Home is Where the Birds…Are!

I thought I’d be returning to this page with pictures from my travels but my plans have been derailed by local distractions. It seems I cannot stand at the kitchen sink and look out the window for more than a minute before a Downy Woodpecker is on the suet feeder that hangs from the sumac tree.

I planned to go to the Portage yesterday, but the weather kept me home with 35 mph winds and gusts of up to 50 miles per hour and also flood warnings along the Des Plaines. I decided not to take the chance of being blown around the trail with the possibility of trees falling on me. The Portage is likely high enough above the Des Plaines River basin not to be affected too much by its flooding but I wasn’t all that curious either. Not sure if fear of catching or spreading a virus is making me more timid to take any chances at all. Combining the weather warnings with cloudy skies and birds predictably hunkered down, I decided it was advisable to stay home. But I would go out for a walk a little later, just to experience the wind at a safe distance.

As it turned out, soon after I was out the front door, three, possibly four, Turkey Vultures appeared, coasting about on the wind. They were sallying around the neighborhood for half an hour at least. Then when I returned to my front door, I heard a nearby Dark-Eyed Junco, and got lucky with one and then another perching in the little apple tree where they posed for a minute or two. I have been trying to take pictures of Juncos for months to no avail, but have managed the past couple days to photograph the ones that visit my yard. I wonder if the birds are more curious about me, now that they are relatively free of constant human activity.

Dark-Eyed Junco

Most of the photographs below are from one sunny day last week, March 25. I went out and sat in the back of the yard soaking up the sunshine. It was midday, not the optimum for light conditions, but outside was the place to be, relatively warm, hanging out with the feeder crowd.

Even the local songster Northern Cardinal made a guest appearance…!

On Saturday afternoon late, when there were no birds in the yard, I saw the reason why. I couldn’t get very good images between the lack of light and the window screens on the porch, but here is a very hungry looking Cooper’s Hawk.

Of course as I tried to sneak out the back door for a better photo, it left.

Below is a little expression inspired by the indoor crowd yesterday. I’ve titled it “Minimalist Zebra Finches” and, of course, they participated enthusiastically.

Minimalist Zebra Finches

The Mourning Doves below: I love how the male is “politely” chasing the female. I tried to capture how his neck was lit up in the second photograph.

It must have been the lighting – I was pretty far away – but this is an interesting-looking House Sparrow.

And there are worms to be had for the Robin…

Spring is coming. The days are getting longer. It’s nice to know some things haven’t changed.

Taking Stock

I started writing this post on Friday, after I took a break from the work email and made a trip to The Feed Store to stock up on birdseed, peanuts and spray millet for those inside and out. Working from home is so strange. In my head I am still working, but home has all its necessary distractions. I keep thinking I will have gotten used to it only when I have to go back to the office. It was still good to get out, and even better to get exercise moving everything into the house and the back porch. It was a chilly, gray day, but it is March, which my mother always used to refer to as the “adolescent” month, so I endure its changeability with her blessing.

Speaking of adolescents, I suppose the bird below could be called an adolescent Purple Finch. I am at a loss as to why I took so many photographs of it, but when in this plumage maybe the last thing I’m thinking is “Purple Finch” so it’s a reminder.

As I may have mentioned previously, I moved a lot of photographs off the laptop recently. Many were of winter scenes never shared, but I was tired of winter and it’s more than enough enduring this winter of the soul, so I have gone back to the remaining pictures from my trip to New Brunswick last August. And in that location at that time of year, there were a lot of in-between looking birds getting ready to make their first trips south for the winter.

I particularly got a kick out of this Yellow-Rumped Warbler. My friend Lesa tells me she has already seen some of these guys locally as they start to go back north. I could fantasize this was one of them.

Yellow-Rumped Warbler

I’m too lazy to go back and try to reconstruct exactly when we were wherever on August 20 but my notes say we were on the Salt Marsh Trail and Callendar’s Trail with a beach picnic area in Kouchibouguac National Park, which likely accounts for the shorebird images and others with wide open spaces for a background. We also visited the C. Irving Arboretum.

