Open Windows Weekend

The events of this past weekend have made me even more aware of whatever beauty remains on this planet, and it’s hard not to want to hold on for dear life. As everything changes and challenges one’s perceptions of reality, it’s almost amazing to find and appreciate what is still intact.  The weather was relatively cool and dry, which made it perfect for leaving the windows open. I never turned on the air, and with the intermittent cloud cover and breezes the birds and I were quite comfortable both days.

For future reference, I keep meaning to get around to a post about the indoor crowd but for the moment all I have to share is a couple quick pictures when I came back into the kitchen from the yard and the Zebra Finches were playing in the kitchen sink. This is their favorite weekend pastime, as I keep the door to the kitchen closed during the week when I go to work. My last flock did the same thing. The other totally instinctive behavior seems to be the chorus response after I open one squeaky drawer… Anyway, the little brown and white Zebra Finch is one of the last hatchers and I must admit she had me quite confused until her orange bill and feet came in. I’m finding the color variation quite interesting. A standard-looking male Zebra Finch is on the left, and the plainer-looking bird behind her on the right is a normal hen.

Not a lot going on in the backyard. But it’s always nice to see a female cardinal or a male goldfinch.

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Thanks to Jason at Gardeninacity for making me more aware of two flowering plants in my front yard this past week, Nodding Wild Onion and Wild Petunia.

Saturday morning I went to McGinnis Slough just to see what was going on. Although it was remarkably un-buggy on the ground, there must have been plenty of insects in the air, because swallows and Chimney Swifts were feeding in full force.

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Mostly Barn Swallows, McGinnis Slough

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Barn Swallows on break

Northern Rough-Winged Swallows and Barn Swallows were flying low over the marshy area which was covered in dried out water lilies or whatever they are, I can’t really tell.

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McGinnis 08-12-17-7664At first I didn’t see many Chimney Swifts, but then they seemed to be everywhere, even though they wouldn’t pose for a group photo.

I heard the Red-Tailed Hawk first, and then there it was soaring above me.

No butterflies. There were Meadowhawk dragonflies but they were too busy for photos as well. So I settled for this bee-like individual on what appears to be Field Sow-Thistle.

Flower McGinnis 08-12-17-7525I couldn’t leave without a photograph of some Swamp Rose Mallow, even though there didn’t seem to be as much as previous years.

One more look at the Red-Tailed Hawk.

RTHA McGinnis 08-12-17-7576Linda and I had a lovely time playing music at the Second Unitarian Church on Sunday. We performed “Spiegel im Spiegel” by Arvo Part before the service began and “En Bateau” by Debussy later in the service. The Part kind of takes over and mesmerizes. But I found it much easier to play the Debussy after much standing and singing along with the congregation. And now we go back to choir rehearsal at Unity Temple tonight for what should be an exciting and challenging singing year.

Calm Before the Storm

WBNH 12-27-2015 -8762There’s a winter storm watch starting at 6:00 AM tomorrow morning. That’s hardly comforting seeing as how I’ll be leaving for work at 7:00 AM. Today we had plenty of clouds and some very windy periods but the sun came out for a little while, or things brightened up enough to draw me out to the yard where I stood until the birds accepted my presence.

Most surprising was the White-Breasted Nuthatch at the top of this post. I haven’t seen one in my yard for a couple years, but now I suspect it’s because I haven’t been around to look in my yard. This appears to be a young bird. It came calling its little nasal nuthatch call.

Before I went out I took a picture or two through the back window, but the screens always soften the image.

Much better to see the House Finches outside even though I had to wait a while before they came back.

HOFI 12-27-2015 -8541Two female Downy Woodpeckers showed up as well. The one below appears to be a younger bird.

Somebody is eating my upside-down suet feeder. I just ordered a new one after seeing this.

DOWP 12-27-2015 -8659Luckily the peanut feeder is still intact.

The squirrels have a new peanut feeder too that they have been enjoying. One of these days I’ll have to manage a video because some of their athletic antics are quite amusing.

The Fox Squirrel never figured it out. He’s stuck with foraging on the ground.

Fox Squirrel 12-27-2015 -8784When the House Sparrows show up everybody else pretty much disperses.

But it was nice to see a female Northern Cardinal fly in to see what was going on.

NOCA 12-27-2015 -8792Meanwhile back at the ranch inside it was business as usual with the Zebra Finches.

