Finally, Pine Siskins

After reading about the irruption of Pine Siskins for weeks, I kept wondering how I could have possibly missed seeing them. The species showed up in my yard for the first time in January of this year and I fondly remembered their cheery presence. I thought I might have seen one or two last week but I couldn’t be sure, and had to discount it as wishful thinking. Then last Sunday morning as I stood on the back porch, there they were. Only two of them, but they were all I needed to restore my faith in something. They didn’t stay long. Maybe they were playing hooky from some large flock somewhere.

The House Sparrows outnumber everybody else, of course.

Last Saturday was the first time I dared go out with my usual camera setup. The camera weighs two pounds and the lens is another three and a half. It doesn’t sound like a lot of weight but it’s dense and massive. Then there’s the issue of adjusting the focus with my left hand. My fingers are still slightly swollen and stiff, and I can’t maneuver entirely without pain. But I am in the painful stage of physical therapy now so I may as well enjoy my suffering and take pictures.

I had come to see if there were Sandhill Cranes – and there were, a few – but the skies were dominated by Canada Geese. Unfortunately the owners of the surrounding farms were hunting them. I didn’t see any fall from the sky but I wasn’t looking either, it was bad enough to hear the gunshots. Something else to think about when I visit this place in the fall.

Canada Geese

Some flora caught my eye.

The first two birds I saw on the trail going in were Cedar Waxwings.

A burning bush?

It was nice to see this young White-crowned Sparrow.

So there were some Sandhills. I won’t be able to get back up there this year to see hundreds or thousands that sometimes come through, but I did have a good time talking with a crane enthusiast who visits there a lot and knows their habits. He said he was waiting for a big push of cold weather from Wisconsin and that would bring down a lot of cranes. He is hoping to see a Whooping Crane this year.

Not a lot of land birds but it was a beautiful morning. I was surprised to see the Blue Jay arrive and announce himself, and pose for a couple pictures.

I always see Crows here and that makes me happy.

Below are the last pictures I took the previous Saturday morning at the Portage, with the mirrorless camera. It takes nice photographs, but I haven’t figured out how to get it to focus all the time.

So I was frustrated when I saw the Blue-headed Vireo below so well, but I couldn’t get the camera to see it as clearly as I did.

My closest shot of one of the Sandhills from Goose Lake Natural Area…

Between work, physical therapy, waking up to this, that, or the other pain, trying not to let the news cycle interrupt a deeper thought process, there have been moments of peace and flashes of contentment, even a little creativity. I have missed seeing more birds and autumn color. This is usually my favorite time of year. I am looking forward to setting the clocks back so there will be more light in the morning. My indoor birds are good sports. They are helping me write a song about looking for an answer to a question I haven’t figured out yet.

Return to Goose Lake Natural Area

After the Portage weekend it felt like time to revisit the Yellow-Headed Blackbirds and maybe get to see a Black Tern, so I got up early on the 30th — a month ago already! — and went to Goose Lake Natural Area near Hebron. I am beginning to absolutely love this place, except for the hour-and-a-half it takes to get there, but of course that’s why it’s so special. I hope to go back sometime this coming weekend – after I visit the other Goose Lake, which is less of a drive in the opposite direction.

The Yellow-Headed Blackbirds were on their territories and the one closest to the trail was easier to see than last time. I think I caught an obscure photo of a female in the top center of the photos below.

The Yellow Warbler below stayed partially hidden, but I caught up with its cousin later.

Yellow Warbler

There were plenty of Red-Winged Blackbirds, but the males didn’t offer themselves up for photos. They probably know they are not the main attraction at this place. Below are couple females.

On the walk back to the car I spotted the Wild Turkey below. It was flushed by people approaching from the other direction.

I left thinking I had missed the Black Terns but found this photograph of a fleeting glimpse of one leaving the area.

A family of Pied-Billed Grebes below – I think mom was trying to show the kids how to find food.

