Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Whachu doin', Flicker?

At Humboldt Park today, I heard the WIKWIKWIKWIK call of a Yellow-Shafted Northern Flicker, and I turned around to see a gull...what??? Oh, no, there's the Flicker-behind the gull. Crazy ass Flicker clung to a light post for several minutes. Dang, Flicker! You got mad clinging skills!

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Goose in a tree, Towhee and me!

Flirting, nesting and fighting seem to be the main activities of birds during the mating and migration season. This morning I stopped at North Pond, which is near Lincoln Park Zoo, and witnessed several interesting displays, along with a Canada goose striking a pose at the top of a truncated tree.

That’s right; I saw a goose in a tree.

I did some research to find out why a goose would hang out in a tree, but I didn’t find any. I did learn that older, wiser geese will goose-nap goslings from younger, less experienced geese who the elder geese judge to be unfit parents and that the birds copulate while the female is submerged in water, along with plenty of other information, but found nothing about geese in trees. Maybe it’s not as unusual as I think?

Prior to observing this peculiarly behaving goose, I watched as two other geese, some red-winged blackbirds and a grackle all bickered (I think the grackle started it).A male house sparrow mimicked the creeping style of a Downy woodpecker on the side of a tree. Starlings flew back and forth with bunches of grass and sticks in their mouths. I saw a female house sparrow nestled in the ground, apparently taking a snooze. She seemed quite groggy; I hope she was not ill. I could not tell if she was or not, and I certainly didn’t want to remove her from her home without knowing for certain.

Earlier, while downtown on bird vigilante duty, I encountered another odd male house sparrow; it seemed dwarfish in size, had a lighter color back than I usually see, and it was bobbing its tail as if it were an Eastern Phoebe or Hermit Thrush! I observed it for a moment to see if it was hurt, but it flew off. In any case, I’ve never seen such a short house sparrow! No injured birds required my assistance this morning, although I thought for a moment that an Eastern Towhee needed me.

I saw the bird on the ground after flying and hitting its noggin; I slowly crept toward it, but it flew somewhere I couldn’t reach it. Several minutes later, I saw it flying above two talking ladies, and got some great looks at this ground-foraging, uniquely colored sparrow as it hopped and flew from tree branch to cement slab, etc, etc,. I felt worried about it, but there was no way to catch it. About a half an hour after that, an Eastern Towhee popped in near the Pritzer Pavilion, and I think it was the same guy, due to the proximity in location. This time, he did not seem discombobulated as he flitted from tree to tree and tried to find something to eat in the ground. Dozens of white-throated sparrows pecked at the grass nearby, and starlings flew to and from their nests made in the Pavilion’s crevices. The only bird I found during rescue was a deceased white-throated sparrow, but I did manage a better photo of a very alive white-throated when I was at North Pond:

Oh, but there were still more birds to see! A red-headed woodpecker flashed its vibrant colors as it flew around near the bird feeders. I excitedly pointed my binoculars in its direction, only to be distracted by a Black Crowned Night Heron that was hurriedly walking along the cement pier. These birds can still for hours on end, seemingly, and I’ve never seen one do anything remotely exciting, so I focused on it. Great Blue Herons are magnificent and slightly eerie looking due to their prehistoric appearance, Green Herons are just petite and sweet, but BCNHs are like the mummies of the bird world—that’s how still they usually are, and they usually take one very slow step at a time, as if their joints needed to be oiled. So, to finally see one fly and hop about made my day. However, I wish I had spent more time looking at the woodpecker instead of taking bad pictures of it, because I couldn’t relocate it after drooling over the BCNH.

If that weren’t enough, I also observed a few Yellow-Rumped Warblers, Ruby-Crowned Kinglets, a Hermit Thrush, Downy Woodpeckers, Northern Flickers and my very first Caspian Tern, an absolutely stunning gull-like bird. It circled the pond repeatedly, allowing for great looks with its white body and orange bill contrasted against the blue sky.

As I left the pond, this Ring-Billed Gull crossed my path. I love getting a shot of a happening bird who’s on the move….

Monday, April 26, 2010

Elusive sparrows and shitty people

Sometimes, people really disappoint me.

I often visit Ronan Park, located right off of Lawrence Avenue at Sacramento. People bring their children there, bike and jog there, and some people go there because they are bored and do not have a pleasant life outlook. These are the people who make going to the park less enjoyable.