And I made my first two loaves of Cinnamon Oatmeal Raisin Bread. They were a bit larger because I threw in additional yeast that had been proofed without remembering to account for the extra liquid. I was just surprised that the yeast was still good.

Time for bed and whatever the weather brings tomorrow. We’ve had it too easy so far this winter and I have a feeling we will start to pay for it.

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Meanwhile Back Inside

Society Finches Watching the Snow

Society Finches Watching the Snow this afternoon

Perhaps the highlight of this long winter has been keeping track of the daily changes going on inside. I usually get a more complete picture on Friday nights when I clean the living room and swap out dirty cages for clean ones. Getting a feel for the youngsters’ progress, and the general health of the flock, makes the cleaning chore something I look forward to.

Like snowbound romantics, the adult finches have been nesting and reproducing apace. I may have already lost count. There are four new Zebra Finches as of last week, in addition to the original five which are nearly grownup.

It will take a while before I can name any of the Zebra Finch kids that have turned out to be males, but here’s a little video of the oldest one from last week. His song was still pretty shaky. Today it’s beginning to take shape.

The Zebra Finches are turning out in different shades which makes them even more interesting. I have never had champagne-colored Zebra Finches before and now I have two. Below is the newest one, with two siblings in different shades of gray.

3 of the latest 4 Zebra Finch Fledglings

3 of the latest 4 Zebra Finch Fledglings

It’s hard to get decent pictures during the day with the light pouring through the front windows but the basic idea here was just to show maybe half of the birds at one time.

Finches watching the snow 2-15-15-3772 Finches watching the snow 2-15-15-3771

As for the two birds not finches, my remaining Budgie and the Diamond Dove, I did manage to capture Blue and Dudlee preening each other in the video below about a month ago. There were a few nights spent together as well before Dudlee went back to sitting on her plastic egg nest in the kitchen. On days I go to work I carry her, sitting on the nest, out to the dining room and put her behind the sheet covering the hutch so she has privacy. When I come home at night she’s flying around, cooing and making sure I don’t forget to put her nest back in the kitchen.

In general, the kitchen is everybody’s favorite room. I don’t know if it’s because it’s forbidden territory when I’m at work or if everybody just likes being where the food comes from, or a bit of both.

Blue in the kitchen

Blue in the kitchen

On the Society Finch front, after Trevor and Tina created Treasure, who has since turned out to be a male following his father’s singing tradition, Trevor produced eight more through his couplings with Phoenix and Rikki. Seven have survived, and I heard a little subsong going on today with at least one of them.

Society Finch Fledglings

Society Finch Fledglings

Society Finches napping in the kitchen

Society Finches napping in the kitchen

The Society Finches live up to their name much of the time and hang out together in a tight grouping. What’s perhaps funniest is to see them all piled into a nest together for the night.

Gulls...frolicking

Gulls…frolicking

I will be back with some pictures from the weekend’s local birder winter social event, the Gull Frolic, after I manage to sort through them all, which could take some time as I try in desperation to figure out what isn’t a Herring Gull.

Home, Home on the Futon Part II

Zebra Finch w Fledgling 1-4-15-1684I’m really not spending all my time on the futon but it’s been a rough week weather-wise so it’s perfect to sit with my feet up under the quilt, watching and listening to the birds.

When I last posted about the indoor crowd, there was only one fledgling, a Society Finch I think I just named Treasure. In the last week, five Zebra Finch Kids have fledged, and they are somewhat easy to tell apart for the moment as they are all varying shades of gray. One in particular is much lighter than the others (a sibling of the first to fledge group of three), and the last two are quite a bit darker than the rest.

The Zebra Finch adult couples hang out together quite a bit, going on foraging expeditions, and then at other times they get into territorial squabbles that sound ferocious to my ears, but nobody’s suffered so far from being chased.

Zebra Finch Fledglings 1-11-15-0123I have noticed today that the fledglings are still begging noisily but they’ve been ignored at times. They have also started picking at spray millet and experimenting with foraging in general, so I suspect they will be weaned very soon.

The video has the new fledglings eventually all on one perch, and Arturo T. singing half his song at the end.

I have no new pictures of the last remaining Budgie and the Diamond Dove, but Blue Budgie sits in the kitchen and serenades Dudlee Ann, the Diamond Dove, from time to time. He is absolutely smitten with her. Whenever she comes out into the living room, he is right by her side. When she takes off for the kitchen he zooms right after her. She is fond of him, but feels a duty to sit on her plastic eggs. Last night she came to join him briefly on his perch in the second finch cage, but then left for her nest.

