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.

Snow Upon Snow: Cold, Snowy Continuum at the Home Front

It seems like it will never stop snowing. And it’s generally been too cold to stay outside for very long. I am not good with the camera if I’m wearing gloves, let alone mittens. So several of these photographs were taken from the porch through the screened windows.

The first significant snowfall – it was still January.

Two pairs of Northern Cardinals have been hanging out in the yard regularly. It’s always nice to see them. They tend to show up as a group later in the day when they are less visible to predators. Or at least I think that’s their strategy.

I don’t seem to see the woodpeckers as often but was able to capture this Downy through the kitchen window when he showed up on a sunnier day.

The one day last week when it wasn’t prohibitively cold, I went out to take a few pictures and found this American Tree Sparrow in the snow next to the dogwood.

One morning when I was in the kitchen I spotted the reason for the lack of birds in the yard – a Cooper’s Hawk enjoying its meal way down at the end of the fence by the alley. I couldn’t determine what it was eating with my binoculars but it stayed a long time to finish its meal. There is so much snow it wasn’t possible to walk back there after it left to see what the remains looked like either. I had to take pictures through the window as I would have immediately flushed the hawk if I had stepped outside onto the stairs.

My most frequent and numerous visitors are House Sparrows. I think there are often upwards of 50 at a time.

I’ve had more American Goldfinches too since I replaced the old nyjer with a fresh supply. The one sunny day I was out for a few minutes gave me the opportunity to photograph the bird below.

Through the porch window, goldfinches on the thistle socks.

I sometimes see a Black-capped Chickadee in the yard when I go out to fill the feeders, and I have seen some House Finches and Dark-eyed Juncos, but I haven’t been able to photograph them. I haven’t seen Mourning Doves very often. Sadly they are likely victims of the Cooper’s Hawks.

I don’t know when I’ll be going back to the Portage or walking anywhere else for that matter. It may not be for a couple weeks. I have managed to dig out my car in between snowstorms and go swimming twice a week. I have also been walking a mile to the train to go into the office a couple times a week. This schedule will likely continue. I am looking forward to my first dose of the vaccine next Monday. Beyond all that, my next post will feature the birds inside the house as we have some new, cute kids.

Farewell 2020

My last day birding at the Portage was 12-26-20. It was quite cold, but sunny, and when I finally found the flock as I was starting to go back along the trail on my way out, between my cold fingers and foggy lenses, it was a challenge to focus the camera on anything, but I managed to capture quite a few House Finches. We have since had our first noticeable snowfall this weekend, but I gave up on birding this morning with a murky sky and waiting, all day and into tonight, for a delivery that requires a signature. So here are lots of House Finches.

While I find myself sitting around a little stunned, trying to figure out what I learned from last year, it may not be too bad to simply give in to one’s existence in the moment. I photographed the House Finch below as it was giving in to an itch.

That puffed-out, put-on-my-coat look is an indication of just how cold it was, even in the sunshine.

There is no rhyme. reason nor theme to my post today, just a few pictures from my last outing. I managed a photo of the only White-Throated Sparrow I saw sitting still that day.

The only American Tree Sparrow I was able to capture, from afar. There were a lot of birds down in the dried grasses, but this one managed to sit up for a moment.

And one Dark-Eyed Junco foraging busily in some branches.

Even this Downy Woodpecker looked fluffy.

I think the House Finch below was a bit disdainful of my attention to him. He had been sitting facing away from me but finally turned half around.

The statue before and after…and the water was still open in spite of the cold.

An American Goldfinch in the clear cold.

Northern Cardinals are always present but not always available for photos. I’ve gotten lucky so far this winter. This individual became very cooperative. It’s nice that the males remain looking as red as ever, especially in the otherwise drab winter months.

A female House Finch, below, looking like she’s had enough of me looking at her…

It’s been a relatively quiet, peaceful weekend. The snowfall adds to that, absorbing sound. But as long as there is light in my house, the birds are singing…

December’s Portage

I had hoped to manage this post a couple weeks ago but I have been too busy at work. Saying I can only spend so many hours on my laptop no longer seems a valid excuse since we don’t seem to be able to do anything offline these days. So to make it before December is no more, here are photos from my last visit to the Portage on December 5th.

The day started off cloudy and quiet but when the sun came out so did the birds. Some Northern Cardinals hiding out in the open.

Can’t ignore a few Canada Geese flying over.

American Goldfinches will devour everything before they resort to my feeders.

More cardinal photos. Often these guys are skulky but they didn’t seem to mind me that day.

There were a lot of Black-Capped Chickadees that day, and they were not shy.

Sunlit American Tree Sparrow below.

A few shots of how the Portage looks these days.

I would not have paid much attention to the Mallards below, except that after being advised by my two Portage photographer buddies Steve and Mike that the hybrid was a “Manky Duck”, I looked it up, and apparently there are several varieties. This one appears to be an Abacot Ranger Manky Duck. Who knew?

A White-Throated Sparrow and two views of a Song Sparrow…

One more reclusive Song Sparrow

In the darker moments, all I could get of a Red-Bellied Woodpecker.

A female Downy in the cloud cover.

The bark on this tree caught my eye – and it was distinctive enough to identify as a Hackberry. I wanted a Hackberry in front of my house but my request was declined, I suspect due to too many underground facilities. But now I can admire this one. Time to start learning trees.

Last weekend I participated in the Christmas Bird Count. The weather was cloudy, but it wasn’t brutally cold and it didn’t rain. I may have a few photos to share.

We are beyond The Longest Night – which always reminds me of Peter Mayer’s beautiful song so entitled. I tried included a link to the song but I don’t think it’s allowed. If you are so inclined, do give it a listen on YouTube. There’s a lovely video with lyrics.

Wishing you and yours warm, peaceful holidays. May we look forward to 2021 with better outcomes for all.

Back to Mid-April

In my typical fashion, I have been trying to write this post for the last week and a half. So while we are all wondering how to get through the holidays this year-like-no-other, I feel a sense of loss too, even though I likely would not have had any plans to go anywhere myself. But there’s also a sense of opportunity in any day I really don’t have to think about work.

Even though it was a cool, late spring and in the middle of the pandemic, there’s something oddly comforting these days about looking back.The Portage looks about like this now – no leaves on the trees, everything muted in browns and grays – but the birds are different in appearance, and most of these species have left for the winter. I took way too many photographs on this day, which might explain why it’s taken me seven months to process them. I won’t be doing a lot of explanation…that might take me another seven months. just hope you enjoy the images.

It will be a while before male American Goldfinches look like the one below.

Out over the Des Plaines River that day, there were three Belted Kingfishers flying around. I didn’t do a very good job of capturing them, they were quite far away. But at least one flew close enough to be recognizable.

A returning Song Sparrow
A Blue Jay, blending in with the sky and the barren tree
Waiting to come back to life.

I keep trying to get a decent photograph of the golden shafts on a Flicker and usually fail, but this time I got close.

There were a couple Blue-Winged Teal hanging out with the Mallards.