Red-Breasted Nuthatch
Short-billed Dowitchers
Common Tern
White-faced Meadowhawk (male)
Belted Kingfisher
Common Raven

Thanks for stopping by and joining this visual journey. I will be back soon with more images from last summer. Spring is coming, and with it, hope for renewal.

Snow: Before and After

Hairy Woodpecker at the Portage

Yesterday morning I got up and went to see how the birds were doing at the Portage. It was a cold, windy, bleary morning, and as far as I could tell, nobody was having a good time.

When the large black blob in the distance turned out to be a windblown Bald Eagle, I was encouraged to investigate. I couldn’t get very close to where it was perched high above the railroad tracks.

The Red-Winged Blackbirds weren’t singing much. This one appeared to look as if he was reconsidering his early arrival.

I did finally manage to see one of perhaps four Song Sparrows who were carrying on vocally as if spring had sprung. But he wasn’t flaunting his presence.

Perhaps the nicest surprise was an Eastern Phoebe. I felt for him, though, as there were no bugs to eat and it made me wonder what else he could get by on a couple days before the scheduled warmup.

Even the Robins weren’t having a good time.

The cardinals have been singing for weeks. They started earlier than the Robins. There was one singing along with the piano a few days ago. I was surprised, since the windows aren’t open. He must have heard the keyboard through the front door and I assume he was perched on the little apple tree outside of it. Below is a recording of Bach’s Prelude No. 1 in C Major from the Well-Tempered Clavier, and just at the end where I start playing some other chords you can hear the cardinal singing along.

Northern Cardinal at the Portage
Cardinal singing with us toward the end of this clip

This Downy Woodpecker was foraging low with the sparrows.

I never did see if there was a hen sitting on a presumably well-hidden nest who belonged to this Mallard but he was definitely taking it easy.

I really hoped we were done with this snow stuff, although it was less than a minor inconvenience considering I didn’t have to go anywhere and it has now melted away. These few photos are from yesterday afternoon through the porch windows. The wet snow was falling and I didn’t feel like joining the birds in it, but I wanted to commemorate its arrival since I banished all my snow-in-the-yard photos from this “past” winter to external storage to make room for spring.

I’ve gone back to the photos from my August trip to New Brunswick and Grand Manan and hope to follow with a post or two featuring bright sunshiny blue skies shortly.

I hope you are in good health, and pray you are making some sense out of all the chaos. We will get through this.

Going the Distance

It’s a slow, steady drip as the bucket of What Next is filling rapidly and seems about to overflow. I keep falling back into the grounding exercises that keep me going. Bake a loaf of bread. Go for a walk in the woods. Chocolate-covered almonds.

I voted yesterday morning. I wonder now if it was worth the effort. After cutting my little voter ID card out of the flyer I received in the mail weeks ago, I walked around the block to the elementary school entrance where the polls were open. The voter ID was identical to the two older ones that were still living in my wallet, but I wanted to make everything as easy as possible for the over-taxed election officials. I have voted in every election since I moved here 19 years ago. But yesterday, I could not be found in the system. I had to re-register. When I did finally get my paper ballot, which was what I preferred anyway over the new voting machines that weren’t working, my ballot could not be scanned until some future time when the scanner would be operating. I hope things improved after I left and went into the office for the last time until further notice. I worked a full day and came home to my birds and to ponder my newly-enforced remote existence.

These photographs are from Sunday. The morning was cloudy so I spent some time in the yard trying to get pictures of my most frequent visitors. The Goldfinches are still dominating the action. I estimated there were perhaps forty or more of them, outnumbering the House Sparrows. That’s a thing.

The afternoon promised sunshine so I decided to check McGinnis Slough. As usual, most of the birds were waterfowl way beyond my ability to distinguish them, and I had not felt like taking my scope. There were pitifully few passerines. In fact, I did not see or hear one Red-Winged Blackbird, which seems very odd, especially after having them at the Portage last week.

There were a lot of Northern Shovelers, and I managed to get one in flight early on. Beyond that, the only “near” bird that stood out was a Blue-Winged Teal.

