A Quick Note from the Yard

I will miss the American Goldfinches that have faithfully visited my yard all winter and into the spring, especially as they quickly figured out and appreciated this seed feeder which I resurrected from the basement when I could no longer tolerate a squirrel taking over the feeder pole (which you can see is leaning over thanks to the squirrel). I even hoped to get a few photos this weekend of the goldfinches and the House Finches on this feeder because they make it look like one of those attractive advertisements for the feeder itself. But yesterday it became apparent that an avian flu is spreading, albeit among waterfowl and not detected in passerines yet, and we are advised to take down our feeders until May 31st unless otherwise notified.

My first thought was that I would save a lot of money on birdseed. My second thought was that this was the perfect opportunity to clean up and restore the soil underneath the feeder poles which has been poisoned by fallen seed. I have a mountain of compost to work into the soil. It will be more of a challenge to remove the fallen seed, as much as I have cleaned up I can’t get it all. As for that money I’m saving on birdseed, I have already invested it in some seed catchers that I can attach to the feeders when I put them back up.

Of course I quit feeding the squirrels too and they are apoplectic. But I managed to do this for several weeks last year before the inaugural Berwyn Historical Society Garden Walk, primarily to help get rats out of the yard, and nobody suffered terribly and everyone came back almost immediately the day I put feeders back out. So as bad as I feel about stiffing my friends, they will survive. In case you’re wondering, these photos were taken on April 10.

Beyond that, there are two lovely blooms in the backyard – the only flowers so far. I thought I had identified this plant but now I can’t remember what it is. It showed up by itself and keeps coming back, but it is not aggressive, so even if it’s not native I am happy to see it. If you recognize it, please let me know and I will try not to forget it.

And the other lovely surprise is what I thought was the beginnings of a Virginia Bluebell that I planted from a bare root last fall, on a hope and a prayer, after I had removed all the Hostas from the back of the house. I planted Jack in the Pulpit back there too but likely it won’t take. I am just curious to see what happens. I was just out in the yard and this turns out to be more of the same unidentified plant…

Beyond that, I have my work cut out for me. I am going to start trimming the stalks in the front yard this morning in between the raindrops and tomorrow after I recover from “leading” a bird walk at Thatcher Woods in River Forest that starts at 7:00 AM which means I have to get up by 4:30.

One more thought. I am waiting to hear the official word on hummingbird feeders. I haven’t put mine out yet but there are reports of hummingbirds showing up in the state. I hope I can at least put the hummer feeders out next week. After the Spring Music Festival…

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.

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