Monday, May 23, 2011

New Location - the Bill Jarvis Migratory Bird Sanctuary - 5.22.11

So I was walking through the Hedge last week when I saw this sign:

Now, I know the Lily Pool well.  I was just complaining about having hiked over there from the South Pond last week only to find that it still isn't open.  :(  But I hadn't heard of this Bill Jarvis place.  I think the sign must be new, because I'm pretty sure I would have seen it before, I'm only at the Hedge about once a week.  And I'm at the North Pond almost as often.

Anyway, I came home and Googled this place.  It's near the golf course on the east side of Lake Shore Drive on the North Side.  Or, as the directions I got said, "East of Lake Shore Drive, at the end of Addison Ave. (3400 N.)

Well, I was going to be in that general vicinity yesterday morning so I took all my photography gear with me and planned to stop on my way back.  According to Google Maps, I needed to take the 36 bus back down Broadway and then walk the few blocks east to Lake Shore Drive and then cross it, and basically I'd be there.

If you're from Chicago, you see the problem.  If you're not from Chicago, imagine crossing your area's busiest eight-lane expressway.  Not a highway with cross streets that will cause cars to occasionally come to a stop.  An expressway with on- and off-ramps so no one stops on this road ever. (Okay there's a light at Chicago Ave, but that was nowhere near me.)

There are a few underpasses.  The east side of the drive is a *highly* developed recreation area in a very upscale section of town.  Of course, I hopped off the bus where I had to hike up about a mile north to get to an underpass, cross under and then hike back about a quarter mile to get back to where I actually wanted to be.

Not helping things, I was in jeans and boots and a t-shirt and the temp had shot up from the mid sixties to the mid eighties between the time I left my house and the time I got to this sanctuary.

Now, me being uncomfortable isn't the end of the world.  I had water and snacks and I was in the shade a fair bit of the time.  Unfortunately I'd left the house without turning on the air conditioning for the ferrets.  I'm sure dog and cat people think that's kind of a ridiculous thing to get worried about, but ferrets don't handle heat well at all.  Logi (especially) is happy to snorkle and play in the snow all day long.  But ferrets tolerate temperatures above 80* F about as well as most people tolerate temps at about 100* F.  We CAN survive it, but it's going to be a miserable time. And then, only for short periods.  So I was feeling a little pressure to move through this place at a quicker pace than I might otherwise investigate a new shooting location.

That said, the set up for this place is... not great.  I didn't have a great desire to linger there.

Unlike the Magic Hedge or the Lily Pond, you can't actually walk through this sanctuary.  The entire thing is surrounded by a ten foot high chain-link fence.  There's a path around it, but you can't go in.  Part of me says, "Well that's great for the birds, really." The rest of me says, "If the point is to increase nature awareness in the city, you might want to let us get as close as we can in the other parks.  Because that fence is a huge turn off."  It might have been better if it was split rail or something a little less "institutionalized, prison-height" black chain-link.  For some reason that fence read much more as "Keep people OUT" rather than "keep nature safe."

There is a platform that lets you see over the fence at one end.  Sort of.  When I read on the website, I was thinking of the one like they have at Volo Bog.  At Volo the platform isn't ridiculously high off the ground from where it was - maybe 8 or 10 steps up.  But once you're up there, you can look over a huge lowered section of the bog.  You get a great view from that slightly increased height.  It's where I took this shot:

The platform at Bill Jarvis is only about four steps up.  And yes, it does help you see over the fence and it's a great spot to set up your tripod.  The downside is that the birds have completely figured out that they're exposed on that face of the sanctuary and they tend to not hop up to be visible while there are people on the platform.

As you go around, there are a few trees on the outside of the actual sanctuary and a few areas that I think will be wildflower and butterfly gardens in a month, but aren't much of anything right now.

It's a small area that has a parking lot on the north and an archery range (yes, really, Chicago has a public archery range.  And there were even people out there shooting arrows at targets when I was out there) on the northeast and a jogging path that butts *right* up against Lake Shore Drive all along the west side.  So it's not a phenomenal spot for getting in touch with nature.

