October’s End

A goal for the last two years has been to get up to Goose Lake Natural Area and the Hebron Trail in October to see Sandhill Cranes. October weekends were flying by with other commitments and I kept hoping for decent weather, should I attempt the trip on the last Sunday of the month. I was rewarded with available sunshine and went to investigate. I saw only 18 Cranes eventually, when there had been a few hundred reported earlier in the week, but I was lucky to have three calling raucously and flying right overhead.

My start down the eastward Hebron Trail, which is a gravel trail built on an old railroad bed, yielded a flurry of Cedar Waxwings, Robins and Starlings at the start.

Hebron Trail
Cedar Waxwing
European Starling

The more often I visit this place, the more I fall in love with it. But it takes me an hour and a half to drive up there, no matter which way I go. The first time or two I wasn’t sure I was ever going to find it, but now I know the route and the landmarks and it’s easy – just a long haul.

Not long after I reached the end of the tree-lined part of the trail, I saw this male Northern Harrier fly across the field and then maybe twenty minutes later it flew by right in front of me.

Sparrow migration is in full force and I saw plenty of sparrows to prove it. It was especially nice to see the Vesper and Savannah Sparrows. Also this was my first American Tree Sparrow of the season. Since I’m already over seeing Juncos come back, I see no problem welcoming the Tree Sparrows, as both species herald the return of colder months.

Vesper Sparrow
Savannah Sparrow
American Tree Sparrow

There weren’t a lot of birds in the water, mainly American Coots. There were some Pied-Billed Grebes, but they were too far away to capture adequately.

American Coots

As I went through my photographs last Sunday, I realized I still had photos from my last visit back at the end of July, when I wondered if there were any Yellow-Headed Blackbirds left. I’m including some of those photos below.

Yellow-Headed Blackbird (female)
Song Sparrow
American Goldfinch
This Halloween Pennant would have been much more appropriate if I’d managed to post this last week!
Another reason why I like this place – I always see Crows!
Widow Skimmers look even better in retrospect.

A couple more of the Sandhills… My resolution for next year is to visit this place more often, maybe even closer to the peak times for certain species. Either way, it’s a beautiful place and I am happy to share it with you.

Hummers, Monarchs and Friends

Ruby-throated Hummingbird (female)

After months of hoping for visitors to my hummingbird feeders, and seeing only one Monarch butterfly at a time, I had a few hummingbirds visiting and saw lots of Monarchs over the Labor Day weekend. The hummers continued up until Monday. The winds have changed again. I hope to see more, but even if I don’t, it was wonderful to enjoy their visits and get a few photographs at home.

Outside the peace of home, my life seems to be speeding by at a breakneck pace lately, so this post will be brief, but I wanted to share a few end-of-summer moments.

Of course, no sooner did summer seem to be coming to an end with a spell of delightfully cool days, than we were thrown back into hot and humid once again for the coming days, so summer doesn’t feel quite done yet. But oh my, how the days are rapidly diminishing in length…

The Goldfinches are back. Looking a little scruffy, but it’s so nice to see them again and hear their cheery contact calls.

I bought a new suet feeder for the woodpeckers to keep up with the demand and then one day a squirrel figured out how to open it, so now twist ties are the workable solution to suet cake theft. I’ve noticed that if more than one Downy shows up at a time, the “intruder” gets chased away.

A few more photos from the yard…

Snow on the Mountain (Euphorbia marginata) showed up by itself a few years ago but did not come back. So I scattered a few seeds in one spot and now I have a nice little group. I’ll be interested to see if it reseeds itself.
A young House Finch
A young male Ruby-throat…

My coming weekend is going to be very busy so I don’t know when I’ll get back to the trip photographs, but it will happen. My dove Dudlee is saying, “Who-Who” to that thought. I’m probably misinterpreting her comment as encouragement.

Sandhills at McGinnis

Two weekends ago I went to McGinnis Slough. A bit later than I’d planned… weekends seem to be getting away from me, and I just can’t seem to get up and out very early. I arrived at the slough around 8:30 AM, so it was still cool. The moment I got out of the car everything else became irrelevant when I saw two Sandhill Cranes standing in the overlook area that juts out toward the slough from the parking lot. I didn’t want to disturb them, so as I started to walk toward the south end, I took pictures at a considerable distance. But later after they had left, I found the two feathers in the grass, above. I arranged the feathers a bit to photograph them and left them there. Once upon a time I collected a feather or two, but I have never done anything purposeful with them and it’s frustrating to inadvertently find them later collecting dust or stuck inside a book or…

Below is what the slough looked like. Overgrown and marshy. Very different from the flooded trails of my last visit.

