Springtime in the Yard

WCSP 5-5-18-2371At 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.

HOSP 5-5-18-2452And 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.

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Squirrel 5-5-18-2295

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.

 

Requiem Eternam…

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Two “regulars” in the Rosebud

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.

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Yellow-Bellied Sapsucker inspecting the utility pole

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.

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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.

AMG0 04-08-18-9339On 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.

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Fall Migration Begins

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Tennessee Warbler

There was no time for birding last weekend. So I decided to visit the Chicago Portage two days in a row this weekend. It’s not a difficult decision to make this time of year. I took my chances that the rain Saturday night might cause a little warbler fallout and I was not disappointed. Not many species but it was still nice to see some activity.

Apart from birds, I saw more Monarch Butterflies the last two days than I have all summer, when I have occasionally seen only one or two. Yesterday I am sure I saw at least 15, which is still nothing compared to previous years.

The other late summer pleasure is spider webs like the huge one on the left below. On the right, the flowers are still laden with the last night’s raindrops.

Cedar Waxwings were everywhere both days, but in particular yesterday. I estimated there could have been a hundred but I reported a conservative 76.

The two robins below seemed to be arguing over the lower bird’s perch.

On the Des Plaines River, one Great Blue Heron and one Great Egret were still present on Saturday, but Sunday morning they were gone.

GBHE and GREG Portage 09-02-17-3862Indigo Buntings were still a presence but getting a bit harder to find. They are likely getting ready to leave.

INBU Portage 09-03-17-4235INBU Portage 09-02-17-3666Likely INBU Portage 09-02-17-3973INBU Portage 09-02-17-3901Also nearly absent are Red-Winged Blackbirds.

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Red-Winged Blackbird

For excitement, on Saturday I focused on the Red-Tailed Hawk below when it landed in a tree across the water, and then got lucky enough to capture its takeoff when it left.

So where are the warbler pictures? I didn’t get them all, but below are a few. The Orange-Crowned was there Saturday. Apparently it is early because I got the “rare” warning from ebird yesterday when I tried to add it before developing my pictures. I hope the image below will be enough proof.

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Orange-Crowned Warbler

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Blackburnian Warbler

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Black-and-White Warbler

I heard several Warbling Vireos and Saturday I managed to photograph one.

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Warbling Vireo

The Carolina Wren below was a surprise. This appears to be a youngster. I fussed over the image for a while but decided it has to be a Carolina, even if the eyebrow isn’t finished-looking, the bill, the reddish color and the upturned tail indicate Carolina Wren. I also heard one sing, likely it was this one trying out its pipes.

Below is how the Portage looked yesterday.

Portage 09-03-17-4557Abundance below, of Pokeweed berries and Jewelweed blooms. Unfortunately I couldn’t find any hummingbirds enjoying the Jewelweed.

The shelf fungus seemed a bit diminished on this visit.

 

Shelf Fungus Portage 09-02-17-3790Below, three first-year birds.

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Rose-Breasted Grosbeak

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European Starling

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Mourning Dove

The cardinal is a likely candidate for first-year status as well.

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Northern Cardinal

Another view of the Portage, showing off all the native wildflower planting done lately.

Portage 09-02-17-4016I couldn’t decide which photograph of the Common Yellowthroat below to include, so here are both.

COYT Portage 09-02-17-3671COYT Portage 09-02-17-3670And one more of a Tennessee Warbler, adorning Giant Ragweed. Tennessees were most numerous yesterday.

TEWA Portage 09-03-17-4459Apologies for being absent of late. My work situation is in flux, which creates a different kind of distraction. But I promise I’ll be back soon with an update from the yard. It’s been cool enough overnight to leave the windows open all weekend. I think Fall is my Favorite Season.

 

Two Days into 2016

ATSP 1-1-16-9216Well, this is the 3rd day, but this post is about the birds I was able to photograph on Friday and Saturday.

New Year’s Day was chilly and gloomy, until the sun came out early in the afternoon and I was compelled to see what birds were in the yard. My FOY (first of year) bird was a Downy Woodpecker when I went out to fill the feeders earlier. But in the afternoon, the new yardbirds for the year were two American Tree Sparrows.

Tree Sparrows have visited the yard before in previous winters, but they are always a welcome surprise after the usual cavalcade of House Sparrows. This pair started out taking cover in the dogwood but then became rather relaxed and started foraging about on the snow.