These signs every twelve feet or so, certainly didn't help.

All that said, I did see a few species I haven't seen anywhere else in Chicago... or, you know, anywhere else at all.

 This is a hairy woodpecker.  I've seen the RedHeaded at the North Pond, and I've seen Red-Breasted and Flickers at the Hedge.  This guy took me a bit to identify because most woodpeckers in Northern Illinois are black and white with various checks and stripes on their wings.
 An Indigo Bunting!  A blue bird.  I love finding blue in nature.  He really didn't want to come out of the leaves.  He was singing his little heart out though, so he wasn't too completely dedicated to staying hidden.

And another warbler to add to the collection.  This one is called a Magnolia Warbler.  I really need to get a lens a little better than the telephoto I have now.  Warblers tend to stay *just* out of range of the lens I have now.  I ran into a guy out there who was looking for his 30th warbler species for the spring.  Last year he saw 32 distinct species.  I guess I still have a lot of birds to find.

So, yeah, three new species, but I need to head back to this spot one more time without worrying about me being hot or the ferrets being hot (seriously, I was more worried about them) or being annoyed by the 'great new place' being badly set up before I form a more permanent opinion.

So, the final verdict?   33 of 50 new species, and a location that needs re-evaluation.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

The Magic Hedge - 5.20.11 - post 2

So there have been tons and tons of nests visible through the branches this spring, because it's been so cold for so long.  Apparently the birds can read a calendar and set up housekeeping because it's May and they should.  Trees on the other hand say, "It's freaking cold.  My leaves are doing just find inside, thanks."

The leaves are starting to come out now, but still a lot of the nests are pretty easily seen.  Unlike last year when the mother robin built her nest about three feet off the ground (and consequently lost it and her four eggs) most of them are like fifteen to twenty feet up.  Not something I can go investigating.  But a few are in the eight to ten feet up range.  Now, I'm not even five feet tall, but I have a tripod.

I've been putting on the kit lens, pulling the focus back as far as I can, setting the camera on auto and then putting it on the tripod.  I set the timer for ten seconds, the continuous shooting mode for 5 (one shot every second for five seconds), collapse the tripod legs together and hold it up over my head like a boom mic and *hope*.  A lot.

This shot was a little easier than most to get.  I stood back from the tree and didn't have to worry about angling down.  I wanted the mother crow in the nest.

I waited her out and she finally left (okay, a few loud people behind me scared her off, I think - I watched her for like half an hour and she didn't mind, but then these teenage girls came through...)  Anyway, I did the camera-on-a-stick thing and got this.

Not wonderfully in focus and I wish those leaves in the bottom left corner weren't there, but you can see that mama is waiting for something to happen. :)

I found this nest a little bit later.  This was as good a shot as I could manage, but I haven't seen a bird in or very near it in the past two weeks I've been watching it.  It may be abandoned, or maybe I just have lousy timing for catching something in it.  I *think* it's a robin's nest. (If someone else out there knows better, please let me know!)  The mud around it makes me think of this shot...

Another camera-on-a-stick moment.  I never saw the mother in the nest, but there are roughly a billion robins in the Hedge, so I'm pretty sure she's around somewhere.  I'll be keeping an eye on this nest. :)

So about half-way across the park, a really heavy fog started rolling in off the lake.

Now, when you're actively trying to shoot things far away from you, it's not fun when the fog makes everything, well, foggy.  But if you switch your focus to getting mood shots, some fun stuff can happen.

 This looks better bigger.  In the midground there's a flock of seagulls.  This is the volleyball court on Montrose Beach, which is just behind the Hedge.  You can't even see the lake.

It looks like I took this shot in October.  Like I was saying, the leaves aren't making much of an appearance yet.  For that matter the wildflowers aren't making an appearance at all.


Okay, up next, a new bird-watching spot in Chicago.  It's half-way between the Magic Hedge and the North Pond.  If I ever got seriously energized, I could start at the South Pond, hit the Lily Pond, go up to the North Pond, hit this new spot and then go up to the Hedge.  And freakishly, each of those spots has at least one bird I haven't seen at any other place.  And we're talking about a roughly four-mile stretch of the lake front.  Geographically speaking, that's not a huge area to cover!

