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…

Little Brown Jobs

I started writing this post so long ago I almost forgot what it was. But these pictures are from last month, when I visited McGinnis Slough. I never know what to expect as the species change with the water level. The water level was low, so there were primarily land birds to look for. And most of them were sparrows, often referred to fondly as “LBJs” or “little brown jobs” in birder jargon.

At the top of the post is a Swamp Sparrow and there are more photographs below. Swamp Sparrows are distinctly reddish-brown on their wings.

Next, a couple lovely Song Sparrows. Always streaky, but they can often look quite different. The strong, bold malar is their giveaway.

I will never forget how frustrated I felt when I first discovered birds and found out that House Sparrows are not a native species but indeed, there were some thirty-odd native species to worry about. With luck I will see a third of them here. It took years of classes and practice to get them straight. Actually when I first got interested in birds, House Sparrows were still considered weaver finches by some. They are now included in the sparrow family. I’ve never seen a House Sparrow at McGinnis, so they are not featured in this post. But considering they were among the first birds to interact with me, I probably owe them a tribute someday in a future post. Until then, I believe they are all in my backyard…

One of my favorite sparrows is below, the Fox Sparrow. There are four subspecies. The one we see is the “Red”.

Fox Sparrow

The handsome sparrow below is a juvenile White-Crowned Sparrow. I have not seen an adult this fall.

Dark-eyed Juncos are part of the sparrow family too. I am always intrigued by the nuances of color in these birds, I don’t find them drab at all. After a while one starts to recognize them by their flash of white tail feathers in flight or their ratchety calls.

To jazz things up a bit, there were a couple of Northern Cardinals handy. I never turn down an opportunity to capture them.

There were a few Yellow-rumped Warblers too. It was the last time I saw them this year.

It was still warm enough for Dandelions to consider blooming. Seeds are scattering from milkweed pods. I was attracted to the red-leafed plant but I don’t know what it is.

Last, here are a few scenes from the slough. All the way at the bottom is the overturned picnic table that used to sit right by the overlook onto the slough at the south end. It was a nice place to sit. I am not letting my imagination run too wild with what caused anyone to throw it into the creek upside-down.

I will try to be back sooner. Work has been busy and all-consuming. But now it seems silly and superfluous to complain about anything. I have started swimming again. Swimming Fixes Everything. I was surprised that I had forgotten how absolutely, sinfully wonderful it feels to get out of the pool with all my cells “woke”. I feel almost guilty admitting it in the midst of such a miserable, suffering year. If I could bottle and sell the feeling I have after swimming, I would be a trillionaire, but of course I can’t because the best things in life, truly, are free.

I hope you have a go-to place that refreshes your spirit and gives you energy to continue. We’re not done yet.

Springtime in November

Well it’s probably over, but we were basking in unseasonably warm weather and we could still stay above freezing for a while. The past weekend afforded two pleasantly warm days without rain, so I took advantage of them both and went birding. These pictures are all from Saturday morning at the Portage. In spite of the pleasant weather, there weren’t too many people on the trails early, so I had the opportunity to stand still and observe some birds without disruption. Below, a group of European Starlings hanging out, their antics and expressions which I found entertaining. If you click on one of the images you can scroll through them.

I expected to see sparrows and was not disappointed. The usual suspects were available. Below is a Song Sparrow I saw early on.

The return of Dark-eyed Juncos…

The subtle variations in plumage for Dark-eyed Juncos always intrigues me.

One White-throated Sparrow sat for more than a second. He was just far enough away.

It seems Fox Sparrows are always elusive.
Fall colors at the Portage

The Downy Woodpecker below volunteered for a photo shoot – you can scroll through…

Then there’s always a fascination with cavities…

Last week there were Golden-Crowned Kinglets available, this week i had more luck with a Ruby-Crowned Kinglet.

More fall colors…

I rounded a corner such as it was on the trail and encountered a young deer, who was then joined by two others and they took off gamboling through the woods.

It was nice to see some Canada Geese in the water.

There were a few Mallards is the water too – and in the air.

Below, White-breasted Nuthatches…

I was surprised by a noisily chattering Carolina Wren and managed to grab a couple photos as it flew up into the tree.

Below, a little melange of Portage characters.

A calmly perched American Goldfinch

Then there were Purple Finches and House Finches – together – making identification a bit confusing. The only Purple Finch I managed to get pictures of is below, and it’s likely a juvenile female.

Some of the House Finches below look a bit on the purple or raspberry side of the spectrum but they still appear to be House Finches.

Always nice to see a Red-Tailed Hawk, however briefly.

An indication of how sunny it was when I arrived…

So the last bird I photographed was the Hermit Thrush at the top of the post and below. I first saw it in the woods far from the trail, but in true Hermit Thrush fashion, it responded to my attention and came and sat on a branch directly in front of me so we could exchange thoughts.

If I can manage it I will be back with a post from the Portage in April – looking a bit like it did on Saturday, with no leaves on the trees yet. I found a plethora of photographs I had never managed to develop and it will be an interesting contrast of early spring versus late fall.