Walking away from the Sandhills, there were some Wood Ducks at the south end.

I’m always happy to see a Monarch Butterfly, but then am saddened by the fact that I hardly ever see more than one anymore, anywhere.

There were plenty of dragonflies. Blue Dashers are still plentiful and posing this summer.

Below is an Eastern Pondhawk. I don’t think I’ve photographed one before.

Red-Winged Blackbirds are still a presence everywhere.

And it was nice to see Baltimore Orioles.

Some more Red-Wingeds. Those red epaulets really stand out in flight.

Red-Tailed Hawks. Flying together…chased by blackbirds…soaring.

And there were a few Blue Jays who were not camera-shy for a change. This one seemed to think the picnic table might have some promise.

American Goldfinches, so plentiful earlier in the year, are a bit scarce, but I attribute that to the fact that they are late breeders and likely consumed by nesting duties.

American Goldfinch (female)

I was unable to capture a dragonfly on these roses but they turned out to be attractive by themselves.

A glimpse of a Green Heron…

and a Great Egret. There were a few Great Blue Herons but they were too far away.

So that’s my little report from McGinnis. I’ll try to go back there before I leave for my trip to New Brunswick and Grand Manan in just a few weeks. But I’m still not done with the Texas trip! And I have to find a new bird care person for the indoor crowd, which is not so easy these days. Sigh.

Summer Comes to the Portage

Blue Dasher

I have been going to the Portage just about every weekend this month, and I’ve also been working my tail off during the week, so it’s been hard to sit down and make sense of anything. These few pictures are the highlights from this past Sunday morning.

Right away I was suddenly engaged following a hungry vireo as it foraged not too far away, right about eye-level. It was a Warbling Vireo, but I had never seen such a wide-eyed one before. He looked surprised to see me as well.The Portage has five or more nesting pairs and I hear them singing all the time, but rarely see them. This is the closest and longest I’ve ever observed a Warbling Vireo.

Summer brings out lots of dragonflies and some other critters I don’t often see, like this Bullfrog.

The frog fanciers were present too, although instead of fishing, I saw them only perched or in flight this time.

Maybe you’ve noticed how bouncy goldfinches are in flight, they seem to propel themselves through the air, and that’s exactly what they were doing on Sunday. The only goldfinches I saw were flying, below.

Not seeing many butterflies, but there seem to be a reasonable number of dragonflies. And then there was this metallic turquoise beetle…

Juvenile robins are gawky and spotted and just generally at an awkward stage…

In general, the Baltimore Orioles weren’t posing, and if they were still for a moment they were still quite far away. They weren’t even bothering to sing hardly at all. Everybody is busy rearing youngsters.

Baltimore Oriole

After crazy busy at work I am looking forward to the four-day weekend. Weather permitting, I hope to venture a little farther than the Portage; I feel the need to at least attempt to see some grassland birds. But if the weather doesn’t cooperate, there’s plenty more to do – like finish processing the Texas pictures and those from my previous visits to the Portage this month. One cannot plan ahead anymore. The weather changes ever five minutes, so I am going with the flow. It’s been thundering and raining tonight as I write. Even if we’ve managed to totally mess it up, weather is still something we cannot control. Haha.

Portage Promise

Never knowing what to expect but full of expectation is how I approach the Portage on a regular basis. So arriving late last Saturday morning was bound to be a mixed bag. I stopped on the bridge to talk with another birder I’ve run into lately there, and snapped the photograph of the female Baltimore Oriole below. And then as I started to walk, an adult Bald Eagle flew over. I didn’t have time to capture it the first time but it came back and so the image above.

Baltimore Oriole (female)

As usual there were more birds heard than seen at this hour but I was content to see what I did. Indigo Buntings are still evading the lens, but I will have many more opportunities to endure their frustrating behavior.

Blue-Gray Gnatcatchers are abundant and usually hard to spot, but I found this busy nesting pair.

Tree Swallows used to nest here…this one looks like he’s thinking about it.

Tree Swallow

Warbling Vireos…I always hear several of them, but they are normally very hard to see. However this one was singing and perched at a comfortable height for me to capture him.

This is the time of year when dandelions get a bad rap, but I found it interesting to see a Song Sparrow eating the seeds before they had a chance to disburse. So there, I have proof that dandelions aren’t just attractive to pollinators but they are also a source of food for birds, and of course humans. We may need them some day!

