Farewell 2020

My last day birding at the Portage was 12-26-20. It was quite cold, but sunny, and when I finally found the flock as I was starting to go back along the trail on my way out, between my cold fingers and foggy lenses, it was a challenge to focus the camera on anything, but I managed to capture quite a few House Finches. We have since had our first noticeable snowfall this weekend, but I gave up on birding this morning with a murky sky and waiting, all day and into tonight, for a delivery that requires a signature. So here are lots of House Finches.

While I find myself sitting around a little stunned, trying to figure out what I learned from last year, it may not be too bad to simply give in to one’s existence in the moment. I photographed the House Finch below as it was giving in to an itch.

That puffed-out, put-on-my-coat look is an indication of just how cold it was, even in the sunshine.

There is no rhyme. reason nor theme to my post today, just a few pictures from my last outing. I managed a photo of the only White-Throated Sparrow I saw sitting still that day.

The only American Tree Sparrow I was able to capture, from afar. There were a lot of birds down in the dried grasses, but this one managed to sit up for a moment.

And one Dark-Eyed Junco foraging busily in some branches.

Even this Downy Woodpecker looked fluffy.

I think the House Finch below was a bit disdainful of my attention to him. He had been sitting facing away from me but finally turned half around.

The statue before and after…and the water was still open in spite of the cold.

An American Goldfinch in the clear cold.

Northern Cardinals are always present but not always available for photos. I’ve gotten lucky so far this winter. This individual became very cooperative. It’s nice that the males remain looking as red as ever, especially in the otherwise drab winter months.

A female House Finch, below, looking like she’s had enough of me looking at her…

It’s been a relatively quiet, peaceful weekend. The snowfall adds to that, absorbing sound. But as long as there is light in my house, the birds are singing…

December’s Portage

I had hoped to manage this post a couple weeks ago but I have been too busy at work. Saying I can only spend so many hours on my laptop no longer seems a valid excuse since we don’t seem to be able to do anything offline these days. So to make it before December is no more, here are photos from my last visit to the Portage on December 5th.

The day started off cloudy and quiet but when the sun came out so did the birds. Some Northern Cardinals hiding out in the open.

Can’t ignore a few Canada Geese flying over.

American Goldfinches will devour everything before they resort to my feeders.

More cardinal photos. Often these guys are skulky but they didn’t seem to mind me that day.

There were a lot of Black-Capped Chickadees that day, and they were not shy.

Sunlit American Tree Sparrow below.

A few shots of how the Portage looks these days.

I would not have paid much attention to the Mallards below, except that after being advised by my two Portage photographer buddies Steve and Mike that the hybrid was a “Manky Duck”, I looked it up, and apparently there are several varieties. This one appears to be an Abacot Ranger Manky Duck. Who knew?

A White-Throated Sparrow and two views of a Song Sparrow…

One more reclusive Song Sparrow

In the darker moments, all I could get of a Red-Bellied Woodpecker.

A female Downy in the cloud cover.

The bark on this tree caught my eye – and it was distinctive enough to identify as a Hackberry. I wanted a Hackberry in front of my house but my request was declined, I suspect due to too many underground facilities. But now I can admire this one. Time to start learning trees.

Last weekend I participated in the Christmas Bird Count. The weather was cloudy, but it wasn’t brutally cold and it didn’t rain. I may have a few photos to share.

We are beyond The Longest Night – which always reminds me of Peter Mayer’s beautiful song so entitled. I tried included a link to the song but I don’t think it’s allowed. If you are so inclined, do give it a listen on YouTube. There’s a lovely video with lyrics.

Wishing you and yours warm, peaceful holidays. May we look forward to 2021 with better outcomes for all.

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.

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.

Mid-July

I haven’t been able to go forward too far so I am going backward in time. These photographs are from one lovely day in the middle of July at the Portage. A highlight was a pair of Orchard Orioles. The male is at the top of this post.

Even though the Green Herons did not have enough water to make a go of it this summer, they still came to visit.

Pollinators were busy.

Below are some more images of the male Orchard Oriole, and one of the female in the same frame as a Red-Winged Blackbird female. They were foraging in the vegetation that sprung up in the absence of water this summer.

A female Red-Winged Blackbird is showing off below.

Male Northern Cardinals aren’t typically willing subjects, so it was a rare treat to capture this one.

Robins were present in all stages of plumage.

Not sure but this might have been my last opportunity to photograph and record a singing male Indigo Bunting.

It was a good year all around for seeing Eastern Wood-Pewees. I usually always hear them but rarely see them. Something about the change in habitat, I suspect.