On and Off the Trail

I think I’ve found one reason why my feeders have been left alone lately. Saturday I came home from birding and looked out the back porch windows. There was a Cooper’s Hawk sitting in the flowering crab. I didn’t know if I’d be able to document the occasion as usually the minute I go for the camera, the bird vanishes. But this one not only stayed, but after preening in my flowering crab, she moved over to my neighbor’s fence and sat there for the longest time, even tolerating me coming out the back door and taking photographs for several minutes. This is obviously a young bird. She even looked a little bored.

I couldn’t go to the Portage Saturday. When I got there, the entrance to the parking lot was blocked by two forest preserve vehicles and roped off. I realize now that a tree close to parking was being removed. I turned around and went to Ottawa Trail, not knowing what to expect this time of year.

There were obstacles on the trail everywhere, which made the desolation and quiet all the more interesting. I guess.

It was all I could do to get pictures of the White-Throated Sparrow and a lovely Song Sparrow as they foraged around in the vegetation. There was a Winter Wren but I couldn’t focus quickly enough. The monster lens is all the more challenging in the cold with gloves.

I’ve wanted a decent photograph of a Dark-Eyed Junco all winter. I’ve seen them in my yard very early in the morning. I’ve seen small flocks of them on occasion. But I can’t get one to sit still long enough. This is strange after I’ve had them practically walk up to me on previous occasions. So the one below will have to do for the moment.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t include the Canada Geese on the Des Plaines…

Desperate to capture anything that moved, I followed this fox squirrel for a while.

And could not resist a shot at the annoying police helicopter hovering overhead. The thought crossed my mind they might be looking for someone. I can verify that if the birds were scarce that morning, humans were even more so.

There was some lovely tree fungus on the way out.

I went to the Portage yesterday before I started my annual Cinnamon Oatmeal Raisin Bread Manifesto, the loaves from which I will likely continue to distribute into the New Year. The only thing better than the smell of bread baking is cinnamon bread baking. The candlelight service last night was absolutely gorgeous and I’m glad I took part, although I almost fainted from continually standing up to sing carols in between the parts of the service we sang as a choir, all arranged artfully around prayers and the homily and… I was glad to come home, tuck the birds in and go to sleep. It’s good to feel like all is well, if only for a moment or a day. I didn’t get through any of my household projects, but there’s still next weekend. Today just feels like a good day to linger, play music, write, and restore. And dream about longer days filled with more music.

I wish I could share this bread with each and every one of you!

Calm Before the Storm

WBNH 12-27-2015 -8762There’s a winter storm watch starting at 6:00 AM tomorrow morning. That’s hardly comforting seeing as how I’ll be leaving for work at 7:00 AM. Today we had plenty of clouds and some very windy periods but the sun came out for a little while, or things brightened up enough to draw me out to the yard where I stood until the birds accepted my presence.

Most surprising was the White-Breasted Nuthatch at the top of this post. I haven’t seen one in my yard for a couple years, but now I suspect it’s because I haven’t been around to look in my yard. This appears to be a young bird. It came calling its little nasal nuthatch call.

Before I went out I took a picture or two through the back window, but the screens always soften the image.

Much better to see the House Finches outside even though I had to wait a while before they came back.

HOFI 12-27-2015 -8541Two female Downy Woodpeckers showed up as well. The one below appears to be a younger bird.

Somebody is eating my upside-down suet feeder. I just ordered a new one after seeing this.

DOWP 12-27-2015 -8659Luckily the peanut feeder is still intact.

The squirrels have a new peanut feeder too that they have been enjoying. One of these days I’ll have to manage a video because some of their athletic antics are quite amusing.

The Fox Squirrel never figured it out. He’s stuck with foraging on the ground.

Fox Squirrel 12-27-2015 -8784When the House Sparrows show up everybody else pretty much disperses.

But it was nice to see a female Northern Cardinal fly in to see what was going on.

NOCA 12-27-2015 -8792Meanwhile back at the ranch inside it was business as usual with the Zebra Finches.

And I made my first two loaves of Cinnamon Oatmeal Raisin Bread. They were a bit larger because I threw in additional yeast that had been proofed without remembering to account for the extra liquid. I was just surprised that the yeast was still good.

Time for bed and whatever the weather brings tomorrow. We’ve had it too easy so far this winter and I have a feeling we will start to pay for it.

