Friday, August 31, 2007

Beard training

I wish I could say rehabbing my knee was as exciting as when Rocky went to train in Siberia. But so far I haven't chopped any wood, climbed any snow-capped peaks or grown a beard. Instead, it's all lunges and leg raises. Sixteen days after surgery and I still can't complete a full revolution on a stationery bicycle. I can pedal about halfway before having to stop and go backward the other direction and repeating this over and over for about 10 minutes. A complete revolution will be a big accomplishment.

The Labor Day weekend will be spent in Northeast Ohio. The Cleveland Plain Dealer has an excellent regular birding column. Here is the latest story, this about a few area hotspots including a place I journal-ed about last year.

Monday, August 27, 2007

Squirrel network

My second ongoing project involves--you guessed it--squirrels. I've formalized what I've been informally tracking for a while now: which areas have eastern fox squirrels, eastern gray squirrels or both. I received an e-mail from a correspondent mentioning that gray squirrels are prevalent in St. Paul, Minn. I now have information on 13 localities regarding the fox vs. gray conundrum. (Limited to eastern North America since these squirrels largely reside--and overlap--here.) A few areas, such as Southeast Michigan enjoy the great squirrel triumvirate of fox squirrel, gray squirrel and red squirrel. Wow.

Still, it's not really clear why grays dominate some areas and foxes in others. "A Field Guide to Mammals" suggests that fox squirrels reside in wooded areas with large clearings and gray squirrels in hardwood forests and river bottoms. Neither description accounts for the urban and suburban squirrels. One of my early conclusions is that only gray squirrels live in intensely urban areas. If I'm wrong, let me know. Further input from other areas would be much appreciated. The fox squirrel, right, can be distinguished from the gray squirrel by its larger size (like a small house cat) and golden-tinged tail and underparts.

Saturday, August 25, 2007

Loon problem

Blogging live from the scene of ferocious storms that included 70 mph wind gusts on Chicago's North Side on Thursday. Uptown weathered the storms OK though there are many downed trees in the park. The suburbs fared worse, and flooding persists in many areas.

While recuperating, I've had time to develop two new projects. I'll detail the first in this post. Movies often use bird songs to add a sonic backdrop to natural scenes. Most of these songs are canned, and most get the birds way wrong. Two recently viewed movies illustrate this problem. First, "Bourne Identity" includes a scene where Jason Bourne hides out at a farm in winter in central France. The call of an eastern wood-pewee accompanies the pastoral scene. Impossible. A) Eastern wood-pewees breed in eastern North America and winter in northern South America; B) In the case it was a European pewee flycatcher species can subsist in a wintry climate.

In "Dirty Dancing" Baby confronts her angry father who is seated on a porch overlooking a lake in the Catskills during summer. A common loon emits a single, haunting wail. Again, impossible. A) Common loons do breed in Upstate New York, but only much farther north; B) "Dirty Dancing" was filmed in Virginia and North Carolina which only adds to the fact that this was a taped loon call.

Finally, an ode to a movie that gets it right. "On Golden Pond" includes actual common loons--footage and calls--throughout the movie, which takes place in New Hampshire in summer.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Porch time

They alight early, effortless wingbeats sending them soaring toward the Lake Michigan shore. It's morning at the Wilson Avenue Crib, a structure in the middle of the lake three miles east of Chicago. Thousands of ring-billed gulls and double-crested cormorants are awakening as the first hint of dawn arrives from the east. For the gulls, a long day of scavenging in city gutters, vacant lots and ballfields lies ahead. Tonight I sat on the back porch watching the gulls circle Uptown for one last time before gliding back towards the crib.

We also spotted one of the black squirrels (we suspect there are more than one of them) carrying a hot dog bun in its mouth.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Head nod

Sometimes there is news from the driftless area, meaning this blog, and other times there really is news from the driftless area, the unglaciated region 125 miles west northwest of Chicago. A Wisconsin man in a mental institute wants part of the driftless area to become a national park.

Thank you to one of this blog's most ardent readers (correspondents?) for submitting this link. Maybe one day I can offer simple "hat tips" in the way Andrew Sullivan does, for example, to the DailyKos or Huffington Post.

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Grackle time

Since my last post, I've had surgery on the anterior cruciate ligament in my left knee. I received cadaver tissue to replace the ligament I ruptured playing basketball in May. I haven't been doing much of anything since the surgery. I have seen the black squirrel out our front window. Yesterday, I saw two common grackles in one of the maples in front of our house--it doesn't sound like much but I've found grackles uncommon in Chicago's North Side neighborhoods. In recovery, my primary goals are to return to backpacking, cycling and cross country skiing. A reasonable goal, I hope, is to bike again before the snow flies.

