The Nerd: The month of May is busier than any other month by far, whether in either the spring or the fall migration. Birds are eager to get onto their breeding grounds and will head there even if weather conditions are not favorable. But when a southerly wind blows behind them, they move en masse. Still, during the whole first half of this year’s May, the weather seemed to impede rather than to aid the migration. Regardless, as the month progressed we did see more and more and more. In May I feel compelled to get out birding as much as possible, and when out looking I want to keep going and look some more. So many places to check for birds! So many to see! I would get into what Jen refers to as a “bird fog.” Slowly, though, The Bird was able to rein in The Nerd. Quality, not quantity, she’d say. I slowed down. (Or did I only imagine this?) Learned to savor the experience. To enjoy the neighborhood, and our celebrations. And to find anew why I love Chicago so much. Thank you, Bird!
The Bird: “May Madness”: peak spring migration - it’s deep and it’s real. The idea of this project was to explore and celebrate the birds and neighborhoods of Chicago in a way that could expand the idea of birding…to someone WAY on the other end of the serious birding spectrum (but still a Bird Who Loves Birds). Along our explorations, we’ve seen many amazing birds - which included 18 birds I’d never seen before in my life! Thank you Geoffrey Williamson!!! I look at birding as a platform for inspiring creativity. I love how much more colorful May’s bird images were compared to April's (…because warblers!). Celebrating them and the experience further with The Nerd while exploring new neighborhoods – are memories I’ll always hold dear. Yes please, thank you and cheers!
Total Species Count: 103
Adventure Log: 1 May 2017
The Nerd: Intermittent showers made planning a May Day outing problematic. We snuck out to Wicker Park during what we thought was a break in the precipitation, but we still got sprinkled on. The migration was in slow motion, with only a couple of actual migrants present: a kinglet and a White-crowned Sparrow. Still, it felt good to be in the greenery of the park, hunting (with binoculars!), with the energy of the neighborhood surrounding us. I’m hoping to be back here again sometime; the park is small, but it would be fun to find birds here (and to visit some of the neighborhood establishments that the Bird pointed out to me!).
The Bird: The weather was cold and wet – it reminded me of spitty English rain, so we were still able to bird (fueled by happy and warm taco bellies). A Ruby-crowned Kinglet was forced to look for bugs on the ground – perhaps the only perk of the colder weather. This park is solidly in the heart of the neighborhood...adjacent to all that is Wicker Park awesome, art/food/drink/music-wise. In the fog and mist, we noticed our old friend, Sears Tower (forever) – a welcome vignette framed by the surrounding tree lined streets.
Adventure pairs well with: Big Star. The Nerd: Taco el Pastor and Taco Alambre de Res. The Bird: Taco de Pescado and Taco Alambre de Res. Delicioso!
eBird list of birds we saw: http://ebird.org/ebird/view/checklist/S36460638
The Nerd: Being one quarter Polish, I was pleased that we were going to this park named after the Revolutionary War hero from Poland that Chicago loves to honor. The beautiful and grand fieldhouse captured most of our attention, since the day’s weather and the park’s sparse vegetation limited the number of birds. This changed when suddenly we saw in flight a medium sized bird with big white patches on the wings and lower back. Red-headed Woodpecker! It landed in a tree, and we watched it there and also as it flew to a utility pole just outside the park. This woodpecker species is a short distance migrant that clears out of the Chicago area during hard winters. Recently, winters have been more mild, and perhaps as a consequence of this, we are seeing more individuals in Chicago during the migratory periods.
The Bird: The renowned landscape designer, Jens Jensen, finished construction of this field house in 1914. Inspired by the polish neighborhood, he initiated a competition for art students at The Art Institute of Chicago to paint a mural on the semicircular facade above the stage in the field house. It was beautiful! Besides that, we weren’t sure that there was going to be much to talk about bird-wise…until I heard Geoffrey Williamson exclaim Red-headed Woodpecker!!! Dear god I almost had a heart attack (which becomes an ongoing theme for May). So we were off to the “chases”. At one point I found myself jumping and squealing with delight because we were finally able to find it! The Nerd had also captured this striking bird with fantastic pictures! It was high-five-o-rama and an excellent start to our May adventures!
