Wildlife Returns to Greater Chicago

Thought I’d share this bit of good news from the Care2 folks:

Nature in the City: Wildlife Returns to Greater Chicago

Think Spring!


Some Nice Surprises

As I wrote last month, 2014 marks the first in 11 seasons that no Canada geese bred here. I am aware plenty of people hate the geese and would consider this good news, but that would be a serious error, as it indicates the serious degradation of habitat.

I had all but despaired of ducks, too, but a single mother mallard has a half dozen healthy chicks! Now the littles scramble among the other adults for a bit of breakfast bread … and that single, out-of-place, domestic duck.

Mallard mama and ducklings/

Mallard mama and ducklings

I’ve seen a Great Blue Heron several mornings of late, which is always a magnificent treat, – and a small Egret was near wood ducks at dawn Thursday last!

Screech owls have been trilling. The Hermit Thrushes who have been serenading me so long now, I’ve been taking their lovely song for granted, have diminished, and were silent this morning, yet I still saw one in the messing about in the underbrush.

Rabbits seem a staple these last months; I’ve seen as many as five of them in a morning. When they adopt the freeze mode, I am happy to pretend not to see them, but they usually bound away, – the classic white tail disappears into the undergrowth.

On-going is the need to pick up plastic and glass bottles, bags, cigarette, cigar and food packaging, worm containers, and fishing line that strangled a foot-long snapping turtle I discovered reeling in the near-invisible line attached to a branch in the water at the Armory Street bridge. I focus on the positive, but there is always the heartbreak.



It’s getting closer… Click to find instructions, FAQs, Tally sheet and a List of birds for your region (U.S. and Canada)

Missing Chipmunks

When I saw the first Canada Goose chicks on the pond Saturday (5/11), it struck me that another sign of renewal is late. The Eastern Chipmunk (Tamias striatus) Eastern Chipmunk (Tamias striatus) has been scampering across my backyard for weeks, but I haven’t seen one here in Van Horn Park. These are dates from my notebooks for first chipmunk sightings past:

  • 2012    April 30
  • 2011    April 12
  • 2010    March 17
  • 2009    May 8

I walked today (5/13) and still no luck.  It troubles me because 10 years ago my relationship with the park began as an enchantment with chipmunks.

In those early days, there was a man who came late in the afternoon, and walked at a leisurely pace with a bag on his shoulder and tossing its contents onto the ground as he neared a stand of  rhododendrons. When I drew close enough to recognize the peanuts, something else made me gasp, – mind boggling numbers of chipmunks.

They swarmed from beneath the shrubbery, fearlessly, eagerly toward the man with the peanuts, – as if he were the Pied Piper of Hamlin. I was one of many who witnessed this delight. People instinctively hung back and kept quiet, so as not to frighten the animals and spoil the moment.

After a time, the peanut man stopped coming and I never again saw the spectacle, but every year, from spring through fall, I recorded an average of 4-5 chipmunks in the park every day.

I am afraid the Springfield Parks Department’s thoughtless and repeated onslaughts and wanton destruction of living trees and fallen ones under which chipmunks live. They intruded as recently as March – when pregnant females and this year’s young may have been killed by heavy machinery.

Up until 2013, chipmunks could be seen scampering over a pile of logs that protected their  burrows. This is what's left.

Up until 2013, chipmunks could be seen scampering over a pile of logs that protected their burrows. This is what’s left.

April Showers

Breezy days with temperatures close to 60 degrees made conditions pleasant for walking this past week. The last couple of days, mornings have been sunny and afternoon clouds bring pattering rain.

Saw the first fish of the season on Thursday, 28 March. It was sunfish shaped – about 8″ long and floating sidewise at the pond surface, dead. The water level is very low and unappetizing algae growth (and sulphurous smell)  has well begun. Spotted a couple of turtles each day, warming themselves in sunshine spots, which lends a little hope.

The high count for squirrels was two (2) individuals on 29 March. Iwas happy to see a black morph,  Image  especially after all the recent habitat destruction by the city parks department.

I can’t stay blue with the Red-winged Blackbirds noisily conducting their business Image and Robins can be seen, as well as heard, every day.

Image My daughter and I  are again carrying a bag of bread with us. We’ve been sharing with the three Canada Geese and a few ducks. These are Mallards, – common species throughout North America. However, as the sun shone full on their purple iridescent feathers, – the feast for the eyes left me gasping at their beauty. Image Today I fear these smaller birds are being overwhelmed by the 30 additional Canada Geese that appeared on the pond.

