Cold, Snowy January – Part 3

From no light to almost too much, this past Saturday! It was clear and cold. The sunshine helped my mood a lot, especially because it wasn’t particularly windy.

It’s always good to see a Red-tailed Hawk, even if you can’t see the red tail – at least I could make out the belly band in the pictures.

Just when you think you know a place by heart, somebody does something to totally disrupt your perception of it. The first thing I noticed were tire tracks leading from the parking lot to a spot where there used to be some nice flat rocks I often sat on to take a break and look over the water. They were accompanied by a large pointy boulder. The rocks and boulder have been removed and this fence put around the area. I can’t imagine what is going in their place. Unfortunately I don’t believe I ever took any pictures of the rocks themselves. The goal was always to sit on them.

My stump was looking well-defined that morning.

A couple White-Throated Sparrows made themselves available on the way out after I answered their calls.

This Black-Capped Chickadee was fascinated by something in the wasp nest.

And a Red-Belled Woodpecker was busy digging around for bugs in tree bark.

Canada Geese were mainly congregating in the Des Plaines. It was impossible for me to get a long shot of them all because there was a freight train parked on the tracks and I didn’t want to get too close to it in case it decided to start moving, so I settled for a few shots through the trees. And two passing over instead of an entire gaggle.

Not much chance for Downy Woodpecker pictures, but I did manage to sort of capture this female.

The sparrows are there, just hard to see. I barely managed to pick out this American Tree Sparrow.

The star of the morning was a Carolina Wren who kept singing and singing… and I did finally manage a couple distant photographs.

The landscape becomes the central feature when all else fails.

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A freight train taking up the background.

Since these were taken we have received a somewhat significant amount of snow. Suffice it to say it required shoveling. I suspect it will be around for a while because we are also quite cold. Maybe with a little sunshine tomorrow I can hang out with the birds in the yard in between work assignments.

Cold, Snowy January – Part I

I have been to the Portage three times this month. These pictures are from the 9th, and there aren’t many of them, but I will do the visits in separate installments as an ode to Winter is Upon Us. Snow seemed a long time coming this year but we are likely going to get hit with a lot of it this week.

This very short post features more pictures of a slippery path than birds. I don’t know what i was thinking but I only had on my regular hiking boots that day, so I was hugging the periphery and moving very slowly to avoid sliding into oblivion.

The statue in very little light. Someone also managed a distressed looking snowman just off the parking lot. I guess this was our first recognizable accumulation of the winter.

More than anything else, flocks of Canada Geese continued to fly over, looking for open water, I suspect. There was very little open water left at the Portage and it was taken up by the two Mallards, one a Manky, at the top of the post.

One Song Sparrow managed to find my lens.

Parting shots of the water and the two ducks. And a little more open water…

I am glad I took this picture of a Fox Squirrel in my yard before I set out – he was the most colorful thing I saw all morning.

I plan to be back with posts from last weekend and yesterday… Soon!

In the meantime, after weeks of abandoning my Grim Reaper duties at home, which meant removing eggs from the Zebra Finches’ nests to avoid overpopulation, I am finally hearing some begging noises coming from the dining room. I was almost afraid I had conditioned the ZFs to give up sex – why bother? During all the trauma of the past month I felt like it might be fun to let them have a last fling and see some baby birds grow up for a while. Maybe it’s a vicarious wish to hone in on the birds’ perception of immortality.

Cloudy Days and the Christmas Bird Count

I participated in the Christmas Bird Count on December 19th. It was a cloudy, cool day. Not great for photographs, or for a lot of birds either, at least where I was, but it was good to see more people participating. I took both cameras with me, not knowing what I expected to do with either one of them.

If I start thinking about how long it has taken me to get back to finishing this post I won’t do it, so strike that thought and keep going. Below is a look at how the Fox River looked that morning.

I started out with the mirrorless and managed to get a rather nice view of this Red-bellied Woodpecker. Actually all the bird pictures in this post were taken with the little camera. I didn’t have to fuss around with adjusting for no light as much.

At some point we had stopped to listen for birds and saw this amazing honeycomb hanging from a tree.

We had Downy Woodpeckers (below) and a Hairy as well.

Hairy Woodpecker

It was almost not worth taking these photos of flying geese but you can appreciate just how dark and gloomy it was.

Learning more tree bark – this is a cherry tree, which the person who identified it said it looks like “potato chips.” I guess.

The fungus on this tree looks like a staircase to me.

The Cedar Waxwings were the most cheerful sight.

