Another Crow Post

When it occurred to me that nearly the entire month of February had gone by without another visit to the lakefront, I took advantage of last weekend’s beautiful weather on Sunday morning and went down to see the Crows and whatever else I could find.

In anticipation of however many Crows I could encounter and the chilly temperatures, I made a batch of Birdz Cookies to offer along with the peanuts in the shell. I was curious to see whether the Crows would remember the Birdz Cookies, which started out years ago as peanut butter-oatmeal-raisin and have gone through many healthier – and more delicious, I might add – modifications, while still remaining true to those three ingredients.

I didn’t see any Crows until I had walked past all of this.

Train tracks looking south from Jackson Street bridge
Buckingham Fountain

I was nearly at the corner where I would cross Monroe and then Lake Shore Drive when the first Crow found me. I perhaps should mention that until I see a Crow, I don’t stop to take the offering out of my backpack. So the Crows recognize me before they see the food. Either they have x-ray vision (which I wouldn’t doubt), or I fit the description of Crow Feeder, or both.

It wasn’t long before there were three more Crows.

And then the Birdz Cookies became the preferred snack. I was thrilled.

I mean, really, is there anything more beautiful than a glossy black Crow with a Birdz Cookie? Yeah, maybe one who has figured out how to grab a piece of cookie and a peanut at the same time.

When it was time to cross Lake Shore Drive and continue north along the lake, the Crows followed me, of course.

Down to the last Snow Crow…

Unlike my previous visit at the beginning of January, however, the Crows did not follow me along the lakefront. Then one singular Crow apart from the group of four appeared. Peanuts were an acceptable offering.

This Crow did not seem so comfortable with me. Checking me out, so to speak. So I kept my distance and did not risk offering cookies that were likely unfamiliar to him or her.

That was it with the Crows. I speculated later that perhaps the longer days and sunshine were already distracting the Crows with thoughts of spring and many of them were elsewhere. So I turned my eyes to the birds on the water. They were far off and there was still plenty of ice. Most of the ducks were Greater Scaup. And there were the expected Canada Geese, Mallards and Herring and Ring-billed Gulls.

Ice in the harbor that caught my eye.

The gulls reminded me of the Gull Frolic two weeks earlier. That’s a whole other blog post – to come.

I managed to blow up a few individual duck photos.

Common Goldeneye

The Mallard below was quite close.

Greater Scaup on the lake.

In all, it was gratifying to see Crows again on a beautiful day. But I had the problem of some leftover Birdz Cookies and there were yet more at home. I thought I would be trying to give them away, but after a few missed opportunities, I decided to simply eat them myself. I have managed, by devouring two a day, to enjoy them and not gain any appreciable weight in the process. But I likely won’t be making another batch once the weather warms up.

We had one very warm and later quite windy day yesterday. I met my dear friend Hannah for a walk at Columbus Park where we spent most of the time beginning to catch up on each other’s lives. It was still chilly enough for the water to be frozen. There also seemed to be a runners’ race of some sort going on. The songs of scores of Red-Winged Blackbirds filled the air.

Mallards on the ice at Columbus Park

When I got home I saw one male House Finch showing off the buds on the flowering crab.

I keep resisting temptation to revisit photos from last year before I archive them into perpetuity on an external hard drive, but even after missing a few morning walks this week or next, the immediacy of spring will tempt me back into the present. So either way, I will be back. We’ll see what happens next.

In and Around the Yard

The days last week when I shoveled a lot of snow – I think it was when I had gone back to dig out my car from the overnight plowing – I looked up and saw the local Cooper’s Hawk sitting in my neighbor’s tree. The last time I had seen it for any length of time was on January 22nd when it was sitting on my fence and then in my yard. I apologize for the poor quality of the photos below but they were taken through the kitchen window.

And even outside where things were clearer, I missed the hawk’s eventual departure from its perch.

I took advantage of the bright sunshine Tuesday and tucked around the backyard with the camera when I came back home. I was very happy to see the female Red-breasted Nuthatch in good light so I took way too many pictures. Here are a few…

I was also happy to catch a male House Finch at the bird bath. I don’t see them as frequently as I would like.

The American Goldfinches are still quite consistent, but their numbers are falling off a bit – everybody has spring fever.

You can see the feather wear beginning to unleash bright yellow for spring.

The birdbaths have become splash parties lately. Apologies again for the fuzzy photos but if I had been outside with the camera I would not have captured them because the birds would be out of the yard.

One thing the cold weather has been good for – giving me a break from refilling the suet feeders constantly.

I have had as many as seven Northern Cardinals in the yard at a time – but the time is always dusk or dawn. One or two cardinals might visit briefly during the middle of the day but they tend to not stay long enough for me to capture. So I am stuck with a fuzzy through the porch windows picture.

I’ve been out for walks a few times with not a lot happening, but there are moments when winter seems to be slowly losing its grip. The forecast for snow late tonight is to become rain by morning. While I hope the now-dirty snow will be washed away, things could get a bit muddy. But I have already heard some birds singing. And our choir may join them soon. We had our first in-person rehearsal last night since December.

Down by the River After the Rain

These photos are from two visits to the Riverside trail on October 20 and 27 – both after periods of some significant rain. Although the Des Plaines is nowhere near flood stage, it is good to see it looking more like a river.

Activity around the Hofmann Tower on 10-20 consisted of two flock bursts – the expected Rock Pigeons and also a flock of Blackbirds, mostly Red-Winged.

I saw an Orange-crowned Warbler on both occasions.

Below is a Nashville Warbler I saw on the 20th.

