Late Summer in the Yard

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American Goldfinch (female)

I had a couple extra days off last week after the holiday, in between jobs, which gave me more time to spend in the backyard. I think the wild birds were starting to get used to my presence, so it is with reluctance that I go back to being The Scary Human Who Fills The Feeders.

A female Ruby-Throated Hummingbird spent perhaps a week in the area, and she would generally show up just before sundown which made it difficult to take pictures of her. One morning early when I went out to fill the feeders I saw her sitting in the redbud tree so I suspect she came more often than I was aware. I did have a beautiful male show up one afternoon but he was gone by the time I got my camera.

The yard has a lot of yellow going on with several varieties of goldenrod which I planted, for the most part, last fall. There is also one almost terrifyingly humongous sunflower which is more like a tree than a plant. I think the reason why it is so huge and still going strong is because it’s very close to the compost heap. I may need an axe to cut it down but for the moment I still find it cheerful and entertaining as it spreads out onto the cement slab.

The goldfinches have been busy chowing down on seed heads. They are probably responsible for a lot of the echinacea taking over the back bed. But that’s the original reason why I started the wildflowers years ago anyway, to attract birds, so I’m happy my yard has now become a destination.

After years of trying to outsmart squirrels I have given up and they seem to be a bit less annoying as long as they get their daily peanuts.

House Sparrows never get much photographic attention from me, but they eat most of the birdseed and are such a presence I felt I should take a few pictures.

DOWP 09-07-17-5206WBNH 09-06-17-5110The two birds who capitalize most when the House Sparrows have left the yard are the Downy Woodpecker and the White-Breasted Nuthatch.

Above, two photos of a couple House Finches for the record. They were not in the best of light or feather.

Bees have been constant if not as numerous as previous years.

The Mourning Doves are usually very skittish and whenever I find a pile of feathers from one the local Cooper’s Hawk has made off with, I wonder how many are left.

Even after you click on the picture above, it may be difficult to see the spider web on the left. I saw the garden spider in the middle of it once, but it has proved to be camera-shy. The web spans the narrow sidewalk running along the south fence. I am not going to be the one to destroy it by walking through. On the right, a bee on a remaining purple coneflower.

Squirrel Yard 09-02-17-4054As long as the squirrels can drink upside down hanging from a tree, they won’t knock over the birdbaths. If I wake up tomorrow to overturned bird baths the yard was likely visited by a nocturnal creature.

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Male Northern Cardinal finding his feathers

My first full week with my new employer starts tomorrow. The new job and choir commitments likely require me to tweak my schedule to figure out where and when I can fit the blog in. Fall migration also demands attention. Drum roll, please.

Wish Fulfillment

RTHU 08-19-17-2963I’ve had hummingbird feeders up since May. Three feeders in the backyard, and a couple weeks ago after a hummingbird hovered in my front yard, I added another feeder for the front porch. The best feeder for me is the one I can see while I’m standing at the kitchen sink looking out the window to the branch of the sumac tree it’s hanging from. And Saturday early evening my eye immediately followed that quick, darting flight of a hummingbird to that exact feeder. I grabbed the camera, went out the back door and waited. The hummingbird, a female Ruby-Throated Hummingbird, to be exact, decided she’d rather be at another feeder that hangs from the redbud tree, so that’s where I got these few pictures. But at last my wish was granted and hanging the feeders was no longer in vain.

I didn’t see a hummer on Sunday, but last night after work I did see a hummer come to the farthest feeder hanging from the crabapple tree.

Also in the yard late Saturday was a female Downy Woodpecker and a female cat that I often catch lounging on my back cement slab where once a tiny garage stood, but it seems she now has a new observation deck across the fence by the neighbor’s garage. She closed her eyes for the camera.

After all this excitement I figured my chances might be good for finding a hummingbird at the Portage Sunday morning. so I got there a little earlier than I have been (when I pulled in, there were no cars in the parking lot) and sure enough, right around the first bridge over the duckweed, I found this lovely individual.

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Female Ruby-Throated Hummingbird

I should mention that I mustered up the courage to take the Tamron 100-600mm lens now that I’ve enabled the back button focus feature, so I was able to get more pictures from farther away after being frustrated by the distances last week. Below, a couple Indigo Buntings.

And juvenile American Robins in their ever-changing plumage are always interesting to see.

There seemed to be a lot of juvenile Blue-Gray Gnatcatchers too. I think I caught this one after a bath.

It wasn’t too difficult to find an obliging Cedar Waxwing. This one is enjoying Pokeweed berries and a staring match with the camera lens.

