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.

Wish Fulfillment

RTHU 08-19-17-2963I’ve had hummingbird feeders up since May. Three feeders in the backyard, and a couple weeks ago after a hummingbird hovered in my front yard, I added another feeder for the front porch. The best feeder for me is the one I can see while I’m standing at the kitchen sink looking out the window to the branch of the sumac tree it’s hanging from. And Saturday early evening my eye immediately followed that quick, darting flight of a hummingbird to that exact feeder. I grabbed the camera, went out the back door and waited. The hummingbird, a female Ruby-Throated Hummingbird, to be exact, decided she’d rather be at another feeder that hangs from the redbud tree, so that’s where I got these few pictures. But at last my wish was granted and hanging the feeders was no longer in vain.

I didn’t see a hummer on Sunday, but last night after work I did see a hummer come to the farthest feeder hanging from the crabapple tree.

Also in the yard late Saturday was a female Downy Woodpecker and a female cat that I often catch lounging on my back cement slab where once a tiny garage stood, but it seems she now has a new observation deck across the fence by the neighbor’s garage. She closed her eyes for the camera.

After all this excitement I figured my chances might be good for finding a hummingbird at the Portage Sunday morning. so I got there a little earlier than I have been (when I pulled in, there were no cars in the parking lot) and sure enough, right around the first bridge over the duckweed, I found this lovely individual.

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Female Ruby-Throated Hummingbird

I should mention that I mustered up the courage to take the Tamron 100-600mm lens now that I’ve enabled the back button focus feature, so I was able to get more pictures from farther away after being frustrated by the distances last week. Below, a couple Indigo Buntings.

And juvenile American Robins in their ever-changing plumage are always interesting to see.

There seemed to be a lot of juvenile Blue-Gray Gnatcatchers too. I think I caught this one after a bath.

It wasn’t too difficult to find an obliging Cedar Waxwing. This one is enjoying Pokeweed berries and a staring match with the camera lens.

CEWA 08-20-17-3189I didn’t get great pictures of any individual American Goldfinches but they stand out against the duckweed palette below.

AMGO 08-20-17-3044Below, one very distant Tiger Swallowtail butterfly and another Indigo Bunting.

When I stopped by the second bridge, I heard a White-Breasted Nuthatch but saw this Black-and-White Warbler foraging like a nuthatch on a tree.

BWWA 08-20-17-3264I lost track of the warbler but then found the nuthatch, below.

I still had a little time so I decided to see if anything was up at McGinnis Slough.

McGinnis 08-20-17-3357There was not a lot of activity. The large numbers of swallows and swifts were gone and nothing else had noticeably replaced their activity. But I did get a couple interesting photographs of three of the same species I had at the Portage.

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Indigo Bunting

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Blue-Gray Gnatcatcher

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Cedar Waxwing

One more bird from the Portage…

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Juvenile Song Sparrow

I have decided seeing hummingbirds at my feeders is appropriate consolation for not being able to view the partial solar eclipse yesterday. The safety glasses I ordered over a week ago never arrived, and I never received a reply to any of my email inquiries, so now I am digging in for a refund. Even if the glasses do finally arrive, I can’t plan to be around for the next eclipse, which is in 2024 and I’d have to travel to see it, let alone find the glasses 7 years from now. I did receive a camera filter in time for yesterday, maybe I can find another reason to play with it.

The Other Goose Lake

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Yellow-Headed Blackbird

Goose Lake Natural Area and the Hebron Trail, in McHenry County up by the Wisconsin border, was on my list of places to revisit this year and I was so happy to be accompanied by my friend Susan who had a Yellow-Headed Blackbird in her sights as a species to add to her life list. I checked with ebird and confirmed the blackbirds had been seen in late July last year, so there was a good chance of seeing them still. These photos are from last Sunday.

On the way up, Susan spotted two Sandhill Cranes walking near a fence by the road.

It was cloudy and threatening rain, although we managed to avoid downpours. The sun did peek out a little bit later. Greeted by a Cedar Waxwing…

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Cedar Waxwing

And a bedraggled-looking Yellow Warbler on the trail to the marsh…

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Yellow Warbler

And a juvenile Song Sparrow.

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Song Sparrow

The Yellow-Headed Blackbirds were suddenly in view in numbers and they dominated the landscape. Susan definitely added this bird to her life list. We did not see an Black Terns, a species that also breeds here. Perhaps we were too late in the day or the season.

At some point a flock of Canada Geese flew over.

Below, flying Yellow-Headed and Red-Winged Blackbirds.

One particular Tree Swallow kept flying around a distinctive dead tree, tempting me to try to capture it. The tree it perched on is a favorite stopping place.

Below, a Common Yellowthroat and a confusing young sparrow. It’s likely a Song Sparrow but this time of year is tricky with identifying the youngsters. I’d like to say Grasshopper but the head isn’t “flat.”

