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.

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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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Diamond Doves

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

Singing Spring Sparrows

WCSP 5-7-17-7817Virtually every morning I go out to fill the bird feeders in my backyard before I leave for work, and I have been hearing White-Crowned and White-Throated Sparrows singing for weeks, but I never see them. Looking out the windows I am used to see them foraging around on the ground, but this has not happened. So yesterday afternoon, which was absolutely gorgeous and sunlit, when I went out to sit and dig up the patch of pigwort that has invaded one section of the yard, I took the camera with me, just in case.

WCSP 5-7-17-7820I was rewarded with the presence of three White-Crowned Sparrows and two White-Throated Sparrows. The White-Throateds showed up first, digging around at the bottom of the compost pile and then sometimes in it. They didn’t stay very long, however.

Eventually I noticed something interesting: one White-Crowned Sparrow was nibbling on a piece of spray millet that I had just recently added to the compost bin. I realized some time last week that I have been throwing out chewed-up spray millet every day with the cage papers and waste from my indoor birds, which means it’s been going needlessly to the landfill. It never occurred to me that someone might find the uneaten portions of this delightful treat irresistible.

The other attraction seemed to be little leftover bits of shelled peanuts. The squirrels probably get the majority of them but the birds have been onto this use of the tree stump for a while. I keep hoping for crows but I’ll take White-Crowned Sparrows anytime.

In case you’re wondering what the back view of a White-Crowned Sparrow looks like, here’s one shot from under the feeder pole.

WCSP 5-7-17-7809The weather is still unseasonably cool but that’s nothing for the sparrows. I’m hoping they’ll stick around maybe for another week so I can continue to hear their beautiful songs. Yesterday as I had to go back into the house to resume indoor duties, I was treated to a little late-afternoon/early evening chorus I wish I had been able to record. One White-Throated Sparrow started out singing in B-flat, then a mourning dove joined in, in the same key, and then a House Finch started carrying on with his busy song. No people noise interrupted their singing. This was likely a one-time experience I’ll have to keep in my head, but it will remind me to take the recorder with me next time.

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We Pause for a Brief Message from…The Crows

crow-cancer-survivors-2-6-17-7464Today may be Monday, but it was also a beautiful day, with ample sunshine at least in the morning and early afternoon hours, and we warmed up to 54 degrees, which is downright balmy. So I went for a walk this afternoon in search of…birds.

Unlike my most recent visits, there were no Cardinals or White-Throated Sparrows to be seen, although I heard one or two. The Black-Capped Chickadees were more vocal but hiding.

I checked the two usual places in Millennium Park before I set off for the Cancer Survivors Garden and then as I approached. I thought I saw four large black birds perched in a tree down at the southeast end. Could it be…?

crows-cancer-survivors-2-6-17-7427Yes, they were Crows. And there they sat, silent and still. I wondered if maybe one of them was the individual that had flown by on Thursday and since today was such a nice day, it gathered friends to hang out with to see if I was for real.

I put peanuts and some pretty-stale-by-now Birdz cookies at the base of the tree they were in. And the Crows just sat there in the tree, still, silent.

I went to a far bench where I could sit and watch them, and they remained stone-faced. After a minute or two I decided I should probably go back to work. It was only as I started walking away, they all followed me.

I didn’t mind being tricked out of more treats. I put peanuts and the rest of the stale cookies at the base of one of the trees where we used to hang out, and sat down and watched them party. Two Chickadees showed up and also got to work on some birdseed. The Crows started to call a little bit. It was like seeing old friends and picking up right where we left off.

All I can hope for is that this is not a singular occurrence and that we meet again on a regular basis. I realize I have to hold up my end too: it’s up to me to show up more often as well.

Spring is coming.

In case you’re wondering, we didn’t talk politics. In fact it occurred to me later that the Crows really don’t like crowds, and maybe the protests and marches kept them away, so it was only fitting they had me to themselves for our reunion.

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Warmup to a Merry Christmas

noca-12-9-16-5033In the mad rush to the end of the year there hasn’t been much time for birding or posting but I am here to wish you all happy, good-cheer holidays, whatever you are celebrating. Last night I sang with the Unity Temple Choir for their Christmas Eve service and today I am catching up on bread gifts to distribute around the neighborhood. So while the house smells of cinnamon and yeast, Handel’s Messiah playing on the radio, and snow still on the ground even though we’ve warmed up quite a bit, I will try to compile a brief photographic history of the last few weeks.

