Promises, Promises

I was determined to go out this morning after being tricked by the forecast yesterday which predicted rain that did not happen. If I had not awakened with a sore knee, I might have been tempted to go out yesterday, but I spent much of the day without too much exertion, focusing instead on my three-and-a-half hour cleaning chore last night that was made possible with ibuprofen. This morning I woke up to clouds and wind. Clouds i could deal with, but consistent wind gusts made it prohibitive to go out for a walk, because birds aren’t crazy about windy days. I watched the birds in the yard come and go in between gusts.

These pictures are from last Saturday’s visit to McGinnis Slough. Not a lot going on yet, but at least there was some sunshine. I went to the Portage on Sunday and have decided to make that a separate post.

McGinnis Slough

There are plenty of Red-Winged Blackbirds setting up territories. I also saw one or two females but they were not available for photos. Yet.

In addition to the predictable Mallards there were some other ducks but they were too distant to photograph. Likely if I had my scope I might have seen more species.

Gadwall and Bufflehead

No Great Egrets yet but there were at least one or two Great Blue Herons.

American Coots are always a presence here. They aren’t numbering in the hundreds yet but they will.

It was particularly rewarding to see a juvenile Bald Eagle fly over. The plumage is at about two and a half years old.

Below, a late, extremely backlit American Tree Sparrow.

Quick flyover Osprey…

Always love to see the American White Pelicans, even if they are distant.

A last glimpse at well-preserved seed heads.

Last year’s oriole nests are easy to spot now.

Just one more Coot – closely cropped and brightened up a bit to show of its red eye.

I’ll be back soon with my Portage visit and with any luck I will be going out next weekend, which promises to be warm, sunny and dry – so far!

Looking Back to Spring Forward

I started writing this post to coincide with setting the clocks forward, and now it’s taken me over another week to get back to it. But when considering all the photographs were taken a year and a month ago – on April 19th, 2020, to be exact – and I never got a chance to finish processing them until now, it’s taken even longer! I hope it’s kind of a sneak preview of what to expect in the coming days and weeks as spring unfolds at the Portage.

One of my first encounters was a pair of Downy Woodpeckers exhibiting their exuberant version of courtship behavior. At first I thought they were arguing! I have never witnessed this before so I’m glad I was able to capture it. If you click on the right panel and keep going you can see the sequence.

It appears I had way too many photographs from this excursion which might explain why I never managed to post them. Still it’s nice to revisit them, like the female Northern Cardinal below.

Below, often the first warbler to visit, a Myrtle Yellow-Rumped Warbler.

Surprised to find this photograph in the mix – likely my first sighting of an Eastern Bluebird last year.

An Eastern Phoebe, dreaming of flying insects, perhaps.

Another Downy Woodpecker.

Song Sparrows…

Red-winged Blackbirds…

I don’t think there’s enough water on site anymore to attract herons, but there is plenty nearby so I should still see them flying over on occasion.

A Northern Flicker showing just a little of its golden shafts.

There were two Yellow-Bellied Sapsuckers on this tree and one flew away.

A Black-capped Chickadee showing off.

A singular turtle…

An assortment of early fungus, moss and flora.

A singing American Robin

Here’s a Golden-Crowned Kinglet – unfortunately the lighting didn’t do its colors justice.

This Brown-headed Cowbird was foraging on the ground.

Canada Geese and the clouds…

Robins often seem like they want to engage in a conversation.

A Wood Duck drake in a tree. I remember trying to get this shot after I saw him land, with a lot of branches between us.

Mallards…

Blue-winged Teal…

So the Portage will still be slowly coming to life, but we’re warming up, the days are getting longer and migration has begun. Springing forward with hope.

Notes from the Thaw

This post started out last weekend when we could finally see the promise of large piles of snow melting. I went to the Portage but didn’t get very far, the trails were not really passable in my estimation. And I was hardly even hearing any birds. So I focused on trying to get a few pictures of the birds in the yard. The American Goldfinches have been enjoying the thistle socks filled with new nyjer. The Downy Woodpecker below was likely tired of trying to drill into frozen suet so he was sampling from the peanut feeder instead.

I finally got to see why there was an unusual accumulation of peanut shells under the squirrel peanut feeder. Because of all the snow and cold, it wasn’t practical to waste energy taking peanuts away from the feeder and maybe stashing them for later, so the squirrels have been hanging upside down eating them as they take them.

So here’s what the Portage looked like last weekend, at least as far as I got.

Creatures using the snow pack as habitat – self-styled igloos. I had some rats doing this in my yard, unfortunately. I don’t mind the field mice but I am sure my neighbors are not fond of rats.

