Baby Bird Distractions

Pandemic fatigue. Winter doldrums. Whatever it was, I don’t know, but I decided a little over a month ago to let down my guard against new inhabitants just once, quit being the Grim Reaper during every week’s cleaning, and see what happened. What happened was inevitable, although I wasn’t too sure how it was going to go. I don’t think the birds knew either, but they quickly remembered how to take care of their offspring.

I was reflecting one morning last month after cleaning the night before that there were no cries of anguish which normally followed the typical Grim Reaper inspections: “I don’t know if it’s worth having a veritable second flock of baby birds just as a goodwill gesture, but for the moment, in the scheme of this incredibly senseless life we all seem to be participating in, knowingly or not, I don’t see any grave harm in it. I live here alone with these birds. I am fully aware of the consequences of adding to the flock, but I was also making a conscious decision that I didn’t want all the finches to just die away in a few years and leave me alone with the girl doves, not that I don’t love part of that idea – less work, less noise, less everything. But maybe it is in response to the idea that there would be less to do – which is inevitable anyway, the older I get – that I decided to let the Zebra Finches have one last fling with immortality. I can live forever too, vicariously, through their efforts.”

It started with one fledgling youngster around the end of January, and maybe almost a week later, there was another, and two became three, then four, then five – and now there are eight. I will resume Grim Reaper duties this weekend so anyone who hasn’t hatched, sadly, gets tossed, but I am happy to have these youngsters to watch grow up and glad they have each other’s company. They are a lot smarter as a group. They are not all from the same clutch but I’m not sure if the clutch number was 2 or 3. Indeed the first bird might have been a “solo finch” were it not for the fledglings that followed later.

I managed to capture a fledgling being fed in the video below.

It turns out the first bird is a male and he is already starting to break out into adult plumage. I was able to record a teentsy bit of his subsong activity yesterday morning (see video below). Please pardon our mess. We are almost done tearing up what is left of two-year-old newspaper.

Below is a little gallery of images from the cell phone.

Outside, the snow persists. Below, a few images with the cell phone, starting with my back steps one morning and ending with ever-persistent Common Milkweed seeds.

Shoveling snow off my car…

And below the way the walk between my house and my neighbor’s before and after shoveling.

When I go into work once or twice a week and get off the train, there’s ice in the river.

One morning on my way to the train I could not resist taking a picture of the sunrise, even obscured by all the houses.

Back indoors with a few more bird scenes…

The Diamond Doves like to sit in the sprouting “soak” seed on top of the microwave.
The Society Finches love trapping a corn kernel under one foot to extract the insides.
The irrepressible Mr. Green.

We have yet more snow in the forecast, but we are starting to warm up so maybe it’s only another week or two before it disappears. I have heard birds singing outdoors: Northern Cardinal, House Finch, Black-capped Chickadee. Spring is coming. The angle of light intensifies and the days are getting longer. My birds told me sunrise was at 6:25 this morning. They were only two minutes early.

Little Brown Jobs

I started writing this post so long ago I almost forgot what it was. But these pictures are from last month, when I visited McGinnis Slough. I never know what to expect as the species change with the water level. The water level was low, so there were primarily land birds to look for. And most of them were sparrows, often referred to fondly as “LBJs” or “little brown jobs” in birder jargon.

At the top of the post is a Swamp Sparrow and there are more photographs below. Swamp Sparrows are distinctly reddish-brown on their wings.

Next, a couple lovely Song Sparrows. Always streaky, but they can often look quite different. The strong, bold malar is their giveaway.

I will never forget how frustrated I felt when I first discovered birds and found out that House Sparrows are not a native species but indeed, there were some thirty-odd native species to worry about. With luck I will see a third of them here. It took years of classes and practice to get them straight. Actually when I first got interested in birds, House Sparrows were still considered weaver finches by some. They are now included in the sparrow family. I’ve never seen a House Sparrow at McGinnis, so they are not featured in this post. But considering they were among the first birds to interact with me, I probably owe them a tribute someday in a future post. Until then, I believe they are all in my backyard…

One of my favorite sparrows is below, the Fox Sparrow. There are four subspecies. The one we see is the “Red”.

Fox Sparrow

The handsome sparrow below is a juvenile White-Crowned Sparrow. I have not seen an adult this fall.

Dark-eyed Juncos are part of the sparrow family too. I am always intrigued by the nuances of color in these birds, I don’t find them drab at all. After a while one starts to recognize them by their flash of white tail feathers in flight or their ratchety calls.

To jazz things up a bit, there were a couple of Northern Cardinals handy. I never turn down an opportunity to capture them.

There were a few Yellow-rumped Warblers too. It was the last time I saw them this year.

It was still warm enough for Dandelions to consider blooming. Seeds are scattering from milkweed pods. I was attracted to the red-leafed plant but I don’t know what it is.

Last, here are a few scenes from the slough. All the way at the bottom is the overturned picnic table that used to sit right by the overlook onto the slough at the south end. It was a nice place to sit. I am not letting my imagination run too wild with what caused anyone to throw it into the creek upside-down.

