Snow Upon Snow: Cold, Snowy Continuum at the Home Front

It seems like it will never stop snowing. And it’s generally been too cold to stay outside for very long. I am not good with the camera if I’m wearing gloves, let alone mittens. So several of these photographs were taken from the porch through the screened windows.

The first significant snowfall – it was still January.

Two pairs of Northern Cardinals have been hanging out in the yard regularly. It’s always nice to see them. They tend to show up as a group later in the day when they are less visible to predators. Or at least I think that’s their strategy.

I don’t seem to see the woodpeckers as often but was able to capture this Downy through the kitchen window when he showed up on a sunnier day.

The one day last week when it wasn’t prohibitively cold, I went out to take a few pictures and found this American Tree Sparrow in the snow next to the dogwood.

One morning when I was in the kitchen I spotted the reason for the lack of birds in the yard – a Cooper’s Hawk enjoying its meal way down at the end of the fence by the alley. I couldn’t determine what it was eating with my binoculars but it stayed a long time to finish its meal. There is so much snow it wasn’t possible to walk back there after it left to see what the remains looked like either. I had to take pictures through the window as I would have immediately flushed the hawk if I had stepped outside onto the stairs.

My most frequent and numerous visitors are House Sparrows. I think there are often upwards of 50 at a time.

I’ve had more American Goldfinches too since I replaced the old nyjer with a fresh supply. The one sunny day I was out for a few minutes gave me the opportunity to photograph the bird below.

Through the porch window, goldfinches on the thistle socks.

I sometimes see a Black-capped Chickadee in the yard when I go out to fill the feeders, and I have seen some House Finches and Dark-eyed Juncos, but I haven’t been able to photograph them. I haven’t seen Mourning Doves very often. Sadly they are likely victims of the Cooper’s Hawks.

I don’t know when I’ll be going back to the Portage or walking anywhere else for that matter. It may not be for a couple weeks. I have managed to dig out my car in between snowstorms and go swimming twice a week. I have also been walking a mile to the train to go into the office a couple times a week. This schedule will likely continue. I am looking forward to my first dose of the vaccine next Monday. Beyond all that, my next post will feature the birds inside the house as we have some new, cute kids.

Marching Mirrorless

Sunday morning I ventured out with the mirrorless camera, after not using it for a year. I determined the length of time when I found photographs I had taken on October 24, 2019 still on the memory card, and some of them are further down this post. I had been using the camera for my occasional walks around the part of the southwest Loop where the office is located.

When I went out Sunday, I didn’t have any great expectations for pictures of birds, but I did manage a few. The last post featured goldfinches foraging in the duck weed and this one has Yellow-Rumped Warblers.

Below is the only Palm Warbler I managed to capture in some focus. I may get more practice with this camera this weekend. It’s small enough for me to hold steady with my left hand.

I love fall colors.

The geese flew over this time. They didn’t land.

This is what the path looks like when I first enter the Portage.

Below are some pictures I took last October. Hermit Thrushes and White-Throated Sparrows in a city park-like setting. I miss seeing the park crowd.

Even the House Sparrows looked good that day.

Common Yellowthroat female
White-throated Sparrow

Some things are still best depicted with a cell phone camera. Below is the loaf of bread I made Sunday night. It was finally cool enough to turn on the oven, and I had enough mobility in my left hand to manage the loaf and then even hold it still so I could slice it (that was the hardest part).

I just had my sinks routed out today after years and years of accumulated waste, likely from cleaning the cages in the basement and then more recently, hulling the sprouts I grow. I have learned my lesson, ordered some drain filters, and I can be more careful as I start to feel more capable doing my chores.

We are presently having a lovely spell of warmer weather – I suppose it’s what may still be called “Indian Summer” – before the fall and winter settle in. I have not been able to determine whether the term has met its socially approved expiration date, so I use it with caution and due respect here.

Today on the radio, I’m hearing things I used to play and find myself longing to touch the piano keys again. I’m not quite ready, my fingers are still a wee bit swollen and stiff. But there’s an element of renewal in recovery and I am embracing it for all its worth. I hope you are finding something good in your day to hang your hat on. Onward.

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.

Home is Where the Birds…Are!

