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Days of Wine and Feathers: Finding Sanctuary with the Birds at the Magic Hedge

Birding, Memoirs & Miscellany 1 Comment »

Illustration: SPBurke.com

By Sheila Cull

I peeled open stoned eyes and saw my rubber snow boots. I stuck my feet inside without pausing to zip them up. I staggered around the corner to the twenty-four-hour mart for a five-dollar wine bottle, while I counted time on one hand.

I started drinking as a teenager. I seriously wondered why everybody didn’t drink, all the time. It turned into a daily addiction. For near twenty years I was recklessly wasted. Wine, I imagined, made me sophisticated. At times my happy-hour drunkenness got so I curled up outside my door, in the hallway. Other tenants shook me awake and asked if I was okay. I was lucky to have a job, but it was in jeopardy. I’d let nothing impede my drunken interruptions.

My father’s pancreatic cancer diagnosis did. Shawn, my twin brother, phoned me and explained what this news meant. After learning his dire prognosis, I stayed locked up in my apartment. I kept an eye on the phone cord, making sure that it didn’t accidentally get plugged back in. My sisters and brothers left answering machine messages. Read the rest of this entry »

Of Fish and Feathers: Watching the watchers at Wooded Island

Birding, Fishing, Parks & the Great Outdoors 2 Comments »
Urbanrules/Creative Commons

Urbanrules/Creative Commons

By Patrick Roberts

It is 7:40am on a Saturday, and I am smoking a cigarette on Darrow Bridge, waiting for birders to appear. A friend waits with me, and a debate between us is why we are here. Inexplicably, she believes fish to be more interesting than birds. I disagree. In flight and song, birds capture the imagination and lift the spirit. Think “Ode to a Nightingale.” Fish, by contrast, lack all personality. I don’t know of any odes to a fish. Nonetheless, my friend is unconvinced, and so we have come to Wooded Island in the heart of Jackson Park to gain perspective.

During the summer, Wooded Island draws birders and fishers alike. The birders stroll the trails, eyes upon the trees; the fishers troll the lagoons, eyes upon the water. This morning, we hope to join one of the semi-organized bird walks that have been a fixture on Wooded Island for years. Every Wednesday and Saturday morning throughout the year, birders gather on Darrow Bridge and set off together in ornithological fellowship. Read the rest of this entry »

Wild Chicago: In search of the urban wildlife experience

Birding No Comments »

By Dave Chamberlain

Everyone has a wildlife sighting story. The time when, out of nowhere, the unexpected four-footed beast or winged oddity scurried or flew by in a place no one ever expected. My grandparents’ Ohio backyard once served as a pit stop for a hungry Pileated Woodpecker (a woodpecker as big as a hawk). My mom gets visited by moose in Vermont. As a native Coloradan, spare time was spent in the dwindling plains near Denver (the area that is now Columbine High School) looking for rattlesnakes.

But these sightings all happened in the suburbs or in decidedly rural areas, where the push of humankind only occasionally grazes up against the habitats of our furred, feathered and scaled friends. Urban wildlife is rarely as peculiar as the Pileated Woodpecker, as majestic as the moose, as exciting as the rattlesnakes. Instead, living in cities over the course of the last ten years, I’ve learned that urban wildlife tends to be more on the sinister side. Read the rest of this entry »

The Bittersweet Life of Birds: A backyard melodrama

Birding, Food & Drink, Memoirs & Miscellany No Comments »

By Mary Ann Williams

The steam rose off the damp sidewalks. My house smelled like heat and books. And so, rather than toil on another well-intentioned act of journalism, I picked up a garden tool—the one that ends in a vicious-looking V—and went outside to murder some dandelions.

I was kneeling in the deep green grass when I heard shrieking. Further investigation revealed a bad business in progress. The corner of my front porch—home to two raspberry finches and their nestlings—was being sacked by a group of surly sparrows. By the time I arrived, nothing much was left but shreds of dried grass and feces. A week before the young finches were supposed to try their wings, they were learning to jog instead and scuttled for shelter in the yard. Read the rest of this entry »