When we first started birding at Columbus Park almost four years ago, Coyotes were year-round residents in the Park. We used to find their tracks crossing the snow-covered golf course, and we sometimes saw the Coyotes if we arrived early in the morning. Some folks even said they had seen a Coyote den in the Park.
Then about 14 months ago, Coyotes disappeared from the Park. The last time I saw one there was December 18, 2008. So, I was very pleased this morning when I saw a Coyote just standing there in the middle of the golf course:
I only had the Sony DSC-H50 camera, with its 15 times zoom, so my photos only hint at how beautiful it was:
So, what’s a Coyote going to eat in Columbus Park? This past summer and fall we saw lots more Cottontail Rabbits than usual, and there are still lots of Gray and Fox Squirrels in the Park. Also, the snow is melting, and small flocks of Canada Geese have been returning to feed on exposed grass. Later this spring there may be 500 or more geese visiting the Park each day. For a lighter snack, there are often 40 or 50 Mourning Doves roosting on the south sides of wooded areas. Today they were just sitting on the ground, soaking up the sunlight. If all else fails, there’s usually something edible in the trash bins near the food bank, and some folks scatter bread to feed the wildlife.
So, it seems an enterprising Coyote could make a life for itself in this Chicago city park. We’ll see if this one sticks around.
It’s been a busy month at work, but this morning, for the first time in two weeks, I monitored birds at Columbus Park. I saw 13 species of birds, including a Red-tailed Hawk whose tail was a mix of banded juvenile feathers and bright red adult feathers. However, I did not see the on-again-off-again Great Horned Owl who sometimes roosts in an oak tree on the west side of the Park. (Read about it here.)
I always enjoy seeing the owl, but when the owl’s gone I’m not too sad, because then I can search for owl pellets under its roosting tree. The pellets I’ve found so far (shown in this post) contained a mix of medium and small mammal bones, but no teeth. So I figured the owl was feeding on squirrel, rabbit, or maybe possum-sized mammals. Since I can’t often identify bones to species, I was really hoping to find some owl pellets with teeth or jar bones, which I often can identify. Today I lucked out:
This fall we had lots more rabbits than normal in Columbus Park, and I’d noticed gnawing damage to shrubs and small trees that was probably the work of rabbits. My neighbors in Oak Park had also noticed more rabbits in their yards this year and complained about damage to their gardens. So, now there’s evidence that our Great Horned Owl is bringing the rabbit population back to normal.
Here are links to information and activities about owl pellets:
For the past three days a Red-tailed Hawk has been hunting from lamp posts at the end of our block:
I first noticed the hawk on Monday while I was walking to Maze Library across the Ridgeland bridge. I saw the hawk flying from post to post, approaching me from the east. Once it got close enough, I recognized it as the pale-bellied Red-tail that I’ve seen in Columbus Park, about a mile east on the expressway:
A few weeks ago I watched this hawk hunting Mourning Doves behind the Refectory at Columbus Park — it failed rather miserably. On Monday the Red-tail made a pass at Pigeons roosting on the apartment building at the end of our block — another fail. Then it flew directly at the large Red Cedar in our alley where House Finches and Goldfinches roost — the small birds scattered, and the hawk was not even close to scoring a meal.
Since then, every time I see the hawk it’s sitting on a lamp post:
It’s always look down, at least when it’s not looking at me. It’s probably hoping for a glimpse at a potential meal — a mouse, perhaps a rat, maybe a rabbit brave enough to cross three lanes of traffic.
I hope the hawk is more successful with mammals than it is with birds. And I hope it understands the dangers of speeding cars and trucks.
Red-tailed Hawks often hunt along highway right-of-ways. Here are some links that discuss this aspect of Red-tail natural history:
Our part of the count covers the following areas in Chicago and Oak Park: Birding on foot in Columbus Park, Douglas Park, and south Oak Park residential areas; feeder watching at our home on South Elmwood in Oak Park; and driving through industrial and residential areas in between these sites.
This year, birding from sunrise to sunset, we found a total of 26 species. The highlights of our day included:
Four species of hawks, including a MERLIN at Columbus Park (photo below), 2 AMERICAN KESTRELS, 2 COOPER’S HAWKS, and 2 RED-TAILED HAWKS.
A WINTER WREN beside the Columbus Park lagoon (where we saw this species often through the fall — photo below).
An AMERICAN PIPIT at Columbus Park, in the same field where we saw a Pipt on December 11 (photo below).
A SWAMP SPARROW at Columbus Park (photo of its rump, below), plus 20 AMERICAN TREE SPARROWS (15 at Douglas, 5 at Columbus).
