Birdz Cookies: 1 Week Later

AMCR 1-29-16-0446As planned, I got out to Millennium Park again on Friday, with pretty much the same menu options. The Birdz Cookies were one week older, but the Crows didn’t seem to mind. The snow was for the most part gone and the sun poked out from behind the clouds every now and then.

The squirrels may turn their noses up at hot dogs, but they like the Birdz Cookies.

There were a lot more birds than last time. See if you can pick out the White-Throated Sparrow among these House Sparrows.

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Visitors included a male Northern Cardinal and a couple Black-Capped Chickadees.

But what I really wasn’t expecting to see was a Brown Thrasher! They normally start showing up around April.

I knew this was going to make my list exciting so I was that much more pleased when the Thrasher gave me several good pictures.

BRTH 1-29-16-0683The photographic data I submitted to ebird was more than sufficient. I found it funny though that the Thrasher was the only sighting on the Rare Bird Alert for the entire county on Friday.

What I suspect is going on with the Thrasher is that it is expanding its year-round range, which now cuts off at the southern tip of Illinois. This is likely the effect of global warming. So the data is important for that reason alone. This particular bird might be related to the male declaring his territory near the BP Bridge a couple years ago.

What I didn’t know about Brown Thrashers is that they eat seeds, so that explains why the bird came back to explore the food some more.

The crows got their fill of hot dogs.

On the way back I stopped at the Boeing sculpture garden and saw two beautiful female Northern Cardinals and a couple more White-Throated Sparrows.

So even though I hardly get out during the week, it’s still possible to find something unexpected. This is part of the magical attraction to birding. You can never predict what will happen.

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Birdz Cookies

AMCR 1-22-16-9982The weather finally turned cold enough last week to warrant baking the Birdz Cookies, which have gone through several iterations over time. I have managed to find a way to cut down on the sugar content and increase the peanut butter, which suits the Crows just fine.

I was quite pleased that the Crows went for the cookies first, saving the hot dogs and peanuts for later. So I guess baking cookies is the way to a Crow’s heart…

There were a few White-Throated Sparrows too. It still amuses me that they have chosen Millennium Park for a winter habitat, but I suspect they picked up lots of tips from the House Sparrows and are able to get enough food and shelter to make a go of it. On this day there was only one individual available for pictures.

I haven’t been out to see the Crows all week but I’m going to visit them today. Very chilly today but we are supposed to have a two-day warming trend.

Until the next post, I leave you with a few more pictures from last Friday. It’s very likely the Crows are paying attention while I’m posting this and salivating in advance.

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Yard Birds

DOWP 1-24-16-0197Not much going on around here. Dull days of winter. But whenever there’s the occasional bright and sunny day, and Sunday was one of them, one must get outside, so before I went for an afternoon walk with Lesa at Miller Meadow, I sat out in the yard albeit rather uncomfortably on an overturned trash can, to be far away enough from the feeders so the birds would come back in, and come back in they did.

First to lead the charge was a female Downy Woodpecker, taking advantage of the fact that the crowd had not arrived yet.

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Then I saw the White-Breasted Nuthatch who has been visiting this winter, and no sooner did I suggest to him that he bring a friend than a second one appeared, perhaps a female although not easy to tell from these pictures. I think in the second photo below, the female is on the feeder with the House Sparrow above and the male is on the peanut feeder, the male having more prominent black on the crown and nape.

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WBNH 1-24-16-0243This is also the first time I’ve seen these birds on the seed feeders.

WBNH and HOFI 1-24-16-0235WBNH 1-24-16-0290One little Dark-Eyed Junco showed up although I’m afraid due to distance and shadows I didn’t do him much justice.

DEJU 1-24-16-0299There was also one American Tree Sparrow. I think there may have been another one but since I never saw the two at once I can’t be sure. Even in my own little yard birding gets tricky!

ATSP 1-24-16-0314This Tree Sparrow likes the attention.

