Snow Upon Snow: Cold, Snowy Continuum at the Home Front

It seems like it will never stop snowing. And it’s generally been too cold to stay outside for very long. I am not good with the camera if I’m wearing gloves, let alone mittens. So several of these photographs were taken from the porch through the screened windows.

The first significant snowfall – it was still January.

Two pairs of Northern Cardinals have been hanging out in the yard regularly. It’s always nice to see them. They tend to show up as a group later in the day when they are less visible to predators. Or at least I think that’s their strategy.

I don’t seem to see the woodpeckers as often but was able to capture this Downy through the kitchen window when he showed up on a sunnier day.

The one day last week when it wasn’t prohibitively cold, I went out to take a few pictures and found this American Tree Sparrow in the snow next to the dogwood.

One morning when I was in the kitchen I spotted the reason for the lack of birds in the yard – a Cooper’s Hawk enjoying its meal way down at the end of the fence by the alley. I couldn’t determine what it was eating with my binoculars but it stayed a long time to finish its meal. There is so much snow it wasn’t possible to walk back there after it left to see what the remains looked like either. I had to take pictures through the window as I would have immediately flushed the hawk if I had stepped outside onto the stairs.

My most frequent and numerous visitors are House Sparrows. I think there are often upwards of 50 at a time.

I’ve had more American Goldfinches too since I replaced the old nyjer with a fresh supply. The one sunny day I was out for a few minutes gave me the opportunity to photograph the bird below.

Through the porch window, goldfinches on the thistle socks.

I sometimes see a Black-capped Chickadee in the yard when I go out to fill the feeders, and I have seen some House Finches and Dark-eyed Juncos, but I haven’t been able to photograph them. I haven’t seen Mourning Doves very often. Sadly they are likely victims of the Cooper’s Hawks.

I don’t know when I’ll be going back to the Portage or walking anywhere else for that matter. It may not be for a couple weeks. I have managed to dig out my car in between snowstorms and go swimming twice a week. I have also been walking a mile to the train to go into the office a couple times a week. This schedule will likely continue. I am looking forward to my first dose of the vaccine next Monday. Beyond all that, my next post will feature the birds inside the house as we have some new, cute kids.

Settling into Snow – Before and After

I went to the Portage last Saturday before the big snow, thinking it might be my last chance for a while. I could have gone back yesterday morning, but I decided to give in to the single-digit cold and get my grocery shopping done before it became prohibitive to go anywhere. I think I made the right decision.

It was a cloudy, gloomy morning and hardly anyone else was there, except for the volunteer crew below. They came to take out invasive species. Some time later I could smell and then see the fire they started to burn what they cut down.

I saw virtually no birds, and didn’t hear very many of them either. There were a few ducks in the Des Plaines River. One Common Merganser, four Goldeneye and a couple Mallards – none of them really identifiable below – are the only ones I saw, at a distance. While I was down by the river, four train engines came down the middle track.

Whatever the landscape had to offer I attempted to commemorate…

The iconic stump…
A snowman in the middle of the frozen stream…

Snowy scenes, gray skies…and a distant coyote.

And then came the snow. I took a picture of the accumulation on the feeder baffles through the porch window the next morning, just to document how much snow we got. A bit harder to find the female cardinal in the snowy branches.

I have had two pairs of Northern Cardinals in the yard this winter. They tend to all show up together at dusk and individually in between times. Staying home more has afforded familiarity and they seem to be a bit less wary of my presence. I was peering down at the male on the ground through the porch windows. The feeder shots were taken outside.

If I stand at the back of the lot I can watch the birds at the feeders a bit, albeit through the dogwood branches that offer the birds cover. But I don’t know how much of that I will be doing in single-digit weather…

The forecast is grim with more cold and snow for the coming week, but after that it seems we will start to warm up and maybe with some melting, we can dig ourselves out of all this snow. I should try to remember years ago when I was playing in a band, on the road at a Holiday Inn in Ogallala, Nebraska, on Thanksgiving…and going out the next day to find the snow plowed and piled up 10-12 feet high in the middle of the street. I should not feel inconvenienced by a few feet of piled-up snow! For the moment I’m going to go out and do a little snow removal so I can still open my back gate to access the trash containers. The yard birds could probably use a refill and some clean water in the heated birdbaths too. I hope you are having a lovely, warm-enough week somewhere.

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.

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…!

Finch Frenzy

Yesterday morning when I was almost done feeding the indoor crowd, I looked out the kitchen window and saw a Red-Bellied Woodpecker at the suet feeder. I managed to get this fuzzy photo through the window and the screen but by the time I got out to the porch, the Red-Bellied was gone. Instead there was a Downy Woodpecker at the upside-down suet feeder.