Often, fishermen congregate on the southeast corner of the park. They drink beer and throw the cans over their shoulder, sometimes leaving dozens of cans sitting in the grass. Lots of unruly young men hang out, talk loudly and drink more beer as well. Today, about five of these fellows were chilling on the other side of the river from me. I rolled my eyes at their loud voices and macho posturing, but became angry when I heard the loud splash and realized that they'd just thrown a Budweiser box full of empty bottles into the water. The box floated southwards, the bottles following it, the red label across the top of each bottle visible through my binoculars.

I contemplated yelling at them. I envisioned going over to their side and delivering a harsher treatment than shouting. I didn't do either; instead, I just talked to myself (inwardly, of course!) "You can't change people's behavior; there's nothing you can do about it; it's better than them actually hurting a heron or mallard; just calm down....etc."

Even though I can not do anything about such ignorant, lame, uncreative, hateful, boring/bored people, they still make me angry. One thing I could do is clean up in the park; I should see if there is a group who already does that. It sickens me to think about cleaning up after such jerks, but doing so would at least improve the atmosphere for the birds and other wildlife there.

* * *

On the upside, many ruby-crowned kinglets and white-throated sparrows treated me to their presence. It's very hard to photograph kinglets, so I only tried once, to no success, and just delighted in watching the little birds flit from tree branch, to leaf, to fence and back and forth. I felt as though I should have been able to get a nice photo of one of the sparrows, but they kept alluding me, too. Every time I thought I'd captured it, the photo came out poorly, although these two amused me:

Here, the bird stealthily avoids me.

Here, the bird mocks me by allowing an almost-decent--but not quite--photo of it.

This robin and squirrel posed for me at least:

Other birds seen included a Northern Flicker, Field and Song Sparrows, Cardinals, Grackles, tons of Robins, Canada geese, Mallards, a lone Hermit Thrush and a confused male House Sparrow.

The winds were very brisk and I soon became chilled and headed home....

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Birds On Film

For a long time, I have enjoyed picking out bird songs and calls in movie scenes; usually, it’s chickadees that I hear. The other day, a friend of mine posted the YouTube video below. A few days later, I saw birds featured in the Showtime series Weeds and in the Jamie Foxx film The Kingdom. Seeing all of these bird appearances made me think it would be interesting to chronicle the use of birds in film and on television shows.

This scene from My Cousin Vinny features a screech owl and is funny because the owl is used to poke fun at Joe Pesci’s character, who is acting paranoid (I tried to embed it, but then the owl is not viewable):

In Weeds, the show about the suburban housewife turned pot dealer, I've seen two episodes with dead birds. In one, Kevin Nealon's character, Doug, who is an asshole who is down on his luck, is peeing near a dead bird in the desert. He speaks to the bird and he says he knows how the bird feels, dead inside. In another, Shane, the protagonist's 13-year-old son, shoots his teacher's cockatoo because the teacher ripped him off monetarily after a drug deal. His mother's body guard is with him, a man who kills for a living, and he becomes upset upon the bird's death, making Hail Mary/Jesus gestures with his hands and saying "Poor birdie."

Of course, I did not enjoy either of these scenes because the birds are dead and I hate any depiction of violence involving birds. However, I do not get too upset because I assume (rightfully, of course) that the birds are not hurt for the sake of the show.

The scene in The Kingdom was much better. This film is set in Saudi Arabia and is about some FBI agents who are trying to determine who is responsible for two terrorist attacks that killed one of their colleagues. It stars Jamie Foxx, as stated, along with Chris Cooper, Jennifer Garner and Jason Bateman. During the course of the film, a high-ranking Saudi police officer, Colonel Al-Ghazi, transports the agents where they need to be. On the way to the Prince of Saudi Arabia's estate for dinner, the following dialogue ensues:

(a beat...)
The Prince will ask you about your
flight, the accommodations...light
subjects. If he offers you the
chance to hold his Raptors, don't
flinch: it's a compliment.

ADAM LEAVITT (Jason Bateman)
(to Grant: genuine worry)
Wha…? His rapture?? What……

Of course, in the next scene, the camera focuses on Leavitt, who is very nervous throughout the film, holding what is being called a falcon (I am not sure if it's a falcon or hawk, but I thought it looked more like a hawk), looking very awkward, while the Prince makes the following comment:

His talons slice bone.


The prince goes on to discuss the great hunting abilities of this bird while Leavitt continues looking uneasy, and the bird doesn't make any other appearance in the film.

I'm sure people have differing opinions about owning raptors and using them for entertainment/status/etc, and I don't necessarily know what to think about it, but in the case of the film, it was quite amusing because it highlighted Leavitt's nervous energy and I found the play on "raptor" and "rapture" witty and funny, too, as it would be realistic for a non-birder to be unfamiliar with the term.