I thought I’d be returning to this page with pictures from my travels but my plans have been derailed by local distractions. It seems I cannot stand at the kitchen sink and look out the window for more than a minute before a Downy Woodpecker is on the suet feeder that hangs from the sumac tree.

I planned to go to the Portage yesterday, but the weather kept me home with 35 mph winds and gusts of up to 50 miles per hour and also flood warnings along the Des Plaines. I decided not to take the chance of being blown around the trail with the possibility of trees falling on me. The Portage is likely high enough above the Des Plaines River basin not to be affected too much by its flooding but I wasn’t all that curious either. Not sure if fear of catching or spreading a virus is making me more timid to take any chances at all. Combining the weather warnings with cloudy skies and birds predictably hunkered down, I decided it was advisable to stay home. But I would go out for a walk a little later, just to experience the wind at a safe distance.

As it turned out, soon after I was out the front door, three, possibly four, Turkey Vultures appeared, coasting about on the wind. They were sallying around the neighborhood for half an hour at least. Then when I returned to my front door, I heard a nearby Dark-Eyed Junco, and got lucky with one and then another perching in the little apple tree where they posed for a minute or two. I have been trying to take pictures of Juncos for months to no avail, but have managed the past couple days to photograph the ones that visit my yard. I wonder if the birds are more curious about me, now that they are relatively free of constant human activity.

Dark-Eyed Junco

Most of the photographs below are from one sunny day last week, March 25. I went out and sat in the back of the yard soaking up the sunshine. It was midday, not the optimum for light conditions, but outside was the place to be, relatively warm, hanging out with the feeder crowd.

Even the local songster Northern Cardinal made a guest appearance…!

On Saturday afternoon late, when there were no birds in the yard, I saw the reason why. I couldn’t get very good images between the lack of light and the window screens on the porch, but here is a very hungry looking Cooper’s Hawk.

Of course as I tried to sneak out the back door for a better photo, it left.

Below is a little expression inspired by the indoor crowd yesterday. I’ve titled it “Minimalist Zebra Finches” and, of course, they participated enthusiastically.

Minimalist Zebra Finches

The Mourning Doves below: I love how the male is “politely” chasing the female. I tried to capture how his neck was lit up in the second photograph.

It must have been the lighting – I was pretty far away – but this is an interesting-looking House Sparrow.

And there are worms to be had for the Robin…

Spring is coming. The days are getting longer. It’s nice to know some things haven’t changed.

New Year’s Day

What a gorgeous day, to start the new year. The sun was shining brightly in a cloudless sky. It was quite cold and windy this morning, but who cares? I have something in common with the birds. We worship the sun.

It was nice to see the White-Breasted Nuthatch in the yard this morning. Also present were a multitude of House Sparrows, House Finches and American Goldfinches, with a female Northern Cardinal as a bonus.

So this is a brief post with some pictures from this morning and a couple from Christmas Eve. I have an embarrassing confession to make. I have been shooting with manual focus for so long, due in large part to trying to take pictures of warblers in trees, that I realized on my last trip I had no idea how to set up the camera for autofocus. Here I have all this fancy equipment with no idea how to use it. Duh. So it’s been on my list for the last several months to get on board with autofocus, to the point where it was really becoming a Big Deal in my mind. I needed peace and some uninterrupted time to sit down and figure this thing out.

Luckily there are enough videos and whatnot on the Internet. I finally sat down this morning at the dining room table with both cameras I’ve been using and realized that I was not that far off from using autofocus in the first place, it was just a matter of getting used to the buttons on the camera and what I was trying to do. Then I went out into the backyard with both cameras and started shooting. It took a bit of getting used to, but I really needed to do this! It fought me once when I tried to focus on a squirrel behind some branches, but that wasn’t worth worrying about. So now I can go to San Blas confident that I will get many more pictures in focus!

House Finch

Here’s a Hairy Woodpecker that’s been coming to the yard the past week. Or at least I’ve been around enough to see him. There’s a female too, so I can only assume they are a pair. This picture was taken through the window last week.

White-Breasted Nuthatch

I am getting mentally and physically ready for my next trip, trying to lessen the last-minute panic that always seems to accompany final preparations. Having the extra days off has been a big help.