I will try to be back sooner. Work has been busy and all-consuming. But now it seems silly and superfluous to complain about anything. I have started swimming again. Swimming Fixes Everything. I was surprised that I had forgotten how absolutely, sinfully wonderful it feels to get out of the pool with all my cells “woke”. I feel almost guilty admitting it in the midst of such a miserable, suffering year. If I could bottle and sell the feeling I have after swimming, I would be a trillionaire, but of course I can’t because the best things in life, truly, are free.

I hope you have a go-to place that refreshes your spirit and gives you energy to continue. We’re not done yet.

Staying in Place in the Yard

One nice thing about being stuck at home has been being able to see what’s going on in my yard. Although I have to get up and go into the kitchen and look out the windows in order to do this, it’s something I can do often. I get to see the birds that visit my feeders instead of wondering whether some of them ever show up. I have even been able to sit outside for a little while when the weather permits.

So it was with great delight that I witnessed the arrival of Baltimore Orioles during this pandemic spring. I put the feeder out weeks ago, along with the hummingbird feeders, if for no other reason than to bring some color into the yard. Last year I had an oriole come to the yard and try to drink out of a hummer feeder. He let me know under no uncertain terms that this was unacceptable. I invested in a couple feeders, oranges and grape jelly and even a sugar-water feeder for orioles.

White-throated Sparrows have been in the yard for weeks but I haven’t really seen them clearly until this past week.

I have heard Chipping Sparrows for weeks too so it was lovely to see one the day I got to sit out in the yard around noon. He was a bit far away.

The Mourning Doves are regular visitors. There seem to be three of them most of the time.

Ah, sunshine at the feeder.

This is the time of year I begin discovering new plants in the yard. I’m not sure these were in the front yard last year and I’m too overwhelmed at the moment (sounds better than lazy, right?) to try and identify them, so if you know what they are please let me know! They have made themselves conspicuous being about the only things blooming right now.

It’s been hard to get a really good picture of a House Finch, but I probably don’t try very hard either because I know I’ll keep seeing them.

The day I was sitting down in the backyard I spotted this Field Mouse. Not the first one I’ve seen this spring. They are kind of cute and they don’t bother me.

Which reminds me, I wonder if it is premature to celebrate the fact that I haven’t seen the same black cat with white socks and white on her throat that has been in my yard for at least the last 15 years. There was a big orange cat a couple weeks ago that gave me pause, however, I haven’t seen it either. Not sure if maybe they are just staying away more during the lockdown.

There are still quite a few American Goldfinches although not as many as about a month ago. I think half of them have relocated to the Portage.

So I had three male Baltimore Orioles in the yard on Friday and haven’t seen any since. I don’t know if I will see any more, but I’ll leave the feeders out – and maybe attract a Gray Catbird or two. I had an Ovenbird in the yard Sunday when i came back from the Portage but inadvertently flushed it. It would really be nice to see a hummingbird or two soon… Yard Dreams.

Ravens, Willets and Kildeer, Oh My

My love of corvids does not stop with crows. I tried to take advantage of any opportunity I had to photograph a Common Raven, a bird I never see at home. So I was delighted to discover the picture above. It’s not in sharp focus but that’s part of what I like about it. I think it looks more like a painting, and I credit the Raven with its artistic sense. There’s another slightly-different shot at the bottom of this post.

So even though most of these photographs from August 21, 2019, are of birds on land, so to speak, the presence of the sea in this part of the world is always dominant. I believe these were all taken on the island of Grand Manan.

Below is the habitat in which I was somehow able to find a Killdeer, followed by a series of photographs of the bird itself.

Later when we visited the beach, we spied a Willet which was even farther away and matching its surroundings.

More Ravens in flight…

Below is a lone Semi-Palmated Sandpiper, also barely distinguishable from the habitat. I love the scrubby vegetation and rocks and water and…

The group below is a few of many photographs that I took of a couple of Ravens on the beach. One Raven was foraging on a dead fish only to have another Raven crash-land in. I think they are young birds, because of the brownish cast to their head feathers, and they are probably siblings too, which accounts for their playful but non-threatening behavior.

A little flora break…

And the land and sea-scape…

A few images that didn’t make it into the last post are below. The upper left photo is a Double-Crested Cormorant, and the remainder of the photographs are of Common Eiders, birds I had never seen before this trip.

One problem with reviewing photos I took more than half a year ago is forgetting what they were of. I think these might be rosehips, related to the rose in the flora photos above. It looked like fruit to me but the leaves give it away.

Ravens in the mist…

Well, I may be back sooner with some more recent observations. Spring is sort of here. We had one or two very warm-like-summer days, then the winds shifted and we are chilly again, with snow in the forecast for next week although I expect it will not be substantial. It’s even hard to count on a forecast for the next few hours let alone next week. But sunshine is always welcome, and today we have had lots of it. Thanks for stopping by!

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