Little Brown Jobs

I started writing this post so long ago I almost forgot what it was. But these pictures are from last month, when I visited McGinnis Slough. I never know what to expect as the species change with the water level. The water level was low, so there were primarily land birds to look for. And most of them were sparrows, often referred to fondly as “LBJs” or “little brown jobs” in birder jargon.

At the top of the post is a Swamp Sparrow and there are more photographs below. Swamp Sparrows are distinctly reddish-brown on their wings.

Next, a couple lovely Song Sparrows. Always streaky, but they can often look quite different. The strong, bold malar is their giveaway.

I will never forget how frustrated I felt when I first discovered birds and found out that House Sparrows are not a native species but indeed, there were some thirty-odd native species to worry about. With luck I will see a third of them here. It took years of classes and practice to get them straight. Actually when I first got interested in birds, House Sparrows were still considered weaver finches by some. They are now included in the sparrow family. I’ve never seen a House Sparrow at McGinnis, so they are not featured in this post. But considering they were among the first birds to interact with me, I probably owe them a tribute someday in a future post. Until then, I believe they are all in my backyard…

One of my favorite sparrows is below, the Fox Sparrow. There are four subspecies. The one we see is the “Red”.

Fox Sparrow

The handsome sparrow below is a juvenile White-Crowned Sparrow. I have not seen an adult this fall.

Dark-eyed Juncos are part of the sparrow family too. I am always intrigued by the nuances of color in these birds, I don’t find them drab at all. After a while one starts to recognize them by their flash of white tail feathers in flight or their ratchety calls.

To jazz things up a bit, there were a couple of Northern Cardinals handy. I never turn down an opportunity to capture them.

There were a few Yellow-rumped Warblers too. It was the last time I saw them this year.

It was still warm enough for Dandelions to consider blooming. Seeds are scattering from milkweed pods. I was attracted to the red-leafed plant but I don’t know what it is.

Last, here are a few scenes from the slough. All the way at the bottom is the overturned picnic table that used to sit right by the overlook onto the slough at the south end. It was a nice place to sit. I am not letting my imagination run too wild with what caused anyone to throw it into the creek upside-down.

I will try to be back sooner. Work has been busy and all-consuming. But now it seems silly and superfluous to complain about anything. I have started swimming again. Swimming Fixes Everything. I was surprised that I had forgotten how absolutely, sinfully wonderful it feels to get out of the pool with all my cells “woke”. I feel almost guilty admitting it in the midst of such a miserable, suffering year. If I could bottle and sell the feeling I have after swimming, I would be a trillionaire, but of course I can’t because the best things in life, truly, are free.

I hope you have a go-to place that refreshes your spirit and gives you energy to continue. We’re not done yet.

Springtime in November

Well it’s probably over, but we were basking in unseasonably warm weather and we could still stay above freezing for a while. The past weekend afforded two pleasantly warm days without rain, so I took advantage of them both and went birding. These pictures are all from Saturday morning at the Portage. In spite of the pleasant weather, there weren’t too many people on the trails early, so I had the opportunity to stand still and observe some birds without disruption. Below, a group of European Starlings hanging out, their antics and expressions which I found entertaining. If you click on one of the images you can scroll through them.

I expected to see sparrows and was not disappointed. The usual suspects were available. Below is a Song Sparrow I saw early on.

The return of Dark-eyed Juncos…

The subtle variations in plumage for Dark-eyed Juncos always intrigues me.

One White-throated Sparrow sat for more than a second. He was just far enough away.

It seems Fox Sparrows are always elusive.
Fall colors at the Portage

The Downy Woodpecker below volunteered for a photo shoot – you can scroll through…

Then there’s always a fascination with cavities…

Last week there were Golden-Crowned Kinglets available, this week i had more luck with a Ruby-Crowned Kinglet.

More fall colors…

I rounded a corner such as it was on the trail and encountered a young deer, who was then joined by two others and they took off gamboling through the woods.

