Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Cicada redemption

Still no cicadas here in Uptown, but apparently they're all over suburban Chicago. After complaining about the cicada hysteria in an earlier post, I sat mesmerized while a co-worker described their emergence in suburban Brookfield. The buzzing is deafening, and their carcasses have carpeted the ground. View the Tribune's cicada sighting map here.

CORRECTION: Ivan Basso has not admitted to doping, contrary to a previous driftless area post. Here is a quote from Basso, via The Associated Press:

"I have admitted attempted doping only. I've never taken any doping substance nor undergone any illegal blood transfusions."

Basso said he intended to participate in the Spanish doping ring busted by Operation Puerto, going so far as storing bags of blood, but never did.

Monday, May 28, 2007

Porcupine damage

Nicolet National Forest is a land of aspen-birch-maple-fir woods, glacial lakes, beaver dam wetlands and cold, fast flowing streams. This recreational wonderland is about a five- to six-hour ride due north of Chicago. It's one of those places that you're shocked is not overrun by Illinois Flatlanders or cheeseheads from the southern portion of Wisconsin. I'm hoping the tens of readers of this blog don't all sprint there.

Highlights of the ride up included an american white pelican soaring over the I-43 bridge in Green Bay and a male northern harrier gliding across US 141 north of Titletown. We pulled into Lost Lake campground in the late afternoon on Saturday. Of 20 sites or so at the campground, only about two-thirds were taken. We chose a site on a slight rise that offered a good deal of privacy. Trillium carpeted the forest floor in much of the Nicolet, including the area right around our site. (I've uploaded a few photos from the trip. Trillium was not camera shy.) The campground is in the middle of an aspen-maple forest. It doesn't offer direct views of the lake, but the shore is readily accessible.

Expensive fossil fuel prices be damned, we decided we wanted to see Lake Superior on Sunday. We drove an hour to the town of L'Anse, where the nearest arm of the lake comes in east of the Keweenau Peninsula. A bank temperature gauge gave the Fahrenheit reading as 54, but with a stiff wind blowing the wind chill must have been in the 30s. This didn't stop intrepid Yoopers from wandering along the shore in shorts and setting up a picnic in the town pavilion.

We stopped off at Canyon Falls on the way back toward Wisconsin. Here the rushing Sturgeon River plummets about 30 feet in a narrow gorge. I don't think pictures or a written description can really capture how green and lush the vegetation was throughout the trip. The Sturgeon Gorge was especially impressive after a rain shower.

The skies finally cleared when we settled in at camp yesterday evening. The last bit of sunset had disappeared when we heard a steady rustling in the underbrush. The noise was approaching our site. Flashlight beam showed a rotund gray animal moving steadily past the site. If it was a raccoon, it was shocking how little interest it had in us and our food. Two outhouses are just about 30 yards away, and soon we hear a steady scratching at the rear of the men's latrine. The flashlight revealed not a raccoon but a porcupine. Having never seen one before, at first glance I thought it was an incredibly mangy, weird raccoon. But it would occasionally flare the quills on its back. (We thought porkies could shoot quills but later learned this is not true.) It had a long neck and a thick, furry tail. The porcupine continued gnawing on the wood of the outhouse wall for at least an hour--apparently eating wood is part of its diet. In the morning, we saw that a large patch of siding in the shape of Australia had been removed.

Friday, May 25, 2007

Dope pedaling

Today, former Tour de France winner Bjarne Riis came clean about doping. He used EPO during his 1996 title. This comes after admissions by stars including Erik Zabel and Ivan Basso. I'm wondering if cycling goes the opposite direction as baseball, and everyone admits to it. Of renowned players, only Jason Giambi has gone so far as these cyclists.

Also, the border collies are back at Foster Beach in Chicago, and the 2016 Olympic bid wants to turn sandhill crane habitat into an equestrian venue. Surely there's farmland somewhere else in Illinois that could be used for the horses.