We were also pleased that WHITE-BREASTED NUTHATCHES put in 2 appearances, since we’ve been seeing them much more frequently this year. We also were happy to see a BLUE JAY, because they were common this summer, then mostly disappeared within the last few weeks. We were disappointed that overall sparrow numbers were down at Douglas Park, where the golf-course sanctuary often holds 50 or 60 sparrows this late in the year. And we were very sad that we did NOT see the Great Horned Owl that had been roosting near Austin in late November and early December. (We still hope it returns in time to be registered as a count-week species!)
Here’s our entire list for today, with count numbers:
Canada Goose 280
Cooper’s Hawk 2
Red-tailed Hawk 2
American Kestrel 2
Herring Gull 1
Ring-billed Gull 5
Rock Pigeon 115
Mourning Dove 45
Downy Woodpecker 4
Hairy Woodpecker 3
Blue Jay 1
American Crow 9
Black-capped Chickadee 9
White-breasted Nuthatch 2
Winter Wren 1
American Robin 55
European Starling 350
American Pipit 1
American Tree Sparrow 20
Swamp Sparrow 1
Dark-eyed Junco 25
Northern Cardinal 21
House Finch 14
American Goldfinch 30
House Sparrow 180
We also have two count-week species so far for our areas:
1 Red-bellied Woodpecker (seen in Douglas Park 12/17/09)
2 African Collared-Dove and/or African X Eurasian Collared-Dove (seen in south Oak Park 12/18/09). We are soliciting input on these photos, taken on Dec. 18th — what do you think they are?
The neighborhood crows and I were both disappointed that we didn’t find the Great Horned Owl in its usual roosting tree in Columbus Park. Here’s what the owl looked like yesterday afternoon — the third day in a row we had seen it in exactly the same spot in a White Oak tree:
This morning I looked at the same tree from every angle — and every tree around it — for 10 minutes and couldn’t find the owl. Then five minutes after I gave up a flock of Common Crows flew into the roosting tree and landed in its upper branches. These were tough crows! I had earlier seen them harassing first an American Kestrel and then a Red-tailed Hawk. I figured they knew something I didn’t — after all, crows first found this owl for me on November 24th. So, once the crows flew off, I went back to the roost tree and looked again.
Still, no owl.
I should have been disappointed, but I looked at the bright side. If the owl was in its roost, I would have backed off and left it alone. Since there was no owl to scare off, I could go look for owl pellets under its roost. (Owl pellets are the remains of animals that the owl ate — whole or in really big chunks. The pellet is the regurgitated remains of the owl’s meal, after the flesh and guts have been digested.)
Here’s what I found:
The more I looked, the more I found:
The last pellet I found was the biggest and the boniest:
I saw one rodent or rabbit front tooth in a pellet, but the rest of the visible bones were from legs, feet, hips, shoulders, or backs. I’m not good at identifying animals from their limb bones — I need to see teeth.
I guess we’ll go back at some point and dissect some of the pellets. If we find some jaws or skulls, we’ll know better what our urban owl was eating in Columbus Park.
Then we’ll wash our hands really well. After all, we’ll be handling owl vomit!
Late this morning I saw at least 14 American Crows in Columbus Park. To me that’s really great — I love crows, but their local population was decreased a few years ago by West Nile Virus. Now that they’re coming back, there’s reason for excitement — you never know quite what’s going to happen when crows are around.
The first crows I saw — a group of nine — were foraging in the woods by the lagoon. Two of them were tearing up a hornet nest. (I’ll post about that later.) They took off when they saw me, heading east and out of the Park.
The next group of crows was only five in number, but they were making lots of noise when I encountered them in the woods along Austin. At first I figured they might be looking for hornet nests — they were in the same trees where I found the nests in this blog post. But they just landed in the trees, took off again, circled over the golf course, then returned to the same trees — calling constantly. The second time they landed it was obvious that they weren’t just calling — they were calling at something. It seemed that they might be “mobbing” a hawk, so I scanned the trees with my binoculars. I thought I might find a Red-tailed or Cooper’s Hawk, which are common in the Park. Instead, this is what I saw:
The Great Horned Owl was the very first owl I had ever seen in Columbus Park! A few minutes earlier I had walked right under that tree, scanning the surrounding tree tops as I went, but I had completely missed the owl. Good thing the crows helped me out — the owl was sleeping away the day in a White Oak tree. Oaks hold their leaves longer than the other trees in Columbus Park, and the leaves helped hide the owl from view.
I walked a little closer, taking photos as I went. I got within about 75 feet and took this shot:
After a few more photos, I backed away. The crows had left, and I decided to do the same. Time to let the owl get back to sleep.
I hope the crows stick around all winter and beyond. Who knows what they’ll find next time! And I hope the owl finds lots to eat tonight in Columbus Park.
