Winter Comes to the Backyard

We had to cross the 2021 finish line to get our first significant snow which turned out, thankfully, to be less than predicted. But the storm continued to rage eastward and wreaked havoc elsewhere. Suffice it to say we are cold and there is snow on the ground. And my feeders in the backyard have become very popular.

It’s been a couple weeks since I took the pictures below of the Cooper’s Hawk – through the kitchen window, on the fence – but less than a week later I found a pile of Mourning Dove feathers in the yard – before the snow covered it up.

All these photos are with the little mirrorless camera. I am trying to use it more and it’s handy for the backyard. Most of the pictures were also taken through windows with screens which isn’t ideal but it’s been hard to stand outside and wait for the birds to come back in the yard lately.

The American Goldfinches have been back in numbers. I counted 36 of them this morning. I wasn’t sure how they were going to adjust to the new feeders but they seem to be perfectly happy with them and I find them much easier to deal with than their beloved socks which got dirty and full of holes too many times.

Some of these pictures were from a previous snow on December 28. That snow was wet and sticking although it melted away a day later. It was worth capturing when it was clinging to the trees and remnants of plants in the front yard.

Then on the 29th…when the snow was gone…

A very tiny Fox Squirrel appeared in the yard

I did manage to get outside for a few photographs on January 2nd. A male Downy Woodpecker was the easiest to capture.

.A few goldfinches managed to tolerate my presence.

I don’t see very many House Finches lately, so it was nice to see this one.

A very small representation of the House Sparrows that visit.

I haven’t seen more than one Dark-eyed Junco at a time so I have no idea if there are more in the yard.

Today we have blowing snow and wind gusts up to 45 miles per hour with a wind chill presently of 1 degree above zero. The forecast is for even colder weather the next two days. I did manage to go to the Portage yesterday and will be back with that short visit a bit later.

Sadly our choir rehearsals have been put on hold. We are to have a Zoom meeting next Wednesday. I am not surprised by any of this, but it is difficult to continually digest all the uncertainty. I am grateful for the fall in-person rehearsals and our concerts that occurred just in time before Omicron became our destiny.

I wish you safety and warmth and some joy in the little things.

The Morning After

After living in the company of the glorious music we performed in the Return of the Unity Temple Choir Concerts on December 18 and 19, surviving my participation in the concerts and revisiting particularly resonant passages in my head – I went out to the Portage this beautiful sunshiny morning to reclaim my walk routine. At least that was what first struck me as I started up the trail: the past two weeks it seems between spates of inclement weather and the need to practice my choral parts, my sense of routine was minimal at best. Beyond feeding the birds, playing a little piano and swimming, there was only room for choir.

But now we have a couple weeks off before we resume rehearsals. It has been such a profound transition from rehearsing remotely to video performances to learning all the music and singing together, vaccinated and masked, as a choir in live performance again, I found myself exhausted after the first performance and feeling let down a bit after the second, as if I never wanted it to end.

I suppose if I were still working and had less time to preoccupy myself with the clinical details of my moods, this would all be chalked up to just part of the end-of-year-holiday madness, but whatever it is, experiences seem more vivid and significant as I search for meaning in the morass.

But enough of that heavy stuff! It was a beautiful, sunny, crisp morning at the Portage. And I barely saw any birds. A footnote to that – I could not participate in the Christmas Bird Count this year because of the choir concert which fell on the same day, December 18. But the few birds I did see this morning were delightful in their own way, and here they are.

Early on, I heard what I thought was an American Tree Sparrow where I have in the past run into flocks of foraging birds, but did not see it. I proceeded up the path, pausing now and then to listen to a distant call or silence, the wind making me glad I had on my long underwear. Then I heard a Black-capped Chickadee call to me, before it appeared. I have come to consider the Chickadees my Greeter Birds at the Portage. Invariably they have always solicited my attention.

That was just before the opening in the fence. I didn’t feel like walking back along the river toward the railroad tracks or going in the other direction toward the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District (MWRD) but I stood for a moment after going through the break in the fence and managed to capture a couple distant shots of a Red-bellied Woodpecker.

I briefly saw a male Northern Cardinal but did not photograph it. When I got to the second bridge I could see some Mallards in the water that was shallow enough to melt. I started walking the trail on the opposite side of the water.

Here’s what the Portage looked like this morning. It was nice to see a bit more water, albeit mostly frozen at first.

I got caught up to the Mallards which turned out to be two very cold looking birds.

I started walking back on the trail in my normal fashion and then was stopped by a Downy Woodpecker who began foraging with intensity up the trunk of a very small tree. I stood and watched him for quite a while. Forgive me if I took too many pictures.

Then, as I stood there, I began to hear a Dark-eyed Junco, another Red-bellied Woodpecker, and then American Tree Sparrows – confirming what I had heard earlier – and a couple of the Tree Sparrows posed for photographs.

The sight of the American Tree Sparrows made my morning. I have now learned how to identify them by their call, and they behaved in their usual fashion, a foraging flock of about a dozen of them or so. I suspect there were more birds at the Portage that were hiding. Bright sunshine on a cold day could be good for raptors too, although I didn’t see my usual Red-tailed Hawk.

Below is a quick shot through the muck and mire of the kitchen window of the Cooper’s Hawk that visited my yard yesterday morning. I suspect its presence, when unseen to me, explains the absence of birds in the yard on an otherwise lovely day.

I hope to be back sooner than later with more retrospective posts. It’s probably a good time of year to start going through summer and fall photos that I haven’t processed yet. I hope your holiday season is going along safe and warm, wherever you are.

