I miss the peace and quiet of the field and want to go birding, but so far I have only been able to watch the birds in the yard. And for the most part I was only able to take photographs from the porch, as it was not only too cold to go out during the extreme cold last week, but I also did not want to interfere at all with the birds that were relying on my food offering.
Only saw the Cooper’s Hawk briefly and even though it was sunny, I couldn’t get a clear picture of him…
There hasn’t been much going on at the river either, which has kept me indoors. No large flocks of Red-Breasted Mergansers like last year. There were some a couple days ago but I haven’t seen them since. Most of the ice in the river is from the lake…
The day or two we have had brief but significant warm-ups, the birds must have gotten spring fever because judging from the full feeders they stayed out of the yard entirely.
Tomorrow I am attending the 18th Annual Gull Frolic. I am curious to see the lake, which was quite frozen throughout the polar vortex and the aftermath, in addition to whatever gulls the frolic attracts. If past years are any indication, the worse the weather for humans, the better it will be for gulls. We shall see.
Or downside up. I have a really good excuse for not managing a blog post until now, which I hope never to use again. As much as I hate the passive voice, I’d rather phrase it like this: my car was totaled Sunday night on the way home from a meeting – the accident was unavoidable, not my fault, and I am happy to report there were no injuries and I will be getting a new, safer (should I have to crash into anything again) vehicle shortly.
It was 14 degrees Fahrenheit outside that night and I was so focused on getting the police to arrive that I forgot to take a picture of the damage, but that’s history now. So is the extraordinary lunar eclipse of that evening which I also forgot about in my distraction, although I was admiring the full moon through the window of the squad car as I sat in the back of it to keep warm while the police handled the investigation and report. So there are no spectacular images to share with this information, and I apologize.
Instead here are some pictures from last weekend, when we got a total of about 9″ of snow, but had not yet plunged into the single digits and below which is where we are now.
I don’t anticipate getting any clearer photographs this weekend, but I will still try to capture the two Dark-Eyed Juncos and the Black-Capped Chickadee that I have seen only briefly. It was nice to see cardinals hanging out in a relaxed fashion.
I hope to be back soon, maybe even with a report about the new vehicle. In the meantime, I wish you all safety and warmth wherever you are!
Yesterday morning when I was almost done feeding the indoor crowd, I looked out the kitchen window and saw a Red-Bellied Woodpecker at the suet feeder. I managed to get this fuzzy photo through the window and the screen but by the time I got out to the porch, the Red-Bellied was gone. Instead there was a Downy Woodpecker at the upside-down suet feeder.
I started paying attention to the Goldfinches as they were numerous, and eventually…some of them were not Goldfinches, and they didn’t look like House Finches – and I suddenly realized that the Pine Siskins I’d been hoping for were now in my yard!
Today my birding plans were trashed after I drove all the way out to Goose Lake Prairie State Park only to discover it was closed due to deer hunting. I talked with a couple guys in the Heidecke Lake boat launch and they told me the park would be open tomorrow. But that won’t do me any good because rain is predicted all day. Lesson learned. Now I know to check these places before I take off in the middle of winter. Midewin National Tall Grass Prairie was just around the corner, but I figured that might not be safe from being shot at either. I did see three crows in a field and a lovely female Northern Harrier in flight, but the two hours of driving back and forth for nothing wore me out. I decided to stop at McGinnis on the way back, but there was nothing going on there, the shallow water being frozen mostly frozen.
When I got home, I filled the thistle socks, went out by the back steps and stood with the camera until the birds came back to feed. They seemed to be less shy today in the bright sunshine. I finally had great looks at the Pine Siskins. There were four of them and they seemed to be quite friendly,
Below are a couple pictures of a female House Finch for comparison. I think the difference in bill shape might be the most trustworthy field mark for distinguishing the two species.
It was a good day for male House Finches and Goldfinches too.
I don’t know if I’ll still be in the mood to go down to see the crows on Tuesday, although if the weather is halfway decent I may as well. I’ve been invited to a party for New Year’s Eve which will likely prevent getting up very early to find birds. But now I can stay home and watch the feeders, and maybe add yet another species to my yard list.
And continues and continues and…I have been so busy birding every weekend it’s taking even longer to process the pictures. These are from last week – October 13 – Thatcher Woods and the Chicago Portage.
White-Throated Sparrow at Thatcher Woods
The birds blend in more and more with their surroundings, but I find it so intriguing. Although it does take almost twice as much effort to get the camera to focus on the bird.
Lincoln’s Sparrow, Thatcher Woods
I was very pleased to find a Winter Wren hanging out with the sparrows and remaining warblers at Thatcher Woods. I always think of Don Kroodsma and The Singing Life of Birds when I see a Winter Wren, even if it’s not singing.
Much like two weeks earlier, there were still a lot of Palm Warblers and Yellow-Rumped Warblers at Thatcher Woods.
Here’s what the Portage looked like when I got there.
The Yellow-Rumpeds were foraging in the duckweed.
It was a pleasure to see several Hermit Thrushes. And nice to see them somewhere other than hopping around on park lawns downtown.
