Winter Finch Fest

I already had too many posts in mind when Sunday late morning on a whim, after visiting the Chicago lakefront, I headed up to Memorial Park Cemetery in Skokie where White-winged Crossbills have been reported all week. It did not take me long to find several birders and the Crossbills, along with Common Redpolls and even a couple Pine Siskins. I just pointed the lens at the tops of the trees and followed the movement. They were way up at the treetops which made it that much more challenging, but the weather was good and the light wasn’t too bad either. It took me a couple hours to go through way too many photographs – but I kept finding more and more images of birds buried in the pine cones. So this is just a glut of pictures of the three species. The White-winged Crossbills are the rarities this time. They don’t come this far south every year.

Below are some photos of a male White-winged Crossbill.

And below are some of a female White-winged Crossbill.

It got a bit more complicated when other finches joined them. There are two female Crossbills and a Common Redpoll below.

Trust me, it was not fun digging through all these pine cones looking for birds in the photos. But if you click on these you should be able to find a Common Redpoll and a White-winged Crossbill or two.

Common Redpoll, Pine Siskin and female White-winged Crossbill

Once the Common Redpolls came in, they were literally everywhere.

The other winter finch that I had in my yard the last two years but hadn’t seen all winter made an appearance here – Pine Siskins.

So there you have it – I still have photos from the lakefront for the same day. I apologize for the pine cone overload. What I neglected to take a photograph of were the piles of pine cones beneath the trees these birds were finished with. Here are yet some more of the White-winged Crossbills. I don’t think I’ve used them all up but I am getting dizzy, so this will have to do.

I will be back with a more civilized post soon. Thanks for your patience.

From Soggy to Sunny

It was simply too wet, raining all day, to go outside much yesterday. I watched the birds from indoors. Apologies for the fuzzy images but between the rain, the fog and the window screens this was the best I could do.

There were a lot of House Finches in the yard today. The males provided some colorful contrast.

I’m always glad to see one of the Downy Woodpeckers. First day in a while the suet wasn’t frozen solid.

A pensive House Sparrow…

The American Goldfinches were back too.

Overnight the skies cleared and the temperature dropped. A peek at the yard was more promising.

It was bright and sunny, if cold. I put on all my layers and went back to Riverside to take the usual walk before swimming. I didn’t see any birds along the paved path until I got around the bend.

There were some diving ducks where the river turns a corner. I was able to zoom in on a pair of Red-breasted Mergansers but the Common Goldeneyes were too far away. That’s okay – I haven’t seen Red-breasted Mergansers in quite some time so I’m happy with that.

Shortly after I crossed the foot bridge, I heard another Northern Cardinal singing away. He was brilliant in the sunshine.

This Northern Cardinal singing

Then I was greeted by some Black-capped Chickadees.

And then I saw a Brown Creeper. It was hard not to take too many photographs. Here’s just a few.

I also encountered an attractive Song Sparrow who sat still for a long time.

Revisiting some frozen-looking fungus at the base of a tree.

Beyond all that the most notable feature was the Des Plaines River, churning incessantly.

One last view…

We go back to winter weather with snow in the forecast. Snow flurries started tonight after choir rehearsal, with a more serious onslaught coming tomorrow afternoon.

An update on my distressed hen – she must have made a complete recovery because I can no longer distinguish her from the rest of the flock. My little ragamuffin male took it upon himself to hang out with her and protect her while she was on the floor, and later when she took comfort in the cage I first helped her into. She spent about a day moving about from cage to cage and then resumed a normal life afterward. The photo below is one I took with my cell phone when she was still staying on the floor with her protector.

Riverside in Real Time

Who needs sunshine? I went for a walk this morning in Riverside. Of course the sun came out after I got back home, but it was considerably warmer than it has been, not too windy, not raining, not snowing…if anything, melting ice was the only weather effect I had to deal with.

My first bird was actually in Lyons by the Hofmann Tower, a Northern Cardinal singing his heart out. There’s a recording of his song below the photo.

Here’s how the river looked from the Lyons spot. No ice left.

Over on the other side of the bridge there were three Common Mergansers. I tried to get a halfway decent shot of the hen sitting on a rock before they started swimming downstream.

I finished crossing the Joliet Avenue bridge and got over to the paved path which was primarily clear, save a few deceptive patches of black ice to watch out for. There I encountered a flock of Dark-eyed Juncos but could not photograph any of them. However, the male Eastern Bluebird at the top of the post and below. I have seen him here before. He came and sat for me, proclaiming his territory. I look forward to seeing a lot more of him in the warmer months.

Looking across the river I focused on two tree stumps that looked like raptors sitting – but weren’t.

Of course there were Mallards but without much light it was hard to find a reason to photograph them, except for the beautiful feather patterns on the backs of these birds.

On my way to the foot bridge I noticed the gargoyle atop the library entrance.

I took the obligatory photographs of the foot bridge.

There were no birds to photograph over on the Riverside Lawn side of the river, but there was a lot of melting ice. I proceeded slowly.

So other than a couple more standard views, the river and the tower, I am done for the moment but I wanted to honor the appearance of the Eastern Bluebird and the song of the Northern Cardinal as the promise of spring continues.

