The Year, Unattached

Cooper's Hawk, 1-26-14

Cooper’s Hawk, 1-26-14

Seeing as how I’m not going to be schlepping the camera around for a little while, due to my temporary invalid-ity – and trying to take pictures of the indoor crowd is hopeless – it seems like a good time to revisit some unattached photos I’ve been storing here for no particular reason. Click on any of the pictures to see enlargements. I will spare you any commentary. Hope you enjoy the images.

Northern Cardinal 2-1-14

Northern Cardinal 2-1-14

Ocellated Turkey 3-7-14

Ocellated Turkey 3-7-14

American White Pelican 4-6-14

American White Pelican 4-6-14

Ruby-Crowned Kinglet 4-22-14

Ruby-Crowned Kinglet 4-22-14

Kentucky Warbler, 6-1-14

Kentucky Warbler, 6-1-14

Dickcissel 7-4-14

Dickcissel 7-4-14

Red-Tailed Hawk 8-17-20

Red-Tailed Hawk 8-17-20

Northern Flicker 9-7-14

Northern Flicker 9-7-14

White-Crowned Sparrow 10-16-14

White-Crowned Sparrow 10-16-14

White-Crowned Sparrow 11-3-14

White-Crowned Sparrow 11-3-14

Black-Capped Chickadee 11-30-14

Black-Capped Chickadee 11-30-14

Cooper's Hawk 11-28-14

Cooper’s Hawk 11-28-14

Inspiration

CP300 Piano IMG_1061Life takes its twists and turns and I never know whether I’m going to wake up dreading the inevitable or embracing the challenge – or stuck somewhere in between.

Over the Thanksgiving Day holiday I had time to play piano for the birds…and to again ponder the sad state of my Yamaha P150 which I purchased perhaps 15 years ago, as a dealer’s floor model, and in the past half year or so was no longer inspiring to play. Sometimes it seemed to take forever to warm up to volume. And now a key was sticking, or stuttering loudly. Servicing would probably fix all this, but I would have trouble moving the keyboard into the car, let alone finding someone to service it – not to mention however long that would take, and I would be without an instrument to play.

So as I was looking about for some help with the existing instrument I ran across testimonials about the Yamaha CP300, which apparently has been out for years (but so have I) – and when I read a review from one concert pianist who said he prefers practicing on this instrument, it was all over. Why not get one? About the cost of another trip to Costa Rica, which I am not doing right now: and it would last me a lot longer than a one-week trip.

Knowing the quality of Yamaha’s keyboard instruments, I had absolutely no hesitation to simply press the button and order the new piano keyboard from Amazon.com. The biggest obstacle was figuring out how to be home for the delivery, because if nothing else I am no longer capable of handling a 94-pound dead weight myself. And UPS, which gives me warning a day in advance when it will be delivering something as unimportant as a calendar, gave me no warning what time the delivery was going to be attempted. I left work early after tracking the package but missed the driver by half an hour.

Luckily my friends Linda and Ed Rios came to my rescue and we picked up the piano from UPS the night of its missed delivery.

I made the recording above of Eric Satie’s Trois Gymnopedies yesterday afternoon. I have never learned it well enough to memorize it, so there are page turns, but the birds are singing along here and there.

I am in love with the new instrument and I feel like playing again. So much so that I have decided to alter my work schedule a bit in January so I can come in half an hour later a couple days a week and play in the morning before I leave for work. It is a shame to have only the weekends to play and then if I am doing something else in the morning being too tired or busy to play later.

I’ve been able to play more this weekend because my mobility has been compromised by some issues with my right knee. So except for the pain it’s been a relaxing weekend with lots of naps and hanging out with the indoor crowd as I get to know them better. I will see a doctor tomorrow and ask for a shot and an opinion, so I can get back to walking at my usual clip.

Now for a word about Dudley the Diamond Dove. Dudley started laying eggs a couple weeks ago…so she is now Dudlee. I know of two additional eggs that have broken because of where she has dropped them.

Dudlee's egg collection

Dudlee’s egg collection

I have a lot to learn about doves. Apparently with Diamond Doves, both sexes sing. And Dudlee has two sounds. One vocalization is akin to blowing on an empty bottle. But the other is a lovely coo, and it’s always two notes. You can hear her sing it in the video below.