Finally, the driftless area is finally headed out for an old-fashioned car camping trip tomorrow. Full report will be filed upon return.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Insect problem

Judging by newspaper coverage, Chicago is about to be plagued by cicadas. For weeks, the upcoming cicada onslaught has been trumpeted in the local media. The cicadas are supposed to emerge from the ground as they do every 17 years. Today, the first "Where are the cicadas?" story was posted. At this point, anything short of a biblical swarm will be a disappointment. The cicadas will receive a mixed welcome, if recent small talk means anything. Responses have ranged from eagerness to abject disgust at the mention of the cicadas.

I don't recall a cicada plague in my native section of the Midwest. I do recall that another species of cicada makes a deafening buzzing sound at night in late summer. Nevertheless, the local response has become tiresome. Some of the discussions at Cicada Central are downright absurd.

Finally, the link to the veery's song via the incredible All About Birds Web site [click 'Play sound from this species'].

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Avian flute

Thirty-eight species at Montrose this morning, an ideal one for spring birding. Light winds, mild temperatures and just past peak migration. Highlights included a pair of yellow-billed cuckoos, at least a dozen species of warblers and the incredible song of the veery. I hope to post a link to the veery's song soon. Veerys (or is plural veeries?) are thrushes that breed in the Upper Midwest and Canada. I know them from summers in Ontario, where their ethereal song resonates through the pines.

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Fickle winds

Today is one of those classic Chicago spring days. It's 43 degrees right now, with winds blowing from the northeast. The fetch of the lake is reaching well into Illinois, as far west as Rockford. But it's 74 in Moline, 150 miles or so west of Chicago. A quick Internet check shows that we're still not the coldest spot in the Lower 48 tonight. It's 33 in Marquette, Mich., 41 in Kenosha, Wis., and 40 in Caribou, Maine. We are cooler than International Falls, Minn., which is holding at 50. Oh yeah, high here yesterday was 80 and the lakefront was a beach volleyball/cycling/jogging paradise.

Saturday, May 19, 2007

Digital fun

The view from the fish-hook pier at Montrose this morning.

Friday, May 18, 2007

Missing titmice

News arrived yesterday that West Nile virus has hit the bird population harder than expected. The Chicago Tribune printed a front page article and featured an american crow prominently. Some species--tufted titmouse, black-capped chickadee and blue jay--have been affected more than others.

And strange hooved beasts are thriving in my old stomping grounds. Check out the strange comments at the end of the story, too.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Splendid rail

Birded Montrose Point this morning and tallied 36 species. The highlight was a lifer king rail on the beach. Rails are generally elusive, and king rails are especially scarce in the Midwest these days.

For the third time this spring, I observed an odd loud birder. "King rail along the breakwall! King rail along the breakwall!" came the cry from across the big field on the point. Nearly every birder stopped looking at what they were looking at. One guy went into an all out sprint.

The picture above shows the group viewing the rail.

Saturday, May 12, 2007

Generous soil

I can't bring myself to do it. Check the IBET Illinois birding message board, that is. Other commitments have kept me from birding this week, the peak of spring migration. I can't stomach reading about all the great sightings around the state.

I've tried to think of a way I can combine fantasy sports and birding since I can't actually get out. Imagine the excitement leading up to the fantasy birding draft. Red-winged blackbird has to go No. 1 in an Illinois-based draft. Canada goose, house sparrow, european starling are climbing the draft board as well. Red-eyed vireo a late-round sleeper during the summer months. Maybe a group of us can adopt the leading birders in the state and base our standings on their reports.

Yardwork trumped birding today and provided the best bird anecdote of the week. Worms emerged as we dug up the soil in our Uptown front yard. A pair of american robins lurked in the next yard. We threw a worm toward the robins, which had been our companions all day. Eventually, one of the pair gobbled it up.

