Home is Where the Birds…Are!

I thought I’d be returning to this page with pictures from my travels but my plans have been derailed by local distractions. It seems I cannot stand at the kitchen sink and look out the window for more than a minute before a Downy Woodpecker is on the suet feeder that hangs from the sumac tree.

I planned to go to the Portage yesterday, but the weather kept me home with 35 mph winds and gusts of up to 50 miles per hour and also flood warnings along the Des Plaines. I decided not to take the chance of being blown around the trail with the possibility of trees falling on me. The Portage is likely high enough above the Des Plaines River basin not to be affected too much by its flooding but I wasn’t all that curious either. Not sure if fear of catching or spreading a virus is making me more timid to take any chances at all. Combining the weather warnings with cloudy skies and birds predictably hunkered down, I decided it was advisable to stay home. But I would go out for a walk a little later, just to experience the wind at a safe distance.

As it turned out, soon after I was out the front door, three, possibly four, Turkey Vultures appeared, coasting about on the wind. They were sallying around the neighborhood for half an hour at least. Then when I returned to my front door, I heard a nearby Dark-Eyed Junco, and got lucky with one and then another perching in the little apple tree where they posed for a minute or two. I have been trying to take pictures of Juncos for months to no avail, but have managed the past couple days to photograph the ones that visit my yard. I wonder if the birds are more curious about me, now that they are relatively free of constant human activity.

Dark-Eyed Junco

Most of the photographs below are from one sunny day last week, March 25. I went out and sat in the back of the yard soaking up the sunshine. It was midday, not the optimum for light conditions, but outside was the place to be, relatively warm, hanging out with the feeder crowd.

Even the local songster Northern Cardinal made a guest appearance…!

On Saturday afternoon late, when there were no birds in the yard, I saw the reason why. I couldn’t get very good images between the lack of light and the window screens on the porch, but here is a very hungry looking Cooper’s Hawk.

Of course as I tried to sneak out the back door for a better photo, it left.

Below is a little expression inspired by the indoor crowd yesterday. I’ve titled it “Minimalist Zebra Finches” and, of course, they participated enthusiastically.

Minimalist Zebra Finches

The Mourning Doves below: I love how the male is “politely” chasing the female. I tried to capture how his neck was lit up in the second photograph.

It must have been the lighting – I was pretty far away – but this is an interesting-looking House Sparrow.

And there are worms to be had for the Robin…

Spring is coming. The days are getting longer. It’s nice to know some things haven’t changed.

Going the Distance

It’s a slow, steady drip as the bucket of What Next is filling rapidly and seems about to overflow. I keep falling back into the grounding exercises that keep me going. Bake a loaf of bread. Go for a walk in the woods. Chocolate-covered almonds.

I voted yesterday morning. I wonder now if it was worth the effort. After cutting my little voter ID card out of the flyer I received in the mail weeks ago, I walked around the block to the elementary school entrance where the polls were open. The voter ID was identical to the two older ones that were still living in my wallet, but I wanted to make everything as easy as possible for the over-taxed election officials. I have voted in every election since I moved here 19 years ago. But yesterday, I could not be found in the system. I had to re-register. When I did finally get my paper ballot, which was what I preferred anyway over the new voting machines that weren’t working, my ballot could not be scanned until some future time when the scanner would be operating. I hope things improved after I left and went into the office for the last time until further notice. I worked a full day and came home to my birds and to ponder my newly-enforced remote existence.

These photographs are from Sunday. The morning was cloudy so I spent some time in the yard trying to get pictures of my most frequent visitors. The Goldfinches are still dominating the action. I estimated there were perhaps forty or more of them, outnumbering the House Sparrows. That’s a thing.

The afternoon promised sunshine so I decided to check McGinnis Slough. As usual, most of the birds were waterfowl way beyond my ability to distinguish them, and I had not felt like taking my scope. There were pitifully few passerines. In fact, I did not see or hear one Red-Winged Blackbird, which seems very odd, especially after having them at the Portage last week.

