Winding Down

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Black-Throated Green Warbler

Last Sunday morning was my only chance to get out. Rain was predicted but luckily did not start until I left the Chicago Portage. Conditions became ever cloudier which affected everything photographic, but now I am looking back on what was then warmer weather with increasing nostalgia.

I had stepped off the trail to get a better look at something and while I was standing there, a beautiful Black-Throated Green Warbler popped up in front of me. In that moment I was thankful I didn’t have my most humongous lens which might have scared him off.

Below is how the Portage looked last Sunday morning.

Portage 10-22-2017-0066After the Black-Throated Green left, this Swamp Sparrow occupied the same spot for a moment.

SWSP 10-22-2017-9878The Black-Throated Green was unusually late for this location, so he earned a citation on the rare bird alert. But the rest of the birds were pretty predictable, like these three Mallards enjoying the open water.

MALL 10-22-2017-9940A Red-Tailed Hawk made a couple backlit appearances… If you click on the images you can see more detail.

I followed the large white rump patch of this Northern Flicker in flight until it landed far across the pond.

Below, two birds that herald various stages of the approach toward winter…a Dark-Eyed Junco, a snow bird, and likely the last Yellow-Rumped Warbler until spring.

The other likely late-ish warbler is the Palm Warbler below.

PAWA 10-22-2017-9951And where the preserves were crowded with kinglets the previous week, I now saw only one, a Ruby-Crowned Kinglet, below.

RCKI 10-22-2017-0116On the home front, after a short sprinkle but before ensuing downpours, my yard was full of House Sparrows.

HOSP 10-12-2017-0359But I did still have a couple White-Crowned Sparrows who now rely on me to put out some partially chewed-up spray millet sprigs in the compost.

WCSP 10-22-17-0383WCSP 10-12-2017-0374Hanging out with the House Sparrows by the back fence was a Northern Cardinal.

NOCA 10-22-17-0417Busy 10-22-17-0409A few House Finches managed to forage on the ground.

After weeks of preparation, I jointed the Unity Temple choir in our “Best of Unity Temple Choir” concert last night. We sang for nearly two hours. I feel we did well, at least if the audience response is any indicator. It was exhausting fun.

It’s still hard to believe that the milestone has passed, however. Without much time to reflect, I am moving onward to the next challenge, which will be at work tomorrow morning. I leave you with a contented-looking House Sparrow.

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Late Summer in the Yard

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American Goldfinch (female)

I had a couple extra days off last week after the holiday, in between jobs, which gave me more time to spend in the backyard. I think the wild birds were starting to get used to my presence, so it is with reluctance that I go back to being The Scary Human Who Fills The Feeders.

A female Ruby-Throated Hummingbird spent perhaps a week in the area, and she would generally show up just before sundown which made it difficult to take pictures of her. One morning early when I went out to fill the feeders I saw her sitting in the redbud tree so I suspect she came more often than I was aware. I did have a beautiful male show up one afternoon but he was gone by the time I got my camera.

The yard has a lot of yellow going on with several varieties of goldenrod which I planted, for the most part, last fall. There is also one almost terrifyingly humongous sunflower which is more like a tree than a plant. I think the reason why it is so huge and still going strong is because it’s very close to the compost heap. I may need an axe to cut it down but for the moment I still find it cheerful and entertaining as it spreads out onto the cement slab.

The goldfinches have been busy chowing down on seed heads. They are probably responsible for a lot of the echinacea taking over the back bed. But that’s the original reason why I started the wildflowers years ago anyway, to attract birds, so I’m happy my yard has now become a destination.

After years of trying to outsmart squirrels I have given up and they seem to be a bit less annoying as long as they get their daily peanuts.

House Sparrows never get much photographic attention from me, but they eat most of the birdseed and are such a presence I felt I should take a few pictures.

DOWP 09-07-17-5206WBNH 09-06-17-5110The two birds who capitalize most when the House Sparrows have left the yard are the Downy Woodpecker and the White-Breasted Nuthatch.

Above, two photos of a couple House Finches for the record. They were not in the best of light or feather.

Bees have been constant if not as numerous as previous years.

The Mourning Doves are usually very skittish and whenever I find a pile of feathers from one the local Cooper’s Hawk has made off with, I wonder how many are left.

Even after you click on the picture above, it may be difficult to see the spider web on the left. I saw the garden spider in the middle of it once, but it has proved to be camera-shy. The web spans the narrow sidewalk running along the south fence. I am not going to be the one to destroy it by walking through. On the right, a bee on a remaining purple coneflower.