Meantime, a couple notes from the driftless area. Previously, I've written about my love-hate relationship with an outfitter called Acronym. After leaving Niles for Northbrook this year, Acronym reportedly is planning a location in the Lincoln Park neighborhood.

In other news, Sean Penn is directing the movie version of the Jon Krakauer book "Into the Wild." The story chronicles the post-college wanderings of Chris McCandless, a 1990 Emory University graduate who abandons his possessions and winds up living in an old school bus in the Alaskan bush. Outside Magazine has a bunch of information on the production, due out next month.

Monday, August 13, 2007

Apple corps

The Tribune printed a story about Apple River Canyon State Park, a personal favorite that in part inspired the name of this blog. I prefer the park in winter and have found myself sitting on top of the bluffs and odd rock formations on bitterly cold days. Also, the same author, perhaps a competitor to the driftless cartel, wrote a story about state parks in a neighborhood weekly called Chicago Journal.

Finally, diapered animals (recall the kangaroo wandering Wisconsin not long ago) have become a primary focus of this blog. Here is another story from the land of cheese.

Saturday, August 11, 2007

Morning adventure

Photos from a journey 60 miles south of Chicago on the border of Kankakee and Iroquois Counties:

Wednesday, August 8, 2007

Good latitude

A few final thoughts from Canada. First, this snapping turtle, right, and its friends repeatedly attacked our stringers of largemouth bass. Second, I was reflecting today on the uniqueness of the place. It's on a latitude parallel to northern Michigan and northern Wisconsin but it still is quite different. More northerly feeling, somehow. Blueberry bushes are everywhere; they practically cover the island we camped on. My ideal camping experience strives to replicate the Canada experience. It mostly falls short, but my goal continues to be to find places like this stateside. Nicolet National Forest comes close.

On Monday, I arrived at the Southwest Side cubicle mine and was granted a seat next to a large window. This is the first time in my career I've had a window seat. Today I saw a monarch butterfly.

Monday, August 6, 2007

Tree envy

Driftless area regulars, all five of you, know that ancient forests are a regular topic here. Word came across today that an 8 million-year-old forest was discovered in Hungary. Illinois' ancient forests, nearly 300 million years older, make Hungary's look like a bunch of scrawny saplings.

Sunday, August 5, 2007

Camping perils

A first attempt at video for driftless area. The YouTube process took away a lot of the resolution of the original. Also, this was filmed before a swarm of deer flies mauled my feet.

Wilderness spoiled?

Back in the beautiful basin of ancient Lake Chicago with further details of the Canada trip. The bird species tally was 43. I added two birds to my life list: olive-sided flycatcher and black-backed woodpecker.

I've been seeking the olive-sided flycatcher for a while now. They are uncommon and reside in the north woods, but they are often seen in Chicago during spring migration. I identified it by its distinctive "quick three beers" call.

I've been in black-backed woodpecker territory before but never had seen one. The Peterson guide describes them as "scarce." I saw the woodpecker land in a tree in the island across from where we were camping. Its call was a cuckoo-like "chuk," which is unlike any of the other potential woodpeckers of the area. I immediately ruled out downy, hairy, red-bellied and yellow-bellied sapsucker. When I saw it fly, I was pretty sure it was either a black-backed woodpecker or the more northerly american three-toed woodpecker. A little research confirmed it was the former.

Birds I should have added to the life list included the boreal owl and boreal chickadee. I'm near certain I heard them both but didn't realize it at the time.

Meantime, one of the unfortunate developments of the trip was the realization that a secluded lake adjacent to where we were camped is increasingly being utilized by anglers. The lake heretofore had only been accessible by a 2.5-mile boat ride and .3-mile portage. A new road has eased ORV access to the marsh at the south end of the lake. We fished the lake four times and didn't see anyone, but we met someone who fished it on one of the days we weren't there. In general, there was more traffic in the area as commercial interests and more vacationers have begun to seep in.

Saturday, August 4, 2007

Aberrant conditions

The Canada trip was the hottest and buggiest in my experience there. It's a tribute to the wondrous beauty of the place (and that I needed a vacation!) that these factors were easy to overcome. Temperatures climbed above 90 degrees, and heat advisories were issued in the Sudbury, Ontario, area. Mosquitoes, deer flies, horseflies and no-see-ums were among the insects that feasted on us. The bugs took a particular liking to me, and I wasn't flattered. Swimming in the tannin-tinged waters of Judge Lake became our respite.

The woods and lakes were teeming with so much life; I kept thinking about the book White-Out, which is a paean to the fertility of Antarctica. I'm back on the Allegheny Plateau now, and I hope to provide a detailed trip account soon. I should have at least two new bird species to add to the life list.