Thursday, May 28, 2009

Spring farewell

This is now the wettest spring at Midway Airport since 1928. It really has been damp and cool here for days on end. Admittedly, I prefer it cooler most any time of year, and this May has delivered. Especially here on the lakefront, where our microclimate has kept it far cooler than inland for days on end. Today I wore a fuzzy to work, for example, even though it was over 60 near the salt mines.
The down comforter is still on the bed, though the heat hasn't kicked on but once all month, I believe.

The beaches are now open in Chicago, and meteorological summer begins on June 1. Not really sure why the beaches are open as the water won't be swim-able for another few weeks. But each year they open up the beaches way early, and people flock there to revel in the 60-degree temperatures.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Camp Chicago

I've made some updates to, the Web site that started my foray into Web development and blogging back in 2005. There's no doubt I haven't been camping that much in the area (within four hours or so from Chicago by car) in recent years, and the ratings and discussion pages reflect that. Still, ranks high in search engines for "camping" and "Chicago" (imagine that). I've gotten a couple inquiries via e-mail from time to time, too.

The site now has updates from driftless area via FeedBurner. It also has a few more articles in the "Other Stuff" section.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Sand apes

Yesterday we participated in a habitat restoration at Montrose Point Dunes, helping plant 12 black oaks. Planting trees isn't typical for these sorts of things (usually they involve pulling invasives, applying pesticides and spreading seeds), but it will push forward the amazing succession already going on at the dunes. Habitat restoration is important, I think, but also unusual when put in historical context. I tried to come up with a way to convey this, so here goes:

The hominids that crossed the great ocean were a curious, destructive, industrious bunch. They came to a new land and quickly spread out, usurping everything in their way, pushing out the hominids that called the place home. The aggressive hominids found a place at the south end of a lake as a big as an inland sea, not far from a big, muddy river that stretched all the way to an actual ocean. They built a city made of wood and it all burned down. They built a new city and discovered a new way of building--straight up into the sky. They built these tall buildings over and over.

The prairies and swamps and dunes and savannas that lined the shore of the big lake soon were paved over. Streets crisscrossed the area by the lake. And when there wasn't any empty shoreline left, the hominids built a new shoreline, that jutted out into the lake in places. They needed a sandy beach to rest on. The prairies and swamps and dunes and savannas were gone.

Many years later, the hominids forgot about one section of sand. A few cottonwoods sprang up. A green plant called sea rocket took hold. A tenacious species known as marram grass began to carpet the sand. And a few low dunes rose from the ground. The hominids began to tend to the dunes, grasses and trees. They weeded the dunes and picked up trash. They fenced the dunes from dogs and volleyballs and boaters. Finally, they planted 12 young black oaks, so that the shoreline could look more like it did when the aggressive hominids set foot in the area.

Certainly an oversimplification, but maybe at least hope for the future. If we hominids keep on this path maybe more wild places like Montrose Point Dunes will spring up.

(I stole the photo of the red fox at the dunes from another site. Though I have had great views of Vulpes vulpes this spring.)

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Omnibus oddity

The credit card bill signed into law by President Obama includes a provision for gun-toting in national parks. First, I'm surprised that guns were banned altogether in the parks anyway but I suppose people who carry firearms everywhere were well aware of this. Check your guns in Cody, Wyo., or somewhere, when you're taking the RV to Yellowstone. Second, I find it interesting that a former park super is fearful that campground arguments will escalate to gunfights. Why are there so many arguments in campgrounds? A reflection of the number of arguments in society? The stress of putting up a tent or selecting a campsite? I was in a city park today and didn't see a single argument--this in a reportedly violent urban center. So get out your AK-47s, load them in the F-150, and head to a national park. You can polish your bullets there, change your cartridges and everything. Sounds like a great way to enjoy the nation's splendor.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Temperature rising

I can handle the 80-plus temperatures we're seeing right now in Chicago. It's a little early, but I can at least accept it. But 97 in Minneapolis? It's just wrong. At least there was cold air lurking elsewhere in the Land of 10,000 Lakes. There was a 55-degree temperature gradient between the Cities and Duluth, which was a refreshing 42. That's more like it.

Hazardous park

Broken concrete, glass, brick and metal pipes? Sounds a lot like my front yard. But seriously, those are just a few of the hazards at Miller Meadow Forest Preserve in West Suburban Maywood. The Tribune featured the site today. Any time something known as a "biosolid" is being washed into a river, you know the conditions are bad.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Golden morning

Today was one of those days at Montrose that makes all the cold, empty days of February and March worth it. Forty-seven species including 16 warbler species along with some notable misses--no swainson's thrush, rose-breasted grosbeak, black-and-white warbler or warbling vireo to name a few. Not even a european starling, actually.

The birds must have been riding the front that led to storms much of the day. The morning was just dry enough to offer a few hours of great birding. One of the highlights was a golden-winged warbler, which according to my records is now species No. 321 on my North America list.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Lakeside report

We've seen a little bit of wildlife around West Lakeside Place lately. Last night, a rabbit graced the vacant lot behind our building. It casually munched on a piece of grass while we watched from the alley. There is a pair of house finches that have set up shop in the second floor of our neighbors' porch. I'm worried we're watching a tragedy unfold--someone will notice the nest and get rid of it. I like the finches though I understand the need to clear the deck of droppings and nest detritus. These birds are more interesting than house sparrows, especially the bright red plumage of the male house finch. They also have a sweet song.

The only other sighting of note from home is that the chimney swifts have returned. It was Thursday, May 7, that they made their first appearance. Haven't really heard them since so not sure if these were migrants or what. There were a lot of barn swallows on the golf course yesterday, though. I will try to slip out pre-work tomorrow for a birding session at Montrose (yippee!).

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Spring tidings

In the past week or so, I've spent several hours birding at Montrose Point and other nearby areas. Many new species are making their first spring appearances this far north. Among the highlights this morning were Empidonax flycatchers. Yesterday, rose-breasted grosbeak and baltimore oriole. Also, cape may warbler and nashville warbler.

The highlight of the past week was Sunday when a lark sparrow was in the dunal area near the lake. Never seen one of them before. They are quite striking, and Peterson describes their head pattern as "quail-like."

Restorationists plan to plant black oaks on the dunes three Saturdays from now. It's going to make quite an impact. I'm a little surprised in succession terms--after all the only trees there now are cottonwoods--but it's an exciting development and I'm sure it's been well-researched.