Another one of Hairy
American Goldfinch

This is probably my last post until after I come back. It’s still hard for me to believe I’m going but Sunday morning isn’t that far away. Best wishes to all for the New Year. We need something to look forward to!

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!

New Year’s Birds

White-Breasted Nuthatch

Yesterday was cloudy, cold and windy, so I did not go down to the lakefront to visit the crows. I decided to check out the zoo instead, only to find there were hardly any birds to see except a Downy Woodpecker afar.

Brookfield Zoo
50+ Canada Geese flying over the zoo

So I spent much of the day looking out into the yard for activity, and it changed over the course of the day. My official first-bird-of-the-year sighting was American Goldfinch. These birds have become my biggest fans.

It didn’t seem worth going out into the yard to take pictures on a gloomy day, so I took all my pictures through the windows and sometimes the screens as well, which gives everything a warm and fuzzy appearance, I suppose. It was the only way I could capture the interloper below.

Cooper’s Hawk (male) with prey

I am not sure what he was attempting to eat, but I think it might have been a European Starling. I’ll should see if there are any telltale feathers by the neighbor’s fence.

The Pine Siskins were still around, at least four of them. And one of my Northern Cardinals even made an appearance, however temporary. At one point I had over 100 birds in the yard, which became all the more evident when they all took off at once in a thundering rumble of wing beats.

But my most cooperative subject was the female White-Breasted Nuthatch who was hanging out in the sumac by the kitchen window.

The only species that visits my yard that I haven’t seen in a while is Black-Capped Chickadee. I haven’t heard them either. All I can hope is they haven’t gone missing totally in the neighborhood.

American Goldfinches and Pine Siskins

I am afraid I’m getting off to a lazy start this year. Naps were all too easy to come by. Choir rehearsal should wake me up tonight.

Happy House Sparrow New Year!

Best of Luck getting into 2019…!

Long Holiday Weekend…

WBNU Yard - 11-22-18-4992

White-Breasted Nuthatch

Choir tour and back-to-work notwithstanding, I feel remiss about not having managed a blog post until now. It’s not for lack of photographic experiences, but more my lack of energy and planning. What I have tried to plan to do with my four-day weekend is get in as much outdoor time as possible. Starting with Thursday…

Portage - 11-22-18-4760

 

I went to the Portage even though it was cloudy and windy. Unsurprisingly I did not see many birds and those I saw did not make taking their pictures easy. But the first capture proved to be a rare one. Apparently it’s a little late for a Field Sparrow…even if it’s not a great image the bird was unmistakable.

Field Sparrow

White-Throated Sparrows were in abundance, but still not so easy to see, along with the American Tree Sparrows.

White-Throated Sparrow

American Tree Sparrow

Downy Woodpeckers winter at the Portage so they tend to stand out even when they aren’t trying to.

The Portage Pillage continues. I’m not sure if these trees were invasive or in bad shape but they are gone now. The third photo below shows the shallow water frozen, prohibiting waterfowl visitors.

The female cardinal below was not staying for a better shot.

NOCA - 11-22-18-4770Only two days earlier with the prospect of sunshine in the afternoon, I managed to get out of the office for a short walk over to the Lake Street bridge to see if there were any birds in the water.

None yet except for two Mallards napping on a log. But it wasn’t the Mallards that caught my attention – it was a bump on the log that created an optical illusion, looking very much like a Whip-Poor-Will on my camera. It wasn’t until I viewed the photographs on my computer that I realized this was a natural sculpture. So desperate was I to see a bird!

I will always be able to count on the Herring Gulls, even in the slow gaps between migrations…

HEGU - 11-20-18-4731Returning to Thursday, the sun came out in the early afternoon, which gave me a chance to visit with the birds in the yard. I can always count on an abundance of House Sparrows.

One of two male cardinals…

NOCA Yard - 11-22-18-4963I was pleased to see six American Goldfinches.

But my best subjects were a pair of White-Breasted Nuthatches. I haven’t seen them for a long time, but that’s likely only because their favorite time to visit is around 1:30 in the afternoon, when I am usually at work. The females have a grayer cap, otherwise they are pretty indistinguishable.

