Battening Down the Hatches

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Dark-Eyed Junco

The cold is upon us. The possibility of winter seems suddenly everywhere. I wrote those two sentences two days ago, hoping I would want to change them, but we are heading into freezing temperatures overnight, so I may as well say “stet.”

Very busy at work, no weekday birding, and the weekends have been either rained out or too preoccupied as well. So here are a few pictures from a little time spent in the backyard the last couple weekends. Likely I will continue to see most of these birds, but the backdrop has already started changing.

I decided to not ignore the House Sparrows just because there are so many of them. Whether hanging out with a Mourning Dove above, or preening, hanging out at the bird bath, or eating peanuts below, House Sparrows, however ubiquitous, can be charming in their own right.

Preening HOSP 10-29-17-6819HOSP 10-29-17-6944HOSP 10-29-17-6979House Sparrows are also capable of aerial feats.

My last sighting of a White-Crowned Sparrow below was on my neighbor’s fence two weekends ago. Also had a visiting American Goldfinch.

The last bit of color in the yard before the leaves began turning was from the sedum in the pictures below.

And I had a short visit from what looks like a brand new male Downy Woodpecker.

DOWP 10-29-17-6863The Common Milkweed proved to be very good for Milkweed Beetles.

My last butterfly was a Painted Lady. I won’t see them again until next summer. But the squirrels and the Northern Cardinals aren’t going anywhere.

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NOCA 10-29-17-7050NOCA 10-21-17-6800This Dark-Eyed Junco was very comfortable and happy in the yard that last sunny weekend day. I’ve never seen a Junco try to eat peanuts before. Impressive.

I will be busy these next few days getting ready to go on what will likely be my last international trip for a while. I’m going back to Ecuador over the Thanksgiving holiday week. So I may not be able to manage another post before I leave.

Painted Lady Butterfly 10-21-17-6765If you are in  celebrating Thanksgiving, or wherever you are, my best wishes for days filled with peace and love.

Winding Down

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Black-Throated Green Warbler

Last Sunday morning was my only chance to get out. Rain was predicted but luckily did not start until I left the Chicago Portage. Conditions became ever cloudier which affected everything photographic, but now I am looking back on what was then warmer weather with increasing nostalgia.

I had stepped off the trail to get a better look at something and while I was standing there, a beautiful Black-Throated Green Warbler popped up in front of me. In that moment I was thankful I didn’t have my most humongous lens which might have scared him off.

Below is how the Portage looked last Sunday morning.

Portage 10-22-2017-0066After the Black-Throated Green left, this Swamp Sparrow occupied the same spot for a moment.

SWSP 10-22-2017-9878The Black-Throated Green was unusually late for this location, so he earned a citation on the rare bird alert. But the rest of the birds were pretty predictable, like these three Mallards enjoying the open water.

MALL 10-22-2017-9940A Red-Tailed Hawk made a couple backlit appearances… If you click on the images you can see more detail.

I followed the large white rump patch of this Northern Flicker in flight until it landed far across the pond.

Below, two birds that herald various stages of the approach toward winter…a Dark-Eyed Junco, a snow bird, and likely the last Yellow-Rumped Warbler until spring.

The other likely late-ish warbler is the Palm Warbler below.

PAWA 10-22-2017-9951And where the preserves were crowded with kinglets the previous week, I now saw only one, a Ruby-Crowned Kinglet, below.

RCKI 10-22-2017-0116On the home front, after a short sprinkle but before ensuing downpours, my yard was full of House Sparrows.

HOSP 10-12-2017-0359But I did still have a couple White-Crowned Sparrows who now rely on me to put out some partially chewed-up spray millet sprigs in the compost.

WCSP 10-22-17-0383WCSP 10-12-2017-0374Hanging out with the House Sparrows by the back fence was a Northern Cardinal.

NOCA 10-22-17-0417Busy 10-22-17-0409A few House Finches managed to forage on the ground.

After weeks of preparation, I jointed the Unity Temple choir in our “Best of Unity Temple Choir” concert last night. We sang for nearly two hours. I feel we did well, at least if the audience response is any indicator. It was exhausting fun.

It’s still hard to believe that the milestone has passed, however. Without much time to reflect, I am moving onward to the next challenge, which will be at work tomorrow morning. I leave you with a contented-looking House Sparrow.

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Reflections on a Post-Groundhog Day

noca-millennium-2-2-17-7364This really has nothing to do with Groundhog Day except that, according to the official Groundhog, we are in for 6 more weeks of winter. I can tell you that as annoying as that prospect might be, it’s nothing compared to dreading the “what next?” incredulity of news coming from the nation’s capitol.

The Northern Cardinals have been hanging out at the northwest corner of Millennium Park by the entrance to the Boeing Gallery.