Squirrel Yard 09-02-17-4054As long as the squirrels can drink upside down hanging from a tree, they won’t knock over the birdbaths. If I wake up tomorrow to overturned bird baths the yard was likely visited by a nocturnal creature.

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Male Northern Cardinal finding his feathers

My first full week with my new employer starts tomorrow. The new job and choir commitments likely require me to tweak my schedule to figure out where and when I can fit the blog in. Fall migration also demands attention. Drum roll, please.

Baby, It’s Cold Outside: Hangin’ Out in the Yard

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Blue Jay through the window

This grey, chilly day produced a few flurries and later in the afternoon, perhaps a sixteenth of an inch of snow. Whatever. I decided to stay home and see who came to the yard, instead of birding elsewhere.

I had to stand out in the cold for what seemed like a long time, I don’t know, maybe it was only 10 minutes but it felt longer, waiting for the birds to come back. Funny how the birds downtown will rush out to greet me, but the ones at home prefer to avoid me at all costs if possible.

But when they did finally come back, I counted at least 46 House Sparrows. Well, I didn’t count them all individually, I thought there were probably 50, but I decided to be conservative and enter the number “46” for ebird. Which makes it look like you did count them individually, I guess.

The cardinals were in the yard, which was nice of them, but the male didn’t want to show himself, so the best I could do was sneak a peek of him hiding behind a branch. The female was more accommodating. Or maybe hungry.

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A Blue Jay has been coming to the yard since I cut down my big tree. And this Blue Jay surprised me by showing up while I was still outside, but the light was so poor (below, left) I couldn’t get a good picture of him or her. Luckily it came back later in the afternoon when I was sneaking pictures through the windows (below, right).

A female Downy Woodpecker was easy to see outside, but the male pretty much eluded me until later I caught the back of his head through the window.

Not seeing so many Dark-Eyed Juncos this week, but there was one, below.

deju-yard-1-29-17-7176I put a new feeder up this week, and it’s apparent I didn’t assemble it too tightly so I’ll have to take it down one of these nights and see if I can make it more secure, but the House Finches seem to be enjoying it.

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House Finches

Doesn’t look like there’s going to be a change in the weather for a while so we may as well get used to this.

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Black-Capped Chickadee and Downy Woodpecker

I’ll be back in a few with some photos from the wilds of Chicago’s lakefront parks.

Putzing Around the Portage

amgo-portage-10-23-16-3645amgo-portage-10-23-16-3474Yesterday morning was perfect fall weather, the sun was shining, it was cool but comfortable, and it seemed like I should walk around and get used to taking pictures looking through the camera lens with the right eye again. I have had the new prescription for a week.

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In any event I take back whatever I said last time I posted about the Chicago Portage. Perhaps absence does make the heart grow fonder. I noticed when I submitted my bird list to ebird that a month had passed since my last visit. Just seeing the old place in the beginning of its fall colors felt like coming home.

A lot of issues with shadows yesterday. The angle of the sunlight and its brightness made some of the photos almost useless. Above, one of two Cooper’s Hawks, a too-bright White-Throated Sparrow and a House Finch.

The Red-Tailed Hawk above appeared momentarily after the Cooper’s Hawks left. I was glad to have arrived at bird-of-prey time.

Most numerous of all species were Mallards, although there was a group of 26 Canada Geese too.

Above, a Red-Winged Blackbird and a Red-Bellied Woodpecker. As the days grow ever shorter, chances to see both species will diminish.

I was surprised to see so many House Finches, like the two above. Maybe the habitat change is taking effect.

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Song Sparrow

I caught this Song Sparrow too busy eating something to flush, and thankfully for me, he was in better light.

Black-Capped Chickadee and Dark-Eyed Junco… the Junco is proof that winter is on the way.

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Carolina Wren

I heard the Carolina Wren while I had stopped to talk to a fellow Portager, and was very glad to find it later, even if it was somewhat hidden from view. I haven’t seen or heard Carolina Wrens here for at least 2 years. But migration being what it is I shouldn’t get my hopes too high.

Even though I missed the raptors flying, I did get a helicopter. Maybe I scared it away with my lens… The photo on the right is just some marshy overgrowth.

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American Goldfinch

The Goldfinches were numerous and busy eating. I’ve been busy too planting more for them to eat this time of year in my yard, since they seem to have turned their beaks up at the niger seed. But if I can’t attract the flocks I used to with that stuff at least it’s good to see them happy at the Portage.

I’ll be back with Part 3 of the Galapagos.

