Turn of the Year in the Yard

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Downy Woodpecker

Unwilling to venture out any farther than my yard this past weekend, I was rewarded somewhat when it proved to be interesting. I think if I were home more, the outdoor crowd would become used to me and then I wouldn’t have to wait ten minutes for them to start coming back to the yard after I have planted myself at a sufficient distance from the feeders. This past weekend the cold weather might have tipped my hand a bit.

AMGO 1-1-18-4028I am grateful to have goldfinches back in the yard. Years ago I had dozens, and then they dwindled down to a few. It finally occurred to me that part of the problem was likely niger seed that had gone stale after I bought too much anticipating their return. Fancy thistle feeders did not seem to be appreciated either. I would get one or two goldfinches, but I knew there had to be more out there. So this year, I bought a small amount of fresh seed with the Audubon sale, and got a couple new thistle socks. At one point this past weekend I counted 20 goldfinches on two socks when they were full. The socks are even harder to fill with frozen fingers. But the goldfinches really like these socks, so I just bought some more, and filled up three of them last night in the warmth of the kitchen before hanging them outside. Maybe after another week or two of coddling, the goldfinches will make themselves more available for photographs. The only one I managed to get, above, was taken through the porch window and screen.

The heated bird bath is a big hit with the House Sparrows and everybody else, and probably the best thing I can provide. I have seen a couple birds actually take baths in this frigid weather and I don’t know how they manage to dry off quickly enough when the wind chill is 20 below. Must be a dinosaur thing.

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European Starlings

I thought the starlings were gone for the winter but there seems to be a hardy bunch hanging out in the yard for the daily offering of peanut pieces.NOCA 1-1-18-3970I couldn’t quite figure out what the cardinal was up to in the snow, and he was at a fuzzy distance, but I couldn’t resist his red.

 

At one point I went back out later New Year’s Day, I heard a lot of cawing and found four crows in a tree a block away across the alley. I suspected they were harassing a raptor but I didn’t see their target.

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I went back inside after walking around the block. A bit later, I looked out the kitchen door window to see the raptor below sitting in the same tree the crows had been in. I managed to get my large lens out for a better look.

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Red-Shouldered Hawk

I had seen the Red-Shouldered a couple times in the neighborhood around the end of November. The first time I was on my way to work and it was calling from its perch on a different tree, so I was able to identify it as much by sound as sight. Now it seems it’s taken up residence for the winter. This is exciting to me because it’s not a bird I have seen very often anywhere, so maybe I’ll get more familiar with this species thanks to this individual.

But just as I was done taking that picture, the Cooper’s Hawk below flew into my yard and then quickly perched on a fence in my neighbor’s yard. Needless to say everybody else assumed hiding mode. I only wish the Cooper’s had found a more attractive perch.

COHA 1-1-18-4111Two of my Diamond Doves were sitting soaking up the sun that poured into the kitchen window. I wonder what they thought of all the strange yard activity.

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Diamond Doves

I will be back soon with another post from Ecuador and a visual break from winter.

Humming into 2018

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Bronzy Inca

Happy New Year. Here we are, 2018, we made it out of 2017. I made bread last night and I’m making quinoa pumpkin soup today. Some things never change. Beyond that, almost all my resolutions are on ice until I feel like I’ve thawed out enough. I’ve had my long underwear on all day to deal with the sub-zero wind chills every time I visit the backyard. Perhaps due to the severe cold, it’s been a fairly relaxing weekend, mostly indoors, with time to revisit the pictures from Ecuador, and when reflection or identification becomes too cumbersome, I happily doze off under the comforter.

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Sword-billed Hummingbird

I’ve decided to devote this post to some hummingbirds seen on the trip. The Chestnut-breasted Coronets were everywhere and often bullies at the feeders, which made it easy to try to ignore them, but on the other hand they made themselves available for a lot of pictures, so I obliged.

The Fawn-Breasted Brilliants were not so easy to intimidate, like the one in the top left picture of the mosaic above.

I had almost forgotten the Buff-tailed Coronets but was happy to find pictures of them from the beginning of the trip, several of which are below.

Collared Incas were common and holding up their own at the feeders too.