Rain is in the forecast for today, tomorrow and Friday. So I will definitely have to go out this weekend. The gym was officially closed for business yesterday, so I can’t swim. I am going to try to work from home, which is something I never did very often to begin with. But all connection now will be over the Internet entirely, save for the very few times I may have to go out and buy something. I have enough food for myself to likely last a year. (As for toilet paper, I ordered a case of bamboo toilet paper from Who Gives a Crap months ago and just opened it recently. I am not in the habit of giving plugs to anybody but they seem to be a worthwhile organization, donating a portion of their profits to providing sanitation facilities in underdeveloped areas of the world. Unfortunately if you are so tempted, they are out of stock as well, I just checked.) If I need to buy anything, it will be food for the birds that will dictate my immediate spending habits.

The weekend provided a little entertainment indoors. My Zebra Finches found interest in my socks, and I started to build a little musical interlude with Dudlee’s cooing for inspiration.

Here are a few more pictures from Sunday’s yard. I’m getting restless to start cleaning it up but we still have the possibility of frost. However, I suspect projects will develop with the enduring isolation. Beyond music and other indoor diversions, I need exercise and I need to go outside. Plain and simple. I’ll likely visit the Portage a lot more these next few weeks, to monitor the beginnings of Spring Migration.

Scruffy-looking male American Goldfinches are molting away into their breeding plumage.

I hope you are all safe and well and finding some solace in the extra peace and quiet that is inevitable with sequestration. I also hope your connections with loved ones are substantial and enduring. We can all discover a lot more about ourselves when we’re tested like this. Let’s look for a silver lining somewhere in all of this and the world comes together for the common good.

Spring Fever on Hold

I don’t think I’ve ever been so happy to see Red-Winged Blackbirds arrive at the Portage and start singing. It’s likely an intense desire to embrace any sense of Normal.

All these photos are from a quick trip to the Chicago Portage last Sunday morning, after the clocks were set ahead. There were not a lot of birds, but I managed to capture a few.

I’m happy to see the Robins returning too. The anticipation of spring is palpable. Now, if I can just get over the time change. It’s hard to get up in the morning, in the dark. Even harder perhaps knowing that nearly everything has been put on hold for voluntary, and increasingly involuntary, “self-distancing.”

After a fairly well-attended choir rehearsal on Wednesday, we received notice yesterday that the temple will be closed for the next four weeks, which totally puts on hold our entire schedule. We were to sing on Sunday and prepare for our special Choir Sunday on the 29th, but that’s not going to happen. No rehearsal, no services. We will stay tuned, but I know without rehearsal, it will be harder to hold those notes when we resume.

I managed to capture this Rusty Blackbird flying in with the Red-Wingeds, likely on his way north.

Even European Starlings are returning. They used to be present year-round but in the last few years I’ve missed their presence in the dead of winter.

There are always Downy Woodpeckers, though I might not always see them.

Same goes for the Black-capped Chickadees. It was chilly and windy but the days are getting longer and the birds have their work ahead of them.

Flyovers included a singular Ring-Billed Gull and One American Crow. I suppose Crows are a reminder of what happens if you don’t “self-distance”, as in the spread of West Nile Virus.

On the trail that runs behind the opening in the fence and runs parallel to the Des Plaines River, I witnessed a flurry of White-Breasted Nuthatch activity with what appeared to be one male and two females.

I missed any opportunity to snatch the last Super Moon because it was pouring rain on Monday night, but here’s a glimpse of what it looked like back home after swimming on Tuesday.

One more of this buff blackbird.

The extra time to lay low has given me an absurd sense of precarious calm, in that, I suppose, it takes a little pressure off the time crunch that normally accompanies my daily routine, even if it adds a new, rapidly-changing stress. Suddenly all the solo activities that I squeeze into tiny time fragments are clamoring for attention. Among them are playing more music, processing more pictures and writing more blog posts… There’s a desire to commence spring cleanup too. The challenge will be to stay awake. If I’m at home and sitting on the futon with my laptop, naptime is a real threat.

I hope for your wellness and safety, wherever you are. As much as we must distance ourselves physically, we need to come together in spirit all the more.

A Little Local Color

The past two weeks have been challenging and I can’t seem to find a breather anywhere. Yet we race ahead into spring, even if temporarily yanked back to winter by strong winds, so I’m here with a few local images from a couple recent outings and the yard. This morning my cardinal was singing before sunrise… likely the same guy pictured below.