ATSP 1-24-16-0331After I got back inside, a male Downy Woodpecker flew onto the peanut feeder and I managed to capture this soft-looking image through the window screen.

DOWP 1-24-16-0377Disclaimer and/or Apology Time: Other than work, weather and choir singing distractions I confess to being mesmerized by the current Bernie phenomenon, which only adds to staring-at-a-screen time (I never followed anything like this before, but different stories appear depending on what device you’re using, making for even more distraction).

I got rid of my land line and my cable service last week, but none of that has helped my focus.

(The walk at Miller Meadow in the afternoon was delightful and we saw some birds but they were too far away to photograph. Nothing unusual to report…yet!)

Crows and A Bit of Lakefront

AMCR 1-5-16-9458I got out after last week’s snow to visit the Millennium Park Crows and they were happy to see me. But only after I managed to take enough pictures of a Cooper’s Hawk that was sitting in one of their trees. The hawk was not very cooperative with me.

COHA 1-5-16-9394A few more photos of my always cooperative Crows. One Crow in particular was determined to see how he could fit more hot dogs into his bill.

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On Friday afternoon, I decided to go down to the lakefront again. Predictably, the birds were far out.

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But I did manage to get up close and personal with a Mallard in the harbor.

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And then as I walked around the side of the Columbia Yacht Club where some people were fishing off the docks, I found some Red-Breasted Mergansers. But they became less than interested in me quite quickly, so I took out my photographic frustration on a willing first cycle Herring Gull.

HEGU 1-7-16-9727Hoping to get out before the end of this week, depending on the weather and work. We have been very cold the last couple days, making it tempting to stay indoors.

Two Days into 2016

ATSP 1-1-16-9216Well, this is the 3rd day, but this post is about the birds I was able to photograph on Friday and Saturday.

New Year’s Day was chilly and gloomy, until the sun came out early in the afternoon and I was compelled to see what birds were in the yard. My FOY (first of year) bird was a Downy Woodpecker when I went out to fill the feeders earlier. But in the afternoon, the new yardbirds for the year were two American Tree Sparrows.

Tree Sparrows have visited the yard before in previous winters, but they are always a welcome surprise after the usual cavalcade of House Sparrows. This pair started out taking cover in the dogwood but then became rather relaxed and started foraging about on the snow.

Others in attendance and photographable were four Downy Woodpeckers, the White-Breasted Nuthatch, a Black-Capped Chickadee, and four Dark-Eyed Juncos. The lack of light became a bit of a problem, though, especially with the Juncos.

Then yesterday morning I decided it was time to see what was happening at the Chicago Portage. If nothing else, the sun was shining brightly, eventually even taking the chill away temporarily when the breeze subsided. I could not help but be a noisy presence as the snow on the path covered a substantial layer of frozen ice, so I crunched my way through every step. In spite of my intrusion, the Northern Cardinal males were more than happy to pose in the bright sunshine as long as they felt sufficiently obstructed by a few twigs here and there.

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There were also plenty of American Tree Sparrows and Dark-Eyed Juncos, plus a good representation of American Goldfinches. Although geese and mallards flew overhead there were no waterfowl in the mostly frozen water.

I headed out to the Palos area afterward to see if I could find any ducks but the entrances to parking weren’t even open and there were no water birds to be seen.

When I got home I noticed this Mourning Dove sitting on the neighbor’s ham radio antenna across the street.

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Today is gray and chilly, so maybe I can start working on the leftover resolutions I’ve been carrying with me for the past year…

DOWP 1-1-16-9028Happy New Year to all from me and my bird friends. Savor the present, relish your memories wisely and do not fear the future but embrace possibility. Just a thought! I’ll let you know when we write a song about it. :-)

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Calm Before the Storm

WBNH 12-27-2015 -8762There’s a winter storm watch starting at 6:00 AM tomorrow morning. That’s hardly comforting seeing as how I’ll be leaving for work at 7:00 AM. Today we had plenty of clouds and some very windy periods but the sun came out for a little while, or things brightened up enough to draw me out to the yard where I stood until the birds accepted my presence.