Portage Afternoon and All Hallows’ Eve

I went to the Portage yesterday in the early afternoon, to take advantage of the sunshine and warmer temperatures for this weekend. I had spent the morning picking up my Chicago Audubon birdseed order to get us through the winter months and unloading the bounty onto the back porch. I placed the order after my accident, not knowing whether I would be able to handle it all myself, but I am proud to report I managed the entire transaction.

There’s even more around the corner…

I had no idea what birds if any I would see on such a windy day. The wind was blowing from the south yesterday. Today it came just as fiercely from the northwest, and our temperatures are reflecting that change, along with clouds that increased the wintry feeling all morning. But yesterday, I was pleased to be greeted first by the Dark-Eyed Junco above who sat patiently for several shutter clicks. After spending much of last fall and winter trying to get a good picture of a Junco, this behavior was extremely welcome.

The female below Northern Cardinal was actually cooperative in that she stayed in one secluded spot for more than a second…but turned her back on me after she figured I’d seen enough.

So I wasn’t hearing or seeing too much of anything, but I decided to go through the opening in the fence anyway and walk back on the trail leading to the train tracks. Nothing much going, but walking back I encountered a couple Golden-Crowned Kinglets who were enthusiastically foraging at my feet. They made the outing for me.

An odd-looking tree stump profile from the trail on the way in
Gone to seed

I feel like I should have seen more sparrows, but they were keeping well hidden. The Fox Sparrow below was through a fence.

There were more White-Throated Sparrows but I barely saw a couple – I was able to capture this rather distant one only.

A disgruntled-looking American Goldfinch – she was being blown about quite a bit on her perch.

On the way back from the Portage I stopped to buy a bag of candy. I had not prepared at all for trick-or-treaters but it wasn’t clear if we would even have any. I figured I had better be ready just in case. I put the contents of the bag in a basket on the front porch and proceeded to clean my living room as usual for Saturday night, maybe heard a child’s voice or two but saw no one, and the basket remained full of candy. I brought the basket in and went out front onto the empty sidewalk with the camera to try and capture the “Blue Moon” or second full moon of the month, as I understand it. It’s difficult to get a good image with the street lamps, but it was still so warm outside it was worth trying anyway. The neighborhood was eerily quiet for Halloween.

Two views of yesterday’s Portage in autumn…

One more of a kinglet somewhat in flight…

The forecast for the coming week – weather-wise – looks to be mild and uneventful. I hope I will be able to visit the Portage again next weekend. It’s still hard to imagine how topsy-turvy life has become. I am glad I was able to set the turmoil aside for a couple hours yesterday. In the meantime I will be trying to capture the Big Male Hairy Woodpecker that has been coming to a suet feeder. He looks like Attila the Hun next to my usual Downy visitors. Thanks for visiting, and I hope you have a safe and peaceful week.

Home is Where the Birds…Are!

I thought I’d be returning to this page with pictures from my travels but my plans have been derailed by local distractions. It seems I cannot stand at the kitchen sink and look out the window for more than a minute before a Downy Woodpecker is on the suet feeder that hangs from the sumac tree.

I planned to go to the Portage yesterday, but the weather kept me home with 35 mph winds and gusts of up to 50 miles per hour and also flood warnings along the Des Plaines. I decided not to take the chance of being blown around the trail with the possibility of trees falling on me. The Portage is likely high enough above the Des Plaines River basin not to be affected too much by its flooding but I wasn’t all that curious either. Not sure if fear of catching or spreading a virus is making me more timid to take any chances at all. Combining the weather warnings with cloudy skies and birds predictably hunkered down, I decided it was advisable to stay home. But I would go out for a walk a little later, just to experience the wind at a safe distance.

As it turned out, soon after I was out the front door, three, possibly four, Turkey Vultures appeared, coasting about on the wind. They were sallying around the neighborhood for half an hour at least. Then when I returned to my front door, I heard a nearby Dark-Eyed Junco, and got lucky with one and then another perching in the little apple tree where they posed for a minute or two. I have been trying to take pictures of Juncos for months to no avail, but have managed the past couple days to photograph the ones that visit my yard. I wonder if the birds are more curious about me, now that they are relatively free of constant human activity.

Dark-Eyed Junco

Most of the photographs below are from one sunny day last week, March 25. I went out and sat in the back of the yard soaking up the sunshine. It was midday, not the optimum for light conditions, but outside was the place to be, relatively warm, hanging out with the feeder crowd.

Even the local songster Northern Cardinal made a guest appearance…!

On Saturday afternoon late, when there were no birds in the yard, I saw the reason why. I couldn’t get very good images between the lack of light and the window screens on the porch, but here is a very hungry looking Cooper’s Hawk.

Of course as I tried to sneak out the back door for a better photo, it left.

Below is a little expression inspired by the indoor crowd yesterday. I’ve titled it “Minimalist Zebra Finches” and, of course, they participated enthusiastically.

Minimalist Zebra Finches

The Mourning Doves below: I love how the male is “politely” chasing the female. I tried to capture how his neck