It was nice to see some Canada Geese in the water.

There were a few Mallards is the water too – and in the air.

Below, White-breasted Nuthatches…

I was surprised by a noisily chattering Carolina Wren and managed to grab a couple photos as it flew up into the tree.

Below, a little melange of Portage characters.

A calmly perched American Goldfinch

Then there were Purple Finches and House Finches – together – making identification a bit confusing. The only Purple Finch I managed to get pictures of is below, and it’s likely a juvenile female.

Some of the House Finches below look a bit on the purple or raspberry side of the spectrum but they still appear to be House Finches.

Always nice to see a Red-Tailed Hawk, however briefly.

An indication of how sunny it was when I arrived…

So the last bird I photographed was the Hermit Thrush at the top of the post and below. I first saw it in the woods far from the trail, but in true Hermit Thrush fashion, it responded to my attention and came and sat on a branch directly in front of me so we could exchange thoughts.

If I can manage it I will be back with a post from the Portage in April – looking a bit like it did on Saturday, with no leaves on the trees yet. I found a plethora of photographs I had never managed to develop and it will be an interesting contrast of early spring versus late fall.

Portage Afternoon and All Hallows’ Eve

I went to the Portage yesterday in the early afternoon, to take advantage of the sunshine and warmer temperatures for this weekend. I had spent the morning picking up my Chicago Audubon birdseed order to get us through the winter months and unloading the bounty onto the back porch. I placed the order after my accident, not knowing whether I would be able to handle it all myself, but I am proud to report I managed the entire transaction.

There’s even more around the corner…

I had no idea what birds if any I would see on such a windy day. The wind was blowing from the south yesterday. Today it came just as fiercely from the northwest, and our temperatures are reflecting that change, along with clouds that increased the wintry feeling all morning. But yesterday, I was pleased to be greeted first by the Dark-Eyed Junco above who sat patiently for several shutter clicks. After spending much of last fall and winter trying to get a good picture of a Junco, this behavior was extremely welcome.

The female below Northern Cardinal was actually cooperative in that she stayed in one secluded spot for more than a second…but turned her back on me after she figured I’d seen enough.

So I wasn’t hearing or seeing too much of anything, but I decided to go through the opening in the fence anyway and walk back on the trail leading to the train tracks. Nothing much going, but walking back I encountered a couple Golden-Crowned Kinglets who were enthusiastically foraging at my feet. They made the outing for me.

An odd-looking tree stump profile from the trail on the way in
Gone to seed

I feel like I should have seen more sparrows, but they were keeping well hidden. The Fox Sparrow below was through a fence.

There were more White-Throated Sparrows but I barely saw a couple – I was able to capture this rather distant one only.

A disgruntled-looking American Goldfinch – she was being blown about quite a bit on her perch.

On the way back from the Portage I stopped to buy a bag of candy. I had not prepared at all for trick-or-treaters but it wasn’t clear if we would even have any. I figured I had better be ready just in case. I put the contents of the bag in a basket on the front porch and proceeded to clean my living room as usual for Saturday night, maybe heard a child’s voice or two but saw no one, and the basket remained full of candy. I brought the basket in and went out front onto the empty sidewalk with the camera to try and capture the “Blue Moon” or second full moon of the month, as I understand it. It’s difficult to get a good image with the street lamps, but it was still so warm outside it was worth trying anyway. The neighborhood was eerily quiet for Halloween.

Two views of yesterday’s Portage in autumn…

One more of a kinglet somewhat in flight…

The forecast for the coming week – weather-wise – looks to be mild and uneventful. I hope I will be able to visit the Portage again next weekend. It’s still hard to imagine how topsy-turvy life has become. I am glad I was able to set the turmoil aside for a couple hours yesterday. In the meantime I will be trying to capture the Big Male Hairy Woodpecker that has been coming to a suet feeder. He looks like Attila the Hun next to my usual Downy visitors. Thanks for visiting, and I hope you have a safe and peaceful week.