Hermit Thrush, Portage
I got a brief, lucky look at a Belted Kingfisher flying over the pond.
Some Song Sparrows are already practicing singing for next spring, which might explain why I have heard more than I have seen.
Out on the road overlooking the compost piles that now decorate the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District property, I saw this Red-Shouldered Hawk land in the tree and sit for a long period of time.
Other raptors flew overhead, including the Sharp-Shinned Hawk below.
It took me a while to realize that the birds below are Purple Finches. There seem to be quite a lot of them at the Portage this fall.
Not to be confused – much – with House Finches…
Ruby-Crowned Kinglets are still abundant. But the bird below right is a Golden-Crowned Kinglet. It was perched about a foot and a half in front of me and we bonded for a while, but it was much too close to get a picture of it then!
Still seeing Eastern Phoebes, although I expect fly catching is becoming more difficult as temperatures drop.
My last two photos are of Hermit Thrushes. The second one is for the russet color of its back in the sun…
I’ll be on a mission to get through my photos from this past weekend… Our weather seems to have calmed down a bit and we are in a crisp but sunny period. I love fall, maybe for its nostalgia…!
The American Goldfinches are late breeders, so I haven’t seen more than one or two around until this past week. They are now returning to the yard to take advantage of the thistle socks again, but they are also helping themselves to the seed-heads forming on the flowers. I don’t think it ever occurred to me before that just when I’m thinking the coneflowers are looking like it’s all over, it’s just beginning for the goldfinches.
I watched this one male work on the “spent” flower he’s sitting on for so long I finally decided to take a video.
And then there’s the thistle socks. The second photo was through the porch window so it’s fuzzy.
The sunflower seed feeder is always popular with the House Finches and Northern Cardinals.
I haven’t seen the skunks for about a week. I was hoping they were keeping the cat below, photographed under my neighbor’s deck, out of the yard. I have never seen her attack anything but I am not fooled by her innocent-looking lolling around licking herself on the back cement pad.
The squirrels seem to be distracted from creating too much chaos by a steady supply of peanuts.
There were not a lot of birds on Saturday’s first bird walk, and since they were difficult to see in the overcast I didn’t take many pictures, except in one or two cases just to confirm identification. So I’ll stay in the yard for this post. Below is an Agapostemon Sweat Bee gathering pollen.
We’ve had so much rain alternating with hot, sunny days this season everything in the yard is growing out of control. My Big Bluestem is well-established and as tall as I am. I like the fringed look of its flowering.
I haven’t done well with tomatoes for years, but I can grow peppers. This is the first time I’ve planted poblano chiles. They’re getting bigger. I’ll have to start cooking them soon.
I really like the Mistflower and am glad I planted it in a shady spot between two trees where it’s filling in nicely.
Below is a plant that introduced itself this year and up until a couple days ago, I didn’t know what it was. But I was reviewing the University of Illinois weed page looking for something else, and found its picture. I am happy to identify it as Toothed Spurge (poinsettiadentata). Although it has shown up uninvited, it is a native and rather attractive. The leaves are so thick they look almost like a succulent. I’m relieved it’s not an invasive, so I think I can let it hang out for the rest of the season.
The Wild Senna on the left below is pretty much gone, but the Tall Ironweed is still blooming, although a lot of it has fallen over.
In the front yard I discovered Nodding Onion which I think might be blooming well for the first time this year since it was planted by Art three or four or however many years ago it’s been now. And the one Cardinal Flower plant continues. I’d like to have more of it. Not sure I have a good red thumb though.
More regular visitors, of course House Sparrows, but I thought this one was a rather attractive little guy. And the female Downy Woodpecker below, on the peanut feeder, looks like this might be her first year in the yard.
One more of my too-hungry-to-be-camera-shy goldfinch. Saturday I “lead” the group on another bird walk, and I hope this time to see some migrants to write about.
At last. It didn’t last long, but we had a beautiful weekend last week and the trees were excited and blooming and the birds were singing and courting and I was recovering by sitting still and watching it all.
While I sat there I counted five White-Crowned Sparrows in the yard. That’s an all-time high. I am delighted that they considered my yard a stopover for at least week, on their way north to their breeding grounds. In particular, one male was singing loud and clear directly over me and as hard as I tried to get a video, I had too large a lens to capture his image with his song, but I did manage to record him on my cellphone which I was using to do a yard list on ebird.
The neighbors’ dog was out in their yard and she was going crazy over any squirrel that appeared.
The usual cast of characters included a Mourning Dove, an American Robin, and a few American Goldfinches.
There was some serious courting going on with a couple House Finches.
The Redbud is in full bloom.
And it’s hard to find a spot in the yard that doesn’t have some wild violets blooming on it. My plan is to try to eradicate most of it today. Presently we have had cool, rainy weather, so it will be a muddy business to remove, but no more rain is predicted until later tonight, and this may be my last chance to remediate the landscape.
I visited the Portage last Sunday to see how spring migration was unfolding there, and again yesterday to lead the first of my two bird walks donated to the Unity Temple auction. Both outings were full of birds and good times. I will be back with photos. My knee is not too happy about spending so much time negotiating uneven ground, but like physical therapy, in the end, I am regaining mobility. No pain, no gain. To be continued.