During the week, Dudlee talks to me and tells me when I come home from work that she wants to go back into the kitchen and sit on her plastic eggs, after spending the day with the other birds.

Society Finches and 2 Zebra Finch Fledglings

Society Finches and 2 Zebra Finch Fledglings

The Society Finches will increase by at least two, as far as I can tell from the sounds coming out of Phoenix and Rikki’s nest. I suspect they are Trevor and Phoenix’s offspring.

The nicest thing about all this is that everybody has settled in, we are comfortable with each other, and now I have birds born in the house again. I am looking forward to seeing the Zebra Finh fledglings turn colors, become either girls or boys, and particularly to hearing the boys working on their songs. Arturo T. and Ricardo M. keep working on their songs and they have fleshed them out considerably since they arrived fresh from the pet store. Arturo T. has the most lyrical song, and I have figured out how to put “Arturo, Arturo Toscanini” to it. Ricardo’s song is more percussive and I haven’t figured out how to add his name to it yet.

Zebra Finch Fledgling 1-4-15-1685

Meanwhile in the yard this morning the House Sparrows were all hanging out at the pool. My view through the kitchen window.

HOSP  Hanging Out at the Pool 1-11-15-0099

It is snowing again. Cold, but not quite as sub-zero as last week. I hope to visit my crow friends soon.

A View from the Futon

Finches in the Window

Finches in the Window, from the futon perspective

There’s a lot to be done around here and I am doing absolutely none of it.

View from the Bridge downtown

View of the Jackson Blvd. Bridge from the Adams Street Bridge downtown, with the cell phone

I was improving Tuesday with my right knee when that same night coming home on the train an unfortunate move put me out of commission, so I was forced to take Christmas Eve off from work, which produced little on my end except for a lot of indoor bird observation, reading the paper online, accepting sympathy from friends and succumbing to naps. I did play a little piano.

As I’ve been sharing a lot of time with the indoor birds lately, listening to the begging sounds of new baby birds has been the highlight of my existence. A reminder that I have to get better because I have birds to take care of. And I will do anything for my birds. Even if it hurts.

Zebras 12-21-14-9064 Zebras 12-21-14-9059

We were promised a break in the clouds for Christmas, after the promise of rain turning into snow did not pan out. The sun did manage to peek out from the clouds this afternoon, which greatly improved our moods. It has been so dismal and gloomy (or “glismal” as my mother used to say), I think we broke the record for days in December without sunshine.

So I listen to the baby birds: the Society Finches, who sound like you would imagine baby birds to sound, and the Zebra Finches, who sound like someone shaking a box of pins, that grows gradually louder day by day. I have taken to calling them The Pins. You can hear them helping me read through a little Bach D minor prelude (the last English Suite, finally). The next time you hear them they will be twice as loud.

And the songs and personalities of the new finches are starting to reveal themselves. I have decided to name the two male Zebra Finches Arturo Toscanini and Ricardo Muti, seeing as how their songs have yet to be formed enough for me to write them out and provide lyrics. Arturo has been working diligently on his song and it is the most developed. I suspect he is the alpha male. The clip below is of Arturo singing with a little Mozart.

I am also feeling a little better about my Zebra Finch matchmaking, it seems to be working out. At first I thought it was stupid of me to throw two males and two females together and expect them to get along, and they seemed to be out to prove me a jerk, but now they seem to be getting along more than they chase each other.

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Tina in the nest

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Trevor

 

Things were not so rosy with the Society Finches either. I had Phoenix and Rikki, the two hens from before, and introduced Trevor and Tina. Phoenix and Rikki abducted Trevor after a while, and at one point Phoenix seemed to be taking over Tina’s brood, but I think everybody is together for the common cause now. Tina is back in the nest, although when she does come out she proves to be a beautiful bird. I am looking forward to seeing the offspring. I have not been able to determine whether Trevor has successfully mated with either Phoenix or Rikki although I thought I caught him trying once with Phoenix. Phoenix and Rikki are finally over the shock of realizing that I am not throwing out eggs, as I did for months before with their previous crowd, but that’s a long story. Now I have all young birds and they should reproduce while they can. Below is a clip of Trevor singing with a little Mozart.

