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.

So of course I have taken way too many pictures of her… At first, I had done some work in the front yard, and then decided it was getting too hot to do very much in the backyard. I had been thinking about reinstating one of my makeshift benches that I used to sit on. But firstI had to remove much of a currant bush that some creature had planted after eating the berries from one of the original planted ones. The bush was practically on top of the bench. It was long past fruiting and I am sure it will try to grow back. But for now I needed a place to sit, so I cut back most of it.

A photo of part of the yard in summer chaos taken earlier in the week. The far hummingbird feeder in the center back of the photo is where the hummingbird was this morning.

I was sitting comfortably in the shade of my trees for ten minutes or so when the hummingbird arrived. But then I realized there was a small leafy branch from the crabapple tree blocking my view of the entire feeder. I removed that too and sat back down. Hummingbirds tend to return to feeders every 15 minutes or so, and I was hoping that would be the case this morning.

Lo and behold. she came back, and she dipped into the feeder for a good minute or two before flying off. I am sure she saw me, but for whatever reason my presence and the shutter clicks didn’t bother her at all. I apologize for all the photos but I am just so thrilled that she gave them to me and I won’t have to worry about capturing her again.

There have been a few other cooperative birds in the yard this week so I may as well give them some space. I’m also playing around with the new editor, there seem to be more options since I last put together a post.

Below on the upper left is what appears to be a juvenile House Finch. The three remaining photos are of an adult female.

House Finch male

Of the two types of squirrels, the Fox Squirrel always seems ready to engage.

I’d like to think the young Robin above is the offspring of the pair that visits my yard everyday.

I will be back with the Portage report soon, I hope. Until then, I hope you have a good week.

Saturday’s Spring Bird Count and Mother’s Day Rain

Yesterday I was fortunate enough to participate in the Spring Bird Count in DuPage County. I have done this count for a number of years, but this time, with social distancing, it was different. We split up so we each covered one area. I was assigned the Silver Lake part of Blackwell Forest Preserve, a location I was not familiar with, but was easy to navigate with the map Jody gave me, and I can get lost anywhere. Since I could only do the morning and there was no time limit, I had a wonderful experience listening for and spotting all the birds I could identify at a leisurely pace.

One of several Yellow-Rumped Warblers

I felt especially privileged because under the current New Normal, I would not have been allowed to visit DuPage County preserves because I am not a resident. The county decided last month to limit parking to its residents. We speculated there was an overflow of people from Cook County, where I live, due to the closing of the lakefront. So I don’t know when I’ll be able to revisit this lovely place, but now that I am more familiar with it, I plan to do so when restrictions end.

Eastern Bluebird (male)

I was beginning to feel like I am the only person on earth who hadn’t seen a Rose-Breasted Grosbeak yet so I was happy to find one singing high up in a tall tree.

Love was definitely in the air, albeit chilly after freezing temperatures overnight, for local breeders. I usually can’t get a glimpse of a Blue Jay long enough to photograph, but this pair united for some courtship behavior, exchanging some tiny seeds you might be able to see if you click on the images below.

And when it was all over I somehow managed to catch this Blue Jay in flight.

Yellow-Rumped Warblers are usually quite common, however brief the period of spring migration, so it’s easy to overlook how truly beautiful they are. This one was happy to display all his yellow parts except for his namesake.

I have no idea what was going on with this European Starling but I could swear he was dancing and singing.

This Tree Swallow was saving his energy for later when the sun would start warming up the ground and the air and there would be bugs to catch.

At some point Blue-Gray Gnatcatchers are going to become impossible to find, let alone photograph, but that hasn’t quite happened yet.

Here’s two more of the goldfinch pair featured at the top of this post.

This distant Northern Flicker would have been impossible to capture were it not for the bright, clear sunshine.

I kept hearing this Common Yellowthroat and he was confusing me by not singing his “witchety-wichety” song, only a slow trill, if you will. So finally he came and sat right in front of me and continued singing. I have never had a Common Yellowthroat volunteer to be photographed. He must be a novice. Anyway, you can see in the third photo how windy it was.

Another warbler, only this one was harder to capture. Black-throated Green Warbler.

Robins are predictably everywhere but they get short shrift. I try not to take them all for granted and capture at least one.