Most surprising was the White-Breasted Nuthatch at the top of this post. I haven’t seen one in my yard for a couple years, but now I suspect it’s because I haven’t been around to look in my yard. This appears to be a young bird. It came calling its little nasal nuthatch call.

Before I went out I took a picture or two through the back window, but the screens always soften the image.

Much better to see the House Finches outside even though I had to wait a while before they came back.

HOFI 12-27-2015 -8541Two female Downy Woodpeckers showed up as well. The one below appears to be a younger bird.

Somebody is eating my upside-down suet feeder. I just ordered a new one after seeing this.

DOWP 12-27-2015 -8659Luckily the peanut feeder is still intact.

The squirrels have a new peanut feeder too that they have been enjoying. One of these days I’ll have to manage a video because some of their athletic antics are quite amusing.

The Fox Squirrel never figured it out. He’s stuck with foraging on the ground.

Fox Squirrel 12-27-2015 -8784When the House Sparrows show up everybody else pretty much disperses.

But it was nice to see a female Northern Cardinal fly in to see what was going on.

NOCA 12-27-2015 -8792Meanwhile back at the ranch inside it was business as usual with the Zebra Finches.

And I made my first two loaves of Cinnamon Oatmeal Raisin Bread. They were a bit larger because I threw in additional yeast that had been proofed without remembering to account for the extra liquid. I was just surprised that the yeast was still good.

Time for bed and whatever the weather brings tomorrow. We’ve had it too easy so far this winter and I have a feeling we will start to pay for it.

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Christmas Bird Count Tidings from Fermilab

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American Tree Sparrow

It wasn’t raining. It wasn’t snowing. It was predictably very cold and I had harbored second thoughts about taking the camera with me. But after all, the Christmas Bird Count happens only once a year. And even if I am ever-so-slightly wondering if I’m still doing things the old-fashioned way when there is probably new cutting-edge equipment that is easier to use in inclement weather, I persevered.  Resigned to the fact that if there was anything worthwhile to shoot I’d probably have to remove the gloves and deal with the frostbite later.

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So here are a few photos from my morning with one of the three teams assigned to various areas for the count.

There are always more Canada Geese and Mallards than one can count individually so you wind up doing estimates. And scanning through the crowd to see if there are any different species. Somewhere in this group were three Greater White-Fronted Geese, a couple Common Mergansers and I forget what else at this point. Not allowed to count the geese when they’re in the air.

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It took awhile before we found the inevitable American Tree Sparrow flocks. This flock had an American Goldfinch with it.

And at one point we had a coyote who was easy to see if hard to get a decent picture.

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There is a wood lot not far from the Red Barn where we always go traipsing through quietly looking for owls. There is a lot of undergrowth between the pines that presents a challenge just to find a way to walk through it. I never find anything. I was looking down at a lot of frozen mushrooms underfoot that unfortunately were not captured by my ginormous lens. Then I stopped and looked up. And there it was. A Long-Eared Owl, staring at me.

Although the owl was very cooperative, it was backlit, it was dark in there, and a lot of twigs blocked my view (the owl knew all this, of course). After I took enough pictures that would at least prove what I saw, I tried to find someone in my group to tell about it. By the time I did, I had no idea exactly where I saw it. The guys went in to find it and flushed it. I felt as if I had betrayed the owl, but the owls we saw in other spots, mainly Great Horned, were also flushed, so I guess we get one day a year to disturb them for science.

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Not much else to report at the moment. Singing tonight with the Unity Temple Choir for a Christmas Eve service. Looking forward to a nice, quiet Christmas Day at home with the birds. Thanks for visiting, and have a very merry holiday!