If you know of any memorable scenes from film or television that feature birds, please let me know!

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Bird Rescue, Week 4: No live rescues or salvages

Note: The American Woodcock and Yellow-Bellied Sapsucker that I found last week were both treated and released!

This morning came with gentle, temperate winds. Downtown Chicago felt calm, similarly to the first week I went out. Last week, peckers and thrushes abounded, but this week, only pigeons, gulls, and house sparrows made appearances. I saw the crow upon her nest in front of the evil atrium, but only her tail feathers, and I eagerly look forward to hopefully seeing or hearing baby crows soon.

I woke up at 4am--an hour before I needed to get up!--and was downtown by 6am. I saw one mutilated robin carcass, but I couldn't get to it, which was actually a relief, since its insides had been pecked at by something else and it was a ghastly sight.

While walking, I caught a few looks from passersby--they become curious about my net, I guess--and I spoke to maintenance workers for two different buildings. They were both friendly men; in fact, one had approached me last week, telling me he'd just placed a dead bird in the trash. I peered in the can, but it seemed that other trash covered the bird. The other man was flirtatious with me. After I handed him a card with the bird rescue hotline number on it, he looked slightly disappointed, as if he expected it to have my number on it! He instructed me to 'stay sweet as sugar' and I promised him I would.

By 7am, I had already finished my portion of the route, so I headed off to teach. I actually slept in my car for awhile because my class doesn't start until 10:20. I felt very grumpy all morning, but I had to smile when one of my students asked me if I'd rescued any birds. I'd mentioned on the first day that birding was a hobby. Maybe I can even raise some awareness through this work!

Overall, I felt relief at finding no birds, because that means none (hopefully I didn't miss any!!!) were hurt or dead, and because I become so amped upon discovering injured birds since this whole process is new to me. Last week's Woodcock encounter was exciting enough...but who knows what next week will bring!

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Bird Rescue, Week 2: On My Own

(Note: During Week 1, I learned the route, but we didn't find any live birds).

6am, Citibank atm vestibule. There’s a bird illuminated by the building lights, such a contrast to the cold concrete and steel structure. Can’t identify it. It’s walking, hopping around. Going towards the glass. All turned around. I’m supposed catch that big thing? It’s physically capable but could have head trauma! I ease toward it; it runs the opposite direction. Slowly. It goes toward the sidewalk, creeping along the ledge. Good, maybe it will fly and be safe. Good. Not good? Flew to median right there on Michigan Ave. It’s so dark, flashlight in my bag, no time. There it is on the ground, still befuddled, edging toward the curb, into traffic. NO! I stay still go around the side; I don’t want to spook it more.

I watch it follow it, then it goes, flies straight up over, into the air, no buildings in its way. Heart is beat beat beating……hard to focus but I get around the other buildings on my route. No more birds….then at the last building, there’s a tiny sparrow, hopping up into the glass from the ground, manically. The bird still has a lot of energy….I take deep breaths. It’s a little dude; I can DO this.

I crouch, then notice the concierge dude, watching me with concern, but for the bird, really, not scrutinizing me. Holding my net. Bird hopping into the glass, not hard, but it couldn’t turn itself ‘round. The angle was peculiar. Can’t completely cover bird with net. Must use my hand. Make contact with first live bird. It struggles free, still possessing lotsssss of energy. Finally I get it into the bag. Safe. Bird in bag. Adrenaline pummmmping.

Now. Walking in circles, where am I parked? I never drive downtown; the upper and lower levels, which is which? Driving in circles, radio off, least amount of noise possible for birdy.

Takes way too long, finally park, race around the rest of the route. No birds, no birds….that’s fine. Meeting rescue partner who does triage in forty minutes…..then at 7:30 there is one! A little hermit thrush. Net the bird, it is still. But then it chirp! Freaks out! Throws itself about. Two layers of mesh on it, beak and feet caught. Little tiny thrush feet in my hands---literally and metaphorically! Gotta get the feet out. Finally. Oh god thank god. Still little bird, was hurt in head and body? Don’t know. Two bags, two birds (sparrow stays in car).

Then the EVIL atrium building, oh lord….birds flying in and out of this evil space….wrens, thrushes, robins…..I see them flying in there but am scared to check it out alone…. We go back as two, birds wack their heads so slightly, they escape the vortex only to return moments later! Disoriented birds! Would have netted a wren but I didn’t have my net and it was active enough to fly out, fly away. Thrush and robin in and out….pretty bad off Robin found…didn’t see it, heard it squawk. Time stands still, remain calm, disassociate….adrenaline. Heading out, dead thrush right there. Damn. Oh but before, the majestic eery crow, seeming so giant after just looking at a wren in the air. Long, lone tree branch in its beak and look! Come back and the crow is nesting right by the evil atrium, her tail sitting straight up, leaning up on her bum. Baby crows to be seen soon? How magical, yet beauty always contradicts the sadness.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Bird Rescue, Week 3: The Mighty American Woodcock

For weeks, I've been obsessing over the American Woodcock. I finally saw one on Tuesday, my third week of performing bird rescue and recovery.