A less-frequently-seen bird, also in the thrush family – a handsome Veery.

Song Sparrow taking a break.

This Canada Goose flew right in front of me so I couldn’t resist.

I heard the Orchard Oriole before I saw him. What a lovely tune.

Palm Warblers become commonplace too, but they are still pretty birds.

I miss seeing spectacles like 150 White-Crowned Sparrows or more on the lakefront, but am glad I was able to report the only White-Crowned Sparrow seen in our area on Saturday.

There were at least four Baltimore Oriole males. These two got into a little bit of a stand-off.

The victor for this spot.

Downy Woodpeckers are busy this time of year and not quite so visible.

Here’s another one of the Bluebird.

So this morning I wasn’t planning on going out at all because of the forecast for all-day rain, but the rain stopped, so I went to the Portage to see if I could find anything. The cloudy sky was a more dramatic backdrop than usual.

I took a snapshot of Pere Marquete from the parking lot sculpture to see what kind of exposure settings I might be able to use.

Just my luck – the male Bluebird who has been at the Portage now for weeks happened to be hanging out. The exciting news which I meant to report a couple weeks ago is that we have a breeding pair. I saw his mate with nesting material a couple weeks ago. As long as I have been going to the Portage, Bluebirds have never nested there. Apparently they found a log or a tree stump with a suitable cavity for a nest. So I will be watching for their offspring in the coming weeks.

It started to rain, and I had to decide what to do – go back to the car, or keep walking? I put my camera in my backpack, kept walking, and then ran into a flock of warblers high up in the trees. Oh great – no light, it’s raining, and the tiny warblers are nearly impossible to see. These few images are what I could capture.

Palm Warbler

Tuesday morning I am going to try to go to the Portage early in the morning – when there is sunshine and warmer temperatures – and come home to work in the afternoon. I hope I get permission to do this because the forecast from Wednesday through the weekend is for rain and thunderstorms. My hope is to see more warblers. You’ll hear about it if I do!

House Finch

Southwest Texas: Building the List

Vermilion Flycatcher

It was challenging for many reasons to get photographs on this day. The birds were far away. They were backlit. They were hiding behind branches of trees or leaves of cactus. It was somewhat cloudy. And yet I was surprised to finally go through all the pictures more thoroughly and find some images I didn’t know I had. Most of all, it is great to get a feel for the landscape where the birds and other creatures were.

Saving the big hike for the following day, we explored the low-lying areas along the Rio Grande.

White-winged Dove

Most of these birds we continued to see throughout the trip, like the Say’s Phoebe below. I like the cactus cover this bird was using.

Say’s Phoebe

Mexican Jays are stunning. I don’t think we ever saw more than two at one time. They were somewhat elusive.

Mexican Jay

We saw Roadrunners on occasion but not close enough or long enough to get really good pictures. Maybe we were too distracted by our search for less common species.

It must be West Texas – there’s a Greater Roadrunner!

Hearing and barely seeing a Bell’s Vireo is a big event where I come from, so witnessing their incessant chatter and then getting such great views was heaven for me.

I adore Ravens and tried to get photographs whenever I could.

Common Raven

We spent some time locating and then looking at this Tropical Parula. It was so far away I wasn’t at all sure I got a photograph so I was surprised to find a few that were in focus. So I guess it was good I was carrying around my monster lens most of the time, although by the end of the trip it was starting to fall apart…

This Turkey Vulture is actually kind of cute. Snazzy pink legs and face to match.

Turkey Vulture, posing

Vermillion Flycatchers were almost everywhere. I like the female’s subdued plumage.

I think Western Wood Pewee was a new bird for me.

Western Wood Pewee

I got only one distant fuzzy shot of the male Varied Bunting, bottom right.

We were privileged to have good, long looks at a perched Zone-Tailed Hawk. You can just barely see the trademark tail band tucked underneath the tips of its folded wings.

Zone-tailed Hawk

Swainson’s Hawks are beautiful. Without the monster lens I would not have captured this detail.

Swainson’s Hawk

The Gray Hawk is…well…very gray.

There were more Scott’s Orioles to be seen, but even though this one was quite far away, I love the vegetation it has decided to perch on.