Riverside Wildlife

I encounter a suitable number of people walking their dogs on the Riverside trails and lately the dogs have drawn my attention to other wildlife through their people. Last week I met a woman whose dog seemed interested in something off the path … which turned out to be the beaver below. Unfortunately I couldn’t get a clearer shot but it was wonderful to see.

Before that on November 29 which I think might have been the first time I took the mirrorless camera with me, I noticed a man standing with his two dogs on the foot bridge, looking at something. It turned out to be a relaxed Coyote lolling on what is a temporary beach on the other side of the river.

That cloudy morning at the end of November made for a beautiful sunrise, such as I saw it far away from the lake over the tops of houses.

I have seen this Eastern Bluebird a few times, just off the paved path, and managed some photos on the 29th (first below) and then again in better light with the old Canon lens last week (second group below). Either way, I have been excited to see this bird so often, gives me hope to see more in the spring.

A Yellow-rumped Warbler and the Eastern Bluebird

Those indefatigable Mallards make excellent use of the low water levels in the river.

Along with the photograph at the top of the post, here are some more of the two Downy Woodpeckers I encountered on December 8 as they were foraging peacefully together and then not so peacefully.

Fungus, unusual tree bark and uprooted trees intrigue me.

Another one of those ground-feeding Dark-eyed Juncos.

It was still quite chilly on the 8th, enough for some small ice formations in the river.

A Downy Woodpecker and a Fox Squirrel from 11-29.

A female Northern Cardinal, fluffed up against the cold.

A barely visible White-breasted Nuthatch…

Hofmann Tower through the trees…

As luck would have it, I am stuck inside on this beautiful Sunday morning when I had intended to go out for an early walk, but because my repaired lens is on a FedEx truck somewhere “out for delivery” I have to sit here and wait for its arrival “by end of day.” After all this, I don’t dare take the chance to sign indirectly for it and have it left on the front porch.

Yesterday I was going to have my trees trimmed, but due to gale force winds of 45-50 mph which kept knocking over one of my empty rain barrels even though I had put several weights on top of it to keep it stable, the tree trimming has been postponed until tomorrow morning, so that will be one more good birding morning spent inside. You are right to question why I am writing about this when I could be having Real Problems.

It will be great to get my many trees trimmed after I put it off for so long, they need it badly. And as I sit here hanging out with my indoor crowd, I’m thinking I have a lot to be thankful for and a couple days missed in the wilds of suburbia are not forever. … By now you are probably praying for me to go back out and take enough pictures to keep me silently slaving over them. I hope you are safe and well, wherever you are, and cheerfully caught up in holiday distractions.


Rusty Blackbird

When flocks of Red-winged Blackbirds and Common Grackles occur, we’re always looking for Rusty Blackbirds in the mix and until last Sunday I had not seen any. When, just by luck, I happened to be standing on the trail just as a flock of blackbirds flew into the tree in front of me, and lo and behold, mixed in with the Red-wingeds were Rusty Blackbirds!

Below, there’s one Rusty and one Red-winged, for comparison.

These two look like the official greeters.

I was treated to another busy White-breasted Nuthatch.

After an entire summer looking for Red-bellied Woodpeckers and never seeing them, now they are becoming easier to spot. You can even see the “red” on the lower abdomen in the bottom photograph.

I’m really drawn to the gold-colored leaves.

The duckweed turned gray with the cloudy sky, making a strange background for the Mallard below.

A female House Finch and a barely visible Downy Woodpecker.

Below is a flock of American Goldfinches and then one individual well-camouflaged by the vegetation.

This might be the first time I’ve noticed what looks like a cattail gone to seed.

One more of the welcoming committee.

We are getting a little snow, followed by a brief warmup, and then more cold and gloomy weather. I plan to go out as much as possible, just because it’s good to stretch my legs, and then I never know what I will see. Either way there are lots of warbler photographs coming from a few months ago. I should have time now to go through them and celebrate a good haul.

October at the Portage

Fox Sparrow

A brief but driving squall of freezing rain in the yard yesterday morning supported my decision to not go for a walk. More snow and wind on the way today. A good day to take stock of my indoor life.

Yesterday morning also produced a brief sighting of a Cooper’s Hawk and the appearance of the large gray tomcat I scolded out of the yard as I was refilling the birdbaths before the rain started. I have perhaps 30 or more gallons of water stored in the basement and my rain barrels are still quite full. But we are due for more serious overnight freezing temperatures so I have made this my outdoor project for the weekend, draining the rest of the water and covering up the rain barrels for the winter. If predictions prove correct, we will be getting a little preliminary snow that won’t accumulate but will get us in the mood for winter.

These photographs are from October 17. I was not too surprised to discover I hadn’t processed many of them. I did find another confusing fall warbler which I didn’t report. It appears to be a first-year likely female Black-throated Blue Warbler (below).

Much easier to recognize and still pretty plentiful were Yellow-rumped Warblers.

The bird immediately below appears to have fused with the hackberry leaves.

Then there were the tree-climbing Yellow-rumpeds…

I don’t know why it’s been so hard to get a decent picture of a White-throated Sparrow, but I keep trying.

The Song Sparrow below was a more accommodating.

And another Song Sparrows popping up from the vegetation…

A reminder of how dry it still was in mid-October.

In general, Ruby-crowned Kingets were less prevalent than the Golden-crowned this fall.

Then House Finches started to emerge…