December Already?

I find myself taking stock of things and at the same time wondering how I got here.

I’ve been trying to get back to finishing my review of the New Brunswick-Grand Manan photographs, but it’s always a struggle with the travel laptop, so the task inevitably fell to today when I had some extra time, if there is such a thing, or at least I felt like I could afford it. Ironically years ago when film was the medium, I never would have had this problem. I certainly would not have had hundreds of photographs to go through. Okay, enough complaining. It only took half an hour to install a software update before I had to start and restart Lightroom several times. These are photographs from August 18 when we first visited the Sackville Waterfowl Park in the morning, in the rain, and then later we went to Johnson’s Mills.

The inclement weather bonus was this sighting of Virginia Rails crossing the path to feed their young.

By the time we moved on to Johnson’s Mills, there was sunshine. And lots of shorebirds.

To sufficiently stir up things, there was a Merlin.

I am always happy to capture a Raven, anywhere.
I must have known I would be processing these photographs late and would need want to see some flowering plants…
One more of a Semi-Palmated Sandpiper. You never really get very close to a shorebird so I am thankful for this image, however cropped it may be.

I hope to be back very soon with photos from the next day at Koucibouguac National Park – Kelly’s Beach. Don’t you love that name?

But this will be a very busy week, so don’t hold your breath. Our choir has a big dress rehearsal Wednesday night with soloists and musicians for our upcoming two performances of the Bach Magnificat on Sunday. The reassuring thing is knowing that no matter whatever else happens this week, music triumphs over all.

And to feel better after a long, mostly dreary weekend, I just baked this loaf of bread. Another bonus from a Why Not, I Have Time Day.

Raptorous Encounters

A pair of Bald Eagles at the Portage

It never fails, when I have no expectations of seeing anything unusual, something unexpected occurs. It began last Saturday morning when I decided to visit the Portage. I was on my way out the last leg of the trail when I encountered a perched Bald Eagle. And then a moment or two later, his mate appeared. I took way too many pictures, never having an unobstructed angle, and the birds were distant, but their immense size made up for the lack of proximity.

It also seems no matter how hard I try, I can’t manage a timely blog post. But before I belabor that point, I promise this will be short.

There’s always a bit of a let-down in the fall with the shorter days and colder weather, but the colder months bring a whole new perspective to birding and once you figure out how to stay warm enough, it’s the perfect cure for cabin fever.

When the eagles finally took off they flew north toward Ottawa Trail. I suspect they have a nesting spot somewhere or were shopping for one. I hope to see one or both of them again soon.

Also at the Portage when I first arrived, were two Red-Tailed Hawks, ushered in by Ten Crows. I have never seen so many crows at the Portage. Likely the hawks got their attention and drew them in. But I didn’t even know there were Ten Crows in the vicinity. A Mini Murder.

Ten Crows at the Portage

As it turned out, only one hawk remained to soar around for quite a while, at a reasonable distance for a few photographs. The light was poor but the flight was skillful.

On Sunday morning I went downtown to visit the Lakefront Crows and had a couple raptorous moments there too. Like this juvenile Cooper’s Hawk…and then a Peregrine Falcon.

I will return with a full report on the Lakefront Crows and other recent avian encounters. The pressure of fall passerine migration has been replaced by encroaching holiday commitments. We always seem to be in a hurry. As we rush toward the end of the year… I hope you are finding some moments of peace.

October’s End

A goal for the last two years has been to get up to Goose Lake Natural Area and the Hebron Trail in October to see Sandhill Cranes. October weekends were flying by with other commitments and I kept hoping for decent weather, should I attempt the trip on the last Sunday of the month. I was rewarded with available sunshine and went to investigate. I saw only 18 Cranes eventually, when there had been a few hundred reported earlier in the week, but I was lucky to have three calling raucously and flying right overhead.

My start down the eastward Hebron Trail, which is a gravel trail built on an old railroad bed, yielded a flurry of Cedar Waxwings, Robins and Starlings at the start.

Hebron Trail
Cedar Waxwing
European Starling

The more often I visit this place, the more I fall in love with it. But it takes me an hour and a half to drive up there, no matter which way I go. The first time or two I wasn’t sure I was ever going to find it, but now I know the route and the landmarks and it’s easy – just a long haul.

Not long after I reached the end of the tree-lined part of the trail, I saw this male Northern Harrier fly across the field and then maybe twenty minutes later it flew by right in front of me.

Sparrow migration is in full force and I saw plenty of sparrows to prove it. It was especially nice to see the Vesper and Savannah Sparrows. Also this was my first American Tree Sparrow of the season. Since I’m already over seeing Juncos come back, I see no problem welcoming the Tree Sparrows, as both species herald the return of colder months.

Vesper Sparrow
Savannah Sparrow
American Tree Sparrow

There weren’t a lot of birds in the water, mainly American Coots. There were some Pied-Billed Grebes, but they were too far away to capture adequately.

