket!

I whipped out my iPhone, hit the voice memo recorder, and held it skyward for about thirty seconds. When I played it back, I was stunned at how well the mic had picked up the birdsong from atop a tree twenty feet overhead.

Now, not only can I use my digital camera to “shoot” birds to later identify at home, I can record their song as well.

BTW, unless someone can tell me otherwise, the closest I came to identifying this birdsong (and from the very brief glimpse I got of them) this is a goldfinch.

Saturday 3 p.m. ~ Sailing Past the Wilson Avenue Crib

Wilson Avenue Crib

Saturday was another pleasant afternoon of sailing. We had a full house on board, with friends in from out of town joining us to take in the unique view of Chicago.

Water Intake/Cormorant Nesting Station

We sailed even closer than usual to the Wilson Avenue water intake crib. We were on the downwind side of the crib and noticed an intense smell of fish. Reminded me of the bait barge we'd often pass when sailing in San Diego Bay when I was growing up.

Cormorant Crib

A closer look revealed why–a flock of cormorants are using the tower as a nesting site. Take a look at the larger version of the photo and you can see the nests clinging to the ledge.