Saturday, May 21, 2011

The Magic Hedge - 5.20.11 - post 1

It finally got above 70 again yesterday so I headed out to the Hedge.  Migration season is starting to wane, but apparently there's still a few new species out there to find.

The really cool one was the Baltimore Oriole that followed me throughout the day.  Either that or there were a half-dozen of these guys out there.
I really, really wish this had come in more in focus.  Well, focused on the bird, not the tree bit in front of him.
Here he is, making sure I was still following him, I think. :)
Of *course* the best shot I get is from underneath him.  This is how my luck goes.
And there was a female Black Duck hanging out in front of the Hedge.  Most of the large wading birds tend to avoid the Hedge, since there's no large body of water within it and Lake Michigan is just beyond it.  She was apparently curious about where all the people were going.
Cardinals are a mainstay of the Hedge.  You can see them (and hear them) all year long.  I like this shot because his crest is up; that's a little more uncommon.
Most of the time, this is what you see of the chipmunks in this park.  Now you see them, now you don't.

But I've discovered this one little guy who lives in a fallen tree.  He's in a particularly interesting area of the Hedge where I often see woodpeckers and other cool birds.  Anyway, he bolts into his warren in there whenever he hears someone coming, but I've learned that if I stand still for a few minutes, he'll come creeping back out to see if the coast is clear.  When he sees me standing there, far enough away to not cause him to bolt back in, he freezes while he decides what I'm up to.  Gives me a great chance to get good pictures of him. :)

Tomorrow I'll post about the fog and bird nests.  You have to get creative when photographing both!  In the mean time, the oriole and the chipmunk go on the new species list.  So that's 30 total so far.  60% a little more than two weeks in.  Not too bad!

Friday, May 20, 2011

Apparently this is the Spring of Me Rescuing Birds

So, last month there was the grebe that crash landed in the middle of a Chicago street that I rescued and got to a wildlife sanctuary where it was given medical treatment and rehabilitated.

Then this week there were the baby geese that were stuck behind the chicken wire.

So I'm chasing this little bird around (the guy on the fence post, not the geese in the background) when I notice... hey there's a pair of geese in the background!  And at this time of year, where there's a pair of geese, there's frequently baby geese.

And sure enough.  These particular parents had a set of triplets. Aren't they adorable?

But then I notice that this one is behind the chicken wire fence.  Now I know most of the chicken wire fence around the South Pond is to keep people on the paths and off the plants.  But right here, there's a goofy comma shaped section closed in between the path and the pond.

Two of the goslings had gotten into that comma shaped area.  Momma, Poppa and one of the babies were on the outside of it, with a clear path down to the water.

The ones to the right of the fence... I don't even know how they got in there.  About two feet across, at the back of the section, the fence is underwater.  I couldn't find a gap anywhere that would explain how birds that can't fly yet got into this space.

At this point I stopped taking pictures, in fact, I set all my gear down to figure out how to get all the geese back together.  Unlike a mother mammal, geese don't have the instinct to 'scruff' their young and move them.  All they can do is herd them and trust the small one's instinct to stay close to the parents.

In this case that was actively working against them.  As I got close the parents crowded up against the fence and began to hiss at me.  They never honked and they never flapped at me or tried to charge me. And believe me, Chicago geese are afraid of *nothing*.  Certainly not people.  I have to think they understood I was trying to help.

For about half an hour I tried to lift the fence (it was nailed down too well) or find the opening they'd used to get back there in the first place (I still don't know how they managed it.)  But when the goslings tried, repeatedly, to shove themselves through the chicken wire to get back to their parents, I knew I needed to do something.  They could get their heads and necks through the holes, but clearly couldn't get their tubby little behinds through a roughly one-inch diameter hole and they'd thrash when they got their heads stuck.

So I stepped over the fence, to the parents' great displeasure, and herded the goslings up to a corner of the space they were stuck in and one at a time picked them up and put them back down, right in front of mama.