Last Squirrels Seen February 15


I don’t believe the Parks Department has killed them all…yet. There are marks snow at the base of some trees. Chewed twigs with tight red buds lay on the ground in a couple of places. And only bits of shell remain at my raw peanut drop spots. Still, not to record a single squirrel for nearly six weeks is an aberration, according to field notes I’ve kept since 2008.

How many died when the trees were cut down? How many lost their homes and froze to death, or otherwise died of exposure in the cold and snow that came after? How many fled into the neighborhood? – (Where they may be unwelcome house guests and face harm again at the hands of humans.)

Earlier in the week, I encountered a middle-aged man who shared his upset over the city’s latest and earlier attacks on Van Horn Park. He sadly recounted the disappearance of a fox family here, and said he’d seen dead rabbits – victims of the bordering streets.

Wheels of heavy vehicles plow up and scrape off topsoil in a Springfield, MA park.

Wheels of heavy vehicles plow up and scrape off topsoil

The squirrels are back

Rose to see wind-whipped tree branches outside the window and expected punishing cold walk conditions, but the thermometer read 40 degrees at 7 AM. On top of enjoying the balmy morning, I spotted squirrels for the first time in 4 days: 3 scampered toward the first nut-drop point; 3 more at the next, including a black morph, – and 6 at the last site, one of which appeared to be watching for me. So, we’re all good again.


National Bird Day

Cooper's Hawk

Cooper’s Hawk visiting backyard on January 2, 2013.

Saturday, January 5, 2013 is National Bird Day. To find out more about it click here: http://nationalbirdday.org/

In celebration, I’m sharing a shot of a Cooper’s Hawk I snapped on Wednesday. It was a challenge to get a clear view through the fence. I believe this individual is a frequent shopper at my backyard bird-feeding station.

Then today, my daughter and I watched the flight of a Red Tailed Hawk across the field edging the park, its parting glory on fire in the early morning sun.

The Drum Off

Downy Woodpecker

Downy Woodpecker (Photo credit: Ed Gaillard)

Took the new photo for the header this morning to better illustrate the season. It was a bracing 20 degrees, but after many cloudy days, the sun was brilliant.

Though I left peanuts, I am still being shunned by squirrels. Chickadees were noisy and numerous. I noted several woodpeckers chucking and churring, then at the north side I heard drumming… and then another drummer from the south, seemingly in answer. I tried to ID the bird nearest me, but even with trees bare, I couldn’t tell whether it was a Downy, Hairy, or Red-bellied.

Field Notes: June 7

2012 [Sunny; 73°]
Mammals: Eastern Chipmunk (8); Eastern Gray Squirrel (10; I killed by vehicle)
Birds: American Robin (14); Red-winged Blackbird; Chickadee; Common Grackle (6); Blue Jay; Woodpecker (knocks & calls); House Sparrows (6); (Mallard Duck (2 male & female); Canada Goose (3 adults); Eastern Phebe (or swift, or flycatcher)
Others: Fish (an 8” individual was struggling for to breathe on a man’s fishing line); crab-type spider; cabbage white butterflies; beetles; ants

2011 [Sunny; 65°]
Mammals: Eastern Chipmunk (10); Eastern Gray Squirrel (11 including a black morph)
Birds: American Robin (15); Tufted Titmouse; Chickadee; Mourning Dove; Red-winged Blackbird; Common Grackle (5); Catbird; Blue Jay; Starling; House Sparrow; Red-bellied & other woodpeckers; Wood Duck; Canada Goose (13 adult & 7 young)
Others: Snapping Turtle & Painted Turtle (laying eggs!); Bullfrog; Gnats

2010 [Sunny; 75°]
Mammals: Cottontail Rabbit; Eastern Gray Squirrel (2); Eastern Chipmunk (2)
Birds: American Robin; Catbird; Mallard Duck (6 adult & 6 young); Canada Goose (8+ adult &? young)

2009 [Sun & Cloud; 68°]
Mammals: Eastern Gray Squirrel (6)
Birds: Mourning Dove; American Robin; Red-winged Blackbird; Blue Jay; Common Grackle; Chickadee; Catbird; Oriole; Hermit Thrush (2); Northern Flicker; Canada Goose (8+ adult &4+young)
Others: Snapping Turtle (laying eggs!); Small frogs; Fish (many)