CEWA 08-20-17-3189I didn’t get great pictures of any individual American Goldfinches but they stand out against the duckweed palette below.

AMGO 08-20-17-3044Below, one very distant Tiger Swallowtail butterfly and another Indigo Bunting.

When I stopped by the second bridge, I heard a White-Breasted Nuthatch but saw this Black-and-White Warbler foraging like a nuthatch on a tree.

BWWA 08-20-17-3264I lost track of the warbler but then found the nuthatch, below.

I still had a little time so I decided to see if anything was up at McGinnis Slough.

McGinnis 08-20-17-3357There was not a lot of activity. The large numbers of swallows and swifts were gone and nothing else had noticeably replaced their activity. But I did get a couple interesting photographs of three of the same species I had at the Portage.

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Indigo Bunting

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Blue-Gray Gnatcatcher

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Cedar Waxwing

One more bird from the Portage…

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Juvenile Song Sparrow

I have decided seeing hummingbirds at my feeders is appropriate consolation for not being able to view the partial solar eclipse yesterday. The safety glasses I ordered over a week ago never arrived, and I never received a reply to any of my email inquiries, so now I am digging in for a refund. Even if the glasses do finally arrive, I can’t plan to be around for the next eclipse, which is in 2024 and I’d have to travel to see it, let alone find the glasses 7 years from now. I did receive a camera filter in time for yesterday, maybe I can find another reason to play with it.

The Other Goose Lake

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Yellow-Headed Blackbird

Goose Lake Natural Area and the Hebron Trail, in McHenry County up by the Wisconsin border, was on my list of places to revisit this year and I was so happy to be accompanied by my friend Susan who had a Yellow-Headed Blackbird in her sights as a species to add to her life list. I checked with ebird and confirmed the blackbirds had been seen in late July last year, so there was a good chance of seeing them still. These photos are from last Sunday.

On the way up, Susan spotted two Sandhill Cranes walking near a fence by the road.

It was cloudy and threatening rain, although we managed to avoid downpours. The sun did peek out a little bit later. Greeted by a Cedar Waxwing…

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Cedar Waxwing

And a bedraggled-looking Yellow Warbler on the trail to the marsh…

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Yellow Warbler

And a juvenile Song Sparrow.

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Song Sparrow

The Yellow-Headed Blackbirds were suddenly in view in numbers and they dominated the landscape. Susan definitely added this bird to her life list. We did not see an Black Terns, a species that also breeds here. Perhaps we were too late in the day or the season.

At some point a flock of Canada Geese flew over.

Below, flying Yellow-Headed and Red-Winged Blackbirds.

One particular Tree Swallow kept flying around a distinctive dead tree, tempting me to try to capture it. The tree it perched on is a favorite stopping place.

Below, a Common Yellowthroat and a confusing young sparrow. It’s likely a Song Sparrow but this time of year is tricky with identifying the youngsters. I’d like to say Grasshopper but the head isn’t “flat.”

Not at all confusing were the distinctive sounds of singing Marsh Wrens, but it was getting hard to find one sitting up until we encountered this one close to a platform overlooking the marsh. Some of its song is at the link below (you will also hear Common Yellowthroat singing first).

The water level was exceptionally high, but the area was not flooded as were other parts of the county. We saw many Pied-Billed Grebes with young, although they were at quite a distance.

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Pied-Billed Grebes

Nice to see a Monarch Butterfly. Would have been nicer to see several. I’m intrigued by the yellow flowering plant on the upper right, which I do not recognize, and the Purple Prairie Clover below it, which I later realized is also blooming in my front yard. Imagine that.

It was nice to see a Ruby-Throated Hummingbird, even in lousy lighting, and a robin with food for young.

We met a very nice man who lives nearby and checks out the marsh regularly. He used to teach environmental science so he was full of good information and stories. He’s holding the crayfish below which he rescued from the gravel path. He encouraged us to come back at different times of the year. I think we should take him up on it.

More Yellow-Headed Blackbird photos. Missing are the distinctive white patches on the wings of adult males, which makes me think these are all juveniles.

YHBL 07-16-17-6279The little trio below leaves me stumped as to who the sparrow is, again. Since all juvenile sparrows tend to be on the streaky side no matter how they wind up as adults, I think this one has the look of a juvenile Field Sparrow but I’m not going to bet on it.

RWBL ET AL 07-16-17-6330Summer simmers on. I’ll be back soon.