Catching Up

Ruby-Crowned Kinglet

After weather and whatever have kept me inside the past couple weeks, I am looking forward to birding both mornings this weekend and then next Saturday “officially” for the Christmas Bird Count. Then I know what will likely happen: the immediate will foreshadow the past, and I’ll still never get around to what are soon to become “last year’s photographs.” So with this post I hope to catch up with a couple dangling picture portfolios… Starting with the last fall migration bird walk in Columbus Park on October 20th.

Juvenile Rusty Blackbirds

The most unusual birds we barely saw were the Rusty Blackbirds above (two out of five of them). It was too hard to tell exactly what they were until I developed my photographs. We were otherwise seeing the usual suspects …lik Yellow-Rumped Warblers, Cedar Waxwings, Fox Sparrows.

I did not expect to see a robin sharing space with a Red-Tailed Hawk.

Robin and Red-Tailed Hawk

Just barely caught this adult White-Crowned Sparrow and saw a juvenile later.

Two more of the Red-Tailed Hawk.

As I’m hard-pressed for anything colorful around here lately, I’m sharing a few photos from the Missouri Botanical Garden, visited last month when the choir went to St. Louis. Not many birds made themselves available that afternoon but the garden is lovely.

Thanks to all readers, followers and commenters for checking out my blog and tolerating my state of flux. Gotta go now, but winter’s just getting started!

Yellow-Rumped Warbler

Owls at the Portage

GHOW 04-08-18-9007Last year two fellows I run into occasionally at the Chicago Portage, Steve and Mike, told me they had seen a Great Horned Owl. I believe it was Mike who showed me his stunning photo of the owl sitting on a stump over the water. But I never saw the owl until two weeks ago making my return trip on the trail that runs along the south side of the stream, when I flushed it and watched it fly to perch in a tree on the other side.

Then last weekend I saw two owls perched on the same branch, looking down at me. The first owl decided to take off when I lifted the camera, but the second owl sat there and stared sleepily at me.

GHOW 04-22-18-0989So are they a pair? Most likely. I suspect the first owl is the female as it is larger. Then I wonder if they have a nest somewhere or if they’re shopping for one. Will I see baby owls? It’s more excitement than I can handle at the moment. But I do suspect that the owls’ presence will keep the other raptors I normally expect to see at the Portage away.

The Portage keeps changing. More trees coming down. I was saddened to see one of my two favorite birch trees in smaller pieces. I can’t imagine what was wrong with it.

I have seen Blue-Winged Teal the last two visits as well. I suspect they’re just visiting though and will go elsewhere to breed.

And a Canada Goose seems to have found her nesting spot in tree trunk.

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Two weekends ago, it was Golden-Crowned Kinglets…

Last weekend there were a few Yellow-Rumped Warblers, although only one captured by the camera.

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I was very happy to see a Tree Swallow last weekend.

Not so many sparrow species. Song and Fox Sparrows, still a few Juncos, and American Tree Sparrows still hanging on through the cold not-quite-spring-weather-yet.

Song Sparrow and Fox Sparrow above, Dark-Eyed Junco and American Tree Sparrow below…

Woodpeckers: Downy, Red-Bellied, Northern Flicker…

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Red-Bellied Woodpecker

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Northern Flicker

A few more captures before I go… White-Breasted Nuthatch, American Robin, preening Mallard, American Goldfinch.

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Brown-headed Cowbird

These pictures were all taken on April 8 and April 22. Unfortunately I don’t expect I’ll be getting near the Portage again until May 12 when I’m leading a small group on a bird walk as my donation to the fundraising member auction for Unity Temple. Until then, I will be traveling at a slower pace. Yesterday I had stem cell replacement therapy on my right knee. The procedure itself was not too awful, indeed I told the physician that his description of what he was about to do to me was far worse than the actual operation and I am hopeful recovery goes smoothly. I’m feeling better than last night: I woke up with very little pain, so now it’s more a matter of keeping stable using crutches for a couple more days to keep weight off the joint whenever I can. I’m looking forward to the final portion of the therapy on Tuesday which involves a simple plasma injection. If the weather is nice, which it is predicted to be, I will be spending the time in between blood draw and later injection birding North Pond and the Peggy Notebaert Museum grounds, a local birding hotspot right across the street from the medical building. I couldn’t have picked a better location to have this done!

