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.

San Blas Bookends

It’s been a longer haul than usual, and I apologize, but I find myself finally ready to start writing some posts from my trip to San Blas, Mexico, which occurred officially between January 6 and 14, 2020. I arrived a day early to take advantage of the weekend, since the tour didn’t begin until Monday. The myriad images in this first post are actually from the very first and last days of the tour. That leaves several days in between with more photographs to sort through.

The trip started in Puerto Vallarta. I went for a walk the morning of the 6th and came back for lunch to sit around the pool area which had its own visiting Green Iguana. Click on the images if you want to see any of them more clearly.

The birds in the immediate hotel vicinity were… a Eurasian Collared Dove, later in the afternoon, an Inca Dove, Great-Tailed Grackles. Then there was a nice Black-Chinned Hummingbird feeding on the red flowers.

Eurasian Collared Dove
Inca Dove

On my way to the beach in the morning, I encountered a tree full of Orchard Orioles, Streak-Backed Orioles and Yellow-Winged Caciques, the latter two species, for all practical purposes, endemic to the region. There were also Blue-Gray Gnatcatchers everywhere. And of course, Yellow Warblers. Now you know where they go for the winter. In any event it was a good start for birds seen practically every day.

At the beach, there were some people things going on…

And the reminder of countless daily Magnificent Frigatebirds…

In the afternoon of Monday the 6th, the group met up to go on a short walk with our guide, none other than the incomparable Steve Howell, who is also the author of the impressive field guide, A Guide to the Birds of Mexico and Northern Central America. We were fortunate to see our first Ferruginous Pygmy Owl, below. The Western Flycatcher, Grayish Saltator and Rufous-Backed Thrush were introductory birds we would see often throughout the tour.

Ferruginous Pygmy Owl
Western Flycatcher (a/k/a Pacific Slope Flycatcher)
Grayish Saltator
Rufous-backed Thrush (an endemic)

Now to the images from our last morning of birding. I am starting off with sketchy-but-the-best-I-could-do-at-quite-a-distance images of the bird that inspired my decision to go on this trip altogether. The Black-Capped Vireo, below, is a beautiful little vireo I missed on the trip to Southwest Texas last spring. I decided to see if I might be able to meet it on its wintering grounds, and this trip to San Blas seemed to be the best opportunity.

I did get a much better first look at the vireo on the Friday of our trip, thanks to Steve who knew I really wanted to see it. I was sick after breakfast the day before so I missed an entire day of the trip, but this made up for it. In any event, I decided not to try taking a picture of it the first time in case I might send it flying a lot sooner than the wonderful view I had.

Other vireos from that last morning I will likely never see again are below, the Plumbeous Vireo, and the Golden Vireo, which is an endemic to Mexico.

Steve found us another pygmy owl, this one, the Colima, also an endemic species.

Colima Pygmy Owl

These are not in any kind of order… we spent some time at the beach that last day.

Royal Tern and (mostly) Heermann’s Gulls

We had seen Magpie Jays off and on flying about but on the last day, this was a rare treat to be able to actually capture one doing its thing. The last Magpie Jays I saw were much closer, hanging out at the breakfast table at the hotel in Nicaragua, which is also very much what jays do, I suppose, depending on their habitat.

We had several Grey Hawks on the trip, but this might have been the only juvenile.

Juvenile Grey Hawk

I still have to tally up all the new species I added to my “life list” but I’m pretty sure this was the first time I have seen a Western Tanager. This one appears to be a young male bird.

One more endemic – the Rusty-Crowned Ground Sparrow. Such a long name! It’s quite flashy-looking for a sparrow, though.

We were taunted by Orange-Fronted Parakeets and other psittacidae throughout the trip, but it was extra special to see these two perched and looking at us.

Orange-fronted Parakeets

I haven’t seen a Masked Tityra in a while. Nice to get a good look at this one.