Scott’s Oriole
The Rio Grande
Inca Dove
House Finch
Golden-fronted Woodpecker

The Cordilleran Flycatcher was a new bird for me. I wish I’d gotten a better photograph, but this at least gives me an idea in case I am lucky enough to see one again.

Cordilleran Flycatcher

The gray day didn’t do this Acorn Woodpecker justice, but I still think of The Joker.

Acorn Woodpecker
Some of the dramatic landscape surrounding the Zone-Tailed Hawk’s perch.

It will take me some time to process the rest of this trip’s pictures, but I get to savor my memories a little bit longer. In the meantime, we keep wondering when summer will arrive in the Chicago area. While I am glad it’s not hot, it’s been colder and wetter than I ever remember for mid-June. I hope your summer solstice is going well.

Hodgepodge

My bird observation life has been peripatetic at best. Last Saturday was probably the best recent weekend day to go out, but I was at our annual choir retreat for three hours in the morning to prepare for this coming Choir Sunday. The weather was predictably cloudy and more miserable last Sunday so I stayed at home and took some pictures of the yard crowd.

I did manage to get out on March 31st to the Portage. Even though it was chilly and cloudy, I wanted to see if there were any new arrivals. For the most part I saw regular visitors. One White-Breasted Nuthatch was particularly cooperative. Perhaps he is related to the one who visits my yard on occasion.

The locals were all busy.

Perhaps the most evident Sign of Spring was seeing the return of a Turkey Vulture.

March 31st at the Portage still sleepy.

In the yard, I am happy to still have two Pine Siskins hanging out. I hope this means they have become regular visitors.

The Goldfinches are looking a little in-betweenish these days.

Not too clear pictures through the porch windows and screens but the House Finches are bonding. There’s a Pine Siskin mixed in the group shots too.

When I managed to stand in the backyard and wait for the birds to come back for photos, a male Downy Woodpecker made sure he checked out everything.

I still have a Dark-Eyed Junco or two, as of Sunday. And even though we had a nice warmup on Monday and Tuesday, the winds have shifted and we are back into chilly, windy gloom.

In a way I am glad I have not had time to start cleaning up my yard because there are undoubtedly a lot of overwintering insects I don’t want to disturb.

This Saturday I’m “leading” a walk at Columbus Park. So far the weather looks promising. I expect we will have a few migrants and with any luck I’ll get some pictures of them.

I’m looking forward to Choir Sunday. Our last rehearsal is tonight. We are singing a wonderful work by John Kramer entitled “The Immigrant Experience.” If you are anywhere within striking distance of Oak Park, Illinois, I urge you to attend either one of the two Sunday services at Unity Temple. Yes, this is a plug, but for a good cause. The music will be breathtaking.

With any luck I’ll be back to this page before next Saturday. Then I will be gone for a birding trip to Big Bend and the Hill Country in Texas. It’s been on my list of places to visit for a long time, and I wanted to see it before any habitat is destroyed by the border fiasco.

Upside Down

Downy Woodpecker

Or downside up. I have a really good excuse for not managing a blog post until now, which I hope never to use again. As much as I hate the passive voice, I’d rather phrase it like this: my car was totaled Sunday night on the way home from a meeting – the accident was unavoidable, not my fault, and I am happy to report there were no injuries and I will be getting a new, safer (should I have to crash into anything again) vehicle shortly.

It was 14 degrees Fahrenheit outside that night and I was so focused on getting the police to arrive that I forgot to take a picture of the damage, but that’s history now. So is the extraordinary lunar eclipse of that evening which I also forgot about in my distraction, although I was admiring the full moon through the window of the squad car as I sat in the back of it to keep warm while the police handled the investigation and report. So there are no spectacular images to share with this information, and I apologize.

American Goldfinch and House Finch

Instead here are some pictures from last weekend, when we got a total of about 9″ of snow, but had not yet plunged into the single digits and below which is where we are now.

I don’t anticipate getting any clearer photographs this weekend, but I will still try to capture the two Dark-Eyed Juncos and the Black-Capped Chickadee that I have seen only briefly. It was nice to see cardinals hanging out in a relaxed fashion.

I hope to be back soon, maybe even with a report about the new vehicle. In the meantime, I wish you all safety and warmth wherever you are!

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.