Sunday, February 23, 2014

Spring is on the way. Alas.

Some people think I'm a nutcase (KLK's exact words), but I in fact love winter, and with at least two distinct Polar vortexes this winter, Chicago, from late December until the end of last week, had its first real winter in years. It's been a quarter century or more, since we had sustained temperatures below freezing, day on day, week on week. We also had significant snow fall, which of course repeatedly messed up transportation -- bus schedules were simply abandoned in face of hopelessly piled snow and cars parked willy-nilly along the city streets -- and it made a total mess out of my car, which looks like a giant chunk of bacalao.  I thought all this crazy stuff fun.
It's all waning now,  with longer days signalling the earth's gradual tilt to spring. At least KLK and I found a most entertaining way to take advantage of the cold weather while it lasted. All along the upper Mississippi and many of its larger tributaries, instead of migrating, American bald eagles wait out the lean months below locks and dams, which keep the water from freezing over so they can continue to feed on fish. In late January, at the Army Corps of Engineers lock and dam at Utica, and across the Illinois River at Starved Rock State Park, the Illinois Audubon Society hosted Bald Eagle Watch. This view is from above the lock and dam. Impressive ice coverage!
Below the dam is a different story, at least for a few hundred yards downstream. This is where the eagles soar:
Unfortunately for the photographer (me), the width of the river made it difficult to get good pictures, just because of the distance to most of the action. But here's zoom in on an eagle with a good-sized fish in its talons:
Looks like a satisfying meal for a 10 or 12 lb bird, but alas, it's a good thing my camera was on continuous shooting, because a wing beat or two later this happened:
Life's hard in the winter, even around the dams. Maybe not so much for the gull, who was apparently anticipating this possibility. Who knows whether the fish lived another day.
But I did catch one magnificent bird on the wing from the vantage of a high bluff over the river:
The trees on Plum Island, an Audubon island sanctuary in the middle of the river, were amazingly full of roosting eagles. Because of the distance and angle of the light coming through the trees, I have no good photos to share, but these Canada geese also availed themselves of the safe harbor, resting on the ice in numbers.
And this great blue heron also enjoyed the sustenance of the open river.
Littler birds, like this dark-eyed junco provided entertainment at suet and seed feeders in the state park:
 And this very cute tufted titmouse:
And the white-breasted nuthatch at the suet:
And the female down woodpecker, also working the suet:
Here's a nice bald eagle caught by the waning sunshine as it flies past Starved Rock.
The story of our weekend adventures is to be continued...


  1. We often visit along The Big River where we see hundred of Bald Eagles below and dams and even a occasional Golden Eagle back in the bluffs overlooking the river (they're not fisherman so the loll in the warm of tropical Minnesota coming from the far north and hunt small mammals on the "goats prairies." As to the weather people are saying this is the first real Minnesota weather in more than a decade. I believe it.....:)

  2. You have had your share of cold this winter while we have been warmer than normal here in the west. Hopefully you spring will be here soon and the spring birds will show up. I am on my way out to see if I can find the special colored bald eagle I got pictures of yesterday.

    Have a great day and I love your pictures.