Closer to Home

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Male Downy Woodpecker

There’s perhaps more going on inside the house than outside it bird-wise, but the most captivating moments are often beyond my ability to capture because they involve me. Like yesterday when I was playing piano, one of the young Zebra Finch males landed on top of the music and sang his song to me that he’s been working on, over and over, reminding me that it will soon be time to get out the music paper and try to write down his and everyone else’s offerings.

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Female Downy Woodpecker

After a week of trying to keep the car movable around mounds of snow and driving it around the block at best, it was almost an exhilarating experience to drive this weekend, not that I went much farther than the dentist, the pool and grocery shopping yesterday, when there was sunshine, and then to the Chicago Portage today, when there was not. But dentist appointments are not scheduled around the weather, and actually the gorgeous sunshine might have explained the virtual emptiness of the pool, which meant I had an entire lane to myself to swim in for an hour, something that never happens on a weekend.

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Chicago Portage

Anyway in spite of the cloud cover I decided to go out while we were still experiencing a partial thaw, and see what it was like shooting with the extender on the 100-400mm lens, with the Mark III 5D which I haven’t used for quite a while. It’s an experiment I will have to repeat several times before I decide exactly what to take with me on my upcoming trip, but I have to say I immediately loved the quietness of the shutter click on the Mark III, I had forgotten all about that and gotten used to the noisy report of the 70D. I have to say the birds never seem to mind the extra noise, I guess they assume we humans are too noisy anyway, but I like the quieter camera almost as much as I like my quieter car.

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There were no clear paths, so it was a slower walk than usual at the Portage. No birds were heard or seen for quite a while, until I spotted a Red-Tailed Hawk perched on a far tree, but the hawk took off before I could try for a picture of it, and then as it flew back around the far side there wasn’t much to photograph.

Red-Tailed Hawk

Red-Tailed Hawk

Still the ability to see through the entire preserve in certain spots was amazing to me. I have never been able to see the other bridge until I am almost on top of it. This must be due to the clearing of so many trees.

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I did finally run into a concentration of birds – mostly Northern Cardinals, in fact more than I have ever seen together in quite some time (a group of Cardinals being a college, conclave, deck, or Vatican, depending on what term you use), and there was a White-Throated Sparrow or two and some Black-Capped Chickadees – near the halfway mark. I stood and watched them for a long time, but they were quite far away and I knew I wasn’t going to be gaining on them. The lack of light today was my most operative challenge.

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Female Northern Cardinal

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White-Throated Sparrow

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Northern Cardinal

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Black-Capped Chickadee

A Ring-Billed Gull flew over.

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Things were decidedly more active at the sunflower seed feeder when I got home, where I inadvertently got a picture of a rather odd-looking House Finch.

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House Finch on the right with white on its auriculars where red would normally be

HOFI 2-8-15-0703A more traditionally colored House Finch was in the crabapple tree.

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The Downy Woodpecker photographs are from last weekend when I was snowbound and they came into the yard individually, at different times of the day, notably when the other birds were absent.
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Spring is ever-so-slightly hinting at its promise with the days getting longer and a bird here and there trying out a bit of song. I have heard Chickadees, an occasional Robin and sometimes a Cardinal. Maybe the best “sign” for me was six American Crows flying into the trees on my street yesterday when I left for the dentist. A return of crows to my neighborhood would be the first after 13 years.

 

Back in the Yard

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The last two Saturdays have been great mornings to work in the yard, last Saturday in particular as it was cool and cloudy, but I have slept in so that by the time I do get out, the heat and humidity begin to creep in, and the day is replete with the rest of Saturday’s routine. But I have managed to take a few more yard pictures before playing piano, swimming, grocery shopping…

The one bloom on the Swamp Milkweed was visited by a Monarch Butterfly last Saturday. I saw the Monarch again yesterday but it did not stay, only flying over the entire yard and right past me a few times, I suppose because the one milkweed blossom is spent and there was little else of interest. Next year, I promise, will be different.

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Milkweed Yard 7-26-14-3420There were two Eastern Tiger Swallowtails in the purple coneflowers last Saturday. They wouldn’t pose together but this one was available.

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And yesterday I finally managed to get a Red Admiral to cooperate.

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Young birds are now in the yard in droves. Last Saturday, they were still begging a lot.

Juvenile House Sparrow

Juvenile House Sparrow

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Juvenile House Finches

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Juvenile House Finch

Adult Male House Finch

Adult Male House Finch

Last Saturday I had the windows open and heard Chipping Sparrows in the yard. I could not photograph them outside, as they were right by the back door and I would have scared them away, but I managed to get a few pictures through the kitchen window.

Juvenile Chipping Sparrow

Juvenile Chipping Sparrow

I suspect there is more than one pair breeding in south Berwyn.