Friday, May 11, 2007

Spectacular quarry

The Tribune finally has a story today about the recent Pennsylvanian discoveries in Illinois. This comes after the news was widely reported on the Web. The most recent discovery is just 75 miles or so southwest of Chicago, in Kendall County.

Thickening smoke

With the Giro d'Italia about to begin, the Chicago Tribune's Philip Hersh wrote this great post about Lance Armstrong. Maybe there's not much separating Lance from Barry Bonds.

Guilt by association? True of almost everyone in cycling’s elite, perhaps a little more for Armstrong, who maintains he never took banned performance-enhancing drugs yet utterly dominated the Tour de France when it was full of dopers.

Still searching for more info on the latest ancient find in Illinois. Chicago papers seem to be ignoring these stories so far.

Tuesday, May 8, 2007

Preserved lycopods

News today of another incredible ancient discovery near Chicago! This is beginning to get ridiculous. Again, no mention in the story of the exact location. More details to follow.

Sunday, May 6, 2007

Sparrow vacuum

Birds and animals identified along highways between Cedar Rapids, Iowa, and the North Side of Chicago today. (Note: All 89 ring-billed gulls seen east of Oak Park, Ill.)

Red-winged blackird 246, common grackle 96, european starling 106, rock dove 39, eastern kingbird 1, mourning dove 3, american crow 10, barn swallow 8, killdeer 2, turkey vulture 4, groundhog 1, tree swallow 5, northern cardinal 1, red-tailed hawk 4, american robin 1, american goldfinch 1, ring-billed gull 89, thirteen-lined ground-squirrel 1.

Thursday, May 3, 2007

Fortunate find

A few weeks back I posted about a trip to Warnimont Park in Cudahy, Wis. I stumbled on this idyllic park by Lake Michigan in between other commitments in Milwaukee and saw several birds in less than 30 minutes. A rock wren has been sighted there in recent days according to the Wisconsin birding listserv. Rock wrens are a species of rocky slopes and canyons west of the Great Plains. My only rock wren experience was at about 7,000 feet in the mountains above Tucson, Ariz.

May 3, 2007

It's been a couple months since the promise, but I've finally compiled my list of the Seven Wonders of Uptown:

Aragon Ballroom -- Built in 1926, haven for big band stars and current rock venue resembles Spanish village.

Argyle Street -- Bustling, garlic-scented array of Southeast Asian shops and restaurants.

Essanay Studios -- Charlie Chaplin filmed movies here, and the first "Sherlock Holmes," "A Christmas Carol," and Jesse James movie, "The James Boys of Missouri" were shot here.

Graceland Cemetery -- Famed Chicagoans Potter Palmer, Marshall Field and Daniel Burnham buried here. There also are two Lorado Taft sculptures (see Camp Chicago connection).

Green Mill Jazz Club -- Current home of hep house band Sabertooth and former haunt of Al Capone.

Montrose Point -- Landfilled parkland that juts into Lake Michigan. Birding at Magic Hedge Sanctuary is outstanding, and the Montrose Beach Dunes include rare habitat that harbors rare plants.

Uptown Bank Building -- Historic building with pilastered facade looms over intersection of Broadway and Lawrence.

Honorable mentions: Goldblatt's Building, Marovitz Golf Course, Peregrine Falcons of Uptown Theatre, Riviera Theatre, Uptown Theatre

Tuesday, May 1, 2007

May 1, 2007

Twenty-nine species on a perfect morning at Montrose Point. I was only able to stop for a maddeningly short 30 minutes pre-cubicle. The hedges were teeming with birds. New for the season: gray catbird, white-crowned sparrow, a flycatcher of the Empidonax genus, orchard oriole and baltimore oriole.

For the second time this year, someone at Montrose spoke really loudly to me. It doesn't sound like much, but it's unusual birder behavior. About three weeks ago, a guy yelled, "There's a yellow-rumped warbler over here," and he was standing about 100 yards away. Today, about 25 yards away, the mysterious "Have you seen the dove?"