Summertime at the Portage

I haven’t been out birding since Sunday morning and I likely will not get to do so until the middle of next week, but that’s okay, I am having a wonderful visit with Linda G., my closest friend since we met in junior high. Birds are occupied with their most important breeding activities which tend to make them hard to see anyway: we might get around to a walk but don’t count on it. But that’s okay, I have a backlog of photos from outings last week and before. These photographs are from last Thursday, June 23.

The forecast was for partly sunny, but this was plenty of sun for me. The temperature was not too hot so I think the birds were enjoying it too.

Baltimore Orioles were in the mulberries. The photograph in the upper left corner of the panel below is of a female.

I was following a bird later that was down low in the grasses and it turned out to be a female Orchard Oriole. You can see how she appears “greenish” compared to the female Baltimore Oriole in the previous panel. I am so happy to know Orchard Orioles are breeding at the Portage.

Indigo Buntings are everywhere – at least the males are still easy to spot. I haven’t seen a female that I could capture lately, but as the summer continues I should start seeing them and the juveniles. I have been seeing Tadziu on both sides of the bridge lately. Here he is perched in his original spot.

And now he also likes the very tippy-top of a tree on the other side. I confess I recorded him three times. He basically sang the same song in all three recordings but I just couldn’t help myself. I can recognize his song from a distance as I approach his territory.

So below are Tadziu’s greatest hits.

The Indigo Bunting below is an entirely different individual. He wasn’t singing for me so I couldn’t record him to compare, but he’s beautiful. I love the way the light plays with these guys.

There isn’t a lot of Squirrel-Tail Grass and I suspect it doesn’t last very long but it was looking good that day.

Below is some variety of sedge I have never seen before and cannot identify, so I welcome any suggestions. At least I think it’s a sedge.

When I got across the south bridge as I walked in, I noticed workers applying herbicides. I had seen what I think was a Forest Preserves truck in the parking lot. I asked one young woman if they were going to tackle the poison hemlock, and she said she didn’t know about that yet, but that they were discouraging Mugwort, which is in the photo below right. Apparently it’s considered an herbal remedy by some but it’s also very invasive, native to Europe and Asia. I think the strategy is to prevent it from flowering and producing seeds, which apparently can be as many as 200 seeds per plant, but it also has a rhizome root system, so stopping seed propagation is only one step in control. I didn’t dare ask what herbicide they were using, but if I see them working again I will get over my prejudices temporarily and try to be a better reporter.

I encountered a young rabbit that day.

I haven’t been able to identify this yellow flower yet but it seems to be a new one at the Portage. I will pay closer attention to the foliage on my next visit and see if I can figure out what it is. It’s so easy to be lazy…

This Chipmunk was nibbling on something.

Downy Woodpeckers are becoming a little bit more visible lately although they are still pretty quiet.

I haven’t seen a lot of European Starlings but these two youngsters were present.

House Wrens are ubiquitous but not always easy to see. I caught this one in a rare moment of silence.

Sometimes I get lucky with swallows, and this day had a few Barn Swallows swooping low over the duckweed.

American Goldfinches are also fond of the duckweed-covered stream and I think it’s a perfect background for this female.

Red-winged Blackbirds are harder to see, but this one was sitting so still I had to commemorate the occasion.

I will try to get back sooner than later but Linda will be staying with me several more days and we have a lot of catching up to do.

A Quick Note from the Yard

I will miss the American Goldfinches that have faithfully visited my yard all winter and into the spring, especially as they quickly figured out and appreciated this seed feeder which I resurrected from the basement when I could no longer tolerate a squirrel taking over the feeder pole (which you can see is leaning over thanks to the squirrel). I even hoped to get a few photos this weekend of the goldfinches and the House Finches on this feeder because they make it look like one of those attractive advertisements for the feeder itself. But yesterday it became apparent that an avian flu is spreading, albeit among waterfowl and not detected in passerines yet, and we are advised to take down our feeders until May 31st unless otherwise notified.

My first thought was that I would save a lot of money on birdseed. My second thought was that this was the perfect opportunity to clean up and restore the soil underneath the feeder poles which has been poisoned by fallen seed. I have a mountain of compost to work into the soil. It will be more of a challenge to remove the fallen seed, as much as I have cleaned up I can’t get it all. As for that money I’m saving on birdseed, I have already invested it in some seed catchers that I can attach to the feeders when I put them back up.

Of course I quit feeding the squirrels too and they are apoplectic. But I managed to do this for several weeks last year before the inaugural Berwyn Historical Society Garden Walk, primarily to help get rats out of the yard, and nobody suffered terribly and everyone came back almost immediately the day I put feeders back out. So as bad as I feel about stiffing my friends, they will survive. In case you’re wondering, these photos were taken on April 10.