Dudlee hiding behind the broccoli

Dudlee hiding behind the broccoli

I also managed to record the two male Zebra Finches tonight, whose songs are still developing. Thus I have not yet named them. They seem to spend a lot of time fighting over territory, which involves chasing and cursing each other, but they have not come to blows so I guess it’s just a guy thing.

The first one’s song has a refrain, the cadence of which first reminded me of a Black Rail, but he is adding notes to the beginning of it, so I am hoping for a name to reveal itself soon.

The second one gave a little concert tonight as he foraged for nesting material.

So far, the new finch hens have been laying but nothing has hatched. Could be the time of year or simply the time it is taking for everyone to get settled in. Of course Dudlee’s eggs will never hatch, but maybe her gender explains part of the special relationship she has with Blue the lone budgie. She and Blue now share a perch at night and they sit feather-to-feather.

Dudlee in the Kitchen Window

Dudlee in the Kitchen Window

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Blue and Dudlee hanging out above a Society Finch nest

Things are getting back to normal on the most important level: I am playing music for birds again.

Birds (Birds, Birds) in Costa Rica – Part II

Green Heron 11-14-14-7603Well you knew it was coming, so here are the other bird photographs that wouldn’t all fit into the last post. Leading off with one of two Green Herons which was most cooperative…

Yellow-Bellied Elaenia

Yellow-Bellied Elaenia

I’m always happy when I manage to photograph a bird that isn’t necessarily on the “list” for the day. Even when the bird is partially blocked by whatever it was hiding behind. We’d had Yellow-Bellied Elaenia in the hand and in the field on another day but I think I found the one above myself. I may have been the only person who saw the Variegated Seedeater outside El Cas, the wonderful restaurant where we ate breakfast and many of our lunches.

Female Variegated Seedeater

Female Variegated Seedeater

The Broad-Winged Hawk below sat still for quite a while before assuming this less-expected posture.

Broad-Winged Hawk

Broad-Winged Hawk

I struggled to get pictures of the Sunbittern below, as it was heavily shaded and fairly distant. Some in our group were very fortunate to see the species again later in much better light and even glimpse its open wings as it flew, which is the to-die-for view. Maybe next time.

Sunbittern

Sunbittern

Summer Tanagers were fairly common if not very available for pictures.

Female Summer Tanager

Female Summer Tanager

The Orange-Billed Sparrow is a new species for me. But its range is fairly wide, all across Central America and Northeastern South America, so maybe I’ll get to see it again.

Orange-Billed Sparrow

Orange-Billed Sparrow

I think the Fasciated Tiger Heron is a new bird for me too. This is a juvenile Fasciated, which might be mistaken for a Rufescent Tiger Heron. I have seen Bare-Throated Tiger Heron before.

Juvenile Fasciated Tiger Heron

Juvenile Fasciated Tiger Heron

Some of the smallest birds were absurdly far away to try to photograph, but I made an attempt anyway…

Least Grebe

Least Grebe

Green Kingfisher

Green Kingfisher

Hummingbirds demand closer views. Here is a Brown Violet-Ear resting on the wires of the chayote fields.

Brown Violet-Ear

Brown Violet-Ear

And a young male Ruby-Throated Hummingbird. Click on the picture below to see how the light catches and illuminates his new throat feathers.

Ruby-Throated Hummingbird

Ruby-Throated Hummingbird

I treasure the pictures below. We were at Tapanti National Park, which is where several of the photographs on this page were taken, and first saw the juvenile (the one with the orange throat) sitting alone on the twig for a while.  Like magic, mom arrived…

Green-Crowned Brilliant 11-13-14-7299

Green-Crowned Brilliant

Green-Crowned Brilliant

One more look at that cooperative Green Heron.

Green Heron 11-14-14-7650

I might get around to one more Costa Rica post which will jumble together other creatures encountered. Otherwise I may embrace hibernation. :-)

Birds, Birds, Birds in Costa Rica – Part I

Roadside Hawk

Roadside Hawk

This will be a collection of some photographs of birds seen out of the hand. Light conditions were not always optimum. Birds were often hiding behind leaves or branches. Sometimes they were ridiculously far away. There weren’t that many species seen, compared to “birding” trips. And yet I don’t think I can manage to do this in one post.