Masked Tityra
Social Flycatcher
We saw plenty of its cousins, the Great Kiskadees, but Socials are special to me, in particular because now I will always remember their song as “tortilla, tortilla, tortilla” – thanks to Steve.
One more from the Orange-Fronted Parakeets

So I hope to be back with more to report a little sooner. My travel laptop seems to be cooperating, and it probably likes the attention it doesn’t get the rest of the year. I’ve gotten over whatever it was that attacked me, although I think it took maybe a full two weeks to feel totally sound. Work, choir, the birds at home, everything is back in full swing. Thanks for stopping by!

A Crow Holiday Post

I’m overdue for a tribute to the Lakefront Crows who were quite cooperative early in November but hard to find a month later, and I don’t think I’ll manage to see them before the end of the year. So here are some longing looks.

Hmmm… peanut butter oatmeal raisin, my favorite

The same day, I captured a few sparrows and such and I will be back with their photos and others from my second visit to the lakefront parks.

Swamp Sparrow

This is all in the interest of clearing off my hard drives to make room for upcoming adventures. I will be going to Mexico next Sunday.

Since I’m almost in real time here, a note about the current weather: my Northern Cardinal was singing and singing and singing in the yard this morning – I think the 60-degree temperatures have fooled him into thinking it’s spring. Can’t blame him. Is it just me, or is almost nothing a surprise anymore?

Hummers, Monarchs and Friends

Ruby-throated Hummingbird (female)

After months of hoping for visitors to my hummingbird feeders, and seeing only one Monarch butterfly at a time, I had a few hummingbirds visiting and saw lots of Monarchs over the Labor Day weekend. The hummers continued up until Monday. The winds have changed again. I hope to see more, but even if I don’t, it was wonderful to enjoy their visits and get a few photographs at home.

Outside the peace of home, my life seems to be speeding by at a breakneck pace lately, so this post will be brief, but I wanted to share a few end-of-summer moments.

Of course, no sooner did summer seem to be coming to an end with a spell of delightfully cool days, than we were thrown back into hot and humid once again for the coming days, so summer doesn’t feel quite done yet. But oh my, how the days are rapidly diminishing in length…

The Goldfinches are back. Looking a little scruffy, but it’s so nice to see them again and hear their cheery contact calls.

I bought a new suet feeder for the woodpeckers to keep up with the demand and then one day a squirrel figured out how to open it, so now twist ties are the workable solution to suet cake theft. I’ve noticed that if more than one Downy shows up at a time, the “intruder” gets chased away.

A few more photos from the yard…

Snow on the Mountain (Euphorbia marginata) showed up by itself a few years ago but did not come back. So I scattered a few seeds in one spot and now I have a nice little group. I’ll be interested to see if it reseeds itself.
A young House Finch
A young male Ruby-throat…

My coming weekend is going to be very busy so I don’t know when I’ll get back to the trip photographs, but it will happen. My dove Dudlee is saying, “Who-Who” to that thought. I’m probably misinterpreting her comment as encouragement.

A Philadelphia Vireo

We must have been right in the migratory path for these birds, because I can’t remember ever seeing them before, but this spring I got to photograph two individuals. This short post is a tribute to a special encounter I had with this one Philadelphia Vireo at the Portage on May 27.

There’s nothing flashy about this bird, and observing a gray bird so closely on a rather gray-sky day was totally unexpected. I just stood and photographed this beautiful creature while it gleaned what I can only imagine were infinitesimal insects caught in what might appeared to be some web filament.

So if you ever get this good a look at a vireo, you can always confirm the genus because they all have blue feet!

I will be back with a more traditional post soon. I just wanted to devote an entire page to these pictures because the encounter was so special. A bird I was barely familiar with gave me an entire tutorial about its habits and appearance in the space of maybe five minutes. I am forever grateful.

Snowshine

American Goldfinch

I thought I’d pay tribute to the past weekend’s snow which is still with us, along with ice and freezing temperatures. It was a busy weekend, but a relatively quiet break from swimming, hiking and my weekly chore which involves going up and down the basement stairs swapping dirty cages for clean ones. I had the opportunity to monitor visitors to my yard.

We are promised more snow this weekend and if the forecast holds out, a few days next week as well, so I may as well memorialize the last accumulation, which I find easier to judge from how it piles up on the feeders.