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A Walk in the Woods

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Northern Shoveler

I’ve been back from Panama for two weeks and I’m still not done going through my pictures. Even staying home instead of going swimming a few times hasn’t gotten it done between software updates…

So I went for a walk at the Portage yesterday even though it was cloudy, because spring migration is upon us, and I wanted to get out with the camera, especially after I forgot to take it with me on Saturday when I joined Illinois Ornithological Society’s trip to lakes in Lake County looking for Common Loons and other waterfowl, named “Loonapalooza” by my friend and the organizer and leader of the trip, David Johnson. I drove for an hour to get to the meeting place only to discover that I had remembered everything (scope, tripod, water bottle, binoculars, backpack, and I thought my brain) but left my best camera with its new lens at home. It never made it out the door. Next time I’m leaving that early in the morning I suppose I should write a list and put “brain” first, camera second… I’m blaming it on my medication, but there’s no need to go there now.

Above all this useless information is a young deer that appeared across the water, came across the bridge and walked almost toward me, very unusual for after-nine-ish in the morning.

Below, a Red-Tailed Hawk flying over.

The good news is I am in love with the new lens, which until recently I didn’t even know existed because there are times when I quit looking for any more camera stuff, but the two guys with cameras on the Panama trip informed me that Canon had finally come out with a new, improved 100-400mm lens. I had stopped using the old one, which I still have, but had hardly any use for. Instead I have been struggling with the monster Tamron lens for the last two years, which was getting harder and harder to carry around and focus. I think that lens might be going on the recycle list too. Because the new Canon 100-400mm lens and my Mark III 5D are really happy together, and an extra 200mm doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll get a decent picture, especially if you can’t hold the equipment still.

CAGO 4-2-17-0090That said, there’s still only so much you can do with anything in poor light. Like the very cooperative and friendly Golden-Crowned Kinglet below, he was pretty dull and drab yesterday.

GCKI 4-2-17-0263The dead wood in the water was perhaps more suited for the weather. It is transforming into…I’m not sure what bird that resembles on the right, below.

I was happy to see a Belted Kingfisher on the water. Although even he looks gray.

BEKI 4-2-17-0006Sparrows were abundant. White-Throated Sparrows, which are a dime a dozen on the lakefront, seem special here. There were lots and lots of Song Sparrows singing like crazy, even though I managed to capture a silent one. Below these two, a couple hidden shots of a fairly distant Fox Sparrow, whose rufous caught my eye and brightened up the surrounding gloom. And the final sparrow at the bottom, a Chipping Sparrow, is my first one of the season, although I’m sure I heard one in neighborhood last week.

CHSP 4-2-17-0154Lots of woodpeckers but they were hard to get on. Below is a Red-Bellied on the left. The little bird on the right is a Brown Creeper, not a woodpecker, but spends as much time on trees as woodpeckers if not more, and it’s also the first one for me this spring. Click on the pictures to enlarge, and look at how beautifully the creeper blends in.

There was a bench at one end of the water but it has disappeared. However, there are a few other places to sit. I stopped to rest on a boulder that is near one of the information boards, and watched five Canada Geese flying in together and then starting to squabble over positions.

I don’t think I saw Wood Ducks last year, so it was nice to see a pair yesterday. Here’s the guy, his mate was less accommodating.

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Couldn’t resist one more of the Shoveler.

Northern Shoveler 4-2-17-0036Okay, well, tonight I’m going swimming unless there are thunderstorms, and I promise I will finish The Panama Pictures so I can start sharing them with you.

Thanks to everybody for stopping by, for following my inconstant blog. Happy Monday.