American Dipper

American Dipper

American Dipper 11-13-14-7204I have been hoping to see an American Dipper for years. I saw the European version of this bird several years ago, but have never seen an American Dipper well, to my knowledge, until now.

Common Tody Flycatcher 11-12-14-6670

Common Tody Flycatcher

Common Tody Flycatcher

Common Tody Flycatcher is a favorite of mine. We saw perhaps three or four individuals over the course of the week, and this is the only one I could manage to get to even half-cooperate.

Tropical Kingbird

Tropical Kingbird

Tropical Kingbirds are ubiquitous but not always easy to capture. This one embodies my perception of this species as The Bird on the Wire.

Keel-Billed Toucan

Keel-Billed Toucan

Keel-Billed Toucan 11-12-14-5916

I have seen Keel-Billed Toucans much closer but the challenge of capturing the one above makes me glad I tried.

Broad-Winged Hawk

Broad-Winged Hawk

BW Hawk Species 11-12-14-5868

I almost never see Broad-Winged Hawks at home, but they were plentiful in Costa Rica. We saw one every day.

Great-Tailed Grackle

Great-Tailed Grackle

Great-Tailed Grackles are so common you soon forget about how beautiful they can be. This one picked the perfect spot to be photographed.

I will be back very soon with the second half of this post. I am also trying to get some photographs on my flickr page.

Orchids in Costa Rica

Orchid 11-14-14-0139I stayed home this weekend, hanging out with the new birds, playing music for them on my new piano – more about that in a later post – checking out what’s going on in my backyard, making soup and bread… And trying to finish the pictures from Costa Rica.

Green Hermit

Green Hermit – a token hummingbird in an orchid post

Except that going through them there is so much more than just birds. There is landscape, butterflies, other animals, orchids and other plants and flowers that defy description.

All the orchid pictures on this page were taken on a field trip we took to Lankester Botanical Gardens on November 14th.

Orchid Waterfall 11-14-14-0195

Waterfall at Lankester Gardens

I have seen orchids in other places, but nothing compares to the feeling of being surrounded by them everywhere!

There are thousands of varieties and these pictures are by no means meant to be representative. I just took pictures of the cooperative plants that caught my eye.

Orchid 11-14-14-0171

Orchid 11-14-14-0192

Orchid 11-14-14-0162 Orchid 11-14-14-0157 Orchid 11-14-14-0154 Orchid 11-14-14-0149

I confess ignorance about plants in general and orchids in particular, but it is easy to see why people become enamored and enslaved by them.

Orchid 11-14-14-0174

I did buy a book on Costa Rican plants but I am almost afraid to open it. I suspect it will help me identify some of the more common plants and trees in some photographs but it couldn’t possibly catalogue very many orchid species. The sheer variety is mind-numbing.

Orchid 11-14-14-0184

The gardens have a nursery going for new orchids, some growing out of wood blocks, like the one below.

Orchid 11-14-14-0148

Orchid 11-14-14-0146

Orchid 11-14-14-0143

Orchid 11-14-14-0138

Orchid 11-14-14-0134

It seemed only fitting to close with a Green Hermit enjoying flowers.

Green Hermit 11-14-14-7170

 

Meanwhile Back at the Portage

Fox Sparrow, Chicago Portage

Fox Sparrow, Chicago Portage

I am nearly finished going through all the Costa Rica photographs, I think, but in between it seemed like time to check in with the local birds over the holiday. The weather was still warm and pleasant last Sunday, so I visited the Chicago Portage. I was the only human for the first forty minutes or so. I had no expectations, which is my general approach to the Portage – that way I can always be pleasantly surprised. It turned out to be a nice visit, with Fox Sparrows predominant of the 19 total species I encountered.

Fox Sparrow

Fox Sparrow

Dark-Eyed Juncos were present, and they have been in my backyard regularly since the beginning of November. I don’t know if I’ve seen American Tree Sparrows at the Portage before but they were certainly well-represented. And White-Throated Sparrows, a little harder to see here than they are in the city but I got at least one to cooperate.