It’s hard to motivate myself to do anything beyond the have-to’s, these days. In particular, after the coup attempt – which is hard not to take personally – as much as I want to continue hoping I can exude a positive vibe that will land somewhere it’s needed, it’s hard to fight sheer exhaustion. But this comes and goes in waves. It’s been cold and gloomy too, which does not help. Time to get up and do something! I need to play some piano every day for the birds. Music is life.

I’m adding this White-Breasted Nuthatch that somehow didn’t make it into a Portage post of October pictures. Another mirrorless capture.

I’m not making any promises about when I’ll be back, but sooner or later I’m sure I will. It’s been confusing to be anywhere lately. Everything has a veneer of unreality to it. Maybe it’s just time to start asking the old questions again, even if we still can’t answer them.

Farewell 2020

My last day birding at the Portage was 12-26-20. It was quite cold, but sunny, and when I finally found the flock as I was starting to go back along the trail on my way out, between my cold fingers and foggy lenses, it was a challenge to focus the camera on anything, but I managed to capture quite a few House Finches. We have since had our first noticeable snowfall this weekend, but I gave up on birding this morning with a murky sky and waiting, all day and into tonight, for a delivery that requires a signature. So here are lots of House Finches.

While I find myself sitting around a little stunned, trying to figure out what I learned from last year, it may not be too bad to simply give in to one’s existence in the moment. I photographed the House Finch below as it was giving in to an itch.

That puffed-out, put-on-my-coat look is an indication of just how cold it was, even in the sunshine.

There is no rhyme. reason nor theme to my post today, just a few pictures from my last outing. I managed a photo of the only White-Throated Sparrow I saw sitting still that day.

The only American Tree Sparrow I was able to capture, from afar. There were a lot of birds down in the dried grasses, but this one managed to sit up for a moment.

And one Dark-Eyed Junco foraging busily in some branches.

Even this Downy Woodpecker looked fluffy.

I think the House Finch below was a bit disdainful of my attention to him. He had been sitting facing away from me but finally turned half around.

The statue before and after…and the water was still open in spite of the cold.

An American Goldfinch in the clear cold.

Northern Cardinals are always present but not always available for photos. I’ve gotten lucky so far this winter. This individual became very cooperative. It’s nice that the males remain looking as red as ever, especially in the otherwise drab winter months.

A female House Finch, below, looking like she’s had enough of me looking at her…

It’s been a relatively quiet, peaceful weekend. The snowfall adds to that, absorbing sound. But as long as there is light in my house, the birds are singing…

December’s Portage

I had hoped to manage this post a couple weeks ago but I have been too busy at work. Saying I can only spend so many hours on my laptop no longer seems a valid excuse since we don’t seem to be able to do anything offline these days. So to make it before December is no more, here are photos from my last visit to the Portage on December 5th.

The day started off cloudy and quiet but when the sun came out so did the birds. Some Northern Cardinals hiding out in the open.

Can’t ignore a few Canada Geese flying over.

American Goldfinches will devour everything before they resort to my feeders.

More cardinal photos. Often these guys are skulky but they didn’t seem to mind me that day.

There were a lot of Black-Capped Chickadees that day, and they were not shy.

Sunlit American Tree Sparrow below.

A few shots of how the Portage looks these days.

I would not have paid much attention to the Mallards below, except that after being advised by my two Portage photographer buddies Steve and Mike that the hybrid was a “Manky Duck”, I looked it up, and apparently there are several varieties. This one appears to be an Abacot Ranger Manky Duck. Who knew?

A White-Throated Sparrow and two views of a Song Sparrow…

One more reclusive Song Sparrow

In the darker moments, all I could get of a Red-Bellied Woodpecker.

A female Downy in the cloud cover.

The bark on this tree caught my eye – and it was distinctive enough to identify as a Hackberry. I wanted a Hackberry in front of my house but my request was declined, I suspect due to too many underground facilities. But now I can admire this one. Time to start learning trees.

Last weekend I participated in the Christmas Bird Count. The weather was cloudy, but it wasn’t brutally cold and it didn’t rain. I may have a few photos to share.

We are beyond The Longest Night – which always reminds me of Peter Mayer’s beautiful song so entitled. I tried included a link to the song but I don’t think it’s allowed. If you are so inclined, do give it a listen on YouTube. There’s a lovely video with lyrics.

Wishing you and yours warm, peaceful holidays. May we look forward to 2021 with better outcomes for all.

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.