eBird list of birds we saw: http://ebird.org/ebird/view/checklist/S36461744
Adventure Log - Birding Patch: 3, 8, 11, 22 & 23 May 2017
The Nerd: Jen lives right next to Lincoln Park. Just a very short walk from her door and you are into the Margate Park section, Jen’s home birding patch. How lucky is she! “Steps from the park” in realtor parlance, and what an incredible urban park it is. Frequent visits to the same area reward you with a growing, cumulative list of birds. Overall during May we tallied a total of 40 species! The visit on the 8th netted an Orange-crowned Warbler. The orange crown on this species is seen only rarely; in fact, sometimes it is referred to as “the warbler with no field marks.” Warbler numbers were into double digits on the 11th, and we saw four Rose-breasted Grosbeaks - males and females - all in the same tree. The surprise of the month came on the 22nd when we spotted a Eurasian Tree Sparrow on the lawn. This Old World species is established in areas near St. Louis and north from there along the Illinois and Mississippi River valleys, but finding one in Chicago is an exceedingly rare event! This was The Nerd’s 299th species observed in Lincoln Park, and it would have been missed without regular visits to The Bird’s patch!
The Bird: I had no idea that there was such a thing as a “patch” of one's own (initially it made me giggle). It was awesome to bird my “patch” with The Nerd on multiple occasions. My usual birding companion is my 70 pound pit bull, Scout…and why I joke that I’m “The Incidental” eBirder for Margate Park. Birding is not my primary activity because I’m walking Scout, but I still take “note”. Scout is like taking a mini Clydesdale for a walk, or being walked by one – so binoculars do not happen…I tried once. He knows birds, squirrels (we’re still working on "night" rabbits) are “LEAVE ITS!” to the point where we can get really close to them because he’s so calm and gentle. Scout always joined the Nerd and the Bird in Margate Park. It was so wonderful each time we were able to add a new species. I also love the fact that we’ve gone all over the city hoping to find something really special and rare…and it ended up being in MY “patch”, across from my building!!! It was probably the MOST heart attack moment of May. Scout was definitely puzzled and concerned by the “Eurasian Tree Sparrow frenzy” of Geoffrey Williamson. The Nerd made the Bird very happy to get to add Eurasian Tree Sparrow to Margate's’ species list…and my life list! Thank you and high-five!!!
eBird list of birds we saw:
3 May 2017 - http://ebird.org/ebird/view/checklist/S36516449
8 May 2017 - http://ebird.org/ebird/view/checklist/S36661898
11 May 2017 - http://ebird.org/ebird/view/checklist/S36741314
22 May 2017 - http://ebird.org/ebird/view/checklist/S37072122
23 May 2017 - http://ebird.org/ebird/view/checklist/S37094381
Adventure Log: 8 May 2017
The Nerd: Winds from the north once again! As a consequence I was expecting a limited volume of migrants, but still a quick tour around this westside park netted 31 species without much effort. Had we put in a more thorough canvassing of all the trees and vegetation that the park supports, I bet we’d have found a few more. Garfield, like all the large Chicago parks, is a beckoning beacon of green space to birds migrating over the city. We did work the shrubs near the field house pretty well, turning up an Orange-crowned Warbler and Hermit Thrush and also some sparrows. Canada Geese and Mallards were already nesting around the lagoons, and a pair of Caspian Terns were displaying and squawking amorously to each other as they flew over the park. Favorite sighting: a big four foot tall Great Blue Heron standing inconspicuously at the edge of the lagoon, blending into near invisibility despite her size.
The Bird: Our first stop was the grand bandstand where the Nerd had been lured by the calls of warblers. It was absolutely stunning despite obvious neglect. The gilded field house is also magnificent. The park was more overgrown than some of the others we’ve visited so far, which is unfortunate for the neighborhood because it should be maintained to the standards of other city parks. However, this less manicured landscape seemed better for the birds. The Great Blue Heron we saw was so close…in her motionless “nothing to see here” heron way. It was another one of those precious “Please stay. Please don’t go away moments”…that seemingly last forever…because they do stay. We also saw a feisty Red-winged Blackbird chase a Belted Kingfisher.