Now, I know some people hold on to the old wives' tale that if you handle a baby bird, the parents will smell 'human' on it and reject it.  I've done enough reading to know, a bird's sense of smell is garbage and their need to take care of their young is very, very strong.  In my reading about song birds falling out of the nest, they said to pick it up and put it back in the nest if you can.  So in this case, picking them up for the three seconds it would take to get them back where they could rejoin their families was certainly not going to be an issue.

So I did.  I got them back over the fence...
... where Momma and Poppa herded everyone together and back down to the water...
Where they set off for the island in the pond where there's none of that pesky chicken wire to separate them.

So that puts my bird rescue total for the season at three.  Wonder what it'll be by the fall? :)

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Last New Species post for North Pond - 5.10.10

So I thought I was done with new species for this trip, but then I started going through the shots I'd oh-so-cleverly labeled things like "CheckThisBird" and "UnknownSparrow".

 The first thing I found was this dragonfly wheel.  Unlike the pondhawks I had a ton of last year, this is apparently a Common Green Darner.  He's different because instead of having a solid, dusty, light blue tail, he has a darker green tail with brown marks on it.  He's also *huge*.
 After a few hundred painted turtles, I finally found something a little different.  This is apparently a False Map Turtle.  According to Wikipedia, When with other turtles, they also are very communal, sharing space and using each other for predator watching, increasing the odds of surviving an attack by any unwanted animal. Which explains why every time I saw one of these, they were hanging out with the bigger, more obvious, painted turtles. :)

Like this:

 A False Map hanging out with a group of Sliders.
 Not a new species, but in case you haven't noticed, I find sexual dimorphism fascinating.  This is the female Common Yellow-throat Warbler.
 The folks at the fabulous Project Noah site had to help me with this one.  Turns out he's a Lincoln's Sparrow.  They migrate through Chicago, but apparently don't stay.  So I was lucky to catch him as he passed through town.
 Here you can see his identifying head stripes a little bit better.
 This one is still throwing us for a loop at Project Noah.  He's a wren.  We know that much.  The white eyestripe makes me think he's a Carolina Wren.  But the Carolina Wrens have a very white chin, and this guy doesn't seem to have that.  The Marsh Wren is similar in coloring, but doesn't have the white eyestripe.  Any suggestions gratefully accepted! :)
 Another view, in case it helps. :)

 Something else that needs an I.D.  It's a beetle.  It was digging around in the bark chips on the path of the North Pond.  Any ideas?

Okay, so, I'm not entirely sure what they all *are*, but there's five new species in this post.  So now I'm at 28 of my 50, and the butterflies and dragonflies and most of the cold-bloodeds haven't really started making an appearance yet.  I may have to up my goal. :)

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

North Pond - 5.10.11 - New Speices, Post 1

Wow... yesterday the weather was just amazing so after I tracked down the falcon, I went to the North Pond.  I took my time and my tripod and got some really neat shots.  There are still a few species I need to research, but I found some really amazing stuff out there.

I also have a new obsession.  It's a social wildlife site where you post what you've seen and where you've seen it.  If you don't know what it is, people can help you identify the animal or flower from the picture and the context you give.  And you get to earn little badges as you go.  If you've ever seen how I play Farmville, you know I love getting little electronic badges to signify accomplishments. :)  If you're on, or join, Project Noah, and want to follow me over there, I'm listed by my name (Kymberlee Ricke).

So anyway, it took me 5.5 hours to make the loop around the pond yesterday.  The wildlife was in full swing.  And so were the local birders and photographers.  At one point I stood around with two other people exchanging sightings and talking about the Kingbird that perched, basically, right above our heads and the warblers that are still in abundance.

So... new species from this particular adventure...

 So this particular duck is a bit of an odd case.  It's a Pekin or Domesticated duck.  Found in the wild... so... *shrug*  I suspect it was either put there by or escaped from the Lincoln Park Zoo, nearby.  There's exactly one pair on this pond.  So, yeah, wild, but not exactly.
From white ducks to American Black Duck.  Apparently these guys were in danger of being wiped out as a pure species.  See, there's other ducks that are happy to mate with them, thus diluting the American Black Duck gene pool.

