Monday, January 31, 2011

Wintry trek

Birding with a 10-month-old strapped to your chest is a little different than birding without a 10-month-old strapped to your chest. For one, you can't really hold your binoculars the same way and you definitely have to forego a strap. Also, there isn't as much patience for stopping and studying every last primary on a two-year gull. In fact, when we did stop walking on Sunday, the little one looked up at me to suggest that I should keep on walking. Now, it was about 27 degrees and windy at the time, yet that didn't seem to be a problem--tough fledgling we have.

While on Montrose Point, a passerby asked if we'd seen the coyotes. We hadn't, in fact I've only seen fox at Montrose, never a coyote. I asked if he could show us to the coyotes, probably a dubious parenting decision to say the least with wild carnivores around. Yet we walked over to a thicket to get a good look at the big canines. About 50 feet away, there was a coyote looking back at us through the woods. It was impressive--more wolf-like than I imagined--but we soon made our way back to the car, satisfied with our wintry trek.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

New campsite

For the first time since it started in 2005, has a new look! The new site has updated descriptions of Chicago area tent camping destinations. There are also some new features, but it is a bit of a work in progress as the site transitions from PC to Mac-based. The Google map opens to a larger map that shows quick descriptions for each locale, FYI. Eventually, I'd like to add a better format for discussion and Facebook/social media sharing.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Dune scrubbing

On my trek to Montrose Point last weekend, I discovered that the dunes had been ravaged by the storm that hit us in mid-December. The sandy area in the top photo, shown a couple summers ago, was littered with debris and the sign in the photo had been washed into a pile of riprap. The 15-foot waves must have poured right over the pier and into the dunes. The bottom photo, from last weekend, shows where dune grasses (in the darker brown area in the photo) were scrubbed away by the lake. All that's left is the rhizomatic mat, holding together the sand. I doubt the dunes, just less than two decades old, have ever been hit by anything like this before. It will be interesting to watch them regenerate this spring and in the months and years ahead.

Monday, January 3, 2011

Arctic visitor

I went birding at Montrose Point in clear, cold conditions on Sunday. It was snow-less because of the recent thaw. I saw some nice birds, but nothing unusual. I was a little frustrated at the lack of standouts when I stopped to examine a group of birds being fed human food just south of Montrose Harbor. Frankly, I was hoping for a house sparrow since I hadn't checked one off the list yet (a modest goal to be sure). There were a lot of geese, gulls and starlings feasting on bread and other household offal. Soon I saw one sparrow-like bird on the ground, in the shadow of a small tree. It was unusual because it was streaked on its flanks, which quickly ruled out house sparrow and american tree sparrow (which I had seen many earlier). It also bobbed up and down a little when it started walking, and was a bit larger than a sparrow--but not quite a thrush either. I got out of the car and crept within about 10 yards of the bird, which really didn't spook easily, as though it was tired or ill.

The bird is an american pipit, which breeds on the Arctic tundra and alpine meadows and normally passes through Chicago in fall and spring. Pipits are of their own family--Motacillidae--and occur on every continent. It's unusual to see one during mid-winter here--its mapped winter range stretches only as far north as Arkansas--though I've noticed other reports this winter. There are a couple more photos here.