I tried standing outside to try for clearer photographs on Sunday after the snow had stopped and it was sunny, but the birds were having none of it, so I did most of my observation through the porch windows and screens rather than interrupt their feeding.

American Goldfinches and one visible Pine Siskin

While I was outside, though, a male Downy Woodpecker was in the yard for a minute or two. He prefers to avoid the crowd.

The House Sparrows were having a great time in the bird baths. Living it up at the spa.

I wish I knew what my indoor birds think of the outdoor ones and vice versa. There must be some kind of awareness there.

On my way back to the doctor’s office last week, walking through Lincoln Park, I noticed one man arriving to feed geese, and then another man walking in front of me who was catering to squirrels. It occurred to me that city dwellers without backyards crave interacting with other creatures. I like to think the feeling is mutual.

Peter Mayer has a song on his latest CD called “Come Back” which sums up this sentiment perfectly. https://www.thecurrent.org/feature/2018/11/08/peter-mayer-performs-at-radio-heartland

House Sparrows in a pensive moment

Years ago I planted trees to attract birds and now I have too many trees to deter the squirrels. They scurry through the yard and across my roof like so many monkeys. I try to keep them happy enough with peanuts.

Another busy weekend looms. Thanks to all for your well wishes from my previous post! I’m feeling much better already, particularly after swimming Monday night.

House Finch
Goldfinch goodbye…

Blood, Birds and…Crutches?

Green-Winged Teal

Tuesday morning I headed out for the doctor’s office with my camera, backpack and a water bottle, because by now I knew the routine: start with a blood draw and return hours later to have my own enriched blood returned to my body. The four hours or so in between procedures was an opportunity to walk through the lakefront parks, specifically the Lincoln Park Zoo environs. It was cool and cloudy, but I was determined to go birding because I knew it was likely my last outing for at least a week or two.

American Kestrel

I was early for my appointment, so I got off the bus at Fullerton and walked in along North Pond. The first bird I saw was the kestrel above. It was just far enough away to practically elude my 300mm lens. A bit later there were two Downy Woodpeckers and a strangely decorated tree.

After 20 or more vials of blood (I thought it best not to count, but it was practically a whole tray full) I was on my own until 2:00 p.m., so I started slowly on my walk. I decided to visit South Pond since I had never been there for birding as far as I could recall, and there were two rare-for-this-time-of-year birds hanging out there. South Pond is part of Lincoln Park Zoo. I basically avoid Lincoln Park Zoo because parking is ridiculously expensive, but the Zoo itself is free and because I had arrived on public transportation, this was a delightful discovery. On the way, I encountered a pair of Northern Cardinals. Then it was on to the water.

American Wigeon

Basically the two rare birds were the Green-Winged Teal at the top of the post and the American Wigeon. But there were a number of other birds to see quite well in the water. And since I haven’t been able to visit the lakefront nearly every day like I used to, I was quite happy to get up close and personal with a few individuals.

The zoo-resident flamingos don’t “count” but they were fun to see, adding a tease of warm-climate connection to a drab Chicago winter.

Of course there were plenty of Canada Geese and Mallards, but there were also a couple Northern Pintails, Ruddy Ducks, Hooded Mergansers, Common Goldeneyes and Wood Ducks.

Ruddy Duck
Male Hooded Merganser

I’m so glad I got the opportunity to see these lovely ducks before I went under the needle, so to speak. My blood went back into my right knee and my left foot. My right knee was already familiar with this sort of thing from months ago so it didn’t seem to be too bothered by it, but my left foot was not happy for the rest of the day and evening, which made hobbling around the house a bit difficult. Thanks to my friends Linda and Ed for picking me up and taking me home from the train station. I decided upon one crutch to use more as a deterrent negotiating the commute on Wednesday, when I was good enough to walk to the train, however slowly. By Wednesday evening I was feeling much better and by Thursday I was practically dancing. I still have a little residual pain and swelling but it’s encouraging to be recovering so quickly and I am hopeful this might be it for a while. I am disappointed to learn that my doctor is moving his clinic away from the park, though!