How long does it take to stop hearing a piece like the Faure Requiem in one’s head? The powerful experience Sunday morning of singing the Requiem twice as a member of the Unity Temple Choir, after the anticipation of the event woke me up periodically the night before, not to mention the weeks of rehearsal: I guess I have been living the Requiem. In spite of the incessant rain we had an ample and appreciative audience. After services the rain stopped for a while, so I took a walk around my neighborhood to see what spring migrants, if any, were trapped by the cold north winds. Internally possessed by the music, birding allowed the music to go on playing in my head at full blast. So far I have gotten through yesterday and this morning with my usual distractions of Spanish and French on the phone and summoning Peter Mayer on my way into the office, but bits and pieces of the Requiem still haunt me. Yesterday with the Kyrie it occurred to me that I caused conversations to be held in D minor.
Here’s a little roundup of two weekends in the yard and environs. I struggle with how long I can endure the cold, and the birds struggle with deciding when their hunger overcomes their inability to ignore my presence.
Yellow-Bellied Sapsucker inspecting the utility pole
Look Ma, no hands!
More Yellow-Bellied Sapsuckers in the conifers around the edge of Freedom Park which is just at the end of my block.
The rain changed to snow overnight. Again. It’s as if there was a repeat sign at the end of last weekend. While I am still thankful for my undisturbed leaf litter cradling the new green shoots that seem to be emerging from the soil nevertheless, the greenery is beginning to look tired and frozen. The snow shots are from last weekend when unfortunately I had to take them through the porch windows.
Hermit Thrush (Freedom Park)
The mourning doves are in full courtship mode, in spite of the chill.
Dark-Eyed Juncos have been a force, and it’s delightful to hear them sing on occasion. I love the subtlety of their individual variations in plumage.
Last Sunday I was surprised to discover an Oregon Dark-Eyed Junco in the yard. There are six subspecies of Dark-Eyed Junco, and the one we get consistently is the Slate-Colored. The easternmost normal occurrence of the Oregon in its winter range is Nebraska and its breeding range is in the northwest, so it’s considered rare in Illinois. There have been a couple other reports of other individuals locally.
The American Goldfinches are coming into their breeding plumage slowly but steadily, some more advanced than others. I’ve been seeing mainly males at the feeders.
One of my backyard robins put on a little fashion show using the new back gate as its catwalk.
Ho hum winter grey clouds…
A little ray of sunshine: a goldfinch enjoying a drink of water.
On the radio this morning I heard that this date last year, we were in the 80’s. Likely I was complaining about that. Oh well. We won’t be getting anywhere near that for a while, I suspect, but with any luck we are done with snow until – dare I say it – November.
Well, maybe more like Enduring Zero. Sitting inside reliving Ecuador did not seem to be the best way to spend Christmas Day, so I went out for a walk through the Portage and later visited with the yard birds. We had snow on Christmas Eve so the setting was perfect, and if a little cold, at least the sun was shining in the morning. Little did I know at the time that Christmas Day’s weather would be considered balmy by the next day’s standard. And this morning I walked to the train in -4 degrees Fahrenheit, before the wind chill.
Deer tracks in the snow at the Chicago Portage
I drove around for 40 minutes to various Cook County Forest Preserves beyond the Portage, all with closed parking lots. I am not fond of driving but it was pleasant enough listening and singing along with a Peter Mayer (from Minnesota) CD, and there were hardly any cars and the sun was shining brightly. When I did returned to find the Portage parking lot open, I was the only visitor. The trails were covered the deer tracks.
When I did find a few birds, for the most part they were half hidden.
The most commanding presence was snow covering everything. Beyond that, I found a few geese and ducks on the Des Plaines River.
Just as I was leaving, an adult Bald Eagle flew over. I didn’t get a picture, but below is a juvenile from last week’s Christmas Count on the Fox River.
I decided to go home, fill the feeders and hang out with whoever showed up in the yard.
House Sparrows have learned to hang upside down if necessary…
There were a number of House Finches, and although the light was waning, I was surprised to see the males looking as red as they did.
I am always happy to see Mrs. Cardinal and any hardy little Dark-Eyed Junco.
My male cardinal swooped in for a remaining hawthorn berry and posed with it. As if to verify his supreme redness.
I still have the weather for Quito on my phone. The temperature seems to stay around 58-60 degrees. I think it’s time to go back to the pictures from Ecuador. If you made it this far, your reward is three pictures of Long-Tailed Sylphs. More to come in the next post.
I find some satisfaction in knowing the days are already getting longer.
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.
After the Black-Throated Green left, this Swamp Sparrow occupied the same spot for a moment.
The 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.
A 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.
And where the preserves were crowded with kinglets the previous week, I now saw only one, a Ruby-Crowned Kinglet, below.
On the home front, after a short sprinkle but before ensuing downpours, my yard was full of House Sparrows.
But 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.
Hanging out with the House Sparrows by the back fence was a Northern Cardinal.
A 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.
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.
The 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.
As 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.
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.