Saturday, June 28, 2008

Summer evening

I went to a friend's new apartment yesterday for the first time. The view from his apartment is unlike any in the city. He lives on the second floor of a multi-unit building, but not a large building--one that's about twice the size of where I live. It's at the eastern end of a dead end street in the Rogers Park neighborhood. His living room offers an incredible view of Lake Michigan, which laps at a breakwall just 20 yards away. His porch offers a 180-degree view of the lake and nearby Leone Beach, which is essentially the north end of Loyola Park. He took a risk on a poorly maintained unit and stretched his resources for the rent and the view.

I really hadn't ever spent an evening sitting right next to Lake Michigan in Chicago. It felt like we were hanging out at a weekend home--maybe on the opposite side of Lake Michigan near Saugatuck or something. There was a lot to see there--the lifeguards rowing in after a day at various North Side outposts, kids playing basketball in the park, a guy swimming off the breakwall, the pilings from an ancient pier, lightning flashing over the lake to the north. I saw a few things I had never seen in Chicago before. Two shooting stars. Constellations Cassiopeia and Cepheus. A moth the size of a kinglet. We also saw a killdeer and heard a common nighthawk. It was the kind of experience that had me longing for more interaction with nature here in town--or at least a few more summer evenings on Andy's porch.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Gym friends

Until my knee injury, I hadn't really spent much time in gyms. I've spent time in high school gyms and college gyms, but not weight rooms or health club-type places. And certainly not in a mostly public weight room on the North Side of Chicago.

I've come to find that blocking out distractions at the gym is near as difficult as the feats of strength and tests of endurance we undertake. In order to summarize the madness, I've broken the "gym people" into five broad categories.

THE NARRATOR--This person likes to loudly detail all of his or her actions in the gym. "Let's see if I can do 150 on the bench this week" or "maybe next time I'll do the leg presses" or "wow, I'm sore." It's best to avoid eye contact with this person. Actually, it's best to avoid eye contact with most everyone at the gym.

THE TV ADDICT--This person turns up the volume on the one crappy gym TV so that it can be heard over the whirr of the treadmills and ellipticals. Usually he or she prefers a show like "American Idol" or "Deal or No Deal."

THE WEAKLING--These people put way more weight on the machine than they should. They can do one or two reps of 400 pounds but then the whole rack comes crashing down for everyone to hear when there joints give out.

THE SPEEDSTER--This person doesn't really do a complete curl, leg press, bench or anything. They fly through every set in a really half-ass way, mostly achieving nothing.

THE FRIENDS--These people actually have a loud conversation across the gym, yukking it up while "American Idol" blares on the television. Believe me, when you are on the treadmill at Mile 1.5 (hey, I'm still rehabbing) and your thoracic diaphragm is about to explode, these are the last people you want around.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Kingbird mania

Are there more eastern kingbirds than usual here in the Midwest this summer? I'm not sure, but I have seen a lot in the past week or so. The flycatchers were present at Montrose Harbor last Saturday, at Marovitz Golf Course Sunday, near Skokie Lagoons on the bus ride to Minnesota yesterday and at several points in Wisconsin on said bus ride. This is a common sentiment among birders: is such and such bird around more this year. But right now, I'm thinking that about the pugnacious eastern kingbird which is adroit at mobbing raptors three times its size.

On another note, I passed over the bloated Crawfish and Rock Rivers on I-94 in southeastern Wisconsin yesterday. Both were lapping at the underside of the interstate bridge. I'm not sure what else to say about the great Midwestern floods of 2008 other than to build on high ground and not in floodplains--stating the obvious I suppose.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Bird concentration

It was almost hard to concentrate on golf on Sunday at Marovitz Golf Course, located at 3800 North along Lake Shore Drive. A storm cleared just as we hit the first tee, and the weather wound up being ideal. On the second hole, a red fox, chased by two or three american crows, sprinted across the fairway. Many birders speak of seeing this fox(es?), and I have seen it once before at Jarvis Bird Sanctuary, about a half-mile away.

On the beautiful fifth tee, which is right next to the blue waters of Lake Michigan, a northern mockingbird was flitting between a thicket and the rough before the fairway. While range maps indicate the "american nightingale" lives throughout the Lower 48, it still is an oddity to see one north of the Butternut region of Illinois, Indiana and Ohio. Mockingbirds, of course, are really common in the South, but growing up near Cleveland, I remember seeing only one. Now, they are fairly common there. Some would say this is a harbinger of climate change. Other observations at the course included black-crowned night-heron, chestnut-sided warbler and warbling vireo. No sign of the beavers on the sixth hole pond.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Fairway find

Wildlife observations on a summery eastern kingbird, a somewhat unexpected sight on the lakefront, swooped in low over a field near Montrose Harbor during the 23rd Annual Hunger Walk. Robert Black Golf Course, in the Rogers Park community, was draped with eastern gray squirrels (this is where I once saw a squirrel eating a dead northern flicker). A cooper's hawk flew low over the third fairway, no doubt attracted by the squirrel horde.