Gray Squirrel 12-27-2015 -8414

Back in the Yard

Mining Bee Yard 7-26-14-3335

The last two Saturdays have been great mornings to work in the yard, last Saturday in particular as it was cool and cloudy, but I have slept in so that by the time I do get out, the heat and humidity begin to creep in, and the day is replete with the rest of Saturday’s routine. But I have managed to take a few more yard pictures before playing piano, swimming, grocery shopping…

The one bloom on the Swamp Milkweed was visited by a Monarch Butterfly last Saturday. I saw the Monarch again yesterday but it did not stay, only flying over the entire yard and right past me a few times, I suppose because the one milkweed blossom is spent and there was little else of interest. Next year, I promise, will be different.

Monarch on Swamp Milkweed Yard 7-26-14-3228

Milkweed Yard 7-26-14-3420There were two Eastern Tiger Swallowtails in the purple coneflowers last Saturday. They wouldn’t pose together but this one was available.

Tiger Swallowtail Yard 8-2-14-2002

And yesterday I finally managed to get a Red Admiral to cooperate.

Red Admiral Yard 8-2-14-2029 Red Admiral Yard 7-26-14-3380

Young birds are now in the yard in droves. Last Saturday, they were still begging a lot.

Juvenile House Sparrow

Juvenile House Sparrow

Juv House Finches Yard 7-26-14-3197

Juvenile House Finches

Juv House Finch Yard 8-2-14-2127

Juvenile House Finch

Adult Male House Finch

Adult Male House Finch

Last Saturday I had the windows open and heard Chipping Sparrows in the yard. I could not photograph them outside, as they were right by the back door and I would have scared them away, but I managed to get a few pictures through the kitchen window.

Juvenile Chipping Sparrow

Juvenile Chipping Sparrow

I suspect there is more than one pair breeding in south Berwyn.

Chipping Sparrow Yard 8-2-14-2086

Adult Chipping Sparrow

Someone else I can only photograph through the window, as she is well attuned to the squeaks of my back doors…

Cat Yard 8-2-14-1982

I discovered this spider last weekend in a shady spot.

Garden Spider Yard 7-26-14-3302

Garden Spider

The front yard is more established this year, one year after its planting. This is the main section, the other smaller portion being on the other side of the front walk. I have seen butterflies now and again but the biggest hit lately was the Sweet Joe-Pye Weed: the bees were literally bathing in it. But this weekend it’s looking rather spent and frazzled. I watered it last night and am hoping we get some rain.

Front Yard

Front Yard

Bee in the Joe-Pye Weed

Bee in the Joe-Pye Weed

I seem to have two types of cardinal flower. The first photograph is from the ones that have been in the backyard for years, and the second from the new one in the front.

Cardinal Flower Yard 7-26-14-3438 Cardinal Flower Front Yard 7-26-14-3496

Below is a plant that mystifies me. I have no idea where it came from but it planted itself between two bricks. I don’t recall if it flowered last year but this year it has done a nice job. Even if it is an invasive, it doesn’t appear to be spreading. It’s in one shady spot under the hawthorn. If anybody knows what this is, please let me know.

I don't know what this is but it is growing between two bricks for the second year in a row

I don’t know what this is but it is growing between two bricks for the second year in a row

I thought there was something a bit different about this fox squirrel. For sure, it’s a she. The one I am used to seeing all the time has been a male. She is a bit shy, but every bit as polite as he is.

Female Fox Squirrel Yard 7-26-14-3268 Foxy Lady Squirrel Yard 7-26-14-3447

Invariably dill comes up here and there in the yard. I thought I planted some this year but it didn’t come up where I put it. Nevertheless a few plants have managed to grow and I leave them hoping they will attract female Eastern Black Swallowtail Butterflies to lay eggs. I was very happy to see this caterpillar yesterday. It’s been a few years since I’ve seen one of these in the yard. I’m going to plant more dill for next year too.

Eastern Black Swallowtail Caterpillar on dill

Eastern Black Swallowtail Caterpillar on dill

I did manage to work in the yard even though it was nearly midday: it wasn’t buggy and my trees keep me cool. At any rate, it’s looking a little tamer I suppose because we haven’t had too much rain lately so the weeds actually stay pulled for a while. I think I will start photographing and cataloguing all the weeds before I yank them out next weekend, in part because I see them often enough elsewhere, and in the process of looking them up I will learn about others. I know a lot of them by sight but have forgotten some of their names. The macro lens is making a nerd out of me.

I will be back later with a few photos from my weekend excursion.