The White-Bellied Woodstar is just plain cute, and I think he knows it.

The female of the species is charming as well.

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Female White-Bellied Woodstar

Not all the hummers were at feeders, like the next three below.

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Viridian Metaltail

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Shining Sunbeam, not so shining in the rain

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Sparkling Violetear

I love the Speckled Hummingbird too. Its facial markings make it easy to recognize.

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Speckled Hummingbird

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I can’t figure this guy out unless it’s a Long-tailed Sylph without the long tail.

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Black-tailed Trainbearer

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Buff-tailed Coronet

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Two Buff-tailed Coronets getting feisty

Two more feeder shots with a nice flower that was also hard to ignore.

More colorful photographs from Ecuador to come. This is turning into the perfect antidote to a harsh winter.

Flowers 11-21-2017-0152I hope you are safe and warm wherever you are and may your year be off to a good start.

Embracing Zero

NOCA 12-25-17-3476Well, maybe more like Enduring Zero. Sitting inside reliving Ecuador did not seem to be the best way to spend Christmas Day, so I went out for a walk through the Portage and later visited with the yard birds. We had snow on Christmas Eve so the setting was perfect, and if a little cold, at least the sun was shining in the morning. Little did I know at the time that Christmas Day’s weather would be considered balmy by the next day’s standard. And this morning I walked to the train in -4 degrees Fahrenheit, before the wind chill.

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Deer tracks in the snow at the Chicago Portage

I drove around for 40 minutes to various Cook County Forest Preserves beyond the Portage, all with closed parking lots. I am not fond of driving but it was pleasant enough listening and singing along with a Peter Mayer (from Minnesota) CD, and there were hardly any cars and the sun was shining brightly. When I did returned to find the Portage parking lot open, I was the only visitor. The trails were covered the deer tracks.

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White-Throated Sparrow

When I did find a few birds, for the most part they were half hidden.

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The most commanding presence was snow covering everything. Beyond that, I found a few geese and ducks on the Des Plaines River.

Just as I was leaving, an adult Bald Eagle flew over. I didn’t get a picture, but below is a juvenile from last week’s Christmas Count on the Fox River.

BAEA 12-16-17-3400I decided to go home, fill the feeders and hang out with whoever showed up in the yard.

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House Sparrows have learned to hang upside down if necessary…

There were a number of House Finches, and although the light was waning, I was surprised to see the males looking as red as they did.

 

HOFI 12-25-17-3667I am always happy to see Mrs. Cardinal and any hardy little Dark-Eyed Junco.

NOCA 12-25-17-3632DEJU 12-25-17-3562My male cardinal swooped in for a remaining hawthorn berry and posed with it. As if to verify his supreme redness.

NOCA 12-25-17-3657I still have the weather for Quito on my phone. The temperature seems to stay around 58-60 degrees. I think it’s time to go back to the pictures from Ecuador. If you made it this far, your reward is three pictures of Long-Tailed Sylphs. More to come in the next post.

Long-tailed Sylph 11-25-17-0813Long-tailed Sylph 11-25-17-0817Long-tailed Sylph 11-25-17-0801I find some satisfaction in knowing the days are already getting longer.

Home At Last

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Chestnut-Breasted Coronet

I’ve been home in body for almost three weeks, but my soul remains in Ecuador.Paramo 11-19-17-0434Paramo 11-19-17-0437

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Cotopaxi Volcano

Coming back to a busy work schedule, holiday pressures, choir commitments has made it challenging to get through the photographs. I still have to ferret out most of the bird pictures, although I have been reviewing them every chance I get to put up on Field Guides’ webpage, since I feel an obligation to the group as I was the primary picture-taker. On top of that pressure is the reality that it takes twice as long to process the pictures on my newer MacBook Pro, designated the “travel laptop,” which is where the bulk of the pictures reside. We’ll be visiting those pictures soon, I hope. In the meantime, here is a sampling of what I downloaded to my older laptop after I got home.

 

Paramo 11-19-17-0422The irresistible landscape is part of Cayambe-Coca National Park, which we visited on our way from Quito to our first night’s stay at Guango Lodge in Papallacta. Guango was the magical place I stayed at for one night last year on the way down to the Amazon.