Not at all confusing were the distinctive sounds of singing Marsh Wrens, but it was getting hard to find one sitting up until we encountered this one close to a platform overlooking the marsh. Some of its song is at the link below (you will also hear Common Yellowthroat singing first).

The water level was exceptionally high, but the area was not flooded as were other parts of the county. We saw many Pied-Billed Grebes with young, although they were at quite a distance.

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Pied-Billed Grebes

Nice to see a Monarch Butterfly. Would have been nicer to see several. I’m intrigued by the yellow flowering plant on the upper right, which I do not recognize, and the Purple Prairie Clover below it, which I later realized is also blooming in my front yard. Imagine that.

It was nice to see a Ruby-Throated Hummingbird, even in lousy lighting, and a robin with food for young.

We met a very nice man who lives nearby and checks out the marsh regularly. He used to teach environmental science so he was full of good information and stories. He’s holding the crayfish below which he rescued from the gravel path. He encouraged us to come back at different times of the year. I think we should take him up on it.

More Yellow-Headed Blackbird photos. Missing are the distinctive white patches on the wings of adult males, which makes me think these are all juveniles.

YHBL 07-16-17-6279The little trio below leaves me stumped as to who the sparrow is, again. Since all juvenile sparrows tend to be on the streaky side no matter how they wind up as adults, I think this one has the look of a juvenile Field Sparrow but I’m not going to bet on it.

RWBL ET AL 07-16-17-6330Summer simmers on. I’ll be back soon.

Goose Lake Prairie

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Dickcissel

I spent three hours at Goose Lake Prairie State Natural Area this morning. I saw and heard a lot of birds, if not necessarily a lot of species. Most of the birds I photographed were quite far away. Some Northern Rough-Winged Swallows below, then a Field Sparrow.

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Field Sparrow

Did I see the King Rail? I’m not sure. Maybe I did, so maybe it’s half-a-lifer, but without a scope to clarify anything, my binoculars could not discern any detail on the likely suspect and my camera lens was no better at deciphering a preening bird at the water’s edge.

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But rarer birds have a way of showing up when you least expect them. So it is with the Yellow-Breasted Chat. When I think of all the Chats I have heard and never seen on their breeding grounds, seeing and photographing one this morning had all the sweetness of any surprise. I was first drawn to the yellow bird by its behavior kiting after insects. Then when it perched I realized it was a Chat, however far away. This species is still considered a warbler.

I was photographing anything I could focus on before identifying it. So it was with the Grasshopper Sparrow below.

And this elusive Sedge Wren too.

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Sedge Wren

This Indigo Bunting was right out in the open. With the abundant sunshine, he picked the right day to do it.

Likewise with this young Baltimore Oriole, but so far away.

Some wildflowers in bloom…the first one is not Blazing Star but similar, and then Bergamot which is now in my yard, and in the lower right hand corner, Wild Parsnip, something I never noticed before but recognized right away this time after all the parsnip growing in my yard.

For all the abundance of Red-Winged Blackbirds I almost tend to ignore them, and in some measure it’s a defensive action because they can get testy this time of year, as you probably noticed in my last post.

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Female Red-Winged Blackbird

But sometimes they can be fun to capture anyway.

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Male Red-Winged Blackbird

I don’t know if I’ve ever seen a young Eastern Kingbird before, so this was a treat.

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Juvenile Eastern Kingbird

And although Common Yellowthroats are constantly announcing themselves, they’re often hard to see, so I was grateful to these two.

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Common Yellowthroat

COYT Goose Lake Prairie 07-03-17-5078I still have a few photos to share from Sunday’s adventures and that could still happen. The remedy for all this is to just stop taking pictures but there is always more to see.

I’m glad I got to Goose Lake Prairie, I missed it last year. The other Goose Lake Conservation Area awaits exploration.

Kirtland’s Warblers and Friends

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Kirtland’s Warbler

Sorry I haven’t been back to the page sooner but I’ve been down with a nasty cold that doesn’t seem to want to go away.  Yet I could speak above a squeak this morning, so I will have to take that as a sign of improvement. Here is a quick post from part of a visit to Michigan with friends over the Memorial Day Weekend. Specifically, these photographs were taken at the Kirtland’s Warbler Restoration Project in Iosco County. We visited this site on the morning of the 27th. The Kirtland’s breeding population is established well enough now at this location to warrant offering tours by the AuSable Valley Audubon Society. Thanks so much to Sam Burckhardt and the Chicago Ornithological Society for another memorable trip.

To go along with the pictures of a singing Kirtland’s above, here is a brief sample of his song:

Kirtland’s Warblers are a fire-dependent species, breeding only in young Jack Pine forests. They winter in the Bahamas. Their fascinating story was chronicled a few years ago by William Rapai, the author of The Kirtland’s Warbler: The Story of a Bird’s Fight Against Extinction and the People Who Saved It

The Kirtland's Warbler: The Story of a Bird's Fight Against Extinction and the People Who Saved It by [Rapai, William]

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Nashville Warbler

There were also several Nashville Warblers on territory and although they were a bit elusive I did manage to obtain a few distant photos of this one and a clip of him singing as well. To confuse the issue his song is overlapping the Vesper Sparrow’s, which is also below.