LaBagh Woods

NAWA LaBagh 5-15-2016-1000I try to get to LaBagh Woods Forest Preserve a couple times a year if not more, at least during migration season. These pictures are from two weeks ago when I went with my friend Susan. It was extremely muddy after recent rains which made some of the trails impassible. Number of species and photographs were not as forthcoming as I might have hoped but we had a good time  Disclaimer: I’m presently suffering from a horrible head cold that started yesterday morning so I will keep this short and sweet.

It was a photo contest between Nashville Warbler (above) and Magnolia (again, show-offs that they are) but it was wonderful to see the elusive and scarce Golden-Winged Warbler. Below are two separate individuals of this species. At least I think they are different birds, we saw them quite a distance from each other.

Rose-Breasted Grosbeaks are always welcome. Below, male and female.

RBGR LaBagh 5-15-2016-0654RBGR LaBagh 5-15-2016-0676I don’t think I stopped bothering to take pictures of American Redstarts and Yellow Warblers (below) but there weren’t many volunteers.

And yes, the Magnolias, posing even when they aren’t.

Below, a Cooper’s Hawk sitting quietly in a tree.

COHA LaBagh 5-15-2016-0822After hearing Northern Parulas in several locations it was gratifying to finally be able to see one or two well and photograph below.

The migrants that likely aren’t going any farther are House Wren and Eastern Phoebe, below.

Also a Swamp Sparrow who could stay in the area.

SWSPLaBagh 5-15-2016-0809The bird below is a male Ruby-Throated Hummingbird – and the lighting is so intense and back-lit there is just no way to show off his ruby throat. But it was nice to see him perched. Welcome back, little fella. Still waiting to see a hummer in my yard…

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A few more athletic poses by the Nashville Warblers.

If you look closely at the top of the bird’s head below you can see a little rufous in the feathers of a male Nashville Warbler. I don’t know if I have ever seen this with binoculars but the camera lens makes it easier to believe.

NAWA LaBagh 5-15-2016-0964I will be back with more of spring migration. This weekend is probably going to be the last we will see of the warblers that keep going north.

Birds (Birds, Birds) in Costa Rica – Part II

Green Heron 11-14-14-7603Well you knew it was coming, so here are the other bird photographs that wouldn’t all fit into the last post. Leading off with one of two Green Herons which was most cooperative…

Yellow-Bellied Elaenia

Yellow-Bellied Elaenia

I’m always happy when I manage to photograph a bird that isn’t necessarily on the “list” for the day. Even when the bird is partially blocked by whatever it was hiding behind. We’d had Yellow-Bellied Elaenia in the hand and in the field on another day but I think I found the one above myself. I may have been the only person who saw the Variegated Seedeater outside El Cas, the wonderful restaurant where we ate breakfast and many of our lunches.

Female Variegated Seedeater

Female Variegated Seedeater

The Broad-Winged Hawk below sat still for quite a while before assuming this less-expected posture.

Broad-Winged Hawk

Broad-Winged Hawk

I struggled to get pictures of the Sunbittern below, as it was heavily shaded and fairly distant. Some in our group were very fortunate to see the species again later in much better light and even glimpse its open wings as it flew, which is the to-die-for view. Maybe next time.

Sunbittern

Sunbittern

Summer Tanagers were fairly common if not very available for pictures.

Female Summer Tanager

Female Summer Tanager

The Orange-Billed Sparrow is a new species for me. But its range is fairly wide, all across Central America and Northeastern South America, so maybe I’ll get to see it again.

Orange-Billed Sparrow

Orange-Billed Sparrow

I think the Fasciated Tiger Heron is a new bird for me too. This is a juvenile Fasciated, which might be mistaken for a Rufescent Tiger Heron. I have seen Bare-Throated Tiger Heron before.

Juvenile Fasciated Tiger Heron

Juvenile Fasciated Tiger Heron

Some of the smallest birds were absurdly far away to try to photograph, but I made an attempt anyway…

Least Grebe

Least Grebe

Green Kingfisher

Green Kingfisher

Hummingbirds demand closer views. Here is a Brown Violet-Ear resting on the wires of the chayote fields.

Brown Violet-Ear

Brown Violet-Ear

And a young male Ruby-Throated Hummingbird. Click on the picture below to see how the light catches and illuminates his new throat feathers.

Ruby-Throated Hummingbird

Ruby-Throated Hummingbird

I treasure the pictures below. We were at Tapanti National Park, which is where several of the photographs on this page were taken, and first saw the juvenile (the one with the orange throat) sitting alone on the twig for a while.  Like magic, mom arrived…

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Green-Crowned Brilliant

Green-Crowned Brilliant

One more look at that cooperative Green Heron.

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I might get around to one more Costa Rica post which will jumble together other creatures encountered. Otherwise I may embrace hibernation. 🙂

Hummingbirds!!