Most of the wild birds I have seen lately have been downtown on infrequent visits to the parks. The light hasn’t been anything to celebrate but the Black-Capped Chickadees, White-Throated Sparrows, House Sparrows and Northern Cardinals are all happy to partake of the treats I bring them.

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White-Throated Sparrow

And although I haven’t had many crows, I am usually able to find at least two, sometimes four. I don’t know where they’ve gone this year. Maybe the polar vortex has caused them to congregate elsewhere. Too bad, because I’m baking Birdz Cookies now, and I’ve perfected the recipe.

Sometimes there are a few American Robins about, although not as much now that the trees and bushes are running out of fruit.

There was that one horribly cold week and I managed to document the temperature and the steam on the river, if nothing else. I didn’t go out that day.

Two days later it had warmed up a bit, for which I was grateful, as I participated in the Fermilab Christmas Bird Count, but it was a brutal experience slogging through packed snow and seeing not many birds at all. Not surprisingly, overall, the number of species and individuals were down from previous years.

The Canada Geese flying overhead seemed to be the only ones having a good time.

I couldn’t even get the pair of Northern Cardinals below to come out from the thicket long enough to photograph them.

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What’s been really shocking to me is the lack of birds in my yard. While I don’t see them most of the time because I’m at work anyway, at least I have an idea that they’re showing up by the emptiness of the feeders. Oddly enough, just as we started the warmup this past week, my feeders remained full. You would think just the opposite would occur. I began to wonder if the sub-zero temperatures had taken more casualties than a more normal winter. I hope this isn’t a warning for the future.

crows-12-16-16-5362wtsp-12-12-16-5180I have seen birds in the yard today now that I’m home, and I’m starting to think that a good deal of the absences probably have to do with the local raptors’ hunger more than the weather. We shall see. The birds come, but they don’t stay long. I’ll try to do a census tomorrow in the yard since I would like to see my favorites beyond the inevitable House Sparrows. I may even go out to the Portage for a walk-around early in the morning. We’re supposed to have relatively balmy temperatures tomorrow morning before we go back to normal. A seesaw December. And only one week left of it.

Wishing you all love and peace!

Birdz Cookies: 1 Week Later

AMCR 1-29-16-0446As planned, I got out to Millennium Park again on Friday, with pretty much the same menu options. The Birdz Cookies were one week older, but the Crows didn’t seem to mind. The snow was for the most part gone and the sun poked out from behind the clouds every now and then.

The squirrels may turn their noses up at hot dogs, but they like the Birdz Cookies.

There were a lot more birds than last time. See if you can pick out the White-Throated Sparrow among these House Sparrows.

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Visitors included a male Northern Cardinal and a couple Black-Capped Chickadees.

But what I really wasn’t expecting to see was a Brown Thrasher! They normally start showing up around April.

I knew this was going to make my list exciting so I was that much more pleased when the Thrasher gave me several good pictures.

BRTH 1-29-16-0683The photographic data I submitted to ebird was more than sufficient. I found it funny though that the Thrasher was the only sighting on the Rare Bird Alert for the entire county on Friday.

What I suspect is going on with the Thrasher is that it is expanding its year-round range, which now cuts off at the southern tip of Illinois. This is likely the effect of global warming. So the data is important for that reason alone. This particular bird might be related to the male declaring his territory near the BP Bridge a couple years ago.

What I didn’t know about Brown Thrashers is that they eat seeds, so that explains why the bird came back to explore the food some more.

The crows got their fill of hot dogs.

On the way back I stopped at the Boeing sculpture garden and saw two beautiful female Northern Cardinals and a couple more White-Throated Sparrows.

So even though I hardly get out during the week, it’s still possible to find something unexpected. This is part of the magical attraction to birding. You can never predict what will happen.

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Birdz Cookies

AMCR 1-22-16-9982The weather finally turned cold enough last week to warrant baking the Birdz Cookies, which have gone through several iterations over time. I have managed to find a way to cut down on the sugar content and increase the peanut butter, which suits the Crows just fine.

I was quite pleased that the Crows went for the cookies first, saving the hot dogs and peanuts for later. So I guess baking cookies is the way to a Crow’s heart…

There were a few White-Throated Sparrows too. It still amuses me that they have chosen Millennium Park for a winter habitat, but I suspect they picked up lots of tips from the House Sparrows and are able to get enough food and shelter to make a go of it. On this day there was only one individual available for pictures.

I haven’t been out to see the Crows all week but I’m going to visit them today. Very chilly today but we are supposed to have a two-day warming trend.

Until the next post, I leave you with a few more pictures from last Friday. It’s very likely the Crows are paying attention while I’m posting this and salivating in advance.

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