Blue, the Budgie, and Dudlee, the Diamond Dove, take refuge from the finches together. Dudlee manages to find new hiding places, and she throws her voice when she coos. I have a hard time locating her, especially when I’m less mobile.

Dudlee

Dudlee

I have simply decided that the only approach to the knee, besides seeing a surgeon for his opinion in a couple weeks, is to get as much rest as possible, do whatever physical therapy exercises are feasible, and walk as carefully as possible. Stairs are now a terrific challenge and I am trying not to mess up my other knee by asking it to bear all the weight. I suspect in part getting a shot in the right knee was a gamble because I now have pain at the point of insertion. But as bad as my memory for it is, I got through all this once before and so I should be able to do it again. And embrace the reminder that I am not invincible. There’s much to be done, or not done, while prone.

Lastly among other things I have had to give up since this incapacity took hold, I regret not making traditional food gifts for the holiday. I used to do a million cookies, but in the last few years I have tailored the baking effort to several loaves of cinnamon oatmeal raisin bread, but this year if I manage to get to it at all it will be for the New Year’s Day instead.

The only time I got behind a camera lens that wasn’t my cell phone was last Sunday, when I managed to get a few pictures of regulars who visit the yard.

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Downy Woodpecker

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I hope to be back soon with something more cheerful than a bad knee report. Hope your holidays are much merrier!

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Saved by the Birds – Again

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Costa Rica, much warmer than Chicago

The pain of losing my housemates upon returning from Costa Rica hits like a heavy weight as I prepare the birds’ breakfast every morning. I am still plenty angry too, but there is no gain in holding that inside of me. I had hoped to manage some photographs more related to this post before publishing but it didn’t happen, so I’ve mixed in a few photos prescient of the Costa Rica posts to come.

Blue and Dudley, with my cell phone last night

Blue and Dudley, with my cell phone last night

Not having much time yet to observe the new charges but very interested in their individual abilities to adapt to the new environment, the survivors and each other, I am pleased to report that so far, so good. I was most worried about the Diamond Dove making an adjustment – to be sure I have never had one of these birds before and am not exactly sure why I brought him home, except that I have a soft spot for doves, it’s a beautiful bird, and, well, maybe I even wondered if my last remaining budgie wouldn’t feel so put out if he was not the only single. The dove is more settled in every day, and even might have said something as early as Tuesday morning while I was putting food in the second large cage.  It was such a strange, loud sound and I wasn’t sure where it came from, but I could not connect it to anything going on outside.By Tuesday night he was cooing along with the music on the radio. I named him Dudley last night after Dudley Do-Right, one of my favorite cartoon characters. He follows Blue, the budgie, around, and may even have a crush on him (her? – too old to tell anymore). I can hardly wait to play music this weekend and see what transpires. And I hope Dudley gets more used to my real camera so I can take better pictures of him because he’s quite lovely.

Stuck in the office all day Tuesday while the reports of Sandhill Cranes flying over by the hundreds and thousands crammed the email–and I don’t even have a window to look out of–I was dispatched to Walgreen’s to buy some air freshener, so I chose the store that was on the corner of Randolph and State. Waiting at the light to cross State Street, almost before the light changed, I looked up and saw perhaps 250 Sandhill Cranes flying overhead – very high, and in a beautiful extended V formation, floating on the air currents, and felt redeemed.

Gray Catbird, Thompson Center

Gray Catbird, Thompson Center

Wednesday morning I packed my camera and lens in the camera backpack, because my regular backpack has ceased to fasten around my waist after the trip to Costa Rica. Even though I was absolutely sure I would have no opportunity to use the camera, it seemed silly to be using a camera backpack without a camera in it. I got off the train and walked 6 blocks before a woman stopped me to tell me the back of my pack was open! Not thinking (again), I slung the pack off my shoulder to check on it (I should have asked her to zip it up, I suppose) and the camera fell out onto the sidewalk. What More Could Go Wrong? was my sentiment at the time. But I thanked her, put the camera back in the pack, started going through the mental exercise of replacement/repair…and then, as I approached the Thompson Center, I decided to do the sensible thing and take the camera out, attach the lens, and see if it was still working. After readjusting the function wheel, it seemed to be fine (maybe that’s why those Canons are so heavy, they are encased in armor). I shot a couple sidewalk scenes, and then started walking along the planted berm which is full of scrubby little yews, cigarette butts, garbage, and birds – invariably a Rock Pigeon and House Sparrow hangout. Except a Gray Catbird jumped out in front of me and let me take its picture before darting back into the yews. I found my cell phone and reported it to ebird. I am glad I got a picture because the sighting is unusual for this time of year, as I suspected. I have checked every morning since and cannot find the bird, so this was its farewell photo.