Perhaps the unexpected treat for me was a singing Vesper Sparrow. I have not seen these guys too often. A clip of the Vesper Sparrow’s song is below the pictures which were taken at an unfortunate distance. It can be distinguished from the Nashville’s bubbly song by the three introductory notes all at the same pitch.

Perhaps the birds most seen over the weekend were the huge flocks of non-breeding Canada Geese. This is only a small sampling of one flock passing overhead.

Below, a female Orchard Oriole on the left (you have to click on the picture and still look hard to find her, she is so well-camouflaged) and a male Orchard Oriole on the right.

Brown Thrashers were singing quite a bit too, now I’m sorry  didn’t bother to record one. Below is one very cooperative bird.

Now the challenge is to get through another busy weekend and a lot more photographs (and, I hope, a lot less facial tissue). I am trying to stay optimistic! Please have faith, I shall return, lots to share with you.

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Brown Thrasher

Singing Spring Sparrows

WCSP 5-7-17-7817Virtually every morning I go out to fill the bird feeders in my backyard before I leave for work, and I have been hearing White-Crowned and White-Throated Sparrows singing for weeks, but I never see them. Looking out the windows I am used to see them foraging around on the ground, but this has not happened. So yesterday afternoon, which was absolutely gorgeous and sunlit, when I went out to sit and dig up the patch of pigwort that has invaded one section of the yard, I took the camera with me, just in case.

WCSP 5-7-17-7820I was rewarded with the presence of three White-Crowned Sparrows and two White-Throated Sparrows. The White-Throateds showed up first, digging around at the bottom of the compost pile and then sometimes in it. They didn’t stay very long, however.

Eventually I noticed something interesting: one White-Crowned Sparrow was nibbling on a piece of spray millet that I had just recently added to the compost bin. I realized some time last week that I have been throwing out chewed-up spray millet every day with the cage papers and waste from my indoor birds, which means it’s been going needlessly to the landfill. It never occurred to me that someone might find the uneaten portions of this delightful treat irresistible.

The other attraction seemed to be little leftover bits of shelled peanuts. The squirrels probably get the majority of them but the birds have been onto this use of the tree stump for a while. I keep hoping for crows but I’ll take White-Crowned Sparrows anytime.

In case you’re wondering what the back view of a White-Crowned Sparrow looks like, here’s one shot from under the feeder pole.

WCSP 5-7-17-7809The weather is still unseasonably cool but that’s nothing for the sparrows. I’m hoping they’ll stick around maybe for another week so I can continue to hear their beautiful songs. Yesterday as I had to go back into the house to resume indoor duties, I was treated to a little late-afternoon/early evening chorus I wish I had been able to record. One White-Throated Sparrow started out singing in B-flat, then a mourning dove joined in, in the same key, and then a House Finch started carrying on with his busy song. No people noise interrupted their singing. This was likely a one-time experience I’ll have to keep in my head, but it will remind me to take the recorder with me next time.

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Bullfrog Break

Bullfrog 4-15-17-0899Bullfrog 4-15-17-0886A few weeks ago I took my car to the dealer for its annual checkup and then went to McGinnis Slough to see how spring was progressing. As I walked through the path next to the marshy area the grass started to move, and I determined there had to be frogs hopping into the water out of sight. After stopping  and waiting for a while, I was able to finally see some Bullfrogs and photograph them. They were capable of moving so quickly, I’m glad a few sat still for me.

Not a lot of birds present yet, but the Song Sparrows were abundant.

This female Red-Winged Blackbird was an indication that some breeding birds are ready to get down to business.

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Female Red-Winged Blackbird

Always nice to see a male Wood Duck even as he started swimming away from me.

Still seeing Ruby-Crowned Kinglets even three weeks after I took these pictures. I suspect the cold winds still pushing down from the north is keeping them from progressing to their breeding grounds. Have not been able to get one to reveal its Ruby Crown.

The male Belted Kingfisher below was busy.

We’re a lot leafier now, but the trees were just beginning to show some green for the robin below.

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American Robin

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There were likely more American Coots like the one at left, but I didn’t see a lot of them even skulking around in the marsh.

 

 

 

As I was panning on the Red-Tailed Hawk below it flew into the sun and even though it was somewhat cloudy that was not something I was planning to do, but I like the way it turned out.

RT Hawk in the Sun 4-15-17-0838One more Bullfrog shot. Who knew they could be so pretty?

Bullfrogs 4-15-17-0904And as promised a few more from the Science March.

Hope to be back soon with a report from the indoor crowd, the Spring Bird Count, more from Panama, Migration Central…wherever the wind blows me next (it’s unseasonably chilly and windy today).