American Coots

As I went through my photographs last Sunday, I realized I still had photos from my last visit back at the end of July, when I wondered if there were any Yellow-Headed Blackbirds left. I’m including some of those photos below.

Yellow-Headed Blackbird (female)
Song Sparrow
American Goldfinch
This Halloween Pennant would have been much more appropriate if I’d managed to post this last week!
Another reason why I like this place – I always see Crows!
Widow Skimmers look even better in retrospect.

A couple more of the Sandhills… My resolution for next year is to visit this place more often, maybe even closer to the peak times for certain species. Either way, it’s a beautiful place and I am happy to share it with you.

It’s All About The Tides

Murmuration of Semipalmated Sandpipers and Plovers

This will be a brief post as I am still unpacking a few things from my trip to New Brunswick and Grand Manan. As good as it is to be home, part of me will remain in these vast, incredible vistas for a long time to come.

Our excellent guides Jared and Sarah timed our arrival at Kelly’s Beach in Kouchibouguac National Park to coincide with low tide and a massive concentration of shorebirds. The migratory spectacle at this time of year is quite phenomenal. Birds are fattening up for a long flight to their southern wintering grounds. They gather, forage and rest at low tide. Specifically, we were watching huge flocks of Semipalmated Sandpipers and Semipalmated Plovers. Let’s see, that’s a “fling” of sandpipers and a “congregation” of plovers. I think the experts estimated the ratio was about 3:1 sandpipers to plovers. It’s easiest to pick out the Semipalmated Plovers in the photo just below. When we first arrived we had several Black-Bellied Plovers. We also had some Least Sandpipers and at least (sorry) one or two White-Rumped Sandpipers.

The falcons are hip to this event as well, and periodically they disrupted the shorebirds, who broke into amazingly dizzying choreographies of murmurations.

It’s impossible to capture the enormity of this spectacle, but it was also impossible to resist the temptation to try. If you click on the images below maybe you will get an idea of what we were witnessing for what seemed like forever, as fleeting as it was. No sooner would one flock settle down than another from a more distant location was startled by something and it began all over again as that flock moved toward us.

A small section of one flock photo.
An even smaller section.

There were Peregrine Falcons and even a Merlin or two. I managed a few photos of the Peregrines.

Peregrine Falcon

Four days later, on Grand Manan, a couple of us went out with Jared at high tide early in the morning to see if we could find a Nelson’s Sparrow. We had tried for the bird the previous day but it was difficult to get one to show itself well in the vast salt marsh. The strategy behind getting up early for high tide is that the birds have to move in closer to higher land, and that might make the Nelson’s easier to see. Jared’s strategy worked. We got better looks than these photographs, but I am pleased with the images in that you can recognize the bird and the surroundings show off its beautiful coloration. We get Nelson’s around here from time to time and I have seen it before, but never very well, so now I feel like I know this bird.

Nelson’s Sparrow
Sunrise at high tide.
Semipalmated Sandpipers coming in for a landing.

I will be back with lots more from this trip, and I still have some images left from the Texas trip in April. Not to mention several forays from what now seems like a very brief summer. Some day I will have time for this! In the meantime, I hope you are having a safe and pleasant weekend, wherever you are, and especially I wish those of you in the potential path of Dorian ultimate safety and comfort in love.

Sandhills at McGinnis

Two weekends ago I went to McGinnis Slough. A bit later than I’d planned… weekends seem to be getting away from me, and I just can’t seem to get up and out very early. I arrived at the slough around 8:30 AM, so it was still cool. The moment I got out of the car everything else became irrelevant when I saw two Sandhill Cranes standing in the overlook area that juts out toward the slough from the parking lot. I didn’t want to disturb them, so as I started to walk toward the south end, I took pictures at a considerable distance. But later after they had left, I found the two feathers in the grass, above. I arranged the feathers a bit to photograph them and left them there. Once upon a time I collected a feather or two, but I have never done anything purposeful with them and it’s frustrating to inadvertently find them later collecting dust or stuck inside a book or…

Below is what the slough looked like. Overgrown and marshy. Very different from the flooded trails of my last visit.

Walking away from the Sandhills, there were some Wood Ducks at the south end.

I’m always happy to see a Monarch Butterfly, but then am saddened by the fact that I hardly ever see more than one anymore, anywhere.

There were plenty of dragonflies. Blue Dashers are still plentiful and posing this summer.

Below is an Eastern Pondhawk. I don’t think I’ve photographed one before.

Red-Winged Blackbirds are still a presence everywhere.

And it was nice to see Baltimore Orioles.

Some more Red-Wingeds. Those red epaulets really stand out in flight.

Red-Tailed Hawks. Flying together…chased by blackbirds…soaring.

And there were a few Blue Jays who were not camera-shy for a change. This one seemed to think the picnic table might have some promise.

American Goldfinches, so plentiful earlier in the year, are a bit scarce, but I attribute that to the fact that they are late breeders and likely consumed by nesting duties.

American Goldfinch (female)

I was unable to capture a dragonfly on these roses but they turned out to be attractive by themselves.

