Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Cougar weather

First, the Tribune is reporting that the North Side cougar traces its ancestry to the Black Hills of South Dakota. This was the same cat that was in southern Wisconsin a few months back.

Second, I couldn't let April end without one last post about the weather. The low of 31 yesterday at O'Hare tied a record, and the high of 44 was extremely rare. On Monday, snow fell in much of the area. We may have seen the last freeze of the season. According to meteorologist Tom Skilling, a "heavy frost" has never struck the lakefront beyond May 14. Seven to 15 miles inland, the corresponding date is May 29.

Dunes drinking

I have to preface this post by saying I'm not an alcoholic and I (mostly) don't need alcohol to have fun.

Our visit to Indiana Dunes was tainted by a new ban on alcohol in Dunewood Campground. Not just consumption of alcohol or possession of alcohol, but all alcohol. Like $5,000-fine-and-possible-imprisonment alcohol. (The rule was enacted in February 2006.)

I love Indiana Dunes. Our camping trip there was very nice--few people, secluded site, crisp air, good scenery. But it was hard to relax knowing the bottle of wine and 22 ouncer of beer we had could send us to jail. Now, I've camped and drank in many places where there was an alcohol ban. Typically, I shrug this off as a nuisance and then quietly will have a few. Not here. Besides dozens of scary signs, a fellow camper told us that he and his party were thoroughly searched the last time he was there. This isn't relaxation in the woods. This is like entering the Green Zone.

I would argue it's un-American to outlaw drinking in a campground. Nipping from a flask on a brisk night by a campfire is everyone's right. Clearly there is no harm in this.

Indiana Dunes should focus on important rules regarding quiet hours and take the lead from progressive camping locales like Wisconsin and Quebec. Twenty-four hour quiet hours should be established, and you should not be able to hear other campers from your site at any time. All music should only be played through headsets.

We didn't get "caught" drinking, but the spectre of the possibility made it hard to relax. We should have probably left when we saw the first sign. Now we know not to come back. ratings will be adjusted accordingly.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Dune ramble

A weekend trip to Indiana Dunes yielded 62 bird species. Highlights included sora (seen at Cowles Bog and heard at Miller Woods), northern waterthrush and orange-crowned warbler. We also heard a blue jay imitate a red-tailed hawk, and we may have heard an elusive sedge wren calling in the bog. Woodpeckers were everywhere -- we identified all six that occur locally (pileateds unfortunately do not occur locally). In addition, at our campground, a barred owl began calling around 6:30 p.m. yesterday and continued flying around and calling all night and into the morning. The weather was brisk, in the upper 40s, but comfortable.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Carmi mercury

The latest cougar sighting comes from Stickney, an inner ring suburb mostly known for its massive wastewater treatment plant. I'm guessing it was actually a stray house cat looking for some radioactive fish bones.

Elsewhere, loons and ticks are returning to Minnesota. The loons haven't been able to leave southern Minnesota because the lakes to the north still are icebound at this late date.

Our weather has had its share of oddities along with the typical 20-degree north-south temperature gradients across the area. Yesterday's statewide low of 51 was in Carmi, 341 miles due south of here. Today's statewide high of 86 degrees was then 82 miles north of Carmi in Robinson. Ah, southeastern Illinois.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Spring morning

Today brought mild springlike weather and stops at Gompers Park and LaBagh Woods on Chicago's Northwest Side. Perhaps the highlight was the first blue-gray gnatcatcher of the season. Either that or the people who fooled me into thinking a prothonotary warbler was present by playing a tape of a prothonotary warbler.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Geological madness

Early this morning, an earthquake registering 5.2 on the Richter scale struck the Midwest. The quake was centered in West Salem, Ill., 200 miles south of Chicago. There was a little bit of damage from the temblor in southern Illinois. In Chicago, buildings swayed and people woke to the rumbling of the earth. The New Madrid Fault, named after a town in southeastern Missouri, is a seismic zone that extends into the Wabash River valley.

Elsewhere in this increasingly wild metropolis, reports surfaced of another cougar. Naturally, there were going to be copycat sightings, pun not intended, of a million cougars after the one found on the North Side. Every tomcat in Alsip is going to be identified as a puma. I stand by my theory that this was the same cougar that was seen on the North Shore a few days ago.

Also, tonight, there are two crows roosting in the maples in front of our building.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Spring fever

Today, after a long, dreary winter and spring, the temperature touched 70 at O'Hare and Midway. It was the first 70 in six months. With strong southerly winds at their backs, spring-fever hordes flocked to the lakefront path.