Beyond that, there are two lovely blooms in the backyard – the only flowers so far. I thought I had identified this plant but now I can’t remember what it is. It showed up by itself and keeps coming back, but it is not aggressive, so even if it’s not native I am happy to see it. If you recognize it, please let me know and I will try not to forget it.

And the other lovely surprise is what I thought was the beginnings of a Virginia Bluebell that I planted from a bare root last fall, on a hope and a prayer, after I had removed all the Hostas from the back of the house. I planted Jack in the Pulpit back there too but likely it won’t take. I am just curious to see what happens. I was just out in the yard and this turns out to be more of the same unidentified plant…

Beyond that, I have my work cut out for me. I am going to start trimming the stalks in the front yard this morning in between the raindrops and tomorrow after I recover from “leading” a bird walk at Thatcher Woods in River Forest that starts at 7:00 AM which means I have to get up by 4:30.

One more thought. I am waiting to hear the official word on hummingbird feeders. I haven’t put mine out yet but there are reports of hummingbirds showing up in the state. I hope I can at least put the hummer feeders out next week. After the Spring Music Festival…

In and Around the Yard

The days last week when I shoveled a lot of snow – I think it was when I had gone back to dig out my car from the overnight plowing – I looked up and saw the local Cooper’s Hawk sitting in my neighbor’s tree. The last time I had seen it for any length of time was on January 22nd when it was sitting on my fence and then in my yard. I apologize for the poor quality of the photos below but they were taken through the kitchen window.

And even outside where things were clearer, I missed the hawk’s eventual departure from its perch.

I took advantage of the bright sunshine Tuesday and tucked around the backyard with the camera when I came back home. I was very happy to see the female Red-breasted Nuthatch in good light so I took way too many pictures. Here are a few…

I was also happy to catch a male House Finch at the bird bath. I don’t see them as frequently as I would like.

The American Goldfinches are still quite consistent, but their numbers are falling off a bit – everybody has spring fever.

You can see the feather wear beginning to unleash bright yellow for spring.

The birdbaths have become splash parties lately. Apologies again for the fuzzy photos but if I had been outside with the camera I would not have captured them because the birds would be out of the yard.

One thing the cold weather has been good for – giving me a break from refilling the suet feeders constantly.

I have had as many as seven Northern Cardinals in the yard at a time – but the time is always dusk or dawn. One or two cardinals might visit briefly during the middle of the day but they tend to not stay long enough for me to capture. So I am stuck with a fuzzy through the porch windows picture.

I’ve been out for walks a few times with not a lot happening, but there are moments when winter seems to be slowly losing its grip. The forecast for snow late tonight is to become rain by morning. While I hope the now-dirty snow will be washed away, things could get a bit muddy. But I have already heard some birds singing. And our choir may join them soon. We had our first in-person rehearsal last night since December.

Snow – and a New Yard Bird

Yesterday I devoted practically the entire day to dealing with the snow. It snowed overnight and didn’t stop until around 1:30 yesterday afternoon, although by that time it was pretty much down to flurries. I went out early to do the first shoveling of the walks and went out again a couple hours later, then picked up a camera every now and then to see if I could get any pictures. This is more snow than we got last week but not anything near what has transpired on the East Coast. I hope everyone stays safe and warm through the “Bomb Cyclone” Nor’easter.

Earlier I tried to get photographs with the mirrorless camera but it wouldn’t focus well. I apologize for those few fuzzies I have included here. Later I went out with the Canon and as I was still on the back porch, a nuthatch landed on the peanut feeder. I started taking photos through the screened windows and realized later that this was a Red-breasted Nuthatch and, to my knowledge, a new bird for my yard. I wonder how many other species come to the yard that I have never seen…

Red-breasted Nuthatch (female)

Two views of the snow in the yard – earlier, cloudy and through the windows, and later when the sun was shining and I was outside.

A few views of the snow in the front yard, courtesy of my cell phone camera, and a longer view of the back.

The sun peeking through the clouds…

I continue to have American Goldfinches consistently in the yard with up to 40 or so of them in the early morning hours while the feeders are still fairly well-stocked. They stop by off and on all day until about an hour and a half before sunset.

Of course I have a lot of House Sparrows too…And there are House Finches and Cardinals but it’s been hard to capture them. I’ll keep trying.

Grey Squirrel

I came in from the yard yesterday and found some of my Zebra Finches hanging out in the kitchen window where they like to sit and soak up the afternoon sun. I have closely cropped out as much of the dirty window as I can, but I will try to clean the window before I take any more pictures of them. My excuse for this is somewhat practical – nobody flies into the windows from either side of them.