 Which leads us to this guy.  At first glance, he seems to be a mallard with that bright green head, but that's only part of the truth.  He's a mallard mix.  Like dogs, ducks can apparently intermix when breeding and mallards are apparently all too glad to do so.  This particular mix seems to be the "labradoodle" of the duck world.  A 'mutt', but one that occurs enough to get its own name.  According to one website I found, the mallard head with a white neck/chest and brown body is called a Duclair Duck.  In general a mallard mix is referred to as a "manky duck".

Okay, this guy isn't new.  It's a correction.  I had originally listed him as a White-Fronted Goose.  And while that would be an appropriate description of this guy, it's not his species.  He's a Graylag.

 Did I mention that the pond is Warblers-Are-Us right now?  This is a Common Yellow-Throat Warbler.  Looks like more than just his throat is yellow to me!
 Here's the Eastern Kingbird I mentioned above.  Kingbirds are a type of flycatcher and apparently somewhat rare in the area.
 One of my favorite finds of the trip was this Rose-breasted Grosbeak.  So very nice of him to show off his distinguishing red breast for me.  Made it much easier to identify him. :)  He's a finch - related to cardinals.

 Now here's something you don't see every day.  Mostly because he never comes out of the grasses and reeds!  A Virginia Rail.  We don't get too many wading birds in Chicago, other than the herons, so this was a pretty cool find.
And the coolest find of the whole trip?  A Red-headed Woodpecker.  Yep, like Woody.  Someone had mentioned to me that they'd seen one around and I was pretty sure they were confusing red-headed with either Downy or Red-breasted because they both have red on at least parts of their head.  But no, sure enough, here's a bird that's listed as a threatened species, right here in the middle of Chicago.

So those were the major new finds.  Eight new species, for a total of 23 of my 50.  Almost half-way there.  I suspect it's going to start getting a little thin in the 'new species' area, at least until June and the influx of the warm-weather insects.  I saw a clouded sulphur butterfly when I was out getting the falcon yesterday, so we should start seeing more butterflies soon.  And the bees are starting to pop out.  So hopefully about the time the migrating birds move out, the insects will move in.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Quick Post - special new species - Peregrine Falcon

So, I didn't know about this until the news ran a bit last night...

Chicago is quite the home to peregrine falcons.  There are all kinds of blogs and sites for the sets that have permanent nesting locations in places like the Uptown Theater, St. Michael's Church and a few other places.

So, with our first really, really good weather day of the year (The news said we hit 90F, but I was on the lake all day, so if we got over 75F where I was, I'd be surprised.  It was LOVELY!) I went out to see if I could find one of these awesome birds of prey...

Found it!  I went up to the church, and parked about a block away.  As I was getting my gear out I saw a large bird circling the church, but it was really high up and really far away.  So I walked up to the building and looked where the news said to look for the nest.


I waited for about half an hour hoping it would show its head.


So I headed back to the car.  Just as I was unlocking the door, I noticed that swooping shape I'd seen before, so I grabbed the camera and started shooting, trying to follow it as it flew and get a few shots.

I don't have the kind of glass that would let me get a really, really clear shot of him as far away as he was.  As it is, I'm pretty impressed that these came out as clear and recognizable as they did.

I'm pretty sure I have one reason for that - spot metering.  It was really bright out today and I'm sure I would have lost him in the light if I hadn't set the metering properly.

This last shot is probably the best example of why I needed to spot-meter.  It's still not great - there's chromatic aberration around his tail, for example - but you can still see the shape of his legs and his talons.  Here he is perched on the steeple of the church he's made his home.

From there I went to the North Pond.  The amazing weather and the fact that I didn't have someone waiting for me to finish (like the last time I was out there) meant I could spend five hours making one circuit.  There were tons and tons of great finds.  A Virginia Rail, a redheaded woodpecker, more warblers and turtles so deep they were stacking themselves on top of each other to get spots on the logs in the sun.

But that's for the next post.  For now, I'm at 15 new species for 2011.