Below is how the Portage looked yesterday. Still some snow, but not so bad. Bright and sunny, and even a few birds, although more heard than seen. I did see maybe 10 Red-winged Blackbirds but they were too far away to photograph. I heard them first. Some Robins were returning as well.

Otherwise uninterrupted blue sky.

A nice-looking European Starling…

I heard this Brown-headed Cowbird singing before I saw him. Not easy to capture high up in this tree but his cap is glistening in the sun.

In the Des Plaines River, pretty far away, were several Common Goldeneye. I am surprised I was able to capture them – I seem to be having issues with macular degeneration in my right eye so it’s getting harder to focus. Time to make an appointment with the ophthalmologist. (Yikes – I thought I was a good speller but I just had to re-learn that word. More h’s than I imagined.) I vaguely remember him suggesting there were remedies if it started getting worse.

A Mallard couple in the river.

I was trying to follow a goose flying around looking for a way to join the geese and mallards in the marshy area of the Portage that had sufficiently melted. I was delighted to find I captured the median coverts on the wings flapping up to slow down for landing.

One more thoughtful pose from last week’s Goldfinches.

We are going to have a few days in the 60’s before we settle back into the 40’s and 50’s. The overnight temperatures still prohibit things like setting up the rain barrels and cleaning up the dead stalks where pollinators are still taking cover. But the hostas are starting to emerge green from the ground. The snow pack made the compost pile that much more beautiful – I admit I had no idea what would be going on underneath it. I’m going to clean up under the feeders today and look forward to more arrivals at the Portage next weekend. I hope your March is going well so far. In spite of everything, spring has a way of insisting upon renewal.

Baby Bird Distractions

Pandemic fatigue. Winter doldrums. Whatever it was, I don’t know, but I decided a little over a month ago to let down my guard against new inhabitants just once, quit being the Grim Reaper during every week’s cleaning, and see what happened. What happened was inevitable, although I wasn’t too sure how it was going to go. I don’t think the birds knew either, but they quickly remembered how to take care of their offspring.

I was reflecting one morning last month after cleaning the night before that there were no cries of anguish which normally followed the typical Grim Reaper inspections: “I don’t know if it’s worth having a veritable second flock of baby birds just as a goodwill gesture, but for the moment, in the scheme of this incredibly senseless life we all seem to be participating in, knowingly or not, I don’t see any grave harm in it. I live here alone with these birds. I am fully aware of the consequences of adding to the flock, but I was also making a conscious decision that I didn’t want all the finches to just die away in a few years and leave me alone with the girl doves, not that I don’t love part of that idea – less work, less noise, less everything. But maybe it is in response to the idea that there would be less to do – which is inevitable anyway, the older I get – that I decided to let the Zebra Finches have one last fling with immortality. I can live forever too, vicariously, through their efforts.”

It started with one fledgling youngster around the end of January, and maybe almost a week later, there was another, and two became three, then four, then five – and now there are eight. I will resume Grim Reaper duties this weekend so anyone who hasn’t hatched, sadly, gets tossed, but I am happy to have these youngsters to watch grow up and glad they have each other’s company. They are a lot smarter as a group. They are not all from the same clutch but I’m not sure if the clutch number was 2 or 3. Indeed the first bird might have been a “solo finch” were it not for the fledglings that followed later.

I managed to capture a fledgling being fed in the video below.

It turns out the first bird is a male and he is already starting to break out into adult plumage. I was able to record a teentsy bit of his subsong activity yesterday morning (see video below). Please pardon our mess. We are almost done tearing up what is left of two-year-old newspaper.

Below is a little gallery of images from the cell phone.

Outside, the snow persists. Below, a few images with the cell phone, starting with my back steps one morning and ending with ever-persistent Common Milkweed seeds.

Shoveling snow off my car…

And below the way the walk between my house and my neighbor’s before and after shoveling.

When I go into work once or twice a week and get off the train, there’s ice in the river.

One morning on my way to the train I could not resist taking a picture of the sunrise, even obscured by all the houses.

Back indoors with a few more bird scenes…

The Diamond Doves like to sit in the sprouting “soak” seed on top of the microwave.
The Society Finches love trapping a corn kernel under one foot to extract the insides.
The irrepressible Mr. Green.

We have yet more snow in the forecast, but we are starting to warm up so maybe it’s only another week or two before it disappears. I have heard birds singing outdoors: Northern Cardinal, House Finch, Black-capped Chickadee. Spring is coming. The angle of light intensifies and the days are getting longer. My birds told me sunrise was at 6:25 this morning. They were only two minutes early.