One of the two Green Herons was hunting. At one point it took off across the water and caused a sunning turtle to slide off its stump. There were a lot of turtles out. Click on the images below and you can see what I mean.

A few more pictures of Portage breeders… I’m leading one more walk tomorrow morning as an auction donation to Unity Temple and the forecast is for thunderstorms. But the weather changes every few minutes. We had the same forecast for this morning and except for a few thunderclaps around 6:15 a.m. and a little rain, now it is cloudy but clear. I am hoping for the same sort of cooperation tomorrow, it will make dealing with the muddy spots a lot easier.

Red-winged Blackbird (female)
American Goldfinch (female)

It’s been a great year so far for robins taking advantage of all the earthworms the rain has stirred up.

Even with all the rain it’s still better to be outside!

Hodgepodge

My bird observation life has been peripatetic at best. Last Saturday was probably the best recent weekend day to go out, but I was at our annual choir retreat for three hours in the morning to prepare for this coming Choir Sunday. The weather was predictably cloudy and more miserable last Sunday so I stayed at home and took some pictures of the yard crowd.

I did manage to get out on March 31st to the Portage. Even though it was chilly and cloudy, I wanted to see if there were any new arrivals. For the most part I saw regular visitors. One White-Breasted Nuthatch was particularly cooperative. Perhaps he is related to the one who visits my yard on occasion.

The locals were all busy.

Perhaps the most evident Sign of Spring was seeing the return of a Turkey Vulture.

March 31st at the Portage still sleepy.

In the yard, I am happy to still have two Pine Siskins hanging out. I hope this means they have become regular visitors.

The Goldfinches are looking a little in-betweenish these days.

Not too clear pictures through the porch windows and screens but the House Finches are bonding. There’s a Pine Siskin mixed in the group shots too.

When I managed to stand in the backyard and wait for the birds to come back for photos, a male Downy Woodpecker made sure he checked out everything.

I still have a Dark-Eyed Junco or two, as of Sunday. And even though we had a nice warmup on Monday and Tuesday, the winds have shifted and we are back into chilly, windy gloom.

In a way I am glad I have not had time to start cleaning up my yard because there are undoubtedly a lot of overwintering insects I don’t want to disturb.

This Saturday I’m “leading” a walk at Columbus Park. So far the weather looks promising. I expect we will have a few migrants and with any luck I’ll get some pictures of them.

I’m looking forward to Choir Sunday. Our last rehearsal is tonight. We are singing a wonderful work by John Kramer entitled “The Immigrant Experience.” If you are anywhere within striking distance of Oak Park, Illinois, I urge you to attend either one of the two Sunday services at Unity Temple. Yes, this is a plug, but for a good cause. The music will be breathtaking.

With any luck I’ll be back to this page before next Saturday. Then I will be gone for a birding trip to Big Bend and the Hill Country in Texas. It’s been on my list of places to visit for a long time, and I wanted to see it before any habitat is destroyed by the border fiasco.

Freezing, Thawing, Snowing…

I miss the peace and quiet of the field and want to go birding, but so far I have only been able to watch the birds in the yard. And for the most part I was only able to take photographs from the porch, as it was not only too cold to go out during the extreme cold last week, but I also did not want to interfere at all with the birds that were relying on my food offering.

When it’s really cold the little heated birdbath can’t hack it…

Only saw the Cooper’s Hawk briefly and even though it was sunny, I couldn’t get a clear picture of him…

The goldfinches are holding their own and even getting a little feisty.

There hasn’t been much going on at the river either, which has kept me indoors. No large flocks of Red-Breasted Mergansers like last year. There were some a couple days ago but I haven’t seen them since. Most of the ice in the river is from the lake…

The day or two we have had brief but significant warm-ups, the birds must have gotten spring fever because judging from the full feeders they stayed out of the yard entirely.

Tomorrow I am attending the 18th Annual Gull Frolic. I am curious to see the lake, which was quite frozen throughout the polar vortex and the aftermath, in addition to whatever gulls the frolic attracts. If past years are any indication, the worse the weather for humans, the better it will be for gulls. We shall see.

Upside Down

Downy Woodpecker

Or downside up. I have a really good excuse for not managing a blog post until now, which I hope never to use again. As much as I hate the passive voice, I’d rather phrase it like this: my car was totaled Sunday night on the way home from a meeting – the accident was unavoidable, not my fault, and I am happy to report there were no injuries and I will be getting a new, safer (should I have to crash into anything again) vehicle shortly.

