Sunday, October 25, 2009

Chicago birding: saving the best until last

I traveled to Chicago on Friday to attend a conference on Saturday. I checked into the Allerton Hotel on Michigan Avenue, only about six blocks from the lakefront, around 3:00 pm. I dropped my things off in my room, grabbed my bins and camera and about 15 minutes after check-in was rushing down to the lake.

I had heard about a place called "the hedge" in Montrose Park along the lakefront where good birds are often found in migration. I'm not sure I found "the hedge." If not, it was the next best thing.

Looking back at the skyline from across this wonderful grassy, weedy, marshy spot. Small, but rich.

Another view.

The bird in the upper right corner is a Fox Sparrow and in the lower left a Hermit Thrush. Terrible photo, but I include it because it is my only documentation of the Fox Sparrow. I saw it only for a brief second. It never made another appearance and I could not relocate it. I didn't even know I had this photo until I downloaded to my computer and cropped it to make sure of the ID. You can click on each photo to enlarge.

I love birding in new places. In Chicago, I'm not likely to see new birds, but just being in a new place makes it fun and interesting. This was certainly true for this location. As with Belle Isle last weekend, Hermit Thrushes were everywhere.

In the trees.

On the beach.

In the grass, on the cement retaining wall, in the bushes ... I was hoping for a Gray-cheeked Thrush (as in the one above), but in the end, I decided that all were Hermit Thrushes.

The secret for taking photos with my amateur little camera is to find birds being busy with things other than being wary.

I must have taken two dozen photos of this Brown Creeper scampering up trees. This is the only keeper.

Occupied with eating seeds from a tasty weed.

Checking to make sure everything is still safe.

I was disappointed that the two photos above and below did not turn out better - all are slightly out of focus. Nevertheless, they still meet my minimal standards to show here. The White-crowned Sparrow above was one of two; the other, a juvenile, never did cooperate for a photo. I also saw one Swamp Sparrow, also uncooperative, and White-throated Sparrows were everywhere making it a challenge to search through each to make sure I did not miss a Lincoln's, Savannah or other. But, in the end, I saw only the four sparrow species. I also saw Common Yellowthroat and Tennessee Warbler.

Catch them while they're busy - a blurry, bathing White-throated.

Pausing to take a breath. I think this photo is extremely cute. I am so disappointed that it is out of focus.

This appears to be the same kind of tasty weed that the White-crowned enjoyed.

Bits of the seed can be seen in the bird's beak. Also, very cute.

Did I say that I was saving the best until last? After taking many photos of the White-throated Sparrow above, I reluctantly decided to call it a day. When I'm reluctant I leave slowly. Am I leaving too soon? Did I miss anything? Just then a bird ran into a tiny, open patch of grass from under the bushes where the White-throated Sparrow was feeding. What? Look at those spots. Bins up. Oh, my gosh! Ah, the sweet reward of hesitation.

A Wood Thrush! Never in my wildest dreams did I think I would see a Wood Thrush today.

Catch them when they're busy! Drinking water from a puddle.

My heart goes pitter patter.

I was so lucky. There were runners, bikers and walkers all around, but for the time I spent with this bird, often just feet away, none came past to frighten it and I was able to stand quite close and take many photos. When it was on the stair drinking water, I was too close to even use the telephoto lens and so the bird appears more distant than it really was. Finally, it did leave. No passersby had scared it away. I gave thought to following, but then: No, I can't top the serendipity of this moment.

Chicago - nice place to go birding!

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