I could easily return to this part of the world just to explore the plant life.

Paramo 11-19-17-0461In this quick post I am adding a few bird photos of species we saw practically every day. Below on the left is a Speckled Hummingbird.

Not a hummingbird, but an irresistible flycatcher, the Cinnamon Flycatcher was also on the list almost every day.

Below is a tiny leaf-colored insect on a large leaf to give you an idea of scale, and a closer crop of the creature itself.

More amazing plant life from the paramo and montane cloud forest. According to Wikipedia there are over 100 species of endemic plants here.

A couple more hummer photos…

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Chestnut-Breasted Coronet

 

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Fawn-Breasted Brilliant

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Bronzy Inca

Below, a Chestnut-Breasted Coronet emerging from the flowers.Chestnut-Breasted Coronet 11-21-17-0501And a Fawn-Breasted Brilliant, Chestnut-Breasted Coronet and a mystery bird with its back to us at the feeder.3 Hummers 11-21-17-0473I will be back soon, the three-day weekend will offer more time to get caught up here and try to visit everyone else’s blogs I have not managed to see. I wish you all a joyous and peaceful holiday.

 

Battening Down the Hatches

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Dark-Eyed Junco

The cold is upon us. The possibility of winter seems suddenly everywhere. I wrote those two sentences two days ago, hoping I would want to change them, but we are heading into freezing temperatures overnight, so I may as well say “stet.”

Very busy at work, no weekday birding, and the weekends have been either rained out or too preoccupied as well. So here are a few pictures from a little time spent in the backyard the last couple weekends. Likely I will continue to see most of these birds, but the backdrop has already started changing.

I decided to not ignore the House Sparrows just because there are so many of them. Whether hanging out with a Mourning Dove above, or preening, hanging out at the bird bath, or eating peanuts below, House Sparrows, however ubiquitous, can be charming in their own right.

Preening HOSP 10-29-17-6819HOSP 10-29-17-6944HOSP 10-29-17-6979House Sparrows are also capable of aerial feats.

My last sighting of a White-Crowned Sparrow below was on my neighbor’s fence two weekends ago. Also had a visiting American Goldfinch.

The last bit of color in the yard before the leaves began turning was from the sedum in the pictures below.

And I had a short visit from what looks like a brand new male Downy Woodpecker.

DOWP 10-29-17-6863The Common Milkweed proved to be very good for Milkweed Beetles.

My last butterfly was a Painted Lady. I won’t see them again until next summer. But the squirrels and the Northern Cardinals aren’t going anywhere.

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NOCA 10-29-17-7050NOCA 10-21-17-6800This Dark-Eyed Junco was very comfortable and happy in the yard that last sunny weekend day. I’ve never seen a Junco try to eat peanuts before. Impressive.

I will be busy these next few days getting ready to go on what will likely be my last international trip for a while. I’m going back to Ecuador over the Thanksgiving holiday week. So I may not be able to manage another post before I leave.

Painted Lady Butterfly 10-21-17-6765If you are in  celebrating Thanksgiving, or wherever you are, my best wishes for days filled with peace and love.

Winding Down

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Black-Throated Green Warbler

Last Sunday morning was my only chance to get out. Rain was predicted but luckily did not start until I left the Chicago Portage. Conditions became ever cloudier which affected everything photographic, but now I am looking back on what was then warmer weather with increasing nostalgia.

I had stepped off the trail to get a better look at something and while I was standing there, a beautiful Black-Throated Green Warbler popped up in front of me. In that moment I was thankful I didn’t have my most humongous lens which might have scared him off.

Below is how the Portage looked last Sunday morning.

Portage 10-22-2017-0066After the Black-Throated Green left, this Swamp Sparrow occupied the same spot for a moment.

SWSP 10-22-2017-9878The Black-Throated Green was unusually late for this location, so he earned a citation on the rare bird alert. But the rest of the birds were pretty predictable, like these three Mallards enjoying the open water.

MALL 10-22-2017-9940A Red-Tailed Hawk made a couple backlit appearances… If you click on the images you can see more detail.

I followed the large white rump patch of this Northern Flicker in flight until it landed far across the pond.