I started paying attention to the Goldfinches as they were numerous, and eventually…some of them were not Goldfinches, and they didn’t look like House Finches – and I suddenly realized that the Pine Siskins I’d been hoping for were now in my yard!

Today my birding plans were trashed after I drove all the way out to Goose Lake Prairie State Park only to discover it was closed due to deer hunting. I talked with a couple guys in the Heidecke Lake boat launch and they told me the park would be open tomorrow. But that won’t do me any good because rain is predicted all day. Lesson learned. Now I know to check these places before I take off in the middle of winter. Midewin National Tall Grass Prairie was just around the corner, but I figured that might not be safe from being shot at either. I did see three crows in a field and a lovely female Northern Harrier in flight, but the two hours of driving back and forth for nothing wore me out. I decided to stop at McGinnis on the way back, but there was nothing going on there, the shallow water being frozen mostly frozen.

When I got home, I filled the thistle socks, went out by the back steps and stood with the camera until the birds came back to feed. They seemed to be less shy today in the bright sunshine. I finally had great looks at the Pine Siskins. There were four of them and they seemed to be quite friendly,

Taking a drink from the gutters.

Below are a couple pictures of a female House Finch for comparison. I think the difference in bill shape might be the most trustworthy field mark for distinguishing the two species.

It was a good day for male House Finches and Goldfinches too.

Male House Finch
American Goldfinches

I don’t know if I’ll still be in the mood to go down to see the crows on Tuesday, although if the weather is halfway decent I may as well. I’ve been invited to a party for New Year’s Eve which will likely prevent getting up very early to find birds. But now I can stay home and watch the feeders, and maybe add yet another species to my yard list.

Crow Post Redux

Crow 9-16-18-0392I could almost just as easily say post-crow, as it has been months since I have seen crows. But the weekend before last I managed to go down to the lakefront parks where all the activity was just north of Buckingham Fountain. There was a flock of warblers that I attempted to follow, but the moment I saw and heard crows, I knew I had to follow their cawing.

Just north of Buckingham Fountain. They turned out to be pre-teens, still a little awkward, losing the last of their brown feathers for their adult plumage that resembles blue-black velvet. But finding a place to put peanuts is more of a challenge than it used to be. There are fences surrounding all the grassy areas. And of course there had to be workers emptying trash cans. I didn’t want them to think they had to clean up peanuts too. I put the peanuts inside a wrought-iron fence that surrounded a sculpture.

Workers 9-16-18-0420The young crows barely hesitated. It occurred to me later that I have never met these birds before, but we all seemed to know each other. I didn’t even have my black tote bag, instead I was hiding peanuts in my backpack. But the moment I took out the peanuts and put them down, the crows came quickly. Indeed they had been following me, anticipating the result.

Crow 9-16-18-0428And I knew I didn’t have to worry about them leaving peanuts there for long, as they tried to cache as many as possible before taking off to stash them.

Crow 9-16-18-0376Crow 9-16-18-0380Crow 9-16-18-0365I hope I have more opportunities to see the crows as I miss their company terribly. It’s reassuring to know I can still find them somewhere along the lakefront.

Crow 9-16-18-0443Crow 9-16-18-0516Crow 9-16-18-0401I will be back, with the warbler part of that morning.

Crow 9-16-18-0533

 

Springtime in the Yard

WCSP 5-5-18-2371At last. It didn’t last long, but we had a beautiful weekend last week and the trees were excited and blooming and the birds were singing and courting and I was recovering by sitting still and watching it all.

While I sat there I counted five White-Crowned Sparrows in the yard. That’s an all-time high.  I am delighted that they considered my yard a stopover for at least week, on their way north to their breeding grounds. In particular, one male was singing loud and clear directly over me and as hard as I tried to get a video, I had too large a lens to capture his image with his song, but I did manage to record him on my cellphone which I was using to do a yard list on ebird.

The neighbors’ dog was out in their yard and she was going crazy over any squirrel that appeared.

The usual cast of characters included a Mourning Dove, an American Robin, and a few American Goldfinches.

There was some serious courting going on with a couple House Finches.

The Redbud is in full bloom.

HOSP 5-5-18-2452And it’s hard to find a spot in the yard that doesn’t have some wild violets blooming on it. My plan is to try to eradicate most of it today. Presently we have had cool, rainy weather, so it will be a muddy business to remove, but no more rain is predicted until later tonight, and this may be my last chance to remediate the landscape.

WCSP 5-5-18-2355

Squirrel 5-5-18-2295

I visited the Portage last Sunday to see how spring migration was unfolding there, and again yesterday to lead the first of my two bird walks donated to the Unity Temple auction. Both outings were full of birds and good times. I will be back with photos. My knee is not too happy about spending so much time negotiating uneven ground, but like physical therapy, in the end, I am regaining mobility. No pain, no gain. To be continued.