It was good to get out for a walk and, weather permitting, I intend to continue doing so…while attending to the backlog.

Fall Again

It’s going to take me a day or two to recover from yesterday’s Gull Frolic and make sense of those images, so in the meantime I am back with more from late September at the Chicago Portage where I spent the bulk of my time following warblers feeding in the Hackberry leaves. Although it has been nice to look at these birds in anticipation of their return. my goal this spring will be to publish daily if possible.

These photos were taken on September 24. There were even more respectable images from September 26 so I will be back with those too. My laptop hard drive appreciates your indulgence in these housekeeping matters.

Black-throated Green Warblers were good subjects this past fall.

Just as cooperative, maybe even more so, were Blackpoll Warblers.

This turned out to be a rather reclusive Tennessee Warbler.

Swainson’s Thrushes predominated.

Below is a female Red-bellied Woodpecker, since I have seen only males all winter…

A late-leaving Indigo Bunting undergoing transformation.

Magnolia Warblers were everywhere this past fall but not always easy to capture. They remain among my favorites (in no small part because it’s always easy to figure them out).

Can’t leave out the Downy Woodpecker,

A nice surprise was this female – or immature – Rose-breasted Grosbeak. As I recall I saw one or two for a couple days.

I see more Northern Flickers flying away so it’s nice when they sit still a moment.

Two Mallards resting in the duckweed stream.

As for real time, we warmed up today and there is bright sunshine, but the wind makes being outdoors difficult for the birds and possibly even walking. Oh maybe I’m just making excuses, but I am still sort of worn out after yesterday. I wish a peaceful Sunday and the coming week to you all, wherever you are. I will be back soon with more colorful birds.

Falling Back

Blizzard conditions are keeping me inside and I am tired of winter, so now I have some photographs from last September 16 at the Chicago Portage.

Before I continue, here’s what it looked like yesterday late afternoon in my yard. The birds quickly got over their spring fever and came back to the feeders in the driving snow.

The sun is shining almost too brightly this morning and the freshly-fallen snow is reflecting it. After putting the feeders back out and shoveling the accumulation that was left, I was not eager to go out for a walk in the bitter cold. I will get enough cold tomorrow at the Gull Frolic.

Back in September, there were some fall warblers, like the Nashville Warbler below complementing the Goldenrod.

Even the “regulars” looked better in September.

Cedar Waxwings were all over the pokeberries.

Looking forward to the transformation back into this below.

I was a bit amused by this Red-eyed Vireo who seemed to be contemplating making lunch out of what I think was a spider.

Indigo Buntings below – a female, and then what appears to be a transforming male.

I am curious to see what warbler species will predominate this year. There were a lot of Bay-breasted Warblers last fall.

I can expect to see American Redstarts this spring.

Swainson’s Thrush

After trying to no avail to convince myself that I should be feeling better, go out, brave the sunshine for a brief walk and maybe swim earlier, something seemed to be pulling me back. A few aches and pains? Maybe, but that hardly ever stops me. I sat down on the futon with some coffee to assess my mood and continue with this post. Then I heard a thud as a Zebra Finch fell out of a hut onto the top of a cage. This is not normal. Birds don’t fall. It was a hen who seems to be unwell and she will likely go quickly. It didn’t take the males long to figure out she was compromised and they tried to take advantage of her. I jumped up to rescue her and scooped her up easily enough by hand as she wasn’t really able to fly. I held her close to my heart for a moment and then put the poor girl in the bottom of the former budgie cage which is a smaller space for her to rest in peace, so to speak. Maybe my lack of resolve this morning was a response to her waning energy. Whatever it is, I was glad to save her from torture in her last hours. She has since left the cage but is defending herself against assault: I will keep my eye on her. My coffee is getting cold.

More September Songs

I spent all day Saturday at a women’s retreat – my very first retreat ever with any organization (I don’t count a job-related paralegal “retreat” years ago) and after two years of virtual isolation save day-to-day brief interactions here and there, I am still basking in the love and inclusion of the community experience. We were all masked and sufficiently socially distanced most of the time. Normally this retreat would occur over a weekend, so this was the first (and I hope last) pandemic-influenced gathering. Actually the fact that it was contained in one day made it easier for me to attend because the thought of finding someone to take care of the birds these days doesn’t even enter my mind.

I spent yesterday still processing the insights and new relationships. In a way, I was still on the retreat. I fully intended to go for a walk this morning, but if the ground is anything like my backyard, there is likely ice everywhere, possible snow flurries are in the forecast this morning, and the windchill is in the single digits. I am still wearing my long underwear. Maybe I’ll go out and see if I can sneak a photo or two of the yard birds. But I think I will wait until tomorrow to go walking anywhere. We have a promised warmup which, by Wednesday, looks to be a big, soggy meltdown.

This is a brief photographic return to September 13th at the Portage. The only warbler I managed to photograph well was the American Redstart at the top of the post, but there were many more later. Perhaps the most spectacular sighting that day was the Red-headed Woodpecker below, albeit too far away to get a decent photograph. This is still a very infrequent visitor to the Portage but the habitat keeps changing, so we shall see.