A little more poking around produced one or two White-Throated Sparrows–a bit less unusual–and plenty of the predictable pigeons and House Sparrows. But then it occurred to me that if my pack had not been open, and I had not dropped the camera, I would most likely have walked right by the berm without noticing the Catbird. So the birds have triumphed again in making sense under even the most ridiculous circumstances.

CR Rufous-Tailed 11-9-14-4763

All of this chaos has caused me to sit back and take stock of where I am and where I really want to be. Instead of plunging ahead into the day-to-day-never-ending-existence that I inhabit. I am reminded of the more important work that I really want to get done–my work–and I am trying to find new resolve to make the time off from trips and some inclement weather birding count for something, for a while, and see if I can at least write the book that has been on my mind the past few years – if not the opera. It’s the least I can do in memory of all my dearly departed bird friends. I tried to take pictures of the temperature this morning with the cell phone so I could include them in this post, but it was apparently too cold for the phone to take the picture. As of 8:00 AM it was 22 degrees Fahrenheit or -6 Centigrade.

Two New Zebra Finch Guys

Two New Zebra Finch Guys (again with the cell last night) – awaiting Zebra Finch Girls

I will be back soon with pictures from Costa Rica, progress reports on the evolving indoor crowd, and eventually some winter birding in Chicago area too.

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Here’s looking at you, from a Grayish Saltator

Thanks to all my followers and commenters and dear friends who are a great comfort and also more inspiration to carry on. 🙂

A Sad State of Affairs

I got home tonight around 11:30 PM after a day spent traveling back from Costa Rica. I will write about the trip in future posts, But I feel I must come to the page about what has just transpired because I am still trying to figure it out.

Prior to leaving I was scrambling to put together better bird-care instructions for the new bird care person I had found. I trusted him to follow the instructions which came with pictures of how everything should look. The instructions were detailed and when I ran out of time to finish adding all the pictures, I believe I wrote copiously about every step. The pictures and these short videos were taken with the iPhone.

Breakfast is Readu 11-1-14-0496

While I was taking pictures of food preparation, I also managed to get a video of Zorro singing. He appears in the video above.

Sitting in the airport in San Jose this afternoon, I got a disturbing text message from the bird care person I had hired for the second time. He told me 6 birds had died and he was upset, because he thought he was following all the instructions. Two of them, he said, were the ones that were failing. I asked him if the other four were the rest of the Zebra Finches. He said yes.

Beau's Cage all done 11-1-14-0725

I came in the house tonight and was shocked to find only 3 birds. One budgie and two Society Finches. When I left I had 17 birds: Two budgies (one of whom was on his last legs), five Zebra Finch males, two Spice Finches and 8 – yes 8 – Society Finches, including my two little singer guys, Hector and Franklin. Neither one of them survived. I have found some corpses but not all, and I will not elaborate on where I found them. I have found none of the Society Finches. They were very young and the healthiest. I have two left, but I’m not sure if they are the two females that came with Hector or their daughters. Well I guess I don’t have to worry anymore about them multiplying.

Finches on the budgie cage 11-2-14-0803

But I am devastated. I cannot imagine what was done or not done to kill 13 birds in a little over one week, when I have left birds for up to three weeks before this. And I am wondering what I should do. My first instinct is to try to find more birds – not 14 replacements, but at least a couple young Zebra Finches that would reproduce, so I could have several little songsters again. But then I wonder if it is wise to take on another 12-year project at my age. Is this a sign that I should stop playing music for birds? Should I get used to silence and being alone? I don’t think I could stand it.

I guess I will know the answer when I wake up to silence tomorrow morning. It will take me a week or two, perhaps, to sort this all out. I will be looking for birds, perhaps, but I am not taking in just anyone. And I will certainly be looking for another bird care person when I decide to travel again. It won’t be any time soon.

R.I.P. Hector, Franklin, Gregorio, Zorro, Beniamino, Adolfo, Pietro, Beau Budgie, Marty, Johnnie, Isabella…and one whose name I can’t remember presently, if Phoenix and Ricki are still with me.