I managed to capture the female Belted Kingfisher below flying across the water and then the marsh, looking for a place to perch with her catch.

Willow Flycatchers like this place too.

A couple Great Egrets flew over.

A Common Yellowthroat was bold enough to look me in the lens.

I heard the Great-Crested Flycatcher below before I managed to barely see him when I first hit the trail.

An American Crow…

A bit puzzled by the nest in the reeds below until it proved to be an American Robin sitting on it. So they do nest in places other than trees and the fascia of suburban houses.

A male Mallard flew by, reminding me that he’s a beautiful bird too.

A small flock of Double-Crested Cormorants flying over – of all the flock names, I will choose a “swim” of cormorants. You might prefer “flight,” “gulp”, “rookery” or “sunning”.
The Hebron Trail…
An unusually cooperative Gray Catbird
One more of the Yellow Warbler

I’ve been busy at work, so goes the bulk of my laptop time. Hoping for a bit of a respite this coming weekend, and not too many deafening firework explosions. Summer is definitely upon us. Take a deep breath.

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.

Ah, the Sewage Ponds

It may sound awful, but sewage ponds are a good place to look for birds. And that is exactly where we went on our first morning outing in San Blas.

If I can trust my camera roll, the first birds we saw were an assortment of seedeaters and kingbirds, but I have given first position to this very attractive Groove-Billed Ani, because I never noticed the unique woven-looking pattern of the nape feathers before.

And now, the Seedeaters…

Tropical Kingbirds can be good subjects. Below this one is a Thick-billed Kingbird for comparison, but the name doesn’t seem all that descriptive to me.

Tropical Kingbird
Thick-billed Kingbird

Those of you who know me know I adore Crows, so I was thrilled to observe a new species doing Crow Stuff.

I don’t think a day went by without a Zone-tailed Hawk, either…

I was impressed with the graceful flight of a Wood Stork.

This falcon could have been laughing at me for as long as I waited for him to turn his head for a profile shot.

Laughing Falcon

Unlike my last Texas trip, I don’t recall hearing the incessant chatter of a Bell’s Vireo, but at least we saw this one.

Bell’s Vireo

Great Kiskadees were ever-present but nearly impossible to photograph. I wonder why I bothered with this one.

Great Kiskadee
Inca Doves
Great-tailed Grackle

Not sure I have any better images coming of Roseate Spoonbills, but here’s one flying.

All these species would have been way too many for me to get my head around without taking pictures. A new woodpecker!

Below, what an endearing little flycatcher for such a long name. I confess I don’t know what makes it “beardless.”

Not a day went by without a Blue-gray Gnatcatcher distraction. Some days were Blue-grey though.

Blue-gray Gnatcatcher

I think we had a record number of pygmy owls on this trip.

Ferruginous Pygmy-Owl

The remaining images are…more birds seen.

Black-chinned Hummingbird (female)
White-faced Ibis (immature)
Willet

This Yellow-Winged Cacique was having a bad hair day. Lovely flower though.

I didn’t manage to photograph many butterflies with a 100-400mm lens, but these are a few that we saw. I’ve put the Vermilion Flycatcher with them because unlike previous trips, I never got close enough to one to do it justice. I will try to identify the rest of the butterflies when my new butterfly book arrives…

Raptors aplenty – Short-Tailed Hawk is new for me.

Crested Caracara

I was going to include the afternoon river excursion photos, but I think they deserve their own space. So my chronicle of this day in San Blas will continue soon.

Waking Up Was Harder This Morning

Spring so desperately wants to happen. Or so I wrote when I was starting to put together this post four days ago. But then we had to spring the clocks forward, as if shifting more light to the end of the day would hurry up spring faster. However, we have been held back by what seems like the longest winter ever, and that one-more-day philosophy takes over. I may be too tired to know what I’m writing here, but I think the bright sunshine and the angle of its light now helps to wake me up, wakes the birds up, and the trees are probably musing among themselves, the time is coming.