A glimpse of a Green Heron…

and a Great Egret. There were a few Great Blue Herons but they were too far away.

So that’s my little report from McGinnis. I’ll try to go back there before I leave for my trip to New Brunswick and Grand Manan in just a few weeks. But I’m still not done with the Texas trip! And I have to find a new bird care person for the indoor crowd, which is not so easy these days. Sigh.

Southwest Texas: Building the List

Vermilion Flycatcher

It was challenging for many reasons to get photographs on this day. The birds were far away. They were backlit. They were hiding behind branches of trees or leaves of cactus. It was somewhat cloudy. And yet I was surprised to finally go through all the pictures more thoroughly and find some images I didn’t know I had. Most of all, it is great to get a feel for the landscape where the birds and other creatures were.

Saving the big hike for the following day, we explored the low-lying areas along the Rio Grande.

White-winged Dove

Most of these birds we continued to see throughout the trip, like the Say’s Phoebe below. I like the cactus cover this bird was using.

Say’s Phoebe

Mexican Jays are stunning. I don’t think we ever saw more than two at one time. They were somewhat elusive.

Mexican Jay

We saw Roadrunners on occasion but not close enough or long enough to get really good pictures. Maybe we were too distracted by our search for less common species.

It must be West Texas – there’s a Greater Roadrunner!

Hearing and barely seeing a Bell’s Vireo is a big event where I come from, so witnessing their incessant chatter and then getting such great views was heaven for me.

I adore Ravens and tried to get photographs whenever I could.

Common Raven

We spent some time locating and then looking at this Tropical Parula. It was so far away I wasn’t at all sure I got a photograph so I was surprised to find a few that were in focus. So I guess it was good I was carrying around my monster lens most of the time, although by the end of the trip it was starting to fall apart…

This Turkey Vulture is actually kind of cute. Snazzy pink legs and face to match.

Turkey Vulture, posing

Vermillion Flycatchers were almost everywhere. I like the female’s subdued plumage.

I think Western Wood Pewee was a new bird for me.

Western Wood Pewee

I got only one distant fuzzy shot of the male Varied Bunting, bottom right.

We were privileged to have good, long looks at a perched Zone-Tailed Hawk. You can just barely see the trademark tail band tucked underneath the tips of its folded wings.

Zone-tailed Hawk

Swainson’s Hawks are beautiful. Without the monster lens I would not have captured this detail.

Swainson’s Hawk

The Gray Hawk is…well…very gray.

There were more Scott’s Orioles to be seen, but even though this one was quite far away, I love the vegetation it has decided to perch on.

Scott’s Oriole
The Rio Grande
Inca Dove
House Finch
Golden-fronted Woodpecker

The Cordilleran Flycatcher was a new bird for me. I wish I’d gotten a better photograph, but this at least gives me an idea in case I am lucky enough to see one again.

Cordilleran Flycatcher

The gray day didn’t do this Acorn Woodpecker justice, but I still think of The Joker.

Acorn Woodpecker
Some of the dramatic landscape surrounding the Zone-Tailed Hawk’s perch.

It will take me some time to process the rest of this trip’s pictures, but I get to savor my memories a little bit longer. In the meantime, we keep wondering when summer will arrive in the Chicago area. While I am glad it’s not hot, it’s been colder and wetter than I ever remember for mid-June. I hope your summer solstice is going well.

New Year’s Birds

White-Breasted Nuthatch

Yesterday was cloudy, cold and windy, so I did not go down to the lakefront to visit the crows. I decided to check out the zoo instead, only to find there were hardly any birds to see except a Downy Woodpecker afar.

Brookfield Zoo
50+ Canada Geese flying over the zoo

So I spent much of the day looking out into the yard for activity, and it changed over the course of the day. My official first-bird-of-the-year sighting was American Goldfinch. These birds have become my biggest fans.

It didn’t seem worth going out into the yard to take pictures on a gloomy day, so I took all my pictures through the windows and sometimes the screens as well, which gives everything a warm and fuzzy appearance, I suppose. It was the only way I could capture the interloper below.

Cooper’s Hawk (male) with prey

I am not sure what he was attempting to eat, but I think it might have been a European Starling. I’ll should see if there are any telltale feathers by the neighbor’s fence.

The Pine Siskins were still around, at least four of them. And one of my Northern Cardinals even made an appearance, however temporary. At one point I had over 100 birds in the yard, which became all the more evident when they all took off at once in a thundering rumble of wing beats.

But my most cooperative subject was the female White-Breasted Nuthatch who was hanging out in the sumac by the kitchen window.

The only species that visits my yard that I haven’t seen in a while is Black-Capped Chickadee. I haven’t heard them either. All I can hope is they haven’t gone missing totally in the neighborhood.

American Goldfinches and Pine Siskins

I am afraid I’m getting off to a lazy start this year. Naps were all too easy to come by. Choir rehearsal should wake me up tonight.

Happy House Sparrow New Year!

Best of Luck getting into 2019…!