eBird list of birds we saw: http://ebird.org/ebird/view/checklist/S36654236
Garfield Park Conservatory:
The Nerd: After our visit to Garfield Park, the Garfield Park Conservatory beckoned seductively. Inside the main greenhouse we found a male Northern Cardinal singing loudly away! We were worried about him being trapped inside, but we did conclude that he - and his female partner whom we also eventually found - could move from inside to outside and back again. Outside on the conservatory grounds, we totaled 27 species, nearly as many as we’d seen in the park as a whole. The plantings provided plenty of food and cover for the birds. Best sighting? A Dickcissel, whose fart-like call note alerted us to its presence. A close second was a Clay-colored Sparrow that we watched forage near some sidewalks next to a cluster of shrubs. It took a little while to get good looks at it because people walking by would flush the birds (without really noticing that they were there!). We also found an active Common Grackle nest, already with young, in some arborvitae. We’ve noticed that this species seems drawn to arborvitae for nest sites.
The Bird: The Nerd had never been here before and I was excited to explore the outside with him. It was full of surprises…and the source of another heart attack when Geoffrey Williamson heard a “fart” call…then went bird-shit crazy! I never knew Dickcissels made a “fart” sound. Which of course made me laugh. Now they’re “Fart-cissels”. It was also super cool to experience a Common Grackle “nursery” in a row of tall tree shrubs. There were many screaming “kids” as the parents flew back and forth to feed them. I’m also so glad that ultimately there was both a male and female Northern Cardinal seemingly “trapped” inside the greenhouse. We only saw the male when we first arrived and I said it was awful that his bright red breeding plumage was in a glass cage with his song going silent...like some tragic bird version of a Jane Austen novel! Thankfully though, on the way back in we saw the pair…that hopefully...can escape.
Adventure pairs well with: Little Goat Diner. We split my favorite Kimchi Reuben and The Nerds choice of the Blue Plate Special: The Cuban. Those pickles: The Nerd's sandwich won. Mic drop. We both had the house brew: 18th Street The Fox and the Goat!
eBird list of birds we saw: http://ebird.org/ebird/view/checklist/S36657185
Adventure Log: 18 May 2017
Jarvis Bird Sanctuary:
The Nerd: A visit to Jarvis is not complete without spending some quality time on the observation deck on the sanctuary’s east side, where you stand and wait for the birds to come to you. The Nerd and The Bird were joined on the platform during this visit by Lincoln Park birder Luis Muñoz. Lou told us he’d seen a Yellow-billed Cuckoo earlier that morning, a target species for us. Then presto, the bird appeared, showing well. From the platform we also had nice views of many flycatchers - six species of them! The winds were blowing hard from the west southwest, which made the northeast corner the most sheltered spot. Consequently, that’s where we found the most warblers. Most of the sanctuary lies inside of a chain link fence without any human access possible. I think it’s nice that there is a patch of park land just for plants and animals: their refuge. In recent years, a community group has put a lot of energy into caring for the sanctuary, and the quality of the habitat both within and outside the fence has improved as a consequence. Several years ago, Mayor Richard M. Daley led the dedication ceremony for the observation deck after it was constructed. The birds put on a little bit of a show for him and the others, with a Great Horned Owl roosting in view and a Cooper’s Hawk sitting on a log just inside the fence, devouring a European Starling it had caught. I set up a spotting scope for Mayor Daley to get close-up views of the hawk. He looked through the scope and said, “Oh! I like hawks!”
The Bird: This was one of the best birding moments EVER! Probably the two biggest lifers to elude me (almost ridiculously so) were seen within minutes of each other!!! Super High-five!!! I had NEVER seen a Common Nighthawk before (which was probably considered pretty lame in the “bird world”). The bonus is that I got to see the Common Nighthawk in flight! Seeing those magnificent white wing patches was awesome!!! Also, I had only ever seen a dead Yellow-billed Cuckoo when I was doing migratory bird rescue and salvage – which doesn’t “count”. It was my first day doing rescue and salvage out on my own: 5 June 2013. A doorman pointed out a lifeless bird on the sidewalk from a building strike. I marveled at this beautiful slender, long-tailed bird with a yellow bill. Holding the bird in my hands I noticed bold white spots on the tail’s underside. I was watching life leave his eyes and it broke my heart. I asked a volunteer during drop off if she could text me what species the bird was…a Yellow-billed Cuckoo. I will never forget that day or that beautifully patterned tail. Two other lifers from Jarvis included an Alder Flycatcher and a Connecticut Warbler!!! High-five!!!