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This is not going to be a political rant, indeed, I’m trying to escape our new reality for a few moments of sanity, as long as birds are still around to help. Sometimes I have to wait a while before the birds show up, but eventually they do. All these photos are from the last week or so, Millennium and Maggie Daley parks in downtown Chicago.

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Both colorations of White-Throated Sparrow

I haven’t seen my Crow Friends downtown for what seems like months and probably is. At least too many weeks.Here we had been spending winters together,  but this winter they have all disappeared. I am all but lost because, especially when life gets too confusing, the crows are of invaluable comfort and perspicacity. I live in hope that they return in the spring. I think they will. Where they have gone for a retreat, I have absolutely no idea. But in what seemed like an omen, as the sight of a crow often does, Thursday as I sat quietly on bench at the Cancer Survivors Garden, one crow flew silently across the sky going north, and did not stop or acknowledge my calls, but still the sight of it gave me hope. I was so hopeful I almost forgot to take a quick picture for posterity.

The Cancer Survivors Garden which has now been absorbed by Maggie Daley Park is for the most part asleep for the winter, with no birds present. I suspect every last berry has been picked off of every last bush.

The usual suspects are still around elsewhere. White-Throated Sparrows usually call before I see them, but if I stop with some treats they come out fearlessly. It’s the City Sparrow-Country Sparrow phenomenon again, like the City Mouse and the Country Mouse. The White-Throated Sparrows in Chicago’s Loop parks have likely learned how to take advantage of human generosity from the House Sparrows that honed it down to a fine art.

The Black-Capped Chickadees are good at this too but they often move so quickly they’re hard to catch with the camera.

Dark-Eyed Juncos are still around too, not so many, perhaps, and on a dark background on a dark day, well, here you have it, but I was lucky to catch the one on the left with its tail feathers spread out, as you usually don’t see the white feathers except when they’re flying away from you.

And then there are those moments when we bond.

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One of the White-Throated Sparrows was starting to sing last week. Could have been this guy.

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For humans, the ice rink is a popular pastime these days.

And another popular pastime, below.

Unless something newsworthy occurs in the meantime, I’ll be back next with more from the Galapagos.

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Baby, It’s Cold Outside: Hangin’ Out in the Yard

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Blue Jay through the window

This grey, chilly day produced a few flurries and later in the afternoon, perhaps a sixteenth of an inch of snow. Whatever. I decided to stay home and see who came to the yard, instead of birding elsewhere.

I had to stand out in the cold for what seemed like a long time, I don’t know, maybe it was only 10 minutes but it felt longer, waiting for the birds to come back. Funny how the birds downtown will rush out to greet me, but the ones at home prefer to avoid me at all costs if possible.

But when they did finally come back, I counted at least 46 House Sparrows. Well, I didn’t count them all individually, I thought there were probably 50, but I decided to be conservative and enter the number “46” for ebird. Which makes it look like you did count them individually, I guess.

The cardinals were in the yard, which was nice of them, but the male didn’t want to show himself, so the best I could do was sneak a peek of him hiding behind a branch. The female was more accommodating. Or maybe hungry.

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A Blue Jay has been coming to the yard since I cut down my big tree. And this Blue Jay surprised me by showing up while I was still outside, but the light was so poor (below, left) I couldn’t get a good picture of him or her. Luckily it came back later in the afternoon when I was sneaking pictures through the windows (below, right).

A female Downy Woodpecker was easy to see outside, but the male pretty much eluded me until later I caught the back of his head through the window.

Not seeing so many Dark-Eyed Juncos this week, but there was one, below.

deju-yard-1-29-17-7176I put a new feeder up this week, and it’s apparent I didn’t assemble it too tightly so I’ll have to take it down one of these nights and see if I can make it more secure, but the House Finches seem to be enjoying it.

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House Finches

Doesn’t look like there’s going to be a change in the weather for a while so we may as well get used to this.

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Black-Capped Chickadee and Downy Woodpecker

I’ll be back in a few with some photos from the wilds of Chicago’s lakefront parks.

Chicago Portage: A January Thaw the Day after Christmas

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Red-Bellied Woodpecker

It was raining and cloudy when I woke up this morning and the forecast as read on the radio didn’t sound too promising, but then the clouds appeared to be clearing and I had no more reasons to dawdle, so I set out for the Portage.

My timing was right – there were a lot of sparrows and three species of woodpecker which isn’t phenomenal but one, a Hairy, I hadn’t seen in a while so that was special.

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Hairy Woodpecker

There was a lot of fungus growing everywhere which made me realize just how much life goes on in spite of the cold and snow.

Northern Cardinals were abundant but distant, even with the long lens. I don’t know what happened with my setting on the right, I am unaware of changing anything but I must have hit a button somewhere, but maybe the contrast is interesting anyway, seeing as how the sparrows were blending in with everything.

American Tree Sparrows were most abundant.