Felid madness

The North Side cougar was all over the local and national news yesterday. Officials are uncertain as to whether the big cat was the same one that was seen in Wilmette and North Chicago (I, for one, think it is the same one). The mayor and police superintendent defended the police officers' shooting of the cornered cat. It was indeed a sad end, but I ultimately have to agree on this one. They had no choice. Having a cougar running around a crowded city is terrifying--the cougar was easily leaping 6-foot fences according to reports. And a police officer who thinks the cougar is charging or about to charge has to take action. This is an animal that can chase down a Leporid after all. Whether a tranquilizer was available is another question.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Getting birdy

I can't seem to walk outside these days without hearing a call note from a migratory bird species. If it's not a white-throated sparrow, it's a dark-eyed junco or some other songbird headed north. One day it was a yellow-rumped warbler, clinging to the side of The Salvation Army building a few blocks away. Sunday, it was a junco in the alley. One other notable sighting: a black-crowned night heron braving the mid-40s temperatures over Lake Shore Drive yesterday.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Cat fever

In perhaps the most insane story ever posted here, a puma has been killed on the North Side of Chicago. Visitors may recall that previous posts discussing the cougar outbreak in the Upper Midwest. A couple months back, a cougar was located in southern Wisconsin near the town of Milton. Two weeks ago, a cougar was reported about 33 miles north of here in North Chicago. Then reports came in yesterday of a cougar about nine miles north of here in Wilmette. Finally, one of the big cats was sighted today 3 miles from here in the neighborhood of Roscoe Village.

The leading theory is that cougars are moving east out of the Black Hills of South Dakota. The animals are growing in numbers in Minnesota and now Wisconsin. These "wandering males" are attracted by the abundant deer population. One wonders what the killing's animal cruelty implications will be as the video of bulletproof-vested cops shooting the feline in a city alley is on the Web.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Cold rain

Lest you think that I haven't been paying attention to the weather lately, this post will be all about the fickle climate in these parts. This past winter was a rough one, with a lot of snow, thaws and flooding. Spring is here, but just barely. It's 38.1 degrees right now with light rain. We've only had a couple sunny days this spring that have drawn out a few hearty bulbs like crocuses. There has been little warmth, and the span since our last 70 degree high (since Oct. 21) is threatening to break a record.

The flooding has continued in parts of Illinois. Today there are watches and warnings from here to Ridott. Last night, seated in Row 6 of Section 531 at the Chicago White Sox-Detroit Tigers tilt, temperatures dropped to about 41. There was sporadic light rain all night, and most of the fans huddled under roofed areas of U.S. Cellular Field. The Tribune ran a piece today about the latest unpleasantness.

Aprils here usually produce 1.3 inches of snow on average, but we have yet to see any. There is a chance we'll see snow tonight with temperatures dropping further. All of this is limiting outdoor activities this weekend, but we hope to be back out looking for early spring warblers by next Saturday.

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Turkey aggression

Owen Conservation Park is a 93-acre wonderland on the west side of Madison, Wis. A hilltop prairie with surrounding oak savannas, the park has a lovely view of the state capitol. In spring, woodcocks are known to engage in their courtship display here.

In a stunning development, turkeys at idyllic Owen Conservation Park are also attacking hominids. Regular visitors know that this also is happening in the Twin Cities area. Officials attribute the Owen Park attacks to the enthusiasm of the breeding season.

Sunday, April 6, 2008

Dune fox

A neat picture (I can't claim credit) of a red fox at Montrose Beach Dunes. More photos here.

Thursday, April 3, 2008

Avian terror

Two bird attacks have been in the news lately. First, a resident red-tailed hawk at Fenway Park attacked a girl who was on a field trip. Second, things have gotten out of hand at a Minnesota apartment complex where a vicious turkey is attacking residents.

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

City woodcock

Today, a surprising spring discovery on West Lakeside Place. An american woodcock was sighted just outside our wrought-iron fence. We were cleaning up our yard when a bird flushed just west of us. The distinctive whistling of the wings was enough to ID it as a woodcock, and the long bill and woodcock-ian flight were evident as well. It flew north between two condo buildings. Obviously, the first shorebird for our yard list, and one of my top all-time Chicago neighborhood sightings (virginia rail still No. 1).

Spring is here although we found a hidden chunk of ice amid the leaves and winter detritus today (it was like one of those impacted glaciers that formed all the bogs around here). There are some tiny chutes starting to come up in our yard, and I saw a red-winged blackbird fly over Lake Shore Drive today. Our stirring of the front yard soil attracted a hearty american robin as well. The spring reports of migrating birds are coming in from all over the Midwest.