Others in attendance and photographable were four Downy Woodpeckers, the White-Breasted Nuthatch, a Black-Capped Chickadee, and four Dark-Eyed Juncos. The lack of light became a bit of a problem, though, especially with the Juncos.

Then yesterday morning I decided it was time to see what was happening at the Chicago Portage. If nothing else, the sun was shining brightly, eventually even taking the chill away temporarily when the breeze subsided. I could not help but be a noisy presence as the snow on the path covered a substantial layer of frozen ice, so I crunched my way through every step. In spite of my intrusion, the Northern Cardinal males were more than happy to pose in the bright sunshine as long as they felt sufficiently obstructed by a few twigs here and there.

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There were also plenty of American Tree Sparrows and Dark-Eyed Juncos, plus a good representation of American Goldfinches. Although geese and mallards flew overhead there were no waterfowl in the mostly frozen water.

I headed out to the Palos area afterward to see if I could find any ducks but the entrances to parking weren’t even open and there were no water birds to be seen.

When I got home I noticed this Mourning Dove sitting on the neighbor’s ham radio antenna across the street.

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Today is gray and chilly, so maybe I can start working on the leftover resolutions I’ve been carrying with me for the past year…

DOWP 1-1-16-9028Happy New Year to all from me and my bird friends. Savor the present, relish your memories wisely and do not fear the future but embrace possibility. Just a thought! I’ll let you know when we write a song about it. 🙂

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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

American Robin, Cancer Survivors Garden 1-31-14

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

Back to Birds: Crabtree Nature Center

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7 Species in 1 Frame!

Last week, I visited Crabtree Nature Center in the far northwest corner of Cook County, Illinois. I went twice, to try for reported good views of a female White-Winged Crossbill, a species I have barely seen on a few occasions. The bird had been seen visiting the feeders, and others had taken nice pictures, so I wanted a memorable look.

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Female and Male Downy Woodpeckers

I never saw the White-Winged Crossbill. Watching the feeders from the comfort of the warm nature center, however, was a mesmerizing experience. Birds came constantly to the feeders. If someone or something scared them off, they were back within seconds.

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American Tree Sparrow

I am looking forward to returning to Crabtree to check out the trails later in the year. But for now I am going to just fill up the rest of this post with a few more pictures taken last week.

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Red-Breasted Nuthatch, Downy Woodpecker, House Finch and Northern Cardinal

 

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Pine Siskins

 

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Red-Bellied Woodpecke

 

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Mourning Doves and Northern Cardinal

 

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White-Breasted Nuthatch

 

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White-Throated Sparrow

 

Fox Sparrow IMG_1580_1

Fox Sparrow

 

 

Thanks to All!

Northern Waterthrush, Chicago Portage 9-3-12

Thanks to all who are following my blog and those who make the effort to like my posts. I wish I could respond to each and every one of you individually. Maybe someday I’ll get there (I’m even worse with facebook, ask anyone who has “friended” me). In the spirit of my disorganization, I am offering somewhat of a hodgepodge, smorgasbord post.

It’s been a busy Labor Day Weekend, or so it seems–difficult to let go of the last three-day weekend until the Big Holidays at the end of the year. I’ve been trying to let go of the work week as much as possible. Saturday morning was the only morning of the past three I woke up with work on my mind.

I heard this little clip of Beniamino, one of my six little male zebra finches, on Saturday when I was listening to a tape in the car. He has hopped right onto the microphone and started singing, and then calling. Pietro sings a moment later.

The juvenile Ruby-Throated Hummingbird left my yard sometime last week, but now I have an adult female coming to my feeders. She seems to know who fills the feeders, because when I went out yesterday afternoon to see if she would show up for a picture, she soon flew right over my head and to the closest feeder in front of me. And perched. She seems to like to relax and take her time about these things.

Female Ruby-Throated Hummingbird

Also have a few pictures from around the yard.

Young Male House Finches

I was trying out a new camera. I’m taking a trip in November and it seemed like time to get something a little more bird friendly. Actually it is more friendly from the standpoint of noise alone – the shutter click is a lovely sound compared to the tin-can clunk of my other cameras.

Male American Goldfinch

Here’s something else very exciting. Something made me decide to clean the cages tonight, which meant I got to listen to NPR in the basement, and there was a story about Wapapura, which takes recording sessions to the outdoors. This is what I have always dreamed of doing, but it’s hard to carry around an electric piano, or any piano for that matter. I would love to take a string quartet to the forest and record the birds’ contributions. I am thrilled to hear someone else believes music is for sharing with the universe.