This was the only Dark-Eyed Junco that didn’t fly away immediately.

deju-12-26-16-5797Several hardy little Song Sparrows surviving our surprise winter.

sosp-12-26-16-5669A couple pictures of the thaw. No birds in the water but some flew over as if considering it.

The Red-Bellied Woodpecker was enjoying the sunshine.

rbwp-12-26-16-5859Milkweed pods almost looking like birds hanging from their stalks.

milkweed-portage-thaw-12-26-16-5942It was wonderful to be out. I had the place virtually to myself and it felt like home again. I made an early resolution to spend more time in these woods, to bear witness to the changes of the seasons, the habitat, and the inhabitants.

We Pause for a Brief Commercial from Spring

RWBL 3-6-2016-3523I may have said I didn’t want to get distracted in my last blog post, but I felt the need to go out for a little exploration Sunday morning, and so became distracted by a few birds at McGinnis Slough and the Chicago Portage. And if I don’t pay them due respect now they will likely never get another chance.

The Red-Winged Blackbirds are back in force at McGinnis, with likely more to arrive. I counted maybe a dozen males singing on their territories. There were Red-Winged Blackbirds back in Millennium Park downtown yesterday, along with some of their Common Grackle cousins. (The photo below is from McGinnis.)

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I have been checking off all my little Signs of Spring since I got back: the appearance of the first American Robin in my yard last week, then hearing Robins singing in the neighborhood yesterday (looking forward to those 2:00 AM serenades!), the Northern Cardinals singing their descending scale song, and I’m even distracted by the return of the Canada Geese to the Jackson Street Bridge. A Horned Grebe on the lakefront. Every year around this time someone sees a Red-Throated Loon by Monroe Harbor. I may have been the first to report one a few years back. I have missed the bird ever since but wonder if it’s the same individual returning year after year.

It was cloudy, cold and windy on Sunday, perfect Red-Tailed Hawk weather at McGinnis. We have warmed up since then and have relatively balmy temperatures predicted for the entire work week, along with attendant rain and thunderstorms.

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McGinnis Slough

The other raptor at McGinnis was a juvenile Bald Eagle. There are more and more frequent sightings of these birds in the Chicago metropolitan area.

Not many surprises at the Chicago Portage but it was brimming with the promise of renewal. There were several White-Breasted Nuthatches and Downy Woodpeckers.

One of the pairs of Canada Geese ready to set up housekeeping was the same tagged couple from the last two years, No’s. 16 and 11. If I recall correctly 16 is the male. This time I noticed the bands on their legs as well although they are not decipherable.

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Chicago Portage

Among the Mallards and Canada Geese was one Northern Shoveler. I just barely managed to capture him before he took off.

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There were about a dozen Dark-Eyed Juncos but with the sweep of warm air coming in, this may be the last time I see them.

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It looks as if the badgers have been busy…

I’m not changing the header on this page because I do intend to get right back to the photographs from Nicaragua! Maybe all the rain this week will keep me inside long enough to finish that task.

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Yard Birds

DOWP 1-24-16-0197Not much going on around here. Dull days of winter. But whenever there’s the occasional bright and sunny day, and Sunday was one of them, one must get outside, so before I went for an afternoon walk with Lesa at Miller Meadow, I sat out in the yard albeit rather uncomfortably on an overturned trash can, to be far away enough from the feeders so the birds would come back in, and come back in they did.

First to lead the charge was a female Downy Woodpecker, taking advantage of the fact that the crowd had not arrived yet.

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Then I saw the White-Breasted Nuthatch who has been visiting this winter, and no sooner did I suggest to him that he bring a friend than a second one appeared, perhaps a female although not easy to tell from these pictures. I think in the second photo below, the female is on the feeder with the House Sparrow above and the male is on the peanut feeder, the male having more prominent black on the crown and nape.

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WBNH 1-24-16-0243This is also the first time I’ve seen these birds on the seed feeders.

WBNH and HOFI 1-24-16-0235WBNH 1-24-16-0290One little Dark-Eyed Junco showed up although I’m afraid due to distance and shadows I didn’t do him much justice.

DEJU 1-24-16-0299There was also one American Tree Sparrow. I think there may have been another one but since I never saw the two at once I can’t be sure. Even in my own little yard birding gets tricky!

ATSP 1-24-16-0314This Tree Sparrow likes the attention.

ATSP 1-24-16-0331After I got back inside, a male Downy Woodpecker flew onto the peanut feeder and I managed to capture this soft-looking image through the window screen.

DOWP 1-24-16-0377Disclaimer and/or Apology Time: Other than work, weather and choir singing distractions I confess to being mesmerized by the current Bernie phenomenon, which only adds to staring-at-a-screen time (I never followed anything like this before, but different stories appear depending on what device you’re using, making for even more distraction).

I got rid of my land line and my cable service last week, but none of that has helped my focus.

(The walk at Miller Meadow in the afternoon was delightful and we saw some birds but they were too far away to photograph. Nothing unusual to report…yet!)