Below, two birds that herald various stages of the approach toward winter…a Dark-Eyed Junco, a snow bird, and likely the last Yellow-Rumped Warbler until spring.

The other likely late-ish warbler is the Palm Warbler below.

PAWA 10-22-2017-9951And where the preserves were crowded with kinglets the previous week, I now saw only one, a Ruby-Crowned Kinglet, below.

RCKI 10-22-2017-0116On the home front, after a short sprinkle but before ensuing downpours, my yard was full of House Sparrows.

HOSP 10-12-2017-0359But I did still have a couple White-Crowned Sparrows who now rely on me to put out some partially chewed-up spray millet sprigs in the compost.

WCSP 10-22-17-0383WCSP 10-12-2017-0374Hanging out with the House Sparrows by the back fence was a Northern Cardinal.

NOCA 10-22-17-0417Busy 10-22-17-0409A few House Finches managed to forage on the ground.

After weeks of preparation, I jointed the Unity Temple choir in our “Best of Unity Temple Choir” concert last night. We sang for nearly two hours. I feel we did well, at least if the audience response is any indicator. It was exhausting fun.

It’s still hard to believe that the milestone has passed, however. Without much time to reflect, I am moving onward to the next challenge, which will be at work tomorrow morning. I leave you with a contented-looking House Sparrow.

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Down by the River

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Juvenile Black-Crowned Night-Heron

I miss my crows. Terribly. I miss their inventive, gentle camaraderie and sense of humor. And their joy for peanuts. I will have to see if I can find them one of these weekends when I’m not conscripted to be elsewhere and it’s not pouring rain.

Crow LSE 06-27-2017-0782I started writing this in the midst of a constant downpour. Contemplating how I am getting more used to the new workplace. My mood improved about the new gig after managing to get out for a couple short walks along the river last week. Birding along the river wasn’t half bad.

It turns out the Black-Crowned Night Heron at the top of this post was a rarity for this time of year. I had no idea what it was when I took the picture, I only pointed my camera lens at it and followed it as it flew by. It was darker than a first cycle gull and that’s all I knew about it until I took the picture. And then checking it on the camera when I got back into the office I misidentified it, but kept thinking it over and later it occurred to me that it was a juvenile Black-Crowned Night Heron.

Below, a more likely suspect for a darker bird – a first cycle Herring Gull.

Not to be confused yet, at least, with the more prevalent adult Ring-Billed Gulls that have not yet left the area.

RBGU 10-12-2017-6332I got over to the Boeing garden a couple times last week. On Thursday I was faced with convincing two security guards that I was not taking pictures of the building, but of birds. Not sure if showing them my American Birding Association cap helped, but they left me alone after kindly admonishment.

I pondered a spy novel about a terrorist disguised as a bird photographer but decided it wasn’t worth the effort. The Yellow-Rumped Warbler above was still hanging out in one of the young oak trees. (No suspense in that sentence.)

Below is one of my favorite migrating sparrows, a Lincoln’s Sparrow. This one has been hanging out by the train station.

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Lincoln’s Sparrow

Likely the last Golden-Crowed Kinglet I will see before spring.

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Golden-Crowned Kinglet

A Gray-Cheeked Thrush…

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Gray-Cheeked Thrush

And a more ubiquitous Hermit Thrush…

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Hermit Thrush

The White-Crowned Sparrow below flew into a plexiglas barrier and then I found it hiding in a dark spot by some low vegetation on Friday morning. I called Chicago Bird Collision Monitors and then, following their instructions, dropped it off in their parked vehicle, after placing the bird in a paper sandwich bag I have been carrying around for weeks just for this very purpose. It was taken with other survivors to Willowbrook Wildlife Center for rest and rehabilitation.

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White-Throated Sparrow requiring help

Below, another White-Throated Sparrow and a Hermit Thrush foraging in the not-so-pristine leaf litter at Boeing.

Thursday was the last time I saw the Blackpoll Warbler that was there for a few days.

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Blackpoll Warbler

At last we are experiencing fall-like weather, finally, following the spate of weekend thunderstorms. As the weather changes, so will migration. I hope to find more birds following the river’s path.

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Ring-Billed Gull