My windblown Northern Cardinal

Male Red-Winged Blackbirds have been coming back to claim their breeding territories for the past couple weeks. The one below was at Miller Meadow.

Also at Miller Meadow, tossed around in the wind, was a distant Red-Tailed Hawk. These pictures are cropped extensively but I liked how they captured the hawk’s maneuvers and the confirming red tail.

There was a somewhat leucistic American Robin at Miller Meadow and it was really hard to get a picture of it but it seemed worthy of documentation. I’ve never seen this before.

Below is what the Chicago Portage and the Des Plaines River nearby looked like last weekend. There were maybe 60 Common Goldeneye on the Des Plaines. I managed to get a closer view of one through the trees at the back of the Portage.

Common Goldeneye

I keep getting distracted by this shelf fungus every time I see it at the Portage.

Black-capped Chickadee, Chicago Portage
Mallards at Miller Meadow

Song Sparrows are returning to the Portage to set up territories too. I heard one singing, might have been this one.

Song Sparrow, Chicago Portage

Hadn’t run out of “winter” sparrows yet, there was a sizable flock of American Tree Sparrows at the Portage.

I will never run out of House Sparrows in my yard.

More windblown photos of my Cardinal visitors.

I never get tired of Canada Geese flying overhead in formation. People are reporting Sandhill Cranes and I hope to see some of them soon as well.

My plan is to get through a very busy weekend and return here soon! Something keeps pouring extra salt on my chaos… lately I’ve been surprised to land on two feet.

One more Downy Woodpecker at Miller Meadow…

Cerro de San Juan / Pine-Oak Forest Birds

Bumblebee Hummingbird (female)

After my one-day bout with whatever it was, I rejoined the group for a side-trip to higher elevations to see a variety of small birds. The few that weren’t small wound up that way in my pictures for the most part, being very far away.

I was delighted to manage a few shots of the Bumblebee Hummingbirds which were very tiny.

Most accommodating were one or two White-eared Hummingbirds.

I couldn’t find Red-headed Tanager on our triplist, but that’s definitely what this is. It’s likely it was on the list and I just wasn’t back up to speed enough to stay on top of Steve’s rapid-fire recitation of what we saw at the end of the day. As far as I can tell this is still a tanager and hasn’t been reclassified, which seems to be happening constantly.

Warblers were present. It was difficult to get a clear shot of the Rufous-Capped but these are good enough for identification anyway. Notice the similarities between the Townsend’s and the Black-Throated Green below it…

Black-throated Green Warbler

I was very happy to get such good looks at a Grace’s Warbler. This is another first-timer for me.

Grace’s Warbler

Our daily Western Flycatcher…

And another new wren!

We get Hepatic Tanagers sometimes in migration. This one seemed to be attracted to a gate resembling its own color.

A coy Black-throated Magpie Jay…

Another bird we see in the spring and fall…Ruby-Crowned Kinglet.

Ruby-Crowned Kinglet

I nearly didn’t find this next bird in my photographs but when I did, even though it’s not fully visible, the beautiful contrast between the blue on its back and the yellow on the throat made me glad I managed to capture it at all.

Crescent-chested Warbler

I vaguely remember seeing a Cordilleran Flycatcher in Texas… And nice to see again a little bit better perhaps this time.

It’s always a bit of a surprise to see a bird that’s relatively common at home in the summer or during migration, like this Eastern Bluebird, and the Chipping Sparrow below it…

Chipping Sparrow

Bullock’s Oriole was another species I saw first in Texas.

Sudden escape of a Broad-winged Hawk…

I wish I lived closer to Acorn Woodpeckers.

There’s a distant Bat Falcon perched on the tree. I included this photograph more for the habitat.

Grosbeaks are so…distinctive!

Black-headed Grosbeak
American White Pelicans flying overhead

I like Pewees…

Well I think I have two more days of photographs to sift through from this trip. Meanwhile, the real-time days keep getting longer here farther north. And the birds have taken notice. I have been hearing cardinals singing on sunny mornings at least for the past two weeks, but I have never heard what I heard this morning. My Northern Cardinal was practicing his entire repertoire. He sang four different songs, one right after the other, as if he was making sure they were all still there. Wish I could have recorded it but probably no one would have believed I didn’t edit it anyway. 🙂