Earlier this year Neighborhood Nature showed the earliest examples of spring flowers we could find. Now that November’s two-thirds gone, I guess it’s time to show the last wildflowers still blooming in Columbus Park. (I’ll do my best to give their names, but bear with me — I’m not a botanist!)
It was sunny and almost warm during this morning’s bird monitoring in Columbus Park. However, some parts of the Park were devoid of birds, so I had time to look down as I listened hard for any birdlike sounds. These nickle-sized flowers caught my eye — I’m pretty sure they’re Daisy Fleabane. (You can see a photo of the entire plant here.)
The small patch of prairie habitat beside the lagoon held two plants in flower. The first one looked like a very small example of Queen Anne’s Lace (aslo called Wild Carrot) — the flower head was less than two inches across. (You can see a photo that shows the leaves here. Please use the comments, below, to correct me if I’m wrong.)
I’m also uncertain what this plant is called. I’m guessing this might be False Dragonhead, a kind of mint. Another name for this species is Obedient Plant, since if you push the flowers to one side, they stay there until you push them back. However, I forgot the try that test today, so my identification has not been physically confirmed. Also, this flower looked more pinkish in the field — I’m not sure why the photos don’t do justice to the color. (You can see a photo of the entire plant here.)
My final flowers were just hanging on — most of the others on this plant had gone to seed. It was a kind of thistle, found in Austin woods — but don’t ask me what kind of thistle, I wouldn’t have a clue. (Again, these looked more pinkish in the field. You can see a photo that shows some leaves here.):
“Gone to seed” is where all these flowers are bound. Food for birds, and sometimes a feast for the eyes despite the lack of color. Check out these goldenrod seeds, which may be Showy Goldenrod, one of the most beautiful of its kind. (You can see a photo that shows more of the plant here.)
So, are these the last wildflowers I’ll see this year in Columbus Park? I’ll keep looking for more on future visits. (And I’ll also try to tame that possible Obedient Plant.)
As part of the World Wide Web, this blog is legally and morally obligated to display photos of cute mammals at least once a quarter. However, because we show so many photos of birds and insects, we have probably fallen behind on this responsibility. Granted, we posted a photo of our kittens back in March. And many people would consider our Possum from back in February to be cute in a homely sort of way, even if you had to wade through worms and millipedes to see the cuteness. But I guess our squirrel photos tended to look either really tough, like the one from last week, or kind of demonic, because of the flash effects on their eyes.
But now, how can you say this photo of a vole from Columbus Park isn’t cute?
It’s really round and fuzzy, right? With tiny little ears? And it eats plants? Granted the eyes are small and beady, but check this out:
If you look really close, you’ll even see some short hairs covering the tail. That’s pretty good for an urban rodent!
So, I think Neighborhood Nature has met its cuteness obligation for the fall quarter. If you disagree, then next time I go to Columbus Park I guess I’ll have to carry a tiny costume in my pocket, so I can dress our vole as a cat.
If you want to get serious about voles, you can go here or here.
Both the weather and the birds made it feel like fall at Columbus Park as I monitored birds there this morning.
The weather was sunny, but temperatures were still in the 40s when I arrived. I forgot my hat and — although the sun is lower in the sky now — I managed to get a mild sunburn on my bald spot during the three and a half hours I was there.
Columbus Park’s birds are taking on a mid-fall flavor as summer residents are leaving and later migrants and winter residents are arriving. I saw my first-of-season Brown Creepers and Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers today — and I flushed at least two migrant Woodcock from the Austin woods. I did not see Catbirds or Swainson’s Thrushes today, but I did see a Hermit Thrush. Robin numbers have dropped from more than 100 a few weeks ago to 12 today. Late-season warblers, like Yellow-rumped and Palm, were everywhere, but other warblers were hard to find. And the Wood Duck family that grew up on the lagoon this summer is gone, but Canada Goose numbers continue to increase. (We will probably have more than 400 geese on the golf course this winter.)
As hawks migrate to and through Columbus Park, it becomes a “landscape of fear” for small birds and mammals. Today a Cooper’s Hawk and Sharp-shinned Hawk were hunting small birds, and a juvenile Red-tailed Hawk was trying to catch tree squirrels (without much success). I also saw an adult Red-tail spiraling upwards over the south end of the golf course and then heading southeast, perhaps continuing its migration.
Of course, there will be many more changes over the next few weeks. For instance, we’re still waiting for our first Dark-eyed Juncos and American Tree Sparrows of the fall, and both of those species should spend the most of the winter in the Park. When the down has settled after fall migration, we expect to have about 20 species of birds remaining in Columbus Park. That’s less than a third of the 65 species we saw during September.
As always, you can find complete daily, monthly, and yearly summaries of our eBird data for Columbus Park on this page.