eBird list of birds we saw: http://ebird.org/ebird/view/checklist/S36958023
The Nerd: Clear skies and a bright sun made the colors vivid on the Baltimore Orioles we saw. Near the bridge over the lagoon we watched one female oriole working to build a nest. Repeatedly she would bring a thin stick to a low hanging branch and carefully weave it amongst the small twigs there. I find it incredible that somehow these birds are able to weave their nests using just their mouth. (No hands!) Watching this bird maneuvering what seemed like almost the first twig for the nest, it was difficult to imagine how she was going to get the construction started. Nearby to where she was working were two oriole nests from the year before. As we were leaving the park I heard a familiar sound: the begging call of a juvenile European Starling. We found the youngster sitting midway up a tree, loudly proclaiming its hunger. For me, the first begging starling I hear marks the official start of the summer season. Summer seems to have come early this year.
The Bird: This was my first time seeing a Baltimore Oriole actually building its nest. The Nerd laughed at my description of what the “sack” is reminiscent of…but hey, that kind of humor/thinking helps to remember what things are. Humor is a very important component to birding and our adventures! We’ve had a lot of fun! Also, I love it when we get to meet people on our adventures. A man came up to us and said that there was a Bald Eagle that caught a duck in the lagoon a week before and we were happy to listen to his story. (Privately, the Nerd was a bit skeptical, thought perhaps it might’ve been a Red-tailed Hawk). Either way – that man was watching birds (knew he saw a raptor), he was noticing, and sharing it with us. Love that! There was an excellent view of Sears Tower (forever) along with a beautiful field house and lagoons...a new golf course was in construction too...but don’t they know that birding is the new golf???
Adventure pairs well with: Bridgeport Coffee. AM: Two large coffees to go, no room for cream please! PM: Lagunitas. Too close to Douglas Park not to go! The Nerd: ? The Bird: Dogtown Pale Ale. Cheers to a better memory!
eBird list of birds we saw: http://ebird.org/ebird/view/checklist/S36961718
The Nerd House:
The Nerd: Many birders keep a “yard list” of all the birds they’ve seen from their house. Though the townhouse where I live doesn’t have much of a yard, it is across the street from a sizable cemetery, and in part because of that I’ve seen more than 50 different kinds of birds there. Many of these were seen from the roof deck, which is also a nice spot to enjoy a margarita with The Bird on a sunny day. Most common among the birds we saw this day were Chimney Swifts. During the warm months they are omnipresent at The Nerd House; they live in chimneys in the neighborhood (and during fall they gather in large groups to funnel into a roost chimney at dusk!) and are constantly feeding and chittering as long as it is light out. Not as expected were two American Kestrels that flew by. Their territories are larger and so they aren’t seen as often around the house.
The Bird: I hope to someday see a flock of swifts circle and swirl into a roost at sunset! I’d especially love to see the Vaux's Swifts entering the Chapman chimney in Portland, Oregon! The possibility of seeing 15,000 swifts funnel into their roost is definitely on my birding bucket list. There is also nothing better than the chatter of swifts (or Purple Martins). The Nerd’s rooftop is pretty fantastic. His five-storied “tree house” has mostly unobstructed views – including a nice view of Graceland Cemetery across the street (where my favorite architect, Mies van der Rohe is buried). I love that Graceland has coyotes too, which I used to see in the evening coming home on the Redline. We also saw a pair kestrels, that weren’t copulating, unlike in April! Also, Geoffrey Williamson knows how to sling a cocktail...he makes a fabulous Nerd-garita! Cheers to cocktails and birding!
eBird list of birds we saw: http://ebird.org/ebird/view/checklist/S36970090
Adventure Log: 19 May 2017
The Nerd: Why on earth would you want to stand with 25+ mph winds blowing hard in your face? Shorebirds on the beach is why, and not just any shorebirds, but two species that would be new to Jennifer’s life list. The Dunlin were pretty cooperative, and we found them first among a large group of sandpipers (mostly Sanderlings), their black bellies distinctive among the several species in the flock. Dunlin were once called “Red-backed Sandpipers,” an appropriate name for them. The Black-bellied Plover on the other hand had moved all the way over to the west end of the beach. We walked down there to get closer and found a large cottonwood tree behind whose trunk we could take shelter from the wind as we looked at the bird.