I’m glad to see that some of those spilled sunflower seeds are still worth eating…

NOCA Yard - 11-22-18-5032One more of a nuthatch.

WBNU Yard - 11-22-18-4989I went to Jasper-Pulaski with my friend Lesa yesterday to see all the Sandhill Cranes I missed when they flew over the Chicago area the last couple weeks. I’ll be back shortly with some of that spectacle. If you are caught up in a holiday weekend, I hope it is going well!

 

Late Summer with the Goldfinches

AMGO Yard 8-18-18-7721The American Goldfinches are late breeders, so I haven’t seen more than one or two around until this past week. They are now returning to the yard to take advantage of the thistle socks again, but they are also helping themselves to the seed-heads forming on the flowers. I don’t think it ever occurred to me before that just when I’m thinking the coneflowers are looking like it’s all over, it’s just beginning for the goldfinches.

AMGO Yard 8-18-18-7725I watched this one male work on the “spent” flower he’s sitting on for so long I finally decided to take a video.

And then there’s the thistle socks. The second photo was through the porch window so it’s fuzzy.

The sunflower seed feeder is always popular with the House Finches and Northern Cardinals.

I haven’t seen the skunks for about a week. I was hoping they were keeping the cat below, photographed under my neighbor’s deck, out of the yard. I have never seen her attack anything but I am not fooled by her innocent-looking lolling around licking herself on the back cement pad.

Cat 8-18-18-7833The squirrels seem to be distracted from creating too much chaos by a steady supply of peanuts.

Squirrel Yard 8-18-18-7825There were not a lot of birds on Saturday’s first bird walk, and since they were difficult to see in the overcast I didn’t take many pictures, except in one or two cases just to confirm identification. So I’ll stay in the yard for this post. Below is an Agapostemon Sweat Bee gathering pollen.

We’ve had so much rain alternating with hot, sunny days this season everything in the yard is growing out of control. My Big Bluestem is well-established and as tall as I am. I like the fringed look of its flowering.

I haven’t done well with tomatoes for years, but I can grow peppers. This is the first time I’ve planted poblano chiles. They’re getting bigger. I’ll have to start cooking them soon.

Poblano Chile Yard 8-18-18-7912I really like the Mistflower and am glad I planted it in a shady spot between two trees where it’s filling in nicely.

Mistflower Yard 8-18-18-7908Below is a plant that introduced itself this year and up until a couple days ago, I didn’t know what it was. But I was reviewing the University of Illinois weed page looking for something else, and found its picture. I am happy to identify it as Toothed Spurge (poinsettia dentata). Although it has shown up uninvited, it is a native and rather attractive. The leaves are so thick they look almost like a succulent. I’m relieved it’s not an invasive, so I think I can let it hang out for the rest of the season.

Toothed Spurge Yard 8-11-18-7482The Wild Senna on the left below is pretty much gone, but the Tall Ironweed is still blooming, although a lot of it has fallen over.

In the front yard I discovered Nodding Onion which I think might be blooming well for the first time this year since it was planted by Art three or four or however many years ago it’s been now. And the one Cardinal Flower plant continues. I’d like to have more of it. Not sure I have a good red thumb though.

More regular visitors, of course House Sparrows, but I thought this one was a rather attractive little guy. And the female Downy Woodpecker below, on the peanut feeder, looks like this might be her first year in the yard.

HOSP Yard 8-18-18-7808DOWP Yard 8-11-18-7508One more of my too-hungry-to-be-camera-shy goldfinch. Saturday I “lead” the group on another bird walk, and I hope this time to see some migrants to write about.

AMGO Yard 8-18-18-7761

Portage Summer Day

GRHE 7-28-18-7115I got out early last weekend to beat the heat which was nothing compared to what kept me indoors most of this weekend. Last Saturday was a beautiful day. And usually when the weather is good, the birds are out enjoying it too.

Summer is the time for confusing juveniles, and the first bird I saw, below, suggested to me that it was a juvenile Eastern Wood-Pewee…

EAWP 7-28-18-7095Not to be confused with the juvenile Eastern Phoebe I saw later, below.

EAPH 7-28-18-7100