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Adult Chipping Sparrow

Someone else I can only photograph through the window, as she is well attuned to the squeaks of my back doors…

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I discovered this spider last weekend in a shady spot.

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Garden Spider

The front yard is more established this year, one year after its planting. This is the main section, the other smaller portion being on the other side of the front walk. I have seen butterflies now and again but the biggest hit lately was the Sweet Joe-Pye Weed: the bees were literally bathing in it. But this weekend it’s looking rather spent and frazzled. I watered it last night and am hoping we get some rain.

Front Yard

Front Yard

Bee in the Joe-Pye Weed

Bee in the Joe-Pye Weed

I seem to have two types of cardinal flower. The first photograph is from the ones that have been in the backyard for years, and the second from the new one in the front.

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Below is a plant that mystifies me. I have no idea where it came from but it planted itself between two bricks. I don’t recall if it flowered last year but this year it has done a nice job. Even if it is an invasive, it doesn’t appear to be spreading. It’s in one shady spot under the hawthorn. If anybody knows what this is, please let me know.

I don't know what this is but it is growing between two bricks for the second year in a row

I don’t know what this is but it is growing between two bricks for the second year in a row

I thought there was something a bit different about this fox squirrel. For sure, it’s a she. The one I am used to seeing all the time has been a male. She is a bit shy, but every bit as polite as he is.

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Invariably dill comes up here and there in the yard. I thought I planted some this year but it didn’t come up where I put it. Nevertheless a few plants have managed to grow and I leave them hoping they will attract female Eastern Black Swallowtail Butterflies to lay eggs. I was very happy to see this caterpillar yesterday. It’s been a few years since I’ve seen one of these in the yard. I’m going to plant more dill for next year too.

Eastern Black Swallowtail Caterpillar on dill

Eastern Black Swallowtail Caterpillar on dill

I did manage to work in the yard even though it was nearly midday: it wasn’t buggy and my trees keep me cool. At any rate, it’s looking a little tamer I suppose because we haven’t had too much rain lately so the weeds actually stay pulled for a while. I think I will start photographing and cataloguing all the weeds before I yank them out next weekend, in part because I see them often enough elsewhere, and in the process of looking them up I will learn about others. I know a lot of them by sight but have forgotten some of their names. The macro lens is making a nerd out of me.

I will be back later with a few photos from my weekend excursion.

 

Frozen in Time

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Why, why, why do I

Always think I

Have more energy

Than I do?

Ice on the Chicago River

Ice on the Chicago River

Why, why, why do I

Think I’ll do

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More than I’ll ever

Get around to?

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Thursday’s heat wave

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Twenty-four seven

Four-thirty a.m till eleven

The days are way too long

Ring-Billed Gull, downtown Chicago by the river

Ring-Billed Gull, downtown Chicago by the river

And yet they fly

So quickly by

Can’t help but live them wrong

Chief Nemesis on my feeder

Chief Nemesis on my feeder

It’s only when the clock stops

And I am in the moment

That life comes by

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Looks me in the eye

Red-Breasted Merganser on the Chicago River

Red-Breasted Merganser on the Chicago River

And says what it so meant

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American Robin, Cancer Survivors Garden 1-31-14

Life is quick

Life’s a kick

Life can be expendable

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What we share

Can take us there

And always be commendable

OH NO not more SNOW

OH NO not more SNOW

During the week and even into the weekend, I find myself distracted by too many multi-tasking thoughts. So to stop and be in the moment is priceless and irresistible. I think it must be what I love about taking pictures. I am trying to freeze a moment in time, in memory. I am also paying attention, so that inhibits the clutter of distraction. So that must be why it felt so good to pull the camera out on the way in to work the last two mornings–after two weeks of working through lunch or barely getting out at all–to stop and shoot at the river’s edge. It’s a creative process, too; the excitement of seeing something that looks like a potential photograph and trying to capture it with the camera, it’s a vision, however momentary. But it also takes me out of myself and I focus on the subject. And that is why I love birds so very much: they make me forget about me. Reminds me of that line in Joni Mitchell’s song, “All I Want” from the Blue album, “Oh I love you when I forget about me.” But with the birds it’s different. They also remind me of who I really am, without that act I have to put on during the work week.

The ultimate peace is to be relieved of one’s constant mind. I think they used to call it “Nirvana.” (No, this is not intended to be a musical reference this time. 🙂 )

Mourning Doves in my neighbor's tree

Mourning Doves in my neighbor’s tree

P.S. This House Finch was supposed to be in this post but she somehow didn’t make it.

Female House Finch

Female House Finch