Crowned Woodnymph

Crowned Woodnymph

I have barely managed to process four days’ worth of photographs from Costa Rica, and have three more to go. And this was not a birding trip! But I find myself with a surfeit of hummingbird photos, so maybe it’s time to look at a few before I discover any more treasures.

Volcano Hummingbird

Volcano Hummingbird

Perhaps the most unusual sighting was of the Volcano Hummingbird. Although conditions were not perfect for photographing this bird, it was cooperative and loyal to its perch on top of a short tree hugging a crater of the Irazu volcano.

White-Necked Jacobin

White-Necked Jacobin

Even if White-Necked Jacobins were not widespread in Central and South America, they would be easily recognizable for their distinctive colors.

Green Hermit

Green Hermit

In the middle of our work week we took a day off from banding and one feature of that day was visiting Rancho Naturalista for lunch and observing their hummingbirds at the feeders, like the Green Hermit above and the Green-Breasted Mango below.

Green-Breasted Mango

Green-Breasted Mango

Rufous-Tailed Hummingbirds were numerous everywhere, and we were releasing them daily from the nets in the chayote fields. They appeared exotic again feeding in the vervain.

Rufous-Tailed Hummingbird

Rufous-Tailed Hummingbird

Rufous-Tailed Hummingbird

Rufous-Tailed Hummingbird

Black-Crested Coquettes are distinctive-looking little birds. Going through the pictures I wondered how I could have missed the fancy striping on their bellies, but I guess I was paying more attention to the black crest and the white posterior band that I guess makes them coquettish.

Black-Crested Coquette

Black-Crested Coquette

Black-Crested Coquette

Black-Crested Coquette

Black-Crested Coquette

Black-Crested Coquette

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Black-Crested Coquette

Crowned Woodnymphs used to be called Violet-Crowned Woodnymphs. I kind of like the old name better but they’re spectacular-looking little birds, whatever they’re called.

Crowned Woodnymph

Crowned Woodnymph

Of course we saw Ruby-Throated Hummingbirds outside of the nets too.

Ruby-Throated Hummingbird

Ruby-Throated Hummingbird

It’s been nice to have a four-day weekend to spend at home observing my new live-in birds. I hope to be back soon with reports from the home front as well as more from Costa Rica.

Crowned Woodnymph

Crowned Woodnymph

Unexpected at the Portage

Gray Catbird

Gray Catbird managing to pose nicely but hiding its rufous undertail coverts

After hours spent slaving over a hot laptop (not really, just metaphorically speaking), I am still not entirely finished processing last weekend’s photographs, and there are some from this weekend as well… but the last two visits to the Chicago Portage, last Sunday and yesterday late morning after attending the Douglas Park walk, about which I hope to do my next post, produced surprises.

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Nothing was as surprising as seeing Wild Turkeys on the gravel path yesterday. Even more surprising was the fact that they did not dash off, but rather seemed to keep their slow, cautious pace, as if they were new here and checking out the place. I suspect they are the same turkeys I saw last summer by the railroad track bed.

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The remainder of the photographs here are from last Sunday, the 21st. I am not sure if I realized when I took the pictures of the Canada Geese that three of them very obviously had neck bands, I was so busy paying attention to No. 63B harrassing No. 68B. I have to look up the Fish and Wildlife Service webpage to see if these geese are reportable.
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Canada Geese with neckbands

Canada Geese with neckbands

Last weekend I finally got a chance to see a few Ruby-Throated Hummingbirds in the gobs of Jewel Weed. Surprisingly they were not far from the south side entrance to the preserve, where I normally hardly see anything. The light was poor so I was not able to get anything sharper or more representative than what is below. I haven’t been able to catch the few hummers that have found my feeders either.

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Ruby-Throated Hummingbird

Ruby-Throated Hummingbird

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Below is a Chestnut-Sided Warbler looking nothing like its spring version.

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The turkeys always remind me of Joe Hutto and his book, Illumination in the Flatwoods, upon which the film “My Life As A Turkey” was based.
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Somewhere over the last few days my eyes grazed past an article I have not yet read, in the New York Times: “When Blogging Becomes a Slog.” Maybe I’m afraid to read it. However, there’s apparently an entire whole industry devoted to the phenomenon. I am not burned out on the blog yet, but it has become harder to find the time to devote to it, so I apologize if my posts are getting to be less frequent than twice a week. I am still trying to figure out how to balance life and the new work situation, and now the choir commitment. But I will keep coming  back here because in some small way, it’s good for the birds, and I realized years ago that what’s good for the birds is good for me.