There were a lot of Northern Shovelers, and I managed to get one in flight early on. Beyond that, the only “near” bird that stood out was a Blue-Winged Teal.

Rain is in the forecast for today, tomorrow and Friday. So I will definitely have to go out this weekend. The gym was officially closed for business yesterday, so I can’t swim. I am going to try to work from home, which is something I never did very often to begin with. But all connection now will be over the Internet entirely, save for the very few times I may have to go out and buy something. I have enough food for myself to likely last a year. (As for toilet paper, I ordered a case of bamboo toilet paper from Who Gives a Crap months ago and just opened it recently. I am not in the habit of giving plugs to anybody but they seem to be a worthwhile organization, donating a portion of their profits to providing sanitation facilities in underdeveloped areas of the world. Unfortunately if you are so tempted, they are out of stock as well, I just checked.) If I need to buy anything, it will be food for the birds that will dictate my immediate spending habits.

The weekend provided a little entertainment indoors. My Zebra Finches found interest in my socks, and I started to build a little musical interlude with Dudlee’s cooing for inspiration.

Here are a few more pictures from Sunday’s yard. I’m getting restless to start cleaning it up but we still have the possibility of frost. However, I suspect projects will develop with the enduring isolation. Beyond music and other indoor diversions, I need exercise and I need to go outside. Plain and simple. I’ll likely visit the Portage a lot more these next few weeks, to monitor the beginnings of Spring Migration.

Scruffy-looking male American Goldfinches are molting away into their breeding plumage.

I hope you are all safe and well and finding some solace in the extra peace and quiet that is inevitable with sequestration. I also hope your connections with loved ones are substantial and enduring. We can all discover a lot more about ourselves when we’re tested like this. Let’s look for a silver lining somewhere in all of this and the world comes together for the common good.

New Year’s Day

What a gorgeous day, to start the new year. The sun was shining brightly in a cloudless sky. It was quite cold and windy this morning, but who cares? I have something in common with the birds. We worship the sun.

It was nice to see the White-Breasted Nuthatch in the yard this morning. Also present were a multitude of House Sparrows, House Finches and American Goldfinches, with a female Northern Cardinal as a bonus.

So this is a brief post with some pictures from this morning and a couple from Christmas Eve. I have an embarrassing confession to make. I have been shooting with manual focus for so long, due in large part to trying to take pictures of warblers in trees, that I realized on my last trip I had no idea how to set up the camera for autofocus. Here I have all this fancy equipment with no idea how to use it. Duh. So it’s been on my list for the last several months to get on board with autofocus, to the point where it was really becoming a Big Deal in my mind. I needed peace and some uninterrupted time to sit down and figure this thing out.

Luckily there are enough videos and whatnot on the Internet. I finally sat down this morning at the dining room table with both cameras I’ve been using and realized that I was not that far off from using autofocus in the first place, it was just a matter of getting used to the buttons on the camera and what I was trying to do. Then I went out into the backyard with both cameras and started shooting. It took a bit of getting used to, but I really needed to do this! It fought me once when I tried to focus on a squirrel behind some branches, but that wasn’t worth worrying about. So now I can go to San Blas confident that I will get many more pictures in focus!

House Finch

Here’s a Hairy Woodpecker that’s been coming to the yard the past week. Or at least I’ve been around enough to see him. There’s a female too, so I can only assume they are a pair. This picture was taken through the window last week.

White-Breasted Nuthatch

I am getting mentally and physically ready for my next trip, trying to lessen the last-minute panic that always seems to accompany final preparations. Having the extra days off has been a big help.

Another one of Hairy
American Goldfinch

This is probably my last post until after I come back. It’s still hard for me to believe I’m going but Sunday morning isn’t that far away. Best wishes to all for the New Year. We need something to look forward to!

Late Summer with the Goldfinches

AMGO Yard 8-18-18-7721The 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.

AMGO Yard 8-18-18-7725I 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.

Cat 8-18-18-7833The squirrels seem to be distracted from creating too much chaos by a steady supply of peanuts.