The Bird: This was an unexpected surprise…that was also one of my favorite birding moments EVER! The weather was crap: cold, wet, complete with gale force winds, but we had scheduled an adventure day. Geoffrey Williamson said that two of my life birds were at Montrose Beach. This was ground zero for being in said crap weather. It was a nightmare to navigate the sand compounded with the wind, and trying to stay upright…but it was totally worth it! Very accommodating Dunlins in fresh breeding plumage were our first sighting and lifer #1! Awesome! Then The Nerd scoped out the location of the Black-bellied Plover!!! We made our way to the perimeter wall to get away from the sand. Then Geoffrey Williamson said to stand behind a huge cottonwood. He made the gale winds go away in his birding-magic-juju way! Then he told me where to look…”by the red and green trash bins”. Check. Then I focused on a motionless shorebird shaped thing…for a while. Geoffrey Williamson: “Oh, it’s moving closer to us”. Me: Thinking…hmm…this motionless shorebird shaped thing is not the bird. Then I found it! So close!!! We were in this magnificent bubble where there was no wind and time lasted forever because the bird stayed put for really good looks of its striking plumage! Amazing! High-five and thank you!!!
eBird list of birds we saw: http://ebird.org/ebird/view/checklist/S36979791
Adventure Log - Birding Patch: 22 & 30 May 2017
Foster Avenue Beach:
The Nerd: Foster Beach represents the close-to-the-lake birding patch in the vicinity of The Bird’s house, where the habitats of the big lake, beach, low plantings around the beach house, and scattered trees on the park lawns all come together. I gravitate to lakefront spots because there is always potential for something interesting bird-wise to be happening over or just off the lake, and because Lake Michigan is beautiful. (After all, it IS a Great Lake!) On arrival for the first of these two visits, Jennifer pointed out the sycamore trees where we had seen nesting Eastern Kingbirds the year before. Sure enough there was a pair of kingbirds flying about together in the general vicinity. These birds were still there on the second visit, and they seemed to be in very close association. We didn’t detect any actual breeding activity, but I am quite sure that it will happen and that we’ll be seeing a lot of this pair. The Bird dubbed them George and Gracie. Both George and Gracie will be involved in building the nest, but only Gracie will incubate the eggs. George is expected to stick around, though, to help feed the young after they hatch.
The Bird: I love that Foster Beach is just on the other side of my “patch”, Margate Park, on the other side of Lake Shore Drive. It’s a whole other distinct habitat next to the lake. I never knew what sycamore trees were until the Nerd had pointed them out last July. They’re one of my favorite trees now. Last year we saw (we think) the same pair of Eastern Kingbirds, “George and Gracie”, feeding their young in a sycamore tree. Seeing them again this year made my heart swell with joy. It was like visiting old friends. I couldn’t believe how close they would let us get…especially the Nerd, with his giant camera lens! On some level it felt like they trusted us. I hope so. I look forward to visiting them throughout the summer as they hopefully raise a successful brood and come back again next year. Much love to George and Gracie!
eBird list of birds we saw:
22 May 2017 - http://ebird.org/ebird/view/checklist/S37060204
30 May 2017 - http://ebird.org/ebird/view/checklist/S37260681
The Nerd: This park borders the section of the North Branch of the Chicago River where the North Shore Channel flows in. Having water nearby enhances the bird diversity of any site. As it was mid-May, warblers were a focus of our attention. Honey Locust trees attract warblers, and in one particular such tree we had killer looks at a Chestnut-sided Warbler, a Blackpoll Warbler, and a Blackburnian Warbler feeding in the low branches. Blackburnians are one of my all-time favorite warbler species. The flaming orange throat set off against the black and white remainder of its plumage is incredibly beautiful. This bird was methodically picking through the bundles of little flowers on the tree, singing occasionally. We were entranced.