I’ve managed to walk along the river a few times in the last couple of weeks, whether on my way in to work or those rare times when I manage to take a break and go for a walk. The weather has made it more difficult. I got out today for half an hour or so. The wind made it quite chilly, but wherever I could find a patch of sun, there was hope, if not many birds.

In any event, below are some pictures I took of Red-Breasted Mergansers last week. They’ve been hanging out in the river lately, like they did last year. One evening before I got on the train, I counted over 100 within my view outside the station. The pictures below are from one morning last week when there were four males trying to attract one female. She got into the act at one point chasing off one of her suitors. Click on the images for a better view.

Here’s the guy she decided upon. I love her mascara.
Here is a Common Merganser for comparison.

Herring Gulls have been following the mergansers hoping to snatch the ducks’ catch.

I was really surprised on an earlier walk to see a River Crow! A Herring Gull was surprised to see him too and tried to knock the Crow off his perch, but of course, the Crow was triumphant.

On my way back to the office, I looked back to see the Crow cawing about his victory.

I’m hoping for a Return of the River Crow. I miss hanging out with the Lakefront Crows terribly, and it would be just so neat to have a River Crow following. So now every time I go out, I carry peanuts, just in case.

The moon was beautiful a couple weeks ago, so I took a few pictures after I went swimming (there are always better moon views in the gym parking lot). It was exactly a month after the night of the blood moon when my former Prius C was totaled. The shock has almost completely worn off, and I’m very happy with the new car. It’s easier to give people rides, so there are more conversations. And I am about to find out how much easier it will be to fill up the hatch with birdseed. What more could I want?

Crow Holiday Post

Two weekends ago now it is, I went to down to the lakefront to find Crows and whoever else might be hanging out. I was fortunate to be greeted by a group of five crows by Buckingham Fountain who remembered me from the last visit and indicated that by gathering around the same spot I fed them last time. I chose a better spot this time, I think, without a fence around it.

They didn’t seem too enthusiastic to see the cookies, but I suspect that’s because they’re youngsters and haven’t been exposed to them yet. I may run the experiment again next weekend and see if their reaction to the cookies is any different, because I’m sure after they were done caching and stashing all the peanuts they came back to check out whatever was left of the cookies. I say that because there were squirrels starting to show up.

There was a Cooper’s Hawk that flew into some trees which I tried to get a better shot of than the one below…

But since that didn’t happen, I walked down along the lakefront to see waterfowl. Most of the ducks were too far away to photograph, and they seemed to consist mainly of both Common and Red-Breasted Mergansers, a few Common Goldeneye and a couple Coots.

Inevitably there were a lot of Canada Geese. They flew into the lake from Butler Field at one point. As long as there is open water I have a feeling they won’t be going anywhere else anytime soon.

I came back inland and walked through Millennium Park seeing nothing of interest. But as I neared Randolph on the north end of the park, I saw some crows across the street so I followed them behind the Blue Cross Blue Shield Building where we have never met before. It seems like too staid a situation for peanuts but I picked a safe-looking corner, knowing the Crows would soon remove all the peanuts and no one would notice.

Thinking these are likely the same Crows that hung around Lake Shore East Park, I decided to see if they remembered the wall running along the Radisson parking lot that protects people and cars from falling into the empty lot below. The Crows picked up on the location immediately.

Apologies if this becomes a strange-looking post: I’ve been having issues with this new editor. Half the time I can’t see what I’m doing. It’s great!

Nothing makes my heart soar like the sight of a Crow in flight so I’m glad my friends obliged me that day.

Onward to the busy holiday weekend. I have Christmas Eve off of work this year thanks to the calendar, so the prospect of 4 days off in a row has given me a heady, almost drunk feeling of security that I can accomplish even half the things on my list. I am singing in a near-midnight candlelit service on Monday… I will try to report back soon. Until then, best wishes to all for a warm and loving holiday season.