I had no idea what I was going to do today until I got up, but it turned out to be a nice morning so I took a drive up to LaBagh Woods to see Common Redpolls. I will be back with a report later today or tomorrow.

Deep Freeze

I wasn’t going out today. At least not for a walk. I got out of bed later than usual. The birds were waiting to be fed as the bright sunshine poured through the east windows. By the time I got done feeding everyone I had convinced myself the sun was shining and there was no reason not to go for a walk, so I put on extra layers and drove over to the Portage where I was the only car in the lot.

Plenty of people had been there yesterday after the snow. Yesterday wasn’t such a bad day by comparison but I was preoccupied with the snow and stayed home. This morning we were in the single digits. But the sun was shining and there was no wind to speak of. So I walked – and I’m glad I did. My mind and body seem to need this.

Below, footprints in the snow that preceded my visit. But still better than the ice from my last visit four days earlier.

There were not a lot of birds on either day, but I was delighted to see an albeit rather distant American Kestrel land on top of a tree this morning just as I approached the first bridge. I took several photographs like the one below and then managed to capture its departure.

The first bridge

I always take photos of the landscape just to see how it changes with the seasons… There seemed to be a lot of deer tracks across the frozen stream. And then there was a family of deer.

I was fortunate enough to visit with a greeter Black-capped Chickadee for a moment.

On the earlier visit with the little camera I managed to get the images below of Northern Cardinals and an American Tree Sparrow. I saw none of these species today.

Front and back of the statue – today with snow, on the 21st without.

American Robins from my first visit and today. You can see how much colder it was today by how fluffed up the Robin below is.

I also managed to get a few photos of White-throated Sparrows both visits. The closest ones were with the little camera – better weather and a less-intimidating lens, perhaps.

I noticed the wasp nest had a nice snow cap.

There was a Red-tailed Hawk on my way out, but it refused to stay put in its perch locations long enough to photograph and I didn’t capture it well enough in flight to reproduce here.

When I got home, I decided to walk around the back with the camera to see if I could sneak a few shots of my yard birds. They know me best for when they can expect me to fill the feeders. The rest of the time they tend not to tolerate my presence outside much. They are so exposed right now. It will be easier to hang with them when the trees start filling out with leaves.

The American Goldfinches are my steadiest customers up until about 3;00 in the afternoon. I fill up the new thistle feeders every day so more of them can feed at the same time. Every morning there are at least 30 to 40 of them. This is the first winter in a couple years that I haven’t had Pine Siskins visiting the thistle feeders as well.

American Goldfinch

House Sparrows…an exiting House Finch and American Goldfinch…and some Goldfinches on the thistle feeders. Those feeders were full this morning before I left.

I won’t know if I’m going for a walk tomorrow until I venture out into the yard. Dangerous wind chills are in the forecast. But if the sun is shining as brightly as it did today, it may still seem tolerable. I like to walk at Riverside which is a shorter trek lately anyway, and it’s on my way to the pool. Either way, I likely won’t be going out until something like 9:30. Swimming will be cold enough. I noticed Monday night that the pool has more pockets of colder than warmer water. Keeps me moving!

Winter Comes to the Backyard

We had to cross the 2021 finish line to get our first significant snow which turned out, thankfully, to be less than predicted. But the storm continued to rage eastward and wreaked havoc elsewhere. Suffice it to say we are cold and there is snow on the ground. And my feeders in the backyard have become very popular.

It’s been a couple weeks since I took the pictures below of the Cooper’s Hawk – through the kitchen window, on the fence – but less than a week later I found a pile of Mourning Dove feathers in the yard – before the snow covered it up.

All these photos are with the little mirrorless camera. I am trying to use it more and it’s handy for the backyard. Most of the pictures were also taken through windows with screens which isn’t ideal but it’s been hard to stand outside and wait for the birds to come back in the yard lately.

The American Goldfinches have been back in numbers. I counted 36 of them this morning. I wasn’t sure how they were going to adjust to the new feeders but they seem to be perfectly happy with them and I find them much easier to deal with than their beloved socks which got dirty and full of holes too many times.

Some of these pictures were from a previous snow on December 28. That snow was wet and sticking although it melted away a day later. It was worth capturing when it was clinging to the trees and remnants of plants in the front yard.

Then on the 29th…when the snow was gone…

A very tiny Fox Squirrel appeared in the yard

I did manage to get outside for a few photographs on January 2nd. A male Downy Woodpecker was the easiest to capture.

.A few goldfinches managed to tolerate my presence.