It was 14 degrees Fahrenheit outside that night and I was so focused on getting the police to arrive that I forgot to take a picture of the damage, but that’s history now. So is the extraordinary lunar eclipse of that evening which I also forgot about in my distraction, although I was admiring the full moon through the window of the squad car as I sat in the back of it to keep warm while the police handled the investigation and report. So there are no spectacular images to share with this information, and I apologize.

American Goldfinch and House Finch

Instead here are some pictures from last weekend, when we got a total of about 9″ of snow, but had not yet plunged into the single digits and below which is where we are now.

I don’t anticipate getting any clearer photographs this weekend, but I will still try to capture the two Dark-Eyed Juncos and the Black-Capped Chickadee that I have seen only briefly. It was nice to see cardinals hanging out in a relaxed fashion.

I hope to be back soon, maybe even with a report about the new vehicle. In the meantime, I wish you all safety and warmth wherever you are!

Snowshine

American Goldfinch

I thought I’d pay tribute to the past weekend’s snow which is still with us, along with ice and freezing temperatures. It was a busy weekend, but a relatively quiet break from swimming, hiking and my weekly chore which involves going up and down the basement stairs swapping dirty cages for clean ones. I had the opportunity to monitor visitors to my yard.

We are promised more snow this weekend and if the forecast holds out, a few days next week as well, so I may as well memorialize the last accumulation, which I find easier to judge from how it piles up on the feeders.

I tried standing outside to try for clearer photographs on Sunday after the snow had stopped and it was sunny, but the birds were having none of it, so I did most of my observation through the porch windows and screens rather than interrupt their feeding.

American Goldfinches and one visible Pine Siskin

While I was outside, though, a male Downy Woodpecker was in the yard for a minute or two. He prefers to avoid the crowd.

The House Sparrows were having a great time in the bird baths. Living it up at the spa.

I wish I knew what my indoor birds think of the outdoor ones and vice versa. There must be some kind of awareness there.

On my way back to the doctor’s office last week, walking through Lincoln Park, I noticed one man arriving to feed geese, and then another man walking in front of me who was catering to squirrels. It occurred to me that city dwellers without backyards crave interacting with other creatures. I like to think the feeling is mutual.

Peter Mayer has a song on his latest CD called “Come Back” which sums up this sentiment perfectly. https://www.thecurrent.org/feature/2018/11/08/peter-mayer-performs-at-radio-heartland

House Sparrows in a pensive moment

Years ago I planted trees to attract birds and now I have too many trees to deter the squirrels. They scurry through the yard and across my roof like so many monkeys. I try to keep them happy enough with peanuts.

Another busy weekend looms. Thanks to all for your well wishes from my previous post! I’m feeling much better already, particularly after swimming Monday night.

House Finch
Goldfinch goodbye…

New Year’s Birds

White-Breasted Nuthatch

Yesterday was cloudy, cold and windy, so I did not go down to the lakefront to visit the crows. I decided to check out the zoo instead, only to find there were hardly any birds to see except a Downy Woodpecker afar.

Brookfield Zoo
50+ Canada Geese flying over the zoo

So I spent much of the day looking out into the yard for activity, and it changed over the course of the day. My official first-bird-of-the-year sighting was American Goldfinch. These birds have become my biggest fans.

It didn’t seem worth going out into the yard to take pictures on a gloomy day, so I took all my pictures through the windows and sometimes the screens as well, which gives everything a warm and fuzzy appearance, I suppose. It was the only way I could capture the interloper below.

Cooper’s Hawk (male) with prey

I am not sure what he was attempting to eat, but I think it might have been a European Starling. I’ll should see if there are any telltale feathers by the neighbor’s fence.

The Pine Siskins were still around, at least four of them. And one of my Northern Cardinals even made an appearance, however temporary. At one point I had over 100 birds in the yard, which became all the more evident when they all took off at once in a thundering rumble of wing beats.

But my most cooperative subject was the female White-Breasted Nuthatch who was hanging out in the sumac by the kitchen window.

The only species that visits my yard that I haven’t seen in a while is Black-Capped Chickadee. I haven’t heard them either. All I can hope is they haven’t gone missing totally in the neighborhood.

American Goldfinches and Pine Siskins

I am afraid I’m getting off to a lazy start this year. Naps were all too easy to come by. Choir rehearsal should wake me up tonight.

Happy House Sparrow New Year!

Best of Luck getting into 2019…!