The Bird: I never knew that cottonwood trees made a “running water” sound in the wind until the Nerd pointed it out. They do sound like running water, but I’d never paid attention before! There were cottonwoods all along the Chicago River and they make the most wonderful sound. As we explored, I noticed similar tree shrubs to the ones we saw at Garfield Conservatory and wondered if there would be Common Grackles. It was indeed another Grackle nursery! The Blackburnian Warbler sighting was an event. The Nerd must have taken 300 pictures. I’d never had a look at a Blackburnian like that before. Amazing - set off by contrasting black and white feathers, the morning light lit up his orange and yellow plumage like he was his own source of the sun. He stayed on the edge of a honey locust limb for what seemed like an eternity. Stunning!
eBird list of birds we saw: http://ebird.org/ebird/view/checklist/S37063293
The Nerd: Right alongside the river in this park is a chipped path through the strip of woods bordering the water. What's cool about this path is that it's lower than street level, so you're immersed in the river habitat. What a pleasant walk along this path on a particularly pleasant day! (This thought was echoed at lunch when The Bird pointed out Lou Reed serenading us through the sound system: “Just a perfect day.”) We were able to spend some quality time with a Yellow-bellied Flycatcher that was working the understory of the riverside trees. These are strictly passage migrants that will summer no further south than northern Wisconsin. They're one of five different types within the genus Empidonax that can be seen in Chicago. These “empies” are notoriously difficult to tell apart. One clue to help us determine that this one was a Yellow-bellied was that it liked to feed just under the low canopy of the trees, which is typical of the species. In this zone of the foliage, the sunlight filtering down through the leaves reflects in greenish hues on the bird, giving it a warm look.
The Bird: Ronan (wonder if there's any relation to another one of my favorite Chicago architects?) started across from Argyle Street along the river, just south of River Park. The pathway along the river brought us down to the river's edge where we were just below the cottonwoods. Since the leaves rustling in the wind sound like flowing water - being right next to the water made them even more wonderful to experience because there was a constant and lovely breeze. This was also where the Nerd helped me see another lifer! Yellow-bellied Flycatcher! It stayed with us for wonderful looks as the Nerd explained the nuances of flycatcher identification. Flycatchers are complicated…just like shorebirds…but the Nerd thankfully has a way of simplifying things (in terms of birds). High-five!!!
Adventure pairs well with: Tre Kronor. It was a “Perfect Day”. We shared the salmon and dill quiche and a spinach salad…in “Sweden”! Skål!
eBird list of birds we saw: http://ebird.org/ebird/view/checklist/S37067009
Adventure Log: 29 May 2017
The Nerd: Today was another gorgeous spring day on the Chicago lakefront. Sometimes in Chicago it seems that temperatures change from bone-chilling cold to sweaty-hot over a “spring” that lasts just four or five days, but this year most of May was filled with glorious springtime weather. The sun was shining, there was a cool breeze, and I was doing some solo birding at Montrose Point. Lo and behold there was a Ruddy Turnstone hanging out at the east end of Montrose Beach! This was a new one for The Bird, so after a couple of texts we were walking together out on the fish hook pier to have a look at it. What a crazy looking bird! This species nests way up north, mostly above the Arctic Circle, but all across North America, Europe, and Asia at those latitudes. Its wintering range is also quite global, spanning coastal areas, both tropical and temperate, on all continents except Antarctica. For the moment, this one had chosen Chicago as a waystation on its northward travels, and as is typical of the species, it exhibited Midwestern friendliness and wasn’t at all shy about meeting with The Nerd and The Bird.
The Bird: I usually wouldn’t be up at 6:30 in the morning, on a Sunday – unless I was going birding. By chance I was just up early - writing. The Nerd sent me a Birdsignal/Nerdsignal/text saying there was a Ruddy Turnstone at Montrose…and would I like to see it? YES PLEASE!!! I missed the last one that came through. The Nerdmobile arrived and we were off. It had moved from where he’d had seen it earlier…it was closer! And just kept moving closer!!! Around us, and then back! It was one of the most accommodating lifer birds ever! Seeing those white wing-bar patterns in flight was maybe one of the best things ever! Thank you Ruddy Turnstone!!! High-five!!! Thank you dear Nerd for my 18th lifer of May!!!
Adventure pairs well with: Dollop Coffee (Uptown). Two coffees to go - no room for cream please!
eBird list of birds we saw: http://ebird.org/ebird/view/checklist/S37230568