Squirrel Yard 8-18-18-7825There 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.

Poblano Chile Yard 8-18-18-7912I really like the Mistflower and am glad I planted it in a shady spot between two trees where it’s filling in nicely.

Mistflower Yard 8-18-18-7908Below 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 (poinsettia dentata). 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.

Toothed Spurge Yard 8-11-18-7482The 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.

HOSP Yard 8-18-18-7808DOWP Yard 8-11-18-7508One 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.

AMGO Yard 8-18-18-7761

3 Days in Michigan – Part 2

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Rose-Breasted Grosbeak (Juvenile)

I was at Hartwick Pines State Park near Grayling, Michigan, years ago on a Kirtland’s Warbler tour, and immediately remembered the window feeders at the visitor’s center that attracted grosbeaks like the one at the top of this post. It was too late in the season to see a Kirtland’s easily, although one had been reported about five days before we arrived, but there were other birds to see and the forest itself is beautiful.

The Pileated Woodpecker above was actually not far from where we were staying when Linde went out for an early morning walk, and I managed, as always, to get representative but not very good pictures which I had to adjust for the backlighting. I think I’ll start now with my New Year’s Resolutions and plan to visit the places where Pileateds are seen more often around here, to increase my chances of getting a decent photograph.

RBGR 7-17-18-6903

Rose-Breasted Grosbeak (adult male)

So to finish up with the grosbeaks at Hartwick Pines’ feeders, the main attraction was the Evening Grosbeaks. Although they proved difficult to photograph I did manage the pictures below, which are of an adult male and I believe the one on the lower right is a juvenile.

The day before we went to Hartwick Pines we visited the Muskegon Wastewater Treatment Plant which prides itself on its design to incorporate wildlife and native ecology into the whole process. If nothing else it’s a birding destination worth checking out.

With 11,000 acres of varied habitat it’s one of the best birding locations in the state. In the fields adjacent to the water treatment ponds we saw three Upland Sandpipers. They were too far away to photograph well but I did manage to catch them flying.

I think I saw more Black Squirrels this time than I have on previous trips to Michigan, but it was still hard to get a decent picture of one.

CORA 7-17-18-7001On the drive up I saw a Common Raven and then finally on our last outing one flew over.

The wastewater treatment ponds predictably had waterfowl. It was nice to see a Ruddy Duck (left, above) and we had to offer proof of the Lesser Scaup (on the right).

MALL 7-16-18-6833There was no shortage of young Mallards in various stages of development.

Mute Swans 7-16-18-6798Mute Swans, albeit introduced, are still lovely to look at.

In the summertime birders flock to sewage ponds in particular to see shorebirds. We saw only a few and they were pretty far away. Above on the left, a Lesser Yellowlegs, flying top right, a Killdeer, and below it is a Herring Gull, which is not a shorebird but a segue into the next photograph.

Gulls 7-16-18-6801On our way out we found most of the gulls were on the road in front of us. We estimated 2100 Ring-Billed Gulls and about 100 Herring Gulls mixed in amongst them.

Halloween Pennant 7-16-18-6787Here’s another Halloween Pennant. I have seen more of these dragonflies this year and I don’t recall having seen them before. Changes everywhere, big and small, and I guess this could be yet another one of them.

Woodchuck 7-15-18-6710The woodchuck above was found by Marty, a non-birder in the group, whom we dubbed the Mammal Spotter. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a woodchuck before…!

SCTA 7-17-18-7015Our last bird from Hartwick Pines, the Scarlet Tanager above, offered himself up for a series of photographs. Those tall pines do their best to make lighting difficult but I could not resist trying to capture him since he was at eye level.

BWHA 7-17-18-6953And one more photograph of the Broad-Winged Hawk which started off Part 1, who was also at Hartwick Pines, vying for the Most Memorable Bird award.

 

 

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.

WCSP 5-5-18-2355

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.

 

Late Summer in the Yard

AMGO 09-07-17-5224

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.

NCA09-06-17-5137

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.