Friday, June 13, 2008

Safe Sabula

I don't really have much to add on the Midwestern floods or even the horrifying tornado that plowed through a Scout camp in the Loess Hills of western Iowa. I was in Cedar Rapids last spring; it seemed like a decent community with a quaint downtown--all underwater now and there may be more water coming. Closer to home, Lake County, Ill., has been declared a disaster area. In Davenport, Iowa, the problem was less the Mississippi than small creeks. I checked in on Sabula, Iowa, a tiny community wedged onto an island in the Mississippi near Illinois. No word of flooding in town, but officials were considering closing the Sabula-Savanna bridge that also was closed during the floods of 1993.

Yard count

This week, I added a species to my list of "yard birds," which includes any bird seen from our property. A great blue heron flew over, heading northwest from the direction of the lake. The list since we moved here in 2006 has reached 23 species (our previous list was in the upper 30s). We don't get quite as many passerine migrants here. My theories are that we have a much smaller front yard with less cover and that perhaps our east-west orientation doesn't attract as many north-south migrants along the lakefront (no science to this, just a theory). The list is funny: I have peregrine falcon and american woodcock but no common grackle or red-winged blackbird.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Artificial waters

I'm not sure where to begin with the news that Lake Delton, near the Wisconsin Dells, disappeared during the past few days. This is a land of natural wonders that sadly now is marked by artifice in the form of indoor waterslides. It ultimately was the natural world that removed one of the area tourist attractions. A cruel irony to be sure.

Correct me if I'm wrong, but Lake Delton is not the place where amphibious vehicles show visitors around (?).

I've never been a fan of large reservoirs. Other than providing a lot of Depression-era jobs, they lack the character of natural bodies of waters. Give me a slough or a bog any day over a massive lake in a place like Kentucky that shouldn't have lakes.

Sunday, June 8, 2008

Seiche alert

The wacky weather continues (though isn't it always wacky to some extent?). A tornado cut a long swath through Will County and southern Cook County yesterday, overturning cars on I-57 and leaving damage in a few neighborhoods along the way. The Tribune indicates this was one really long-lived tornado, from Odell, Ill., to Lansing, Ill., in Cook County, though much of yesterday afternoon multiple tornadoes were being referenced during the tumult.

Right now there is a seiche warning in effect for the lakefront in Chicago: Statement as of 3:52 PM CDT on June 08, 2008
... Lakeshore Flood Warning in effect until 9 PM CDT thisevening... The National Weather Service in Chicago has issued a Lakeshore Flood Warning... also known as a seiche warning... which is in effect until 9 PM CDT this evening. A 2 foot drop in lake water near Chicago this afternoon indicatesthat a seiche is in progress across Southern Lake Michigan. This is a very dangerous situation for waders along the Chicago Lakeshore. Water levels may fluctuate rapidly... takingunsuspecting waders out to more open waters. A Lakeshore Flood Warning means that flooding is occurring orimminent along the lake. Residents on or near the shore in thewarned area should be alert for rising water... and take appropriate action to protect life and property. Evacuate docks... piers... and breakwalls now.

A seiche (pronounced saysh) is sort of a non-tidal wave...and a type of cuttlefish.

Saturday, June 7, 2008

Puffin's song

An editorial in The Guardian praises the puffin, which is facing a decline in Britain. The piece mentions the puffin's chainsaw call, which I think sounds more like a cow mooing.

Puffins, at just 12 inches, about the size of a blue jay, fall into the category of birds "that you'd think would be bigger." Bird guides have a way of distorting size and so when you see birds in the wild they often are much smaller than what you have imagined for years and years. Some examples include all sandpipers (many are the size of sparrows), most owls, empidonax flycatchers and rails.

Puffins, by the way, are a member of the Auk Family (Alcidae), which includes some really interesting seabirds like razorbills and murres. It also includes the dovekie, which is only 7.5-9 inches and breeds on seacliffs in Greenland. Peterson describes the dovekie as "chubby and seemingly neckless."

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Foggy shores

Lakeshore weather was in evidence yesterday. When I departed work on the Southwest Side, it was sunny and warm, about 75 degrees according to the records I can find. The high in that part of town was 82. Approaching downtown, rafts of fog were blowing in from the lake and the temperature plummeted. A bit of research shows it was 59 at 6:30 p.m. yesterday along the lakefront. From a foggy locale like McCormick Place, at the juncture of I-55 and Lake Shore Drive, the distance to the relative warmth and summery weather was just 6.5 miles. Two seasons in a few minutes and the dramatic lake microclimate continues. Those of us living near the lake, especially on an east-west street like ours, may not have to turn on our air conditioning yet when an expected heat wave hits in coming days. I'm hoping we can rely on what's left of the spring chill that is lingering in our house.

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Wandering ungulate

There was a post on Illinois Birders Exchanging Thoughts this week about a deer at Montrose Point. Definitely an unusual sighting for the lakefront, but really not all that surprising. One cougar already was in town this year, beavers reside at the nearby golf course pond, coyotes arae known to reside in the park, a fox lives near the point and of course many birds do, too. But it's still hard to picture the deer getting to the lakefront from the nearest deer havens, which are well inland.

Today, a deer was seen in a small garden in the Northwest Side community of Logan Square (video above). Is it the same deer that was at Montrose?

(Note to Tribune Web staff: your embed code is near as long as the Bible.)