It was hard to get a good photo of this Double-Crested Cormorant through the trees but still nice to see on the 20th. I saw one flying a week later and wonder if it was the same bird…

It’s somewhat easier to get Northern Cardinals to sit still for a photo this time of year. As long as they feel somewhat shielded by a twig…

I saw Brown Creepers on both occasions, and was lucky to photograph this one on the 27th.

A Mallard here and there…

European Starlings are in groups, as usual.

One of those Red-winged Blackbirds still hanging around.

Below on the left is the sign posted at either end of the trail in Riverside that runs along the river. On the right is a sign opposite the western end of said trail, which denotes the Plank Road Meadow which features a boat launch.

House Finches are more visible now.

A tree full of Mourning Doves…

I expect to see more White-Throated Sparrows, but managed to capture only the one below.

I was going to simply add the photo directly below and call it a Tennessee Warbler – even though the face looked a little suspect to me. Then this morning when I flipped over the Audubon calendar hanging over the kitchen sink to November, the photograph of the bird on it looked like the one below, only it was identified as a Pine Warbler. So I took out The Warbler Guide to confirm – because now it was showing up as “rare” on my ebird checklist – and went to the bill shape again. That’s what made the face of this bird not look at all like a Tennessee.

Just to elaborate, I rescued the photos below from my external hard drive and found a few more clues to the Pine Warbler identification. There’s ever-so-slightly a hint of wing-bar showing on a couple photographs, but best of all is the one I brightened up a bit, where the bird is looking directly at me. That’s a Pine Warbler face if I ever saw one. I have to be more careful going through all these photos!

Below is a lovely little Song Sparrow.

The remaining Great Blue Heron is not as visible now from the bridge.

Catalpa tree seed pods on the left, and well-eaten Pokeweed on the right.

An American Robin for good measure…

Not sure whose web this is but I found it interesting.

I saw the Red-tailed Hawk flying below before it landed in the tree.

A few more scenes of this location as the late fall progresses.

We are flirting with overnight freezing temperatures. Indeed, this morning I had to scrape the frost off the windows of the car before I went for a walk at the Portage. Today I will be draining as much water as I can store into empty vinegar gallon bottles, to be used in the now-heated birdbaths all winter.

And as the days get shorter and I see fewer birds… take fewer photographs… maybe I can start revisiting the reason why I started this blog in the first place: my fascination with bird song and the birds’ reactions to music. For the moment, I would like to share with you a funny incident I happened to record way back on August 29th. I was playing piano – I have been revisiting Schumann’s “Kinderszenen” – and perhaps that day it had become a bit of drudgery – I was likely distracted by the fact that my effective retirement date was 2 days off. In any event, I struck a wrong chord while playing the 9th piece of it (“Ritter vom Steckenpferd”) and my indoor crowd IMMEDIATELY let me know that was not acceptable. Which not only proves they were right, but also that they are always listening! Below is the clip. Enjoy. 🙂

Great Blue Heron

Once More with Sunshine

I went back to the Portage Sunday to see if abundant sunshine would allow me to see more birds. As it turned out, it was harder to capture most of the birds – except for the Indigo Buntings who were readily available – but in going through my photographs later I discovered the camera saw more birds than I did and I found some unexpected species. Nothing rare – it’s spring migration, so just about anybody can show up.

Vesper Sparrow

Not only was the Vesper Sparrow unexpected, but I was also surprised to see a Black-Billed Cuckoo, although I have seen them at the Portage on occasion before.

There were swallows like the day before, although not as many. I have concluded that the Northern Rough-winged Swallows fly in a more deliberate fashion which makes them easier to capture. Still I managed to snap one photo of a Barn Swallow in the lower right-hand corner.

So the Indigo Buntings were busy singing in the sunshine. I am convinced they have an artistic sense of the best places to perch for photos. I love the way this one was initially framed by the split of the tree trunk.

Male American Goldfinches are in full bloom too.

The Red-winged Blackbirds are looking a little tired of it all already.

Gray Catbird

I thought I was hearing the tail end of an Eastern Towhee’s song – and then I spotted one way up high (used to seeing them closer to the ground). Below the shots of the male is a partially visible female Eastern Towhee.

I was also hearing an Eastern Wood-Pewee for the first time this spring. I barely captured a picture of one below.

Red bird of the day turned out to be a male House Finch.

The Baltimore Orioles are busy gathering nesting material. Both female and male birds are below.

This is a really unfortunate place for a Lincoln’s Sparrow to show up but I’m glad one was on site anyway.

I walked around back by the water reclamation district and saw three Killdeer. Below is one of them.

There were quite a few Brown-headed Cowbirds. I got closer shots of the female in the grassy area by the parking lot on my way out.

So we really, really need some rain. This is how the Des Plaines looked on Saturday. You can walk down to it easily because the bottomlands are all dried out. Unfortunately because of the lack of water, there were no birds by the river.

So it wasn’t a great day for warblers, but I did manage a few pictures of a female Bay-breasted Warbler.

Can’t leave without a Robin. It’s got to be getting harder and harder to find those worms. The Robin below has a not-so-tasty-looking worm in its bill.

With a little luck I will be back with the prelude to all this before the weekend when I will likely be outside again. There is rain in the forecast but I have learned to become skeptical of the outcome. At least it is still fairly cool, but that will change too. This is all affecting my mood, to say the least. I am looking forward to swimming tonight – a sure antidote to depression.

My Little Hummingbird

She’s been visiting my feeders all summer. Except for the few distant pictures I took of this female Ruby-throated Hummingbird when she was perched on a tree branch last month, she has eluded my attention. Indeed it has seemed like every time she sees me lhrough the kitchen window she disappears.

So today with the heat forecast, I decided to stay home and work in the yard early while it was still cool. I had planned to write about my last two visits to the Portage, one yesterday and last Saturday, but after seeing and managing to photograph this little charmer, a morning at home has taken priority.