 

The Goldfinches Have Spoken

AMGO 01-13-2017-4824It took a while to capture the goldfinches on the thistle socks but I was determined since I never know when they might disappear again. But they seem to be happy for the moment. This was the scene in the yard on Saturday. Try counting how many goldfinches are in the picture above. I get 17, but there could be a couple more on the other side of the socks that were not visible.

At first I took several pictures through the back porch windows, but even if they were clean, the screens would make the image fuzzy, so I decided to try going outside, knowing fully well that I would flush the birds and they might take their time coming back.

When nobody came back to the feeders after a few chilly minutes, I decided to walk out to the front yard when I heard crows calling from that direction. As far as I could tell they were not harassing a raptor. I was happy to see them hanging out in the vicinity. They were a bit too far away for the 300mm lens and I couldn’t get all six of them to line up at any one time but I managed to commemorate a crow presence.

AMCR 01-20-2017-4787There was a starling.

EUST 01-20-2017-4742And a nice male House Finch.

HOFI 01-20-2017-4780

A female house finch offered an even better pose.

HOFI 01-20-2017-4725But I really wanted to see how many goldfinches I could capture on the thistle socks before they dispersed, so I walked back slowly toward the yard and snuck up on them, hanging by the gate.

The goldfinches have shown their preference for fresh niger in three large socks. I have noticed from previous experience that the more socks I hang, the more will come. And I really think they like this situation because they don’t have to compete with the other birds for position, only each other.

Not much else to report locally at the moment, I’ll be back to pictures from Ecuador shortly.

 

Turn of the Year in the Yard

DOWP 1-1-18-4058

Downy Woodpecker

Unwilling to venture out any farther than my yard this past weekend, I was rewarded somewhat when it proved to be interesting. I think if I were home more, the outdoor crowd would become used to me and then I wouldn’t have to wait ten minutes for them to start coming back to the yard after I have planted myself at a sufficient distance from the feeders. This past weekend the cold weather might have tipped my hand a bit.

AMGO 1-1-18-4028I am grateful to have goldfinches back in the yard. Years ago I had dozens, and then they dwindled down to a few. It finally occurred to me that part of the problem was likely niger seed that had gone stale after I bought too much anticipating their return. Fancy thistle feeders did not seem to be appreciated either. I would get one or two goldfinches, but I knew there had to be more out there. So this year, I bought a small amount of fresh seed with the Audubon sale, and got a couple new thistle socks. At one point this past weekend I counted 20 goldfinches on two socks when they were full. The socks are even harder to fill with frozen fingers. But the goldfinches really like these socks, so I just bought some more, and filled up three of them last night in the warmth of the kitchen before hanging them outside. Maybe after another week or two of coddling, the goldfinches will make themselves more available for photographs. The only one I managed to get, above, was taken through the porch window and screen.

The heated bird bath is a big hit with the House Sparrows and everybody else, and probably the best thing I can provide. I have seen a couple birds actually take baths in this frigid weather and I don’t know how they manage to dry off quickly enough when the wind chill is 20 below. Must be a dinosaur thing.

EUST 12-31-17-3951

European Starlings

I thought the starlings were gone for the winter but there seems to be a hardy bunch hanging out in the yard for the daily offering of peanut pieces.NOCA 1-1-18-3970I couldn’t quite figure out what the cardinal was up to in the snow, and he was at a fuzzy distance, but I couldn’t resist his red.

 

At one point I went back out later New Year’s Day, I heard a lot of cawing and found four crows in a tree a block away across the alley. I suspected they were harassing a raptor but I didn’t see their target.

Crows 1-1-18-4012

I went back inside after walking around the block. A bit later, I looked out the kitchen door window to see the raptor below sitting in the same tree the crows had been in. I managed to get my large lens out for a better look.

RSHA 1-1-18-4069

Red-Shouldered Hawk

I had seen the Red-Shouldered a couple times in the neighborhood around the end of November. The first time I was on my way to work and it was calling from its perch on a different tree, so I was able to identify it as much by sound as sight. Now it seems it’s taken up residence for the winter. This is exciting to me because it’s not a bird I have seen very often anywhere, so maybe I’ll get more familiar with this species thanks to this individual.

But just as I was done taking that picture, the Cooper’s Hawk below flew into my yard and then quickly perched on a fence in my neighbor’s yard. Needless to say everybody else assumed hiding mode. I only wish the Cooper’s had found a more attractive perch.

COHA 1-1-18-4111Two of my Diamond Doves were sitting soaking up the sun that poured into the kitchen window. I wonder what they thought of all the strange yard activity.

Doves in window 1-1-18-4090

Diamond Doves

I will be back soon with another post from Ecuador and a visual break from winter.