 

Looking back, not forward: New Year’s Day 2014…

House Finches

House Finches

The weather exerted such force today it was hard to sit still, although I think without the help of a pot of coffee I might have given in to a long nap just in hope everything would be back to normal when I woke up.

Male Northern Cardinal, through the window

Male Northern Cardinal, through the window

Part of what kept me going was hoping my male cardinal would give me a picture in the snow, not that he ever has. So after I filled the feeders I hung out with the House Finches and Dark-Eyed Juncos for a while, and the Fox Squirrel too, until I could stay outside no longer.

Feeders New Years Day-1158

House Finches at the feeder

Dark-Eyed Junco

Dark-Eyed Junco

Fox Squirrel

Fox Squirrel

Later I went upstairs to get more winter work clothes (yes, it’s January and I’ve been in denial this long) and decided to look out the back to see if there were any birds other than those I had already calculated–only to find the snow falling steadily and squalling miserably.

Yard view from the attic

Yard view from the attic

As the available light deteriorated even further I finally settled down to the task of going through my pictures from the East Africa trip. As of today I have gone through only three days worth of photos from a trip that lasted three weeks!  And I thought I’d be done by now!

One more through the porch windows

But I must say after looking at enough birds like these Bee-Eaters, I wanted to stay with the photos, not face the reality of trudging off to the train in the snow and cold tomorrow morning.

Cinnamon-Chested Bee-Eater

Cinnamon-Chested Bee-Eater

Click on any of the photos for a better view..

Little Bee-Eater-4653.jpg-4653

Little Bee-Eater with bug

Hope to return soon with more photos and less snow! …Happy New Year!!

A Backyard Visitor

American Tree Sparrow

American Tree Sparrow

I certainly don’t have anything as exotic as a Varied Thrush visiting my yard, but last weekend before I took off on the owl excursion, I managed to get pictures of an American Tree Sparrow who seemed not only to know he was the only one of his species foraging in my space but also recognized my awareness of him, and did not disappear on account of it.

Tree Sparrow IMG_0034_1

I first thought I spotted him out the back window, which, between the screens and the frames, is a pretty lousy view, so I decided to go out with the camera to test the light for my later adventure and maybe get a photo of whoever was out there.

(The yard was blissfully free of the Gray Squirrels who are aggressive feeder-raiders. I love my Fox Squirrels, that have better manners.)

Fox Squirrel

Fox Squirrel

Dark-Eyed Junco

Dark-Eyed Junco

One of many Juncos…

and a female Cardinal…

Female Northern Cardinal

Female Northern Cardinal

Lo and behold, it was indeed an American Tree Sparrow and after a few minutes of clicking away watching him forage, I got the picture below.

Tree Sparrow IMG_9981_1

“You lookin’ at me?”

Then he flew into a tree and “challenged” me again.

Tree Sparrow IMG_0090_1

I don’t think this is a new species for my yard, but I am almost reluctant to check, because then I tend to wonder what else I might have been missing while I’m away at work. I’m just glad to have had this encounter with the visiting American Tree Sparrow.

Tree Sparrow IMG_9983_1

Sunflower Cycle

Sunflowers are blooming early this year. Planted by the birds and squirrels from the seeds spilled from the feeder, they grow tall and, depending on how much rain we’ve had, they can produce huge flowers that weigh them down. But since it’s been very hot and dry, the sunflowers are of a smaller variety. No matter, for they still attract the goldfinches.

Male American Goldfinch

I took the day off to take care of an accumulation of errands around the house that would have decimated a normal weekend’s worth of time. Before I left for my first stop,  I was delighted to be out in the yard when goldfinches were flitting around in the sunflowers. I ran back in the house to get the camera and was rewarded by their stay.

Juvenile American Goldfinch

Even the goldfinches are nesting early this year. I did not expect to see a juvenile so soon.

Sunflower seeds feed the squirrels too. I don’t mind when they eat the spilled seeds on the ground, but keeping them off the feeders is an increasing challenge as the trees start forming a low canopy in my yard. Here’s one of my nemesis Gray Squirrels who likes to raid the feeders.

And here’s the Fox Squirrel who has much better manners and does not seem to be spending all his energy trying to outsmart me.

Fox Squirrel

While I was trying to get pictures of the goldfinches, I caught a Mourning Dove leaving.

Mourning Dove

A female House Sparrow on a bare branch of the ailing Horse Chestnut Tree.

The ubiquitous House Finches are all paired up and they’ve fledged clutches by now. They may be working on a second batch.

The goldfinches still visit the thistle socks too. I will have to fill them up again tomorrow morning.