Winter Finch Fest

I already had too many posts in mind when Sunday late morning on a whim, after visiting the Chicago lakefront, I headed up to Memorial Park Cemetery in Skokie where White-winged Crossbills have been reported all week. It did not take me long to find several birders and the Crossbills, along with Common Redpolls and even a couple Pine Siskins. I just pointed the lens at the tops of the trees and followed the movement. They were way up at the treetops which made it that much more challenging, but the weather was good and the light wasn’t too bad either. It took me a couple hours to go through way too many photographs – but I kept finding more and more images of birds buried in the pine cones. So this is just a glut of pictures of the three species. The White-winged Crossbills are the rarities this time. They don’t come this far south every year.

Below are some photos of a male White-winged Crossbill.

And below are some of a female White-winged Crossbill.

It got a bit more complicated when other finches joined them. There are two female Crossbills and a Common Redpoll below.

Trust me, it was not fun digging through all these pine cones looking for birds in the photos. But if you click on these you should be able to find a Common Redpoll and a White-winged Crossbill or two.

Common Redpoll, Pine Siskin and female White-winged Crossbill

Once the Common Redpolls came in, they were literally everywhere.

The other winter finch that I had in my yard the last two years but hadn’t seen all winter made an appearance here – Pine Siskins.

So there you have it – I still have photos from the lakefront for the same day. I apologize for the pine cone overload. What I neglected to take a photograph of were the piles of pine cones beneath the trees these birds were finished with. Here are yet some more of the White-winged Crossbills. I don’t think I’ve used them all up but I am getting dizzy, so this will have to do.

I will be back with a more civilized post soon. Thanks for your patience.

Common Redpolls and Friends

I hadn’t been to LaBagh Woods for years, but I started thinking about it when it seemed I might have a good chance to see some Common Redpolls. They’ve been seen farther north and nearer to the lake than my territory. I used to see them on occasion downtown by the lake, but I didn’t see any the one day I went down for crows. So Saturday I just decided to get in the car and go, one day after our last snowfall.

It’s strange enough trying to remember the layout of a place you haven’t been to for a while, let alone covered in snow. But there were tracks in the snow to follow from the main parking lot.

There wasn’t a lot of light, but I guess the snow made up for that somewhat.

Early on I took photographs of a singular Redpoll and now, after developing them, it almost resembles a Hoary Redpoll. If that was the case, it would make it rather special as they are rarer. But I think it’s just a lighter-colored individual Common Redpoll. it’s really hard to tell.

There was a sign by the river. This is the north branch of the Chicago River. It dawned on me how remarkable it is to have a forest preserve in the middle of a city.

It was at that point that I encountered a fellow birdwatcher who had been there perhaps the day before but had come back to look for lost keys. He wasn’t wearing binoculars but of course I was and we sort of recognized each other as birders. He led me to the path that goes down along the river and pointed me in the direction of where he had seen the Redpolls earlier. As I started to walk, the layout became more familiar and I did encounter a small flock of Common Redpolls, Dark-eyed Juncos and an occasional American Goldfinch.

Two Common Redpolls, one American Goldfinch and one Dark-eyed Junco

It was otherwise pretty quiet until I got down to the northern end where there are some houses that demarcate where the city starts again. Some of the houses have bird feeders. I was simply across the river from their backyards above, and there were several Common Redpolls high up in the trees. I was surprised I managed to hold my heavy lens that high and get photographs. It was simply delightful to hear their calls and watch them.

More Common Redpolls…

At least I managed a closer photograph of a Dark-eyed Junco.

One thing about LaBagh – I had never taken the highway to get there before, which may seem strange because it is right off the Edens Expressway. I have always gone the stop-and-go route through the city, but Saturday morning in January seemed like a safe bet to follow the GPS and take the expressways. Up until Saturday, I have long avoided going through the downtown area which is always congested and has become somewhat confusing due to construction, so I was shocked by the terrible condition of the road surfaces. I can’t imagine driving that every day. But at least traffic was moving and it only took me half an hour to get there and back.

More snowy scenes. The river was frozen and covered with snow except for a little open water under the bridge.

Here are a few more Common Redpoll shots.

I found a few Mourning Doves.

Beyond that I managed to get a brief photo of a Downy Woodpecker in flight after barely focusing on it exploring a tree stump. And one nice Hairy Woodpecker.

Hairy Woodpecker

I was glad to renew my acquaintance with LaBagh Woods, which is named, incidentally, after Ella LaBagh who was a force for establishing the Forest Preserves of Cook County. LaBagh is a great place to see birds during migration and I will be coming back here more often in the spring.

As for snow, the current forecast is for a winter storm warning – Tuesday night through Thursday night. I managed to find some tube sand at the local hardware store this morning and scattered some on what were some icy spots on my walks. I had used up what sand I had from last year and decided I had better get more in anticipation of more snow and ice. The tube sand was 60 pounds – I thought my limit was 50 pounds – but I managed to get it onto my dolly and around to the back porch area. I prefer sand to deicer, I don’t care how environmentally friendly the chemicals are. I have also discovered the House Sparrows consider my front steps a destination for grit for their little gizzards, which is an added bonus to using the sand.

Un-Common Redpolls

Common Redpoll IMG_2683_1

It’s been a busy couple of weeks. I’ll get around to the reason for that in a later post. In any event, despite the distractions I’ve been trying to see as many birds as possible.

My last two early visits to the lakefront before work, Friday and on Thursday the week before, I encountered a small group of Common Redpolls foraging in the shrubs in front of the Chicago Yacht Club.

Female Common Redpoll IMG_2832_1

I went down to the same spot a few times later in the day and they were not around, so this is perhaps where they have been spending the night and hang out for breakfast, traveling to other spots during the day.

Common Redpoll IMG_2678_1

I rarely get to see these birds, but this winter there has been quite an irruption of them, so I did get to see them at the Botanic Gardens a couple months ago. To stumble upon a small group of them on my lakefront haunt is all the more special.

Male Common Redpoll IMG_2852_1

The second time around they seemed to recognize me.

Male Common Redpoll IMG_2839_1