Dark-Eyed Junco

Dark-Eyed Junco

American Tree Sparrow

American Tree Sparrow

White-Throated Sparrow

White-Throated Sparrow

On the way out, I couldn’t help but notice the growth below.

Shelf Fungus

Shelf Fungus?

Downy Woodpeckers are always present at the Portage. Sometimes they are easy to see, other times not, but somehow the camera managed to capture this one in flight.

DOWP Portage 11-30-14-8583

Female Downy Woodpecker

Perhaps my biggest surprise was to discover pictures of a Red-Bellied Woodpecker feeding on dried berries, entangled enough to show off its red belly. I honestly don’t remember taking these pictures but I must have. Unless now the camera has completely taken over my brain (beware the warnings about artificial intelligence).

RBWP Portage 11-30-14-8467

Red-Bellied Woodpecker

RBWP Portage 11-30-14-8488

Red-Bellied Woodpecker, in a more likely pose

The Portage itself is always in a state of flux and it looks like this now.

Portage 11-30-14-8275

Also on the way out, about when I thought I would never see a chickadee, this Black-Capped Chickadee and a few of his buddies were foraging in dried stalks that complement their coloring perfectly.

BCCH Portage 11-30-14-8714

Black-Capped Chickadee with a worm

BCCH Portage 11-30-14-8732

Another view of the Portage and its low water levels. No birds in the water at all. There was one Canada Goose on the lawn by the parking lot and five flew over but nobody came down to hang out in the creek.

Portage 11-30-14-8288

One last photo of the Fox Sparrow who is at the top of the page. Fox Sparrows come in different races across the country (Sibley identifies four subspecies and says they’re sometimes considered separate species). The one we get here is the “red” Taiga race and this guy certainly fits the description. I just checked the Cornell website and they mention 18 subspecies within 3 or 4 groups. They are not always so easy to see, so I suppose you could spend a lot of time and effort trying to track down different types of Fox Sparrows across the continent.

FOSP Portage 11-30-14-8693

More to come from Costa Rica, and eventually a report from the home front.

Sandhill Cranes at Jasper-Pulaski

Sandhills-11-29-14-8152We got a break in the cold weather this weekend, so it was imperative to spend some time outdoors, as it could be our last chance for warmth for awhile.

Sandhills-11-29-14-8170

Yesterday I gladly joined my friends Linda and Eddie and Linda’s brother Dave, on an excursion to see the Sandhill Cranes at Jasper-Pulaski Fish and Wildlife Area near Medaryville, Indiana. I have been to this location perhaps three or four times before, to watch the cranes come in at night to this staging area as they prepare to migrate farther south.

Sandhills-11-29-14-8202

It’s an hour later in Indiana so we left around noon to get there around 3:00, which is about when the cranes were just starting to come in. Along with the cranes came clouds which made it harder to see any color on them. But the spectacle soon negated any complaints. Within twenty minutes or so, groups of cranes began to arrive from everywhere. There seemed to be more coming from the southeast than from where we stood on the northwest corner of the observation platform. The near field looked as if it had been tilled and puddles had formed where ice had melted. In previous years, they have gathered in the nearer field which is right below the platform. Unfortunately this year the cranes were in a distant field to the southwest, which explains the gray mass in the pictures above and below.

Sandhills-11-29-14-8166

It was cloudy and windy but I managed to get some pictures anyway, and a little Sandhill Crane soundtrack to go with them.

Sandhills-11-29-14-8169

Earlier last week, over 20,000 cranes had been counted. That was right about the time people were reporting seeing them flying in vast numbers over the Chicago area. A few days before we went to see them the number was just over 12,000, with a Whooping Crane sighted among them. I kept scanning for a Whooper but did not find one. I think the first or second time I went to Jasper-Pulaski years ago, there was a Whooping Crane, which was easy to spot, being at least twice as large as the Sandhills and all white.

Sandhills-11-29-14-8163

When they come in from different directions and jockey for a place to land it looks chaotic to us on the ground but the cranes somehow have this all choreographed to perfection.

Sandhills-11-29-14-8239