It was dead.

Whenever I approach the evil atrium, I feel a mix of excitement and foreboding. It’s a place that confuses beautiful birds of all species, and, as stated in my first post about rescuing birds, many do not make it out alive. This morning, a seemingly unscarred Hermit Thrush sat inside its confines. It flew up onto a ledge as I began climbing over the guard rail, and perched there, resting. I scanned the area to my right and in front of me: no birds. Good. None is better than severely injured or dead…oh no….I saw a feathery lump. As I approached it, I thought it was a woodpecker. It was lying on its back and all I saw was a long beak. As I got closer, though, I noticed that the bill was not shaped like a pecker’s, and it looked straight. Plus, the feet were really long. I put on my gloves and turned the corpse over and I immediately realized that I had just seen my first Woodcock, in the first stages of decomposition, with ants eating out its eyes. I sighed inwardly, placed the deceased bird into a marked bag and continued along my route.

I zigzagged in between a few buildings and became distracted by the plethora of live birds flitting about: several Hermit Thrushes and various Sparrows dug in the dirt for food. A Chickadee sang above me, and earlier I'd seen a Northern Flicker and Yellow-Bellied Sapsucker on the same tree.

Snapping out of my reverie—I awoke at 5:30am to rescue birds, not look at them—I turned up the next street and headed up the stairs, not thinking I would find anything at that particular spot.

I was so wrong.

A mid-size, tan-colored bird sat completely still, almost directly in front of me. Hell no! Is it really--??! I gasped--it was a Woodcock, and it was anything but dead! My heart began beating wildly. There it was, that big, browned eyed, chubby little bird I'd seen only in pictures! I seriously couldn’t have been anymore titillated if I had just bumped into Matt Dillon or Joaquin Phoenix randomly on the streets of Chicago; I literally blinked my eyes to make sure what I was seeing was real.

Right around the moment I arrived, but not necessarily precisely that moment, the Woodcock flew up, and bang! Its head made hard contact with the glass of the building in front of it. I shrieked as it made impact (I know I am supposed to be quiet, because noise further stresses birds, but I am still new at all of this, and I thought for a moment the bird would land with a bashed in dome due to the loud sound I’d just heard). The Woodcock looked okay, though. Whew. It didn’t matter, though; I knew I had to catch the bird to ensure that any resulting head trauma could be treated.

As I slowly approached it, the Woodcock flew into a corner, facing away from any glass. I walked up to it closely, quietly, from the side as I was taught. I extended my net in front of me, and gently covered the bird with it. Success!


The Woodcock jumped and thrashed within the net, even twisting its head! I quickly and gently rearranged the net so that the bird sat upright again—how I managed this, I do not know—and managed to position the little dude into a paper bag. Tears welled in my eyes, but they stemmed from joy, as I felt certain this bird would be able to be released thanks to my efforts, however awkward they may have been.

With the bag carrying the alive Woodcock firmly clutched in one hand and the dead woodcock loosely held by the other, I quickly hurried toward Michigan Avenue; I wanted to finish my route the best that I could instead of rushing back to the car.
I made the right choice, as I found another, severely injured bird right at the feet of pedestrians: a Yellow-Bellied Sapsucker that was in bad shape. It was around 7:30 at that point, so many people were heading to work. One man got so close I thought he was going to step on the pecker before I got a chance to save it!

It shouldn’t be too hard to scoop up the bird, I thought. Shakily, I set down the other bags, praying that the strong wind would not blow the Woodcocks away, and gently cupped my hand around it, only to hear a loud SQUAWK! I looked down at it, its beak open, blood dripping out of its mouth. Its little claws got stuck to my gloves; it twisted and turned its little body, resisting hard! Again, not knowing how the hell I managed it, I was able to deposit the sapsucker into the bag.

At this point, it was time to get the birds to the quiet, wind-free car. Thankfully, my partner appeared soon after I placed the bags-o-birds safely in sturdy boxes, and he took them to be examined and treated, if necessary.

Today I learned that both birds were released. Two weeks of happy endings—but what will happen next?

Here is a Yellow-Bellied Sapsucker, my photo: